For I testify about them that they are zealous for God, but not on the basis of knowledge.
I. ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.
1. Israel's zeal was an element of strength. "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God" (ver. 2). The apostle does them the justice of recognizing their zeal for God. Here he could speak with sympathy, the sympathy of personal experience. He knew how, before his conversion to Christianity, he himself had been influenced by the same sincere, though mistaken, desire for God's glory. "I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the Law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day" (Acts 22:3). Here is the same sympathetic recognition of Jewish zeal. This quality, when rightly applied, was their strength. It well fitted them to be the bearers of God's message, and the channel of his blessings, to the world. A people without zeal will never accomplish anything permanent or great.
2. Zeal without knowledge was their weakness. They had a zeal of God, "but not according to knowledge." Zeal is not necessarily an unmixed blessing. Yet there are many who commend earnestness, utterly irrespective of the motives from which it proceeds, the methods it adopts, or the ends it has in view. On this principle the doctrines held or the character exhibited are of small importance, provided only there is earnestness and zeal. Mohammedanism and the Inquisition would therefore be both laudable, because they exhibited zeal. Zeal without knowledge may become the opened floodgate for a torrent of evil. Zeal in religion may lead to any excesses if it is not restrained and tempered by the wisdom which God's Word imparts.
II. WORKS WITHOUT FAITH. "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (ver. 3). Thus it is plain that sincerity and morality will not save the human soul or procure acceptance with God. The essential condition of salvation is faith. Faith will lead us to accept God's plan of salvation, and to be guided by his Word in our efforts to obtain it. St. Paul's description of the Jews here might be appropriately applied to our Roman Catholic and ritualistic brethren. They too have a zeal for God. Their zeal and earnestness cannot be questioned. But their zeal is often not according to knowledge. They too are "going about to establish their own righteousness." They substitute works for faith, and by legal observances, by rites and ceremonies, by lastings and penances, they seek to work out's righteousness for themselves. Christ and his Word are too much set aside, and Church and priest and the commandments of men are set up in their place. Let us admit their strength, let us imitate their zeal, while affectionately "speaking the truth in love" we point out and avoid their weakness. - C.H.I.
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth.Romans 10:5; Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:6; Deuteronomy 30:12-14). Prophets like Isaiah and Joel successively announce to him the reward of faith in Christ, and the intimate and beneficent nearness of the Lord of all to all His true worshippers (Romans 10:11; Isaiah 28:16; Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32), and by consequence, the abolition of the Judaic nationalism, and the Catholicity of the religion which was succeeding it. And when the question is asked how there can be such true worship without faith in its object, or faith without a religious education, or this again without a message from heaven, and an authoritative commission to proclaim it, the reply is given in the words of the evangelical prophet (Isaiah 52:7), for whose entranced soul the intervening centuries have neither force nor meaning, and the distant and contingent future is a realised and present fact. Along with the messengers who announce to captive Israel the speedy return of peace and freedom, there mingle, in the prophet's vision, other forms of apostolic mien and greatness, and their footsteps fall on all the mountains of the world, as they carry forward the message which emancipates mankind, and which proclaims an alliance between earth and heaven. Yet more, this greatest of the prophets foresees the partial acceptance of the gospel as accurately as he foretells its universal promulgation (Romans 10:16; Isaiah 53:1): and prophecy closes around the Jew, who refuses belief to the report of the apostles, by describing not merely the truth which confronts him, but his own attitude towards it. That there may be no mistake as to the weight and pressure of the Jew's responsibility, the apostle asks in the text somewhat abruptly, whether the men of Israel have not heard the gospel-message. And he answers not by pointing to the literal fact, that already the messengers of Christ had penetrated far and wide into either of the great branches of the Dispersion, while Jerusalem itself was the home and focus of Christian doctrine; he quotes a psalmist who is singing of the heavenly bodies, and who tells how they speak for the glorious Creator in terms which all can understand, while from day to day and age to age they hand on their mighty tradition of the truth, which all the languages of man confess, and all the climes and regions of the earth have heard. The apostle reads the history of the Church in the light of his Master's words: "Go, teach all nations." The intervening centuries count for nothing; just as when we gaze at the fixed star, we do not ordinarily reflect upon that scintillation of the rays of its light through almost measureless space which science yet reveals to us in all its wonder with minute precision. And the apostle sees all at a single glance: he ignores the alternation of ebb and flow — the constant play of light and shade — which meet us in the actual history of the Church; we forget, as we read his words, that struggle for life, maintained for centuries, — maintained against overwhelming forces. We seem to be watching a process which has all the beauty and ease of a natural movement; we have before us what is less the history of an accomplished and hard-won triumph than it is the spectacle of a beneficent provision or law of the universe, in which there is no struggle, no effort, no resistance, and in which the Heavenly Wisdom already reaches from one end to another mightily, and smoothly and sweetly ordereth all things. "Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world." And here are two points that demand our consideration.
