Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. EXTREME DESOLATION WROUGHT IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF. GOD. The land is stripped by war of its male population (Isaiah 3:25); those who gather at the gates bewail the humiliation under which they smart, the privation to which they are reduced. "Her gates shall lament," etc. (Isaiah 3:26). Jerusalem can no longer stand in her strength and honor; she is prostrate in weakness and in her shame; desolate, she sits upon the ground. Such is the havoc which war has made, that the virgin daughters of the land, instead of waiting modestly to be addressed, go out in numbers to find themselves husbands under any unnatural condition, so that the reproach of perpetual virginity and childlessness may be somehow removed (text). In the righteous rule of God, sin ends in utter desolation. It may be the history of the nation, as in this instance. Its stages are these: departure from the will and Word of God; luxury and corruption; effeminacy and weakness; strife and defeat; exile, poverty, loneliness, attempts to gratify hope and ambition by unnatural and pitiable methods. But this may be the experience of the individual. "Evil shall slay the wicked, and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate" (Psalm 34:21). Sin is likely, if indeed it is not sure, to lead down to this sad estate. It manifests itself in folly and, through folly, conducts to loss, privation, loneliness, desolation. And the last scene of all is one like this of the text; it resorts to unnatural and wholly unsatisfactory means to fill its heart and restore its life.
II. A SIGNIFICANT PROVISION ORDERED IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. The abnormal circumstance suggests the normal. In the absence of such a scourge as that of ward and for this our sin is entirely responsible - there would be found to be a virtual equality in the number of the sexes. For nearly every son of man a daughter is born into the world. Surely this points to the Divine intention that man and wife should dwell together in bonds of conjugal affection. It places no stigma on single life, but it indicates the purpose of our kind Creator, that one human heart should comfort and sustain another, with reciprocated love and complementary succor, along the path of human life. It says to those who have ears to hear it that polygamy is not according to the Divine will; that the celibacy of a class, or order, or community is not of Divine appointment; that the home where one husband and one wife dwell in undisturbed and ever-deepening attachment - the providing hand of the one clasping the dispensing hand of the other - is the realization of the Divine design.
III. AN HONORABLE INSTINCT PLANTED BY THE HAND OF GOD. Similar passages (Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 1:6; Isaiah 54:1; Luke 1:25) suggest that the "reproach" which the women desired to have removed was that of childlessness rather than that of virginity. Jewish women, we know, earnestly desired to be mothers; they may have cherished the hope that of them the Messiah would be born. In any case it was an honorable ambition. The real reproach rests with those who wish to be childless that they may be saved the anxieties, responsibilities, and labors that devolve on the faithful mother. There cannot be a more desirable or excellent aspiration for the parent to indulge than that of so training her (his) children that they shall become men and women whom the Lord will love, and for whom the Church and nation will give thanks. - C.
a family rather than a personal privilege. A man lived on, lived again, in his descendants. LaRuge says, "In its most ancient parts the Old Testament knows no other genuine life than that on this earth, and thus no other continuation of living after death than by means of children. To be childless was, then, the same as being deprived of continuance after death. It corresponded to the being damned of the New Testament." In their distress and wretchedness the young women who had minced and flirted through Jerusalem with their gay clothing and fine trinkets, contrary to their natural modesty, would become suitors to the men, and under the hardest conditions seek the name and credit of wedlock, to be free from the reproach that would otherwise be their portion. Kimchi, the Jewish commentator, says this happened in the days of Ahaz, when Pekah, the son of Remaliah, slew in Judaea one hundred and twenty thousand men in one day. The widows which were left were so numerous that the prophet said, "Their widows are increased to me above the sand of the seas" (Jeremiah 15:8). The idea that man's immortality is the continuance of the race has been revived and set attractively before the people in modern poetry and literature; and though it is only a small piece of the truth concern-inn man's future, a mere beginning in the revelation of man's immortality, we need not hesitate to recognize it as a partial truth, and to set before ourselves those views of the responsibility of our present lives which it suggests. We know that "life and immortality" for the individual have been "brought to light by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ," and in this failer and higher and more satisfying revelation we heartily rejoice; but still we may learn something by occupying for a moment the older standpoint.
I. THE IMMORTALITY OF A NATION IS ITS PERMANENCY AS A FREE PEOPLE. This is illustrated by the anxiety of Eastern kings to secure heirs to their thrones and continuance to their dynasties. Divine judgments cut off kingly races, as that of Saul, Omri, etc. Divine promises assured that David's and Solomon's kingdoms should endure forever. Nations, as such, have no immortality in a future state.
