Isaiah 59:1, 2
Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
How comes it to pass that the people of the Lord are in such distress? How do we account for the fact that the cause of Christ makes such slow progress or even shows symptoms of decline and failure? Where is the Lord God of Israel? Is the Spirit of God present in the midst of the Churches?
I. THE APPARENTLY INEXHAUSTIBLE FORCES AT OUR COMMAND. For our resources we have:
1. The fulness of Divine pity. The ear of God is open to the cry of destitution, of pain, of sorrow, of spiritual yearning. His heart of tenderness is touched by the miseries and necessities of his children.
2. The almightiness of Divine power. The "right hand of the Lord" is on all the springs and forces of the universe; he can compel all things to serve him, to minister to his people and to establish his kingdom.
3. The perfectness of Divine wisdom. Who shall measure "the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God"?
II. THE POVERTY OF SPIRITUAL RESULTS. In how many instances have we occasion to be profoundly discontented with the condition of things, spiritually considered! It is so in regard to:
1. Individual character. Considering the resources at command, men do not make the progress in spiritual growth, in moral attainment, or in excellency of behaviour, which might be expected of them; they remain where they were, or move backward and forward, making no substantial progress toward "the mark [goal] which is set before them."
2. Christian Churches. Taking into account the number of privileges which are theirs, and the variety of opportunities which are within reach, there is a very considerable proportion of Churches compelled to acknowledge retrogression rather than advancement, defeat rather than success.
3. Missionary operations. After all that has been done through the centuries, by all societies of Christian men, how much land "remains to be possessed"!
III. THE FALSE AND THE TRUE ACCOUNT OF THE MATTER. It is not Divine negligence that explains our position. It is not that God's hand is shortened or that his ear is heavy; it is not that his power is diminished or that his pity has failed in the very smallest degree. He abideth faithful and omnipotent. We are not straitened in him, but in ourselves. It is sin that has come between our praying lip and his hearing ear between our pressing need and his opened hand.
1. Refusal of his righteousness makes our prayer ineffectual, his interposition impossible. If we "regard iniquity in our heart, he will not hear us;" i.e. if we decline to enter his service, if we "will not have him to reign" over us, if we stubbornly and haughtily reject the salvation which he offers us in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3), we take an attitude in which we have no right to expect any answer to our petitions. The first thing, the only right and acceptable thing, for one that has not yet returned to God in self-surrender, is to "arise and go to the Father" in penitent submission; then he may call, and the Lord will answer.
2. Special sins may prove a stumbling-block; some are specified in the following verses - cruel violence, falsehood, litigiousness. We are expressly told in the later revelation that some particular sins are absolutely inconsistent with personal piety, and therefore with the efficacy of prayer - impurity (Ephesians 5:5); strife (Galatians 5:20); drunkenness; lying (Revelation 21:8).
3. The absence of essential Christian graces will account for the nonintervention of God on behalf of a Christian Church: of unity (Psalm 133:3); of faith (Hebrews 11:6; Matthew 13:58); of zeal (Revelation 2:4; Revelation 3:15, 16); of fidelity to the truth (Revelation 2:14). The true account of our failure is not in Divine indifference, but in human shortcoming. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: