Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE ELECT OF GOD. Six times does the word occur in this portion of Isaiah; it is found also in Psalm 89:3; Psalm 105:6, 43; Psalm 106:5, 23. He has been endowed with God's Spirit, anointed for a special mission, for a high and arduous task; and this is to publish the Law, the practical religion of Jehovah, to the nations of the earth. "All religions claim to be laws; biblical religion dwells with increasing earnestness on the moral as opposed to the ritual law."
II. HIS METHODS. They are gentle, quiet, spiritual. He speaks, not in the loud voice of passionate debate and contention, but with the still small voice of reasonable persuasion. He does not come to crush life, but to develop it; not to despise the weak, but to encourage and raise them. The crushed reed is the very type of helplessness; the dimly burning wick of ignorance of the best. It has been designated as the religion of condescension. When it came into the world, it found the multitude crushed beneath the yoke of political oppression, exhausted by the demands of heathen ritualism, yet longing for health and salvation; it stooped to them and blessed them. He himself is as a brightly burning Lamp, and a Reed, "a humble Plant;" unlike others, "covered with leaves, or hardened in their stalk." In a spirit of strict truthfulness, for this end born and brought into the world, he shall proceed to establish justice and true religion on the earth. He shall be the nations' Desire; and they shall wait in longing upon him (cf. Matthew 12:17-21). Such is Christianity, as it exists in the mind of its Author, and as it appears in the world, pursuing its beneficent way, in spite of all revolutions, and of all religious changes and controversies. - J.
I. THE SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE. "My Servant "(ver. 1). Jesus Christ was the Servant of Jehovah; he was "about his Father's business" from the beginning. He came "to work the work of him that sent him." It was his "meet to do the Father's will, and to finish his work." It was his joy to know, at the end of his career, that he had "finished the work which the Father had given him to do." The spirit of obedience, of active conformity to the known will of "him that sent him," possessed and characterized our Lord in a very marked degree.
II. THE EXCELLENCY WHICH ATTRACTS. "Whom I uphold; my Chosen, in whom my soul delighteth;" in other words, that One "in whom I am well pleased." There was in our Lord everything which satisfies and attracts. Excellency is often found in conjunction with characteristics which are so uninviting and even repelling that there is a measure of admiration felt, but no delight, no good pleasure; the soul is not drawn in affection and attachment. Jesus Christ was One in whose spirit, attitude, behaviour, was everything that called forth the pleasure of the Father, and that now evokes the love and the delight of his disciples.
III. RECIPIENCY OF THE HIGHEST GIFT. "I have put my Spirit upon him." God "gave not the Spirit by measure" unto him (John 3:34), because he had an immeasurable capacity of receiving it. God's highest gifts to us depend, not on his willingness or ability to bestow, but on our readiness and capacity to receive. God dwelt, by his Spirit, perfectly in his Son, our Saviour, and according to our faith and purity he will dwell in us.
IV. QUIETNESS OF METHOD. "He shall not cry," etc. (vide next homily).
V. PATIENT HOPEFULNESS. "A bruised reed," etc. (vide next homily).
VI. PERSISTENT ENERGY. "He shall bring forth judgment unto truth;" "He shall not fail," etc.
1. The disregarded and despised Son of man did not fail to speak, to suffer, to work, until his task on earth was complete.
2. The neglected and unknown Son of God, dwelling in the heavens, will not be discouraged until the race has been regenerated and renewed. Through the instrumentality of his Church he will work on this sin-distracted world until its ignorance be displaced by knowledge, its iniquity yield to holiness of heart and life, its indifference give place to earnest interest and all-constraining love. - C.
Servant of God, gentle, purified, suffering - whether it be Cyrus whom he had anointed; or Jacob whom he had chosen; his people with whom after all their affliction he was well pleased; or Jeremiah and the prophetic order, the victim of their country's sins, led as a lamb to the slaughter; or One, more sorrowful, more triumphant, more human, more Divine, than any of these, the last and true fulfilment of the most spiritual hopes and the highest aspirations of the chosen people." Delitzsch says, "The conception of the Servant of Jehovah is, as it were, a pyramid, of which the base is the people Israel as a whole, the central part Israel 'according to the Spirit,' and the summit the Person of the Mediator of salvation who arises out el Israel." Cheyne says, "In the sublimest descriptions of the Servant I am unable to resist the impression that an historical Person is intended, and venture to think that our general view of 'the Servant' ought to be ruled by those passages in which the enthusiasm of the author is at its height. 'Servant of Jehovah ' in these passages seems about equivalent to 'Son of Jehovah' in Psalm 2:7 ('son' and 'servant' being, in fact, nearly equivalent in the Old Testament), viz. the personal instrument of Israel's regeneration, or the Messiah." The whole passage, vers. 1-4, is applied to Christ in Matthew 12:17-21, as illustrating Christ's mild, silent, and uncontentious manner of working. We shall come again upon the representation of Christ as "Servant," when we reach the great chapter of this prophecy, the fifty-third. The passage now before us directs attention to three points in relation to this "Servant of the Lord," the Christ.