II. THE IMMORTALITY OF A GENERATION IS ITS REPRODUCTION IN SUCCESSIVE GENERATIONS. "One generation passeth, and another cometh," and in a very true sense the next generation is the old one restored, under somewhat varying conditions. The genius of a generation is immortal only in the generations that follow it.
III. THE IMMORTALITY OF A MAN IS THE FAMILY HE STARTS. This explains the ambition to "found a family," which is not merely man's monument, but the man himself living again, and living on through the ages. He puts his personal impress upon his children, and the children's children keep alive the idiosyncrasy of the parent. Illustrate from the Abrahamic race, which is, in a sense, the immortality of Abraham.
IV. THE PRACTICAL BEARING OF SUCH A VIEW OF IMMORTALITY. It fills with seriousness the position of all parents. "What manner of persons ought they to be," if they are thus to be perpetuated? A nation must be righteous if it is to be worth continuing. A generation must be physically and morally healthy, if its impress on the coming generations is to be a blessing. The father, the mother, must bear pure, true, worthy characters if their family is to be an honor. He who seeks an immortality in his race is bound to see to it that he only perpetuates goodness, integrity, truth, faith, and all things that are noble. From this lower position the preacher may easily advance to argue how much more solemn life has become for us now that nobler views of the future are revealed by him who came forth out of the eternal mysteries, and has passed again within them, that we might henceforth read our earth-lives in the light of that sublime personal immortality which he has disclosed. - R.T.
Isaiah 3:14; comp. Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 6:13; Matthew 3:11). Then, and then only, can the glorious day come in the vision of which the prophet exults.
I. NATIONAL CONDITIONS OF PROSPERITY. "The shoot of Jehovah will be for adornment and honor." Erit germen Domini in magnificentia et gloria. The rich fertility of the land is compared to a new sprouting growth, caused by the creative energy of God. When the Spirit of God is felt to he operative in the life of a people, then, and then only, can its life be both strong and beautiful. See, again, this thought in Isaiah 28:5: he will be as a "crown of glory and diadem of beauty" to the residue of his people. "Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures" (Isaiah 30:23). "In that day the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of Jehovah, and shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 3:18). "Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt They shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith Jehovah thy God" (Amos 9:13-15). "I will sow her unto me in the earth" (Hosea 2:23). Glowing pictures! Israel's golden age ever is in the future. And for all who "hope in God," the "good old times," the "Saturnian reign," is coming again. Magnus ab integro sceclorum nascitur ordo. The hard oaks shall again sweat with the dewy honey; our sweetest dreams become a solid fact. "From me is thy fruit found" (Hosea 14:8).
II. PERSOSAL CONDITIONS OF PROSPERITY. The one condition is personal holiness. "Every relict in Zion, and every one remaining in Jerusalem, will be called a saint; every one who has been written among the living in Jerusalem." Profound thought! the holy man alone is the living man. Matter is death; spirit is exemption from the rule of matter. Holiness is victory over matter - in its lower form, fleshly cleanliness; in its higher, the purity of self-consistent truth that will not mix with what is alien to itself.
III. VISIBLE GLORIES. Upon every home on Mount Zion, and every place of prayer, there will be the cloud by day, and the fume and splendor of flaming fire by night; over all the glory a protection. "Wherever there is true spiritual exaltation and majesty, there is around it a covering and protection which keeps the world away from it." "There's a divinity doth hedge a king." We cannot constantly bear the splendor; we need the cool calm commonplaces of life to resort to when our eyes are wearied with the glare of highest truth. And we may find the "calm retreat, the silent shade" of religious life no less welcome than the mount of glory and of vision. From the storm and rain we may find a refuge in the "secret place of the Most High." - J.
