The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.God's Relation to His People
Think of the prophet making a study of the divine relation to the Church. It will be interesting and profitably exciting to follow him in his definition of that relation. Isaiah sees everything that is spiritual with a poet's eye, everything that is political with a statesman's vision. Everything that is future and bearing upon the destiny and development of the Church he sees with that transfiguring glance which makes all common things uncommon, and raises up of the very stones children unto Abraham. Isaiah will have nothing small, contracted, inadequate to the occasion. If he spread a feast it shall be on the mountains, and it shall be such a banquet as never man spread before; if he sing a song it shall be loud as a storm, or soft as a whisper, but such a song as probably never before sought the confidence and fascinated the love of the Church.
According to the prophet the relation of God to his people is a relation that assures enlargement of beneficence on every hand. God and his Church are not locked up together, in some secret place, enjoying spiritual luxuries, whilst all the world is dying of starvation. If we could find such a hint in the Scripture we should burn the book. The Scripture is all for enlargement. The feast cannot be increased; but if it were needful to increase the space within which the guests are to be accommodated God would thrust back the horizon, rather than any man should starve for want of room to sit down in. If any messenger shall return, saying, "Yet there is room," God would send that messenger out again to compel the hungering and homeless to come that they might enjoy a Father's gracious bounty. So we find in the opening verses of this chapter—enlargement:
"Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited" (Isaiah 54:2-3).
That is jubilee—a great offer of hospitality, a sublime promise of inclusion, the tones of whose hallowed music shall strike the remotest listener and assure him of welcome to the sanctuary and the feast. Any religion that narrows and excludes is a lie. Men should more definitely express themselves about these things that there may be no mistake. God loves the world; Christ tasted death for every man: "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." If anywhere there is an indication of narrowness it is only an indication of intensity, as that it shall be hottest at the centre; but on account of the very ardour of the heat at the centre shall be the outgoing rays of warmth and light and comfort until the whole circumference shall vibrate as with a palpitation of thankfulness. The Apostle Paul, writing an epistle which has often been supposed to harbour narrowness, was labouring his very utmost with the help of the Triune God to assure men that God loved the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Yet there are sundry Gentiles who have tied themselves into little knots of favouritism, and excluded both the Jews and everybody else but themselves. They are marplots; they are ignoramuses; what little they know of grammar divests them of ability to understand the spirit. Love cannot be caged with iron; it wants the whole heaven to sing in. But how is this wonderful universality to be secured? How is this enlargement of the tent, and stretching forth of the curtains, and the sparing not of the cords, and the strengthening of the stakes—how is this breaking forth on the right hand and on the left to be secured and realised and turned to the highest advantage? Appearances are against the whole process. That is partially true. But it shall be done:—
"For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called" (Isaiah 54:5).
That is how it is to be done. All these great miracles of love and light and redemption and education are to be wrought by a divine ministry, and not by human mechanism or contrived instrument starting in ignorance and ending in selfishness. All natural and usual law is to be set aside, and God's great miracle is to be brought to fruition amid a wondering silence which shall precede a universal outburst and acclaim, signifying surprise, adoration, and thankfulness. What is this "law" which frightens so many people like an undefined and overpowering shape, rather than figure or presence? Men speak about law as if they understood it: what have we seen about law? How old is the oldest man? We speak with a kind of reverential awe when we point to a man who will soon be ninety. What a marvel! Why, he has not begun to live. What can a man know about law in ninety years, or in ninety centuries? Is there not one law above another? Does not the greater include the less? Are there not horizons beyond horizons? Is not progress but another aspect of recession, by which things run back and increase the space within which our observation is conducted? When we speak of law we speak of one law, one aspect of law, of law modified and conditioned so as to suit our faculties and capacities; but when God uses the word law he fills the universe with the thunder of the music. When we have seen all that we can see of revelation and law and order and purpose, we must say with the patriarch, "Lo, these are parts of his way,"—rather, Lo, these are the whisperings of his voice,—"but the thunder cf his power who can understand?" God's power is pledged in the fifth verse—"thy Maker is thine husband." We have a hundred fathers, ten thousand times ten thousand fathers. We have limited the word husband, the word father, the word mother, as if they had dictionary meanings alone; we have not seen the overflowing meaning, the over-soul that passes into infinite developments of thought and action and love.
Then the prophet affirms that God's relation to his people is one which cannot be altered by temporary alienations:—
"For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer" (Isaiah 54:7-8).
The prophet grows in rapture as he enlarges his vision and assures the Church that God's relation to it may be relied upon to the uttermost:—
"For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee" (Isaiah 54:10).
The prophet assures the Church that she has not yet seen the fulness of her glory:—
"O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones" (Isaiah 54:11-12).
And then finally the prophet assures us that the relation which God sustains to his Church is not affected by human assault:—
"Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn" (Isaiah 54:16-17).