Hear ye this, O house of Jacob.
The lessons of God's method of prophetic revelation which Israel is to lay to heart.
The people, by natural figure, are described as streams from the fountain of Judah (Psalm 68:26
Here is — I. PRIVILEGE. II. FORM. III. PROFRSSION. IV. YET NO REAL RELIGION.
I. How? Place yourselves in a hearing posture, that the intense application of your minds may be discovered in your attitude and gestures. Listen with diligence and candour. II. WHAT? 1. To the reproofs I administer. 2. To the arguments I adduce. 3. To the duties I inculcate. 4. To the assurances I give you. III. WHY ? 1. That your obdurate hearts may be mollified. 2. Your consciences convinced. 3. Your conversion from your evil ways effected.
God chargeth them with hypocrisy in that which is good, and obstinacy in that which is evil (vers. 1-8).
Observe — I. HOW HIGH THEIR PROFESSION OF RELIGION SOARED. II. HOW LOW THEIR PROFESSION OF RELIGION SANK FOR ALL THIS.
I have declared the former things from the beginning.
I. It is quite plain that ANY BEING THAT IS DISTINGUISHED ABOVE OTHERS MUST BE EXALTED EITHER BY KNOWLEDGE OR BY POWER, OR BY BOTH. If, then, God is to make Himself known to His creatures, it must be by some displays of this kind — by power, doing those things which they cannot do; or by intellect, making known those things which they cannot know. There is one advantage in these displays of God by means of knowledge, telling things that we could not know otherwise — that it addresses our judgment. Miracles seem to astound us; they may be supposed to throw us out of our calm self-possession, and to bewilder us by their wonders; but prophecies coolly address our judgment, without disturbing our passions, and enable us to exercise our reason in reflection upon these discoveries of the great superior Mind. Though we cannot tell exactly what preference we are to give to one or the other, some minds being most struck with the displays of power in miracles, others most with the displays of knowledge in predictions, yet we can easily see that these may concur and aid each other. Is it not probable that God will make Himself known to man? But is it not equally probable that if He tells us about a futurity and eternity, He will take some method of convincing us that what He thus tells us is true and will surely come to pass? II. THE USES OF INSPIRED PREDICTIONS. These are various; many of them we have yet to discover. 1. A most important use of the inspired predictions of Scripture is, that you should study the Book that contains them. 2. You should watch His providence, that you may see how it fulfils His Word. He that eyes providences shall never want providences to eye. 3. You should learn from hence to admire and adore the omniscience and faithfulness and truth of God. 4. Expect all that God has predicted both for time and eternity.
See all this.
The words "See all this," have been rendered by one of the latest commentators, "See it as a whole." This rendering reproduces the prophetic argument. Isaiah had recalled a period of history which, taken as a whole, was a fulfilled word of Jehovah. That completed epoch of history from the predictions of old to the events in which it had issued was to the prophet proof of God's control of human affairs. Any completed historic cycle, taken as a whole, becomes to us significant of God. The evidence of the Divine providence discovers itself when we view things largely, when we see life as a whole. 1. Look at your life in the large relations of it, see it as a whole. This is not the view of life which it is altogether easy for us to take. For we touch life at single points; we receive life moment by moment; and our first views of things are apt to be partial. We ought, in our moral maturity, to fit our daily doings into some large conception of our whole reason for being here in this world. We do not know how to live well, certainly we have not learned to live richly if we have not gained something of the happy art of massing things in nobler groupings; if we cannot hold the little things and daily details of life under some broad, generous conception of our life; very much as from some height we see the several parts of a landscape, not singly, but together, as one wide sunny expanse. 2. That particular thing, for example, for which it may be necessary for you to strive to-morrow in your business, or which it seems desirable to secure for your enjoyment, needs to be sought for, not as though it were the one thing only to be attained, but as a possible part of some greater good in which your life is to find its satisfaction. A man to be successful in any calling must have something of that power of concentration to which Sir Fowell Buxton once attributed his success — "the power of being a whole man to one thing at a time." Nevertheless, that would be an unworthy success which should leave us entirely confined to any single thing. 3. If we desire to possess our friendships well, we must learn this art of seeing things not in their little, often vexatious details, but largely and as wholes. You must take your friend largely for what he is in his entire character, if you would keep your friend. The microscope has its uses; but it was never made for the eye of friendship. 4. Another instance for the application of this text might be found in our habits of regarding our homes. We are to possess the home, not as a good for itself alone, but in its whole social setting, in its relation to the neighbourhood, to the Church of humanity, to the kingdom of heaven, of which it is part and portion. 5. I wish now to go up with this principle to some higher lines of experience, and to observe how this entire earthly life of ours is itself life but in part, and how, if we would live truly, we must learn to see all our life, from the cradle to the grave, as itself but a part of some still larger, better whole for us. If this earthly span of our days be all, what is a human life at its best but as the rainbow which we have seen, one end of it resting upon the depths of the waters, and the other end lost in the cloud, itself as fleeting as the mist upon which for its moment of promise it becomes visible? But here lies the difficulty and the doubt. We have no experience of what lies beyond. Our hand can lay no measuring-rod upon futurity. We have only this present. It is also true, and it is the more important part of the truth, that we have this present only as an incomplete thing, we have this life only as a segment; its present brief span is the are of some curve of larger sweep than we can measure. What its future may be like, we do not know; but we know this present as in itself incomplete and requiring some future completion. "If you ask me, said Savonarola, as he was ready to be borne to the stake, what shall be in general the issue of this struggle, I reply, Victory. If you ask me what shall be the issue in the particular sense, I reply, Death." It was the answer of a seer. Seen in the particular, the issue of life may be death. Seen in the general, seen as a whole, true life is not death, but victory. The Christian faith brings to a man its Gospel of the One sinless Man, who knew whence He came, and whither He went, and whose life was always to Him not an affair of the moment only, but a truth of eternity. Jesus' earthly life was indeed a broken one. In one aspect of it no human life has been left so incomplete as was that life which we can follow for a few brief years of it through these gospels. The verse in the book of Acts, "All the things which Jesus began both to do and to teach," suggests the incompleteness, the utter brokenness of Jesus' earthly life. What work did He live to see completed? what doctrine to finish? His hands did not complete His work of mercy; they were pierced before they had wrought all their possible work of healing. His lips did not finish His teachings; He had many things to say, and He died leaving much unsaid. Into our Lord's Gethsemane may there not have entered the pathos of an unfinished life? Yet He said, "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." He could not have said that had He not looked always upon His life here as part and daily portion of one Divine whole, His sacrifice as something complete in God's eternal purpose; had He not known that His life here, and there, and always, is one life, continuous throughout, on earth and in heaven, one will of the Father — each part of it, whether of humiliation or transfiguration, of suffering or resurrection, partaking of the glory of the perfect whole.
Yea, thou heardest not.
As in a looking-glass, let us see ourselves. 1. Let the unconverted man see his own picture. God has spoken quite as pointedly to you as ever He did to the seed of Israel. He has called you by providences of different kinds. As for the Bible, has it not often addressed you with a voice most clear and simple, "Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?" You have, some of you, been called by the admonitions of godly parents; you were further invited to the path of holiness by loving friends in the Sabbath school. Frequently the voice of God's minister has bidden you to come to Jesus from the pulpit; and conscience, a nearer pleader still, has echoed the voice of God. And yet it may be said, "Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not," &c. Three times a "yea" is put in our text, as if to show God's wonder at man's obstinacy, and the certainty that such was the state of the heart. It was certainly so. You heard, but it went in at one ear and out at the other; you heard and heard not. 2. More painful still is it to remember that in a certain degree the same accusation may be laid at the door of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even those who have received grace to become the sons of God, have not such a degree of spiritual sensibility as they should have. Having thus reminded you of your sin, trusting we may be led to confess it with deep humility, I have now an encouraging truth to tell to you — that all this folly and ignorance, and obstinacy, and rebellion on our part, was foreknown by God, and notwithstanding that foreknowledge, He yet has been pleased to deal with us in a way of mercy. I. We shall endeabour to address the truth to THE BELIEVER. 1. The latter part of our text mentions a mournful fact, "I knew that thou wouldest deal," &c. Thou art the beloved of heaven, redeemed by blood, called by grace, preserved in Christ Jesus, accepted in the Beloved, on thy way to heaven, and yet "thou hast dealt very treacherously"; very treacherously with God, thy best friend; with Jesus, whose thou art; with the Holy Spirit, by whom alone thou canst be quickened unto life eternal. That word "treacherously" is one which a man would not like to have applied to himself in the common transactions of life; he would feel it to be very galling, and, if there were truth in it, very degrading. How treacherous you and I have been to our own vows and promises when we were first converted! Instead of a heavenly mind there have been carnal cares, worldly vanities, and thoughts of evil. Instead of service there has been disobedience; instead of fervency, lukewarmness; instead of patience, petulance; instead of faith, confidence in an arm of flesh. This is not all. It is not merely that we have failed in promises which were made in a period of excitement, but we have been treacherous to obligations which were altogether apart front voluntary vows on our part; we have been treacherous to the most blessed relationships which mercy could have instituted. Know ye not that ye are redeemed men and women, and therefore the property of the Lord Jesus? Have you not found yourselves full often spending your strength for self and for the world, and robbing Jesus of that which He purchased at so dear a price? Remember that we are soldiers of Christ, soldiers enlisted, sworn in for a life-long campaign. As soldiers, by cowardice, disobedience and desertion, we have been treacherous to a very shameful degree. You know what the military doom is of a treacherous soldier on earth! truly, if we had been accused, and condemned by court-martial, and ordered to be shot forthwith, we should have been dealt with most righteously. We have been armed, and carried bows. and have turned back in the day of battle. Worst of all is the fact that we have been treacherous to our Lord in a relationship where fidelity constitutes the very essence of bliss, I mean in the marriage bond which exists between our soul and Christ. We are one with Him, by eternal union one, and yet we treat Him ill! Never did He have a thought towards us that was unkind, never one faithless wandering of His holy immutable mind; but as for us, we have thought of a thousand lovers, and suffered our heart to be seduced by rivals, which were no more to be compared with Christ than darkness is to be compared with the blaze of noon. 2. We pass on to the Divine statement of the text, that all this was known. "I knew." As the Lord foreknew the fountain of sin, so He knew all the streams which would gush from it. Wherein is the edification to the people of God? (1) Adore the amazing grace of God. (2) Our security is clearly manifest. (3) This truth should tend very much to enhance our sense of the fulness which is treasured up in Christ Jesus. God has provided for us in Christ, for all the necessities that can occur, for He has foreknown all these necessities. II. I have to use the text in its relation to UNCONVERTED PERSONS. You have discovered lately the natural vileness of your heart. You have a deep regret for your long delay in seeking mercy. You are willing to acknowledge that there have been special aggravations in your case. Now, the Gospel says to you, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." All these sins, delays, aggravations, and rebellions of yours, were all foreknown to God; therefore, since He has sent the Gospel to you, be not slow to accept it. since it is not possible that your sins, whatever they may be, can at all militate against the fact that if you believe and receive the Gospel, you shall be saved. For, if God had not intended to save men upon believing, then, since He foreknew these things, He would never have planned the plan of salvation at all.
