Isaiah 51:1
Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut, and to the quarry from which you were hewn.
Sermons
Lessons of the PastR. Tuck Isaiah 51:1
A Bright Light in Deep ShadesIsaiah 51:1-8
A Humble Origin: John BunyanJ. A. Froude.Isaiah 51:1-8
Characters: Unhewn and HewnW. J. Acomb.Isaiah 51:1-8
ComparisonsW. J. Acomb.Isaiah 51:1-8
Instructions to the Spiritual IsraelE. Johnson Isaiah 51:1-8
Looking to BeginningsJ. Parker, D.D.Isaiah 51:1-8
Nature and GraceIsaiah 51:1-8
Seeking Souls DirectedJ. Irons.Isaiah 51:1-8
Spiritual StatuaryW. J. Acomb.Isaiah 51:1-8
The Benefit of ReflectionE. Cooper.Isaiah 51:1-8
The Lord's PeopleW. Birch.Isaiah 51:1-8
The Thrice HearkenF. B. Meyer, B.A.Isaiah 51:1-8
The people are described as "possessing righteousness," i.e. following a way of life in accordance with the Divine commands; and "seeking Jehovah," i.e. attending to all that his mind approves and his will commands.

I. THE LESSON OF THEIR ORIGIN. They had been, as it were, hewn from a rock and dug out of a pit. The allusion is to Abraham. They had sprung from one, and him as good as dead (Hebrews 11:12). They had been as rough as unhewn materials fresh from the quarry when Jehovah took them in band for his moulding. He had formed the nation out of its primary materials - had taken Abraham and Sarah from a distant land, and formed them into a nation for his own purpose. And then the argument is that he who had done this in the past was able to do as great things in the future - to restore the people from captivity to their own land. The words may be applied more generally (cf. Matthew 3:9, "God is able to raise up of these stones children unto Abraham"). From the rudest material God can fashion masterpieces of grace. The greatest sinner may furnish the elements of character for the greatest saint. In any true and humble view of his condition the Christian will feel that the language is apposite to himself. "He was found in his natural state as a block of marble; he was moulded and formed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; he was fitted into the spiritual temple. Christians owe all the beauty and grace of their Christian deportment to him. This is an argument to prove that they are dependent on him for all that they have, and that he will keep them and accomplish all his purposes by them. He who has transformed them from rough and unsightly blocks to polished stones fitted for his spiritual temple on earth, is able to keep them still, and to fit them wholly for his temple above."

II. COMFORT FOR THE FUTURE.

1. External blessings. The ruined places of Zion are to be restored, the present wilderness of Judaea to be transformed into a garden of Eden - a scene of joy, thanksgiving, and music. The idea of a terrestrial paradise enters into the lore of other nations. Arab legends tell of a garden in the East, on a mount of jacinth, inaccessible to man, of rich soil and equable temperature, well watered and abounding in trees and flowers of rare colours and fragrance. "In the background of man's visions lay a paradise of holy joy, secured from profanation and inaccessible to the guilty; full of objects fitted to delight the senses and elevate the mind; a paradise that granted to its tenant rich and rare immunities, and fed with its perennial streams, the tree of life, and immortality" (Hardwick). There is no reason why we should not think of heaven under such a figure; and every happy renewal of the soul by Divine grace may be termed a transformation of the waste and desert of the heart into the garden of God.

2. Spiritual blessings. "Enthroned anew in Israel, Jehovah shall send forth his light and his truth among the distant nations." His righteousness is new - which means "his consistent adherence to his revealed line of action which involves deliverance to faithful or at least repentant Israel, and destruction to those who thwart his all-wise purposes." "Mine arms shall judge the peoples" includes "the darker side of Jehovah's righteousness" (Cheyne). The countries "shall wait" for Jehovah, and trust upon his "arm," i.e. his mighty help. Distant lands shall become interested in the true religion, and acknowledge and worship the true God.

