They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant in the bounty of the LORD--the grain, the new wine, the fresh oil, and the young of the flocks and herds. Their life will be like a well-watered garden, and never again will they languish.
I. THE PLACE OF PRAISE. To speak of Zion was to speak of the dwelling place of Jehovah. To sing in the height of Zion, therefore, was to sing, as it were, at the door of God's own house. While God ever visited idolatry with the severest punishments, he yet localized his presence by the sanctities connected with the ark. It was the holy of holies that made Zion a sacred place, and if the people were helped in praise and worship by assembling there, then there is every reason for mentioning Zion as the great place of national rejoicing. But we must take care not to consider any literal fulfilment of this prophecy as sufficient. The word is one taking our thoughts to that Mount Zion, which is part of the city of the living God, of the heavenly Jerusalem. The days of earthly localization are forever past. The principle of assembly now is that, wherever two or three are gathered together in the Name of Christ, there he is in their midst.
II. THE CAUSE OF PRAISE. Praise and gladness always have some Cause, but the question remains to be asked whether it be a cause which God will approve. If it be gladness rising out of some selfish triumph or gain, then the joy will assuredly be turned into mourning. But here the goodness of Jehovah is emphatically described as being the cause of the joy and singing. There is something substantial to sing about - corn, and wine, and oil, and cattle: the appropriate produce of the land, something that is at once the reward of righteous striving and the gift of an approving God. Everything is right externally and internally. The very life of the people is like a watered garden, which surely is a very suggestive expression to indicate that all is as it ought to be. A watered garden suggests a piece of land worth cultivating, well cultivated, and supplied with every factor contributing to fruitfulness. But what has been said of the place of praise must also be said of the cause of praise. Corn and wine and all the rest of the good things are only symbols of deeper blessings that have to do with the satisfaction of the heart. "Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." It is an easy thing for him, if needs be, to make up the defects of nature, which he showed at the feeding of the five thousand. Yet, in spite of this, famines are not always interfered with. God is not solicitous to go beyond what he has provided in nature for the support of natural life. But he is solicitous that we should apprehend the great spiritual abundance within our reach. The deepest meaning of this prophecy is that spiritual men only can really praise God, because they are praising him out of hearts that are being sustained by the richness of spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF PRAISE. The satisfied heart must praise, else there is a proof that the heart is not really satisfied. Satisfaction can no more be concealed than dissatisfaction. When in the writings of the apostles we come across outbursts of doxology, it is just what we might expect as being in harmony with the greatness of the blessings received. And this is just what often makes the praise part of worship eminently unsatisfactory, that men are thanking God for what they have not received. All compositions having praise and thanksgiving for their elements, and being successful compositions, must, by the very nature of the case, owe their origin to some actual experience of God's goodness. Hence it is important in this passage to notice how three things are bound together in the one prediction.
1. There is the gift of God.
2. The consequent satisfaction.
3. The irrepressible joy.
And what greater gift can we have from God than a heart filled with pure, abiding, joy, free from reproach, free from apprehension?
IV. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE PRAISE. Young and old, priests and people, are joined together in the common song. God's spiritual blessings are for all. There is much significance in that promise, "I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness." That means that the people are right religiously, and that again means that the priests are attentive to their own proper duty. Liberality to all Christian institutions, to all that is truly evangelistic and charitable, to all that is in the way of the highest ministry to mankind, is a sign of spiritual prosperity. - Y.
I. SOME IDEAS SUGGESTED BY THE COMPARISON OF THE SOUL OF THE RIGHTEOUS OR GODLY TO A GARDEN.
Their soul shall be as a watered garden.
I. ITS FRESHNESS. Rapid evaporation in hot, dry seasons in the East. Unwatered surface; hard, dry, crusted over, and perhaps cracked. In the watered garden, vegetation continues to spring fresh and joyous. So a Christian man may be fresh and vigorous in soul in the midsummer heat of business life, and in seasons of spiritual drought in the Church. Even when the hot winds of temptation blow directly from the burning desert of sin, his leaf shall not wither, and the manifestations of his spiritual life shall not shrink nor be corrupted (Psalm 1:3).
II. ITS FERTILITY. Water is always a fertiliser. It contains some sediment. The Nile has spread from thirty to forty feet of alluvium over the surface of Egypt. In England, artificial fertilisers are distributed to the soil by irrigation. It is therefore a fine figure by which the increased fertility of a watered garden represents the possible fruitfulness of a Christian soul. If it be objected that the illustration will not hold, since fertilisers increase the capacity of a soft to bring forth weeds as well as grain, it is answered, A watered garden is always a cultivated garden. Abundance of grace in the heart will both increase and insure faithfulness.