I. OUR LORD'S COMMAND AND THE PROPHECY OF HIS APOSTLE IMPLY FIRST OF ALL THAT THE GOSPEL WOULD STAND THE TEST OF TIME. Of all forms of power, as of all forms of thought that are merely human, time is the great enemy. No sooner has a doctrine or a system taken its place in the arena of human thought, than, like the ocean which imperceptibly fritters away the base of a mountain cliff, time forthwith begins its relentless work of progressive demolition. Again, time brings with it what we term in our ignorance chance; it brings combinations of circumstances, and of agencies to bear, upon which no genius can calculate, and against which no prudence can take its measures. Once more, the lapse of time involves the liability to internal decay: those who have reached power, betake themselves to its enjoyment; those who believe that they are securely masters of the world of thought, are not alive to the decomposition which awaits or preys upon their stagnant system. And, lastly, as the years pass over a doctrine or a system, they inevitably subject it to the decisive test of opposition. And this not necessarily because it has faults and failings, but because it exists, and by its existence invites hostile criticism, since it drains away something, however little, of the attention, and labour, and substance, which would but for the fact of its existence be bestowed elsewhere. Need I say that He who came from heaven to redeem and save us knew what was before Him. He foresaw the coolness which would succeed to a first fervour of welcome to His truth; He allowed for the unfavourable conjunctions of circumstance, and for the intimidation and the errors of those who might represent Him, and for the opposition which a gospel such as His (making, as it did, no terms with any human feeling or conviction that was inconsistent with the rights of God), could not but encounter in the passions of man. He predicted a time when the love of many would wax cold, etc. (Matthew 24:9, 11, 12, 24). He accepted, He set forth the idea of the intense hatred which His gospel must perforce encounter in the world, so energetically, that He, the Prince of Peace, described Himself as sending not peace, but a sword. Yet foreseeing these elements of destruction gathering around Him, He is calmly certain of the perpetuity of His doctrine (Mark 13:31). Surely the event has not falsified the prediction. Since the Incarnation, all else has changed; new races, new moulds of thought, new languages, new institutions, political and social, supplant others which once seemed destined to exist for ever, and which have passed away. But, reigning amid the ruins of the past, reigning amid the progress of the present towards the future, Jesus Christ is here. You may contend that here and there His work is marred or broken; you may insist on the desolating spread of the great heresies of the first ages, or on the loss of the Churches of the East and of the Church of and of — trampled as these are beneath the feet of the infidel. Now, as of old, He is crucified in weakness, while He reigns in power: He is, by the very pressure and fierceness of His foes, uniting friends who have long been sundered; His vast providences enlist the services even of men who know but fragments of His truth; He has more loyal hearts who trust and worship Him than in any previous age. For observe, that He does not merely hold His ground: He is extending His Empire. He is again laying siege to those citadels of superstitious yet of philosophical idolatry — the oriental religions — which have so long resisted Him; He is bidding the islands of the sea wait on His advancing foot-steps.
