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Isaiah Chapter One                            

 

Isaiah 1

Chapter Contents

The corruptions prevailing among the Jews. (1-9) Severe censures. (10-15) Exhortations to repentance. (16-20) The state of Judah is lamented; with gracious promises of the gospel times. (21-31)

Commentary on Isaiah 1:1-9

(Read Isaiah 1:1-9)

Isaiah signifies, "The salvation of the Lord;" a very suitable name for this prophet, who prophesies so much of Jesus the Saviour, and his salvation. God's professing people did not know or consider that they owed their lives and comforts to God's fatherly care and kindness. How many are very careless in the affairs of their souls! Not considering what we do know in religion, does us as much harm, as ignorance of what we should know. The wickedness was universal. Here is a comparison taken from a sick and diseased body. The distemper threatens to be mortal. From the sole of the foot even to the head; from the meanest peasant to the greatest peer, there is no soundness, no good principle, no religion, for that is the health of the soul. Nothing but guilt and corruption; the sad effects of Adam's fall. This passage declares the total depravity of human nature. While sin remains unrepented, nothing is done toward healing these wounds, and preventing fatal effects. Jerusalem was exposed and unprotected, like the huts or sheds built up to guard ripening fruits. These are still to be seen in the East, where fruits form a large part of the summer food of the people. But the Lord had a small remnant of pious servants at Jerusalem. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. The evil nature is in every one of us; only Jesus and his sanctifying Spirit can restore us to spiritual health.

Commentary on Isaiah 1:10-15

(Read Isaiah 1:10-15)

Judea was desolate, and their cities burned. This awakened them to bring sacrifices and offerings, as if they would bribe God to remove the punishment, and give them leave to go on in their sin. Many who will readily part with their sacrifices, will not be persuaded to part with their sins. They relied on the mere form as a service deserving a reward. The most costly devotions of wicked people, without thorough reformation of heart and life, cannot be acceptable to God. He not only did not accept them, but he abhorred them. All this shows that sin is very hateful to God. If we allow ourselves in secret sin, or forbidden indulgences; if we reject the salvation of Christ, our very prayers will become abomination.

Commentary on Isaiah 1:16-20

(Read Isaiah 1:16-20)

Not only feel sorrow for the sin committed, but break off the practice. We must be doing, not stand idle. We must be doing the good the Lord our God requires. It is plain that the sacrifices of the law could not atone, even for outward national crimes. But, blessed be God, there is a Fountain opened, in which sinners of every age and rank may be cleansed. Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, a deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption, and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression; though we have often dipped into sin, by many backslidings; yet pardoning mercy will take out the stain, Psalm 51:7. They should have all the happiness and comfort they could desire. Life and death, good and evil, are set before us. O Lord, incline all of us to live to thy glory.

Commentary on Isaiah 1:21-31

(Read Isaiah 1:21-31)

Neither holy cities nor royal ones are faithful to their trust, if religion does not dwell in them. Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that is mixed with water may still have the colour of wine. Those have a great deal to answer for, who do not help the oppressed, but oppress them. Men may do much by outward restraints; but only God works effectually by the influences of his Spirit, as a Spirit of Judgment. Sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery. The redemption of the spiritual Zion, by the righteousness and death of Christ, and by his powerful grace, most fully accord with what is here meant. Utter ruin is threatened. The Jews should become as a tree when blasted by heat; as a garden without water, which in those hot countries would soon be burned up. Thus shall they be that trust in idols, or in an arm of flesh. Even the strong man shall be as tow; not only soon broken, and pulled to pieces, but easily catching fire. When the sinner has made himself as tow and stubble, and God makes himself as a consuming fire, what can prevent the utter ruin of the sinner?

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Isaiah

 

Isaiah 1

Verse 1

[1] The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Vision — Or, the visions; the word being here collectively used: the sense is, this is the book of the visions or prophecies. As prophets were called Seers, 1 Samuel 9:9, so prophecies are called visions, because they were as clearly and certainly represented to the prophets minds, as bodily objects are to mens eyes.

Saw — Foresaw and foretold. But he speaks, after the manner of the prophets, of things to come, as if they were either past or present.

Judah — Principally, but not exclusively. For he prophecies also concerning Egypt and Babylon, and divers other countries; yet with respect to Judah.

The days — ln the time of their reign. Whence it may be gathered, that Isaiah exercised his prophetical office above fifty years altogether.

Verse 2

[2] Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

Hear — He directs his speech to those senseless creatures, that he might awaken the Israelites, whom he hereby proclaims to be so dull and stupid that they were past hearing, and therefore calls in the whole creation of God to bear witness against them.

The Lord — This is his plea against them, of the equity whereof he is willing that all the creatures should be judges.

Verse 3

[3] The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Know — Me their owner and master. Knowing is here taken practically, as it is usually in scripture, and includes reverence and obedience.

Verse 4

[4] Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

A seed — The children of wicked parents, whose guilt they inherit, and whose evil example they follow.

Corrupters — Heb. that corrupt themselves, or others by their counsel and example.

Backward — Instead of proceeding forward and growing in grace.

Verse 5

[5] Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

Head — The very head and heart of the body politick, from whence the plague is derived to all the other members.

Verse 7

[7] Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

In your presence — Which your eye shall see to torment you, when there is no power in your hands to deliver you.

As — Heb. as the overthrow of strangers, that is, which strangers bring upon a land which is not likely to continue in their hands, and therefore they spare no persons, and spoil and destroy all things, which is not usually done in wars between persons of the same, or of a neighbouring nation.

Verse 8

[8] And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

Is left — Is left solitary, all the neighbouring villages and country round about it being laid waste.

Verse 10

[10] Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Of Sodom — So called for their resemblance of them in wickedness.

The law — The message which I am now to deliver to you from God, your great lawgiver.

Verse 11

[11] To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

To me — Who am a spirit, and therefore cannot be satisfied with such carnal oblations, but expect to have your hearts and lives, as well as your bodies and sacrifices, presented unto me.

Blood — He mentions the fat and blood, because these were in a peculiar manner reserved for God, to intimate that even the best of their sacrifices were rejected by him.

Verse 12

[12] When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

To appear — Upon the three solemn feasts, or upon other occasions.

Who required — The thing I commanded, was not only, nor chiefly, that you should offer external sacrifices, but that you should do it with true repentance, with faith in my promises, and sincere resolutions of devoting yourselves to my service.

Verse 13

[13] Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

The solemn meeting — The most solemn day of each of the three feasts, which was the last day.

Verse 15

[15] And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

Blood — You are guilty of murder, and oppression.

Verse 16

[16] Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

Wash — Cleanse your hearts and hands.

Verse 17

[17] Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Learn — Begin to live soberly, righteously, and godly.

Judgment — Shew your religion to God, by practising justice to men.

Judge — Defend and deliver them.

Verse 19

[19] If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

If — If you are fully resolved to obey all my commands.

Shall eat — Together with pardon, you shall receive temporal and worldly blessings.

Verse 21

[21] How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.

The city — Jerusalem, which in the reign of former kings was faithful to God.

An harlot — Is filled with idolatry.

Murderers — Under that one gross kind, he comprehends all sorts of unrighteous men and practices.

Verse 23

[23] Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

Rebellious — Against me their sovereign Lord.

Companions of thieves — Partly by giving them connivance and countenance, and partly by practising the same violence, and cruelty, and injustice that thieves used to do.

Gifts — That is, bribes given to pervert justice.

Verse 25

[25] And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:

And purge — I will purge out of thee, those wicked men that are incorrigible, and for those of you that are curable, I will by my word, and by the furnace of affliction, purge out all that corruption that yet remains in you.

Verse 26

[26] And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.

Thy counsellors — Thy princes shall hearken to wise and faithful counsellors.

Called faithful — Thou shalt be such.

Verse 27

[27] Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Redeemed — Shall be delivered from all their enemies and calamities.

With — Or, by judgment, that is, by God's righteous judgment, purging out those wicked and incorrigible Jews, and destroying their unmerciful enemies.

Converts — Heb. her returners, those of them who shall come out of captivity into their own land.

Righteousness — Or, by righteousness, either by my faithfulness, in keeping my promise, or by my goodness.

Verse 29

[29] For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

The oaks — Which, after the manner of the Heathen, you have consecrated to idolatrous uses.