A transgressor from the womb.
God here traces all the insincerity, stupidity, obstinacy, ignorance, and unbelief of sinners to the native depravity of their hearts, which led them to disregard His commands and to disbelieve His predictions. The text in this connection naturally leads us to conclude that mankind begin to sin as soon as they become capable of sinning. I. WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY SIN. "Sin is the transgression of the law." The law requires true love to God and man. The transgression of the law, therefore, must essentially consist in something which is directly opposite to pure, holy love. And there is nothing in nature more directly opposite to perfectly disinterested love, than interested love, or selfishness. So that all sin consists in the free, voluntary exercise of selfishness. II. WHEN MANKIND BECAME CAPABLE OF SINNING. If sin be a voluntary moral exercise, they are not capable of sinning before they become moral agents. Perception, memory, and volition appear to be the essential powers or properties which constitute a free agent. Animals are free agents. They act freely and voluntarily in the view of motives. But God has endowed man with a moral faculty to discern moral good and evil. This we call conscience. Those who allow that a child four years old is a moral agent and knows what is right and wrong, will generally allow that a child two years old is a moral agent and knows what is right and what is wrong. And where shall we stop? Why may we not suppose that a child one year old, or half a year old, is a moral agent, and knows what is right and what is wrong in some cases? III. THEY DO SIN AS SOON AS THEY BECOME CAPABLE OF SINNING. They certainly discover, as early as possible, impatience, obstinacy, and revenge, which are sinful exercises in any moral agent that can distinguish between right and wrong. The testimony of observation on this subject is strengthened, at least, by the testimony of experience. Every person in the world is conscious of sinning, and of sinning as long ago as he can remember. And now, if we look into the Bible, we shall there find conclusive and infallible evidence that mankind do actually sin as soon as they become moral agents, and are capable of sinning. When we say a serpent is naturally poisonous, we mean that it is poisonous as soon as its nature renders it capable of having poison. So, when the inspired writers speak of men's sinning as soon as they be born, their expressions plainly imply that they are sinners by nature, or begin to sin as soon as they are capable of sinning. These representations of the sinfulness and guilt of childhood are confirmed by God's providential treatment of children. Death is a natural evil, and was threatened to mankind as a punishment for sin. IV. WHY THEY ALWAYS HAVE SINFUL BEFORE THEY HAVE HOLY EXERCISES, "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners."
In conversation with Boswell, Dr. Johnson said, with respect to original sin, the inquiry is not necessary; for, whatever is the cause of human corruption, men are evidently and confessedly so corrupt, that all the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from crimes.
For My name's sake will I defer Mine anger.
"For My name's sake I draw out My wrath." Jehovah lengthens out His wrath, i.e.
delays its outbreak, thus shows Himself long-suffering; He checks, restrains, damps it for the good of Israel, that He may not by unchaining His wrath utterly destroy it; and that for the sake of His name, His praise, which demands the carrying out of the plan of salvation, which is the purpose of Israel's existence.
I shall take the text to illustrate — I. THE CONVERSION OF THE SINNER. 1. In him there is no argument for mercy, no plea for grace. 2. God Himself finds the reason for His mercy. He finds it in Himself. The Lord is a patient God, and determines to make His patience glorious. God also would illustrate His sovereign and abundant mercy towards sinners. God can display His power. 3. But it may be that a soul is saying, "Well, I can see that God can thus find a motive for mercy in Himself, when there is none in the sinner, but why is it that the Lord is chastening me as He is?" Possibly you are sickly in body, have been brought low in estate, and are grievously depressed in mind. God now, in our text, goes on to explain His dealings with you, that you may not have one hard thought of Him. It is true He has been smiting you, but it has been with a purpose and in measure. "I have refined thee, but not with silver." God has not brought upon you the severest troubles. 4. Notice the next thing: the Lord declares that the time of trial is the chosen season for revealing His love to you. "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." It often happens that the time in which God reveals His choice and manifests His electing love to a soul is when that soul is almost consumed with trouble. 5. But note, before I leave the sinner's case, that lest the soul should forget it, the Lord repeats again the point He began with, and unveils the motives of His grace once more. What is the eleventh verse but the echo of the ninth? If a soul should perish while trusting in the blood of Christ, the glory of God would go over to Satan It would be proved that Satan had overcome the truthfulness of God, or the power of God, or the mercy of God. II. THE RECLAIMING OF THE BACKSLIDER. God was speaking to His own people Israel in these remarkable words. I see more reason for punishing you, for you have made a profession and belied it (ver. 1). God having declared the reason of His love to the backslider goes on to tell him, that the present sufferings which he is now enduring as the result of his backslidings should be mitigated. "I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have put thee into the fire, but I have not blown the heat to such an extreme degree that thy sin should be melted from thee: that would be a greater heat than any soul could bear. I have refined thee, that was needful, but not as silver; that would have been destructive to thee." Thou sayest, "All Thy waves and billows have gone over me." Not so; you know not what all God s waves and billows might be, for there is a depth infinitely lower than any you have ever seen. Then comes His next word: "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction"; that is, as if He said, "I will renew My election of you." It was never revoked, but now it shall be more manifestly declared. God has looked at you in prosperity and He has seen you treacherously forgetting Him. Now, however, your affairs are at a low ebb and you begin again to pray. Hear this for your comfort — when repentance defiles the face before men it beautifies it before God.
Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver.
More severely, yet more exactly than silver
()Less strictly than silver
()It was a melting of a higher sort, the suffering which befell Israel doing for it the work of a furnace
()Possibly, not with the result of gaining silver
The Lord refines His people, but He exercises great discrimination as to the means by which He does so. A silver furnace is one of the very best for the removal of dross, and would seem to be well adapted for refining the most precious things, but it is not choice enough for the Lord's purpose with His people. It is prepared with extreme care, and has great separating power, but the purging away of sin needs greater care and more cleansing energy than a silver refinery can supply. The greatest delicacy of skill is exhibited by the refiner, who watches over the process, and regulates the degree of heat and the length of time in which the precious metal shall lie in the crucible: this, then, might well serve as a figure of the best mode of sanctification, but evidently the figure falls short in its delicacy. The process of silver refining is, no doubt, one of the best arranged and most ably conducted of the works of man; but when the Lord sits as a refiner, He executes His work with greater wisdom and Diviner art. Silver refining is but rough work compared with the Lord's purification of His people, and therefore He says, "I have refined thee, but not with silver." The Lord hath a furnace of His own, and in this special furnace He purifies His people by secret processes unknown to any but Himself. No one would think of refining silver by the same rough means as they smelt iron, so neither will the Lord purify His precious ones, who are far above silver in value, by any but the choicest methods. More subtle and yet more searching, more spiritual and yet more true, more gentle and yet more effectual are the purifying processes of Heaven; there is no refiner like our refiner, and no purity like that which the Spirit works in us.
The Lord has special dealings with each one of His saints, and refines each one by a process peculiar to the individual, not heaping all His precious metals into one furnace of silver, but refining each metal by itself. "I have refined thee." "I have chosen thee." Not "you," but "thee." I. Between God's election and the furnace there is this connection — that THE FURNACE WAS THE FIRST TRYSTING-PLACE BETWEEN ELECTING LOVE AND OUR SOULS. Before one solitary star had begun to peer through the darkness the Lord had given over His people unto Christ to be His heritage, and their names were in His book; but the first manifestation of His electing love to any one of us was — where? I venture to say it was in the furnace. Abraham knew little of God's love to him till the voice said, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee." I do not think that Isaac knew much about God's choice of him till he went up the mountain's side, and said to his father, "Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offerings." So was it with Jacob. Little did he understand the mystery of electing love till he lay down one night with the stones for his pillow, the hedges for his curtains, the skies for his canopy, and no attendant but his God. Certainly, Israel as a nation did not understand God's election till the people were in Egypt; and then, when Goshen, the land of plenty, became a land of brickmaking and sorrow and grief, and the iron bondage entered into their souls, their cried unto God, and began to understand that secret word — "I have called My son out of Egypt." They knew then that God had put a difference between Israel and Egypt. God finds His people in the place of trial, and there He reveals Himself in His special character as their God. Did He not say to Moses, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry?" When did you first know anything about God's choice of you? Was it not when you were in trouble — in many cases in temporal trouble? I make no kind of exception to another rule, namely, that we first began to learn electing love when we were in spiritual distress. II. It is very clear that THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION DOES NOT CHANGE THE ELECTION OF GOD. If He chose us in it, then His choice stands good while we are in it and when we are out of it. If the very first knowledge we had of His electing love found us at the gates of despair, we can never be worse than we were then, nor can His love see less to rest upon. Yet have I known a great many fears cross the mind of God's anxious people when the smoke of the furnace has brought tears into their eyes. No amount of trouble, no degree of pain, no possibility of grief can change the mind of God towards His people. The furnace may alter the believer's circumstances, but not his acceptance with God. The furnace very often alters our friends. And the furnace changes us very wonderfully. Believe very firmly in the fixity of the Divine choice. III. THE FURNACE IS THE VERY ENSIGN OF ELECTION. The escutcheon — the coat of arms — of election is the furnace. You know that it was so in the old covenant which God made with Abraham. He gave him a type when the victim was divided. When a deep sleep fell upon the patriarch there passed before him a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, two signs that always mark the people of God. There is a lamp to light them, but there is also a smoking furnace to try them. "No cross, no crown." If you think of our great Master's dying will and testament, what is its prominent codicil? "In the world ye shall have tribulation." That the Lord refines us shows His value of us. IV. THE FURNACE IS THE WORKSHOP OF ELECTING LOVE. God has chosen us unto holiness. There is no man in this world chosen to go to heaven apart from being made fit to go there. Electing love uses the furnace to consume our dross. The Lord uses the furnace also to prepare the soul for a more complete fashioning. The metal must be melted before it can be poured into the mould, and affliction is used by the Holy Ghost to melt the heart and to fit it to receive the fashion and take the shape of the sacred mould into which heavenly wisdom delivers it. Besides, affliction has much to do in loosening a Christian from this world. V. THE FURMACE IS A GREAT SCHOOL WHEREIN WE LEARN ELECTION ITSELF. 1. In the furnace we learn the graciousness of election. When a child of God in the time of trouble sees the corruption of his heart he begins to say, "How can the Lord ever love me? If He has loved me, His affection must be traced to free sovereign grace." 2. There, too, we learn the holiness of election, for while we lie suffering, a voice says, "God will not spare thee, because there is still sin in thee: He will cleanse thee from every false way." 3. Then, too, we see what a loving thing election is, for never is God so loving to His people consciously as when they are in the flames of trouble. 4. It is at such times that God's people know the power of electing love. 5. And it is at such times that the sweetness of God's electing love comes home to the Christian heart, for he rejoices in his tribulation while he is conscious of the love of God. VI. BY THE FURNACE SOME OF THE HIGHER ENDS OF A YET MORE SPECIAL ELECTION ARE OFTEN REVEALED, for there is not only an election of grace, but there is an election from among the elect to the highest position and to the noblest service. Jesus Christ had many choice disciples, but it is written, "I have chosen you twelve." Out of the twelve there were three; and out of the three there was one, elect of the elect — that loving, tender John, who leaned upon his Master's bosom. The furnace has much to do with this, as a rule, since it usually attends and promotes the higher states of grace, and the wider ranges of usefulness. 1. With the preacher this truth is seen; affliction makes him eminent. I do not think that the preacher will long feed God's saints if he does not read in that volume which Luther
said was one of the three best books in his library, namely, affliction. That book is printed in the black letter, but it has some wonderful illuminations in it, and he who would teach the people must often weep over its chapters. Men never bake bread so well as when the oven is well heated, nor do we prepare sermons so well as when the fire burns around us. 2. So is it with the Christian hero, he could never lead the host if he had not been chastened of the Lord in secret places. Calvin
, that mightiest master in Israel, clear, upright, and profound, suffered daily under a list of diseases, any one of which would have made a constant invalid of a less courageous man; and, although always early in the morning at the cathedral delivering his famous expositions which have enriched the Church of God, yet he always bore about with him a body full of anguish. Nor could England find a Wycliffe, nor Scotland a Knox, nor Switzerland a Zwingle, except it be where the refiner sits at the furnace door. It must be so. No sword is fit for our Lord's handling till it has been full oft annealed. So it will be with us if we would rise.
