Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
I. Consider, first, the heavens above and the earth beneath, as temporal either in themselves or in regard to us who must "die in like manner." (1) Our text is the record of a great appointment extending to the whole surrounding universe, and sentencing it to dissolution and extinction. Without supposing the actual annihilation of matter, we may speak of the universe as destined to be destroyed, seeing that the systems which are to succeed to the present will be wholly different, and wear all the traces of a new creation. We have been accustomed to distinguish between what we count fleeting and what we regard as enduring, between the rock and the mountain, the flower and the moth. Is it not a confounding thought, that by a simple effort of His will the Almighty is to unhinge and dislocate the amazing mechanism of the universe, sweep away myriads upon myriads of stupendous worlds, and yet remain Himself the great "I Am," the same when stars and planets fall as when in far back time they blazed at His command? (2) Our text marks out a second way in which our connection with visible things—the heavens and the earth—may be brought to a close. "They that dwell therein shall die in like manner." There comes a day when our connection with earth must be terminated by death, when the sun must rise on us for the last time, though millions of cheerful eyes will hail his rising on the morrow. The simple consideration that we must soon die, and that death must for ever withdraw us from the objects of sense, ought in itself to suffice to persuade us of the madness of living for the present instead of to the future.
II. A contrast is drawn between God, His salvation, and His righteousness, and the heavens and the earth. It seems the design of the passage to affix a general character to the objects of faith as distinguished from the objects of sense—the character of permanence as distinguished from that of decline. We need not analyse with a close scrutiny the exact import of the words "salvation and righteousness." They plainly include all those rich mercies and those gifts of grace here and of glory hereafter, which are promised to such as believe on Jesus and commit to Him the keeping of their souls. And thus they affix the character of "everlasting" to that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Look on the heavens that are now, they "shall vanish away like smoke;" look on the earth beneath, "it shall wax old as a garment." But we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. These shall be for ever; these shall not be abolished.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2169.
References: Isaiah 51:6.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 124; Literary Churchman Sermons, p. 242.
Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:1Notice:—
I. The occurrence in the Church's history of successive periods of energy and of languor. The uninterrupted growth would be best; but if that has not been, then the ending of winter by spring, and the supplying of the dry branches, and the resumption of the arrested growth is the next best and the only alternative to rotting away. We ought to desire such a merciful interruption of the sad continuity of our languor and decay. The surest sign of its coming would be a widespread desire and expectation of its coming, joined with a penitent consciousness of our heavy and sinful slumber. And another sign of its approach is the extremity of the need. "If winter come, can spring be far behind?"
II. The twofold explanation of these variations. (1) It is true that God's arm slumbers, and is not clothed with power. There are, as a fact, apparent variations in the energy with which He works in the Church and in the world. And they are real variations, not merely apparent. The might with which God works in the world through His Church varies according to the Church's receptiveness and faithfulness. (2) If God's arm seems to slumber, and really does so, it is because Zion sleeps. The law has ever been, "According to your faith be it unto you." God gives as much as we will, as much as we can hold, as much as we use, and far more than we deserve.
III. The beginning of all awaking is the Church's earnest cry to God. Look at the passionate earnestness of Israel's cry, thrice repeated, as from one in mortal need, and see to it that our drowsy prayers be like it. Look at the grand confidence with which it founds itself on the past, recounting the mighty deeds of ancient days; and looking back, not for despair, but for joyful confidence on the generations of old; and let our faint-hearted faith be quickened by the example to expect great things of God.
IV. The answering call from God to Zion. Our truest prayers are but the echo of God's promises. God's best answers are the echoes of our prayers. (1) The chief means of quickened life and strength is deepened communion with Christ. (2) This summons calls us to the faithful use of the power which, on condition of that communion, we have.
A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 58.
References: Isaiah 51:9.—A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 264. Isaiah 51:9, Isaiah 51:10.—G. H. Wilkinson, Penny Pulpit, No. 1038 (see also Old Testament Outlines, p. 214). Isaiah 51:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvi., p. 15; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 25.
Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?
Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass;
And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?
The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail.
But I am the LORD thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is his name.
And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.
There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up.
These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?
Thy sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, as a wild bull in a net: they are full of the fury of the LORD, the rebuke of thy God.
Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine:
Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again:
But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.