Instead of the thornbush, a cypress will grow, and instead of the brier, a myrtle will spring up; they will make a name for the LORD as an everlasting sign, never to be destroyed."
But not until they have done the work for which they came, not until they have "accomplished that which God pleases," until they have prospered in the purpose for which he sent them; not until they have fertilized the soil, and made it bring forth its precious fruits. The vast amount of rainfall which the earth receives during every year renders incalculable service before it returns to the skies. So also does all the outpouring of Divine truth on the mind and heart of men. There may be times when the human spokesman may question this - when he may have grave misgivings as to its utility, when it may seem unprofitable and vain. But we have the strong assurance that God's Word "shall not return unto him void" - that the issue shall be one in which all surrounding nature may well take its part with jubilant acclaim (vers. 12, 13). The excellency of sacred truth will be seen if we regard -
I. OUR CONDITION IN ITS ABSENCE.
1. The unproductiveness of the human mind when thus untaught; the sad fact that men who are capable of the loftiest conceptions, the most ennobleing convictions, the most elevating feelings and aspirations, live and die without cherishing any one of these, in blank and dreary ignorance.
2. The noxious growths which flourish: the errors, the superstitions, the dark and foul imaginations. which defile the mind in which they spring up, and those also on whom these are acting.
II. THE BENIGNANT POWER WHICH ST EXERTS.
1. The outward transformations it works - great and happy reformations in the conduct, the career, the condition of individual men, of families, and of nations.
2. The inward blessedness it confers - peace, freedom, purity, love, joy, hope.
III. ITS OCCASIONAL, APPARENT FRUITLESSNESS. Even as the rain and the snow often fall on rock and sand and sea without seeming to produce any beneficent result, so does the truth of God, as preached, or taught, or printed, often seem to be unavailing; and there is discouragement, despondency, even despair, in the heart of the Christian worker. But we look at, -
IV. ITS ACTUAL EFFICACY.
1. There is much of actual efficacy which we can discover - of incidental result, bringing strength and sanctity to those whose benefit is not sought; of indirect result; of ultimate result, being "found after many days."
2. There is more which we take on trust. God has ways of using material things which long escaped our notice, and doubtless many ways which still elude our observation. Has he not ways of using our spiritual efforts, of turning them to account, so that one day we shall find that his own Word never returns to him void - that it always prospers in the thing whereto it is sent? "He that goeth forth weeping... shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." - C.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE TRANSFORMATION. "Instead of the thorn," etc.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree.Κόνυζα (fleabane). All that can be said is that some desert plant is meant.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
I. THE EFFECTIVE AGENCY here spoken off I do not find in this fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah that the cause of the spiritual miracles of my text is a gospel of forms and ceremonies. Nor do I find here a gospel of dogmas and orthodoxies, of rigid creeds, and infallible statements. But I learn a Gospel of quite another sort, more Divine, more glorious by far.
1. A Gospel revealing Divine provision for man's necessity, and earnestly inviting man to partake of it (ver. 1).
2. This Gospel is as free as the air, for do we not read over and over again, "Buy without money and without price," and are not those invited to come who have-no money?
3. It is a Gospel of hearing and not of doing. "Hearken diligently." "Incline your ear." "Hear and your soul shall live." Death came to us first through the eye, but salvation comes through the ear.
4. Running your eye down the chapter you will notice that the great means God makes use of for turning deserts into gardens is the Gospel founded on a covenant, a covenant made with David's Lord and Son. "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure, mercies of David."
5. Isaiah describes" a Gospel whose success is guaranteed. "Thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not. But you may call often, and men will not come; in this case, however, they shall come. "Nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee." "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow," etc.
6. The Gospel which Isaiah speaks of is full of grace and encouragement (vers. 6-9).
II. THE BENEFICIAL RESULTS OF THE GOSPEL. The change depicted in this verse is very radical, for a little observation will convince you that it is a change in the soil. The verse does not say, Instead of the thorn God shall plant the fir tree. No. but as the thorn coming up naturally by itself indicates such-and-such a condition of soil, so fir trees shall spring up by themselves spontaneously, indicating an altogether radical change in the earth beneath. When God encloseth a heart that has laid common, does He cut down the thorns and the briars, and then plant fir trees? No l but He so changes the soil that from the ground itself there spontaneously starts up the fir tree and the myrtle. This is a miracle which man cannot accomplish, a marvel which only the grace of God can work, and which gives to God His highest glory. Note the poetic metaphor which describes the outward change.
