Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PERSONAL APPROPRIATION OF GOD. This is one of the great marks of personal, spiritual religion. Other nations have known their gods as leaders in war, protectors of hearth and home; it was reserved for Israel and for Christianity to think of the High and Holy One as tenanting the heart and soul of the believer. Jehovah is not only "my father's God," - this would be merely traditional religion; but "my God," "my Salvation," - this is personal religion (Exodus 15:2 The language of Psalm 18:28 and 145. It seems echoed here. The prophet becomes choral leader of the Church of the future, of the Church in all ages. The echoes of all past ages gather up into one volume, and become a mighty prophecy of the future. The thought of the faithfulness of the Eternal enters into the appropriation of his Name. He is a covenant-keeping God. What he has been in the past is a pledge of what he will be in the future. "There shall never be one lost good; what was shall be as before"
II. THE INCOMPARABLE WISDOM AND TRUTH OF GOD. This, too, is a thought deeply impressed from the olden time. "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11; of. Psalm 77:15; Psalm 78:12). This is seen in his counsels and in the execution of them.
1. His far-reaching counsels. God's thoughts are not extempore inspirations, accidental - "happy," as we say, springing up in no fixed order or method; they originated "long ago" (Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26). To God nothing is sudden or unforeseen; though to us it may seem" the unexpected always happens." All things were ordained by him before the foundation of the world (Acts 15:18). "All the wonders which happen contrary to the expectation of men are the result of that regular order which God maintains in governing the world, arranging all things from the beginning to the end. Now, since we do not understand these secret decrees, and our powers of understanding cannot rise so high, our attention must therefore be directed to the manifestation of them; for they are concealed from us, and exceed our comprehension, till the Lord reveal them by his Word, in which he accommodates himself to our weakness; for his decree is unsearchable" (Calvin).
2. The faithful realization of them in history. The imperial city, the city of Israel's oppressors (Isaiah 24:10), is destroyed. It has become a ruinous heap of stones; and the palace of the barbarians will never again rise out of those ruins. It is symbolic in its fate of heathen pride and power and superstition, and all that exalts itself against the true God and the true religion.
III. THE EFFECT OF HIS JUDGMENTS ON THE HEATHEN. They will honor the mighty God of Israel. They will be converted from rudeness and wildness to meekness and lowly reverence. The former oppressors will bow in fear before him. "They are affrighted, and give glory to the God of heaven" (Revelation 11:13). For in great crises, in days of judgment, the nature of Jehovah and his rule is made manifest to men. The calm, unbroken smile of the summer day does not so reveal God to us in his power and beneficence as the thunder and the lightning, followed by the refreshing rain. Revolutions awaken the slumbering consciences of the nation; and God is revealed, not only by the objects and institutions he overthrows, but by those which are protected and fostered in the midst of and by the very means of change. He is seen to have been, in the magnificent imagery of the prophet, "a fortress to the weak, a fortress to the poor in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat" (cf. Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 16:3). As he can quell the fiery heat by bringing up a shady thicket of clouds, (Jeremiah 4:29, Exodus 19:9 Psalm 18:12), or say to the proud waves of the sea, "Thus far, and no further!" so did he dispel the thundering hordes of the assailants of his people. So in later times did he meet the "blast of threats and slaughter" (Acts 9:1) from the mouth of an arch-persecutor, and turn, by his mighty and merciful self-manifestation, that arch-persecutor into an arch-apostle. And to the infant Church he became what is described in ver. 4. Behind the providence which "frowns," the "smiling face" is ever hidden.