I. HIS ENDOWMENT. "I have put my Spirit upon him." The expression calls to mind the endowments of the Spirit, as a Spirit of rule and judgment, which followed the anointing of Saul and David. In precise adaptation to work required, God gives spiritual endowment. The scene of the baptism of Christ has been misunderstood, as the time when the special endowment of the Spirit came upon him for his life-ministry. It is a truer and deeper view of that scene of the descending dove and heavenly witness that sees in it only an outward manifestation and expression of a fact which already existed - the Spirit already dwelt in Christ beyond measure. The outward expression in symbol was graciously accommodated to the comforting of his humanity, and the conviction of those who believe in his Divine mission. It may be shown that every endowment of the Divine Spirit is
(1) a seal, testifying that he on whom it rests is under commission of God; and
(2) a fitness, ensuring the highest adaptation to that precise work which is given the agent to do. It involves efficiency and authority.
II. HIS COMMISSION. To "bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." "Judgment" here is not used in its magisterial sense. It is the equivalent of "righteousness," or, more precisely, of the "truth that makes for righteousness." That truth is conceived as having been for a time the special possession of Israel; but by Messiah it is to be opened to the whole world. "Every man that doeth righteousness is accepted of him." The point that Isaiah sets in such clear light is, that the commission of the great "Servant of Jehovah" is a distinctly moral one. It is only in a secondary or derived sense anything but moral. It concerns righteousness. It glorifies righteousness. It breaks soul-bondages. It dispels prejudices and errors. It proposes to bring men together in a brotherhood of common goodness, of which the bloom will be mutual love and helpfulness. The world's separations and woes can never be mastered until men arc made right, and that is Christ's work.
III. HIS CHARACTERISTICS. Unpretentious, uncontentious, trusting wholly to moral influences for securing moral ends. "He shall not strive nor cry." As Matthew Arnold well expresses it, "He shall not clamour, shall not speak with the high vehement voice of the men who contend. God's Servant shall bring to men's hearts the word of God's righteousness and salvation by a gentle, inward, and spiritual method." Illustrating the parable of the leaven, Dr. Marcus Dods says, "According to the Head of the Church, his religion and Spirit are to be propagated by an influence which operates like an infectious disease, invisible, without apparatus and pompous equipment, succeeding all the better where it. is least observed. Our Lord bases his expectation of the extension of his Spirit throughout the world, not upon any grand and powerful institutions, not on national establishments of religion or on any such means, but on the secret, unnoticed influence of man upon man." The characteristic silences of the great "Servant" may wisely become the characteristics of his servants. Moral forces make no noise. - R.T.
Matthew 12.), as well as the evidence of their perfect applicability. They remind us of -
I. THE QUIETNESS OF HIS METHOD. With a task before him the surpassing greatness of which completely dwarfs every human enterprise, it was a matter of vital consequence that our Lord should adopt the method which would be permanently effective. He might have chosen the loud and violent method. He might have taken
(1) the way of the warrior, who seeks to secure his ends by the clash of arms and thunder of cannon; or
(2) the way of the vehement and noisy agitator, of the tempestuous rhetorician, of the man who terrorizes over his audience by threats and denunciations. But "he did not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets." He chose the quiet and spiritual method. He adopted the way of God in nature and in man - the way by which God built the mountains and laid down the soil, by which he makes the spring to succeed the winter and the summer to replace the spring, by which he makes the grass to grow in our meadows and the flowers to unfold in our gardens and the corn to ripen in our fields. It is the way by which God constructs the human mind, building it up from the opening intelligence of the child to the full strength and ripe wisdom of manhood; the way by which he develops human character and national strength - by quiet, silent, gradual processes that no eye can see, no ear can hear, no hand can measure. Jesus Christ deliberately adopted
(1) a peaceful method; he emphatically declined and even severely forbade the use of force in his service (Matthew 26:52). He thus discouraged and disallowed compulsion and constraint in the furtherance of his kingdom.
(2) He also decided upon a quiet method. He shunned rather than sought notoriety (Matthew 12:16). He did not believe that a tempest of applause or that the fresh breeze of fame would carry his vessel of righteousness and peace to her harbour. He wanted to persuade, to convince, to win men; to prevail over their judgment, to subdue their will, to hallow their mind, to gain their conscience, to conquer them, themselves. So he went quietly to his work, speaking golden truths to obscure and unlearned men, opening rich slopes of heavenly treasure to one man who stole to see him under the shadow of the darkness; to one woman whom he chanced to meet and talk to at the well Shunning the crowd, disliking noise and tumult, the incarnation of quiet strength, the Son of man did his work, lived his life, spake his truth, bore his sorrows.
II. THE PATIENT HOPEFULNESS OF HIS SPIRIT. At what point must we give a man up? Regarding his physical nature, there is a point where medical skill can do no more and "gives him up" to die. Is there such a point in his spiritual course?
1. In nations. Men have contended that some races have been reduced to such a depth of demoralization and brutality that they are irrecoverably lost to virtue and piety. But Christian missions have effectually and finally disposed of this contention.
2. In individual men. The idea of the restoration of fallen and degraded men is essentially Christian. The most pious and charitable Jew never thought of praying for the redemption of the publican he saw at the counter or the harlot he met in the street; he was astonished and indignant that the great Teacher should address himself to such as these. But as there was no one too far gone in sickness for the Lord to heal, so was there no one too foul or too guilty for him to save and to restore. He did not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. To the repentant publican he said, "This man is a son of Abraham;" to the weeping woman, "Daughter, thy sins are forgiven thee: go in peace. This spirit of patient hopefulness is to be our spirit:
(1) In our treatment of others. Tempted to abandon those to whom we have long made our appeal in vain, inclined to regard them as hopelessly deaf, hard, unresponsive, - we must break away front our despondency and enter into the patient hopefulness of our Lord and Leader.
