Isaiah 1:5

I. THAT SIN IS MORE OR LESS RECLAIMABLE. Whatever we might have antecedently expected, we find practically, that there are those on whom Divine truth is far more likely to tell than it is on others. Thus

(1) youth is more impressionable than age;

(2) poverty is more accessible than riches;

(3) the unprivileged are more open to influence than the "children of the kingdom."

Time, pleasure, the misuse of sacred opportunity, - these things indurate the soul and make it far less responsive than it once was; so that there are some that are more hopeless than others.

II. THAT THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN UNCHARGED BY THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD ARE THE MOST HOPELESS OF ALL. Many things are effective as spiritual weapons - the Word of God, the ministry of the gospel, the entreaties of friendship, the influence of a godly home, sacred literature, etc.; but not one of them is so penetrating, so affecting, so reformative, as the discipline of the Divine hand. When God comes to a man in his providence; when he sends loss, disappointment, bereavement; when he lays his correcting hand on the man himself, - then there is the deepest silence in the soul, then the voices which are from heaven reach the inmost chambers of the spirit. And if these be felt and heard in vain, if the lessons which come thus be unlearned by the rebellious heart, then the last state of that man is about the worst that is imaginable: "There is more hope of a fool than of him."

III. THAT THERE ARE THOSE UPON WHOM GOD SEEMS TO HAVE EXHAUSTED HIS DISCIPLINARY RESOURCES. The prophet says (ver. 5), "The whole head is sick," etc., already. As it is, the entire body is covered with open, unhealed wounds (ver. 6); the nation (the body politic) was witnessing the most harrowing evils and the most humiliating indignities to which it could be subjected (vers. 7, 8). What further chastisement could the arm of the Almighty inflict? By what severer blows could he recall his people to repentance and righteousness? So with individual men. God has sent them chastisement after chastisement, reminder on reminder; he has touched them in one part of their nature, he has laid his correcting hand on another part; he has visited them in many ways; he has multiplied his most solemn lessons unto them. What more can he do? Where "can they be stricken any more?" In what other way shall he strike their follies and seek to save their souls?

IV. THAT IN THEIR CASE FURTHER SUFFERING WOULD PROBABLY RESULT IN AGGRAVATED sin. Isaiah might well ask (if that be not the precise point), "Why should ye be smitten any more?" (ver. 5); he certainly does say, "Ye will revolt more and more." His thought apparently is that added blows will only mean increased rebelliousness. When a man (or a nation) has reached a certain depth in iniquity, the very thing (Divine chastisement) which ought to arrest and restore him will only goad him to proceed with quickened step on his evil way. Thus are the purposes of love defeated and the means of recovery perverted. And yet there remains one redeeming thought, viz. -

V. THAT, THOUGH COMPARATIVELY, SIN IS NOT UTTERLY HOPELESS HERE. The "daughter of Zion" was little better than a "cottage in a vineyard," a "lodge in a garden of cucumbers" (ver. 8); but it was left, to be at least as much as that. The Lord of hosts had left a "remnant," though that was "very small" (ver. 9). Jerusalem had not yet become as "the cities of the plain." The penalty of sin is great: it reduces the sinner very low indeed; it robs him of his heritage; it leaves him almost nothing of the spiritual faculties, of the filial portion (Luke 15:12), of the heavenly hopes with which he was endowed. But it leaves something - some sensibility to which we can appeal; some thread of willingness by which we can draw him; some plank by which, through a thousand perils, he may yet reach the shore.

"The blackest night that veils the sky
Of beauty hath a share,
The darkest soul hath signs to tell
That God still lingers there." ? C.

Why should ye be stricken any more?
There are no passages in Holy Writ more affecting than those in which God seems to represent Himself as actually at a loss, not knowing what further steps to take in order to bring men to repentance and faith (Isaiah 5:4; Hosea 6:4). Of course, the chastisements may be continued, but the experience of the past attests but a strong likelihood that further afflictions would effect no reform. God, therefore, can only ask, and the question is full of the most pathetic remonstrance — "Why should ye be stricken any more?"