IV. THE ULTIMATE CONSUMMATION. In this mountain of Zion, where the prophet dwells, the seat of the Divine presence, a feast of fat things, with wines on the lees well strained, will be made for all peoples. They will be incorporated into the kingdom of Jehovah; many having come from east and west, and north and south, to sit down in the kingdom of God. The feast is symbolic of all spiritual and temporal blessings, as it is in the parables of our Savior. It is symbolic of satisfaction: "The meek shall eat and be satisfied" (Psalm 22:26). The allusion may be to the thank or peace offering: "I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness" (Jeremiah 31:14; cf. Leviticus 7:31). The meal which followed the sacrifice was a joyous and festive occasion. It was expected by the Jews that the glorious Messianic time would be ushered in by a great feast; and of this, doubtless, the guest at the dinner-table of the Pharisee was thinking when he exclaimed, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" As the feast, so the age, of the Messiah is to be unending. And in one great burst of universal joy, death and sorrow are to be swallowed up. Death is signified by the covering or veil cast over all nations, or web woven over them. The covered head is a sign of mourning in antiquity in general; it will be withdrawn (Psalm 21:10; Psalm 55:10). Darkness and oblivion are associated with death; this will greatly give way before the light of Jehovah. The bondage to the fear of death will be broken, death itself will be abolished, and life and immortality be brought to light (2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:54). The promise belongs to the Jewish nation (Hosea 13:14), and to all its believing members. All sorrow is more or less rooted in the associations of death; this too shall cease, and Jehovah shall wipe away all tears from off all faces. The reproaches so long leveled at the people in their worldwide dispersion shall be taken away. No more will the taunt be leveled at them, "Where is now your God?" (Psalm 79:10). Sin will be eradicated, which has had its fruit in tears, in shame, and in death. "The new Jerusalem is Jehovah's throne, but the whole earth is Jehovah's glorious kingdom. The prophet is here looking from just the same point of view as Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:18, and John in the last page of the Apocalypse" (Delitzsch). The last point in the distant perspective on which the eye rests is the epoch known as" the day of redemption," the restoration of all things, when the old and corrupt order shall finally give place to the new, the confusions of time cease in the harmonies of the eternal world (see Luke 21:28; Acts 3:21; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30). A great poet, Burns, said that he could never read this passage without tears. It does, indeed, touch the depth of the heart, as it strikes the full tones of the eternal evangel. For here we have the gospel in the universality of its message ("good tidings of great joy to all people) - the fullness of its power to satisfy and to comfort, in the all-hopeful perspective of the future it opens up. Let us, then, direct all our hope and expectation to this point, and let us not doubt that the Lord will fulfill all these things in us when we have finished our course. If we now sow in tears, we shall reap in joy. The reproaches of men will procure for us one day the highest glory. Having obtained here the beginning of this happiness and glory, by being adopted by God and beginning to bear the image of Christ, let us firmly and resolutely await the completion of it at the last day" (Calvin). - J.
our God, is One for whom "praise may be continually on the lips" of the wise and pure. Our souls can "delight themselves in God;" for -
I. HIS ABIDING FAITHFULNESS. "His counsels of old are faithfulness and truth" (ver. 1). "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations." What he has purposed and promised is sure of fulfillment. The lapse of time, the passing of centuries, makes not the faintest difference in the certainty. Heaven and earth may pass, but his promise never (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). We may lean all the weight of our hope on his Divine Word, and we shall find that we are resting on the immovable rock.
II. HIS PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Vers. 2, 5.) The powerful empire-city might boast of its antiquity, its defenses, its soldiery, but its iniquity should receive its desert - it should be humbled to the very dust; it should be a heap, a ruin, a desert. The righteousness of God will assuredly be vindicated in time. God must not be judged as if a few decades were much in his measurement. Only wait his time, and when the cup of human guilt is full, the arm of Divine retribution will deal its stroke. Then shall the shoutings of impious arrogancy be silenced; it shall be dumb with shame (ver. 5).
III. HIS DIVINE COMPASSION. (Ver. 4.) When the raging tempest of human persecution threatens to overtake and destroy the humble and the helpless, then the pitiful One will appear on their behalf. A Strength to the poor and the needy, a Shadow from the heat, will he prove to be; as the saving cloud shelters from the scorching heat (ver. 5), so will Divine interposition deliver from the consuming fires of human wrath. And this gracious pity is not an unusual or occasional feeling in his heart - it is his constant attitude, it is his abiding spirit. In every age and in every land he regards the poor and the needy, the suffering and the down-trodden, with a peculiar kindness; he is always ready to shelter them in the pavilion of his power. Therefore:
1. Let the guilty fear. (Ver. 3.) What God has done in holy retribution he is prepared to do again, and will do again if heedlessness lead to impenitence, and impenitence to greater and more arrogant rebellion.
2. Let the oppressed hope. The destruction of the strong city of sin is the relief and the rescue of the holy. Not only the "strong people," but the obedient and humble people - the people of God - will "glorify" his Name (ver. 3).
3. Let the redeemed praise God for his righteous judgment and his merciful deliverances. "I will praise thee." Not only those delivered from power and bondage of the human enemy, but those who have been ransomed and redeemed from the tyranny and the slavery of sin.
4. Let every man claim a direct personal interest in God. By approaching to him, by communion with him, by reconciliation to him, by joyful engagement in his service, let each one of us claim the right to say with holy exultation, "O Lord, thou art my God." - C.
my God. The difference between the "man" and the "godly man" may be seen in this. The man says, "O Lord, thou art God;" but the godly man says, "O Lord, thou art my God." The difference is the matter of conscious personal relation; it is a question of "appropriation." At first sight it might seem to detract from the august majesty of the Divine Being that any single individual should call him "mine." But, whatever we may make of it, the fact must be admitted that, while God's revelation to man in nature is to man as a whole - to man as a race the revelation of God to man in a book, and in a person, is a constant encouragement to him to recognize and come into the joy of personal relations. This point may be variously illustrated.