(2) In the view we take of ourselves. No man need despair of himself, for Christ does not despair of him. He hopes good and even great things of those who are ready to abandon themselves to sin and ruin. Look not in, but up. Above is a patient, hopeful Saviour, who still says to you, Wilt thou be made whole?" - C.
I. THERE ARE BRUISINGS OF SIN. Christ will heal these. He never drives to despair. He might, indeed, condemn; for he knows all the subtle intricacies of evil in our hearts. But the Son of man is not come to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
II. THERE ARE BRUISINGS OF DOUBT. St. Thomas felt these, and he expresses his doubts with startling emphasis and boldness. But Christ is sympathetic even then - shows Thomas his hands and his side, and tells him to reach hither his hand. Alas! many have been driven into infidelity because their doubts have been treated as sins, and the bruised minds have been broken!
III. THERE ARE BRUISINGS OF SORROW. But God knows when godly sorrow has worked repentance not to be repeated of. He knows when the poor heart is well-nigh crushed with grief at its departure from him. He does not delight in pain. The Roman emperors did. But he whose throne was a cross, and whose sceptre is love, he loves to heal. In sin and doubt and sorrow, let us go to Christ alone. - W.M.S.
We may be, and often are, discouraged; but the Son, he in whom, says Jehovah (ver. 1), "my soul delighteth," he never is. He must reign. All the infinite forces of love and righteousness are on his side. In God's world error can never be supreme over truth. "The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."
I. THE SAVIOUR AND DIVINE CERTAINTY. He is expecting. All the true triumphs of the ages have been victories for him. What elevation to humanity has come with his truth! What beneficent enterprises have all had their inspiration from his cross! What fetters he has snapped! What prisons he has opened! All the vital forces of to-day are the forces he started in Judaea eighteen centuries ago. "He shall not fail;" for he lives to-day in ever-growing influence over the hearts of men. Madagascar has recently even, been won for his crown. We must, of course, take time into our estimate. "A thousand years are with the Lord as one day." It is a great work. His empire is the world. His kingdom is everlasting. The law of preparation seems related to the law of duration. A gourd springs up in a night but it lasts only for a day; whereas the oak, that monarch of the centuries, attains its perfection through the long course of yearn. We need not wonder that an "immortal kingdom" is of steady growth.
II. THE SAVIOUR AND TRIUMPHANT ENDURANCE. "He shall not... be discouraged." There is, indeed, much that might discourage, the slow victories of goodness, the enmity of the carnal mind! But Christ sees of the travail of his soul. He is not like us. We have need of the counsel, "Judge nothing before the time;" but he sees the end from the beginning. What comfort this should be to all Christians! Why should we be discouraged? If the Leader is consciously invincible, how valiant and constant ought his followers to be! Discouragement means, on our part, unbelief. - W.M.S.
I. THIS PROPHECY SUGGESTS A DIFFICULT PATH OF PROGRESS. Why say this?
1. There will be much that looks like failure judged by appearances.
2. There will be much that would exhaust human resources.
The strongest man would say, "I feel that, if left to myself, I could not continue."
II. THE PROPHECY STATES THE SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST. "He shall not fail."
1. Preparative processes are related to permanent work.
2. Preliminary hindrances are nothing to the eye that sees the end.
3. Discouragements are overmastered by the infinite power of love.
III. THE PROPHECY TEACHES US THAT THERE WILL BE AN ENTHRONEMENT OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY. Judgment.
1. Christian judgment concerning sin. A right estimate of its heinousness and its influences.
2. Christian judgment concerning salvation. What we mean by the power of Christ, not only to pardon, but to redeem life from evil.
IV. THE PROPHECY IS SUGGESTIVE OF WARNING TO US.
1. How soon our energies get enfeebled!
2. How soon our hearts get discouraged!
3. How soon we lose the spirit of Christ!
V. THE PROPHECY CLOSES WITH THE WAITING OF THE ISLES. Yes; they wait.
1. Unconsciously seeking.
2. Can find no other Saviour.
3. Ultimately to be won to Christ. - W.M.S.
who, in the deepest view of him, is the manifested God. And "though be meets with hard service and much opposition, and foresees how ungrateful the world will be, yet he goes on with his part of the work, till he is able to say, 'It is finished!' and he enables his apostles and ministers to go on with theirs, too, and not to fail nor be discouraged till they also have finished their testimony." Henderson gives the connection of the passages suggestively: "Mild and gentle as he would be towards the broken-hearted and tire desponding, no power should depress his Spirit, impede his progress, obscure his glory, or thwart his purpose."
I. CHRIST HAS A GREAT END TOWARDS WHICH HE IS EVER, AND HAS BEEN EVER, WORKING. The largest view we can take of Christ regards him as God operating for high moral ends in the sphere of humanity. God's direct moral Agent, in all the ages, has been the Second Person of the sacred Trinity, the Angel-Jehovah, Jehovah ministering, or the Christ. So we link the great Incarnation with all the foreshadowing incarnations. God's end, in Christ, is
(1) the setting up of truth, of judgment, of the sense of right, of righteousness; and this
(2) is synchronous with the universal establishment of his Law, or living rule and authority. The kingship of Christ is the reign of righteousness - a reign than can be above and within all earthly kingships. In reaching this end we can see a series of stages.
1. A preparatory work in the world. Letting men find out the value of righteousness by experiences of evil.
2. A stage of visible manifestation of the righteousness desired for the whole world, in the person of the righteous Servant of the Lord, the "Man Christ Jesus."