I. THAT THE END OF DIVINE JUDGMENT IS HUMAN TRANSFORMATION. (Ver. 4.) The Lord would "wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion... by the spirit [or, 'power'] of judgment." It may be that the righteous Ruler, as such, is bound to make penalty follow sin, whatever may be the consequence to the individual transgressor. But it is clear that, in the exercise of his judicial function, God seeks moral and spiritual renovation. He desires that the nation (the man) which is humbled and afflicted, shall be purified by the fires through which it (he) is passing. In the midst of the flame the offender may hear the voice from above saying, "Put away thy sin; return unto me; enter a new path; live the better life of righteousness, purity, devotion"
II. THAT THE NEW AND BETTER LIFE WILL BE AN ESSENTIALLY HOLY ONE. (Ver. 5.) "He that is left in Zion shall be called holy." Whether by him "that is left in Zion" we are to understand those that were never carried into captivity, or those that have returned, is of no importance; the reference is to Jews who have undergone humiliation and suffering, and who have been cleansed and purified thereby. These shall be possessors of life in its excellency and reality - "written among the living." Before, existence was nothing but existence; enlarged and ennobled by "the spirit of judgment," it has become Ire; and it "shall be called holy," because it has become holy. After a genuine repentance (national or individual) there comes a profound and enduring sanctity of spirit and of life. Old sin is abhorred, strenuously striven against, sedulously shunned. New graces and virtues are carefully cultivated and daily illustrated (see 2 Corinthians 7:10, 11; Psalm 51:7-11).
III. THAT THIS NEW LIFE WILL BE NOT ONLY ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, BUT EVEN ADMIRABLE IN HIS SIGHT. (Ver. 4.) The "branch of the Lord" i.e. the outgrowth of piety from the fallen nation, shall be "beauty and glory;" the produce of the land (fruit of the earth), the worth which springs up from the restored nation, shall be excellency and ornamentation. The Holy One of Israel will not only accept the new national life thus presented to him; he wilt regard it with distinct, Divine satisfaction. And that which is pleasing in his sight will be attractive and excellent in the esteem of men. National and individual renovation is not only a thing which God accepts and acknowledges, worthy of our sanction; it is much more than that. It is beautiful, comely, even glorious. Here is:
1. Encouragement to the fallen. Let the nation, or the Church, or the individual soul which has fallen, which has felt the blow of the Divine hand, and which is understanding the Divine summons, rise and be renewed; there is a future before it of acceptable service, of beautiful and admirable excellency.
2. Inspiration for the devout worker. Let communities or let souls be reduced by sin and brought very low; let the judgment of God be heavy upon them; it is far from hopeless that they may rise again; from the fallen trunk may spring a living branch, beautiful to the sight and fruitful in every good word and work. - C.
Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12). The figure "fruit of the earth "suggests his humanity. That this may have been the thought of the prophet is indicated by the adjectives which are used. "Beautiful and glorious" are adjectives of admiration applied to Messiah, regarded as the "Branch." "Excellent and comely" are adjectives of appreciation and relation to us, and are applied to him regarded as the "fruit of the earth."
I. THE DIVINE MESSIAH CAN BE A SUFFICIENT REVEALER OF GOD. Illustrate from the way in which our Lord constantly urged that he only spoke the words given him by the Father, and only did the works of the Father.
II. THE HUMAN MESSIAH CAN BE IN SYMPATHY WITH MEN. Illustrate the "High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." In view of the troubles and distresses which Isaiah pictures, and which Messiah is to rectify, it is evident that he must he divinely strong if he is to master, heal, recover, cleanse, and bring on restored blessings; and it is equally evident that he must be human, to sympathize with and come helpfully near to those whom he would bless and save. - R.T.
Exodus 32:32; Psalm 56:8; Psalm 69:28; Malachi 3:16; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 21:27. Matthew Henry says, "Those that are kept alive in killing, dying times were written for life in the book of Divine providence; and shall we not suppose those who are rescued from a greater death to be such as were written in the Lamb's book of life?" We have a further description of them, which really explains their being on the roll; they are "called holy." Now, God never calls people what they are not. In olden times names were always significant, and expressed the personality to which they were applied; thus Jacob was called Israel, because he was a "prince." We have, then, two answering views of the godly man. Here he is "holy;" in heaven his name is in the "book of the living." Following this out in a meditative way, we dwell on -
I. THE BELIEVER'S PRESENT CHARACTER. In some sense he is "holy," for God calls him "holy." Illustrate the following senses in which we may be called "holy," even while we tarry amidst the human frailties:
1. Holy, as separated from self-service and the world's service.
2. Holy, as consecrated to God's service.
3. Holy, as called to pursue holiness.
4. Holy, as in some measure actually holy.
5. Holy, as standing, in the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. THE BELIEVER'S ETERNAL SECURITY. Name is among the living ones. Illustrate:
1. The necessary permanence of all goodness. Evil can die; good can never die. Eternal life is in everything and every one who is good.
2. God rewards holiness with immortality. That is the "crown of life." Upon all goodness God's special favor and protection rests.