I. THE EARLIEST REVELATION OF GOD TO THE RACE AS MORAL BEINGS PERMITTED PERSON RELATIONS. This is shown in God's trusting Adam and Eve; also in his holding the communion of friendship with them, "walking in the garden;" and much may be made of the assertion in Luke's genealogy, "the son of Adam, which was the son of God (Luke 3:38).
II. THE PATRIARCHS LIVED IN THE JOY OF PERSONAL RELATIONS WITH GOD. Illustrated in Abraham's familiarity in intercession for Sodom; indicated in the fact of covenant; and proved in the distinctness with which God is spoken of as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
III. THE DELIVERANCES AND REDEMPTIONS OF THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL SHOW AN IMMEDIATE AND PERSONAL INTEREST IN THEM ON THE PART OF GOD. One instance is suggestive of many. On the further shores of the Red Sea Moses lint a song of thanksgiving into the mouths of the people, and this is its opening verse: "The Lord is my Strength and Song, and he is become my Salvation: he is my God."
V. THE FULL REVELATION OF GOD TO MAN IN CHRIST JESUS IS PERMISSION AND INVITATION TO COME INTO PERSONAL RELATIONS. That is the revelation of God as a Father, a word which involves our individual rights in him as his sons. That is the revelation of a salvation which restores broken relations and renews our rights in God. But it is precisely in this appropriation of God that men are so often hindered. Many can admit that "Jesus died for the sins of the world," and "God loved the world;" but there is no life, no joy, no right sense of relation, until we can say, "God loves me, even me; and Jesus died for me, even me." R.T.
I. WE OFTEN. MISTAKE GOD'S PURPOSE WHILE IT IS BEING WROUGHT OUT. As we might mistake any work in progress. Because we do not know the mind of the Worker; because his ways are other than our ways; because he uses strange agents and agencies; and because he purposely holds from our view his meaning, so that he may encourage patience, waiting, and trust.
"Blind unbelief is sure to err, II. WE SHALL NOT MISTAKE GOD'S PURPOSE WHEN WE SEE IT IN ITS ISSUES. That is true. God's end always explains and justifies his means. But then the end is not yet; it is often away in the future, out of our vision. And we want some indication of God now. All we can have is the vindication, given over and over again, in history. We have "seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy." And we have good argument and well-grounded faith that God's counsels are always "faithfulness and truth." III. WE NEED NEVER MISTAKE GOD'S DEALINGS OR GOD'S PURPOSE IF WE WILL READ THEM IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT WE KNOW OF GOD HIMSELF. Life for us all may be full of puzzling firings, but we can always say, "We know God." It must be right, it must be wise, it must be good, it must be for the absolute best, since he has done it, who, being love, must be "making all things work together for good." True reading is reading in the light of what we know God to be. - R.T.
II. WE SHALL NOT MISTAKE GOD'S PURPOSE WHEN WE SEE IT IN ITS ISSUES. That is true. God's end always explains and justifies his means. But then the end is not yet; it is often away in the future, out of our vision. And we want some indication of God now. All we can have is the vindication, given over and over again, in history. We have "seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy." And we have good argument and well-grounded faith that God's counsels are always "faithfulness and truth."
III. WE NEED NEVER MISTAKE GOD'S DEALINGS OR GOD'S PURPOSE IF WE WILL READ THEM IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT WE KNOW OF GOD HIMSELF. Life for us all may be full of puzzling firings, but we can always say, "We know God." It must be right, it must be wise, it must be good, it must be for the absolute best, since he has done it, who, being love, must be "making all things work together for good." True reading is reading in the light of what we know God to be. - R.T.
fear him. We man understand why the word "fear" is employed. God's deliverings and defendings of his people involve judgments on the great kingdoms that were oppressing Israel; and judgments are striking and impressive to masses of people, who must act upon fear rather than upon love, or even upon a sense of duty, for they are like children who are only learning the superior power of moral motives, and meanwhile must be subject to force, and put into right ways. The figures in this verse are very forcible. The "storm is in the original a storm which overthrows a wall," or a storm so violent that it sweeps down walls before it (Matthew Arnold). In Eastern countries the value of a shade from the blazing sunshine is well understood; anti Thomson tells of a terrible boated day when he escaped from the burning highway into a dark vaulted room at the lower Beth-heron, and realized what Isaiah pictured. Another traveler says, "About midday, when the heat was very oppressive, a small cloud, scarcely observable by the eye, passed over the disc of the burning sun. Immediately the intense heat abated, a gentle breeze sprang up, and we felt refreshed." As a figure for God this may be variously applied and illustrated. We suggest three lines of illustration.
I. GOD IN HISTORY HAS OFTEN PROVED A SHADOW. Points may be obtained from such reviews of history as are given in Psalm 105.; 106.; 107. The key-note is, "Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses."