I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
The twofold use of the furnace is — I. TO PROVE OR TEST METALS. II. TO PURIFY THEM, OR REFINE THEM BY SEPARATING THE DROSS FROM THE GENUINE. Discipline of every kind, is God's chosen furnace to test and purify His people.
Helps for the Pulpit.
A furnace is a fireplace or crucible for melting and refining gold or other metals (Proverbs 17:3
; Proverbs 27:21
). Sometimes it is the emblem of cruel bondage (Deuteronomy 4:20
; Jeremiah 11:4
). Also of judgments and severe and grievous afflictions, by which God punishes the rebellious (Ezekiel 22:18-20
). By the furnace of affliction He also tries and proves His people. This furnace is — I. AFFLICTIVE. It is composed of many severe trials, which are designed by the great proprietor and manager of this furnace, to purge and refine the souls of His people. 1. Sometimes they are tried by the scantiness of temporal things. This may be induced by want of employment; it may be the result of sickness; it may result from the injustice of man. 2. Frequently the saints are chastised with bodily afflictions. 3. Sometimes they suffer from bereavements. 4. They too have domestic trials of various kinds from ungodly relatives, refractory and disobedient children, &c. Thousands of God's people have been in this furnace. Moses, David, &c. Even Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. II. THIS FURNACE IS DIVINELY APPOINTED. It is not the result of chance; afflictions arise not out of the dust; they are not the works of our enemies merely. They imply the moral government of God, and the wise and gracious arrangement of His providence. Every event is either His appointment, or has His all-wise permission. Such views of the subject have reconciled and supported the minds of the godly under their various afflictions. What a blessing that all is arranged by infinite Wisdom and Love! III. THIS FURNACE IS NOT VINDICTIVE, BUT GRACIOUS. Divine chastisement may be a kind of punishment for sin committed. It supposes some fault, which it is intended to correct. But when men are persecuted for righteousness' sake, it does not appear to be for sin. It may be for righteousness' sake on the part of man, and for unrighteousness' sake on God's part. God will suffer persecution and reproach to befall us, when we are cold and indifferent in His cause. But such punishment is not like that inflicted on the wicked. IV. THIS FURNACE IS DESIGNED FOR THE SPIRITUAL AND EVERLASTING BENEFIT OF THE CHURCH ONLY. Even as a furnace is prepared for the refining of gold, so afflictions are appointed for the saints who are compared to gold (Lamentations 4:2
; Job 23:1
. 10). This intimates to us the high value which the Divine Being places upon His people. They are His jewels, His chosen, a peculiar people. &c., and it is His will that they should shine in the world, and exhibit the glory and power of His grace. V. THIS FURNACE IS PROPORTIONATE. He will regulate its heat according to the circumstances of His people who may be placed there. "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver," &c. As a refiner adopts this posture for minute inspection, and that he may quicken the fire, or lower its temperature, as a view of the process may intimate, so the Divine presence, inspection, and compassion may well comfort the afflicted saint (1 Corinthians 10:13
; Isaiah 43:2
; Hebrews 4:15
). There can be no caprice, no unwise or intemperate anger in Him. Compassion is mixed with the severest dispensations, and a wise distinction made between the different members of His family. God often tries the faith and patience of such as have been long under tuition, and are like the elder branches of His household, while He spares the young and inexperienced. VI. THE TENDENCY OF THIS FURNACE IS BENEFICIAL. "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." A more proper translation would have been, "I have tried thee," &c. By affliction of various kinds I have proved thy faith, hope, patience, and love. The root of the matter is within thee. Matthew Henry
gives this beautiful exposition, "I have made thee a choice one by the good which the furnace has done thee." God has nevertheless chosen some in the furnace of affliction. He has met them there, and by His Spirit has subdued them, and brought them to repentance, faith, and consecration to Himself. The design of a position in this furnace is to purify the Christian from sin, to wean from the world, &c. Application — 1. Let the sublime design of this furnace induce patience and submission. 2. Remember the time of trial is but short. "Weeping may endure," &c. Called the day of adversity; the hour of affliction; but for a moment. 3. What a furnace of infliction awaits the ungodly in the world to come.
1. All persons in the furnace of affliction are not chosen. It is a great truth that every child of God is afflicted, but it is a lie that every afflicted man is a child of God. 2. The second preliminary remark I would make is on the immutability of God's love to His people. Think not, when you are in trouble, that God has cast you off. I. IF YOU WANT GOD'S PEOPLE YOU MUST GENERALLY LOOK FOR THEM IN THE FURNACE. Look at the world in its primeval age, when Adam and Eve are expelled the garden. They have begotten two sons, Cain and Abel: which of them is the child of God? Yonder one who lies there smitten by the club, a lifeless corpse; he who has just now been in the furnace of his brother's enmity and persecution. A few hundred years roll on, and where is the child of God? There is one man whose ears are continually vexed with the conversation of the wicked and who walks with God, even Enoch, and he is the child of God. Descend further still till you come to the days of Noah. You will find the man who is laughed t, hooted as a fool, building a ship upon dry land, standing in the furnace of slander and laughter: that is the elect of God. Go on still through history; let the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob pass before you, and you may write upon all of them: "These were God's tried people." Then go down to the time when Israel went into Egypt. Do you ask me to find out God's people? I take you not to the palaces of Pharaoh, but to the brick-kilns of Egypt. As we follow on in the paths of history, where were God's family next? They were in the furnace of the wilderness, suffering privation and pain. Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, against whom the people took up stones to stone them: these were distinguished above their fellows as being elect out of the chosen nation. Pass through Judges and come to the time of Saul, and where was God's servant then? He is in the furnace — wandering in the caves of Engedi, climbing the goat tracks, hunted like the partridge by a remorseless foe. And after his days where were the saints? Not in the halls of Jezebel, nor sitting at the table of Ahab. They are hidden by fifties in the cave, and fed by bread and water. I might tell you of the days of Maccabees, when God's children were put to death without number, by all manner of tortures till then unheard of. I might tell you of the days of Christ, and point to the despised fishermen, to the laughed at and persecuted apostles. I might go on through the days of popery, and point to those who died upon the mountains or suffered in the plains. I suppose it shall be so until the latest age. II. THE REASON FOR THIS. 1. It is the stamp of the covenant. 2. All precious things have to be tried. The diamond must be cut. Gold, too, must be tried. It was one of the laws of God, "Everything that may abide the fire, ye shall make go through the fire, and it shall be clean" (Numbers 31:23
). It is a law of nature, it is a law of grace, that everything that can abide the fire — every-thing that is precious — must be tried. 3. The Christian is said to be a sacrifice to God. Now every sacrifice must be burned with fire. 4. Another reason why we must be put in the furnace is, because else we should not be at all like Jesus Christ. If He walked through the flames, must not we do the same? III. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE FURNACE? 1. It purifies us. 2. It makes us more ready to be moulded. What could our manufacturers do if they could not melt the metal they use? They could not make half the various things we see around us, if they were not able to liquify the metal, and afterwards mould it. There could be no good men in the world if it were not for trouble. We could none of us be made useful if we could not be tried in the fire. 3. Then the furnace is very useful to God's people because they get more light there than anywhere else. If you travel in the neighbourhood of Birmingham, or in other manufacturing districts, you will be interested at night by the glare of light which is cast by all those furnaces. It is labour's own honourable illumination. There is no place where we learn so much, and have so much light cast upon Scripture, as we do in the furnace. 4. One more use of the furnace — and I give this for the benefit of those who hate God's people — is, that it is useful for bringing plagues on our enemies. Do you not remember the passage in Exodus, where "the Lord said unto Moses and unto Aaron, take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast"? There is nothing that so plagues the enemies of Israel, as "handfuls of ashes of the furnace" that we are able to cast upon them. The devil is never more devoid of wisdom than when he meddles with God's people, and tries to run down God's minister. "Run him down!" Sir, you run him up! Persecution damages our enemies; it cannot hurt us. IV. THE COMFORTS IN THE FURNACE. 1. The comfort of the text itself — election. Let affliction come — God has chosen me. 2. You have the Son of Man with you in the furnace. Conclusion — There is another great furnace. "The pile thereof is of wood and much smoke, the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, shall kindle it." Would you be saved? There is but one way. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."
(with ver. 11): — We have a right to be made as pure as God can make us. This is our claim upon Him. He created us, and we have a right to demand that He should make out of us the best He can, and should do this refining work on the creatures He has called into being. It is His duty to burn up our dross, and bring out our full beauty and worth. Love demands that He should.
In 1553 Sir Thomas Palmer was led from the Tower to be executed. He leaped upon the scaffold, red with the blood of four companions previously executed. "Good-morning to you all, good people," he said, looking round him with a smile; "ye come hither to see me die, and to see what nerve I have. Marry, I will tell you: I have seen more in yonder terrible place (the Tower) than ever I saw before throughout all the realms that ever I wandered in: for there I have seen God. I have seen the world, and I have seen myself: and when I beheld my life, I saw nothing but slime and clay, full of corruption: I saw the world nothing else but vanity, and all the pleasure thereof nothing worth: I saw God omnipotent, His power infinite, His mercy incomprehensible: and when I saw this, I submitted myself to Him, beseeching of His mercy and pardon, and I trust He hath forgiven me: for He called me once or twice before, but I would not turn to Him, but even now, by this sharp kind of death, He hath called me unto Him."
