Isaiah 49:11
The return journey of the exiles is here compared to that of a well-tended flock, which has no temptation to roam, for every need is supplied and every possible danger is averted from them. Prophetic figures can never be read aright unless we carefully distinguish between the pictured ideals of poets and prophets, and their realization in actual life. The actual never comes up to the ideal. The ideal is the best possible under the best of circumstances; the actual is the best possible under circumstances that come far short of the best possible. Ideals have their mission in keeping up our standards, and making us "aim high." Utopias are never found, but the world everywhere is the better because some of the human race have conceived Utopias, and presented their conceptions to their fellows. The absence of all elements of evil from the ideal state is figured by the removal of all sources of physical distress. This applies to the prophetic descriptions in the passage before us, and to the pictures of the heavenly given us in the Book of Revelation, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." The points which may be profitably treated are these two.

I. DISABILITIES ARE NEEDED WHILE MORAL CULTURE HAS TO BE CARRIED ON. If any proof were required of that fallen and deteriorated condition of man which is a matter of universal experience and conviction and really requires no proof, it would be found in the fact that man now will only learn his best moral lessons through suffering. We so readily think of suffering as arranged in the sovereign will of God; it is a sovereign necessity in meeting man's fallen condition. Why will we not learn without these disabilities? It is clear that we do not, and we will not. It is evident that we are biassed towards wrong, towards self-willedness. Bodily pain, life-distresses, are necessary to the culture of moral creatures who have become enslaved to self-will. Sorrow is graciously linked with sin, lest sin should come to be loved.

II. DISABILITIES MAY BE REMOVED WHEN MORAL CHARACTER IS ESTABLISHED. When men are all holy, then their surroundings may be all beautiful. There is no smiting heat, no chilling cold, no lack of food, no biting hunger, no raging thirst, no wearing pain, no blinding tears, no separating sea, no remorseless death, in heaven, because all who dwell there are established in goodness, and so there is no mission for disabilities to accomplish; their "occupation's gone." And just so far as we win goodness on earth we rise above all our disabilities, heaven is begun below; as with everything, so with love, "perfect love casteth out fear." - R.T.

And I will make all My mountains a way.
Since the world was, mountains have been the obstructors of ways, the natural frontiers between nations, the barriers that have kept people separate, disunited, and hostile. And yet even in the natural sphere the fact of the existence of mountains has ever initiated the stimulus required to surmount them. The physical and moral strength of the race is possibly invigorated by the very opposition of mountains, and man, God's vicegerent in the work of subduing the earth among all lands and among all peoples, has made the mountains a highway for commerce and travel and discovery, until at last the inspired utterance comes to be a motto in man's re-creation. There is a fascination, a challenge to the imagination, in mountain scenery, through which He, who is always appealing to the Divine secret in man, makes His mountains a way to gaze into His face, to think into His heart, to hope into His promises. Those eternal up-pointing fingers challenge you against despondency. None but the soulless or the blind can be amongst the up-pointing fingers of the everlasting hills and not hear what the mountain saith; for it echoes the voice of the everlasting God, when to man's poor heart He repeats His splendid promise, "I will make all My mountains a way." Is there not in this inspired prophecy the Divine solution of a mystery, and the impregnable assurance of a victory? The greatest moral mountain in this perplexing world is the existence and permission of evil. The silence, the awful silence of God, the pitiable failures in the best lives, the crushing heart-sorrows, the beds of suffering, the new-made graves, the occasional irresistible questioning whether such a world as this can in truth be under the control of a Divine and omnipotent Ruler — these are the moral mountains that hem us in. Against them we hurl ourselves sometimes in vain; they hide from us the Fatherhood, they separate us from one another. But mark! God says, "My mountains." I care not how black they seem, they are God's mountains. It is a splendid step heavenward when you are first able to shake yourself free from the miserable pagan dualism which, in order to avoid a difficulty, ascribes half the creation to a good God, and half to some malignant demiurge whom the good God seems powerless to destroy. It is the Lord; let Him do as seemeth Him good. The mountain of moral evil cannot be insurmountable without denial of the truthfulness or obliteration of the omnipotence of our Father, who is greater than all; and when we tremble at the hideous misery in the world and the dread possibilities of evil with which we are only too familiar in our own hearts, it is well to hear the message, "Fear not, child of earth, only believe." I think the very briefest analysis of human history will prove that what men call evil has ever been a stimulus of social action, material enterprise, aggressive discovery. Before Copernicus, people believed that the earth was the centre of the solar system, and they had to learn that the little speck of star-dust which they thought was the centre of the universe, was only one of the thousands of worlds going round the sun. People believed in geocentric motion when they should have believed in heliocentric" "motion. Similarly, conventional religion, sometimes very religious indeed, is in danger of being autocentric. I am here to save my own soul." Well, it has to be converted into Theocentric. You have to see that God is the centre, that the purpose and will of God, as it has been revealed through Christ for the whole race, is that around which your little life is to revolve.

(Canon Wilberforce.)

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