Gardens — In which, as well is in the groves, they committed idolatry.

Verse 31

[31] And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

The strong — Your idols, which you think to be strong and able to defend you.

As tow — Shall be as suddenly and easily, consumed by my judgments, as tow is by fire.

The maker — Of the idol, who can neither save himself nor his workmanship.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Isaiah

 

01 Chapter 1

 

Verses 1-31


Verse 1

Isaiah 1:1

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz

Isaiah the son of Amoz

This is not Amos the inspired herdsman.
It is his glory simply that he was the father of Isaiah. Like many another he lives in the reflected glory of his offspring. The next best thing to being a great man is to be the father of one. (S. Horton.)

Isaiah’s father

The rabbis represent his father Amoz as having been a brother of King Amaziah; but, at any rate, if we may judge from his illustrious son’s name, which means “salvation is from Jehovah,” he was loyal to the national faith in days clouded by sore troubles, political danger threatening from without, and deep religious decay pervading all classes of the community. (C. Geikie, LL. D.)

The vision of Isaiah

The word “vision” is used here in the wide sense of a collection of prophetic oracles (Nahum 1:1; Obadiah 1:1). As the prophet was called a “seer,” and his perception of Divine truth was called “seeing,” so his message as a whole is termed a “vision.” (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)

The time when Isaiah prophesied

Why does the Bible tell us so particularly the time when Isaiah prophesied? Does not the thinker belong to all the ages Does not the poet sing for all time? Why weight the narrative with these thronelogical details? Because you can only judge either a man or his message by knowing the circumstances of his time. If you take a geologist a new specimen he not only wants to know its genus and species, but the matrix out of which it was hewn. The best men not only help to make their times, but their times help to make them. He who is moulded entirely by his surroundings is a human jelly fish--of no account. He who is not influenced at all by “the play of popular passion”--the set of public opinion--is an anachronism, a living corpse. (S. Horton.)

Isaiah’s manly outspokenness

It is a living man who speaks to us. This is not an anonymous book. Much value attaches to personal testimony. The true witness is not ashamed of day and date and all the surrounding chronology; we know where to find him, what he sprang from, who he is, and what he wants. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verses 2-31

Isaiah 1:2-31

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken

God finds vindication in nature

I well remember two funerals going out of my house within a few brief months during my residence in London.
There were cards sent by post and left at the door, in all kindliness; but one dark night when my grief overwhelmed me I looked at some of the cards and could find no vibration of sympathy there. I had not felt the touch of the hand that sent them. I went out into the storm that moaned and raged alternately, and walked round Regent’s Park through the very heart of the hurricane. It seemed to soothe me. You troy I could not find sympathy there. Perhaps not, but I at least found affinity: the storm without seemed to harmonise with the storm within; and then I remembered that He who sent that storm to sweep over the earth loved the earth still, and then remembered that He who sent the storm to sweep over my soul, and make desolate my home, loved me still. I got comfort there in the darkness, and the wild noise of a storm on an autumn night, which I found not in cards of condolence, sincere as in many instances the sympathy of the senders was. Ah me! when man not only failed to sympathise, but also forgot all gratitude and rebelled against his Heavenly Father, I can imagine God looking out to His own universe, to the work of His own hand, and seeking vindication, if not sympathy, as He spoke of man, his rebellion and folly. (D. Davies.)

The sinful nation

I. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE NATION. It was no mean prerogative to become the chosen people of God, but for what was that choice made? Not because of perfect characters surely; but rather to declare among the nations the messages of God; not a nation holy in character, but with a holy errand. When the ten tribes revolted, leaving only a remnant, that remnant must do the errand appointed. Thus did God speak of them as “My people,” “My children.” Our privileges cannot save us, and even our blessings may become a curse. God cannot give to us personally what we will not receive.

II. THE NATIONAL CORRUPTION. What the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is in the New Testament, that is the first chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy in the Old. Deeper degradation than that of Israel it would be hard to find. In Isaiah’s time, gold and silver idols glittered on every street of Jerusalem. By royal authority, worship was given to the sun and moon. At the opening of each new season, snow-white horses, stalled in the rooms at the temple entrance, were driven forth harnessed to golden chariots to meet the sun at its rising. Incense ascended to heathen gods from altars built upon the streets. Vice had its impure rites in the temple itself. The valley of Hinnom echoed the dying screams of children offered as sacrifices in the terrible flames of the hideous Moloch. Words fail in depicting the deep corruption. There is the sting of sin in the plain statement of the awful history, “They have forsaken the Lord,” etc.

III. THE RELATION OF RITUAL TO MORALITY. The more pronounced the ceremonial, the more tenaciously will men cling to it. Thus, in Isaiah’s day, they who had swung their incense to the sun and moon; who had worshipped Baal upon the high places and in the groves; who had cast their children into the burning arms of Moloch, turned immediately from these heathenish practices to worship in the temple. Of burnt offerings and sacrifices there was no end. The purest spiritual worship, like that of Enoch and Abraham and Melchizedek, did not need it; it was given when a nation of slaves, degraded by Egyptian bondage, could appreciate nothing higher, and it was taken away when the true, light was come. There was neither perfection nor spirituality in such a ritual; yet in such a system God tried to elevate the nation to spiritual truths they could not yet apprehend. The ritual could not make morality.

IV. ANY WORSHIP TO PLEASE GOD MUST BE REASONABLE. The Divine appeal claims the undivided attention of the profoundest thoughts; “Come, now, and let us reason together.” (Sermons by the Monday Club.)

The sinful nation

The message to the “sinful nation” with which the book of Isaiah begins has for ourselves the tremendous force of timeliness as well as truth.

I. We are led to consider, that STATE AND NATION ARE INVOLVED TOGETHER. The country is “desolate,” the cities are “burned with fire, and the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.” We remember indeed that the saints have survived in “the dens and caves of the earth.” But these victories of truth and righteousness--God’s power to overrule wickedness--by no means contradict Isaiah’s vision. If it is true that the Founder of the Church can maintain its strength notwithstanding civil turmoil and decay, let us also consider how God magnifies the Church through days of peace and virtue. Jesus Himself waited until the nations were still And what may be the possibilities for His kingdom of the continued growth and happiness of our own country, it is entrancing to contemplate. The treasuries of love, how full they may be! The pastors and teachers for every dark land,--what hosts there may be prepared!

II. Aroused to the consideration of such a problem, we readily appreciate the prophet’s reference to THE RESPONSIBILITY OF RULERS (verse 10). Our own happy visions of the future may all be over clouded if there be but one Ahab in authority. The exhortation, therefore, addresses those who as citizens are to be charged with the duty of placing men in power.

III. We find the prophet distinctly TRACING THE NATIONAL CALAMITIES TO THE NATION’S WICKEDNESS (verses 4-8).

IV. THE PROPHET’S MESSAGE TO HIS COUNTRYMEN IS PARTICULARLY DIRECTED AGAINST THEIR IMPIETY. They have forms of religion enough, indeed. But out of the people’s worship the heart and life have departed. Only the husks remain. Perhaps it will be seen in the end that the Pharisee is not only as bad, but as bad a citizen too, as the glutton and the winebibber. The Pharisaic poison works with a more stealthy force and makes its attacks upon more vital parts. We are to look not only for a sinful nation’s natural decay, but besides for those mighty interpositions of Providence in flood and famine, in pestilence and war, directly for its punishment and overthrow.

V. THE VALUE OF A “REMNANT.” God has been saving remnants from the beginning--Noah, Abraham, Moses, Nehemiah--and the little companies of which such souls are the centre and the life in every age. God’s plans are not spoiled by man’s madness. If many rebel against Him, He saves the few and multiplies their power. The leaven leavens the whole lump again.

VI. Most impressive, therefore, is THE TENDER AND EMPHATIC PROCLAMATION OF MERCY AND PARDON in this chapter. (Hanford A. Edson, D. D.)

I. THE WRITER (verse 1).

The sinful nation

II. THE CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE (Isaiah 1:2-6).

III. THE FRUITS OF THIS CHARACTER (Isaiah 1:7-9).

IV. FALSE EFFORTS TO OBTAIN RELIEF (Isaiah 1:10-15). Murderers may be found at church, making their attendance a cloak for their iniquity or an atonement for their crime. God cannot become a party to such horrible trading.

