Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HER FRUITFULNESS. Nothing to an Israelitish mind can suggest more forcibly the idea of desolation and sorrow in a nation or spiritual community than the childless woman. Historically, the restored exiles may be referred to; physically and to some extent spiritually Israelites, but, while on a foreign soil, and unbaptized with the Spirit, their union was not complete. In a wider spiritual application, the Church of God, in the Old Testament, confined within the narrow limits of the Jewish nation, and still more so in respect to the very small number of true believers, and which seemed sometimes deserted of God her Husband (Lowth). (For the relation of the Church to God under the figure of marriage, cf. Isaiah 62:5; Revelation 21:2-9; Revelation 22:17; Ezekiel 16.) The conversion of the Gentiles is the accession of a vast progeny to the spiritual Israel - a vast extension of the Church of God (Isaiah 49:20-22).
II. HER ENLARGEMENT. The figure of a tent is employed. The canopy or coverings of the tent are to be widened, its cords lengthened, and the tent-pins made strong. The wandering is to be exchanged for the permanent habitation (For the image cf. Jeremiah 10:20.) The boundaries of the Church are to be enlarged to accommodate the vast accession from the pagan world. On all hands she is to break forth, even as it had been promised to Jacob (Genesis 28:14), to take possession of the nations, and inhabit desolate cities. The period of reproach, figured by maidenhood or widowhood, is to come to an end.
III. HER INTIMATE RELATION TO GOD.
1. He is Maker and Goel, Mediator and Redeemer, of her family rights. (For the Christian application, see Ephesians 2:19, "Fellow-citizens of the saints, and members of the family of God.") As the nearest kinsman is bound to interpose for the defence of members of his family, so the Almighty is bound to avenge and succour his chosen. In his Name, Jehovah of hosts, is found a further guarantee of his saving mercy for the future. It means that he is God of the whole earth, that his glory fills the creation. (For the application to the Christian Church, see Romans 3:29, "God of the Gentiles also.")
2. The relation of marriage in its Divine application points to an indissoluble and eternal union. The Church may appear in times of distress as "an outcast and downcast woman," divorced from her God. But "even many an earthly husband cannot bear to see the misery of his divorced wife, and therefore at length recalls her: how much more, then, Jehovah!" In a "gush of wrath" it was that his face was hidden from her. In everlasting kindness he will have mercy; the sea being contrasted with the momentary outburst, or "gush" of displeasure. "Never shall this dispensation of wrath be repeated, no more than that of Noah's floods. Mountains are symbolic of the unchangeableness of the Eternal (cf. Psalm 36:6; Psalm 65:6). They seem to be the solid pillars and foundations of the earth. They may totter; but the loving-kindness of God must be like himself, eternal. The covenant of peace, which has been ratified between him and his people, will abide amidst all vicissitudes of nature and of history. The love of the Eternal is, then, the first and last secret of all things. At the basis of the universe lies law, and law itself is the expression of love. Law wears to us often a stern face; it is the expression of wrath. But a holy wrath is itself the expression of a loving heart. He who has made the world cannot hate it. He who is the Author of the soul is its affianced Spouse and self-constituted Protector. Language and imagination labour in vain with so immense a conception as that of the Divine love. It must follow from this that the Church, as a spiritual and mystical community, must be safe through all the change of time.
IV. THE FUTURE GLORY OF THE CHURCH. She appears under the figure of a city, the new Jerusalem. Her brilliant stones will be set in a beautifying cement. Her battlements will be of rubies, her gates of carbuncles, her outer walls of precious stones. Yet this will only be the outward manifestation of an inward and spiritual glory. The people will be disciples of Jehovah (cf. Numbers 11:29; Joel 2:23, 29), that is, in effect, prophets, filled with utterance as with inspiration. Her constitution will rest upon a sound, because a moral basis - on righteousness, on fidelity to her covenant with God. Not being built, like the cities of the heathen, of fraud and rapine, oppression and destruction will be far from her thoughts. She will enjoy security. Should any foe presume to molest her, he will stumble - he will be like a blind traveller who falls headlong over an obstacle. For all the agencies which work either a people's weal or woe are in the hands of the Eternal. He is the Creator of the smith, and so mediately of the destroying weapon he forges. So the great Oriental kings are his tools. But no weapon turned against Israel shall succeed in its aim; and every abusing tongue shall be pronounced guilty in the day of judgment. Such is the spiritual inheritance of the servants of Jehovah, such their justification at his hands. "It is not gold and the triumph of battle. It is not the laurel won in fields of blood. The inheritance is the protection of God in all times of trouble; his friendship in all periods of activity; complete victory in all the contests with error and false systems of religion; and prevention when foes rise up in any form and seek to destroy the Church, and to blot out its existence and its name." "God defend the right!" has been an ancient prayer in times of anxiety and conflict. He does defend the right and the righteous at all times, the prophet declares. - J.