3. A stage, now incomplete, of the inward workings of the Holy Spirit, using agencies of human ministry and Christian influence and example.
II. CHRIST MIGHT, WE THINK, FAIL AND BE DISCOURAGED BY THE SLOW PROGRESS OF HIS KINGDOM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The stages are long. The progress often rather seems backward. Each stage has, indeed, been misunderstood. We are only now getting glimpses of the importance of the first preparatory stage. We say, "How long?' and wonder that Christ does not. It is long waiting lot the "travail of his soul."
III. IF CHRIST IS NOT DISCOURAGED, SURELY WE NEED NOT BE. Our imperfect knowledge, our passion for results, and our weak faith, may excuse our failing. We readily forget that the honour of God is far more truly bound up in the full redemption of the world, and the universal reign of righteousness, than ours. "It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master." Not until our living, loving Lord is disheartened and gives up his work of saving men, may we let the tools of our Christian service drop out of our hand. - R.T.
Zechariah 12:1) (Cheyne).
I. THE RELATION OF GOD To THE WORLD. He is the God - the only God (cf. Psalm 85:9). He can admit no rival; he stands in a unique relation to the world - is alone to be worshipped. He is the Creator: his work is the heaven and the earth, and the people. The breath of life is by him breathed into his creatures. The universe is entirely subject to him, and he has the right to appoint whom he will to be the minister and channel of his favours to men. To the appointed Messiah, then, due reverence is to be paid.
II. HIS COVENANT WITH ISRAEL AND MANKIND. There is a covenant with the chosen people, and through them all nations are to own him as God. Generally the righteousness of God stands for the goodness of God, manifested to his world in the whole scheme and agency of salvation. "I have done this as a righteous and just God, and in accomplishment of my righteous purposes. I am the just moral Governor of the universe, and have designated thee to this work, in the accomplishment of those purposes."
III. THE MEDIATOR OF THE COVENANT. God holds his hand in his. What strength, then; what grace and Divine communication must there not be with the Mediator, who will be guided and guarded, will be visibly in the enjoyment of the Divine favour! And so the Mediator himself is called a Covenant - the personal realization of God's thought and purpose to the people - the embodiment of that spiritual relation announced in vers. 30, 31, etc. Another of his names is Light. Being Intelligence in himself, the Wisdom of God, he will diffuse it among the nations: bringing men out of their spiritual blindness and the prison-house and confinement of spiritual distress (Psalm 107:10; Job 36:8). "Such is the freedom the gospel imparts; nor can there be a more striking description of its happy effects on the minds and hearts of darkened and wretched men" (1 Peter 2:9).
IV. THE SOLEMN ASSURANCE. Jehovah now turns to the people, and assures them that he is the only true God, and jealously claims a sole and undivided homage. He is "the Eternal." The name includes "the unique reality, and power to confer reality, of the Divine Being." His glory he will not give to another; for were such a God's prediction to fail, he would sink to a lower level than the imaginary deities, who have, at any rate, not deluded their worshippers. But the earlier predictions have been fulfilled -those against the Babylonians or Assyrians; and the new things, later and more splendid - the deliverances of the Jews - will in like manner be fulfilled. The plant is contained in the seed; the event in the mind; the fulfilment in the Word of Jehovah (Isaiah 9:8; Isaiah 55:10, 11; Amos 3:7). - J.
I. THE DIVINE COMMAND. God demands the glory which is his due (ver. 8). His claim is based on:
1. What he is in himself. "I am the Lord (Jehovah); that is my Name." As the Eternal One, who only hath immortality, the Underived and Everlasting One, who in the very fullest, deepest, and highest sense is God over all, he rightly demands our reverence, our homage, our worship.
2. What he has done for our race. He has "created the heavens," etc. (ver. 5). He is the Divine Author of our own human spirits, the Divine Originator of all material things, the Divine Giver of all surrounding comforts. As the Father of our souls and as the Source of all our good of every kind, God righteously demands our thought, our gratitude, our love, our service.
II. OUR GUILTY REFUSAL. Of whatever crimes, or vices, or follies we are guiltless, there is one sin which we must all acknowledge - we have not rendered unto our God "the glory due unto his Name." "The God in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways, we have not glorified" as we might have done and should have done. In this matter all, even the best, have "come short" (Romans 3:23). The great multitudes of mankind have been sadly and guiltily negligent, and we have had to pay -
III. THE PENALTY OF OUR GUILT. This penalty is very severe; it is manifold; it comprises:
1. Forfeiture of the Divine favour.
2. Fear of final condemnation and banishment from the Father's presence.
3. The various ills and evils, including sickness, and sorrow, and death, which befall us here.
4. Spiritual deterioriation. This is, perhaps, the saddest and most serious part of our penalty. He that sins against God "wrongs his own soul;" he dyes that which inflicts on himself most grievous wounds; his own soul suffers harm, the extent and the pitifulness of which no mind can measure, no words express. The text (ver. 7) points to two of these spiritual evils.
(1) Mental blindness. The commission of any sin has a far worse result than that of enfeebling bodily health or injuring the circumstances of a man. It clouds his mind; it dulls his spiritual apprehension; he gradually loses his power of distinguishing between what is right and wrong, pure and impure, reverent and profane, kind and unkind, true and false. Ultimately his vision is confused, and mental obliquity takes the place of clear perception. "His eye is evil, and his whole body is full of darkness;" he "calls good evil, and evil good;" he has "blind eyes" (ver. 7).