II. GOD NEEDS TO BE A SHADOW IN OUR TIMES OF PROSPERITY. For then all that is good and great in us is in grave danger of being burned up in the blazing heat. Few of us can stand long in the sun of prosperity. Woe unto us when all men speak well of us! and woe unto us when all things go well with us! It is most gracious in God that he flings his shadow across, and gives us times of quietness and peace; bumbling times they must be, when self is put down from his boastful place.
III. GOD IS SURE TO BE A SHADOW IN OUR TIMES OF ADVERSITY. So David found, and when new trouble came he could say, "I flee unto thee to hide me." Our earthly anxieties come in part from circumstances, in part from enemies, and in part from our own evil selves. It may be shown that, for each kind of trouble, the only true shelter is in God. Close with this idea - where the shadow is, God, who throws it, must be near; then, if we keep well within the shadow, we must be close to God, and so quiet and safe. - R.T.
I. OUR SPIRITUAL REVIVAL. Food, especially wine, is given to revive as well as to nourish. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish" (Proverbs 31:6). Many a human life has been saved by the restoring cup administered with a wise hand. The wine of heavenly truth is for a revival indeed. From him who is the "true Vine" (John 15:1) comes that reanimating virtue which calls from spiritual death the soul that was about to perish in its sin.
II. NOURISHMENT. Food is, above all things, for sustenance. We partake of the kind and welcome growths of the garden and the field that the waste of our system may be repaired, and that life may be preserved in its fullness and integrity. Without constant refreshment from "the Word of the truth of the gospel," if we did not sit down daily to the table which God has spread for us in his heavenly wisdom, our souls would soon fade and fail and die. As we eat of the "Bread of life," as we drink of "the river that makes glad the city of God," we find our life sustained; we "live unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
III. STRENGTH. "A feast of fat things full of marrow." That which is ample, not only to sustain life, but to augment its force. "Of wines on the lees" - wines that have acquired, and will presumably impart, strength. In Jesus Christ is everything to confer spiritual vigor, manliness, power. Communion with him, the study of his life and character, active service in his cause, the direct communications which proceed from his upholding, energizing Spirit, - all these minister to spiritual strength; they are all open to every disciple, so that the Christian teacher has a right to say, imperatively, to the disciple, "Be strong in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:10).
IV. JOY. Wine and gladness are closely associated in Scripture (see Psalm 4:7; Psalm 104:18). Feasting and joy are also intimately connected. The provision which is made in the feast of the gospel is one that gives a purer, truer, more manly, more lasting joy; for it is the joy of the soul, and it is a joy in God.
V. ADAPTATION. The wine of this feast was to be strong for those who wanted strength - "on the lees;" it was also to be "well refined" for those who wanted the coarse flavor removed and desired purity as well as power (see Jeremiah 48:11). The same Divine truth, delivered from the same lips, contained within the same covers, has force, for those who need to be mightily wrought upon, and refinement for those whose moral perceptions are clear and whose spiritual taste is fine and cultured. There is everything on the table of our Lord to meet the varied cravings of these hearts of ours.
1. This is a feast which we are not at liberty to decline; for "the Lord of hosts has made it" - has prepared it with exceeding care and at great cost.
2. It is open to every hungering soul. It is made "unto all people." It is free to all. "He, every one that thirsteth," etc. - C.
1 Samuel 9:19, 22). "According to the Mosaic Law, the fat pieces of the victim were to be devoted to Jehovah immediately by burning, and the next best piece, the breast, mediately by giving it to his servants the priests;" the rest was a foundation for a feast in which the offerers shared. The "wines on the lees" are those kept long, that have become old and mellowed. "Full of marrow" indicates superior quality. The first reference may be to the joy of the returned captives when God permitted a revival of Jerusalem; but the full reference must be to the spiritual provisions of Messianic times. For "feasts" as the figure for spiritual blessings, gospel provisions, comp. Psalm 22:26-29; Isaiah 55:1-5; Matthew 8:11; Matthew 25:1; Luke 13:28, 29; Luke 14:15-24. Keeping to the idea of feast after sacrifice sealing the reconciliation, and working that idea out in relation to Christian times, we note -
I. GOD GIVES COMMUNION WHEN HE GIVES RECONCILIATION. The feast was designed to assure the worshippers that all separations and enmities were done away, and God was now in gracious and comfortable relations with them. In the East restored friendship is sealed by eating together. It will at once be seen how this constancy of Divine communion with renewed souls is sealed in the symbolic meal of our sacramental Supper. That feast keeps up the assurance of God's comfortable relations with us. We are the restored and accepted ones to whom God gives his friendship.