I. THAT IT SHOULD CONSTANTLY BE ANTICIPATING ENLARGEMENT. The challenge comes from its Lord, "Spare not, lengthen thy cords;" i.e. take the attitude and the action of those who are looking for increase, for the incoming of those who are outside. The Church of Christ is well warranted in doing this; for it has:
1. Ample scope in a vast unredeemed world beyond its borders; souls that are capable of brotherhood, of sonship, of heirship.
2. All the materials it wants for successful enterprise, in authority to work and win, in truth perfectly fitted to the deepest wants of the human heart, in the potency of Christian love and zeal.
3. Divine promise that its labour shall not be in vain.
II. THAT IT SHOULD CONTINUALLY BE ENGAGED IN CONSOLIDATION. AS a multitude of armed men do not make an army, so a number of people with Christian words on their lips and Christian ordinances in their practice do not make a Christian Church after Christ's ideal. The accession of numbers is not everything; it may prove to be very little; before now, in certain cases, it has proved to be "less than nothing and vanity." The Church must "strengthen its stakes" as well as "lengthen its cords." It must not spare its strength in providing for permanence and stability as well as increase. It must aim at, and must pray and labour for:
1. The intelligent acceptance of the truth of Christ in its integrity.
2. Spirituality in worship.
3. Consistency of conduct and consequent illustration of a large part of Christ's will in its daily life.
4. Order and discipline in its regular action. - C.
Jeremiah 10:20). "The Orientals have two kinds of tents - the one larger, and the other smaller; but both constructed much in the same way. They are sustained by poles, more or fewer in number, according to the size of the tent, but the tallest is always in the midst, while the others suspend the covering round the sides. This covering is made of a stuff woven from wool and camel's hair; it hangs down like a curtain over the side poles, and is fastened by cords to wooden pegs, which are firmly driven into the ground. Other cords, fastened at one end to the top of the poles, and at the other to pegs or stakes, keep the tent steady, and secure it against the violence of storms. As the family increases, it is proportionally enlarged, and requires the cords to be longer and the stakes to be stronger in proportion. One cause of depression, at the time of the return, was that so few of the Israelites responded to the Divine call, and it seemed hopeless work to attempt to revive the old glories of Jerusalem with such a feeble company. The divinely comforting assurances of the text are designed to revive hope and renew confidence. "The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation." And the promise was fulfilled. Those that first came out of Babylon were but forty-two thousand (Ezra 2:64), about a fifteenth part of their number when they came out of Egypt; many came dropping to them afterwards, but we may suppose that to be the greatest number that ever came in a body; and yet, above five hundred years after, a little before their destruction by the Romans, a calculation was made by the number of the Paschal lambs, and the lowest computation by that rule (allowing only ten to a lamb, whereas there might be twenty) made the nation to be nearly three millions. Further reference may be found to the enlargement of the Christian Church after Pentecost, and especially after the martyrdom of Stephen, and the scattering of the disciples which followed upon that sad event. The general topic suggested for consideration is the duty of cheerfully following on, when God opens before us wider and larger spheres of influence and usefulness, and the following points may be illustrated.
I. IT IS WRONG TO FORCE OURSELVES INTO ENLARGEMENTS BEFORE GOD CALLS. II. IT IS WRONG TO HOLD BACK WHEN GOD DOES CALL.
III. LARGER SPHERES, AND WIDER INFLUENCE, ARE GOD'S SIGNS OF ACCEPTANCE AND APPROVAL OF THE WORK WHICH WE HAVE DONE.
IV. THOSE WHO ENTER ON ENLARGED SPHERES NEED TO BE THEMSELVES ENLARGED. - R.T.
Hosea 2:16), "And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me, Ishi [my Husband], and shalt call me no more, Baali [my Lord]"). The figure Isaiah uses is that of the Goel, or next of kin, and this very suggestive and beautiful illustration may be taken from the story of Ruth and Boaz. Boaz was a "next of kin," and on him rested the formal duty of recovering Ruth's property, if the nearest kinsman failed to do his duty. But all formal relations were swallowed up in the tender love that knit Boaz and Ruth together as husband and wife.
I. THE CLAIMS OF GOD EXPRESSED IN THIS HUSBAND-FIGURE. The points to illustrate and enforce are two.
1. Claims come out of the love which brings us into such a relationship. Love-claims are altogether the most searching and the most sacred. The wife is bound with cords of love. In view of this relation we lose all sternness from the commands and requirements of God; love glorifies them.