II. OBSERVE A SECOND FEATURE OF THE PREDICTED MISSIONARY ENERGY OF THE CHURCH, WHICH, NO LESS THAN THAT ALREADY MENTIONED, WOULD SEEM TO POSSESS AN EVIDENTIAL VALUE. For our Lord did not merely insure His religion against the triumph of those causes which, in the case of human institutions or opinions, must ultimately produce decay and dissolution. The stone which you throw loses force and swiftness as it obeys the impulse you gave to it; it buries itself, we will suppose, beneath the waters of a still lake, and again the ripple which radiates from the point of disturbance, becomes, moment by moment, less clear to the eye, as on this side and on that its widening circles approach the shore. So it is with human religions: they spend themselves while they gain the prestige of antiquity; and our Lord, as we have seen, reversed this law of exhaustion, in the case of His gospel. But He did more: He presumed upon, He appealed to, because He knew Himself able to create and command, an ever-youthful and active enthusiasm, which in the last ages of the faith, no less than in the first, would carry forward His doctrine into all the regions of the earth, and, at whatever risk, would press it closely in its perfectness and its power on the consciences of men. Look at the other great religions which have ruled, or which still rule, the thought or the heart of the human race. Where have ancient priesthoods, like the Egyptian, been missionary agencies? Where have philosophical speculations, like these of the Schools of Greece, been more than the luxury and the pride of the selfish few — where and when have they shown any capacity of becoming the inheritance of the heart and thought of the struggling many? Surely it were not unreasonable to surmise that if the Infinite and the Eternal God has spoken in very deed to us His creatures, He can only so have spoken, as at the first He can only have given us being, out of the free and pure love which He bare towards us. And thus along with the gift of truth would come the accompanying gift of love; and we should anticipate what is in fact the case, that He, our Incarnate Lord, whom we worship as the highest and absolute Truth, is also the most tender and indeed boundless Charity. It is by combining in Himself truth and love so perfectly that Jesus, from age to age; commands the most intelligent and the most heroic devotion of which man has ever been capable. Think not that true devotion to Christ our Lord is a luxury of the Primitive Church, which can find no lasting home in the midst of our modern civilisation. It may be true that mutilated creeds cannot provoke, and that coward hearts cannot understand, such devotion. But wherever the truth is taught in its integrity to hearts that are "honest and good," the same phenomena of absolute self-devotion will be found to repeat themselves which illustrated so gloriously the first ages and children of the faith. He has indeed made men love Himself; for around Him and His work there mantles such a robe of unfailing and ever-youthful beauty, that in His Divine Person, His human form, His words, His world-redeeming sacrifice, His ceaseless intercession, His gift of the Blessed Spirit, His oneness with His people through the sacraments of His Church, the soul finds that which answers to its highest imaginings no less than to its deepest needs. It finds in Him, as in none else, its rest.
1. Some say that Paul argues from the less. If God teach all by the great volume of the heavens, much more will He teach all by the heavenly doctrine of the gospel.
2. I think that there is here hid a prophecy of the preaching of the gospel, because the latter part of the psalm speaks much in the commendation of it; and Paul here so applies it. And, indeed, there is a most sweet analogy between the heavens found and the gospel. The heavens are the work of God's hand; so is the gospel revealed by God. The heavens show the work of God: so the gospel, that we are justified by the work of God, which is faith, not by the works of man. The doctrine of the gospel is pure and lightsome as are the heavens. The influence of the heavens comforteth and cherisheth inferior things: so doth the gospel the conscience. The diversity of nations and languages is manifold which understand not one another; yet all understand the excellency of the heavens, and the wonderful work of God in them. So God enabled the apostles to teach all nations in their own tongues the wonderful works of God (Mark 16:20; Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:6).
I. THAT IS THE TRUE RELIGION WHICH AGREES WITH THAT WHICH WAS PREACHED IN ALL THE WORLD BY THE APOSTLES.
II. IT WAS A MIRACLE THAT THE GOSPEL, a doctrine teaching the denial of ourselves and bearing of the Cross, carried by poor and mean persons, oppressed by mighty emperors and kings, should in despite of men and devils, WITHIN THE SPACE OF FORTY YEARS, BE SO PUBLISHED IN ALL THE WORLD. Let all enemies cease to oppose it by the remembrance hereof.
III. OBEY THE GOSPEL, LEST HE WHICH SENT IT TAKE IT AWAY, and remove our candlestick for our unbelief and contempt of it. For this cause Turcism and Papism possess many places, which have been heretofore famous for the gospel. Hath the grace of God shined to thee? Make much of this light, and walk in it. Hast thou heard the sound of it? Why dost thou live in lewd practices, as if thou hadst never heard any inkling of it? Where sin bears rule, there is not the gospel received.