II. GOD IS CONCERNED ABOUT HIS FUTURE RELATIONS WITH HIS REDEEMED ONES. It is important to correct a sentiment which very seriously imperils right Christian living, but seldom gets shape in actual words. It is assumed that God is supremely anxious for our salvation, our "conversion" as we call it, but indifferent to what we are and do, if only we are saved. This modern modification of Antinomian error is met by the fact that God makes a feast for the redeemed, providing for them after redemption. God is the food for the soul's life, and that life he quickens.
III. GOD WANTS JOY TO CHARACTERIZE THOSE CONTINUOUS RELATIONS. Therefore is the festive figure chosen. "The joy of the Lord is our strength." The redeemed of the Lord ought to march "with singing unto Zion." Depressions may come, but they may not abide. Our Christian life should be a glad feasting on the abundance God provides. - R.T.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF SPIRITUAL VEILS. They are those of:
1. Credulity. Often the mind freely accepts all kinds of irrational, superstitious errors, which coat and cover the truth of God, rendering it invisible beneath a mass of error.
2. Prejudice. Men who act as did the Jews in our Lord's time, determining beforehand and judging irrespective of the evidence before their eyes, making up their minds in advance of any facts or reasons which have to be alleged, are sure to miss their way. They cannot see through the veil of prejudice.
3. Intellectual pride: unwillingness to believe anything which our finite faculties cannot comprehend; practical forgetfulness that the heavenly Father must have many more truths that we can only very dimly discern to reveal to his children, than earthly fathers have to make intelligible to their sons.
4. Worldliness: allowing the interests, occupations, gratifications, of this world to assume a magnitude and importance to which they have no claim; and allowing the conventional maxims of society to pass current as heavenly truth, when they are only too often misleading and even deadly errors.
5. Passion. The false glare of passion hides from many souls the truth which otherwise they would see and by which they' would live.
II. THEIR REMOVAL God "will destroy... the veil that is spread over all the nations."
1. It is a blessed fact, in the far future, which God will establish. By means he is now employing, and perhaps by ways and methods of which we may have no conception now, he will bring it to pass; the day will come when the nations shall walk in the light of the Lord; both Jew (2 Corinthians 3:16) and Gentile (Isaiah 60:3).
2. We may contribute our share toward this happy issue: there are mental errors and spiritual delusions which we can help to expose, both by enlightening words and convincing action.
3. We are bound to make every effort to put away whatever veil may be over our own eyes. Unconscious spiritual blindness is sin (see John 9:41). It may be in part a man's misfortune, but it is partly his fault. There may be that which palliates it, but nothing will excuse it. We must betake ourselves to God (Psalm 139:23, 24). - C.
he will be more to men than all this! Death, that dogs men's footsteps and darkens even their days with fear; death, that breaks in upon all dreams of perfect friendship and permanent joy; death, which, as invisible monarch, holds empire in so many breasts; - death itself shall be destroyed.
I. THE VICTORY CAME. It was not then. But the prophecy was fulfilled. Death had to bring its sacred spoils and to lay them at the feet of Christ during his earthly ministry. And when men wondered at his mighty power, Christ said, "Marvel not at this, for all... that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth."
II. THE VICTORY WAS COMPLETE. Death was swallowed up in victory. No province was left undisturbed. No delay intervened. No conflict occurred. Death knew its own Lord and King, and gave back at once its spoils. Thus we understand the words, "He led captivity captive." The very powers that once had held empire over men he now despoiled. And as in the Roman processions, the princes who once had spoiled others were now led captive at the chariot-wheels of a greater victor than themselves, so death was led captive at the chariot-wheels of Christ.
III. THE VICTORY WAS PERMANENT. "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." Now that Christ has risen from the dead, he has become the Firstfruits of all that sleep. The triumph of the Savior over the grave was designed to give great rest and gladness of heart. "And the Lord God will wipe away tears from Off all faces." It is immortal life that not only gives preciousness to friendship, but that gives relief from overwhelming tribulation. We sorrow, indeed, still; the hot rain of tears falls from the aching brain; but we sorrow not as those without hope. We comfort our hearts with these words of Jesus: "Let not your hearts be troubled.... In my Father's house are many mansions." - W.M.S.
I. ITS PRIMARY HISTORICAL APPLICATION. (See Exposition.)
II. ITS APPLICATION TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. The Church of Christ is "the Israel of God," and we may expect much of the language first used in reference to the Jewish nation to be appropriate to it and even intended for its service. Like ancient Israel, the Church has found itself in great humiliation and distress, and has been in sore need of Divine comfort in its dark days. At many stages in its history the Church has felt itself oppressed with heavy burdens, beset with serious difficulties, threatened with great calamities; and then the blessed promise of deliverance has dawned, and its heart has been elated, and such words of joyful praise as these in the text have been upon its lips. Even when there are no signs of the coming of Christ in delivering and reviving power, the Church may "take heart of grace" if it be
(1) faithful in word and in deed to its Master's charge;
(2) prayerfully and patiently expectant, waiting on him in reverent confidence; mindful of the fact that our ways are not always his ways, nor our chosen times his times. This holy and rightful attitude will turn the night of sorrow into the evening of expectation; and in due time will come the morning of deliverance; this will include
(1) the removal of reproach - "The rebuke of his people will he take away;"
(3) a joyous participation in the exaltation of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom - "Rejoice in his salvation."