2. Claims come out of the honour which such a relationship brings us. We must "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called."
II. THE PROVIDINGS OF GOD ASSURED BY THE HUSBAND-FIGURE. The wife is in the care of her husband, and because of his care she is free from care. He provides for the supply of all need. Apply the figure to the anxieties of the Church in exile, when required to set out on the long journey to Palestine, and enter upon unknown scenes, that would surely be full of toil and worry and danger. Infinite comfort came from the assurance that they were not as lone and friendless women, in view of the perplexities and anxieties of life. They had one who would shield them and keep them. "Their Maker was their Husband." The two figures for God, Father and Husband, still are for us full of gracious assurances. Helpless children have a Father; lonely women have a Husband - "the Lord of hosts is his Name."
III. THE PERSUADINGS OF GOD MADE THROUGH THE HUSBAND-FIGURE. The relation is a constant impulse to active duty. In the text it is a persuasion to energy in undertaking the journey, and impulse to the work of rebuilding the ruined city. It was persuasion to a bright and joyous acceptance of the Divine will, and a full belief in the largeness of the Divine restorations. Eastern sentiments concerning the protection and honour of having a husband put a keenness and fulness into this figure which we can hardly reach. What is evident to us is that God will put himself into any relation which may call out from us perfect trust in him. - R.T.
It is quite true that you are set in the midst of the world to be a witness and a blessing to surrounding nations; but it is equally true that those nations are set about you to be example and impulse and warning to you. God is dealing with them for their sakes and for yours, just as truly as he is dealing with you for your sake and for theirs." That there might be no ground whatever for the exclusive appropriation of God by the Jews, God says, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" The nature of God's relation to the entire race is the foundation of religious truth. All our religious ideas are toned by the view we take of this relation. Men but feebly grasp the notion of one only God, supreme in and over all things. They can much more readily grasp the conception of many gods, each one supreme in his own limited department. When God gives a particular revelation to one nation, that nation is tempted to say, "God is specially our God. He belongs to us, and to nobody else." So St. Paul's appeal needs to be heard again and again, "Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles?" No doubt we shall all agree that there is but one Creator, and that he who made all provides for all. He is interested in all humanity; "his tender mercies are over all his works." But what a singular distinction has grown up in our minds! We have come to think that this one God is interested in the physical well-being of the million heathen, graciously watching over life, and health, and food, and pleasures, and relationships, but not really concerned for their moral and spiritual well-being. We do not find ourselves unutterably distressed, as we should be, with the thought, which is in many of our minds, that the million heathen brothers are outside the pale of God's revelation, and eternally lost. But surely, if God made men moral beings; if there is, in the wildest savage, the sense of right and wrong; - then God bears saving relations to the moral life of man everywhere. He must see and reward the man everywhere who offers him worship, as he apprehends him who struggles for the good as he knows it. He must see and punish the man everywhere who yields to the evil which he knows to be evil. So St. Paul thought, breaking free from the exclusive bondages of his Judaism. And so St. Paul teaches us to think. We must not venture to sweep all the vast mass of humanity, outside Christianity, into some terrible under-world of woe. There is but one God for them and for us. Everywhere he is Light, and he is Love - Light and Love in his response to every poor heathen soul as truly as to us Christians. No matter what may be the name by which the heathen seeker may call the great Spirit - be it Tangaroa, or Morimo, or Tsikuap, or Varuna, or Brahma - he seeks the One, the Living, the Source of all. And he may gain the answering smile of the one God's acceptance. St. Paul is very plain and very firm in his statement: "When the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and. their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." We may wisely try to break clown this tendency to limit the operations of God's grace just to ourselves. Mission work is breaking it down, by wakening our sympathy with seeking souls. The study of comparative religions is breaking it down, by showing us, hidden deep in heathen religions, penitence, confession, humility, love, faith, consecration, prayer, hope, virtue, and submission. Everywhere we find yearning hearts, the sense of sin, the prayer for pardon, the dependence of faith, the cry after God, who is "God of the whole earth." - R.T.
small moment he had forsaken, but with great mercies he would comfort his people. Against the "little wrath" in which his face was hidden there was to be set the "everlasting kindness" with which he would redeem them. The largely preponderant, completely outweighing, superabounding goodness of the Lord is manifest on every side. We see it -
I. IN THE NATURAL WORLD. There is a great deal of misery beneath the sky. How could it be otherwise when there is so much of cruelty and sin? But if we look long at all that happens as the direct result of God's handiwork, we shall find that "mercy triumphs over wrath," good over ill. There is a large and blessed preponderance of light over darkness, of pleasure over pain, of joy over sorrow, of hope over despair, of confidence over distrust, of fertility over barrenness, of plenty over poverty, of society over solitude, of life over death. But for the disturbing and destructive element of sin, this would obviously be the case in a very much larger degree than it is now.