V. THE TRUE WAY OF DELIVERANCE (Isaiah 1:16-18). God not only describes the disease, but provides the remedy. The fountain is provided; sinners must wash in it--must confess, forsake, get the right spirit, and do right. (J. Sanderson, D. D.)

Isaiah’s sermon

The sermon which is contained in this chapter hath in it--

I. A HIGH CHARGE exhibited in God’s name against the Jewish Church and nation.

1. For their ingratitude (verses 2, 3).

2. For their incorrigibleness (verse 5).

3. For the universal corruption and degeneracy of the people (verses 4, 6, 21, 22).

4. For their rulers’ perverting of justice (verse 23).

II. A SAD COMPLAINT OF THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD which they had brought upon themselves by their sins, and by which they were brought almost to utter ruin (rots. 7-9).

III. A JUST REJECTION OF THOSE SHOWS AND SHADOWS OF RELIGION which they kept up among them, notwithstanding this general defection and apostasy (verses 10-15).

IV. AN EARNEST CALL TO REPENTANCE AND REFORMATION, setting before them life and death (verses 16-20).

V. A THREATENING OF RUIN TO THOSE THAT WOULD NOT BE REFORMED (verses 24, 28-31).

VI. A PROMISE OF A HAPPY REFORMATION AT LAST, and a return to their primitive purity and prosperity (verses 25-27). And all this is to be applied by us, not only to the communities we are members of, in their public interests, but to the state of our own souls. (M. Henry.)

A last appeal

The prophets are God’s storm signals. This was a crisis in Israel’s history. Mercy and judgment had alike failed. The mass of the people had become more hardened. Judgment alone had now become the only real mercy. The prophet was sent to make a last appeal; to warn of judgment.

I. THE CHARGE. They have proved unnatural children. Have disowned their Father. Have failed to meet the claims due from them. Have frustrated the purpose of their national existence. Have, as a nation, wholly abandoned themselves to sin. In spite of exceptional privileges, they have lowered themselves beneath the level of the brutes. Nature witnesses against them, and puts them to shame.

II. THE DEFACE. The prophet imagines them to point to their temple services,--so regular, elaborate, costly,--in proof that their natural relations to their Father have been maintained. But this common self-delusion is disallowed, exposed, repelled. Not ritual, not laborious costly worship is required, but sincerity of heart, integrity of purpose, rightness of mind. Acceptable religious observance must be the spontaneous expression of an inward religious life.

III. THE OFFER OF MERCY. But the day of grace is not even yet past. One last attempt is yet made to arouse the sleeping spiritual sensibilities of the nation by the offer of pardon. Reconciliation is possible only upon amendment.

IV. THE THREAT OF JUDGMENT. Fire alone can now effect the change desired. God cannot be evaded. He is as truly merciful in threatening as in offering pardon. The nation shall be purged, yet not destroyed. Evil shall be consumed. But thereto who, like gold, can stand the fire and come out purified shall be the nucleus of an ideal society, and remodel the national life. All social amendment has its roots in complete purification of individual hearts. The prophet’s dream was never realised. Yet it was not therefore wasted. It was an ideal, an inspiration to the good in after ages. It will one day be realised through the Gospel. (Lloyd Robinson.)

I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me

The Fatherhood of God in relation to Israel

Israel is Jehovah’s men Exodus 4:22, etc.); all the members of the nation are His children Deuteronomy 14:1; Deuteronomy 32:20); He is the Father of Israel, whom He has begotten (Deuteronomy 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:18). The existence of Israel as a nation, like that of other nations, is effected, indeed, by means of natural reproduction, not by spiritual regeneration; but the primary ground of Israel’s origin is the supernaturally efficacious word of grace addressed to Abraham (Genesis 17:15, etc.); and a series of wonderful dealings in grace has brought the growth and development of Israel to that point which it had attained at the Exodus from Egypt. It is in this sense that Jehovah has begotten Israel. (F. Delitzsch.)

Israel’s apostasy

Two things that ought never to have been conjoined--

I. THE GRACIOUS AND FILIAL RELATION OF ISRAEL TO JEHOVAH.

II. ISRAEL’S BASE APOSTASY FROM JEHOVAH. (F. Delitzsch.)

The Fatherhood of God in the Old Testament

Sometimes we imagine that the Fatherhood of God is a New Testament revelation; we speak of the prophets as referring to God under titles of resplendent glory and overpowering majesty, and we set forth in contrast the gentler terms by which the Divine Being is designated in the new covenant. How does God describe Himself in this chapter? Here He claims to be Father: I have nourished and brought up sons--not, I have nourished and brought up slaves--or subjects--or creatures--or insects--or beasts of burden--I have nourished and brought up sons: I am the Father of creation, thefountain and origin of the paternal and filial religion. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Ingratitude

As the Dead Sea drinks in the river Jordan and is never the sweeter, and the ocean all other rivers and is never the fresher, so we are apt to receive dally mercies from God and still remain insensible to them--unthankful for them. (Bishop Reynolds.)

God man’s truest Friend

We are obliged to speak of the Lord after the manner of men, and in doing so we are clearly authorised to say that He does not look upon human sin merely with the eye of a judge who condemns it, but with the eye of a friend who, while he censures the offender, deeply laments that there should be such faults to condemn. Hear, “O heavens, and give ear, O earth: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me,” is not merely an exclamation of surprise, or an accusation of injured justice, but it contains a note of grief, as though the Most High represented Himself to us as mourning like an ill-treated parent, and deploring that after having dealt so well with His offspring they had made Him so base a return. God is grieved that man should sin. That thought should encourage everyone who is conscious of having offended God to come back to Him. If thou lamentest thy transgression, the Lord laments it too. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The parental grief of God, and its pathetic appeal

(with Isaiah 1:3):--I look upon this text as a fragment of Divine autobiography, and as such possessing the greatest significance to us.

I. It presents to us in a striking manner THE SOCIAL SIDE OF GOD’S CHARACTER. It is well for us to remember that all that is tender and lovable in our social experience, so far as it is pure and noble, is obtained from God. The revelation which we have of God presents Him to us, not as isolated from all His creatures, but as finding His highest joy in perfect communion with exalted spirits whom He has created. I love to think that man exists because of this exalted social instinct in God. Further, when God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” methinks I hear but the echo of a Divine, of a God felt feeling. Among the mysteries of Christ’s passion we find an element of suffering which, as God and man, He felt--“Ye shall leave Me alone”; “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” Our God is to us an object of supremest interest because He holds with us the most sacred relationship.

II. Our text represents GOD ON THE DOMESTIC SIDE OF HIS CHARACTER. It is the parental rather than the paternal that we see here. The word father does not express all that God is to us. The illustrations of this Book are not exhausted with those that refer to His fatherhood: “Can a woman forget her sucking child,” etc. (Isaiah 49:15). All that is tender in motherhood,as well as all that is strong in fatherhood, is to be found in Him. It is as a parent that He speaks here: “I have nourished”--or “given nutriment.” In other words, “Out of My rich resources of blessing have I provided for their need; I have nourished and brought up children.” Here we have God’s grief revealed in the light which can only come through such tender and loving channels as parental patience and wounded love.

III. Our text reveals GOD’S CHARACTER IN ITS REPROVING ASPECT. The folly is emphasised by the comparison with two creatures, by no means noted for their intelligence. Yet both are domesticated creatures, and feel the ties of ownership. What is it that domesticates a creature? The creature that recognises man as his master, by that very act becomes domesticated. The higher type of knowledge possessed by the domesticated animal is a direct recognition of its master. The finest creatures possess that. There is a lower grade of knowledge, but yet one which stamps the creature as domesticated. That is an acknowledgment, not of the master directly, but a recognition of the provision which the master has made for its need. “The ox knoweth his owner.” The ass does not do that; but the ass knoweth “his master’s crib.” The ass knows the stall where it is fed, and it goes and is fed there. By that act it indirectly acknowledges the sovereignty of its owner, because it recognises his protection.

