Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.An Act of Faith
I. 'O Lord, Thou art my God.' This is not a prayer, but something higher—'an act of faith'.
What do we mean by an act of faith? We mean an expression of faith in which the will has its part.
An act of faith should be the utterance of the whole nature, the will giving effect both to the conclusions of the reason and to the desires of the affections. An act of faith seems so simple; it is tremendous, for it involves the operation of the whole soul.
II. There is (1) the act of faith, 'O Lord, Thou art my God'. (2) Then its result, 'I will exalt; Thee, I will praise Thy Name'. (3) Then the reason for this, 'For Thou hast done wonderful things; Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth'.
1. The act of faith proceeds from personal religion; for having taken God as the Supreme Ruler of our life, the intellect loves to seek into the mysteries of His Being, revealed in Holy Scripture, and in the experiences of Divine Providence; the will strives to be obedient to His commandments and precepts, and the affections find their joy in reaching out to Him as the object of their love.
2. The result of this is expressed in the next two clauses, 'I will exalt Thee, I will praise Thy Name'. And by 'Name' we mean when we speak of God His character—what He is. Some may ask, 'How can we exalt God?' We cannot exalt God in the sense of raising Him any higher than He is, but we can proclaim to others, by our words and in our lives, that we recognize Him to be the Most High. This is what is meant by exalting God.
3. The reason for this—'For Thou hast done wonderful things; Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth'.
a. Thou hast wrought wonders in our lives, in the lives of the saints, in the Church of God.
b. 'Thou hast wrought wonders; counsels of old.' There was that counsel by which, before the world was made, God willed to become Incarnate in human nature, and to raise His creature, man, to a nature Divine.
c. 'In faithfulness and truth.' All God's wonders, all God's counsels, have been in faithfulness and truth. The covenant He made with man He has kept, and therefore Isaiah was able to make his act of faith in God, his act of trust; for faith has both its objective and subjective side. It enables us first to believe that God is, then to learn from revelation what God is, and when we have learned this, to trust God with our whole soul.
—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part i. p. 29.
References.—XXV. 1.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 25. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (2nd Series), p. 106. XXV. 3, 4.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, p. 54. XXV. 4.—S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, p. 221. XXV. 6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 846. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 90. XXV. 6-8.—Ibid. p. 80. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 66. J. C. Miller, Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 720, p. 429. XXV. 7.—T. T. Carter, Lent Lectures, 1860-66, p. 297. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 92.
Ruskin says, speaking of the death of Christ: 'It was not the mere bodily death that He conquered—that death had no sting. It was this spiritual death which He conquered, so that at last it should be swallowed up—mark the word—not in life; but in victory. As the dead body shall be raised to life, so also the defeated soul to victory, if only it has been fighting on its Master's side, has made no covenant with death; nor itself bowed its forehead for his seal. Blind from the prison-house, maimed from the battle, or mad from the tombs, their souls shall surely yet sit, astonished, at His feet Who giveth peace.'
Waiting for God (Third Sunday in Advent)
I. What does Waiting Imply?—Advent is especially a time of waiting, and this waiting involves four things.
1. Faith. St. Paul speaks of Christians as those who are 'waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ'. They therefore believe in the promise of His coming.
2. Further, the posture of the Christian is one of desire. Israel of old longed for the manifestation of the Deliverer. 'Thou that sittest between the cherubims, come and save us!' (Psalm 80:1-2). St. Paul speaks of loving Christ's appearing; St. John cries, 'Come, Lord Jesus!' The word which the Apostle uses describes the attitude as of one stretching out and longing for 'the revelation' (Romans 13:19).
3. Then patience is an ingredient in the waiting. 'Be patient,' says St. James, 'therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord;' and he compares the patience to that of the husbandman, who has to wait for the slow processes of nature to see the end of his labours.
4. Preparation is involved in this waiting; nay, is one chief purpose of it.
II. Why Wait So Long?
1. The question was discussed in the Middle Ages. Why was the Incarnation so long delayed?
2. One reason for this delay of the Incarnation is drawn from the condition of man. He had to be humiliated by a sense of his sinfulness, in order that he might feel his need of a Deliverer. We see the same providence in individual sinners as in a microcosm. God allows the prodigal to pursue his downward course until he comes to his senses, and misery brings him to the turning-point.