1. A thorn Is the conspicuous emblem of the curse. Upon many ungodly men there is very evidently the curse, while upon all it really rests. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked.
2. A thorn is a fruitless thing. Look at it, and see how barren it is. God gets neither prayer nor praise from the ungodly man.
3. A thorn, too, is a repulsive thing — there is nothing inviting about it; nobody would choose to make it a pillow or a companion. Some Christless persons are naturally amiable; but many and many a man, especially when sin has come to a head with him, is a thorn-hedge, a churl, a,n unsympathizing, selfish being.
4. Again, the thorn is a rending thing, offending, noxious. So has it been with ungodly men, when unrestrained by grace. Like Saul of Tarsus, they breathe out vengeance against God and His people.
5. As for the metaphor of the briar used in the text, it was always the emblem of desolation. The briar came up on the desolate walls of Babylon and Nineveh; the briar covered the land of Israel, when the inhabitants were carried away captive. In how many human hearts where the Gospel has not come is there desolation, sadness, despair?
6. The briar, too, is a thing that cumbers the ground; it occupies the place of the palm or of the fig; and so ungodly men cumber the ground; they do no good; they occupy spheres in which others might have served God; they are altogether wasters, they rob God, they bring Him no revenue of glory.
7. The briar is soon to be cut down, and when cut down no use can be made of it; it is burnt; it is put away. Such is the future history of the unconverted man.
III. THE GLORIOUS ISSUE. "It shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." Jehovah might, if He willed, have taken other names; He might have selected other works of His hands to be the ensigns of His glory, but He has chosen the results of the Gospel to be His proudest honours; He has, if I may use such a term, staked His eternal majesty upon the effects of Gospel grace. With the heathen their gods took names from what were thought to be their most glorious work. We read of Jove, the thunderer, because they imagined that he launched the bolt from his hand. They spoke of the fardarting Apollo — the rays of light flashing from the sun. They talked of the cruel Juno in the wars of Troy. If Jehovah, the one only true God, had chosen, He might have been "Jehovah, the Thunderer;" we might have read of the far-darting God; we might have had Him constantly portrayed in Scripture as the terrible and avenging Lord; but He hath not chosen such a name; He hath not been pleased to select anything that is terrible as His peculiar glory, but that which is full of melting mercy and tender pity. The Lord has acted wisely, as He always does, in selecting such a matter as this to be His name, to be a display of Himself, because it is everlasting. Let this encourage Christians. If it is God's glory to save man, expect to have them saved and go to work to save them. To you who are unconverted! How this ought to encourage you to come to God in Christ Jesus! Is it to His glory to save you? Then He will do it.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Naturally, there is no difference between men as to their state.
2. Grace makes a difference.
II. THE RELATION OF THIS TRANSFORMATION TO GOD. "And it shall be to the Lord for a name," etc.
1. It is supposed that this work is the work of God. And it is, and must be so; and the very quality of the effect shows its origin and Author.
2. This is to be to Him for "a name, that is a praise; and therefore you will find both words used together in another passage. They shall be to me for a name and a praise." And the latter is explanatory of the former.
3. It "shall be to the Lord," not only for "a name," but for "a sign." A sign is a manifestation, a token. Now the conversion of souls to God is a kind of moral miracle; it is a striking display on the part of God towards man.
4. Observe the duration of this. "An everlasting sign."
I. THE NECESSARY GROWTH. The human soul will grow. It will put forth from its soil and substance natural and moral products of some kind. There may be thorn and briar, or there may be fir tree and myrtle tree, but there will be something. There are no responsible human souls absolutely barren. There seems to be a certain amount of force in the human soul — a certain amount of what may be called organic vitality, which will be out into forms and habits, speech and behaviour, character and life; and you cannot keep it down, do what you will.