3. The eternity of God's salvations. The order of the world is elsewhere described in Scripture as everlasting (Genesis 8:21, 22; Genesis 9:9-11; Genesis 49:26; Psalm 148:6). The heavens and the earth appear to be firm and fixed. Yet - against all appearance and probability, against all that specious constancy - they are doomed to vanish away. The most mighty and fixed of created things must disappear; but the promise of God is unfailing, This is one of the finest passages in all poetry. The heavens are to "glide away," disappearing like wreaths of smoke in the air (cf. Isaiah 34:4; Hebrews 1:11, 12; Psalm 102:26; 2 Peter 3:10-12). The Hebrew was wont to look upon the sky as a "firmament," a solid overarching vault. Yet here it seems thin as a soap-bubble, which the breath of a child may blow into nothingness. There are times when the soul is sick (like Hamlet), and all the magnificence of the heavens seems to pall upon it - a hint that the soul feels it partakes of a life higher than that of the natural world. There are times when the soul triumphs in the transiency of the natural world, conscious that it enjoys an immortality in common with the Eternal. "The earth shall fall to pieces like a garment, and the dwellers therein shall die like gnats; but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be annulled." It is not the contempt of a self-poised soul for the material world and its dimensions and its splendours; but the joy of a trustful soul in affiance with the Saviour-God. That this world will pass away, and that God will remain, are certain. But of what comfort is this to me, unless I am united to the Eternal? He by whose will material things perish and pass away is he by whose will the soul is redeemed and saved for ever. To live in faith upon God is to live the life of intellect and the life of love, neither of which can pass away; for they belong to the eternal essences. In such assurance material things may be seen evaporating, heaven turning to smoke, earth becoming as a tattered robe, "ocean's self turning dry;" while we ourselves pass to him who has been and will be the Dwelling-place and the Saviour of all successive generations. - J.







Hearken to Me.
These paragraphs are exceedingly dramatic. We become conscious that we are approaching a revelation of unparalleled sublimity which shall be in Scripture what heart or brain or eye is in the human body. And as we consider the thrice "Hearken" of this paragraph, and the thrice "Awake" of the succeeding one, we realize that we are entering the presence-chamber of the profoundest mysteries of love and redemption. The people, notwithstanding the promises of deliverance from exile and the summons to depart, seemed unable to believe that they were destined to become again a great nation, or that Zion's wastes would be repaired! Already the Servant of Jehovah had sought to answer their anxious questionings, and reassure them by announcing a love that would not let them go. And in these words He betakes Himself to the same strain. He prefaces His words by the thrice-repeated "Hearken," addressed to those "that follow after righteousness" in the first verse; and to "those that know righteousness" in the seventh. These are always the stages in the development of character: they that follow presently possess.

I. THE LESSONS OF RETROSPECT. It was for her encouragement that Israel was primarily directed to this retrospect. Let us recount the steps of Abraham's pruning, on which God lays stress in saying, "When he was but one, I called him."

1. He stood alone. First, Terah died, after having started with him for the Land of Promise, emblem of those who in old age start on the pilgrimage of faith and hope, not too much tied by the conservatism of nature, or the traditions of the past. Then Lot dropped away, and went down to Sodom; and it must have been difficult for the old man, as he saw the retreating forms of his camp followers, to be wholly unmoved. Then Sarah's scheme miscarried, and Hagar was thrust from his tents with her child. Lastly, his Isaac was laid upon the altar. By successive strokes the shadows grew deeper and darker; and he stood alone, face to face with God and His purpose. But the fire that burned in his heart rose higher, shone brighter, and has ignited myriads with its flame.

2. His faith was sorely tried.

3. His history is the type of God's dealings with men. Not once nor twice in the record of the Church the cause of truth has been entrusted to a tiny handful of defenders, who have deemed it forlorn or lost. Sir Walter Scott's picture of the apparently empty glen suddenly teeming with armed men at the sign of the chieftain has often had its counterpart in the great army which has arisen from the life, or words, or witness, of a single man. Art thou a cypher? but thou mayest have God in front of thee! Art thou but a narrow strait? yet the whole ocean of Godhead is waiting to pour through thee! The question is not what thou canst or canst not do, but what thou art willing for God to do.

II. THE IMPERISHABLENESS OF SPIRITUAL QUALITY. In the following verses there is a marvellous contrast between the material and the unmaterial, the temporal and the eternal. The gaze of the people is directed to the heavens above and the earth beneath. Those heavens seem stable enough. Yet they shall vanish like a puff of smoke borne down the wind. And as for the earth, it shall wax old. But amid the general wreck, spiritual qualities will remain imperishably the same. "My salvation shall be for ever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished.

1. This shall be for ever true of God. God will be the same in His feelings and dealings towards us amid the crash of matter and the wreck of worlds as He is to-day. The Jews took great comfort in the thought of God's unchangeableness.

2. This shall be for ever true of man. When we partake of God's righteousness and assimilate it, we acquire a permanence which defies time and change. What a lesson is given in these words of the relative value of things!

III. THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN. These exiled Jews hardly dared to hope that they would be able to break away from their foes. To us, as to the exiles in Babylon, the Divine word comes, "Fear ye not, neither be dismayed" (ver. 7). The paragraph closes with an application of the word used by the great Servant of Himself. "The moth shall eat them up," we heard Him saying to Himself; "they shall all wax old as a garment" (chap. 50:9). But now we are bidden to apply those same expressions to ourselves (ver. 8). With these assurances behind us, we may face a world in arms. Men may try to wear out the saints, but they must fail.