"He would be a nice person," wrote George Eliot in one of her letters concerning one, who might have been many a modern prosperous man, "if he had another soul added to the one he has by nature — the soul that comes by sorrow and love."
Hearken unto Me, O Jacob.
"The eternity and immutability of God are in their own nature inseparable, and axe so generally united in the Holy Scriptures that the passages which declare the one declare or imply the other also." I. GOD IS ETERNAL. 1. Reason itself claims this attribute for God. Nor was it unknown even to the heathens. , a follower of , proved God to be eternal, because He exists of Himself. Thales defined God to be a being without beginning and end; before all things; and who was never born. 2. What reason teaches, the Scriptures assert. They represent God's eternity to be — (1) An eternity of duration. (2) An eternity of perfection. "From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God!" All that is involved in that great name He always was, and always will be! II. GOD IS UNCHANGEABLE, eternally unchangeable. 1. Unchangeableness is an essential perfection of God. (1) In His existence He cannot cease to be (Psalm 102:27
). (2) In His nature or essence. (3) In His purposes (chap. 46:10, 14:24). (4) In His promises to His people; in His threatenings against the wicked; and in all His predictions (Numbers 23:19
). 2. All these declarations are in harmony with the teachings of Scripture and the conclusions of reason. (1) Scripture (Malachi 3:6
; Psalm 33:11
; Isaiah 46:10
; James 1:17
). (2) Reason. As God is self-existent, caused by none, He can be changed by none. As He is infinite in all His perfections, He cannot change, for nothing can be added to or taken from the infinite — any change would make Him less than infinite before or after. The unchangeableness of God is confirmed — (a
) By the stability of His natural government. (b
) By His moral government, and the identity of the several dispensations of grace. III. PRACTICAL LESSONS WHICH THIS GREAT SUBJECT TEACHES. 1. It assures us of the essential Divinity of the Christ. The application to our Lord of the terms here used by God to describe Himself, places His Deity beyond doubt (Revelation 1:8, 17
; Revelation 22:13
). 2. It assures us of the fulfilment of God s promises and the accomplishment of His plans. 3. It affords "strong consolation" amid all the trying changes of this mortal state. 4. It should stimulate us to seek stability of character (Hebrews 13:8, 9
). 5. It should alarm the impenitent.
Who can be too quick for Him that is the first, or prevent Him? Who can be too hard for Him that is the last, and will keep the field against all opposers, and will reign till they are all made His footstool?
Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth.
I. THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH. II. THE OVER-ARCHING HEAVENS. III. THE DIVINE PURPOSE IN THESE GREAT WORKS. 1. The heavens have been God's grand lesson-books for the instruction and elevation of His children (Psalm 8
. and 19.). 2. The earth has been the scene of revelations of His character which we cannot believe to be surpassed by any vouchsafed to any other portion of His universe; His judgments on sin; His manifestations of mercy; His tabernacling amongst men in the person of His Son; the death on the Cross for the redemption of lost humanity; the nobleness, sincerity, patience, unselfishness, forgiveness of God manifested in the spiritual education of His children. 3. The long process of sin and redemption shall at length have a glorious consummation.
And now the Lord God and His Spirit hath sent me.
"And now the Lord God hath sent Me with His Spirit." The Spirit does not send, hut is sent.
()Note the tendency in chaps. 40.-66, to treat the Divine Spirit as a separate personality (Isaiah 40:13; 63:10,11,14).
Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer.
How beautiful and impressive are the "I am's" of God; so different from the proud and empty boastings clearly discernible in the "I am's" of man. We are never nearer to misleading others and deceiving ourselves, than when we utter sentences beginning with "I am." For, after all, what are we in ourselves that is worth mentioning? When we yield to the constraint of the Bible and conscience, and come to know something of our own hearts, we shall not dare to speak aloud to those about us; but, like Job, our words will be for God, and into His ears we shall whisper, "I am vile." Or, if beneath the influence of the blessed Spirit we come to realise that our nature is changed, then shall we temper our assertion with humility, and, like Paul, say, "By the grace of God, I am what I am." Only on God's lips has the declaration, "I am," its full meaning. This is God's great name.
This grand self-assertion of God will increase in its beauty and power for us when we remember that God is not some powerful monarch, isolating Himself from those around Him, withholding succour from the distressed, guidance from the perplexed, relief from the poor, and living only to gratify Himself. What God is He is for His people — as the sun is light for the earth, or the earth nourishment for the crops, or the crops food for the people. How comforting and helpful is the recollection of what God is! In God's "I am" the sick man finds his medicine, the poor man his riches, the lonely man his company, the sinner his salvation, the wanderer his hope, the wounded heart its balm, the hungry soul its manna, the fearful one his cordial, the dying one his life, and every glorified one his all. We must go out of ourselves to get real blessing for ourselves; and to whom should we go but to Him, described as the "Lord, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel"? The heart must have a person to love, to lean on, to live for. No doctrine, no idea, no creed can take the place of the person. The language just quoted describes a character peculiar to the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the true Lord, the Redeemer, the Holy One, supreme in all creation, paramount in redemption, having the pre-eminence in holiness. As Lord He rules, as Redeemer He saves, as Holy One He inspires and guides. He claims to be our Lord and God, and in this high station deigns to address us. Nor would we be slow to recognise His claims, but would have our faith to be the echo of His love, while, with Thomas, each one of us says: "My Lord and my God." It is indeed Divine love which speaks to us in the text, and makes known to us the good will and pleasure of the great "I Am."
"Learn of Me" and "Follow Me" are two most impressive commands of Jesus Christ. I. THERE IS AN IMPORTANT RELATION BETWEEN THESE TWO OFFICES OF OUR DIVINE MASTER. Not every teacher is a leader, not every leader a true teacher. Theory and practice are often divorced. Words and works are not always wedded. But in our Lord there is perfection in both teaching and leading. Does Jesus teach us to "pray and not to faint"? He also leads in this, for He prayed. Does Jesus teach us to glorify God by our "good works"? He "went about doing good." Does our Master teach us to love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us? How grandly axe we led by His dying prayer, "Father, forgive them." Are we to "seek first the kingdom of God," according to His teaching? So, indeed, did He, for it was His meat and drink to do His Father's will. Would He have us patient under suffering, calm amid reproach, submissive under affliction, and alway resigned? So, indeed, was He. Let the Garden of Gethsemane bear witness. Let Pilate's hall testify. Let Calvary give answer. He truly "teaches us to profit, and leads us by the way we should go." These are the two great forces which aid us in the formation of the Christian character and the development of the Christian life. The teaching of our Master is sometimes out of the book of affliction and sorrow. He teaches us our folly, and weakness, and sin; and then leads us into His wisdom, and strength, and holiness. He teaches us in the valley of the shadow that He may lead us to the golden height of Divine light and love. He teaches us by the furnace that He may lead us to the palace. He teaches us by the noon-day heat, and then leads us to the sheltering rock. In multitudes of ways does our Lord teach His people, but ever to the end that He may lead them in the way in which they should go. But for His instructions we should be poor followers. If He beckoned to us in silence we should hardly dare to take a step. But He is not silent, for as He goes before us we can hear His voice. The thought of His instruction encourages us, while His leadership emboldens us. II. Let us now spend a little while in THE CONTEMPLATION OF THOSE SWEET WORDS, "WHICH LEADETH THEE." Here, indeed, is found soul-comfort and strength, such as we all need amid our feebleness and the bewilderment around. It will be well for us to read these words in the light of Scripture thoughts and incidents. How they remind us of God leading His people from the thraldom of Egypt. Only let faith's eye be clear, and the leading pillar will ever be discerned. In the Song of Moses we have a beautiful figure to help us in understanding our Lord s leading. There the mention of the eagle's care for her young in fluttering over them as they try to fly, and spreading her wings beneath them to give them confidence, and bearing them on her wings when they are weary, is followed by the declaration, — "So the Lord alone did lead them." As we pass on we come to the beautiful poem of the shepherd-king, and we hear his sweet voice singing, "He leadeth me beside the still waters." And then we find David's son putting into the lips of wisdom the words, "I lead in the way of righteousness." Let us take another example; now from the prophet Isaiah. There we find this precious promise of our God's: "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known. Is not this what He has done and still does for us? How strengthening, again, is the promise recorded by this same prophet: I will heal him; I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him; and how soothing the words written for us by Jeremiah: "With favours will I lead them; I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble." III. WHAT SPIRIT SHALL WE MANIFEST IN VIEW OF THIS PRECIOUS TRUTH? Let us take our place by the Psalmist, and with him in a spirit of humility, resignation, trustful. ness, and hope, put up these petitions: Psalm 5:8
; Psalm 25:5
; Psalm 27:11
; Psalm 31:3
; Psalm 61:2
; Psalm 139:24
; Psalm 143:10
. Thus shall we on earth have a true foretaste of the unspeakable rest and blessedness of that sinless place where "the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall lead them, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
I. GOD AS A REDEEMER. The redemption spoken of by Isaiah was temporal in the first place. But he ascends a much higher sphere than that circumscribed by any earthly demand. 1. The captivity of evil; the Babylon of sin. The whole human race is involved in misery as in guilt. The bondage of iniquity is the worst sort of captivity that beings capable of a better life can possibly suffer. 2. The mercy of the Redeemer at work in the city of bondage. (1) The greater because of our helplessness and need. (2) The greater because of our sinfulness and unbelief. (3) Crowned by the maintenance of God's righteousness with the recovery and perfection of our own. The Gospel is not simply a principle of forgiveness, it is that and something more: it is the power to become holy — the happiness and endlessness of a righteous and godly life. II. GOD AS A TEACHER. The Gospel is too generally only regarded and valued as a something which adds to our enjoyment. Few Christians even understand the beneficence of discipline. 1. Look at the Gospel as a teacher. The new birth opens the eyes to a new world; it is followed by a new language. Here is the high school of heaven in which the Spirit of God is the principal Teacher. 2. Learning is never easy. There is no royal road to this learning, any more than to mere secular knowledge. (1) The lessons are harder because we have to unlearn. Satan has had us in his school, where we were as apt to learn as he to teach. (2) The lessons are harder because we are not diligent. The elements always seem most difficult, because they are so near. If a man always sticks at the elements he is ever in difficulties, yet never makes progress. (3) The learning is harder because as yet we are not much better than invalids. 3. Yet all the teaching is profitable. (1) As a correction. Our weakness makes us more humble, and less prone to self-reliance. (2) As a spiritual development. All these things are made to work together for our highest good. III. GOD AS A LEADER. 1. The way God would have us go is not always according to our inclination. (1) The pleasantest way is not necessarily the best. (2) The fact that we are called to walk in an unpleasant path, so far from proving God s desertion may indicate just the reverse. He may be nearer to us in the cloud than in the sunshine. The wilderness with Him in it is the way to Canaan: no other way, however pleasant, can be safe. 2. The knowledge that it is His way should be enough. (1) As a reason. For there can be nothing irrational in following Him who is the source and crown of wisdom. (2) As an incentive. For the voice of His approval should sound both distinctly and pleasantly to our ears.