(Elnathan Parr, B.D.)I. IS HEARD —
1. In nature.
2. In the Word of God.
3. In the gospel.
II. DIFFUSES ITSELF —
1. Like waves of sound.
2. Through time.
3. Through the world.
III. DEMANDS UNIVERSAL ATTENTION.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. TO WHOM DO THESE WORDS APPLY? To the unbelieving —
II. WHAT DO THEY IMPLY? The sufficiency of revelation as respects —
1. Its clearness.
2. Its diffusion.
III. WHAT MUST WE INFER.
1. The inexcusable guilt of man.
2. The justice of God.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. HIS COMMUNICATIONS TO THEM.
3. Everywhere heard.
II. HIS WARNINGS of rejection.
1. By Moses.
2. By Isaiah.
III. HIS PATIENT FORBEARANCE.
1. Kindly entreating them.
2. During the long period of Old Testament history.
3. Spite of disobedience.
IV. THE FINAL TRANSFER OF HIS FAVOUR TO THE GENTILES.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
But I say, Did not Israel know? — Observe —
I. HOW GOD DISCIPLINES A REBELLIOUS PEOPLE. He —
3. Bears patiently.
4. At length transfers His favour to others, whom they despise.
II. HOW THIS APPLIES TO US. We have been —
1. Equally privileged.
2. Equally rebellious.
3. If Israel could not escape, how shall we?
(J. Lyth, D.D.)1. Privilege.
3. Persistent disobedience.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
But Esaias is very boldI. IN THEIR PROPHETIC IMPORT as accomplished —
1. In the calling of the Gentiles.
2. The rejection of the Jews.
II. As DESCRIPTIVE OF GOD'S ACTUAL PROCEDURE.
1. He receives sinners and outcasts.
2. But the children of the kingdom are cast out.
III. AS ILLUSTRATING THE WHOLE ECONOMY OF THE GOSPEL.
1. It is a system of unmerited grace.
2. Those who do not participate in it have themselves wholly to blame.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I was found of them that sought Me not
I. GOD HAS NEVER YET RELINQUISHED HIS HOLD UPON THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE. Sin entered the world and ruined the race. But the Almighty has not given it away to destruction, and is going to repossess His own.
II. GOD EVEN NOW ASSERTS HIS FULL RIGHT TO A SPECIAL PEOPLE OF HIS OWN IN THE MIDST OF EARTHLY REBELLION AND DISOWNMENT OF HIS SON. His call is, Who is on the Lord's side? and asserts authority in a land, without consulting the poor magnates at the head of it. He commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh, He sent Moses into Egypt with orders to Pharaoh to dismiss a million of his subjects for ever on a night's notice. It made no difference whatever that the king said he did not know who this Jehovah was; the Maker of the universe assumed that it was the business of all His intelligent creatures to understand the authority which belonged to a monarch like Him. He assumes that same pre-eminence now. The only question that can arise is one of individual bearing, who shall rally first around His standard, and serve Him? And this He decides Himself (vers. 11-13). Nor does He leave this choice to a mere chance acceptance. Does He need a king? Then the ruddy-checked son of Jesse is anointed. Does He need a priest? He summoned Melchizedek. Does He need a prophet? Then shall the unwilling lips of Balaam be turned from cursing into blessing. Thus does He gather His agents at His own sovereign will, often unexpectedly to themselves, as well as surprisingly to others. Literally, "He is found of those who sought Him not," etc.
III. THE ALL-WISE GOD HAS ORIGINATED AND ANNOUNCED A PLAN BY WHICH HE MAY BRING HIS PEOPLE TO HIMSELF WITHOUT ANY FAILURE.
1. God assumes at the start that men are utterly lost? We are condemned already. The wrath of God abideth on every one of us.
2. That God prefers to save the transgressor rather than punish him. God says He takes no pleasure in the infliction of penalty. He has proffered a way of escape (ver. 4). And this is the only way
3. That the human will is stubborn, and always refuses free grace. Just here enters the greatest mystery of the gospel. A certain spiritual pressure is exerted by God Himself. The Holy Ghost constrains the surrender of the disobedient heart.