(F. B. Meyer, B.A.)

The remembrance of God's mercy in the past is helpful to us in many ways. Isaiah was led by the Spirit of God to admonish the Israelites to look back that they might be cheered and encouraged in a time of gloom and sadness, and that they might be animated with fresh confidence in God's power to bring them up again from their sad condition, as they thought of all that He had done for them in times past, when they were equally low, or when, peradventure, they were even in a worse plight than they were at present. It is a great thing for people to be encouraged.

I. WE SHALL EXPOUND THE TEXT IN ITS APPLICATION TO ISRAEL LITERALLY. They are bidden to look back to the origin of their nation, in order that they may be comforted. Abraham was the stock out of which the nation of Israel came. Moreover, the man was well stricken in years. As for his wife, she also, it is said, was barren; and yet from these two, who seemed the least likely of all flesh and blood, God was pleased to create a people countless as the stars. Abraham was not a man in a commanding position, with large armies at his feet, who could make a show in the world. He was a dweller in tents, a Bedouin sheik, wandering through the plains of Palestine, yet was he never injured; for God had sent forth a secret mandate, which fell, though they knew it not, upon men's hearts. Now, the prophet turns to the Israelites, and says, "You say God can never restore us, we have been thinned out by innumerable invasions, the sword of war hath slain the tribes, Judah and Israel can never rise again. But are there not more left of you than there were at first? There were but two, Abraham and Sarah, that bare you, and yet God made you a people. Can He not make you a people again?" etc. The thoughts which would be awakened in the heart of a Jew by these reflections would be eminently consolatory. They ought to be consolatory to us now with regard to the Jewish people. We are encouraged from the very origin of Israel to hope that great things shall yet be done for her.

II. Our text may be used in reference to the CONDITION OF THE CHURCH OF GOD IN THE WORLD.

1. I know many of the people of God who scarcely dare look for brighter times, because they say the people of God are few. Was not the Church very small at the first? It could all be contained in one upper room. Has it not been very small many times since then? But did not the Lord strengthen His Church in the apostolic times? And, in the dark ages, how very speedily did the time of the singing of birds come! God had but to speak by His servant Luther, and brave men came to His side, and right soon His Church sprang up.

2. But, is it possible, you say, while the Church of God in these days possesses so few men of influence? Did not inspiration say, "Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty have been called, but God hath chosen the poor of this world"? Do ye suppose that God has changed His plans, or that men s hearts have changed their bias?

3. But alas, saith one, I see grave cause for sorrow, for in these days many have departed from the faith, and truth lies in the streets bespattered. There have been eras and epochs in which gross heresies spread a contagion through the entire Church.

4. Again, I hear the voice of lamentation, "It is not merely that error spreads in the land, but the Church is lukewarm in these times." The Church has: been in a like listless state before, and out of that languid condition God has roused her up and brought her forth.

5. There is a complaint made by some, and I fear there is some truth in it, that we have not many valiant ministers now-a-days. But, for all that, there have been periods in the Church s history when she lacked for men of valour, and God has found them. Why should He not find them again?

III. OUR TEXT MAY BE VIEWED AS INSTRUCTIVE TO OURSELVES. Our experience, varies. It sometimes happens to men who are truly saved, that they fall from the, condition which they occupied when they were in their first love. Your present condition is not what your past one was, and yet the Lord visited you when in your lost estate. There is the same God to-day as there was when first you sought Him.

IV. OUR TEXT MAY BE FITTINGLY USED TO ENCOURAGE OUR HOPE FOR OTHERS. Do you say of some sinner, "I am afraid his is a hopeless case"? look unto the rock whence you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Remember again, that that poor sinner whose soul you are going to seek is where the best and brightest of the saints were. And, recollect, that that sinner you are going to speak with is, to-day, where those that are in heaven once were.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

It is the duty, and will be for the benefit of every true servant of God, occasionally to reflect, with due seriousness, on his own original state, on the rise and progress of religion in his own soul, and of the experience which he has thus individually had of the Divine power, goodness and mercy.

I. THE PERSONS HERE ADDRESSED. Those who "follow after righteousness" and "seek the Lord." How exactly does this description accord to the true people of God under the Christian Church?