II. THE FIRST CROP IS THE THORN AND BRIAR. These are indigenous to the soil; the things that will appear if nothing is done. Our state is so depraved that evil principles, affections and habits will take priority of anything good that may be left in us. Our views of sin will affect our views of almost everything else.
III. THERE IS A SECOND CROP. These trees are taken, apparently, AS EMBLEMS OF THE BETTER LIFE, ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR GREAT BEAUTY AND USEFULNESS. We find the fir tree very often used by the sacred writers, with the cedar. Thus — "The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters are fir." Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, "I will do all thou desirest concerning timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir." "Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon." Indeed, some think that the tree here mentioned, called the fir tree, was the cedar, and some think it was the cypress. Probably the word is generic, and has reference to trees of that kind. Trees, like the cypress and cedar, were grand to the sight and refreshing to the traveller who stood under their shadow; and the wood of them was so hard and excellent that it was much used for the building of temples, for ships, for musical instruments, for lances to be used in war, and even for statues, on account of its great durability. We see the idea here suggested. What is strong, useful, beautiful, takes the place of what is prickly, useless, wasteful. A change like that in a landscape would be an emblem of what takes place in a human soul and life, when a natural man becomes a spiritual man. In a well-tilled Gospel field we should not see much of a thorn and briar from the very first. In family gardens they should not be suffered to grow — at least, every endeavour should be made to prevent it, and to rear the fir tree and the myrtle tree, and to draw out unto them the strength which otherwise will certainly go to nourish the hurtful and wasteful things. It is to be feared that some Christians, parents and others, have radically erroneous conceptions on this point. They hold the doctrine of natural depravity shelteringly, almost lovingly, the same almost as if they held it to be their duty to draw out that depravity in order to prove it. Certainly these thorns and briars will grow up if we let them, but instead of them let us have the fir tree and the myrtle tree so early and so fully that we shall never see the former at all.
IV. THE PERPETUAL BEAUTY. That must be beautiful and good which the Lord takes for a name, and regarding which He says, "Let Me be known by it." It is so even now. When God speaks of Himself He does not point to His name up amid the stars — systems and fields of wide illimitable space. He does not speak of earthquakes and violence; of majestic clouds, and stormy seas. He points to His new-born children — who bear His image, who reflect His glory-whose souls enshrine His awful name — who are set for ever to be the praise of the glory of His grace, "for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." The Gospel even in this world is an indestructible thing. It is erecting signs of its power far more enduring than the pictures of the learned and the statues of the brave.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
I. THE THORNS AND BRIARS OF LIFE. In many cases we reap what others have sown; in some we sow for ourselves; in others we suffer from our neglect. We have failed to use our opportunities; and therefore crops of rank growth cover the acres of the past, and thistledown hovers in clouds, threatening the future.
1. Ill-health is surely one. For some, the excesses of their ancestors — for others, their own — have sown the furrows with the seeds of bitter harvests, which they have no alternative than to reap. Dyspepsia, cancer, the slow progress of paralysis along the spinal cord, nervous weakness and depression — these are some of the many ills to which our flesh is heir, and they are thorns indeed. Paul's thorn was probably ophthalmia.
2. Bad children are another. Did David not mean this when he said that his house was not so with God; and that the ungodly, like thorns, must be thrust away with the armed hand? When the daughters make unfortunate marriages, and sons spread their sails to every gale of passion, there are thorns and briars enough to make misery in the best-appointed and most richly furnished homes.
3. Strong predispositions and tendencies towards evil may be classed among the thorns. To be of a jealous or envious temperament; fall on dull and irresponsive ears — this is to be beset with thorns and briars, as though all the goodness of a field should go to waste in weeds.
4. Compulsory association with uncongenial companions in the workshop or the home.
5. Difficulties that bar our progress, like hedges of prickly thorns in some tangled forest, may be included in this enumeration. Competition in commercial life makes thorny the path of many a man of business. Perplexities and worries, annoyances and vexations, fret us almost beyond endurance. Each life has experiences like these. Surely, we argue, we could live nobler and more useful lives, if only we were free. "Not so" says the Lord. "I cannot take away the thorn — it is the only means of royalty For thee; but I will give thee My all-sufficient grace."