3. The holy are the natural citizens of the heavenly, which is the secure eternal home. How, then, can our names be written in the book of life? Illustrate
(1) the way of regeneration;
(2) the way of consecration;
(3) the way of sanctification.
If, through grace, we are numbered among the holy here, then one day the great voice will speak to us out of the heavenly and say, "He that is holy, let him be holy still." - R.T.
I. SOME DESCRIPTIONS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH are given us in the passage now before us. The Church is composed of those who are "escaped of Israel;" those, that is, who have come out from the world, and are separate; who have escaped through the rescuings of Divine mercy; who have been "plucked as brands from the burning." The bond uniting them together, and securing upon them the Divine blessing, is no personal peculiarity, no extraordinary goodness or attainment of their own. It is not that they, differing from all others, have been without sin, but that the Lord has redeemed them from sin; the mark of the Lord's rescue must be upon them all. They are the left ones, the preserved ones, the escaped ones, the monuments of Divine mercy. But the description should keep us from a serious mistake. They are not merely delivered ones; they are escaped ones, that word conveying the idea that their own energy has been put forth, their own will was in the escape. The hand of the angel was indeed upon them, but they also themselves hasted forth, and fled from the spiritual Sodom.
II. The text describes the CHARACTER OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. "Shall be called holy." The name thus put upon the Church is that of its most necessary and distinguishing quality. The term does not imply that each member has attained this holiness, but that each one has it in his heart as his great aim, and makes it, in his daily life, his great pursuit. "God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness." We are "called to be saints," and the central idea of holiness is not absolute purity, but separation from sin, and unto God; separation from the world, from self-seeking, self-indulgence, self-serving, from all forms and features of evil; and separation unto everything that is righteous and lovely and of good report. This, then, is to be the one distinction of the members of Christ's Church - the one thing which they are to maintain by their union together; their consecration unto God to the doing of his will; the choosing of what he will approve; the following whithersoever he may lead. The man who thus, in heart and life, is set on God, is in his measure a holy man, a saint. The Church which, in its collected life and labor, is thus set on God, is also in its measure a holy Church, made up of "saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus." The members of Christ's Church may properly be described as "a peculiar people." Not odd, but peculiar; as an angel from heaven would be if he dwelt among men; peculiar, as Christ was when he went to and fro among the people of Judaea. Nowadays we too often find the Church striving to rub away all the marks of her peculiarity. The question asked by those who have been "called to be saints" is - How near may we go towards the world? To what extent may we yield to its enticements? What of common earthly luxury and self-indulgence may we have without absolutely imperiling our eternal safety? While the Church asks such questions even in secret, and by its conduct and spirit rather than by its language, it is proved to be fallen - and falling - from the Divine standard. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." - R.T.
(1) as cleansings,
(2) as guidings,
(3) as preservings.
I. CHRIST IS EVER WORKING WITH A VIEW TO THE CLEANSING AND PURIFYING OF HIS CHURCH, so that it might be presented at last "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." That work of cleansing demands more constant watchful-fullness, care, and toil than we are wont to imagine. It requires that the Church, as a Church, shall pass again and again under Divine chastenings. We recognize how much the Lord does for us, as individuals, by the perplexities and disappointments and sorrows of our lives, but we do not so readily or so fully admit that such experiences are also needed for our Churches. Uninterrupted prosperities as surely imperil the life of the Christian Church as of the Christian man. Indulgences in sin hurt Churches. The neglect of Church duties, the spirit of idle contentment, growing tendency to self-satisfaction, disregard of holy living, and the encroachments of the worldly spirit, all hurt and spoil the Church. Under the influence of such things the light of the Church will as surely wax dim as the candle in a foul atmosphere; the witness of the Church will become fainter than a whisper; the unity of the Church will be broken up, and its work will lie about it untouched, The descriptions of the seven Churches of Asia given in the Book of Revelation accurately present the conditions into which Churches still fall. Losing their first love. Yielding to the enticements of the world. Weakened by false doctrine. Deadened by the evil influence of unworthy members. Proud of outward prosperities. Lukewarm in Christian service. Surely the hope of the Church lies in this - Christ is willing to be in the midst of her in the power of his cleansing, correcting, and restoring grace, and he is actually dealing with her as a spirit of purifying. He is ever washing away the fast-gathering "filth of the daughters of Jerusalem, and the blood of her sins from the midst thereof." In accomplishing this work of cleansing, it may sometimes be needful that our Lord should deal severely. The operations of his grace will sometimes appear as a "spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning."