III. ITS BEAUTY. It is said when the Spaniards invaded Mexico they were astonished at the beautiful gardens of the Aztecs. These western people had constructed a finer system of irrigation, and brought horticulture to a degree of perfection unknown to haughty Spain. The religion of Christ develops the finest, strongest, noblest capacities of our being.
(J. C. Allen.)
I. GOOD SOIL. A minister in London was conducting a series of special religious services for young people. At the close of one of them a young lady, the daughter of one of the church officials, came into the inquiry room in great trouble. He was surprised to see her, as he had always thought her to be a good girl. "Oh, sir," she said, "I have such a wicked heart; how can I be saved?" The Holy Spirit had shown her the first necessity.
II. GOOD SEED. Sow nothing ugly, harmful, or useless. Be fragrant like the rose, humble like the lily, useful like the myrtle.
III. WELL WATERED. Souls need refreshing. If we would keep them alive for God, we must use the means of grace.
1. The Bible.
2. Private prayer.
3. Public worship.
IV. WELL WEEDED.
2. A little every day.
3. By the roots.
(W. H. Booth.)
1. A garden is a spot of ground upon which extraordinary cultivation is employed; it is usually separated and enclosed from common ground, and much labour and attention are employed to improve its soil, and to enrich it with those fruits and vegetables which are pleasant and profitable; and such is spiritually the state of every pious soul. Every real Christian is "a garden walled around-chosen, and made peculiar ground."
2. A garden is generally stored with various kinds of those vegetable productions that are either useful or ornamental. So out of the soul renewed by grace, does the Lord cause to spring up and grow every Christian virtue and heavenly grace that is either pleasing to God, or useful to man.
3. A garden does not arrive at its full perfections and glory at once. So it is with the Christian's graces; at first they are weak and small. His knowledge is very contracted and confused, he "sees men as trees walking"; his faith is unsteady and wavering, his love is limited within narrow bounds, and his hope too often droops and hangs its head.
II. THOSE DIVINE INFLUENCES BY WHICH THIS SPIRITUAL GARDEN IS WATERED.
1. The influences of the Spirit of God are imparted to every real Christian, and produce effects that resemble those which warm and refreshing showers have upon the productions of a garden (Isaiah 64:3).
2. These influences are enjoyed and conveyed to the soul by the means of God's Word and ordinances.
III. HOW MUCH THIS HAPPY STATE AND THESE ENRICHING INFLUENCES ARE TO BE DESIRED BY EVERY IMMORTAL SOUL,
1. Till we attain these, we are in a most desolate, wild, barren condition; yea, in an accursed and ruined state.
2. It is only by attaining this state, that we can arrive at true happiness either here or hereafter.
3. Unless we are in this state we cannot glorify God, nor be useful to our fellow-creatures as we ought. Learn from the whole, the need, the abundant need, we have daily to ask for Divine influences; and we should seek these influences sincerely. Ask evangelically; that is, according to the Gospel method of approaching unto God; with entire dependence upon the mediation of Jesus Christ. Ask importunately; that is, persevere till you obtain the blessing, and the more you have wrestled for it, the more you will value it when obtained. Ask believingly; that is, in constant expectation of obtaining; do not question His power, His goodness, or His faithfulness.
1. First of all we may mention the need of religious thinking. He is the best business man who can not only adapt himself to the routine and mechanism of his work, but can also discern the underlying principles of it, appreciate its wider relations and foresee its possibilities, who is not only the business actor, but the business thinker. Likewise one must consider religious facts and principles and truths in order that he may appropriate them and become wisely, fundamentally religious. Theology is, as it always has been, the most commanding of sciences; for it is man's thought about God, and man is always restlessly inquisitive in his attempts to search out the secrets of the Infinite. If one is to be large minded he must think large thoughts, and the greatest ideas that can enter the mind are the religious ideas. Again, it is to be urged that this religious intelligence is important for the sake of religious conduct. We hear it said that it matters not much what a man thinks, provided he does what is right, a statement which is entirely lacking in wisdom, because there is an inevitable sequence of cause and effect between thinking and doing. To give a single instance, whatever righteousness there was in the Jewish life was the reflection of the Ten Commandments — the Jewish conception of righteousness. We must see that our religious thinking has its basis in Scripture. We must take our start in the accepted record, if we would be true and wise, for Christianity is, first of all, not a philosophy, but a history. And the stimulus which the Bible gives us will come not only from being acquainted with its facts and principles and truths, but from breathing the atmosphere which emanates from its pages. It is a book instinct with life.