II. IN THE CHURCH OF GOD. The Church of God has been represented at different times by different communities. At one time by the suffering community in Egypt; at another, by the Church in the wilderness; at another, by the distracted society under the judges; at another, by the triumphant nation under David and Solomon; at another, by Israel in exile; at another, by the returned and rejoicing people of God who had. come home from captivity. It is now represented by the Churches of Christ scattered over many lands, and forming apparently many distinct religious bodies. Sometimes God has lifted upon his people the light of his countenance, and they have rejoiced in his manifested favour; at other times he has withdrawn his face, and made his people to feel the weight of his chastening hand. But upon the whole it has been found, and in the end it will be found, that his manifestations of mercy and grace have triumphed greatly over those of wrath and penalty. There were times in the history of the Jewish Church when its light nearly went out in the surrounding darkness, but it did not expire; by the Divine hand it was guarded and fed, and has now become, under other conditions, a glorious sun, giving light and heat to all the nations. Mountains and hills, in the shape of kingdoms and powers, have departed and been removed; but God's kindness to his Church will not depart, nor will his faithfulness fail. With everlasting kindness will God be merciful to the Church which bears the name, and teaches the truth, and extends the kingdom, of his Son.
III. IN THE CAREER OF HIS FAITHFUL SERVANTS. There is no uniform course which the life of piety is found to take; it takes almost every variety of ways. Sometimes it lies much in the sunshine and but little in the shadow; and sometimes it is shaded nearly the whole way through. And how many kinds of shadow fall on the good man's path! It is the apparent withdrawal of God's favour from his soul; or it is the false charge which takes away his fair fame; or it is overwhelming loss involving others as well as himself in struggle or even in penury; or it is early separation from those most dearly beloved. There is "the hiding of God's face;" the hour comes when nothing but the Master's words will utter the feelings of the heart, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But all this is temporary; nay, everything being counted, it is but momentary. God has in reserve infinite resources which, afterwards if not now, yonder if not here, will make up a thousandfold for all that he sends of trial and suffering. Let the faithful soul build on the immovable rock of God's integrity. Mountains may melt and hills may flee away, the foundations of the solid earth may be broken up, but God's kindness cannot depart, because his Word cannot fail; that is the one absolutely and eternally impossible thing. - C.
I. OUR SINS MAY AROUSE THE DIVINE INDIGNATION. Scripture impresses on us that in God is always responsive feeling towards sin. In this we may find foreshadowings of the fatherly relations of God toward us. He must never be thought of as merely concerned with wrong-doing because of its disturbing Divine order, as a king or a judge would be. Sin always bears a personal relation to God. It is disobedience, it is insult, it is unfaithfulness. He feels it as fathers feel the wrong-doing of their children.
II. DIVINE WRATH MAY STILL FIND EXTREME JUDGMENTS. Such as are represented in the Flood or in the Captivity. Such as are suggested by the stern necessity fathers sometimes know; they must shut the home-door against hardened prodigal sons. In the spiritual life there are times when God must "cover himself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through."
III. DIVINE MERCY ALWAYS WAITS TO PUT LIMIT ON THE JUDGMENT. That "mercy" makes the worst judgments to be but corrections. And that "mercy" watches for the moment when the correcting work is done, and restorings can be granted.
IV. WHEN GOD RESTORES HE DOES IT WITH SUCH ABUNDANT COMFORTING AND ASSURANCE AS DISPELS ALL THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE JUDGMENT-TIME. illustrate from the tender language of the context. See also the warmth of parental feeling when the prodigal son came back home. - R.T.
I. THE SAVIOR'S KINDNESS IS TRUE KINDNESS. He knows what kindness is. We too often mistake favour and indulgence for kindness. God is often kindest when he is most severe.
II. THE SAVIOUR'S KINDNESS IS MANIFESTED KINDNESS. It costs him something. Much kindness evaporates in sentiment and speech. It does not impinge on the ease and the comfort of our friends. Jesus Christ said, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!" and, "although he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor." His kindness was tested:
1. By the treatment he received.
2. By the nature that suffered. So deep in feeling; so infinite in its capacity for enduring sorrow.
3. By the sacrifice he offered.
4. By the permanence of his work, as "Head over all things to the Church." Then let the faint-hearted rest on the promise, "It shall not depart." - W.M.S.
are strange mysteries of suffering in this world. Sorrow has many synonyms in human speech answering to the many phases of human experience. There are agonies of endurance, breaches of trust, sighings of solitude, sadnesses of disappointment, wailings of bereavement. To-day there are disciples terrified in the storm, Rachels mourning for their departed, Peters dropping scalding tears over denials of the Lord. Can it be wondered at that in such a world, amid such human trials and such spiritual experiences, kindness - the Divine kindness - should be so precious a thing? Let us recall the multitude of God's mercies; let us remember his hand in the glacier-passes of temptation, and the nights of tribulation. The strings of our human harps must sweep forth the music of love. There has been no change in Christ.
