This is what the LORD says: In this place you say is a wasteland without man or beast, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted--inhabited by neither man nor beast--there will be heard again
I. THE PICTURE OF A PARADISE LOST. This is given in ver. 10. The land desolate; the flocks and herds all gone; no human being to be seen; the cities laid waste. Now, this meagre outline would recall to the mind of the Jews the blessed days when the land teemed with inhabitants; when the cities were numerous, wealthy, populous, and strong; when the hills and dales of their countryside were covered over with flocks; and when, in the glad prosperity of all, the very fields were said "to shout for joy and also sing" (Psalm 65.). But all that is past; desolation reigns, the lands stripped, the cities burnt with fire, and the people slain or in exile; the whole land desolate of both man and beast.
II. PARADISE REGAINED. Such is the bright, joyous picture set forth in these verses (11-18). Its elements are:
1. Righteousness. Not mere innocence, as in Eden, but virtue tested and triumphant, and so issuing in a settled righteousness. This must be the basis of all truly blessed life. The people must be all righteous. This secured by him who is called "the righteous Branch, the Lord our Righteousness."
2. Love. (See ver. 11.) The joyous picture of the gladness of the bridegroom and the bride. And that companionship which is the most blessed in the world, and that love which is deepest and purest of all, are fitly taken as the symbol of that love which shall constitute the home of God's redeemed more than a paradise regained.
3. Worship. (Ver. 11.) The picture of the temple service has risen up before the prophet's mind. He hears the glad chant, the loud response of the people, "Praise the Lord." He sees the altar fire and the priests and sacrifices, and by this representation he teaches us that worship is part of the blessedness that is to be.
4. Healthful and universal employ. (Vers. 12, 13.) It has often been said, "God made the country, man made the town; and the saying may be read truly or falsely, as each one wills. For he who says there is nought of God in the city speaks as falsely as he who says there is only God in the country. But there can be no doubt that the highest, purest, and most healthful forms of life are connected with the country. "Four words, each of them full of meaning, comprise the conceptions which we attribute to the paradisaical state. They are these innocence, love, rural life, piety; and it is towards these conditions of earthly happiness that the human mind reverts, as often as it turns, sickened and disappointed, from the pursuit of whatever else it may have ever laboured to acquire. The innocence we here think of is not virtue recovered, but it is moral perfectness, darkened by no thought or knowledge of the contrary. This paradisaical love is conjugal fondness, free from sensuous taint. This rural life is the constant flow of summer days, spent in garden and field, exempt from our exacted toil. This piety of paradise is the grateful approach of the finite to the Infinite - a correspondence that is neither clouded nor apprehensive of a cloud" (Isaac Taylor). Now, in these verses, when the prophet would set forth the blessed life that the restored people should enjoy, he draws a picture, not of city, but of country life; not of hard exacting toil, but of healthful, peaceful occupation - the pastoral life of a quiet, beautiful land. It is a symbol of all healthful employ, and such employ shall be a further feature in the blessedness that is to be. Therefore, "Sursum corda!" a righteous, loving, worshipful, and healthful life awaits the sons of men "for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them," saith the Lord. - C.
If there is in us any deep, real, abiding, life-shaping thankfulness for the gift of Jesus Christ, it is impossible that our tongues should cleave to the roof of our mouths, and that we should be contented to live in silence. Loving hearts must speak. What would you think of a husband that never felt any impulse to tell his wife that she was dear to him; a mother that never found it needful to unpack her heart of its tenderness, even in perhaps inarticulate croonings over the little child that she pressed to her heart? It seems to me that a dumb Christian, a man that is thankful for Christ's sacrifice, and never feels the need to say so, is as great an anomaly as either of these I have described.
The voice of Joy, and the voice of gladness.