(2) Bondage of the soul. Sin leads down to servitude - to a bondage of which all bodily slaveries and imprisonments are only types and shadows. For, to be held in the bars of a spiritual captivity, of an unholy lust. of a depraved habit, of an irresistible tendency of mind, to struggle more and more feebly and ineffectually against this, and at last for the soul to surrender itself a hopeless captive, - this is a degradation beyond and beneath which it is impossible for man to pass. But we have the promise of -
IV. DIVINE RESTORATION. "I have called thee... to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners," etc. (vers. 6, 7). Jesus Christ came "to preach deliverance to the captives" (Luke 4:18). This he does by
(1) his enlightening truth;
(2) his renewing and redeeming Spirit. - C.
glory of the Lord; in the time that now is we think most of his grace. We are still journeying under the clouds; we are still in the land of the fainting, the struggling, and the weeping. The night is passing, but it is not past; the victory is nearing, but it is not won; and therefore it is so precious to us that we may bear of the tender, compassionate, sympathizing Redeemer. We are little better than bruised reeds and smouldering flax; therefore it is good to hear of him who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.
I. CHRIST'S WAY OF DEALING WITH BRUISED REEDS, OR HUMBLED SINNERS. The reed fittingly represents the sinner. It stands so straight, apparently so strong, and yet it is one of the weakest things that grow. It cannot endure the least rough usage. The passing storm will bend and bruise and spoil it. Of all the helpless things, perhaps a bruised reed is the most helpless. There is much confidence and apparent strength in the sinner, at least so long as life goes smoothly and blue sky is overhead. But let the clouds lower, let the burden of life press heavily, let God touch with the afflicting hand, let God try him with sore bereavements, and then the poor reed is bruised and hanging. And it is God's way to bruise such reeds. The beginning of hope for sinners lies in their humbling under God's mighty hand. See some of the ways in which this humbling work is done.
1. Sometimes God lets men run themselves tired and work themselves weary in the effort to gain a righteousness for themselves. Men are permitted to hurry after the flickering light, over moor and bog, until, fainting, they lose sight for ever of the vain hope. Men are permitted to build the house of their morality upon the sands of self-confidence, and then, just as they would enter and dwell in peace, they find the foundations sinking and the storm-floods overwhelming. Men are permitted to grasp at world-success and worldly wealth, and then they are led to ask all these things, "What can you buy for my soul's good?" And, sick at heart, they must hear the answer, "Not one word of peace; not one sun-glint of hope; not one cheer for the dark river and the darker beyond." Many a man has come, since the days of Solomon, out of the trim of all human offers of happiness, to cry, bruised and humbled before God, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
2. Sometimes God directs his providences to the humbling of men by heavy sorrows and cares. He lets their boasted strength bear the brunt of severe and subtle temptations. He finds the joints in the armour, and sends there the arrows that pierce. But he only bruises; he does not break. He may hold back awhile; he never utterly forsakes. He may hide behind a cloud, but he keeps on looking, even through the veil of the cloud, waiting until the response to his gracious dealings comes," We will return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us."
II. CHRIST'S WAY OF DEALING WITH SMOKING FLAX, OR FEEBLE BELIEVERS. The best explanation of this figure is that flax was used in the East for the wicks of oil-lamps, and these wicks, unless well cut and constantly trimmed, gave but a flickering, smoky light. A striking illustration of feeble Christians, whose life is a smoke rather than a fire, a spark rather than a light, a glimmer rather than a glow, a name to live rather than a life.
1. The beginnings of Christian life are often very feeble; the smoking flax needs raising to a flame. In the case of Nicodemus there was a little desire, a little spiritual anxiety, a little longing alter high and holy things, a little smoking of the flax. And most tenderly did the Lord breathe upon it, and blow upon it, and try to raise the flame. The rich young ruler had a little smoking of the flax, a little yearning after the "eternal life." And Christ sought to tan it into a flame that should consume even his love for his "great possessions."
2. The figure also represents those conditions of spiritual decline to which we are all exposed, and which make sad places here and there in the story of our Christian lives. Happy indeed is that man who does not know what it is for his spiritual light to become only a smoking wick. And he who has wrought so great a work in us must be sorely grieved when the flame grows dim, the oil of grace is not renewed, and no good atmosphere of trust and prayer nourishes and clears the light. And yet, though grieved, he does "not quench." Bunyan tells us of the fire in the wall, and of one who poured water upon it to quench it. It was not Christ who acted thus. He pours on the oil of grace, until the flame is, made to glow and blaze in power and beauty. But sometimes he holds back his grace, and lets the water almost quench the fire in the dull and careless soul. Many must confess that it is even so with them. Awhile ago the flame was all glowing; amid now there are only a few curlings and wreathings of smoke, and scarcely one feeble flame - the waters of the world, self-indulgence, pride, and neglected Christian duty have nearly quenched it. Leave it but a little longer, and the last flicker will die out. Conclude by showing the way for such feeble believers back to Christ. who "waiteth to be gracious." "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy;" "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." - R.T.
he is. But the prophet is far less concerned with the abstract nature of God than with his special and gracious relations with his people. He is here dealing with Jehovah's faithfulness to his predictions and promises. He is unique in this - he keeps his word. The glory of fulfilling his promises belongs to him alone. It was characteristic of idolatry that large promises were made to men by oracle and priest, for which there was no guarantee; and there is no more miserable chapter in the history of idols than the chapter, of excuses for disappointed promise-holders. If the predictions of Jehovah ever failed, he would sink to lower levels than the idols. "The voice that moves the stars along speaks all the promises." The point on which to dwell is that, however tolerant idolatry may be of other conceptions and other ritual developed in other lands, and however attractive to men such latitude in religion and worship may be, not one jot of the absolutely supreme claims of Jehovah can be removed. In this no concession can be made. Here there can be no rivalry, no sharing of honours. God is God alone. He is above all. It is absolutely essential to the worship of Jehovah that it should be wholly exclusive of the idea of another god. No reproach of men can be more severe and searching than this, "They feared the Lord, and served other gods." The unique ness of God is seen in that:
1. He is for man only a thought; we cannot, we may not, fix him in any shape. "He is a Spirit."
2. He is behind all things. Not behind some things, as idols of wisdom, or of music, or of corn and wine. At the back of everything we can conceive is God, in whom the conception first took shape.