II. ROYALTY THROUGH THORNS. It is very remarkable that the sign of the curse became, on the brow of Christ, the insignia of royalty. The lesson is obvious — that He has transformed the curse into a blessing; that He has discovered the secret of compelling it to yield royalty. There was some dim hint of this in the words of the primaeval curse on the ground, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; thorns also and thistles it shall bring forth unto thee." What can this mean, except that there was an ulterior design in this infliction on the material world? It is not very clear what is implied in this sentence on the ground. Almost certainly there were thorns and thistles before Adam's sin brought a blight on God's fair world; but probably from that moment they became more prolific, or the conditions that had been unfavourable to their growth became more favourable, or malign hands were permitted to scatter their seeds afar. But, however, it befell, there can be no doubt that God's purpose was wholly benevolent. Cursed is the ground for thy sake; that is, out of the obduracy of the soil, and its tendency to breed thorns and thistles, will come to thee the best and highest blessing. Surely this has been verified. Where has man attained his noblest development? In lands where kindly Nature has been most prodigal of her good gifts? where the soil has only needed scratching to yield a bountiful return? where life has been free from care, as that of bees among the limes? No! not there. By the bountiful provision of all they needed for their sustenance and comfort, Nature has enervated her children, men have become inert and sensual, ease-loving and muscleless. But where the soil has been unkindly, the climate inhospitable, the struggle for existence hard, the presence of the thorn ever menacing the cultivated patch, and threatening to invade garden or field; where every endeavour has been required to wring subsistence from the unwilling ground — there man has arisen to his full height, and put forth all his glorious strength of brain and sinew. Probably this is what is meant in the thorn-crown on the brow of Christ. It teaches that man can only attain his true royalty by meeting, enduring and overcoming these elements in life which forebode only disaster and loss. What a magnificent conception this gives of the possibilities of sorrow! In proportion as we patiently submit ourselves to our Father's appointment, we come to see the reasonableness and beneficence of His design, and find ourselves adopting the thistle as our badge; we discover that it has been the means of unfolding and perfecting our character, of giving royalty and dignity to our demeanour, and making us kings by right of conquest, as well as by right of birth.
III. THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF GRACE. "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the briar the myrtle tree." "My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness." "I will, therefore, glory in My infirmities.
1. God gives us new views of dark things. What we thought was punishment, turns out to be the chastening of a Father's love. The thorns change to myrtles when God shows His reasons.
2. God makes our sorrow and losses occasions for giving more grace. There are two ways of helping the soul bent double under some crushing burden. It may be removed; or additional strength, equal to its weight, may be inbreathed. The latter is God's choice way of dealing with His children. And if we were wise, we should not pray for the extraction of the thorn, but claim the greater grace.
3. The grace of God actually transforms awkward and evil dispositions, both in ourselves and others. Softness becomes meekness; cowardice gentleness; impulsiveness enthusiasm; meanness thrift; stinginess generosity; cruelty consideration for others; irritability and vehemence patience and longsuffering. God did not destroy the Roman Catholic pulpits at the Reformation — He did better, He filled them with Gospel-preachers. Similarly, He does not destroy any of our natural characteristics, when He brings us to Himself; He only eliminates the evil and develops the good. The thorns of passion and temper are replaced by fir trees, and the briars by myrtles.
4. When the discipline has done its work, it is removed. These glowing predictions were partially fulfilled in the restoration of Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah; and no doubt they would have been more fully realized if there had been more perfect faith in the Divine promises. These glowing words, however, shall be perfectly fulfilled in those coming days when Israel shall turn to the land from all lands whither her people have been scattered. Their conversion, the apostle tells us, shall inaugurate the times of refreshing, of which the prophets have spoken from the beginning of the world.
(F. B. Meyer, M.A.)
An everlasting sign.1. The redemption of the Jews out of Babylon shall be a ratification of those promises that relate to Gospel times.
2. It shall be a representation of the blessings promised, and a type and figure of them.
(1) (2) (3) (4) ( M. Henry.)
(2) (3) (4) ( M. Henry.)
(3) (4) ( M. Henry.)
( M. Henry.)
( M. Henry.)