1. Our life is an education; not a mere probation, or trial of what we are to be and to do, but a training of our lives and characters into as great likeness as is possible to the perfect life and character of God, revealed to us in Christ. It is a great truth, helping us to see many things in their true light; above all, helping us to understand the meaning of our life, and its relation to the will of God. The human father is too often but a deceiving type through which to try to understand the Divine Father. Still, even those who have had least to thank their earthly parents for should be able to rise to the idea, however imperfect, of a wise, righteous, unselfish fatherhood, and to picture to themselves a man who should show these qualities in his relation to his children. And thinking of such an one, could you think of him as content that they should simply go their own way, seek their own pleasure, indulge their own whims, let loose their own tempers and desires, and own no authority, and recognise no purpose in life, and believe in no will higher, more experienced, more just than their own? All that is truest and most useful in the discipline and training which an earthly father, who knows his relation to his family and is faithful to it, bestows on his children, is based on something that is eternal in the heavens, that exists as the true rule of fatherhood in the mind of God the Father. Is it not involved in the very idea that God is our Father that there should be in His mind a design for each of us? And is it not inseparable from such a design that there should be much in it that is not naturally easy and pleasant? The pain has been inevitable because the true end of life has been kept in view, above all temporary and petty objects that lie in the way to that end. The end could not be reached by one ignorant, untrained, undisciplined, unaccustomed to obey or to learn. In the training for the higher life it is not all plain and smooth. Least of all is it so at the beginning. This is the meaning of the "strait gate" and the "narrow way" that "lead to life." They are strait and narrow, because they lead to life, because they lead us on to a definite purpose of God for us that is not laid down at random, not shaped by chance, but is the result of love and foresight, and must, like all things that are high and good, be worked out not carelessly and easily, but with patience and thought and toil. 2. If we believe in this Divine purpose of our life, if we believe that the object of it is to train us into more perfect union with our Father, to educate us to fill our place as His children in His family, surely it will be our wisdom to try to learn what it is and to fulfil it. How are we to do this? Not through self-will; of that we may be sure. 3. There are two great errors into which those who are failing of God's plan may have fallen, or be falling. There is the error of being self-confident, impatient of all authority, advice, control, even of such control (a parent's, for instance) as is one of God's own ordinances, one of the abiding bonds of human life, which cannot be broken without the family or the society in which it is broken suffering loss, and at last dissolution. And there is the error of yielding absolutely to some authority (other than a natural authority) to which you submit your own reason and conscience, and for which you resign your own responsibility. We should beware of either of these errors. And lest we fall into them, we should use our reason and our conscience diligently in striving to find out the will of God for us; and if ever it seems hard to find, then there is the refuge of work and of prayer to resort to, until the dawn of light and peace. 4. It is a great thing to trust God; to have faith in Him and in His goodwill and loving purpose for us, really to believe that we are children in His family, and scholars in His school Such faith is the root of strength, hope, patience and courage in human life.
(for the New Year): — 1. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GUIDE. He is Jehovah — the Lord our strength; the Cause of all existence, and the Fountain and Source of life. Thus He is "mighty to save," and able to conduct His servants through every danger, and deliver them from every foe. He is thy Redeemer, loving thee with an everlasting love. A companion to rescue thee from danger, to take a loving interest in all thy cares and sorrows: One who has "chosen thee in the furnace of affliction," that He may make thee "all glorious within," and imprint on thee His own likeness. He is "the Holy One of Israel," faithful and true, rich, tender, and unfailing in His promises. II. THE METHODS OF GUIDANCE. "Teacheth thee to profit leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go." The methods are various and sometimes peculiar, but always full of wisdom. Nothing is ever wanting on the part of the Teacher: if it is necessary for the pupil's progress, he will have to submit to the discipline of restraint, and to bear the yoke of adversity. 1. God leads us sometimes by unknown paths, by ways we cannot understand. Joseph, Jacob, Daniel, Elijah. The ways of providence need careful watching to see their fitness and beauty. 2. By gentleness. David could say, "Thy gentleness hath made me great," — the Divine condescension had stooped to his frailties and errors. "I will guide thee with Mine eye." Not with bit and bridle, nor with the "hook in thy nose," as Sennacherib. 3. This guidance is continual. The Guide never relaxes His vigilant care. He will "never leave thee," — "even unto death" He is by thy side. Thus guided we are always safe, right, and happy. III. THE RESULTS OF ACCEPTING THIS GUIDANCE (ver. 18). "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." God's promises are always to character. 1. Peace — that quiet, restful condition of soul which is the heritage of those from whom all painful emotions and all disturbing influences are removed. 2. Righteousness — as the foundation on which character is built, and the element of which it consists. "Righteousness . . . as the waves of the sea — so wide in its influence as to cover all the interests of life; so deep as to go down to the deepest places of the heart, and permeate the whole life with its power and beauty. And the peace and righteousness united make life fruitful — so that it abounds in goodness, and the soul at all times and in all places is enabled to fulfil life's highest duty.
These words would be sad from the lips of man, but coming from God they are inexpressibly touching and solemn. They are the cry of a wounded heart. They tell not of the wrath of justice, but of the sorrows of love This may be regarded as implying — I. GRIEF FOR LOST HOPES. Once there was hope and fair promise. God's beautiful ideal might be realised. But that is all gone. God only knows what has been lost. He is, so to speak, alone with His sorrow. II. JUDGMENT FOR NEGLECTED OPPORTUNITIES. God is speaking here in the character of "the Redeemer — the Holy One of Israel." He recalls what He had done, and what might and ought to have been the happy results. But the precious opportunities had been abused. 1. Gracious instruction. "I am the Lord which teacheth thee to profit." 2. Infallible guidance. "Which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go." 3. Holy blessedness. Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." But the time is past. The glorious vision has faded away for ever. Neglected opportunities bring sure and terrible retribution. III. EXONERATION FOR NEEDLESS RUIN. Reason, conscience, and the Holy Scriptures combine in testifying that man's ruin is not of chance or fate, far less of God, but exclusively of himself.
I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit.
I. AFFLICTIONS MAY BE MADE PROFITABLE TO THE CHILDREN OF GOD. 1. They may be greatly instrumental in turning off their attention from the world. 2. They may turn off their affections as well as their attention from the captivating objects of the world. 3. They may be of much greater benefit to them by raising their affections to God, the source of all good. II. GOD IS ABLE TO MAKE AFFLICTIONS PROFITABLE TO HIS CHILDREN. 1. He is able to bring Himself into the view of His afflicted children. 2. He can place their affections as well as attention upon Himself. III. THIS IS A MATTER OF CONSOLATION TO THEM. Improvement — 1. Since Godmakes use of afflictions to keep His children near to Him, it appears that they are extremely prone to forsake Him. 2. It appears from the manner in which God instructs and benefits His afflicted children, that they may derive the greatest advantage from their severest sufferings. 3. If God chastises His children for good, then those who are suffered to live in uninterrupted prosperity have reason to fear that they do not belong to the household of faith. 4. If God can make afflictions profitable to His children, then we may justly conclude that He can make them profitable to others. 5. It appears that every person may know whether he belongs to His family or not. Afflictions are peculiar trials of the heart, and give men the best opportunity to determine what is in reality the supreme object of their affections. 6. The afflicted ought to be of a teachable spirit under Divine convictions.
It is not only the commercial world which has to make its calculations of profit and loss. All life is made up of profit and loss. If there is not profit, there is loss; if there is not loss, there is profit. 1. I understand the text to mean, not that God teaches us in a profitable way, but that He instructs us how to get the profit in all things; that He gives that faculty, the power to take the good and refuse the evil. 2. Consider how God does "teach to profit." (1) The first thing which God will probably teach, and which we must receive, is a general confidence that there is profit, however imperceptible it may be at the time to us, in the thing which He is sending to us. (2) This faith given, the next thing that God puts into our hearts is to seek that good; eternal profit, profit both to ourselves and to Him, in that He is glorified in His own work. We are to look for that profit, not on the surface, but in certain deeper, hidden meanings and intentions which lie underneath. Into those deeper meanings God will lead and admit you. But not without three things: a reverent acceptance of His teaching, hard work, and a good life.
O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments.
1. It is the duty of all people to "hearken," however and whenever God may see fit to speak to them. 2. To hearken denotes a reverent and careful attention to God's message. 3. To hearken implies also that we consider God's commandments as binding upon us, and as pointing out certain particulars which we are required to attend to.
Peace may be compared to a river — I. IN ITS ORIGIN; small, joyous, sparkling, vigorous, rapid. II. IN ITS PROGRESS — widening and deepening; receiving new tributaries on the right and left, from the various means of grace, as they are supplied with the dew of heaven and showers of blessings; sweeping away — as it rolls on in its strength — the obstacles of unsanctified affections and unconquered lusts. III. The beautiful figure of the text conveys the idea also of OVERFLOWING ABUNDANCE. The ancient heathen, in order to represent the universal power and beneficence of Jupiter, used the symbol of a river flowing from his throne. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the "perfect peace" enjoyed by God's true children. The Psalmist describes it as "great peace." St. Paul refers to it as "the peace of God which passeth all understanding." We make mention of it in our daily prayers as "that peace which the world cannot give." It is not a scanty, fluctuating, failing stream, but a full tide of peace, both wide and deep, and supplying to the utmost every longing of the soul. IV. The language suggests the idea of PERPETUITY. It is not uniform, indeed, any more than the course of the river. Now it is half hidden in a narrow channel, among overhanging mountains and forests; and now spread over a wide bed conspicuous in the plain. Again, it is seen contracting and deepening itself, and moving onward with tenfold velocity and strength. Such, too, are the variations in the Christian's peace. V. The promise of "peace as a river" includes the idea of INCREASE. It shall grow stronger and more pervading. As the mighty river may be traced back to an insignificant spring, far up the mountain-side, so is it with the beginnings of peace in the soul.