II. OUR LORD ALSO DEALS WITH HIS CHURCH WITH A VIEW TO ITS GUIDANCE AND INSTRUCTION. He would have his people grow in grace and wisdom and knowledge, reaching ever further into the mysteries of revealed truth, and making ever holier and wiser expressions of their renewed spirit in all the spheres of their life and activity. Journeying through the wilderness of this world, through the wilderness of truths, and through the wilderness of Christian duties Christ is ever near now, as he was in the olden days to wandering Israel. Then a cloud-pillar, looking dark against the bright sky by day, and flashing out like flame against the dark sky by night, kept Israel in mind of its ever-present Guide. [Now, without the help of such outward symbols, in inward manifestations to trustful hearts, Christ reveals his presence as our Shepherd, leading us on, now into scenes of conflict, now up paths that are rough and stony, and sometimes into "the green pastures, and beside the still waters." The power of a Church to hold fast the" truth once delivered unto the saints, "and yet to receive whatever new forms of truth God may be pleased to unfold from his Word, lies in this presence of Christ with his Church, as a Teacher and Guide, as a "spirit of judgment."
III. CHRIST DEALS WITH HIS CHURCH WITH A VIEW TO ITS PRESERVATION AND ITS DEFENCE. He not only cleanses and teaches, he also keeps. "Upon all her glory shall be a defense." We may lovingly submit to all his chastenings and corrections, for over all the glory of his cleansing shall be his defense. It shall never be destructive. We shall be kept through it all. We may wait on all Divine teachings, and go forth to all Christian duties; perils may be round about us, but over all the glory of his guiding there shall be a defense. God shall keep us safely. His "mountains are round about Jerusalem from henceforth, and even forevermore." He does not mean by his dealings to remove the candlestick out of his place, only to make the flame burn clearer and brighter. He is but keeping it safe until the great time of removals, when it may take its place, and shine forever among the lamps of the heavenly sanctuary. - R.T.
I. THAT GOD TAKES A DIVINE PLEASURE IN HIS PEOPLE. We know from other Scriptures that the Lord's portion is his people (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 32:9; Psalm 47:4). Here the people of God are spoken of as "the glory" of the Lord (ver. 5). There are aspects in which it must appear to us the extreme point of Divine condescension to use such terms of his redeemed ones. But there are other aspects in which we can see that they are not altogether inappropriate. God's ancient people were, and his regenerated children are, the witnesses and instances of his glorious redemption. Redeemed from political or spiritual bondage, they rejoice in a blessed freedom; raised from dark depths of misery and despair, they sing the psalms of joy and hope; purged from vanity and folly, they walk in the ascending path of heavenly wisdom.
II. THAT GOD PROMISES HIS PEOPLE HIS DIVINE PROTECTION. "Upon all the glory shall be a defense." As in the old desert days the tribes of Israel were led by the pillar of cloud by day and all the night by a pillar of fire, so shall the Divine Leader guide his people in the path which is still before them (ver. 5). From the burning heat and from the pelting storm there shall be found a covert for those who put their trust in him. God's promised defense extends:
1. To his people in their various relationships; whether gathered in the family "dwelling-place," or met in their sacred "assemblies," or, we may add, whether journeying in that solitariness of spirit with which we must all. be familiar (Galatians 6:5) along the path of life; - that is, in their domestic, ecclesiastical, and individual relations.
2. To his people in the checkered experiences of their career. God will be their defense from
(1) the perils peculiar to prosperity (pride, selfishness, contemptuousness, worldliness, etc.) - there shall be "a shadow in the daytime from the heat;" and
(2) the dangers incident to adversity (sullenness, rebelliousness, moroseness, despair, etc.) - there shall be "a covert from storm and from rain."
III. THAT THESE DIVINE PROMISES ARE CONDITIONAL ON OUR CONTINUED OBEDIENCE AND BELIEVING PRAYER. God speaks peace unto his people, "but let them not turn again to folly" (Psalm 85:8; see Ezekiel 33:13). The Divine promise proved good in this particular instance just so long and so far as the conditions which were implied were faithfully observed. God's promises are "exceeding great and precious," and we may "live thereby," if we will. But we must not fail
(1) to walk in the way of his commandments, nor
(2) to plead his Word in expectant prayer; if we do, we shall fail to enjoy in its fullness the defense of the "almighty arms." - C.