We are called upon to realise the fullest meaning of desolation. Think of a forsaken city, think of being afraid of the sound of your own footfall! Even in that desolation there comes an overpowering sense of society, as if the air were full of sprites, ghostly presences. What s singular sense there is too of trespass, encroachment, of being where you have no right to be — as if you were intruding upon the sanctuary of the dead — as if you were cutting to the life some spiritual ministry, conducting itself mysteriously but not without some beneficent purpose. You have broken in upon those invisible ones who are watching their dead; you want to escape from the solitude — in one sense it is too sacred for you, wholly too solemn; you would seek the society of your kind, for other society is uncongenial, unknown, and is felt to be a criticism intolerable, a judgment overwhelming. let if you do not fasten your attention upon the possibilities of desolation, darkness, forsakenness, loneliness, how can you appreciate what is to follow? May we not then hasten to inquire what is to follow? Can God work miracles here? It is just here that He works His grandest miracles; it is when all light dies out that He comes forth in His glory; it is when we say, There is no more road, the rock shuts us out, our progress is stayed, — it is then that a path suddenly opens in rocky places, and footprints disclose themselves for the comfort and inspiration of the lone traveller. Notice how exactly God's miracles fit human circumstances. They overflow them, but they first fill all their cavities and all the opportunities which they create and present. Thus God displaces darkness by light; thus God does not drive away the silence with noise but with music: it is no battering of rude violence that brings back human intercourse into plains that have been swept with human desolation; it is a festival, a banquet, a wedding scene, and already the forsaken valley vibrates as if under the clash of wedding bells. What was the quality of the joy that was wrought? It was profoundly religious. The voices that were uplifted were to say, "Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for His mercy endureth for ever." There are times when men must praise the Lord. The heart leads the judgment; the uppermost feeling, elevated and sanctified, tells the whole man what to do, uses the understanding as one might use some inferior creature to help him in carrying out the purposes of life. What is this highest faculty, what is this mysterious power, that takes to itself understanding, imagination, conscience, will, and all elements of energy? It is religious emotion; not sentimentalised and frittered away into mere vapour, but high, intelligent, noble feeling, glowing, passionate enthusiasm, a consecration without break or flaw or self-questioning, a wholeness of consent and devotion to the supreme purpose of life. When this desolation is banished, when this wedding feast is held, by what picture is the safety of the people represented? By a very tender one. We had in England shepherds who long ago spoke of taking care of their flocks under the idiom of "telling their tale" — counting the flock one by one. There shall be no hurrying, crowding into the fold, but one shall follow another, and each shall be looked at in its singularity; there shall be nothing tumultuous, indiscriminate, promiscuous; every process of providence is conducted critically, individually, minutely: so there is no hope for a man getting into the fold without the Shepherd seeing him; every sheep of the flock has to pass under the hand of him that telleth his tale. Until we realise the personality of the Divine supervision we shall flounder in darkness and our prayers will be mere evaporations, bringing back no answer, no blessing, no pledge from heaven. This is the picture presented by the prophet. Not one tittle of this providential order has been changed; the whole mystery of human life is to be found within its few lines. Consider what desolation good men have been called upon to realise. Never let us shut our eyes to the suffering aspect of human life. On the contrary, let us dwell upon it with attentive solicitude, that we may wonder, and learn to pray and trust. Say nought to the mocker, for he is not worth heeding, but say to the poor suffering heart itself, Wait: joy cometh in the morning: it is very sore now; the wind is very high, the darkness is very dense; our best plant poor heart! is to sit down and simply wait for God: He will come we cannot tell when, in the early part of the night, or not until the crowing of the cock, but come He will; it hath pleased Him to keep the times and seasons wholly to Himself, without revelation to narrow human intellects; let us then wait, and there is a way of waiting that amounts to prayer: poor heart! we have no words, we could not pray in terms, because we should be mocked by the echo of our own voice, but there is a way of sitting still that by its heroic patience wins the battle. Consider what changes have been wrought in human experience. You thought you could never sing again when that last tremendous blow was dealt upon your life, yet you are singing more cheerfully now than you ever sung in any day of your history; you thought when you lost commercial position that you never really could look up again, for your heart was overpowered, and behold, whilst you were talking such folly, a light struck upon your path, and a voice called you to still more strenuous endeavour, and to-day you who saw nothing before you but the asylum of poverty are adding field to field and house to house. You have been raised again from the very dead, you have forgotten your desolation, and you are now sitting like guests invited by heaven's own King at heaven's great banqueting table. Hold on; the end will judge all things. Hope stead. lastly in God; prayer is sweetest in the darkness; when there seems to be no road over which to travel up to heaven, then it works its miracles, it finds a pathway in the night-cloud. What is the joy that is depicted in this text? It is religious joy. The joy created by religion is intelligent. It is not a bubble on the stream, it has reason behind it; it is strengthened and uplifted, supported and dignified, by logic, fact, reality. Religious joy is healthy. It is not spurious gladness, it is the natural expression of the highest emotions. Religious joy is permanent. It does not come for a moment, and vanish away as if it were afraid of life and afraid of living in this cold earth-clime; it abides with men. Let us know by way of application that there is only one real deliverance from desolateness. That is a Divine deliverance. Let us flee then to the living God; let us be forced to prayer.
And of them that shall bring the sacrifice Of praise.
If I wanted to use, which I do not, mere theological technicalities, I should talk about the difference between sacrifices of propitiation and sacrifices of thanksgiving. But let us put these well-worn phrases on one side, as far as we can, for a moment. Here, then, is the fact that all the world over, and in the Mosaic ritual, there was expressed a double consciousness — one, that there was, somehow or other, a black dam between the worshipper and his Deity, which needed to be swept sway; and the other, that when that barrier was removed there could be an uninterrupted flow of thanksgiving and of service. So on one altar was laid a bleeding victim, and on another were spread the flowers of the field, the fruits of the earth, all things gracious, lovely, fair, and sweet, as expressions of the thankfulness of the reconciled worshippers. One set of sacrifices expressed the consciousness of sin; the other expressed the joyful recognition of its removal.
The sacrifice is thanksgiving. Then there will be no reluctance because duty is heavy. There will be no grudging because requirements are great. There will be no avoiding of the obligations of the Christian life, and rendering as small a percentage by way of dividend as the Creditor up in the heavens will accept. If the offering is a thank-offering, then it will be given gladly. The grateful heart does not hold the scales like the scrupulous retail dealer, afraid of putting the thousandth part of an ounce more in than will be accepted.
"Give all thou canst — high heaven rejects the love
Of nicely calculated less or more."
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