From this verse we may learn that when God smites men on account of sin, it gives Him no pleasure. John Knox said that he never chastised his children without tears in his own eyes. Jeremiah, in the bitterest chapter of his Lamentations, bears this graceful witness to our covenant God: "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." And surely if in the gentler chastisement of His hands the Most High takes no pleasure, much less can He find delight in that withering curse which destroys the finally impenitent. Nor is this the only lesson which lies on the surface of the text. Observe, the Lord addresses words of poignant regret over the prize the sinner has lost, as well as the penalty he has incurred. What loss thinkest thou is that which God bewails on thy account? "Peace like a river," and "righteousness like the waves of the sea." There is a privation which you unconsciously suffer. You are a stranger to peace. David Hume used to say that Christians were melancholy people. But that was a happy retort, in which somebody observed — "David Hume's opinion is not worth much, for he never saw many Christians; and when he did see any, there was enough to make them miserable in the sight of David Hume." The true Christian has a peace which is totally unknown to any other man. I. The metaphor is full of beauty, and not wanting in instructiveness either, by which PEACE IS COMPARED TO A RIVER. 1. Peace like a river, for continuance. 2. For freshness. The water which runs down the Thames, say at Maidenhead, never was there before. It is fresh water, fresh from the hills to-day, and to-morrow it is the same, and the same the next day — ever fresh supplies from the heart of old England, to keep her glorious river swelling and abounding. Now the peace which a Christian has is always fresh, always receiving fresh supplies. 3. A river increases in breadth, and its waters augment their volume. Such is the Christian's peace. Pure and perfect though it is at the first, little temptations seem to mar it; oftentimes the troubles of this life threaten to choke it. When the Christian is ten years older, and has meandered a few more miles along the tortuous course of a gracious experience, his peace will be like a broad river. 4. The peace of the Christian is like a river, because of its joyful independence of man. We have heard the story of a simpleton who went to see the reputed source of the Thames, and putting his hand over the little rivulet that came trickling down the ditch, he stopped it, and said, "I wonder what they are doing at London Bridge now that I have stopped the river." But who knew the difference? A whole Parliament could not make the Thames swell with waves, and fifty Parliaments could not lessen the body of its waters. It were well, by the way, if they could preserve its streams from the pollution of those foul and putrid sewers constantly emptied into it. The rivers would be better without the interference of men. Such is the Christian's peace. I have watched this river as it broke over the stones of adversity; and when the tide of earthly comfort ran low, it hath seemed as if the flow of peace were clearer and more transparent than ever. The devil cannot rob us of the peace which comes from God, neither can the world take it away. II. "THY RIGHTEOUSNESS AS THE WAVES OF THE SEA." 1. Notice how this metaphor surpasses the previous one in dignity, if not in delicacy. We can all see a sort of comparison, and yet at the same time a strong contrast, between the water of an inland river and the collection of waters which make up the wide expanse of the sea. One for the most part is tranquil, the other always heaving and surging to and fro. So I suppose, as the words were originally addressed to the Jewish nation and referred to their temporal welfare, the river would represent the beauty and happiness of their own land, like the garden of Eden, watered by the river of God's pleasure; and the sea, with its waves rolling in majestically one after another in unbroken succession, would set forth that progress which is the renown of righteousness. Generation after generation would witness the rising tide of prosperity. Each chapter of their chronicles would lift its crested plume and tell of mighty acts and righteous deeds, till, like the roar of ocean, the righteousness of Israel should proclaim the name of the Lord from the river even to the ends of the earth. Oh! what did that rebellious seed of Jacob lose by forsaking the Lord! This seems to me to be something like the meaning. 2. But I want to apply this metaphor of the waves of the sea, like that of the flowing of the river, to the happiness of the believer. The man who believes in Jesus Christ has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him. But how is this righteousness like the waves of the sea? (1) For multitude. You cannot count the waves of the sea, do what you will; and so is it with the righteousness of Christ, you cannot count its different forms and fashions. Let us tell you of some of these waves. I was born in sin and shapen in iniquity, but the holiness of Christ's birth takes away the unholiness of my nativity. I have committed sins in my childhood, sins against my parents; but Jesus Christ was a child full of the Spirit; so Christ's childish perfection is imputed to me, and hides my childish sins. I have to mourn over sins of thought; but Christ can say, "Thy law is My delight," and the thoughts of Christ's mind cover my thoughts, &c. (2) For majesty. What an illustration of overwhelming power! And ask now, who can withstand the power of Christ's righteousness? "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Then, it is majestic because it is profound. Who can plumb the depths of the righteousness of Christ? — deep as the demands of the law, deep as the miseries of hell, deep as the thoughts of God. It is majestic, too, because of its ceaseless energy. Wave upon wave, it breaks upon the eternal shore of Divine justice, fulfilling the counsels of God, while it covers all the sins of His people. (3) And the analogy may be traced still further, if you reflect on the sufficiency of the one and the other. All over the world, at low water, you will find certain muddy creeks, bays, and coves. How are all these to be covered? There is water enough in the sea to cover every cove and creek; and there is not a river which will have to say "We had no tide to-clay." There is enough righteousness in Christ to cover you. (4) The righteousness of Christ is like the waves of the sea for origin.
I. The image sets before us A PEACE WHICH IS THE EXPRESSION OF LIFE AND POWER. II. The image is expressive OF HEALTHFUL INFLUENCE. III. OF PROGRESS AND PERPETUITY. IV. OF PLEASANTNESS.
I. THE CONDUCT THESE MEN OUGHT TO HAVE PURSUED. "O that thou hadst hearkened," &c. What does this hearkening mean? 1. An understanding of God's commandments 2. A remembering of God's commandments. 3. A regarding of them as commands. II. A BLESSED RESULT OF THIS CONDUCT WHEN PURSUED. 1. It leads the soul to Christ, the great Prince of Peace. 2. It leads us to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. 3. The commands gradually make us holy, and holiness leads to peace. III. THE EXTENT OF THIS BLESSED EFFECT. "As a river."
I. THE LOST IDEAL — what might have been. II. THE DIVINE LAMENTATION OVER THIS. III. THE DIVINE PROPOSAL FOR RESTORATION. What means this next word, "Go ye forth of Babylon"? &c. (ver. 20).
I. THE DUTY OF THE CREATURE. To hearken to the Divine commandments. Filial obedience springing from love to his Father in heaven ought to be the rule of his life. II. BLESSINGS RESULTING FROM PERFORMING THIS DUTY GLADLY AND WILLINGLY. 1. The peace of such is as a river. A river the source of verdure and fertility. As the river beautifies the landscape, so does peace beautify the soul. Its fostering influence is essential if the virtues and graces of the Spirit are to develop within us. 2. "Thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." When the tide is coming in the waves advance farther and farther over the strand. Those who hearken to the Divine commandments make progress in righteousness.
Not as the brook, as it gushes rapturously forth, breaking musically on the stones, and flashing in the glee of its early life; not as a streamlet hardly filling its wide bed, and scarcely affording water enough for the fish to pass to its higher reaches: but like a river far down its course, sweeping along with majestic current, deep and placid, able to bear navies on its broad expanse, to collect and carry with it the refuse of towns upon its banks without contamination, and approaching the sea with the sympathy begotten of similarity in depth and volume and service to mankind. Oh, rivers that minister perpetually to man — not swept by storm, not drained by drought, not anxious about continuance, always mirroring the blue of the azure sky, or the stars of night, and yet content to stay for every daisy that sends its tiny root for nourishment — in your growth from less to more, your perennial fulness, your beneficent ministry, your volume, your claim, ye were meant to preach to man, with perpetual melody, of the infinite peace that was to rise, and grow, and unfold with every stage of his experience! Such at least was God's ideal for Israel, and for all who swear by His name and make mention of Jehovah as God.
A perennial stream, such as the Euphrates (Amos 5:24
). It is easy to understand the impression made on the mind of a native of Palestine, accustomed to "deceitful brooks" that run dry in the summer, by the sight of a great river, flowing on for ever in undiminished volume. The actual history of Israel had been like the wadis
of Judea, transient gleams of prosperity being interrupted by long intervals of misfortune.
God promises a river of peace if we will dredge out the channel: The water is His business — the water-course is ours. There are three important words which we should consider carefully. I. "PEACE." If we are to dredge the river we must get out of the way at once and for all time any false conceptions about peace itself which we have been entertaining. Nothing stops the inflow of Divine life more effectually than false notions. Peace is an essentially Hebrew word, but it contains a cosmopolitan thought. The Jews said "Peace" as a salutation in the market-places and upon the highways, but we all want peace as a proof of our salvation and a mighty power of service. The Greek salutation was "rejoice." When Christ rose from the dead He used this form: "Rejoice." (R.V. "All hail!") And well may we rejoice, since the bands of death have been burst asunder. But Christ also said, Peace. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you." Hence we are authorised in our wish to appropriate this thought in all its blessing. The Jew has always said, "Peace." The whole Orient has adopted His salutation in the universal "Shalom" of the present day. His deeply religious nature was clearly set off from the volatile, rejoicing, joy-loving nature of the Greek. What, then, is exactly meant by the word? 1. Peace versus
Nirvana. There are some who think that peace means a sort of Christian Nirvana, a state of abstraction, absorption in the infinite, or self-surrender to nothingness in general and nothing in particular. Peace is consistent and co-existent with the intensest activity. A river may run through the busiest cities without losing its deep steadiness and gentle murmur. Our Lord Jesus was called the "Prince of Peace," and yet He was the most practical of workers. 2. Peace versus
mere activity. If people escape the error of supposing that peace consists in mere contemplation, they are apt to suppose that it may be found by running about in ceaseless activity. The blessed Master by His Spirit imparts peace. It may not be secured by mere struggle, anxiety, and activity. 3. Peace versus
compromise. Compromise does not secure permanent or genuine peace. Eli compromised for the sake of peace, and his sons broke his heart. Never take a half-hearted course to avoid turmoil. Of two pains you may choose the less, but never of two evils in the sense of sins. II. "RIVER." Among the quieter objects of nature none is more suggestive of God's power and wisdom, of God's loving presence in the world which He has made, than the river which winds in and out among the hills, steals quietly through clattering towns, kisses fields and pastures into fruitfulness and verdure, and smilingly bares its breast to be scarred by the countless keels of the world's commerce. Hence the figure of the text gives us at once an idea of what peace is and what it does. It is the inflow of the Divine life, bringing the Divine quietness, patience and power, and resulting in spiritual beauty and fruitfulness. We have hence but to apply our ideas of a river to peace to discover the practical lessons we need to learn. 1. Heavenly supply. Every river has a source, and is dependent upon a constant, renewed supply. This source and supply are always from above. Peace, also, comes from above. Its source is in God. God's resources are infinite, and the supply shall not fail. 2. Useful overflow. Possibly when God made the promise we are considering He had in mind the river Nile, whose regular overflow could be depended upon to enrich Egypt, and bring food to the people. Or He may have thought of the Jordan, which "overflowed all its banks in the time of harvest." Certain it is that the river of peace runs out of its banks, and is useful only when it does. The overflowing heart of the Christian is the sympathetic heart. 3. Progressional expansion. A proper river grows broader and deeper as it progresses toward the sea. Our peace shall grow broader and deeper as we go on in the Christian life. III. "HEARKEN." This is the most important word of all, when we consider that it contains the condition of the promise God makes as to peace. All God's promises are conditional. If we fulfil our part of the contract He will not fail in His. "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts." The trouble with most of us is that we do not "let" the Holy Spirit do in us and for us what He yearns to do. Some Christians complain that God does not supply them with peace when their hearts are so choked and their lives so clogged and cumbered that the river cannot flow in. Let us pursue the thought a little to see how we may dredge the channel and secure the blessing. 1. Blasting out deep-rooted rocks. This is the arduous part of the engineer's work when a river channel to be deepened. Some such work as this, deep and heroic, needs to be done by us if we are to offer a free course to the river of peace. Deep-rooted prejudices against the truth must be loosened and cast out of our minds. Hidden loves and yearnings for the world must be explored and destroyed. Pride is a great rock whose adamantine sides must be pierced. Love of excitement is another. Other rocks in the river's course are mentioned in Colossians 3:8
. God's Word furnishes the dynamite by which they may be uprooted. 2. Rip-rapping to prevent dissipation of power. There have been heavy rains in the mountains, or the snows have suddenly melted and a mighty freshet comes tearing down the stream. The soil composing the banks is loose and loamy, and some protection must be afforded where the bends occur and the cities are built. Then the men set to work, and great nets of boughs and branches of trees are built, and these are made stable by rocks and bags of sand, and so the "rip-rap" is formed and the waters are kept in their course. We are constantly in danger of losing spiritual power through the broadening of our energies and the dissipations of our forces. A proper overflow of blessing to others is necessary; yet the river is not to run entirely out of its channel and waste itself fruitlessly and even harmfully. The love of Christ is to "constrain" us — keep us within limits. Let us not be afraid of being "narrow" in this sense. A river is powerful only when properly narrow, — otherwise it becomes a bog and a stench. 3. Guarding against the formation of sudden sand. bars. Those who dwell near sandy rivers or harbours formed by river mouths know what an amount of careful piering and dredging is necessary to keep the channel clear. Let us learn a lesson from the pains taken by the engineers. If we find a place in our spiritual life where sudden bars are apt to form, disturbing or retarding the flow of peace, let us at once protect the spot by special prayer.