IV. The text presents to us THE TENDER AND PATHETIC SIDE OF GOD’S CHARACTER. This is God’s version of human sin. His rebukes are full of pathos. With the great mantle of charity that covers over a multitude of sins, and with the Divine pity that puts the best construction upon human rebellion, He puts all down to ignorance and folly. Observe further, that although they have rebelled against Him, He does not withdraw the name He gave them, Israel--“Israel doth not know: My people doth not consider.” He does not repudiate them. The last thing that love can do is that. There is something exceedingly pathetic in God here making an appeal to creation relative to His relationship with man. What if it gave a relief to the heart of God to exclaim to His own creation that groaned with Him over human sin, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!” Am I imagining? Do we not find a Divine as well as human feeling in Christ’s going to the wilderness or the mountain top in the hours of His greatest need? There, amid God’s creation, He found His Father very near. Here the fact that the child does not know his Heavenly Father is represented as the burden of God’s grief. But in this case the ignorance was wilful This was the burden on the heart of Christ in His prayer (John 17:1-26). There everything is made to depend upon men knowing God as their Father. That is just why we preach. We seek to make it impossible for you to pass through God’s world, and receive from His hands blessings great and boundless, and yet not know Him. We seek to make it impossible for you to look at the Cross and listen to the story of an infinite sacrifice, and yet forget that “God so loved the world,” etc. (D. Davies.)

The heinousness of rebellion against God’s paternal government

The criminality of rebellion must, of course, be affected by the nature of the government and administration against which it is exerted. It must be measured by the mildness and propriety of the system whose authority it renounces, and by the patience, lenity, and wisdom with which that system is administered. If the government be despotic in its character, and administered with implacable or ferocious sternness, it can hardly be unlawful, and may be deserving of commendation. If the government be paternal in its character and administered with paternal sensibilities, then criminal to a degree absolutely appalling.

I. THE PATERNAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. This is seen in--

1. The object of its precepts. The entire and simple aim of all and every one of His commands, and the motives by which He urges them, appear to be an advancement in knowledge, holiness, and felicity, that we may be fitted for His own presence and intimate communion; for the exalted dignities and interminable bliss of the realms where His honour dwelleth.

2. The length of His forbearance. Who but a father, surpassing all below that have honoured this endearing name, could have borne so long and so meekly, with the thankless, the wayward, the audacious, the provoking! Who but a father, such as Heaven alone can furnish, would return good for evil, and blessing for cursing, hundreds and thou sands of years, and then, when any finite experimenter had utterly despaired, resolve to vanquish his enemies, not by terror, wasting and woe, but by the omnipotence of grace and mercy! Who but a GOD, and a paternal GOD, would have closed such a strange and melancholy history as that of Israel, by sending “His Son into the world, not to condemn the world,” etc.

3. The nature of His tenderness. The philanthropist commiserates the distresses of his fellow creatures, and magnanimously resolves to meliorate them. But he is not animated by that lively, that overpowering, self-sacrificing tenderness which prompts the exertions of a father in behalf of his suffering child. No; that tenderness shrinks from no expenditure, falters before no obstacles. And such was the tenderness of God, for it is not said that He so pitied, but that “He so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son,” etc.

II. IF SIN BE THE RESISTANCE OF THE COMMANDS AND CLAIMS, THE MOTIVES AND EXPOSTULATIONS, THE GRACE AND MERCY OF ONE WHO HAS GIVEN US SUCH ILLUSTRIOUS PROOFS OF HIS PATERNAL REGARD AND

GOODNESS--CAN IT BE OTHER THAN REBELLION? Can it be other than rebellion of a most aggravated character? The consideration should silence every whisper of pretension to meritorious virtue, and stir up the sentiments of profound contrition. It should take every symptom of stubbornness away, and make us self-accusing, lowly, and brokenhearted. (T. W.Coit.)


Verse 3

Isaiah 1:3

The ox knoweth his owner . . . but Israel doth not know

Isaiah’s message

What does Isaiah teach about God?
A prophet of his times had much to do in clearing the minds of the people from the confusion, or something worse, into which, as the history shows, the Jews were only too prone to fall. They were surrounded by idolatrous nations, and there was a danger that they might regard Jehovah as though He were like these gods of the nations. Even when they did not sink to this level they were prone to regard Him as their national God, not as the God of all the earth.

I. What the prophet sought to do was to communicate to them something of that view of the MAJESTY OF HIS GLORY AND THE BEAUTY OF HIS HOLINESS which had impressed itself so deeply on his own mind. He had seen God, and he would fain have them see Him also. And where can we search for more sublime conceptions of the spirituality, the holiness, the majesty of God than those which we find in this book?

II. But the teaching of the prophet includes another conception of God which we should be still less prepared to find in the Old Testament. If the lofty conceptions of the Divine spirituality surprise, still more are we impressed with the revelation of THE DIVINE TENDERNESS AND THOUGHT FOR MAN. This is the basis of all those urgent appeals addressed by Isaiah to his own generation. The first chapter strikes the keynote. Here is not a distant God so absorbed in the care of His vast empire that He has no remembrance of His poor children here, and so far removed that between Him and them there can be no sympathy. The prevailing note is that for which we are least prepared--that of Love. There is no dallying with the sin. The apostasy of the people is set forth in its darkest aspects, and the enormity of the rebellion only serves to make more conspicuous the glory of the grace which is proclaimed to these sinners. All their iniquity, their ingratitude, their pride of heart, their forgetfulness of God have not turned the heart of their God from them. Surely these are wondrous teachings to find in this old world record. Isaiah had them from God Himself. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)

The inconsiderateness of mankind towards God

I. A SERIOUS FAULT, common, yea, universal. “Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.”

1. Men are most inconsiderate towards God. One would pardon them if they forgot many minor things, and neglected many inferior persons, but to be inconsiderate to their Creator, to their Preserver, to Him in whose hand their everlasting destiny is placed, this is a strange folly as well as a great sin. If it were only because He is so great, and therefore we are so dependent upon Him, one would have thought that a rational man would have acquainted himself with God and been at peace; but when we reflect that God is supremely good, kind, tender and gracious, as well as great, the marvel of man’s thoughtlessness is much increased.

2. Then, again, man is inconsiderate towards himself in reference to his best interests.

3. Thoughtless man is inconsiderate of the claims of justice and of gratitude, and this makes him appear base as well as foolish. The text says, “Israel doth not know.” Now, Israel is a name of nobility, it signifies a prince; and there are some here whose position in society, whose condition amongst their fellow men, should oblige them to the service of God. That motto is true, “noblesse oblige,”--nobility has its obligations; and where the Lord elevates a man into a position of wealth and influence, he ought to feel that he is under peculiar bonds to serve the Lord. I speak also to those who have been trained in the fear of God. To you more is given, and therefore of you more is required.

4. One sad point about this inconsiderateness is, that man lives without consideration upon a matter where nothing but consideration will avail.

5. This inconsideration, also, occurs upon a subject where, by the testimony of tens of thousands, consideration would be abundantly remunerative, and would yield the happiest results.

II. AGGRAVATIONS WHICH ATTEND IT, in many eases.

1. And first, remember that some of these careless persons have had their attention earnestly directed to the topics which still they neglect. Observe in this passage that these people had been summoned by God to consider. The heavens and the earth were called to bear witness that they had been nourished and brought up by the good Father, and in the fourth verse they are rebuked because they continue to be so unmindful of their God. Now, if a person should for a while forget an important thing, we should not be surprised, for the memory is not perfect; but when attention is called to it again and again, when consideration is requested kindly, tenderly, earnestly, and when because the warning is neglected, that attention is demanded with authority, and possibly with a degree of sharpness, one feels that a man who is still unmindful is altogether without excuse, and must be negligent of set purpose and with determined design.

2. The prophet then mentions the second aggravation, namely, that in addition to being called and admonished, these people had been chastened. They had been chastised, indeed, so often and so severely that the Lord wearied of it. He saw no use in smiting them any more. Their whole body was covered with bruises, they had been so sorely smitten. The nation as a nation had been so invaded and trodden down by its enemies that it was utterly desolate, and the Lord says, “Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more.” I may be addressing someone whose life of late has been a series of sorrows. Know you not that all these are sent to wean you from the world? Will you still cling to it! Must the Lord strike again and again, and again and again, before you will hear Him?

3. It was an additional piece of guiltiness that these people were all the while that they would not consider, very zealous in an outward religion.

4. Yet further, there was an aggravation to Israel’s forgetfulness of God, because she was most earnestly and affectionately invited to turn to God by gracious promises. “Come now, and let us reason together saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” A man might say, “Why should I think of God? He is my enemy.” O man, you know better.