III. ITS APPLICATION TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. Our Christian life presents various aspects according to the path by which our Lord leads us home. The life of some may be characterized as that of abounding privilege, of others as that of multiplied mercies, of others as that of honorable and useful activity; in these cases the heavenly kingdom may appear to be a continued though an exalted experience in another sphere. But in other instances human life is one of unflagging toil, or of unceasing struggle, or of oppressive care, or of crushing sorrow: the night for which weeping endures (Psalm 30:5) is all but lifelong. It is in such cases as these that we are "saved by hope." Hope is the morning star which is a blessed promise of an eternal day. It turns the night of weary trouble into the evening of holy expectation; it puts a song of joy even into the lips of suffering; it calmly but eagerly "prevents" the approaching morning; it anticipates the hour when the tears of sorrow will be wiped away from eyes that will weep no more forever, when every burden will fall from every heavy-laden shoulder, when the heart will be "exceeding glad" in the joy of God's great salvation. Let the children of affliction comfort themselves with these words of the prophet; but let them
(1) be well assured that they are the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, and that their title is good to the heavenly heritage;
(2) wait patiently for Christ's appearing. If they would say, "We will be glad... in his salvation," they must be able to say, "We have waited for him." - C.
2 Timothy 1:10). This is the supreme victory. Great conquests have been gained in other fields: in geographical research - discovery of America, penetration of Africa, etc.; in the useful arts - printing, telegraphy, steam-power, etc.; in mathematical science; in historical exploration, etc. These things, and such things as these, have conferred dignity on our nature and. enlargement on our life. But there is one victory compared with which even these are small - the triumph over death. Death has been thought of and written about everywhere as the great conqueror, before whose prevailing arm all human forces go down vanquished to the dust. It has been acknowledged to be the master of our humanity. But in the gospel of Jesus Christ death is defied, is met face to face, is overcome, is so utterly subdued and routed that we can truly say that it is "swallowed up in victory." In Christ there is a double defeat of its power; for in him is -
I. ABUNDANT SPIRITUAL LIFE HERE. Sin has led man down to moral and spiritual death; they that live apart from God are "dead while they live," for they move on toward the grave, missing all those things which give nobility, excellency, beauty, real and lasting joy to human life. But to know God in Christ Jesus is life (John 17:3). And whoso enters into all the fullness of the life which is in Christ has that life "more abundantly (John 10:10). Spiritual death is lost in largeness and fullness of spiritual life - life in God, with God, for God; it is swallowed up in victory.
II. IMMORTAL LIFE IN THE HEAVENLY WORLD. Here we have the significance of the words of the text. Other faiths beside that of Jesus Christ have included a promise of life in the future; but the hopes they have held out have been uncertain, vague, illusory; the life they have promised has been shadowy, unreal, unattractive. Their disciples must have felt that in its contest with death the faith has met its match, and, if it has not been actually worsted, it has failed to triumph. In the gospel of Christ we have a decided and delightful contrast to this. There the victory is complete. We pass away, indeed, from earth, from its scenes, its engagements, its friendships, its joys; but we pass into a state and a world where everything is immeasurably better than the present.
1. We are unclothed in body, but we are clothed upon with a house which is from heaven (2 Corinthians 5:4).
2. The ignorance of earthly twilight we exchange for the full knowledge of the celestial day (1 Corinthians 13:12).
3. From the broken delights and the fatiguing toils of time we pass to the tearless happiness and to the untiring activities of eternity.
4. The sorrowful separations of the present will make more blessed the union where we clasp inseparable hands" in unfading friendship.
5. The apparent absence of the heavenly Father will be lost in the conscious nearness which will make us to dwell continually in his holy presence, God with us and we with him forever. Death will be "swallowed up in victory."
(1) It will be long before we shall meet with a faith which will offer us greater things than these.
(2) How sad, how foolish, how guilty, to remain spiritually, and therefore essentially, apart from him in the knowledge and service of whom stands eternal life! - C.
1 Corinthians 4:54; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:4). And life for a nation out of the death-state of captivity may well be taken as a type of the sublime resurrection of humanity from the grasp of physical death. Our triumph over death is assured; and foretaste of it is given in the conquest of the Lord Jesus over the grave. He is our Conqueror of death, and in him the prophecy of this text will have its large and blessed fulfillment. We read the prophecy in the light of Christ and of his work. And Scripture teaches us to regard the resurrection of Christ as a final conquest of death for us (Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 4:21, 55, 56; Ephesians 4:8; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 1:18).