IV. IN THE CARRYING OUT OF HIS PLAN GOD SOMETIMES STRIVES DIRECTLY WITH IMPENITENT MEN, WITHOUT THEIR EXPECTING IT, AND EVEN WITHOUT THEIR UNDERSTANDING IT. Thus it is that He is often "found of those who sought Him not." He has a right to everybody, and when He desires a man He sends for him. No actual force is employed, but certain processes of His are put into operation. The sinner does not always know precisely what all this means, but he feels a surprising impelling power, active in the very centre of his being. He is awakened to see his own needs. He is constrained to reflect upon the issues of another life. Now it is God in person who is making Himself to be found, even when the man is not seeking after Him. And He acts very gently. There are, in every-day life, two ways of waking a man out of dangerous slumber. You may shout in his ear, or rudely shake his person; or bring a lamp into the room, and leave it burning. The latter is the way in which God works. Furthermore, Providence sometimes works in with grace. An adversity or a blessing is used as an instrument in the awakening of the soul. But He aims only to lead men to the beginning of their work; He does not propose to do it for them. He says to those who seek Him not, Seek Me. He calls to the prayerless, Pray — to the thoughtless, Think.
V. THIS MOMENT, IN WHICH THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS STRIVING, IS THE MOMENT ABOVE ALL OTHERS IN WHICH TO YIELD TO HIS CALL. For now, if never before, a man has a chance. If God is sincere, He offers personal pardon now.
(C. S..Robinson, D.D.)
I. DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY. If any man be saved, he is saved by Divine grace alone. Now, in speaking of God's gracious acts of salvation, notice —
1. That they are entirely unmerited. The people here mentioned certainly did not merit God's grace. They found Him, but they never sought for Him; He was made manifest to them, but they never asked for Him.
2. Sovereign, i.e., God has an absolute right to give grace where He chooses, and to withhold it when He pleases. It is mercy, indeed, when God saves a seeker; but how much greater mercy when He seeks the lost Himself! Mark the parable of the lost sheep. How was it you came to seek God? "Why, because He led you to do it." Nature can never rise above itself. You put water into a reservoir, and it will rise as high as that, but no higher if let alone. So there must be an extraordinary pressure of the Holy Spirit put upon the heart to lead us first to ask for mercy.
II. MAN'S RESPONSIBILITY (ver. 21). Now, these people whom God had cast away had been sought, had been entreated to be saved; but they would not, and inasmuch as they were not saved, it was the effect of their disobedience and their gainsaying. Notice the wooing of God and of what sort it is.
1. Most affectionate. God says He stretched out His hands. You that are not saved to-day are without excuse, for God stretched out His hands to you, and He said, "Come, come."
2. Very frequent. "All the day long," may be translated "daily." From the first dawn of your life He wooed you through your mother. And in your boyhood how your Sunday-school teacher endeavoured to bring you to the Saviour! And you have not yet surely forgotten how many Sabbaths you have spent, and how many times you have been warned. It is probable that God will keep on stretching out His hands to you until your hairs grow grey, still continually inviting you: and perhaps when you are nearing death He will still say, "Come unto Me, come unto Me." But if still you reject Christ, let nothing make you imagine that you shall go unpunished. "How can you escape, if you neglect so great salvation?" No one will be responsible for your damnation but yourself, at the last great day.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
All the day long I have stretched forth My handsI. GOD'S CONDUCT TOWARDS MEN.
II. MAN'S CONDUCT TOWARDS GOD.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
I. CONDESCENDING. When a father entreats a child, a master a servant, a monarch, a subject, there is condescension. But what is all the condescension of creature to creature? — of creature the most exalted to creature the most insignificant and mean? But what is the difference between any one creature and any other, compared with the difference between the Eternal God and the highest of them all?
II. FORBEARING — for there was a principle in the Divine nature, that drew powerfully in the opposite direction — God's infinite hatred of sin. His whole conduct was but a practical utterance of the pathetic pleading — "How shall I give thee up." (Hosea 11:8, 9).
III. EARNEST. The posture or attitude expresses this.
IV. PERSEVERINGLY IMPORTUNATE. "All day long," etc.
V. DISINTERESTED. When we hear of "calling" and "stretching out the hands" to another, we naturally think of some deep-felt want, or some suffered or dreaded evil; of which the supply is earnestly desired, or the endurance deprecated. A starving man stretches out his hand for food; the oppressed for deliverance; the slave for freedom; the criminal for pardon; the victim of assassination for life. But does God need anything from His creatures? They needed Him; not He them. The danger was on their part, not on His; the damage resulting from their refusal to hear Him, all their own. The sum of His entreaties is, "Do thyself no harm," and His kind assurance, in beseeching them to obey His voice — "I will do you no hurt." Far was it from His heart to do them hurt. Judgment was His strange work. His threatenings and His solicitations were alike in mercy.
(R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
(D. L. Moody.)
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