5. As a last aggravation, note that these very people had ability enough to consider other things, for we find that they considered how to get bribes, and were very shrewd in following after rewards; yet they did not know and did not consider their God. Oh, how quick are some men in the ways of evil, and yet, if you talk to them about religion they say it is mysterious, and beyond their power of apprehension. Those same persons will discuss with you the knottiest points of politics, or unravel the abstrusities of science, and yet they pretend they cannot understand the simplicities of revelation. “I am a poor man,” saith one, “and you cannot expect me to know much”; yet, if anybody were to meet that same “poor man” in the street and tell him he was a fool, he would be indignant at such an accusation, and would zealously prove that he was not inferior in common sense. “I cannot,” says one, “vex my brain about such things as these”; yet that very man wears his brain far more in pursuit of wealth or pleasure. If a man has an understanding, and can exercise it well upon minor matters, how shall we apologise for his neglect of his God?

III. THE SECRET CAUSES of human indifference to topics so important.

1. In the case of many thoughtless persons we must lay the blame to the sheer frivolity of their nature.

2. I have no doubt that in every ease, however, the bottom reason is opposition to God Himself.

3. Upon some minds the tendency to delay operates fearfully.

4. Some make an excuse for themselves for not considering eternity, because they are such eminently practical men. I only wish that those who profess to be practical were more truly so, for a practical man always takes more care of his body than of his coat, certainly; then should he not take more care of his soul than of the body, which is but the garment of it? A practical man will be sure to consider matters in due proportion; he will not give all his mind to a cricket match and neglect his business. And yet how often your practical man still more greatly errs; he devotes all his time to money making, and not a minute to the salvation of his soul and its preparation for eternity!

5. I have no doubt with a great many their reason for not thinking about soul matters, is prejudice. They are prejudiced because some Christian professor has not lived up to his profession, or they have heard something which is said to be the doctrine of the Gospel, which they cannot approve of.

6. In most cases men do not like to trouble themselves, and they have an uncomfortable suspicion that if they were to look too narrowly into their affairs they would find things far from healthy. They are like the bankrupt before the court the other day who did not keep books; he did not like his books, for his books did not like him. He was going to the bad, and he therefore tried to forget it. They say of the silly ostrich that when she hides her head in the sand and does not see her pursuers she thinks she is safe; that is the policy of many men.

IV. A few words of EXPOSTULATION. Is not your inconsiderateness very unjustifiable? Can you excuse it in any way? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Instinct compared with reason in its recognition of persons

Adam, previous to his fall, instinctively recognised the relations in which he stood to God, to his only existing fellow creature, and to the beasts of the field. He recognised God as his Creator and Preserver; Eve as partaker of the same nature and the same sympathies with himself,--as one therefore to whom he owed a debt of benevolence and support; the inferior animals as vassals put under his feet. But no sooner did he fall, than his natural acknowledgment of these several relations forsook him. The relations, indeed, themselves existed still; but he lost all sense (or nearly all sense) of the obligations grounded upon them. Of all the three ruptures which took place at the fall, the first was--not only far the most serious, but also--the most total and complete. We do not assert that the natural man has lost all sense of obligation to his fellow creatures and to the beasts of the field. We do not desire to derogate from this amiability, this considerateness, this benevolence;--let them pass for what they are worth. At the same time it should be remembered that such traits of character, however pleasing in themselves, rather aggravate than extenuate the fact of the man’s godlessness. What shall we say to man’s acknowledgment of his family and dependants, but that it gives point to the insult of withholding acknowledgment from God? Nor, although the brute creation revolted from man in the hour of his fall, and became intractable, was this breach of separation total and complete. “The ox knoweth his owner.” Even those animals whose instinct is less keen, whose very name has passed into a proverb of stupidity and stubbornness, do not fail to recognise the place in which, and the hand from which, they are in the habit of receiving their daily sustenance. “The ass knoweth his master’s crib.” (Dean Goulburn.)

Man in his relation to God

I. COMPARE THE RELATIONS SUBSISTING BETWEEN AN INFERIOR AND A SUPERIOR CREATURE WITH THOSE SUBSISTING BETWEEN A SUPERIOR AND THE CREATOR. And it will at once suggest itself that, though these relations may be susceptible of comparison, yet there is an insufficiency in the lower relation to type out the higher. The distance, in point of faculties, between man and the inferior creatures, if great, is at least measurable. Man has the superiority over the brutes in respect of his reason,--but in respect of our mortal bodies, the subjects of infirmity and decay, we are both entirely on a par. Whereas the distance between finite man and the Infinite God is, of course, incalculable. This inadequacy of the comparison suggested in our text will become more evident, as we enter into a consideration of its details. The dumb creature recognises the master, whose property he is “The ox knoweth his owner.” What constitutes man’s right of ownership to the ox? Simply the fact that he has given in exchange for it an equivalent in the gold that perisheth. It was not he who created the ox. If he supports its life, it is only by providing it with a due supply of food, not by ministering to it momentarily the breath which it draws. So much for man’s ownership of the ox. Turn we now to God’s ownership of man. What constitutes God’s right of ownership in us, His intelligent creatures?

1. The fact that we are the work of His hands. This constitutes a claim to our services, a property in all our faculties, whether bodily or mental, which no one creature can have in the faculties of another.

2. But creation is not the only ground on which God’s ownership of man rests. Of all things which we may be said to own, our property is most entire, in those things which, having been once deprived of them by fraud or violence, we have subsequently paid a price to recover. That claim, grounded originally upon the fact of creation, has been confirmed, and extended by the fact of redemption. “Ye are not your own,” says the apostle Paul; “for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Where, in the whole realm of nature, shall we seek a claim so overwhelmingly powerful as this, upon the unreserved devotion of our hearts,--of all that we are and all that we have?

3. But our text suggests to us another detail of the claims which our heavenly Owner has upon our allegiance. “The ass knoweth his master’s crib.” He knows the hand that feeds him and the manger at which he is fed. It asks no scintillation of intelligence, no high effort of an almost rational instinct, to recognise this claim. If man seems to ignore those claims of God which are established by creation and redemption, it might haply be pleaded in his behalf that he is a creature of the senses, and that the facts of creation and redemption are not cognisable by the senses. These stupendous facts are transacted and past, and as far as our animal life is concerned, we do not seem to derive any present benefit from them. But is not even this paltry justification entirely cut off by the fact here implied, that man is indebted to his God for his daily maintenance, for the comfort and the continuance even of his animal life? Our every period of refreshment and repose, of ease and relaxation from toil, is from the unseen hand of our heavenly Owner. It is not, then, the brute creation in a savage state, whose relations towards man are here drawn into comparison with the relations of man towards God. The inspired writer has chosen, as best adapted to illustrate his argument, instances from the domestic animals, who are domiciliated with man, who share his daily toils, and live as his dependants in the immediate neighbourhood of his home. He mentions not the wild and untamed buffalo, which ranges in the distant prairie, but the patient ox and ass, accustomed from early youth to the restraints of the yoke, and familiarised by long habit with their master’s abode and ways of life. Neither, on the other hand, in drawing out the contrast, does he mention mankind generally; the charge of ingratitude is here brought against a specific portion of the human race. Israel doth not know--My people doth not consider.” It were, in some measure, excusable that the Gentiles should refuse acknowledgment to the living God. They possess no revelation of His will. If Israel entertain a secret distaste for the things of God, it is not that such things are strange to him,--jar with his old prejudices or grate upon his early associations. And that which enhances so peculiarly the guilt of Israel enhances yet more the guilt of that Gentile who, by the reception of the first sacrament of the Gospel, has become a fellow citizen with the saints and of the household of God. We might reasonably expect, then, that the baptized at least, whatever others may do, will yield to their Creator, Redeemer, Benefactor, and adopted Father some heartfelt tribute of acknowledgment.

II. A CONTRAST IS DRAWN BETWEEN THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT MADE BY DUMB ANIMALS OF THEIR RELATION TO THEIR OWNERS AND ISRAEL’S REFUSAL OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT TO HIS GOD.

1. And first of the dumb animal’s acknowledgment of his owner. “The ox knoweth his owner.” I understand the term “know” in the ordinary sense of recognising. The cattle recognise the voice of their owner. A word, either of menace or of caress, if addressed to them in the well-known accents of their lord, has an instantaneous effect. Not so the menaces or caresses of strangers. What a cutting proof upon the insensibility of God’s people!