1. THE SURPRISE. Think of what we are! Fickle, irresolute, ungrateful, unfaithful. Our God is a God of insight. He searcheth the heart. He sees not only conduct, but character. No disguise can cloak from him. And what secrets there are in these hearts of ours! There are mirrors there which flash hack, even to ourselves, the hidden things of darkness. Yet he loves us still! The previous chapter says, "All we like sheep have gone astray." Yet it is the stray lambs the Saviour seeks, and the poor prodigal wanderer the Father loves! The strongest ties we know of are in our human relationships; they are images of the Divine love. Only an artificial theology has made the rectoral character of God override the paternal. Think you that on some wild Christmas, amid home's most festive scenes, with the children and the children's children about him, that father, whose hair is whiter than the winter snow, can forget the prodigal? With the ruddy fire-glow around him, and the yule logs piled high, his mind wanders over the bleak and barren moorland of the outside world; and one faint knock at the portal, one weary step, one quivering lip, brings more music to his heart than the tabret and the dance. He knows all about the squandered wealth, the profligate life, the reckless pilgrimage of vanity. But his kindness cannot depart from him, for he is a father still. I claim for God the very amplest application of that analogy. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ,... we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." "In Christ's stead!" What words! Many evil things the Church has done - Roman, Anglican, and Puritan - would look strange enough if Christ's gentle image had been thought upon, and men had inscribed above it, "We are Christ's!" God gave such tension and tenderness to the human heart to make our fatherhood a parable of his own! "If we knew all!" Thus even we who love him, who have been reconciled to him, say sometimes in our darker moods. Does God know all? Then could he be kind to us still. We have served other gods. We have been faithless stewards. We have been at heart callous and cold. Yet to us comes this message of the eternal constancy: "My kindness shall not depart from thee."
II. THE CONTRAST. Think of what human nature is. We make retrospect concerning ourselves. We do not depreciate humanity when we say that kindness is an uncertain thing. We do not charge it upon others to the exclusion of ourselves. We are all unstable as water. We find how difficult it is to be unselfish. And no kindness can be perpetual without that. There are occasions when kindness is lacking in us; when a feeble witticism has wounded a friend; when a cruel sarcasm has bruised a brother's sensibilities; when a personal enjoyment has inflicted deprivation on others. Kindness is easy when its manifestations are costless. Nay, it cannot be dignified with the name; for it ministers to our own pride and satisfaction. But we cannot conceal the fact that courtesy, compassion, and care do fail, and, in one word, "love" is absent. I am not speaking of the false kindness of the deceiver, or the tender mercies of the gay, or the heartless mannerism which feigns affection. This is devils' work, and fills the sinner's night of death with spectres worse than the genius of Dante ever described or Dore ever designed. I am speaking of the common fact of instability in human feeling, inconstancy in human love. Explainable, indeed, sometimes by the detection of selfishness, superficiality, or unworthiness, as we think, in others, but manifest, in some measure, in us all. Now, the Divine Saviour is the ideal of all unselfishness. He gave himself. He humbled himself. He became obedient unto death - even the death of the cross - for us. While we were yet enemies, he died for us. And this was no solitary embodiment of his nature. It was a revelation of what his eternal nature is. Take, then, a review of yourself; take a review of society - and forget not all the revelations you have had of blessed contrast in God, whose kindness has not departed from you.