1. Now, observe that it was a long course of misdoing that had brought the people into such a morally hopeless condition. It was the habit of committing sin, the habit of resisting the admonitions and the chastisements of God that had at last exhausted the resources of Divine wisdom. The words in which Jeremiah states the tremendous power of habit are very striking — "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Yet our text, probably, puts it in a yet more affecting point of view — the considering wherefore it is that men who have long been accustomed to do evil, thereby bring themselves morally into such condition, that God, as if in despair, is forced to exclaim "Why should ye be stricken any more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." Now, they can know very little of their moral constitution, and of the tendency of their nature, who are not thoroughly aware how, as a general rule, the doing a thing twice facilitates the doing it again. We have no right to complain of there being such a law, for it is of universal application, and will therefore be every jot as beneficial to us if we aim at doing good, as detrimental if we allow ourselves to do evil. The man who has yielded to a temptation will undoubtedly find himself less able to resist when that temptation assails him again. But if he have overcome, he will as undoubtedly find himself better able to withstand. The inveterate habit and the seared conscience are so far necessary companions, that when we wish to induce a man to abandon a long-cherished practice, we do not reckon on any such keenness of the moral sense, as will make it second our remonstrance, or give point to our advice; and this it is which renders almost; desperate the case of those who have been long living in any known sin. Such men must have won that most disastrous of victories — the victory over conscience. Therefore, we hardly know under what form to shape our attack. Our position takes for granted that there is an internal monitor, so that the voice from without, answered from the voice from within, may force for itself an audience, and cause a present conviction, if not a permanent resolution; but now the internal monitor is wanting; the voice from without calling forth no voice from within, would seem to have no organ to which to address itself, and therefore our words will be as much wasted as though spoken to the air. Hence it is we are so urgent with the young that they put not off to a later day the duties of religion. The young seem to imagine that the question between us and them is simply a question as to the probabilities of life; and that if they could ensure themselves a certain number of years, they should run no risk in delaying, for a time the giving heed to religion. Thus they take no account of the inevitable result of a continuance in sin, namely, that there will be generated a habit of sin, so that when the time shall be reached which they themselves may have fixed as suited to repentance, they will be widely different beings from what they are when resolved to delay — beings tied and bound with fetters forged and fastened by themselves, and wanting in the principle which might urge them to the breaking loose from the self-imposed bondage. It is this which makes the aged sinner so unpromising a subject for the ministrations of the Word — not his being old in years, but his being old in sin. This is the first evidence which we advance as to the truth of that fearful fact which we derive from our text — the fact that habitual sin brings even God Himself into a perplexity as to how to deal with the sinner; makes it difficult for Him to employ further means for recovering that sinner from wickedness.

2. There is a yet worse thing to be said. The man who persists in sinning, till to sin has become habit, alienates from him that Holy Spirit of God whose special office it is to lead us to repentance, and renew our fallen nature. It is not by an occasional act of sin that a man may "quench" the Spirit; though his every transgression may "grieve" that Spirit. You will observe what a correspondence there is between quenching the Spirit and quenching the conscience. So connected, if not identified, are conscience and the Holy Spirit, so actually is the one an engine through which the other works, that in proportion as man succeeds in deadening his conscience, he advances towards quenching the Spirit. Why wonder then at the expression of our text?

3. Our text implies a great difficulty rather than an impossibility, and it ought not therefore to be without some measure of hope that the minister addresses even those who are the slaves of bad habits. The Spirit, it may be, does not so depart as to determine that He will not return We may rather regard Him as hovering over the transgressor who has so pertinaciously grieved and withstood Him; and let there be only the least intimation of a wish for His presence, and He may descend, and take up His abode in the soul which He has been forced to forsake. And, if conscience were but roused, there may be a desire for the return of the Spirit. Whilst we do not shut the door even against habitual sinners, our great effort must be that of persuading men against the forming bad habits.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

If a man be a confirmed drunkard or gambler, it has almost passed into a proverb, that there is but little hope of reform, and you regard it as little short of miracle if he be brought to abandon the wine or the dice. In such instances, the habit forces itself on your notice in all its fearful tyranny. The efforts to break sway are made, in a certain sense, in public, and whether they fail or succeed, you are able to observe. But if these be the more notorious cases of striving against the power of an evil habit, you are not to think that the power may not be as actuary, or as injuriously exerted in cases where there is little or nothing of manifest tyranny. There may be habits of mental or moral indulgence; habits of self-indulgence; habits of covetousness; habits of indifference to serious things; habits of delaying the season of repentance — these may be, and often are found in one and the same person; and though, unquestionably, no one of these can be parallel to the habit by which the drunkard or the gambler is enthralled, yet they resemble so many lesser cords tying down a man in place of one massive chain; and the endeavour to break loose will be equally likely to be unsuccessful.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

In this, and in the like cases, it is especially by and through its deceitfulness, that sin produces final obduracy, making "the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint." The man is blinded to the fact, that he is being hardened; it is all done underhand; and while there is the rapid formation of an inveterate habit of indulgence, a depraved inclination, or a habit of covetousness, or a habit of selfishness, or a habit of procrastination, there may be great ease and satisfaction, and a feeling of cordial commiseration for those slaves of their passions who may be said hardly to put forth exertion, and to be led captive by Satan at his will. Away then with the limiting the power of evil habits to persons who live in the practice of gross sins.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