I. CHRIST IS THE CONQUEROR OF DEATH ITSELF. It was not the design of Christ to destroy death altogether, and withdraw its commission to the human race. He left it still to bite, but plucked away its sting, the venom of its hopelessness, and the bitterness of its connection with human sin. We shall die, though Christ has conquered death; but death is now only the messenger that calls us home - he is no longer the jailer that drags us to our doom. Dissolution, or translation, such as we have hints of in the cases of Enoch and Elijah, may be the Divine idea for unfallen created beings; but certainly death, as we know it, with all its attendant circumstances of evil, is the immediate result of human sin. Change of state, and change of worlds, may be death in an abstract sense; but death in fear, and amid sufferings, and under disease, and involving agonizing separations, and terrible with the black shadows of an unknown future; this death - and this is the death with which we have to do - is the penalty of transgression. "The sting of death is sin." Lord Bacon, in his essay on death, almost makes too much of the material accompaniments of it, and under estimates the moral feeling in relation to it. He says, "Groans, and convulsions, and a discolored face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible There is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat for him. Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it; honor aspireth to it; grief fleeth to it; and lear preoccupieth it." But this is only true for certain individuals, and under various pressures of excitement. To most of us, and especially to those who are thoughtful, and oppressed with the burdens of humanity, death has aspects of great bitterness. Then in what sense can we think of Christ as the present Conqueror of death? The answer is this - He has conquered the death-dread in us, both concerning ourselves and concerning those who are dear to us. He has "delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." And he has conquered it by fixing its connections with the body alone, and severing it, once and forever, from all relation to the renewed and redeemed soul. "He that liveth and believeth on me shall never die." In Christ death is compelled to take rank with disease and pain, as the servants of God. Its masterfulness is destroyed; its dart lies broken on the ground.
II. THE CONQUEROR OF DEATH OUGHT TO RULE IN ITS STEAD. In Christ life rules, hope rules, goodness rules, eternity rules. Man may despairingly look upon his partially raised schemes, and say, "Alas! I shall die." But the Christian man builds on bravely and hopefully. He knows that beneath all the outward show he is raising a structure of character on which death has no power, and he says, "I shall never die." The difference that is made by our letting death rule our thoughts and hopes and endeavors, and letting Christ rule them, may be illustrated by the change wrought in the land of Persia, when Zoroaster proclaimed that Ormuzd, the Good, was the real ruler of humanity. When Zoroaster came, the religious instincts of the people were debased, the divinity worshipped was malevolent, the moral tone was low, the social habits were vicious, the land of Iran was overgrown with thorns and weeds; men were idle, negligent, like the surfeited inhabitants of Sodom, given up to sensuality; they thought of their divine ruler as evil, malicious, cruel; they had the crushing, despairing, disheartening sentiments which always follow the belief that death, the representative of evil, rules. Zoroaster brought back the old and lost truth that God rules - not evil, not death. Evil is subject to God. The good God is the God of life, and life is mightier than death; of light, and light triumphs over darkness. Ormuzd was the god of production, and if they would sow and plant and weed, they would be sure to win, under his benediction, a glorious triumph over waste and barrenness and death. We are not yet free as we should be from the notion that death still reigns. We have not yet opened our hearts fully to the glorious truth that Jesus, the conqueror of death, now reigns. Above everything else our age wants to yield its allegiance to Christ, ruling in morals, in education, in literature, in science, in politics, in commerce, and in society; triumphing now over all the forms of evil that death can symbolize. - R.T.
I. THE STATE OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE. They will be in the joyous realization of long-awaited blessings. A brief strain from their hymn is given -
"Lo! here is our God! II. THE DOOM OF THE HEATHEN. Noah seems to stand for the heathen in general. Moab, as the proud foe of Israel (2 Kings 24:2; Ezekiel 28:8-11), shall be trampled down, swamped, and contend like a swimmer for his life. But his pride will be abased; his strong walls be cut down, even to the dust. So that hand, which is outspread beneficently, like the canopy of the broad sky, to protect and bless the chosen, may be clenched in threat and for vengeance upon the wicked. There are two senses in which that hand may "rest" upon us - lightly, as the father's hand rests on the head of a beloved child, to express affection, approval, and the promise of aid; or heavily, to punish, to overwhelm, to "turn our moisture into the drought of summer." To listen to the voice, to submit to the hand of the Eternal, - this is the expression of genuine piety. To writhe and struggle and resist the pressure of that hand, to turn a deaf ear to that voice, - this is the expression of hardness of heart and impiety, bringing certain punishment in its turn. "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts!" - J.