3. He controls all forces. Not like idols, this one controlling the wind, and that the sea.
4. He claims all homage. Not of a nation, but of the world; not of a time, but of the ages.
5. He has the supreme record of faithfulness; for he has been the "Refuge and Dwelling place" of men in all generations. - R.T.
I. THE SONG AND THE SINGERS. The new song is named in the Psalter (Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1), meaning a song inspired by the sense of new mercies. All parts of the earth are to join in the chorus: the sailors, and even all the finny inhabitants of the deep (Psalm 34:1); the nomads and the dwellers in cities and among the rocks, - shall join to swell the volume of his mighty song.
II. THE GREAT DEEDS OF THE ALMIGHTY. It is a great and terrible day of Jehovah. He, breaking his long silence and reserve, will march forth like a mighty hero, with a loud battle-shout, and put forth all his prowess. (For similar pictures of the God of war, see Isaiah 28:21; Isaiah 31:4; Isaiah 59:16, 17; Zechariah 9:13, 14; Zechariah 14:3.) The whole imagery bespeaks the most intense emotion. God may be silent, may seem to disregard the prayers of his people; but he is not dead, nor is he sleeping, like a Baal. He is waiting; he is ripening his purposes. He is looking for his opportunity. When he comes forth his progress will be marked by judgment and by redemption. These are the two sides, the dark and the bright, of his work. As Judge and Avenger. he will devastate the mountains and hills - the high places of heathendom; and the fertile vineyards on their slopes, and all the temples, fanes, and altars, will be demolished. Under the figures is expressed the coming of a great spiritual revolution. The old corrupt order and custom of the world must first give way before the new and holy can come in. And then, amidst the dismay of the false worshippers, light will at the same time appear to the righteous. "I will lead the blind by a way which they knew not; through paths they have not known I will make them to go: I will turn darkness into light before them, and rough places into a table-land. Those things I will surely do, and I will not let them slip." By the "blind" appears to be meant, not so much the spiritually ignorant as the perplexed, distressed, desponding - those who "walk in obscurity" (Isaiah 59:9, 10). It is the language of tenderness, and the language of strong assurance, founded on superior knowledge. What more common than the experience of the Christian, "Darkness is about me; my way is hedged in; there is no outlook, no prospect"? Yet suddenly - it may be while he is on his knees, it may be in some moment of refreshing sleep - a change comes. The clouds lift; the hosts of the enemy fall back; the: "large place" is reached. Then he sees how blind, how "faint-hearted, incredulous, and undiscerning" he has been. Let us tread the path of duty, which is the path of faith; it will surely lead, before our journey closes, out to those "shining table-lands to which our God himself is Sun and Moon." And let us lay the reproach of the "blind and deaf servant" to heart. We are among the faint-hearted and the incredulous - despite all our experience of God's goodness - whom he here addresses. We are like "the man of mature years and experience, by which he has failed to profit." And thus we are reduced to that mood of humility in which there is every hope. Why this contrast between the design of God to exalt his law of righteousness by means of Israel, and Israel's despoiled and captive estate? Clearly it is because of Israel's sins - because, though chosen of God, they would not walk in God's ways. So let every argument end between ourselves and God "that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." Let us return unto him and be saved. - J.
I. DANKNESS ILLUMINED. There was:
1. Darkness over the face of God.
2. Darkness over the destiny of man.
But Christ has revealed the Divine fatherhood, and brought life and immortality to light.
II. WRONG RIGHTENED. Crooked or warped things have been twisted or "wrung" - from which our word "wrong" comes; and Christ Jesus has brought in an everlasting righteousness.
1. Man's way was wrong.
2. Man's ideal was wrong, it was self instead of God.
3. Man's heart was wrong.
And there are "crooked" things in experience, in addition to crooked tastes and tempers. And Christ makes the path of duty clear to us, and removes the mountains from our paths. - W.M.S.
must be so. If we consider how little we can understand of the great designs of the wisest of mankind when we have but a partial view of them, we shall cease to wonder at the mystery which attends the providence of God. How can we be otherwise than "blind" to the large and long purposes of him "whose way is in the sea," and to whom "a thousand years are as one day"? The thought of the prophet is illustrated in -
I. GOD'S DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL, At one period, when languishing in captivity, it was black night to the people of God. It was dark twilight to Isaiah, looking on and down from the peaks of prophecy. It was early morning when the Israelites entered Jerusalem on their return. It was later morning yet when Paul caught a glimpse of God's large purposes in all the way he led them (Romans 11:33). But all along he was leading the blind by a way they knew not.