II. THE EXHORTATION ADDRESSED TO THEM. "Look unto the rock," ete. The meaning is obvious, "Look back unto yourselves. Consider what you once were; in what a depth of misery you were originally sunk. Reflect on the natural hardness of your heart: on its insensibiliyt to spiritual things; on its dreadful alienation from God. See this state of things exemplified —

1. In your original conversion to God.

2. In your subsequent conduct towards God. Since the time in which you first knew Him in truth, and gave yourself up to serve Him in the gospel of His Son, what has been the state of your heart, of its affections, its tempers, and its dispositions? Have all these been uniformly such as this surrender and profession imply and require? Application: Whet lessons do these reflections teach.

1. Humility and-self-abasement.

2. Patience, contentment and resignation.

3. The necessity of a continual dependence on Divine grace to work in you both to will and to do.

4. Hope and encouragement.But the subject admits also of another less exclusive application. It furnishes one lesson of general importance: for it teaches ,as how holy and practical in its tendency is true, evangelical religion.

(E. Cooper.)

All the invitations and exhortations of the Word of God. for spiritual blessings are accompanied with a description of character.

I. THE WORSHIPPERS DESCRIBED.

1. These characters who follow after and seek after must be spiritually alive. It would be strange to talk of a corpse in a churchyard following after or seeking any favours at our hands. As strange would it be to talk of a post in the street following after us, and pursuing us for the same purpose.

2. There is a stirring in the living persons that begins to render them somewhat conspicuous. Wherever there is this stirring inquiry, this dissatisfaction with self, and a stirring to be right for eternity, there is life Divine.

3. Then, there must be sincerity. "Then shall ye find Me, when ye seek Me with your whole heart."

4. We will go on to notice their eager following after righteousness. It must be a righteousness that will justify. A righteousness that will sanctify. A righteousness that will glorify. It is imperishable.

5. Follow on to the next description of character. "Ye that seek the Lord.' Mark a few characteristics of these seekers. They seek Him privately. They seek Him in the place where His honour dwelleth. In His Word. Perseveringly. Seeking souls are well known in heaven, earth and hell.

II. THE EXHORTATION GIVEN. "Look unto the rock," etc.

(J. Irons.)

I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE LORD'S PEOPLE. They "follow after righteousness." If you ask what righteousness is, I call upon you to behold Jesus! He is righteousness. The Lord's people "follow after righteousness. They therefore follow Him. Far better for a man to strive to love Christ than to be trying to lay down certain rules of morality. They "follow after righteousness." Does not this imply that they cannot find it in themselves? Some follow after righteousness in fear. Others with many slips. The Lord's people follow after righteousness with humility. They follow after righteousness in love. Willingly. Perseveringly. I saw a steamer on the canal drawing after it three large boats. The steamer contained its own motive power, but had there been an engine and boiler in each of those boats they also would have gone on to Liverpool urged on by inward strength. Well, we follow after righteousness, not because Christ has placed some band between Himself and us, but because He has Himself entered our hearts. Christ is the living and moving power in our souls.

II. A KINDLY REMEMBRANCE. The Lord speaks very kindly to those who seek but have not yet found Him. Many are seeking the Lord without a light. Some may seek the Lord in unbelief. Some in a wrong way. Somebody else replies, "Ah, sir, I have no spiritual life, such as I had once." Well, who gave it to you in days gone by? The Lord. And will He not restore it again?

III. A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT.

1. Is your soul cast down? Well, remember what God has done for you. Did He not hew you from the rock of the world?

2. If God has hewn us from the rock we ought to hope for all humanity.

(W. Birch.)

Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn
1. Look back to beginnings; look along the line from the beginning to the sensations of to-day. A man should have his whole self before him in making his forecast of the future. His whole self should be a Bible, chaptered and versed, well numbered and properly displayed, having its Genesis, and running straight on through prophecy and tragedy, and music and Gospel, into mysterious Apocalypse. You have expurgated this life Bible, killed the promises and Psalms, and have only failures left.

2. Take in all your life: if God has made so much of you, He can make still more. The miracle is not in the great umbrageous tree; it is in that little green blade that pierces the earth and looks like a thing that means to pray. It is not the universe, but the molecule, that is a miracle to me. Looking back at what we were, it is easy to believe and yearn to be more.

3. If God has made so much of you, he can make as much of others. Therefore, do not contemn any man. God shows us in cathedrals what can be done with all stones; He shows us in gardens what can be made of all waste places. I do not read that there are two rocks out of which men are dug — one a very low and disreputable rock, and the other a very high and grand piece of masonry. We are all from the same rock and the same pit; we all have one Father, and we have all suffered the catastrophe of a common apostasy. Have pity upon those who are far behind.

4. Whence are ye hewn — digged; not whence ye hewed, digged yourselves. Are you well educated? It is because others made the way plain and smooth. Are you successful? It is the Lord thy God giveth thee power to get wealth. How much you owe father, mother! As we rise, the account grows, and if God do not forgive us we are lost.