2. “Israel doth not know” The professing members of God’s household, the Church, heed not the calls which He is daily addressing to them by the dealings of His providence without, and the pleadings of His Spirit within them.

The distinction between knowledge and consideration

It would appear, from this verse, that the children of Israel neither knew nor considered--but still there is a distinction suggested by it between these two things. And in the Book of Malachi, we have a similar distinction, when the Lord says to the priests, “If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart.” It is, in fact, possible for a man to do one of these things, and not to do the other. He may know the truth, and yet he may not consider it. He may hear, and yet not lay it to heart. And thus it is that we may gather the difference which there is between knowledge and wisdom. The one is a speculative acquirement. The other is a practical faculty or habit. By the latter, we turn to its profitable use the former. Thus it is that there may be great folly along with great scholarship; and, on the other hand, may an unlettered mind be illustrious in wisdom. You have perhaps seen when there was great wealth, and yet, from the want of judicious management, great want of comfort in a family; and what stands in beautiful contrast with this, you may have witnessed the union of very humble means, with such consideration in the guidance of them, as to have yielded a respectable appearance, and a decent hospitality, and the sufficiency of a full provision. And so, with the treasures of intellect, the acquisitions of the mind, whereof one may be rich, being possessed of most ample materials in all knowledge, and yet have an ill-conditioned mind notwithstanding; and another destitute of all but the most elementary truths, may yet, by a wise application of them, have attained to the true light and harmony of the soul, and be in sound preparation both for the duties of time and for the delights of eternity. All have so learned to number their days as to know the extreme limit of human life upon earth; yet all have not so learned to number their days as to apply their hearts unto wisdom. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Knowledge and wisdom

I. This distinction between knowledge and wisdom is abundantly realised even on THE FIELD OF EARTHLY AND OF SENSIBLE EXPERIENCE. The man of dissipation may have his eyes open to the ruin of character and of fortune that awaits him, yet the tyranny of his evil desires constrains him to a perseverance in the ways of wretchedness. The man of indolence may foresee the coming bankruptcy that will ensue on the slovenly management of his affairs, yet there is a lethargy within that weighs him down to fatal inactivity. The man of headlong irritation may be able to discern the accumulating mischief that he raises against himself, and yet continue as before to be hurried away by the onward violence that seizes him. In all these instances there is no want of knowledge in possession. But there is a want of knowledge in use, or in application. The unhappy man has received the truth, but he does not give heed unto the truth.

II. But what we have affirmed, even of those events and consequences that take place along the journey of this world, is still more strikingly apparent of THAT GREAT EVENT WHICH MAKES ITS TERMINATION. There is not a human creature of most ordinary mind, and who hath overstepped the limits of infancy, that does not know of death, and with whom it does not rank among the most undoubted of the certainties that await him. And it is not only that of which he is most thoroughly assured, but it is that of which, in the course of observation and history, he is most constantly reminded. But how is it truly and experimentally? That death of which we all know so well, is scarcely ever in our thoughts. The momentary touch of grief and of seriousness, wherewith we are at times visited, speedily goeth into utter dissipation. It seems not to work the slightest abatement in the eagerness of man after this world’s interests. It needs no impetuous appetite to overbear the thought of death; for in the calm equanimity of many a sober and aged citizen, you will find him as profoundly asleep to the feeling of his own mortality as he is to any of the feelings or instigations of licentiousness. Death is the stepping stone between the two worlds; and so it somewhat combines the palpable of matter, with the shadowy and the evanescent of spirit. It is the gateway to a land of mystery and of silence, and seems to gather upon it some thing of the visionary character which the things of faith have to the eye of the senses. And so, amid all the varieties of temperament in our species, there is a universal heedlessness of death. It seems against the tendency of nature to think of it. The thing is known, but it is not considered. This might serve to convince us how unavailing is the mere knowledge, even of important truth, if not accompanied by the feeling, or the practical remembrance of it. The knowledge in this case only serves to aggravate our folly. Thus, the irreligion of the world is due not to the want of a satisfying demonstration on God’s part, for this might have excused us; but to the want of right consideration on ours, and this is inexcusable.

III. Let us now pass onwards to THE INVISIBLES OF FAITH--to those things which do not, like death, stand upon the confines of the spiritual region, but are wholly within that region, and which man hath not seen by his eye, or heard by his ear--to the awful realities that will abide in deep and mysterious concealment from us, so long as we are in the body. This character of unseen and spiritual is not confined to things future. There are things present which are spiritual also. There is a present Deity, who dwelleth in light, it is true; but it is light inaccessible. And yet, even of this great Spirit we may be said, in one sense, to know, however little it is that we may consider Him. There are averments about God which we have long recognised and ranked among our admitted propositions, though we seldom recur to them in thought, and are never adequately impressed by them. We know, or think we know, that God is; and that all other existence is suspended upon His will; and that He is a God of inviolable sacredness, in whose presence evil cannot dwell. Now, as a proof how distinct this knowledge of God is from the consideration of Him, we will venture to say that even the first and simplest of all these propositions is, by many unthought of for days and weeks together. In the work that you prosecute, and the comforts that you enjoy, and even the obligations of which you acquit yourselves to relatives and to friends, is there any fear of God before your eyes?--and is not the fear of disgrace from men a far more powerful check upon your licentiousness, than the fear of damnation from Him who is the judge and the discerner of men? This emptiness of a man’s heart as to the recognition of God runs throughout the whole of his history. He is engrossed with what is visible and secondary and he thinks no farther. When he enjoys, it is without gratitude. When he enjoys, it is without the impulse of an obedient loyalty. When he admires, it is without carrying the sentiment upwardly unto heaven. Now, this is God’s controversy with man in the text. He there complains of our heedlessness. And this inconsideration of ours is matter of blame, just because it is a matter of wilfulness. Man has a voluntary control over his thoughts.

IV. But the distinction between those who only know and those who also consider, is never more strongly marked than in THE PECULIAR DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL. And fearful is the hazard lest knowledge and it alone should satisfy the possessor. The very quantity of debate and of argument that has been expended on theology, leads to a most hurtful misconceiving of this matter. The design of argument is to carry you onward to a set of accurate convictions. And yet, the whole amount of your acquisition may be a mere rational Christianity. There are no topics on which there has been so much of controversy, or that have given rise to so many an elaborate dissertation, as the person and offices of Christ. Yet, let it not be disguised that the knowledge of all these credenda is one thing, and the practical consideration of them is another. First, He is the Apostle of our profession, or we profess Him to be our Apostle. Let us bethink ourselves of all which this title implies. It means one who is sent. How it ought to move us with awe at the approach of such a messenger when we think of the glory and the sacredness of His former habitation! And what ought to fasten upon Him a still more intense regard, He comes with a message to our world--He comes straight from the Divinity Himself, and charged by Him with a special communication. By your daily indifference to the word that is written, you inherit all the guilt, and will come under the very reckoning of those, who, in the days of the Saviour, treated with neglect the word that was spoken. There is one topic which stands connected with the apostleship of Christ, and that stamps a most peculiar interest on the visit which He made to us from on high. He is God manifest in the flesh. In the character of a man hath He pictured forth to us the attributes of the Divinity. And we, by considering this Apostle, learn of God. But this leads us to another topic of consideration, the priesthood of Christ. The atonement that He made for sin has a foremost place in orthodoxy. But, a truth may be acquired, and then,--cast, as it were, into some hidden comer of the mind,--may lie forgotten, as in a dormitory. And therefore would we again bid you consider Him who is the High Priest of your profession we call upon you, ever and anon, to think of His sacrifice; and to ward off the legality of nature from your spirits, by a constant habit of recurrence, upon your part, to the atonement that He hath made, and to the everlasting righteousness that He hath brought in. Without this, the mind is ever lapsing anon into alienation and distrust. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Inconsiderateness

It is not a charge brought against the human family in general. The terms are special, “My people doth not consider.” If, then, the chiefs and leaders of society have fallen into inconsiderateness, what wonder that the nameless multitude should be giddy? The salt has lost its savour and the high city has concealed its beauty. It was not left for unbelievers and scoffers to bring the severest accusations against the Church; God Himself has marked her shortcomings and loudly charged her with sin! Never has He been the special pleader of His people; He never sought to make out a case for them in spite of facts or even appearances; with solemn fidelity and poignant grief He has shown the Church her corruptness and made her ashamed in the presence of her enemies. We shall dwell on the subject of Inconsiderateness as it bears upon the Church and upon men generally. There are two noticeable points common to both. Why do not men consider?