It might seem, if sin can be called unnatural and monstrous, that nature could shake it off, and return to her own law. It might seem also that the results of sin would cure the sinner of his evil tendencies, and send him back on the path of wisdom. We grant that a man in a state of sin may be led to abandon some sin, or some excess of sin, from considerations of prudence. We grant also that affliction softens many characters which it fails to lead to sincere repentance, by lowering their pride, or by sobering their views of life. We have no doubt that the seeds of a better life are sown amid the storms and floods of calamity. And for the Christian it is certain that sorrow is a principal means of growth in holiness. Nay, it may even happen that a sin committed by a Christian may, in the end, make him a better man, as Peter, after his denial of Christ. We admit, also, that a life of sin, being a life of unrest and disappointment, cannot fail of being felt to be such, so that a sense of inward want, a longing for redemption, enters into the feelings of many hearts that are not willing to confess it. But all this does not oppose the view which we take of sin, that it contains within itself no radical cure, no real reformation Man is not led by sin into holiness. The means of recovery lie outside of the region of sin, beyond the reach of experience, — they lie in the free grace of God, which sin very often opposes and rejects, when it comes with its healing medicines and its assurances of deliverance. The most which prudence can do, acting in view of the experienced consequences of sin, is to plaster over the exterior, to avoid dangerous habits, to choose deep seated sins in lieu of such as lie on the surface.

(T. D. Woolesey, D. D.)

That sin by no process, direct or indirect, can purify the character, will appear —

I. FROM THE SELF-PROPAGATING NATURE OF SIN. If sin has the nature to spread and strengthen its power, if by repetition habits are formed which are hard to be broken, if the blindness of mind which supervenes adds to the ease of sinning, if sin spreading from one person to another increases the evil of society, and therefore reduces the power of each one of its members to rise above the general corruption, do not all these considerations show that sin provides no cure for itself, that there is, without Divine intervention, no remedy for it at all? Can anyone show that there is any maximum of strength in sin, so that after some length of continuance, after the round of experiences is run over, after wisdom is gained, its force abates, and the soul enters on a work of self-restoration!

II. FROM THE FACT, THAT THE MASS OF THE PERSONS WHO ARE TRULY RECOVERED FROM SIN, ASCRIBE THEIR CURE TO SOME EXTERNAL CAUSE, — nay, I should say to some extraordinary cause, which sin had nothing to do with bringing into existence. Ask anyone who seems to you to have a sincere principle of godliness, what it was that wrought the change in his case, by which he forsook his old sins. Will he tell you that it was sin leading him round, by the experience of its baneful effects, to a life of holiness? Will he even refer it to a sense of obligation awakened by the law of God? Or, will he not rather ascribe it to the perception of God's love in pardoning sinners through His Son? Nor will he stop there; he will go beyond the outward motive of truth to the inward operation of a Divine Spirit. You cannot make those who have spent the most thought about sin, and had the deepest experience of its quality, admit that spiritual death of itself works a spiritual resurrection. Moreover, were it so, you could not admit the necessity of the Gospel. What is the use of medicine, if the disease, after running its course, strengthens the constitution, so as to secure it against maladies in the future? Can truth, with all its motives, do as much? To this it may be added, that the prescriptions of the Gospel themselves often fail to cure the soul; not half of those who are brought up under the Gospel are truly Christians. This again shows how hard the cure of sin is.

III. WE DO NOT FIND THAT INORDINATE DESIRE IS RENDERED MODERATE BY THE EXPERIENCE THAT IT FAILS TO SATISFY THE SOUL. A most important class of sins are those of excited desire, or, as the Scriptures call them, of lust. The extravagance of our desires — the fact that they grow into undue strength, and reach after wrong objects, is owing to our state of sin itself, to the want of a regulative principle of godliness. But no such gratification can fill the soul. How is it now with the soul which has thus pampered its earthly desires, and starved its heavenly! Does it cure itself of its misplaced affections? If it could, all the warnings and contemplations of the moral philosophers might be thrown to the winds, and we should only need to preach intemperance in order to secure temperance; to feed the fire of excess, that it might the more speedily burn out. But who would risk such an experiment? Does the aged miser relax his hold on his money bags, and settle down on the lees of benevolence?