II. THE DOOM OF THE HEATHEN. Noah seems to stand for the heathen in general. Moab, as the proud foe of Israel (2 Kings 24:2; Ezekiel 28:8-11), shall be trampled down, swamped, and contend like a swimmer for his life. But his pride will be abased; his strong walls be cut down, even to the dust. So that hand, which is outspread beneficently, like the canopy of the broad sky, to protect and bless the chosen, may be clenched in threat and for vengeance upon the wicked. There are two senses in which that hand may "rest" upon us - lightly, as the father's hand rests on the head of a beloved child, to express affection, approval, and the promise of aid; or heavily, to punish, to overwhelm, to "turn our moisture into the drought of summer." To listen to the voice, to submit to the hand of the Eternal, - this is the expression of genuine piety. To writhe and struggle and resist the pressure of that hand, to turn a deaf ear to that voice, - this is the expression of hardness of heart and impiety, bringing certain punishment in its turn. "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts!" - J.
I. WAITING CIRCUMSTANCES. It was a waiting-time for the godly in Judah when Isaiah wrote. In their own country, luxury and profligacy were plainly bearing the country on to some terrible doom. In the nations around them the cup of iniquity was getting full, and overwhelming judgments were falling on one after another. Every man who believed in the covenant was put into silence and waiting. The scenes around him he could not reason out. Precisely what God would do with his people he could not know. All about him was painful mystery; he could only wait, keeping firm hold of the truth, faithfulness, and love of God while he waited. When circumstances are against us, the best thing we can do is to wait.
"Wait thou his time, so shall thy night II. WAITING ATTITUDES. 1. The attitude of prayer, using that word in its large sense of openness of soul to God; the outlooking, up-looking of the soul to God; the humble sense of self; the silent and the spoken cry for the light and help of God. The union of prayer with waiting lifts it from the mere dull and stricken submission of the slave, into the pleasant waiting of the child, who, being sure of the Father's love, keeps looking for the Father's time. Waiting work never becomes weary work, or bitter work, until we cease to pray. 2. The attitude of expectancy. Waiting ought to become watching, in strong faith and assured hope; watching like that of David, when he could sing out his confidence and say, "Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime." Such a spirit the captives in Babylon might cherish. Flinging open their windows westward, as they knelt, they might see the temple arise, the streets of the holy city fill with busy people, and the walls encircle a delivered and independent nation; and with such expectations it could not be hard to wait, for God's time to bless is never more than a "little way off." 3. The attitude of keeping on in the ways of righteousness, whether we find them pay or not pay. Doing right, even if it does seem to bring suffering. Purposing that our mouth shall not transgress. If, while we wait, we faint in spirit, let us take good care never to faint from righteousness. III. WAITING CONSOLATIONS. We may be quite sure that God is in the waiting. Nearer than ever to us in the hours of delay. If the waiting is God's, if it belongs to the mysterious ways of the Divine love, then even waiting-times are blessed. They are even a gracious agency for the culture of our souls; and oftentimes better things are done for us in the waiting than in the suffering times. The great lessons of the perfect trust are learned in the waiting hours; and "patience gets her perfect work." - R.T.
II. WAITING ATTITUDES.
1. The attitude of prayer, using that word in its large sense of openness of soul to God; the outlooking, up-looking of the soul to God; the humble sense of self; the silent and the spoken cry for the light and help of God. The union of prayer with waiting lifts it from the mere dull and stricken submission of the slave, into the pleasant waiting of the child, who, being sure of the Father's love, keeps looking for the Father's time. Waiting work never becomes weary work, or bitter work, until we cease to pray.
2. The attitude of expectancy. Waiting ought to become watching, in strong faith and assured hope; watching like that of David, when he could sing out his confidence and say, "Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime." Such a spirit the captives in Babylon might cherish. Flinging open their windows westward, as they knelt, they might see the temple arise, the streets of the holy city fill with busy people, and the walls encircle a delivered and independent nation; and with such expectations it could not be hard to wait, for God's time to bless is never more than a "little way off."
3. The attitude of keeping on in the ways of righteousness, whether we find them pay or not pay. Doing right, even if it does seem to bring suffering. Purposing that our mouth shall not transgress. If, while we wait, we faint in spirit, let us take good care never to faint from righteousness.
III. WAITING CONSOLATIONS. We may be quite sure that God is in the waiting. Nearer than ever to us in the hours of delay. If the waiting is God's, if it belongs to the mysterious ways of the Divine love, then even waiting-times are blessed. They are even a gracious agency for the culture of our souls; and oftentimes better things are done for us in the waiting than in the suffering times. The great lessons of the perfect trust are learned in the waiting hours; and "patience gets her perfect work." - R.T.