III. THE REVIEW. Think of what the past time says. Life has been full of mercy to us all. Homes have been revisited, friends have been restored, love has been consummated, new homes have been set up, accident has been averted, health has been restored, deliverance has been vouchsafed, affliction has been sanctified, and religious faith has in some cases been renewed and restored. Most wonderful of all is this. We have lived through seasons in which subtle temptations have had their enchanter's wand broken, and difficulties in our Christian faith have been removed. True, indeed, it is that to some these words would mean nothing - would, perhaps, raise a smile of condescending pity for those of us who still believe in a God at all. Some there are who wonder at the worship which rises above "the stream of tendency," or the laws of evolution, to the Fountain of Life and Power which fills the universe with life and joy; and to others the words would sound like the bitter irony of fate. Kindness! when the fig tree has withered, and there is slender produce in the vine? for some have not yet learned that Providence has higher ends than to weave purple robes and to grow costly fruits. What blessedness there is to most of us in the continuous belief in a personal God and Father - in a hand that rules, a voice that speaks, and a heart that loves! Truly it sufficeth us to show us the Father; for, try as men may, they can never create an impersonal religion. Greece raised her altars to Pity and Fame, and the abstract virtues; but the testimony of history was the total neglect of them all. The human heart can worship a Divine heart only - must seek after a God, even if he be "the Unknown God." Certainly, also, we cannot worship, adore, praise, and glorify any embodied idea of humanity - the positivists cannot make a beautiful image of that. No; its shame, its vice, its corruption, its evil, remain; the statue may have gold in it, but it has iron and clay as well. The Lord revealed in the Bible is our God and Father to-day! "My soul thirsteth for God, the living God;" "Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing;" "Great is the Lord, and of great power, and his understanding is infinite." We retain our prayer, "Our Father which art in heaven." We retain our pathway of approach. "Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life." We retain our altar of love, the one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Looking back, then, and taking a review of life preserved and life sustained, of friends given or restored, of love cemented and consecrated, of faith purified and elevated, must not our seal be set afresh to the truth of the words, "My kindness shall not depart from thee"?
IV. THE PROSPECT. Think what the future will bring. The coming days. These are the most constant theme of our meditation. We project ourselves into life's to-morrow. We never live wholly for the present time. We are all artists in this wise, colouring our picture by means of our faith or our experience. We are sometimes morbid, and doubt whether good times will come to us again, forgetful of the past seasons of trouble which gave place in time to the brighter morrow. Alas! we too often say, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercy?" Kindness departed! That is our earthly and our spiritual dread. But the bow in the cloud is God's silent prophecy. And there is a bow in every cloud, if we will but gaze upon the heaven of mercy above us. To-morrow is coming, but on its wings mercy and love will also come. God will still show forth his loving-kindness in the morning. The throne of God is not to be covered with the crape of a departed majesty. We believe in "the Eternal. From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." God is the Good! His sceptre is no iron mace of authority, but he is the Father of our spirits, and the God of our salvation. What will to-morrow bring? The seed-time and the harvest. The summer sky and the song of the reaper. The release of the ice-bound fountain and the beauty and fragrance of a thousand fields. To-morrow there is to be more and more departure of ignorance and wrong, of desolation and darkness. The light is to shine more and more unto the perfect day; for Christ must reign. Every season of life will have its kindness. If father and mother forsake us in childhood, the Lord will take us up. If widowhood comes, Christ will be the Husband of the widow. Frosty, but kindly, as Shakespeare says, will old age be itself, when the evening comes, and death too will be kind when it comes, taking down the tabernacle with a quiet hand, and gently hushing us into the calm sleep of the child whose morning is heaven. Let us get rid, then, of the habit of dark foreboding, for thereby we deprive ourselves of the music of to-day. We all sometimes think of Divine mercy as though its meridian had passed, and as though God's grace was setting over the plains of life. We have an ever-living Saviour, an indwelling Spirit, the blessing of spiritual sonship, the foretaste of the sweet vineyards of Canaan, and a fountain ever open for sin and uncleanness. Let us seek to make God's kindness in its constancy the image of our own. Love is the law of heaven; the angels are all ministering spirits. When poor Hagar, with haggard eyes and dishevelled hair, was in the wilderness, it was an angel-hand which led her to the well. When Gideon was threshing his wheat, his face pictures forth the great sorrow of his people, and we hear him saying, "O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?" And an angel's voice then reassures him with the promise, "Surely I will be with thee. When the ship is driven helplessly through the storm, an angel-voice says to the apostle, Fear not, Paul!" Yes; there is a sympathy and a constant kindness in the angelic ministry. And we are to be ministering spirits too. A part of our nature, constituted as it is to live in others, would be shorn of its blessedness if we could not also be ministers of kindness. Onward, then, my brethren, with these words on your banner. The light which falls on the letters of gold will attract the eyes of others, as you show them what a religious faith can do in renewing the life of the world. Faith in God our Saviour will change the countenance, strengthen even the physical nerves, and make us better companions and brighter friends. Like a talisman, these words will keep you from the dread which has darkened man's earthly life in every age. You will bear them aloft on your banner, not as rejoicing in a God who loves and cares for you alone; but you will say to the world, "Let our people be your people, and our God your God." Yield your hearts to him. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." You will fear no evil, for the Lord is with you! There. will be manna in the wilderness; the Jordan itself will be dry; the warder will throw wide the open gates at your home-going, and the Saviour will give you the welcome rest. These words are those of the faithful and true. "My kindness shall not depart from thee." - W.M.S.