IV. THE PAIN OR LOSS, ENDURED AS A FRUIT OF SIN, IS NOT, OF ITSELF, REFORMATORY. I have already said that under the Gospel such wages of sin are often made use of by the Divine Spirit to sober, subdue, and renovate the character. But even under the Gospel, how many, instead of being reformed by the punishment of their sins, are hardened, embittered, filled with complaints against Divine justice and human law! We find continual complaints on the part of the prophets that the people remained hardened through all the discipline of God, although it was fatherly chastisement, which held out hope of restoration to the Divine favour. Such was a large experience of the efficacy of punishment under the Jewish economy. Turn now to a state of things where the Divine clemency is wholly unknown or seen only in its feeblest glimmerings. Will naked law, will pure justice work a reform to which Divine clemency is unequal?

V. REMORSE OF CONSCIENCE IS NOT REFORMATORY. Remorse, in its design, was put into the soul as a safeguard against sin. But in the present state of man remorse has no such power for the following reasons —

1. It is dependent for its power, and even for its existence, on the truth of which the mind is in possession. Of itself it teaches nothing; it rather obeys the truth which is before the mind at the time. If now the mind lies within the reach of any means by which it can ward off the force of truth, or put falsehood in the place of truth, sin will get the better of remorse, — the dread of remorse will cease to set the soul upon its guard.

2. Every sinner has such means of warding off the force of truth, and so of weakening the power of self-condemnation, at his command. The sophistries which a sinful soul plays off upon itself, the excuses which palliate, if they do not justify transgression, are innumerable.

3. Remorse, according to the operation of the law of habit, is a sentiment which loses its strength as the sinner continues to sin.

4. But, once more, suppose that all this benumbing of conscience is temporary, as indeed it may well be; suppose that through these years of sinning it has silently gathered its electric power, but, when the soul is hackneyed in sin and life is in the dregs, will give a terrible shock — will this work reform? Will there be courage to undertake a work then for which the best hopes, the greatest strength of resolution, and the help of God are wanted? No! discouragement then must prevent reform. The sorrow of the world worketh death.

VI. THE EXPERIENCE OF SIN BRINGS THE SOUL NO NEARER TO RELIGIOUS TRUTH. For sin, amongst other of its effects, makes us more afraid of God or more indifferent to Him. The first inward change wrought by sin is to beget a feeling of separation from God. To this we may add that a habit of scepticism is contracted in a course of sinning, which it is exceedingly hard to lay aside. It became necessary in order to palliate sin and render self-reproach less bitter to devise excuses for the indulgence of wrong desires. Is then such a habit easy to be shaken off? Is it easy, when habits of sin have brought on habits of scepticism, to become perfectly candid, and to throw aside the doubts of a lifetime, which are often specious and in a certain sense honestly entertained? The blindness of the mind is the best security against reformation.

1. From the course of thought in this discourse it appears that our present life shows no favour to the opinion that sin is a necessary stage in the development of character towards perfection. The tendency of sin, as life shows, is to grow blinder, more insensible, less open to truth, less capable of goodness.

2. And, again, the experience of this world throws light, or, I should rather say, darkness, on the condition of the sinner who dies impenitent. There is no tendency in the experience of his whole life towards reform. How can it be shown that there will be hereafter!

3. Our subject Points, as with a finger that can be seen, to the best time for getting rid of sin. All we have said is but a commentary on that text, "Exhort one another daily while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Sin is now shapening your character; he is adding stroke after stroke for the final countenance and form. If you wait all will be fixed; his work will be done.

(T. D. Woolesey, D. D.)

He says, you are vitally wrong, organically out of health: the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint: the chief members of your constitution are wrong. It is a question of the head and the heart. Not, the foot has gone astray, and the hand has been playing an evil game, or some inferior member of the body has given hint of restlessness and treason; but, the head, where the mind abides, is sick; the heart, continually keeping the life current in action, is faint and cannot do its work. Until you see the seriousness of the case you cannot apply the right remedies.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

? — Do not consult the sanguine poet, for he takes a roseate view of everything: he sees in leprosy only the beauty of its snowiness; he looks upon the green mantling pool, and sees nothing there but some hint of verdure. Do not consult the gloomy pessimist, for at midday he sees nothing but a variety of midnight, and in all the loveliness of summer he sees nothing but an attempt to escape from the dreariness of winter. But consult the line of reason and solid fact, or undeniable experience, and what is this human nature? Can it be more perfectly, more exquisitely described than in the terms used by the prophet in the fifth and sixth verses of this chapter? Do the poor only fill our courts of law? Are our courts of justice only a variety of our ragged schools? Is sin but the trick of ignorance or the luxury of poverty? Or the question may be started from the other point: Are only they who are born to high degree guilty of doing wrong? Read the history of crime, read human history in all its breadth, and then say if there be not something in human nature corresponding to this description.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

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