I. HERE ARE THE PRIVILEGES OF GOD'S PEOPLE, Peace like a river; righteousness like the waves of the sea. The very same blessings which are said in the New Testament to constitute the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17
). 1. This blessed peace is of two kinds — peace with God, and peace within themselves. This peace is compared to a river. The comparison is very beautiful and significant. Look at a river. What are you struck with? (1) The stillness and the smoothness of its course, so striking as contrasted with the noise and the disturbance which are so often heard upon its banks. So still is the course of the real Christian when compared with the troublesome world through which he moves. (2) Look again at the deep river. What an idea does it give us of fulness and abundance! And what an emblem then, in this respect, of the abundance of the Christian's peace! "The Lord of peace Himself gives him peace always, by all means." "Always" — in prosperity and in adversity — in health and in sickness — in ease and in pain — in abundance and in want — in joy and in sorrow — in the midst of friends and in the midst of enemies — in life and in death. And "by all means" — for by how many instruments, through how many channels, does the Lord send peace into His people's hearts! By His Word — by His ordinances — by His providences — nay, by a thousand things which might seem, at first sight, more likely to mar their peace than to promote it. (3) Take another view of a deep river. How long has it been flowing? How long will it flow? And how long will the peace of the Lord's people last? "As long as the moon endureth" (Psalm 72:7
). Yea, longer far (Isaiah 32:17
; Isaiah 54:10
). 2. "Righteousness." The people of God are clothed in the merits of their Saviour. Now, of this righteousness it may well be said that it is "like the waves of the sea." Behold the sea, and the idea it gives us is that of vastness and immensity — an almost boundless mass of waters. And what is the height, the length, the breadth, the depth of the righteousness of Christ! The waves of the sea are a fit emblem of power and might — who can withstand them? who can rebuke them? And who can lay anything to the charge of those whose righteousness is that of their Redeemer? II. WHY DO NOT THE BLESSINGS WE HAVE SPOKEN OF BELONG TO EVERYONE? It is impossible to enjoy God's peace in the midst of the world's sins. III. WHAT TENDERNESS THERE IS IN THE TEXT! what commiseration of the sad estate in which sinners have reduced themselves!
I. AN EARNEST DESIRE OF THE ETERNAL. 1. He desires for man an abundance of peace. The word "peace" stands for something more than freedom from national war or moral agitations. It stands for happiness in its widest and deepest import. The happiness desired, then, is not a little happiness, not a few drops, not even a copious shower that soon passes away, but a "river." (1) Ever augmenting in fulness. (2) Ever increasing in calmness. The deeper and fuller the river becomes, the more calm. (3) Ever approximating to its consummation. 2. He desires for man an abundance of spiritual prosperity. "Thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." "Righteousness" must also be taken in a general sense as standing for rectitude of soul and holiness of character. Those waves, how majestic in aspect! how resistless in flow! how unconquerable in energy! The Eternal does not wish us to have a little religion, but to "comprehend with all saints what is the length," &c. II. AN UNALTERABLE PLAN OF THE ETERNAL. The plan is that happiness should only come through obedience. "O that thou hadst hearkened," &c. 1. The constitution of the human soul shows this. The sum of all God's commandments has been reduced by Christ to love — supreme love to God. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart." Now, the nature of the soul shows that there can be no true and perfect happiness without this. (1) Nothing but a supreme love for Him can draw out harmoniously the soul's powers. (2) Nothing but supreme love for Him can satisfy the soul's conscience. 2. The order of society requires this. All are members of a social system, and each has a mission to fulfil, not only in relation to himself, but in relation to others. For society to act in harmony it is necessary that there should be one will worked out by all. Where each follows his own will there must be eternal collisions and anarchies. 3. The history of the world manifests this. Every chapter in the world's history shows that the disobedient have been miserable, whilst the obedient have been happy. 4. The Word of God declares this. III. AN INEXPRESSIBLE REGRET OF THE ETERNAL. "O that thou hadst hearkened unto My commandments." Such Divine exclamations are not altogether unusual. Such expressions of Divine feeling indicate two things — 1. The immense evils involved in disobedience. God alone knows the evils connected with disobedience to the individual, society, the universe. And seeing the dark and turbulent ocean of miseries springing from disobedience, He seems to sigh over it. His heart seems to break into commiseration. Fools may laugh at sin, but God is solemn over it. 2. That restoration to obedience is man's deepest necessity. God does three things to restore man to obedience. (1) Presents His law in the most attractive forms; not in characters on stone, in dry propositions, but in the lovely life of Jesus. (2) Presents the most powerful encouragement to obedience. The Gospel abounds with motives from heaven, earth, and hell, from time and eternity, to follow Christ. (3) Offers the Divine Spirit to help to obedience. Mark the pivot on which thy destiny hinges. It is obedience.
What is a commandment of God? We are too commonly inclined to regard it merely as the expression of the wish of God. It is more than that. It expresses a law of life. To disobey a commandment is not merely to go against the will of God; it is to violate eternal law. Every commandment is the expression of a fundamental law, which it is our welfare to observe, and our destruction to ignore. A parent says to her child, "Thou shalt keep thy-self clean." There is a commandment. But why? Because it is thy parent's wish? Yes, but more than that. Because it expresses a law of life, the condition of physical health. It is even so with all the commandments of God. The Ten Commandments are just ten laws, proclaiming what are the conditions of a healthy moral life. 1. Let us hear our text again. "O that thou hadst hearkened when I made known to thee the laws of moral and spiritual health. I have instructed thee what laws to observe in building a house; I have instructed thee what laws to observe in building a life. O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments." "Hearkened." The word is full of intentness; it is suggestive of quick apprehension. It means to prick the ears, as some hare or rabbit pricks its ears and listens at the slightest movement in the thicket, or at the sound of a footfall in the distant field. 2. But they had not hearkened. They had not pricked their ears and listened. They turned a sort of indolent and indifferent ear, and pursued their own way. Now, what happens when a man will not hearken to God's commandments, when he shapes his life in utter indifference to the revealed law? Two things happen, and they are as inevitable as death, for they are the forerunners of death — spiritual restlessness and spiritual feebleness. (1) Let a man hearken to the commandments of physical health, and all the many organs of his body will work together in a smooth harmony, as though they were not many but one. But now let the man refuse to hearken to the commandments of health, what then? The harmony will be broken, the brotherhood will be changed into anarchy, one after another the organs will rise in mutiny, and the man's bodily life will become the abode of restlessness and pain. Defiance of physical law produces physical restlessness. It is even so with those spiritual organs which inhere in the soul. Let a man hearken to God's commandments, let him obey the laws of spiritual health, and all his spiritual organs will form a holy brotherhood; conscience, will, affection, emotion, reason, shall all work together in the harmony which we name peace. But let a man defy the laws of God, and the soul will become a scene of civil strife; conscience, will, reason, and desire will be pitted one against another, and the whole soul of man, like to a little kingdom, will suffer the nature of an insurrection. (2) Defiance of spiritual law also produces spiritual feebleness. Every time I disobey a commandment of God I weaken my moral resources. Is it not to this process of gradual impoverishment that we refer when we say of some man, "Poor fellow, he has got no will left "? 3. But now, see what might have happened. "O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments," five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, or forty years ago: instead of spiritual restlessness and spiritual weakness, "then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." (1) Peace like a river! I don't think it is the figure we should have chosen as a symbol of peace. I rather think we should have taken some lonely mountain tam, some sheet of glassy water, hidden away in the bosom of the everlasting hills, as our symbol of peace. "Peace like a river." The mountain tam is a symbol of ease; the flowing river is the symbol of peace. The river, deep and full and progressive! The Apostle Paul declared that he had the peace which is the gift of Christ. Then it was peace like a river. Was it? Listen to the old man: — I am content," there is peace — full, deep, rich contentment. But listen again — "Not that I am already perfect, . . . I press toward the mark." Peace, but like a river! Fulness with progress! Contentment with aspiration! Life at rest, but moving on to the perfection of God! (2) But more than that, instead of thy present spiritual feebleness, thy righteousness would have been "like the waves of the sea." Take your stand upon the shore, and watch the waves roll in, like an army of white-crested warriors, shaking their snowy plumes, and riding forth to battle. Do you remember that Old Testament figure which describes the strength of the pure — "terrible as an army with banners"? I have sometimes been reminded of the figure as I have stood upon the beach, and watched the great waves rolling in and tossing up their snowy foam — "terrible as an army with banners." "Thy righteousness like the waves of the sea," a conquering and jubilant army Have you ever tried to stop a wave of the sea? It cannot be stopped. "Thy righteousness like the waves of the sea" — nothing shall check it. No threats shall hinder it. No bribe shall allure it aside. Temptations shall be only like those sand-castles which our little ones build along the shore, and thy righteousness shall sweep them away with joyful ease. 4. It would be a poor and melancholy business for a preacher to get up and merely tell his people what might have been; it would be a funeral dirge rather than a Gospel. If the Gospel of God has a tender and inspiring note for anybody, it is for those souls which are burdened with a depressing sense of what might have been. "What might have been" must be followed by "what may be," if souls are to be lifted out of bondage and darkness into liberty and light. Still, if you can get a man to sigh for what might have been, you have laid the foundation for what may be. A sigh for the past is a prayer for the future. Hope may be born out of sorrow, as diamonds are born out of slime. What do we need? Well, first of all we need to know that we have another chance, that we can begin again. Don't let anyone fall into that fatal snare of believing that God has cast them off. God never hides His face. It is we who obscure it. Go down into the West Riding of Yorkshire, and look at those tall mill chimneys as they pour out dense volumes of coal black smoke, which hangs like a dark pall between the inhabitants and God's sky. What would you think if some poet, living in one of these towns, were to begin to cry, "Hide not thy face from us, O blue sky"? The blue sky is not hiding its face; it is your own black smoke that obscures it. Can the obscuring cloud be removed? "I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins."
