The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.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.
Wells of Salvation
It is time we had a hymn in this prophecy of Isaiah, for the reading has been like a succession of thunderstorms and earthquakes. Now and then there has been a bright line, and once indeed the very name Immanuel appeared; but taking the preceding eleven chapters as a whole, we seem to remember little but rain and storm and sword and battle, and shaking of things strong and mighty. It is curious how the song always comes in at the right time in this revelation of God. Some say Isaiah did not write this song. It is of no consequence to us who wrote it: here it is, and it is in the right place, and it expresses the right thought, and there is probably more evidence for the authorship of Isaiah than for the authorship of any other man. Some have said it is not like his style: but what is his style? What is the style of the sky? Is it for two days alike? Who could write the history of the sky simply as it appears to the vision of man? The accounts would seem to contradict one another, for the sky passes through panoramic changes innumerable, infinite, and all beautiful where they are not grand. So with the style of this great statesman Isaiah. He handles things with the infinite ease of conscious power; he is as strong in his music as he is in his prophecy.
Let us look at this little song; let us sit down awhile as in a green pasture, and hear the sweet music: the purling brook cannot be far away; the sky is clothed with summer, and the day is quiet with the very spirit of peace. Let us see whether we would not like to covet the song, and steal it honestly, and appropriate it, as if we ourselves were the authors of it, for there is no song worth singing that every man does not feel he might have written, and would if he could. To some is given a great gift of words, but that gift is useless unless it express what is in every heart, and then as soon as we hear what the man has said, we leap forward as if in gratulation and blessing, because he has said exactly what was lying dumbly and glowingly within us. Every true song is the work of everybody. Is this song true? The prophecy has declared that "the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry-shod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt" (Isaiah 11:15-16). We need example days, pattern times, to which we can refer with the familiarity of intelligence and thankfulness. The Gulf of Suez shall be divided like the Red Sea; the seven mouths that enclose and intersect the delta of the Nile shall be smitten; and the second exodus like as it was shall be accomplished amid signs and wonders: a highway shall be raised-what in modern cities is called a causeway, a side pavement. Eastern kings made such a way for their armies, and the remnant of the people of God are to march in triumph along the great plains of Mesopotamia, and the exiles are to return from Assyria, and no sooner do they get home again than they sing this carol—"O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me" (Isaiah 12:1). Only men with such an experience can sing. It is next to impossible to sing in modern days. Singing is rapture when it is religious; it is inspiration, it is madness, it would be called sensational now. That word "sensational" will kill the Church. Observe if that be not a true prophecy. We have only to call a service "sensational" to set persons immediately against it, though they never took the pains to inquire into the etymology or real meaning of the word. This hymn of praise was very sensationally sung. When men escape from the hand of the oppressor, and have a song handed to them, they are not likely to pule over it, or to stifle it in their throats. We can imagine the utterances of thunder, of joy ecstatic, of joy almost beyond expression.
Let us look carefully into the structure of the song. First of all we notice that there is reason under the music—"Though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me." Does music stoop down to accept the service of reason? It always does so in the Scriptures. There are no songs detached from reason in all the inspired volume. From the earliest times down to the period to which we have now come we find that the song accounts for itself by a substantial and historical reason. It is as if a blossom should account for itself, saying to those who look upon it, You seem pleased with my appearance, you point out my many beauties, you call me delicate, lovely, fragrant; but do you know that I could not be here at all but for a thing probably you never saw, and never may see—a poor black-looking little root that is hidden in the earth? Who ever praised my root? Not an observer has ever asked me if I had one, but I tell you that though I am the singing voice, and the thing of beauty, and the little flag held out waving in the air as part of a grand expression of Nature, having reference to the Spirit above it and behind it, yet I could not be where I am, or what I am, but for the root deep down in the earth. It is even so with this song-blossom and this thing of beauty in melodious form; it seems to say, You hear me, you like me, you are pleased with my rhythm; you comment upon me from a critical point of view, and say how happy are the symbols, how easy the action, how perfect the accents, how made for music! Ah, did you but know all, you would understand that I could not be where I am, or what I am, if there had not been a root in history, a long process of discipline, deprivation, sorrow, heartache: but now it is over, and the time of the singing of birds has come. So it must be in the sanctuary. There is hardly any singing in any sanctuary except by the few. Where is the great song that makes men sing—that makes the dumb speak? We must not look for that song in printed music, but in historical recollection, in personal thankfulness; and out of all this root-work will come blossoming and beauty, ineffable in loveliness, indescribable in perfectness.