I. THE TRUE PRIZE OF LIFE. What is that thing which is most worth having, most worth the thought of our minds, the strenuous striving of our soul, the labour of our hands? Nations, communities, individual men, have given different replies. One has said case, another wealth, another pleasure, another power, another glory. The inspired Hebrew said peace. The blessing he invoked on those he loved, and that which he lauded in speech and song, was peace. And he was right. Peace is the indispensable, the immeasurably precious thing.
1. It is a profound blessing. It goes down to the depth of our compound nature; it is the excellent result of complete rightness - rightness of heart with God, rightness of life with man.
2. It is a lasting thing. Other prizes may be snatched away by untoward circumstances, or their worth dims and lessens with the passing years, or even (with some of them) with the fleeting days. But this abides; prosperity does not injure it, adversity does not remove it, age does not diminish its excellency.
3. It is the condition of holy usefulness. We can serve our race in higher and greater things without the other prizes of life, but not without this. Not until our hearts have found rest in God's truth and in himself can we be and say and do that which will guide the feet of our fellow-men into and along the paths of righteousness and wisdom.
II. THE ONE WAY OF WINNING IT. The children of Zion would have great peace, inasmuch as they would be "taught of the Lord." Nothing else will give to the human heart the peace which it craves.
1. Comfortable circumstances will not ensure it. These circumstances cannot be generally commanded, and, if they could, there would still be a craving of the soul which no comforts or successes of any earthly kind would satisfy.
2. Philosophy is not equal to the task. Stoicism tried its hand, and with some of its disciples there was the appearance of success; but it has no power to minister to the necessities of the multitudes of mankind, to the ordinary human heart, to men and women as we meet and know them every day. To the common, questioning, thirsting human heart it is a fountain without water, a name without the power behind it.
3. A Divine Saviour alone can supply the need. He only who brings everlasting truth to our mind, the sympathy and love of an unfailing friendship to the heart, spiritual excellence to the soul, meaning and worth to human life, a hope bright with immortal glory to the closing hour, - he only is entitled to say, "Come unto me... I will give you rest." "My peace I give unto you." Great peace - peace that passeth understanding, and that outliveth mortal life, have they who learn of him and take his yoke upon them. - C.
John 6:45, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God." The point on which Isaiah dwells is that the Divine favour shall not be limited to the generation that was actually restored; it would abide from generation to generation, and the guarantee for this would be found in the Divine care and training of the children in preparation for their responsibilities and privileges when their turn of manhood came. It is not precisely known in what ways the religious education of the children of the returned exiles was arranged, but the system of regular synagogue instruction was developed soon after. It is full of suggestion, for those who work among children now, that God should find the hope of stability for the restored nation in discipling its children. And that work is, in part, the work of the home; and, in part, the work of the Church.
I. THE DIVINE FAVOUR REACHES THE CHILDREN THROUGH GOOD HOMES. Through good-charactered parents and wisely ordered family life. Good character has its foundation in faith in God; its superstructure is all virtue, including reverence, obedience, uprightness, patience, and holy persistency in that which is good. Character is the supreme power, but it finds its best expressions through the family rule. Parents must, by due punishments and rewards, repress the evil and encourage the good. No Divine favour resting on our lives should kindle greater thankfulness than that shown in providing for us pious fathers and mothers, and gracious home influence.
II. THE DIVINE FAVOUR REACHES THE CHILDREN THROUGH THE CHURCH. The conditions of modern civilized life put the religious education of thousands of children altogether into the hands of Christ's Church. Multitudes of parents cannot, or will not, train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But in all such cases the Church can do a noble supplemental work. We may see the special Divine favour resting on our age, and the best security for the permanence and nobility of our nation, in the wide spreading and vigorous improvement of our Sunday schools. The "peace "' assured to the children is a term designed to include all sorts of good. We cannot be wrong in thinking that the better tone of society and family life in our day is the direct result of our increased concern for the moral and religious culture of the nation's children. - R.T.
Isaiah 32:16, 17). It is not assumed that the restored Jerusalem would have no enemies, only that they would have no commission from God to destroy, as the Assyrians and Babylonians had. There are two sides of righteousness regarded as the ground of the Church's, or the Christian's, stability and security.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS AS THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. This is clearly in the thought of the prophet, for he has been giving large promises from God, and naturally reminds of the righteousness, or faithfulness, of God as the assurance that he will keep his word. The same ground of confidence is presented by the apostle. "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." God's righteousness is our security, because it guarantees that he never promises
(1) more than he intends to perform;
(2) more than he can perform; and
(3) more than he will perform. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, for there is no basis of "righteousness in their promises. Trust God utterly, for he is righteous."