1. Not for want of opportunity. There are the great heavens which David considered; there are the lilies which Jesus Christ charged men to consider; there are the signs of the times, full of significance; a thousand objects, indeed, daily challenge our thoughtfulness.

2. Not for want of reproof or encouragement. Failures, disappointments, blunders, beyond numbering, have shown us the mischief of inconsiderateness. On the other hand, consideration has always rewarded us with the quietness of a good conscience; yet again and again we cease to be thoughtful. Let us look upon inconsiderateness--

I. IN ITS REASONS.

1. Inconsiderateness saves intellectual trouble. Men do not like to think deeply. They prefer to skim the surface, and instead of working steadily for results, they choose to snatch at anything which may serve them for the passing moment. A decline of thoughtfulness is also a decline of moral strength! The Church thinks but little. Nearly all its propositions have been accepted on trust. Observe! Jesus Christ always challenged the thought of those who beard Him. He never discouraged honest and devout inquiry. He never said a word in praise of ignorance. No authority of His can be quoted for intellectual indolence. Christianity vivifies the intellect.

2. Inconsiderateness mitigates moral compunction. It does this by concealing a man from himself. Men, in many instances, dare not consider themselves. One look at their own hearts would affright them! We may think well of ourselves simply because we do not know ourselves. Pain comes with self-knowledge; but if pain drive men to the Healer, it will be to them as the angel of God.

3. Inconsiderateness escapes social obligation. There is ignorance to be taught; but we don’t go into the question! There is misery to be alleviated; but we think nothing about it! There is a man dying in the road; but we pass by on the other side! (Proverbs 24:12.)

II. IT ITS RESULTS.

1. Practical atheism. God is acknowledged with the lips, but He hath no place in the heart. Things are viewed from the outside, and secondary causes are looked upon as primary and original.

2. Spiritual feebleness. Without consideration no man can be strong. He has no abiding convictions. There is nothing about him or within him which he is unprepared to cast off under pressure.

3. Needless alarm. The man who has spent no time in quiet thinking mistakes the bearing of unusual circumstances. A shadow frightens him. He has no grasp of history. Having eyes, he sees not.

4. Self-deprivation. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Fatal inconsideration

I shall treat of the charge here brought against the ancient Jews in a double view--

I. AS IT MORE ESPECIALLY CONCERNS IMPENITENT SINNERS. It is the proper character of all the impenitent, that they do not and will not consider. This is the ground of their guilt, and the fatal cause of their ruin. Consideration is the same as attentively applying the mind to things, according to their respective nature and importance, in order to our having the clearer apprehension of them, and knowing how we ought to act in relation to them. And, forasmuch as the things of religion are of the highest nature, and the utmost conceivable importance, our considering these things must imply our looking into them, and pondering them with the greatest care, and seriousness, and impartiality; and this with a view of our being able to form a truer and more distinct judgment concerning them, and concerning the manner in which they ought to influence our actions; to the end we may be effectually led and determined to act as we ought, and as the nature and importance of the things should persuade us to do. We must attend carefully, examine impartially, think and reflect seriously, that we may judge, and resolve, and act rightly. I shall--1. Instance some particulars in which it is manifest the persons I am now speaking of do not consider.

2. Set before you the deplorable consequences of this neglect of serious consideration.

Application--

II. AS IN A LESSER DEGREE IT TOO FREQUENTLY AFFECTS PERSONS OF SINCERE PIETY. All that consideration which is necessary to the essence of virtue and piety, they practise; but not always that which is requisite to a state of greater perfection. There are several things which too plainly prove their want of consideration.

1. The errors and failings of which they are too often guilty. I do not mean those which are so incident to human nature in the present state, that it is next to impossible to preserve ourselves entirely free from them; but those which, with due care and circumspection, we might easily enough avoid.

2. Sloth and inactivity in a virtuous and religious course of life is another argument of a defective consideration, even in good men. Akin to this is--

3. That indevotion in the exercises of religious worship, which Christians are too apt to slide into, and which too visibly argues their disuse of that consideration which would be of admirable service to fan the sacred fire, when it began to grow dull and languid. “While I was musing,” saith the Psalmist, “the fire burned.”

4. The love of the world, which has too much the ascendant over some pious minds, and their being so greatly moved, if not unhinged, by the shocks and changes of it, must often be ascribed to the same cause.

5. A misplaced and misconducted zeal; a zeal for opinions and practices we know not why, and this zeal under so little government, as to occasion bitter strife and animosity among Christians, and raise such disturbances in the Church of God, as hinder its flourishing state; this likewise shews that men do not consider.

6. It is many times because they do not consider that they who are religious do not enjoy their religion. (H. Grove, M. A.)

Reasons for consideration

1. Consideration is the proper character of reasonable beings: this faculty is the main distinction of the man from the beast; and the exercise of it, of the wise man from the fool

2. We show that we can consider in the things of this life; and why not then in the things of religion?

3. Do your part, and God will not with hold His grace, by which you shall be enabled to do all required of you.

4. By time and use this exercise, however ungrateful at first, will become more easy and pleasant.

5. Consideration is further recommended by its most blessed effects. As, to mention only two of a more general nature: the first, our being converted from the error of our ways; the other, our constant perseverance in the practice of holiness.

6. Were there nothing else but this one motive to engage you to consider, this one should be irresistible, that it is absolutely necessary: it cannot be dispensed with; the consequence of neglecting it is fatal, and never to be retrieved. (H. Grove, M. A.)

Man shamed by the lower animals

A fine pass man is come to when he is shamed even in knowledge and understanding by these silly animals; and is not only sent to school to them (Proverbs 6:6-7), but set in a form below them (Jeremiah 8:7); “taught more than the beasts of the earth”Job 35:11), and yet knowing less. (M. Henry.)

Inconsideration

Inconsideration of what we do know is as great an enemy to us in religion as ignorance of what we should know. (M. Henry.)

God’s grief became His children do not know Him

An ancestor of mine was once imprisoned for righteousness’ sake, and among the tenderest traditions which have been handed down to me is this, that when that strong man entered gaol not a nerve quivered, and not a look of sorrow was seen upon his countenance. Again, when he was released and met his friends, he bore up heroically; the joy of deliverance did not break him down: but when he entered his home, and when the little child on the mother’s knee, that a month or so before had known its father, did not know him, but turned away from him, the strong man wept as a child. He burst into tears and sobs. The grief of God here is that His own children did not know Him. (David Davies.)


Verse 4

Isaiah 1:4

Ah, sinful nation

God’s indignation against sin

The word “ah” is not an interjection, indicating a mere sighing of pity or regret; the word should not be spelt as it is here, the letters should be reversed, it should be “ha,” and pronounced as expressive of indignation.
God does not merely sigh over human iniquity, looking upon it as a lapse, an unhappy thing, a circumstance that ought to have been otherwise; His tone is poignant, judicial, indignant, for not only is His heart wounded, but His righteousness is outraged, and the security of His universe is threatened,--for the universe stands in plumb line, in strict geometry, and whoever trifles with the plumb, with the uprightness, tampers with the security of the universe. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A sinning nation

The original words used in reference to God’s ancient people are “a sinning nation,” which denotes a nation sinning habitually. There are three ways in which a nation becomes sinful.

I. WHEN THE GREAT BODY OF THE PEOPLE CONSENT TO OR APPROVE OF THE SINS OF FORMER GENERATIONS. Thus Christ said to the Jews, “Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers.”

II. WHEN THE GREAT BODY OF THE PEOPLE CONSENT TO THE SINS OF THEIR RULERS. Thus the Jews were a sinful nation, because they approved of the deeds of their rulers in killing the prophets and in crucifying Christ, and these sins are expressly charged against them, and were visited upon them nationally.

III. WHEN THE GENERALITY OF THE PEOPLE ARE LIVING IN THEIR OWN REASONS. Such was the state of the Jews when Isaiah charged them with contempt of God, hypocrisy and manifold habitual transgressions. (Original Secession Magazine.)