"Thou wast angry with me." Then there was no music; the clouds quenched the song. Who can sing when the snow is falling coldly and heavily, or when the east wind is blowing cruelly, or when there is a sense of compunction in the heart, when the conscience is out of gear, and when it will not let any part of our life have rest from its ripping criticism?
"Thine anger is turned away." Now who can help singing in the bright sunshine? Summer makes the song. Even children seem to know this. They do not cower in fear when the sun shines. True, he is a great shining glory in the heavens, but there is not a little child on all the earth that does not seem to know him, and to be able to take sweet and tender liberties with him. Who ever saw a little child running away from the sun? The little one seems to run right into his very arms; and would plunge into that great sea of glory. It is an attractive power; it is a benediction in light; it is a fatherly presence in symbol of glory. So, when the people felt that sin was gone, they also felt that the time for singing was come. Nothing chokes the song so surely as consciousness of sin: it says to a man, You have no right to sing; you are trying to sing God's pure praise through a throat black as night, hot with the very fire of hell: do not add to your blasphemy by singing under such circumstances!
"Behold, God is my salvation" (Isaiah 12:2). Jerome translates this, "Behold, God is my Jesus." The word "salvation" is too narrowly defined in many instances. People suppose that it means a kind of spiritual selfishness which, being expressed in more words, would run in some such fashion as this: Thank God I am safe, whatever may become of anybody else! Any man who can say that, or mean that, or be in any way under such a delusion, simply knows nothing whatever about the spirit of the gospel. "Salvation" is one of the largest terms in human speech. Emancipation does not mean—You are now no longer under obligation to serve your old tyrant or your old master. That is but a negative aspect of emancipation. The true meaning is—You are invested with all the responsibilities of organised liberty; you have conferred upon you an opportunity of developing your whole manhood; you may now show the very best aspect of your character, and, unless you do it, slavery were for you better than freedom. It is so with the fullest meaning of this word salvation. Saved people are generous people, beneficent, charitable, anxious about others; nay, the only explanation of their anxiety about others is that they themselves are conscious of having been saved—not saved from fear only, but saved into life, liberty, and conscious possibility of doing great and small things. Jerome was right in going back to the Old Testament with the key of the New. In fact, we are entitled to begin at Genesis after we have perused the whole gospel story with the profoundest interest, and have received its spirit into our heart. The gospels explain the Pentateuch. There are arithmetics which are awful in their initial hardness. They are all questions. A book of arithmetic is a most audacious interrogator. But at the end of the book, in some cases, there is a key. What different reading! There is not a question in the whole key unless it be at the beginning of an answer, and who, having read the answer, does not feel how easy to have worked out the sum after all if one had only taken pains enough at the beginning? At the same time there is a strong disposition just to appropriate what the key says, and then, perhaps, to appear before the spectacled master as if we had never heard of such a thing as a key. That would be illegitimate in arithmetic. There have been young arithmeticians who have been guilty of that meanness. But we are called to look at the key in open day; we are referred to the key; we are invited and challenged to peruse it, and then to go back with the key in our hand to work out all the mystery of the lock. This is what Jerome did; so he did not hesitate to take out the word "salvation" in the second verse and put in the word "Jesus," and say with unction and thankfulness, "Behold, God is my Jesus:" his name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.
"I will trust, and not be afraid." Then the confidence was complete. The expression is perhaps awkward from one point of view; that is, from the pedantic point of view. "I will trust"—the sentence might have ended there—"and not be afraid." Is not that merely a repetition? From a grammatical point of view it may be simply tautology, but from a spiritual point of view there is not one word too much. Fear is very subtle. There is an immediate fear that glares into a man's eyes and makes a coward of him; over that fear he may get the mastery; but there is a far-away fear, more a shadow than a substance, an unaccountable feeling of timidity, apprehension. It is not enough to have obtained one great victory over fear, or to have established one strong point of trust; both these are most desirable things in the Christian life, and necessary indeed to its solidity and progress; but the work must be completed. It is not enough to have a great cloud that was immediately overhead cleared away; we must also have the horizon cleansed of all images of dread and suggestions of storm. Who does not know all this in his innermost soul? Taking the whole Christian view, the Christian feels strong, but when he comes to minute confession, to exhaustive fearless analysis, he says, About some two or three things I am not so confident as I should like to be—about business, about my family, about my social responsibilities, about the constancy of my love; I sometimes think I see the tempter looking at me at midnight; nobody else can see him but myself, and yet sometimes right across the darkness I have seen him as clearly as I ever saw an image in the light: these things I will not talk about. All this must be cleansed away. "I will trust, and not be afraid": I will have this joy positively and negatively; I will have a strong rock at the very centre of things, and a sense that every gate that leads to the castle is strongly guarded, and is in fact impassable by any foe. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Lord, increase our love!