II. HIS DEALINGS WITH MANKIND. Through what dark days has the Church of Christ passed as it has come through the centuries! How many times has God seemed to have forsaken it, when it has undergone a threatening eclipse from:
1. Savage attack from outside; the trials and perils of unrelenting persecution.
2. Chilling coldness within; spirituality of worship, consistency of life, evangelizing zeal, having declined and almost expired.
3. Depressing faithlessness around; a dark shadow of scepticism surrounding, and, at points, invading and infecting it. Yet out of these miseries and temporary defeats God has brought it, turning darkness into light and making the crooked things straight.
III. HIS LEADING OF OUR INDIVIDUAL LIFE. Dark days come to us all; we fail where we counted on success; they become unfriendly on whose faithfulness we had confidently reckoned; the road which promised to lead up to prosperity and joy takes a sudden turn down into adversity and sorrow. We have been seeking Divine direction, but the guiding hand seems to have been withheld; God seems to have forsaken us. But we must not "speak thus, or we should offend against" the truth of God's word and the ultimate experience of his children. Others before and beside us have gone down into the darkness and come up into the light. Once the Master himself went a way he knew not; the Divine Father seemed to have forsaken him. And many a one, since that scene at Calvary, has been inclined to cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is for us to remember that we are as blind men before the all-seeing God, discerning but a mere speck of all that has to be surveyed. God is leading us by a way that we cannot recognize now; but soon the darkness will be light and the crooked straight. It is the hour for trusting. Any one can trust God in the sunshine; we have to show our sonship by trusting him wholly in the deep shadows.
"When we in darkness walk,
figure is taken from the gracious Divine arrangements made for the return of the captives from Babylon. That is indeed prominent in the prophet's mind, but only as illustrative of God's constant dealings as the Life-Guide of his people. Let us, in any vivid and impressive way, see God's working and providing in any one instance, and we learn what he really is, and what he really does, in all instances. Therefore is every man's life dotted over with special scenes of rescue and deliverance, when ways were made for him altogether beyond his imagination, that he might learn to say from the heart, "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our Guide even unto death." Matthew Arnold paraphrases the verse thus: "I will bring mY faint-hearted, incredulous, and undiscerning people safe through the desert to their own land." Prominent are two things:
(1) the inability of man;
(2) the perplexity of his circumstances.
The Divine guidance ensures a safe, good way through all. This may be fully opened and illustrated on the following lines.
I. WE CANNOT GRASP THE PURPOSE OF LIFE. God holds it. What arc we here for? God knows. How will our work fit into the work of others? God knows. We are only servants working at parts of a plan which has never been shown us. The Divine Architect is our Guide, and shows us just what we have to do. Men are, in a despairing spirit, asking "Is life worth living?" We answer, "Certainly it is, if only it is put into God's hands for the guiding." Perhaps we shall never reach to grasp the purpose of our life on the earth better than this - it is our becoming holy, and the agents in helping others to become holy. That is God's thought for us, and towards its realization he is ever working, ever guiding.
II. WE CANNOT MAKE A WAY OF LIFE. We plan, but life does not carry out our plan. We wish, but life will not fulfil our desires. Every one of us has to say, when life closes, "I could not have imagined the way in which! have been led." "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." "The future we explore in vain, so little understood." God opens it. He knows the way of life for every man. He "leads in paths that we have not known." Two striking instances may be taken, one from Old Testament and the other from New Testament Scripture. David tending his sheep could not even imagine the way of life he was to take; yet God was guiding him step by step along a way he had marked out for him. Tell Saul, the zealous Hebrew, that his way lay round from Jerusalem to Illyricum, preaching the gospel of the crucified Nazarene, and he will exclaim, "Impossible!" But, under God's guidance, it was the way that he took.
III. WE CANNOT MEET THE CLAIMS OF LIFE. God can help us. Those claims seem often as impossible for us as a command to carry sufficient water with them for all their long desert-journey would have been for those returning exiles. At times the responsibilities resting upon us seem quite overwhelming, and heart and flesh fail. Then we need to be reminded of the amazing contrast between what a man can do by himself, and what a man can do when God is with him. Wonderful becomes his "enduring" when he can "see him who is invisible." The ever-strengthening conviction, which makes spiritual giants, is that God never gives any man any work to do without holding out, ready for him, grace for the doing.
IV. WE CANNOT PROVIDE FOR THE NEEDS OF LIFE. God is the - to use an Eastern figure - Sheikh of the caravan, and he provides. What is wanted is the knowledge that anticipates all wants, and the abilities that can meet all. The various needs of life may be gathered under one head - the need of renewals, Renewals of body, by sleep; of health, by air, food, medicine; of mind, by knowledge; of heart, by love. it is nothing short of a Divine thing to arrange for all the needs of a single life - many of them needs to which the man himself is "blind," of them he knows nothing. God knows, guides, and provides.
V. WE CANNOT MASTER THE ILLS OF LIFE. God overrules. Again and again we have to face calamities in conscious helplessness. What can Job do with the ills of life? The Sabaeans carry off his flocks, and he can do nothing. Mighty winds bring the house down upon his sons and daughters, and he can do nothing. Painful diseases afflict his own body, and he can do nothing. He can master none of the ills of life. Darkness is round him; things are crooked. Yet God is the Life-Guide. Circumstances are all in his control. He overrules. He makes the very ills turn to good, by securing for Job, through them, a new and more spiritual hold of himself, and by making Job the supreme example of patience for the whole world. He brings light on the darkness, and makes the crooked things go straight. In conclusion, urge that, in view of our helplessness and God's all-sufficing helpfulness, we may well lift eyes and hearts up unto him, saying, "My Father, thou shalt be the Guide of my life." - R.T.
they turn back to their old paths?