If you have ever been at St. Andrews, and have looked at the ruins of that great cathedral, you have seen not only the massive walls that are left in a small part of it, but you have seen just the appearance above ground, the whole shape of the cathedral — nothing more than that: you can just form an idea of what it would be if it stood there in all its grandeur. Well, there is left in every man something of this kind. Sin depraves, but it does not obliterate the organic powers and the natural peculiarities and tendencies of the individual. What I might have been — that is not a picture which has altogether vanished in the air; there is some outline of it left, an outline in each man. Of course, these differ very much among themselves, just as pictures differ in a gallery or as human faces in a crowded street, all of which, perhaps, you will find to have a general resemblance, but none of which are exactly alike. The ideal of another person would not be mine, nor mine his. There are diversities.
I. AN APPEAL OF GOD TO MAN. 1. The appeal made by the Almighty to the Jew, and also to the Gentile, is full of pathos and the most intense affection. It tells us how unwilling God was and is that any man, or any body of men, should perish; should pass away from His love and care and protection, and that if anyone did so, it would be their own fault; and that such a consequence of disobedience would be necessary for the upholding of the Divine laws. 2. The manner of the appeal, too, indicates that the Commandments of God had not been properly regarded, and therefore there is a tone of sorrow and regret. The case reminds us of Christ weeping over the doomed city of Jerusalem. If we are neglecting our first and foremost duties with respect to God, if we are so taken up with the world, its different callings; its pleasures, its ambitions, its cares, and its disappointments, as to keep out of view the imperative duty of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and of working out by self-denial and constant obedience to the Almighty will our own personal salvation, then the words of our text, with all their force of meaning, may be applied to ourselves. 3. But such an expression of grief with God is generally predictive of judgment. It was so with the tearful words of the Redeemer. II. THE RESULTS WHICH MIGHT HAVE BEEN; or those which follow obedience to the commandments of God. 1. On the condition of hearkening to or obeying the Divine commands there would follow a peace as full and deep and calm as to be like a river. 2. This latter comparison of righteousness is very striking. Like the waves of the sea for constant activity, for breadth and depth, for a wide circuit of influence, for sublimity, power, and greatness. And such is Christian life and character when considered in their relative bearings on ourselves and society at large.
The words are addressed to a nation; the images before us are images of national life; the peace — that is, the outward prosperity of the people — shall flow like a river; the righteousness of the united people shall be like the prevailing unity, the accumulated power, the forceful, restless energy of the sea waves.
Thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.
1. Religion being the supreme act of the soul, it is not strange that its highest product should claim the grandest symbol in the vocabulary of God for its utterance. Isaiah, whose mind was more ocean-like in grand unity and rich variety of colour than any other prophet, saw so deeply into the nature of righteousness that not the plain, or sky, or mountain, with which he was familiar, offered him so complete a definition of its quality, or so full a suggestion of its life in the soul, as the wonderful sea. Poets have always sought the melodies of ocean to reinforce and complete their own especially when the deeper and larger experiences and hopes of man are touched. 2. Innocence is not righteousness, though many a soul thinks because it has not been stained by sin it is righteous. Innocence has no waves, no perils, no tragedies, no gulf streams, nothing so stormy as a plunging breaker. Innocence is a plain of white snow. The rosy hues of sunset do not glimmer down into its deeps! No one is engulfed in its splendour; no one can sail upon its bosom. It is passionless, without a yearning or a song. Righteousness is like a sea, full of currents; it is restless and restful with living energies. It has perils, and means storm and stress, as well as peace and beauty. It offers opportunities to its sailor for heroisms and enterprises of soul. A mountain can describe justice; it is its portrait, bard, unmovable, grand, crystalline. But righteousness is mobile, just as grand, but full of movement. 3. Even Jesus sought the seaside because He felt most of all souls how something above His soul influenced it as the moon influences the ocean. All nation-builders, poets, great achievers of the intellectual and spiritual wealth of the race know that not from within, or from beneath, but from above the long, sweet influences work to lift the life to its sublime heights. Part of the secret of a strong and blessed life lies in knowing the tides, in counting upon them, and in relying on the fact that these influences from above will do more for our exaltation and joy than any of our own efforts may do. At low tide, with a fresh east wind, a white-capped wave seems to try to reach some beautiful Place on the shore. It yearns and strains and fails. Let it wait till the moon-drawn tide comes under it with soft, strong advances, and lo, the walls of the land are washed to jasper, and the wave has mounted where it never could have reached alone. Wait until God sends His tide and you will reach your highest goal. 4. Righteousness has majestic unity and richest variety, like the waves of the sea. Men would often make one type or aspect of righteousness the judge of all others, and call it alone perfect. The sea is so much like man's soul because it is so much a changeful unit; so like man's righteousness because every man's righteousness takes on all the hues of his personality. At all moments of the day and night the sea is a palette of colours, yet one sea rolls in all this marvel of changing tints. Righteousness is equally variant; it takes on the sky's hues above the soul, and the wonderful tints of the bottom of the sea. The sea is a challenge to man's sense of infinity. It whispers of eternity. So does all genuine righteousness, for it is ageless, and seems to rely on the life everlasting. Its whole mission is to fling us out on the forever of God and the soul. So the sea shall be no more when we have learned its lesson.
God would have a man's righteousness to be like the waves of the sea; that is, He would have him to be possessed of a goodness that cannot be measured, and that can never end. For if we want the symbol of strength, of variety, of voluminousness, abundance, and endlessness, we have it, not in the grand mountains that are called everlasting, but in these ever-fluent never-resting waves of the sea. The waves of the sea! why, they have made all the strata of the world nearly; they have immersed every continent in turn again and again and again; they have been lapping and chafing the shores of this world through ten thousand ages, and roaring in answer to the winds all over the lengths and breadths of the ocean, and yet now, to-day, they are as fresh and young and buoyant as they have ever been before. Well, this is the emblem which God takes to set forth the beauty and glory of man's life.
Walk along the coast-line when the tide has ebbed, mark the wastes of sand, the muddy ooze, the black unsightly rocks. Not thus did God intend that any of His children should be. It was never His will that their righteousness should ebb, that there should be wastes and gaps and breaks in their experience, that there should be the fatal lack of strength and purity and virtue. The Divine ideal of the inner life is mid-ocean, where the waves reach to the horizon on every side, and there are miles of seawater beneath.
1. Is not the first idea of the waves of the sea their multitudinousness? Righteousness, then, like these waves of the sea, would mean an unfailing movement, an active goodness, strong or gentle, reaching over the boundless surface of life, breaking in pure foam and music on every beach. It would mean a kind of limitless and incalculable force, too, not contracted like waters in a pool or pond, but issuing out of vast depths and distances, and swayed by cosmic impulses, so that there is no end, no pause, no exhaustion — a sense of the infinite, a promise of eternity. 2. The second idea must be that of the beauty of the waves of the sea. That is not a modern sentiment; it occurs in the earliest poetry of the world. It was AEschylus that coined the exquisite phrase, "the countless smile of the many-sounding sea," and a poet like Isaiah must have felt that poetry of the sea as you have done. 3. May we add a third suggestion, which would hardly occur, perhaps, to those who knew only the tideless Mediterranean, namely, the beneficence of the waves of the sea. They are for ever washing the land. Our righteousness is intended to have a cleansing effect on the shores of earth. Not like the troubled waters, which throw up mire and dirt — they are intended to ring human life with a belt of ozone, to wash out into the depths the corruptions of the earth, and to fling high upon the shore the sting and the strength of the salt. To influence the world for good is a thought to thrill you with hope and desire, to be good, to do good, to make good.
Go ye forth of Babylon.
There has never been an era in which God's people have not been face to face with a great principle of evil, embodied in a city, confederation, or conspiracy of darkness. Always the same spirit under differing forms. This great system is as strong to-day as when the massive walls of Babylon enclosed their millions, and proudly dominated the world. Some have identified it with the Church of Rome, or the spirit of ecclesiastical assumption, but it is better to consider it as that element which is ever working through human society, which is spoken of as "the world." We are therefore warranted in applying to present surroundings every item in the description given of the olden foe of Israel, and of heeding the summons to go forth. I. SENT TO BABYLON. God's ideal for the chosen people is set forth under a beautiful similitude (ver. 18). This ideal is within the reach of everyone who will hearken to God's commandments. But if we refuse, we may have to pass, as Israel did, into the furnace of suffering in the Babylon of the world. II. LIFE IN BABYLON. The mighty city was called the Lady of kingdoms. We must think of her with massive walls, broad spaces, colossal bulls guarding the entrances to vast temples with flights of stairs and terraces; with pyramids, towers, and hanging-gardens; her wharves receiving the freights of the Indian Ocean; her marts thronged with the merchants of the world; her streets teeming with tributary populations. But right across her splendour ran the fatal bars of cruelty, luxury, wickedness, and devil-worship. Amid such scenes the Jews spent the weary years of their captivity. But through this awful discipline there was slowly emerging a nobler, loftier ideal, which was fostered by the ancient words that foretold their destiny. It was not possible that they should be long holden by their captors. Were they not the elect people of God, destined to bless the world? Yes, they might be in Babylon, like many another captive people, but they had a great hope at their heart. And in the light of that hope, under the searching fires of their anguish, they for ever abandoned their love for idolatry. Some are now in their Babylon. They look back to a sunny past, which might have continued had they not stepped out of the narrow path of obedience. Let such still hope in God: they shall still praise Him; let them repent of their sins and put them away; let them learn the deep lessons which God's Spirit is endeavouring to teach; let them dare to praise God for the discipline of pain. Presently the clarion call of the exodus will ring out. III. EXODUS FROM BABYLON. The old order was changing and giving place to the new. From the ruins of the mightiest city that, perhaps, the world has ever seen, the Jews are bidden to go forth. The summons for an exodus rings out to the Church of the living God.
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