Now comes a mysterious combination of words—"The Lord JEHOVAH." The very type is suggestive, the word "Lord" being printed in small capitals and the word "Jehovah" in large capitals. This is an almost unparalleled combination of terms; certainly it is wholly exceptional. Would not the word "Lord" have done, or the word "Jehovah"? Why this miracle in language? This is a novelty in any style. Here criticism is, as in many other places in Holy Scripture and in the divinest literature, simply helpless—a chatterer instead of a teacher; an instrument of deprivation, not a word of spiritual increase and mental enlargement. Joy creates its own language. On the whole perhaps joy is a poor grammarian. Some men are the victims of grammar, as other men are the victims of propriety; they have never known enthusiasm, they have never had a feeling that they could not express in a word or two; they regard the rapture of others as extravagance or exaggeration. It would be extravagance to them, as it would be a most extravagant thing for a sparrow to attempt to fly with an eagle. Who made any one man the standard and measure of extravagance? Let every man speak for himself. I have seen some instrument of locomotion made of two wheels, and the second or following wheel has not been so large as the first; it would be intolerable impertinence for the little wheel to be calling the other extravagant and aggressive.
Here we come to a sweet word—"the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3). How is it that the word "well," signifying a spring of water, is always associated with a music of its own? Who can listen to the plash of water falling down the hillside, and not try to make every drop into a syllable and the whole into a gospel of nature, singing God's praise, and telling of far-away fountains? One of the most recent and most qualified critics has put the matter clearly, in saying that in the later ritual of the Feast of Tabernacles the priests went in solemn procession to the pool of Siloam, filled a golden vase with water, carried it to the Temple, and poured it out on the western side of the altar of burnt-offering, while the people observing this priestly action chanted the great Hallel or hymn of praise which we have in the Psalms, beginning with cxiii. and ending at cxviii. The action was symbolical; it was also historical: it touched memory at a thousand quick and responsive points, and elicited a hymn not mechanical in its structure only, but in its very mechanism an embodied spirituality. "Wells of salvation": can we improve the expression by making the word "wells" singular instead of plural? May we not say, Christ is the well of salvation? Yet there are words in the singular number which can never be other than plural; they are only grammatically limited; as to all spiritual suggestiveness they are too broad even for plural forms of expression, for they seem to overflow great spaces, and to occupy infinite tracks and continents of memory and thankfulness and hope. Jesus Christ did not disdain to compare himself to a well. On the last day—the great day of the feast—beholding innumerable thirsty men, from all quarters of the land, he said, "If any man thirst"—Lord, how great was that word! Thou didst know that all men have a thirst in the heart which all the rivers in the world can never quench—"If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." This was the voice of the well, the gospel of the fountain, the anthem of the springhead. Jesus said on another occasion, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him," and he, without questioning or grudging or difficulty, would have given thee living water, spring water, cool as snow, clear as crystal, pure as the love of God. Have we drunk of this well? The river of God is full of water. Are we perishing of thirst? Christians are enabled to bear this testimony, and they ought to bear it, that they have gone from well to well, from spring to spring, and have always had to go back again with weary iteration, journey upon journey, for the thirst returned by the very process of quenching it; but when they came to Jesus, and entered into his spirit and purpose, and became as it were partakers of his nature, all their aspirations were satisfied, all their highest appetences were appeased.