I. THE BLINDNESS OF INDIFFERENCE. The heart has lost its first love, and the King is not "beautiful" now. Like human love sometimes, which does not know how blessed it is in its estate of home, until it is aroused by accident, danger, or death to a sense of the value of the heart it has slighted. So at times even the Christian becomes indifferent. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
II. THE BLINDNESS OF INATTENTION. (Ver. 20.) "Seeing many things, but thou observest not."
1. Christians do not always see the value of their principles,
2. Nor do they mark the privileges and comforts which are the outcome of faith.
3. Nor do they observe the misery of the men of this world.
4. Nor do they see the slave's fetters beneath the false liberty of the sinner. Others are blind by nature and habit. But who so blind as the Lord's servants? - W.M.S.
Isaiah 42:19-25 (latter part)
I. THERE ARE PENALTIES WHICH ARE PALPABLE TO EVERY EYE. When vice or crime leads down to poverty, or to serious sickness, or to desertion and consequent loneliness, or to confinement in prison, there is no possibility of mistake. God is "pouring out his anger" against the transgressors of his Law; he is "magnifying his Law, and making it honourable" (ver. 21). But -
II. THERE ARE PENALTIES WHICH ARE UNDETECTED EVEN BY THOSE WHO PAY THEM. As bodily privations - deafness, blindness, feebleness, - come on and sometimes reach even an advanced point before their subjects will allow it to be true, so is it with mental and moral evils, which are the righteous penalties of sin.
1. Mental. The gradual but serious decay of the intellectual powers - of memory, of judgment, of the creative faculty.
2. Moral and spiritual. Loss of self-control; an increased absorption in self; a growing eagerness for fleshly enjoyments or worldly advantages; withdrawal of interest from those things which are spiritual and Divine; in fact, deterioration of soul.
III. THIS UNDETECTED PENALTY IS DECIDEDLY THE MOST SERIOUS, For:
1. It is the most inward. It affects our very selves; it means that we, ourselves, are "set on fire," are being consumed, are perishing.
2. It is likely to be the most lasting. What evil thing a man sees and recognizes he takes care to expel; that which escapes his notice he leaves to itself, and, left undisturbed, it spreads and grows, it becomes rank, ruinous, fatal.
IV. IT IS A PENALTY PAID BY THE APPARENTLY GOOD AS BY THE AVOWEDLY EVIL. "Who is blind, but my servant?" etc. (vers. 19, 20). The sons of privilege, the members of the visible Church, are sometimes found to be sadly deceived respecting their own condition; they are on the borders of bankruptcy when they think themselves rich and strong (Revelation 3:17). Pride, or worldliness, or indulgence, or covetousness, has eaten into their soul, and made them degenerate and unworthy before God, and they "know it not."
V. IT IS A CASE WHICH CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE AND EARNEST EFFORT. When the truth is discovered, or even suspected, it becomes us
(1) to strive with all strenuousness to escape; and
(2) to entreat Divine help in our great spiritual peril: "Search me, O God," etc. (Psalm 139:23, 24). - C.
providences will always be in harmony with, and will support and honour, his revelations. Treating the subject in this larger sphere, we dwell on two points.
I. GOD MAGNIFIES HIS LAW BY MAKING OBEDIENCE SECURE MAN'S GOOD. "Righteousness tendeth unto life." Men are dependent for forming right judgments upon sensible impressions. We apprehend moral good through the sensible figures of material good. Therefore God makes godliness carry "the promise of the life that now is." There may be things which, on occasion, break the connection between moral and material good, and then, like Asaph, we are in perplexity; but the generally working rule brings blessings round to the good man, and so honours God's provisions and laws and promises.
II. GOD MAGNIFIES HIS LAW BY FOLLOWING DISOBEDIENCE WITH MAN'S DISABILITY. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." It is often pointed out that sin is folly. The man who does wrong is false to his best interests; he wrongs himself. The link between sin and penalty is forged tightly; sooner or later penalty is sure to follow sin. These two points are made evidently true in the history of ancient Israel; that people was under a distinct system of material rewards and punishments. But they may still be illustrated in the large spheres of the world. Iniquity never pays, even now. They may be illustrated in the case of individuals, if moral and spiritual rewards and judgments be taken into due account. - R.T.
I. ALL SUFFERING IS DIVINE JUDGMENT. Whatever else may be said of it, its explanations are never exhausted until the Divine purpose in it is explained. The connection of a particular judgment with a particular individual it may be unwise for us to attempt to trace. But we can always see the judgment aspect of race, national, or family calamities; and we know that God can show the judgment clement in each man's woe.
II. ALL JUDGMENT IS CORRECTIVE. It is a Father's rod. No father chastises save for correction, and with a view to the profit of the corrected.
III. ALL JUDGMENTS ARE WITHIN STRICT LIMITATIONS, They are precise to individual cases. Sometimes light, sometimes heavy. Sometimes brief, sometimes long-continued. Always in exact adaptation. There is never any exaggeration, any overdoing, in God's judgments. They are just adequate to the ends sought. They take due count of reasonable response from those to whom they are sent.
IV. ALL DESPISED JUDGMENTS MUST BE RENEWED IN SEVERER FORMS, Because they create new and more serious conditions, and these must be adequately met. God can never permit effective and successful resistance and rebellion. If a man will not bend, he must break. Heavier judgments must grind him to powder. - R.T.