3. All delays in the approaches of God are for the sake of man, that he might prepare to receive Him.
The ministry of the Baptist is a visible setting forth of this need of preparation.
III. What Wait We For?—'Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him.'
1. That there is a primary reference in the passage to wonderful interventions of God on behalf of His people, whether in contemporary or subsequent deliverances, is, of course, admitted. Commentators have, however, been puzzled as to what particular catastrophe or oppressing power the Prophet refers to in this chapter. Whatever may be the historic application, it cannot be more than a type of the full accomplishment of the prophecy in the Person of Christ He alone swallows up 'death in victory,' and wipes away 'tears from off all faces'.
2. The text is fulfilled by the Incarnation. 'This is our God.' It points to the mystery that our Lord is a Divine Person, and that therefore He can 'save us'. This stirs the hymn of joy: 'We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation'.
—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 12.
Expectation (A Christmas Sermon)
I. The Hope of the Incarnation.—Christmas is a season of expectation. And then also it is a season of confidence. 'He will save us.' Not—He will save the heathen, the outcast, the hopeless; but He will save us. It is a personal confession. For it implies that we are dissatisfied with our lives as they are; that we are willing that they should be lifted out of the bondage of convention. The slavery of selfishness and greed, the deception thoughtlessly practised, the slander carelessly spoken. No one can mix much with his fellow-men without realizing that a new doubt is everywhere awaking in men's minds. Is not Christianity an exhausted force. Is not its power over the world coming to an end? Here are vast social evils crying to heaven, and no salvation comes. Men live and work and die with no apparent consciousness of spiritual realities, and all our efforts break against the passive force of apathy. Can we, in face of all this, still hold to our belief that He who was born on that first Christmas morning is the Saviour of the world? If He is a Saviour, where is His salvation? We must face questions like these and they will lead us back to the cradle of Bethlehem. Like the wise men we grow bewildered in the streets of the city and we lose our star, but as we go towards Bethlehem, behold it goes before us again. We have found the lost cue, we are strong again, we can face the world's challenge. We believe that in the Incarnation lies still the hope of the world. Yes, and our hope too. For when the simple truths of religion have become complicated by human glosses, and have lost touch with reality, or have grown harder and intolerant, we need to bring them again to Bethlehem and lay them at the cradle of a little Child. For He is the Saviour of Christianity as well as the Saviour of the World. Of our religious ideas, as well as of our personal character, it is true that except we be converted and become as little children we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.
II. The Realization of God.—Christmas is a season of realization. 'This is our God.' The realization of God; God not far away in some heaven of music and rapture, but here by the cradle of little children, in the paths where footsore men tramp wearily, in houses of gladness or sorrow.
III. 'The Prince of Peace.'—We are asked to speak to the people of this country on the subject of international peace. But what can we say?
There can be no peace till the spirit of distrust and greed and selfish ambition ceases to dominate the policy of nations. The only real guarantee for peace is in the resolute and watchful action of all Christian men. In this too 'He will save us' if we wait for Him. He will teach us that there are better battles to fight than the battles full of 'confused noise and garments rolled in blood'. His battle is against ignorance and vice, against the selfish heart and the grasping hand, against discord and hatred, and all the foul things that haunt the darkness.
References.—XXV. 9.—A. Murray, Waiting on God, p. 89. T. F. Lockyer, The Inspirations of the Christian Life, p. 196. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 12. H. P. Liddon, Advent in St. Paul's, pp. 77, 306. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People (1st Series). XXVI.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2430; vol. xlvii. No. 2713. XXVI. 1.—W. C. E. Newbolt, Counsels of Faith and Practice, p. 305. XXVI. 1, 2.—J. Monro Gibson, A Strong City, p. 3; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 151. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 102; see also Paul's Prayers, p 234. XXVI. 1-10.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 95. XXVI. 1-14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2669.
For thou hast made of a city an heap; of a defenced city a ruin: a palace of strangers to be no city; it shall never be built.
Therefore shall the strong people glorify thee, the city of the terrible nations shall fear thee.
For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.
Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low.
And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.
And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
For in this mountain shall the hand of the LORD rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill.
And he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim: and he shall bring down their pride together with the spoils of their hands.
And the fortress of the high fort of thy walls shall he bring down, lay low, and bring to the ground, even to the dust.