Now reason is given for another song, or for the continuance of the same—"Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things" (Isaiah 12:5). The song is not called for without a reason being assigned. Is it true that God hath done excellent things—say for ourselves? Do not search ancient history for the excellent things done by God, but search your own little life; and if in that life no excellent things have been wrought, say so, and be dumb so' far as this sacrifice of religious praise is concerned. You have a right to be silent. If your life has had no sunshine, no blessing, no help, no sympathy, you have a right to say in the sanctuary, I will not sing, and thus to chide God by your silence. But be sure you can say it. "Life" is a large term; it covers all the days of your breathing, from earliest infancy up till the present moment: it will certainly be a phenomenon without a parallel if any man can say that the sunshine never fell upon his life, that what good he has he has by his own strength and wit, and that he owes nothing to supernatural or superhuman power. Still, if a man can say that, and prove it, he has a right to instruct others by his very silence.
"Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion" (Isaiah 12:6). But how extremely opposed to the spirit of propriety! Here is a call for enthusiasm, rapture, and what would generally be denominated madness. Still, the words are here, and they are perfectly clear as to their meaning and purpose, and a reason is given for the cry and for the shout; that reason is—"for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee." "Thou inhabitant of Zion." The Hebrew is feminine: the appeal is to a woman's heart—Cry out and shout, thou daughter of Zion! Without the womanly element the Church is without charm, and without the divinest passion. The woman must lead us, in song, in music, in praise, and by the contagion of her enthusiasm must warm others into responsive and co-operative zeal. Men have become frenzied by earthly deliverances, and rightly so, and brought into paroxysms of thankfulness and joy: why not so in their religious natures? It is recorded by Plutarch that when the Romans delivered a certain people from the tyranny of the Macedonians and the Spartans, the cry of the delivered men was so great that it dissipated the very air, and birds flying across that plane of the hemisphere fell down amazed. Have we ever rent the air with our cries and shouts of delight and thankfulness? Our Christianity may have been formal, and our atheism may have been the atheism of respectability. Respectability can never be earnest. It is limited by a smaller word. If Sydney Smith said the Church is dying of dignity, we may apply the rebuke to ourselves, and ask if we are not falling into torpor through the opiate of respectability. Are we called to silence? Who can describe the feeling of those who were imprisoned during the Indian Mutiny? Is there not a page in the history of that rebellion which makes every human heart thrill with excitement? We remember how the Europeans were shut up, being beleaguered and invested, and within a hand-breadth of extinction; and we remember hearing of the deliverers' approach, and of those who were suffering catching the strains of music; they heard the pibroch and the slogan, and their hearts came again, and every soldier was a hero and every woman a saint; and as the deliverers came on, could you have said to those who had been shut up in terror and darkness, Now restrain yourselves; avoid everything sensational, and maintain a decorous and proper attitude in all things—what answer would they have returned to your inane and unseasonable address? We must pass through a certain class of circumstances before we can understand the feelings of those who express gratitude for deliverance. The singing of the Church should be loud, joyous, and sweet; all instruments should accompany it: now the clash of bells, now the blare of trumpets, now the lilt of lutes, and now the throb of drums; strong men, gentle women, merry children should unite their voices in one glad burst of religious joy. Thank God for music. That will unite the Church when theology will divide it. There is no disputable argument in music. The vanity of opinion is not touched by music. The demon of heresy is left without a chance in music. Pedantic criticism is ignored. The heart has it all its own way. All is harmony. All is praise. All is love. If ever preaching be displaced or superseded, may it be by music!
Almighty God, enable us so to read the story of the past as to know somewhat of thy government, and amend our own ways before thee. Thou hast thyself been writing the story of the earth, and within and without it is written all over with mourning, lamentation, and woe. It is a scroll we would not willingly open but for the writing of God which is in it, which tells of hope and peace and rest, which reveals an eternal gospel—righteous, loving, infinite. For thine own gospel we search the Book: the human story we would not read; it is full of evil and mockery, sin and shame, wrongdoing and selfish penitence: our prayers have related to ourselves, and have sought rather to improve our position than to vindicate eternal righteousness. Now that we come to the story do thou come with us, that we may read it aright, find out all the music that is in it, all the wisdom with which it is laden, and all the hope with which it is inspired. Thus shall we read to our souls' profiting, and when we rise from the perusal of the page we shall feel that we ought to pray some nobler prayer, burn with some guiltier shame, and seek with truest penitence to be forgiven all our sin. Where is the place of prayer but at the Cross of Christ? That is the sacred altar, that is the place where man never truly prayed in vain; the answer was given whilst the prayer was being breathed: may we now realise that in the very act of asking for pardon through the blood of the Lamb, the precious blood, we may be forgiven. Say, Son, thy sins which are many are all forgiven thee! Amen.