(J. Parker, D.D.)

are odious; comparisons are highly profitable. They are odious if prompted by malice or meanness. A genius who had risen to a seat in the Commons was reminded by a shallow aristocrat in the lobby that he had formerly been his servant. "Well," retorted the man of talent, "and did I not serve you well?" Such comparisons are hateful; but they may also prove beneficial as promoting due humility and appreciative thankfulness. Take the case of Paul, who, though an apostle of very exceptional ability, would remind himself that he was the chief of sinners. As though he had said, "Now, Paul, look unto the rock whence you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you were digged.

(W. J. Acomb.)

It is doubtless serviceable for each of us, however devoted and pure, to be now and then presented with a photograph of our former selves. We can thus see what we should have remained if grace had not refined us. We can measure our growth and development. We can certainly better understand the obligations arising from improved conditions.

I. THE RETROSPECT THAT WAS RECOMMENDED to this godly remnant of Israel. In all ages have existed those to whom God could thus appeal. Their characteristics are ever the same — viz, the endeavour to live righteously and the instinctive craving for a fuller knowledge of God. Such were here bidden to recall the period when their great father, Abraham, had been separated from heathen surroundings, led, and instructed by the Divine Spirit till worthy of the appellation, Friend of God. The nation had been a stone cut out of the mountain without hands and fashioned into something like beauty and grace. In regard to individual stones, it would appear that the work of the Divine statuary is threefold —

1. Detachment from the common mass of material. A stone has no ability to leap from its place. The quarryman must by pick and gunpowder and hammer set the granite free. There is grace at the outset, either in national or individual life. People need graciously saving. You have to be rescued, separated from the power of death, lifted from the sphere of human passion. To do this, various agencies are employed — some almost dynamic, others more gentle.

2. Moulding by religious education and attrition of association. Quarried stones need moulding, whether granite, limestone or freestone. Hammer and chisel must be applied. So, when detached must expect to submit to peculiar processes. Some stones necessitate great labour; others can easily be wrought to any form. Heaps of stones about and in every one an angel! — only the angel requires to be modelled out, chiselled out, filed out. We can't see the angel; God can. None can be a holy person without pain. Salvation is not the deed of a moment, but is a gradual work, stage by stage, here a little and there a little.

3. Vivification of spiritual faculties by the Holy Ghost. Many of you have been extracted from the quarry and rough-hewn by Christian civilization; but you require the grandest thing of all, the breath of spiritual life. Like the child-delighting marionettes that are so skilfully moved by invisible machinery, but which have no appreciation of the part they play, you may be actuated by the forces of custom, or ambition, or fear, but remain dead to all sensations of a purely spiritual nature.

II. THE PURPOSES OF THE SUGGESTED RETROSPECTION. Judging from the context, the intention was —

1. To promote humility.

2. To stimulate hopefulness.We instinctively argue, "If so much, why not more?" God has always some better thing in store for us. Have we not a sure word of prophecy which declares that Christ is able to present each one of us faultless before the throne?

(W. J. Acomb.)

Shakespeare is given to present abstract ideas in concrete forms to suit the ordinary obtuse Englishman. Thus we understand Caliban. This low-type creature stands before us destitute of moral sense; his strongest motive to action fear of punishment; he hates unreasonably the best of beings; he luxuriates in grossest vice; his brain so feeble that he kneels to a drunkard. Now the national poet has contrasted this brute-man with Prospero, the refined courtier, the gentle father, the magnanimous Duke of Milan, thus exhibiting the diverse effects of Christian culture and heathen neglect. In one you behold the rough, angular, unhewn block; in the other the exquisitely moulded statue. To assimilate them, what a complicated miracle would be requisite! This is the mission of our Lord and Redeemer.

(W. J. Acomb.)

It is good for those that are privileged by a new birth to consider what they were by their first birth; how they were conceived in iniquity and shapen in sin. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. How hard was that rock out of which we were hewn, unapt to receive impressions; and how dirty the hole of the pit out of which we were digged! The consideration hereof should fill us with low thoughts of ourselves, and high thoughts of Divine grace.

( M. Henry.)

John Bunyan: — "I was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all families in the land. I never went to school to Aristotle or Plato, but was brought up in my father's house in a very mean condition, among a company of poor countrymen. Nevertheless, I bless God that by this door He brought me into the world to partake of the grace and life that is by Christ in His Gospel." This is the account given of himself and his origin by a man whose writings have for two centuries affected the spiritual opinions of the English race in every part of the world more powerfully than any book or books, except the Bible.

(J. A. Froude.)

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