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS AS THE OBEDIENCE AND HOLINESS OF MAN. We might have preserved the covenant-figure, and said the "faithfulness" of man. Righteous keeping of covenant was the one condition of stability for the Jewish nation; but this was an illustration of the truth that good is, in its nature as arranged by God, of necessity permanent. It has no element of weakness or decay in it. There are no foes that can overcome it. "What can harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" Restored Jerusalem must learn the old lesson, "The reformation of manners, the restoration of purity, the due administration of public justice, and the prevailing of honesty and fair dealing among men, are the strength and stability of any Church or state. The kingdom of God, set up by the gospel of Christ, is not meat and drink, but it is righteousness and peace, holiness and love." Of the workers of righteousness it may always be said, "They that do such things shall never be moved. - R.T.
permits evil, and overrules it for good, we cannot see that he actually sends the evil and arranges the evil, which is as truly his angel, his messenger, as any form of good is. Perhaps the conception was less difficult to a Jew than to us, because he had better notions of the Divine unity than we can gain. The "waster" here is a comprehensive term for the great conquering kings of Assyria and Babylonia, at whose hands Israel had so grievously suffered. Isaiah declares that God raised them up; God sent them forth; God gave them their work. He assures the new Jerusalem that it is quite safe, for God does not intend to send against them any such "wasters;" and they may dismiss for ever from their thoughts that any other being exists who can send "wasters" forth. Matthew Arnold says, "Destroyers and destruction are God's work; they reach those only whom he means to reach, and he does not mean them to reach Israel."
I. GOD SENDS TO US ALL THE EVIL THAT COMES TO US. We must never rest with second causes, nor talk of circumstances as if they were under no wise control. We must see God in calamity, and enmity, and temptation, and everything to which we can attach the name evil. Evil indeed is, oftentimes, no more than good which we cannot understand. The supreme control of God over all that man calls evil is figured for us in Satan, as the angel of calamity, appearing, to give account of his work, among the sons of God (see Job 1:2.).
II. GOD WARDS OFF ALL THE EVIL THAT MIGHT COME TO US. For there is a sense in which, as free-willed creatures, we are bringing evil upon ourselves; and others, as free-willed creatures, in some limited sense, may contemplate doing evil to us. Therefore have we, in ver. 17, the further assurance, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee for the judgment shalt thou show to be guilty." It is with God, and God alone, to send into our lives, or to withhold from us, both the evil and the good. - R.T.
vide Mark 10:28-31). In the text we have it presented to us as a continual victory. No weapon formed against the righteous shall prosper, and every accusation shall be silenced. God will justify them. The faithful service of Christ is marked by victory over -
I. SUCCESS IN OUTWARD LIFE. Few weapons are so powerful as this in the hand of the enemy. Many are they who, in their folly, have allowed their prosperity to destroy them (Proverbs 1:32). The sense of power, the enjoyment of popularity, the command of comforts, the continuance of success in the chosen vocation, - these things prove too much for many souls. Under their influence men swerve from the straight line of simplicity of life, humility of spirit, purity of heart, integrity of character.
II. ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES. These are often found to be victorious over men, triumphing over their faith in God, their gratitude, and their submission; leading down to sullenness and moroseness of spirit; in some cases conducting to unbelief and impiety.
III. PRIVATION OF PRIVILEGE. When it is a man's fortune to be separated from the community and to lead a life of comparative loneliness, he is cast much on his own resources. He misses the encouragement and inspiration which come from social worship and collective piety. Without the aid and influence of these, he is in danger of fainting and falling in his Christian course.
IV. EXPOSURE TO CORRUPT COMPANIONSHIP. This is often a matter of necessity and not of choice. The best may have to submit to it, and the peril of spiritual injury from it is very great.
V. THE FORCE OF A SURROUNDING SCEPTICISM. A force which either vigorously assaults the main fortress of the faith or sedulously and stealthily undermines the wails - a great and growing peril. It is promised to the servants of the Lord that they shall triumph over these various enemies. "No weapon that is formed," etc. But while
(1) God's promise may well cheer his servants, helping them to pursue their troubled path, and to do their difficult or dangerous work with alacrity and hope; it is well that
(2) his conditions should be remembered. There is no absolute, unconditional guarantee; the careless, the disobedient, the negligent servant will be, nay, he is, defeated by the enemy; he yields and falls. But let a man be a faithful servant, studious of Christ's will and daily seeking his Holy Spirit's aid, and he will find that his Divine Lord will "always cause him to triumph;" he will know "the exceeding greatness of his power" to uphold and to perfect. Meantime, to those who are observers,
(3) God's sustaining grace will prove the sign and seal of his Divine favour. "This is their righteousness [justification] of me." - C.