2. Another means of religious culture is prayer. No man can be truly religious if he does not pray, for religion is a personal relationship between man and God; and prayer is the one supreme act by which the door is opened, and one stands in the conscious presence of his Maker.
3. Still another means must be adopted in the cultivation of the spiritual life, and that is public worship.
4. To all other means implied in the spiritual culture there must be added rightness of action. No man can be truly religious whose devoutness is not rooted in integrity. There is a religiousness which easily lifts itself into ecstasies, which has no connection with the life. "A new commandment I give unto you," Christ declares, "that ye love one another." Oh, to live out of ourselves; to spend and be spent; to plan and work that we may do good to our homes, to our Church, to our community, and to all our fellow-men — that is to make our spiritual life real and abundant. May we ever be refreshed by that Divine presence, that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, and that our souls may be luxuriant and fruitful as a watered garden.
(H. P. Dewey.)
I. A FRAGRANT FRESHNESS. What a difference there is in the plants of a garden after they have been watered by the dews or showers, or by the hand of the gardener! The flowers lift their drooping heads; the leaves, set free from dust, put on a brighter aspect; the plants look as if they had taken a "new lease of life," and you might almost fancy that they were entering with new zest into the enjoyment of their existence! Now, the characters and lives of the people of God ought to be marked by a similar freshness. There ought to be a certain fulness of life in the soul of the Christian, making itself felt by those around him. Godliness tends to keep the soul from withering, and replenishes the springs of the deepest life. There is a perennial freshness in unselfish affections and unworldly aims. The "eternal life" never grows old. Each new day is a new gift from the Father's hand, and brings with it new opportunities of serving the Master and helping the brethren. The faith of the Gospel tends to produce the childlike heart; and to the childlike all is not "vanity and vexation of spirit." Oh! if we would only look at this human life of ours in the light of God, it could scarcely ever lose the freshness of its interest; and if we ourselves were only saturated with the love of God and the love of man, our own souls would be ever full of life, and fresh as a "watered garden." And this freshness of the Christian life is a fragrant freshness. It is a freshness which may co-exist even with physical weakness, sometimes even with disappointed expectations. There are souls which, like the thyme, give out their sweetest perfume when they have just been bruised. And how refreshing it is to see an aged Christian manifesting a fresh and kindly interest in the welfare of others, and especially in the pleasures of the young, and rejoicing in a daily sense of the presence and love of God!
II. A VARIED BEAUTY. In a well-kept garden there is beauty of colour and of form; beauty of order and of tasteful arrangement; beauty of stem, and leaf, and flower; and amongst the flowers themselves a varied beauty, resulting from manifold varieties of form and colour. Flowers do more for people — and especially for some people — than they themselves are aware of; and the blossoming of Christian character has its own subtle influence in the world. There are times when a man may get more good from the flowers of the garden than even from its fruits. And there is a kind of good which a man may get from the sight of a daisy, which he cannot get from the sight of the sturdiest oak. And, even so, the lovelier features of the Christian character have their own peculiar charm and peculiar power. "See how these Christians love one another!" was the admiring cry of the heathen, as they watched the flowering of brotherly affection in the early Church. And certainly there is no beauty to be compared with that of moral and spiritual character. It is said of Linnaeus that the first time he saw the gorse in bloom he knelt down upon the ground in grateful rapture, and gave God thanks for the sight. And have not we ourselves sometimes — after hearing of some chivalrous and generous deed, or after enjoying the company of the pure-minded and the tender-hearted — gone home to thank God upon our knees for the grace which can clothe human character with so much beauty? No rose of the garden is so beautiful as human love when it is both passionate and pure. No geranium, with its contrast of scarlet and green, is so lovely as an open frankness associated with a quiet modesty. No apple-blossoms are so fair as the kindly sympathy which is the natural forerunner of the fruits of well-doing. No lily of the valley is so beautiful as the sweet dignity which half hides itself in humility and tenderness.
III. A RICH FRUITFULNESS. Even the beauty of spiritual character has, as we have just seen, uses of its own, and is, therefore, in a sense, fruitful of good. But, over and above all this, Christians ought also to be putting forth practical endeavours for the promotion of Christ's kingdom, and for the welfare of human hearts and lives. If only you were more generous with your time or with your money, or if only you were more consistent in your conduct out in the world, or if only you were more earnest in the training of your children, or if only you took a deeper interest in the cause of Him who died for you, would not your life be much more fruitful of good
(T. C. Finlayson.)
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