Savonarola and Florence

Florence, in the days of Lorenzo the Magnificent, had become practically a pagan city. She had fallen from Christ as Jerusalem from Jehovah. One of her historians descants upon her as being “hopeless morally, full of debauchery, cruelty, and corruption, violating oaths, betraying trusts, believing in nothing but Greek manuscripts, coins and statues, and caring for nothing but pleasures.” It was into such a city, to which Isaiah’s prelude would almost literally apply, that Savonarola came. Seeing, as he expressed it, “the world turned upside down,” he traversed the streets and wandered along the banks of the Arno, musing and weeping over the great misery of the world, and the iniquities of men, and the enormous wickedness of the people of Italy. Then, after a time of probation at the convent of San Marco, he burst upon the Florentines as a prophet of fiery eloquence and uncompromising virtue, of a fearless character, and with Divine insight akin to that of his great prototype, Isaiah of Jerusalem. Through internal troubles, and assaults from without, he warned the people and their rulers, endeavouring to turn their hearts to God, and to stay them upon Him. To the priests he said, that the false and lukewarm among them, the dumb dogs that could not bark, had perverted the people, and prejudiced them against the truth. “Before all, the wicked priests and servants of the Church are the guilty causes of this corruption as also of the coming calamities.” “He cried aloud to the populace, Thou knowest, thou knowest, O Florence, that I would have thee a spiritual State. I have always shown thee clearly that a kingdom is only strong in proportion as it is spiritual, by being more closely related to God.” Thus faithfully and boldly spoke out Savonarola what was in him from the Holy Spirit. (F. Sessions.)

Corrupters

“Corrupters”

Sons that are as cankerworms; sons that throw poison into pellucid water streams; sons that suggest evil thoughts to opening minds. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The force of example

Have fellowship with the lame and you will learn to limp. (Latin Adage.)

The corrupt are corrupters

One rotten apple will infect the store; the putrid grape corrupts the whole cluster. (F. Jacox.)

Companionship in evil

Men love not to be found singular, especially where the singularity lies in the rugged and severe paths of virtue: company causes confidence, and gives both credit and defence, credit to the crime, and defence to the criminal (R. South, D. D.)

The contagion of character

“Do you see,” said Dr. Arnold to an assistant master who had recently come to Rugby, “those two boys walking together? I never saw them together before; you should make an especial point of observing the company they keep;--nothing so tells the changes in a boy’s character.” (F. Jacox.)

Bad company injurious

He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas. (Spanish proverb.)

Leading others astray

A father bade his son set up some bricks endways, in regular line a short distance apart. “Now,” said he, “knock down the first brick.” The boy obeyed, and all the others fell with it. “Now,” said the father, “raise the last brick and see if the others will rise with it.” But no, once down, they must be raised singly. Said the father, “I have given you this object lesson to teach you how easy it is for one to lead others astray, but how difficult for him to restore them, however sincere his repentance may be.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)

They have forsaken the Lord

A specific and terrible indictment

What have they done? They have done three things. It is no general accusation that is lodged against Judah and Jerusalem, and through them against all the nations of the earth; it is a specific indictment, glittering with detail.

I. “THEY HAVE FORSAKEN THE LORD.” By so much their action is negative; they have ceased to attend the altar; they have neglected to read the Italy writing; they have turned their backs upon that towards which they once looked with open face and radiant eye.

II. “THEY HAVE PROVOKED THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL UNTO ANGER.” Observe how the intensity increases, how the aggravation deepens and blackens; they have grown bold in sin; they have thrown challenges in the face of God; they have defied Him to hurl His thunderbolts and His lightnings upon them.

III. “THEY ARE GONE AWAY BACKWARD.” They forsook, they provoked, they apostatised. Sin has its logical course as well as holiness. Men do not stand still at the point of forsaking God: having for a little while forsaken Him, they will find it almost necessary to provoke Him, that they may justify themselves to themselves and to others, saying, Even provocation cannot awaken the judgment of heaven with any sign of impatience; and having provoked the Holy One of Israel, the next point will be universal apostasy, a thorough off-casting of the last traces and semblances of religion. See if this be not so in the history of the individual mind. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Moral gravitation

There is a law of gravitation, spiritual as well as physical, and now the man who has begun by forsaking will end by going backward, his whole life thrown out of order, decentralised; and he perpetrates the irony of walking backwards, and his crab-like action will bring him to the pit. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The Holy One of Israel

The Holy One of Israel

That is, “He who shows Himself holy in Israel.” (Prof. T. K. Cheyne.)


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 1:5-6

Why should ye be stricken any more?
--

The power of evil habits

There are no passages in Holy Writ more affecting than those in which God seems to represent Himself as actually at a loss, not knowing what further steps to take in order to bring men to repentance and faith (Isaiah 5:4; Hosea 6:4). Of course, the chastisements may be continued, but the experience of the past attests but a strong likelihood that further afflictions would effect no reform. God, therefore, can only ask, and the question is full of the most pathetic remonstrance--“Why should ye be stricken any more?”

1. Now, observe that it was a long course of misdoing that had brought the people into such a morally hopeless condition. It was the habit of committing sin, the habit of resisting the admonitions and the chastisements of God that had at last exhausted the resources of Divine wisdom. The words in which Jeremiah states the tremendous power of habit are very striking--“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Yet our text, probably, puts it in a yet more affecting point of view--the considering wherefore it is that men who have long been accustomed to do evil, thereby bring themselves morally into such condition, that God, as if in despair, is forced to exclaim “Why should ye be stricken any more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” Now, they can know very little of their moral constitution, and of the tendency of their nature, who are not thoroughly aware how, as a general rule, the doing a thing twice facilitates the doing it again. We have no right to complain of there being such a law, for it is of universal application, and will therefore be every jot as beneficial to us if we aim at doing good, as detrimental if we allow ourselves to do evil. The man who has yielded to a temptation will undoubtedly find himself less able to resist when that temptation assails him again. But if he have overcome, he will as undoubtedly find himself better able to withstand. The inveterate habit and the seared conscience are so far necessary companions, that when we wish to induce a man to abandon a long-cherished practice, we do not reckon on any such keenness of the moral sense, as will make it second our remonstrance, or give point to our advice; and this it is which renders almost; desperate the case of those who have been long living in any known sin. Such men must have won that most disastrous of victories--the victory over conscience. Therefore, we hardly know under what form to shape our attack. Our position takes for granted that there is an internal monitor, so that the voice from without, answered from the voice from within, may force for itself an audience, and cause a present conviction, if not a permanent resolution; but now the internal monitor is wanting; the voice from without calling forth no voice from within, would seem to have no organ to which to address itself, and therefore our words will be as much wasted as though spoken to the air. Hence it is we are so urgent with the young that they put not off to a later day the duties of religion. The young seem to imagine that the question between us and them is simply a question as to the probabilities of life; and that if they could ensure themselves a certain number of years, they should run no risk in delaying, for a time the giving heed to religion. Thus they take no account of the inevitable result of a continuance in sin, namely, that there will be generated a habit of sin, so that when the time shall be reached which they themselves may have fixed as suited to repentance, they will be widely different beings from what they are when resolved to delay--beings tied and bound with fetters forged and fastened by themselves, and wanting in the principle which might urge them to the breaking loose from the self-imposed bondage. It is this which makes the aged sinner so unpromising a subject for the ministrations of the Word--not his being old in years, but his being old in sin. This is the first evidence which we advance as to the truth of that fearful fact which we derive from our text--the fact that habitual sin brings even God Himself into a perplexity as to how to deal with the sinner; makes it difficult for Him to employ further means for recovering that sinner from wickedness.

2. There is a yet worse thing to be said. The man who persists in sinning, till to sin has become habit, alienates from him that Holy Spirit of God whose special office it is to lead us to repentance, and renew our fallen nature. It is not by an occasional act of sin that a man may “quench” the Spirit; though his every transgression may “grieve” that Spirit. You will observe what a correspondence there is between quenching the Spirit and quenching the conscience. So connected, if not identified, are conscience and the Holy Spirit, so actually is the one an engine through which the other works, that in proportion as man succeeds in deadening his conscience, he advances towards quenching the Spirit. Why wonder then at the expression of our text?

3. Our text implies a great difficulty rather than an impossibility, and it ought not therefore to be without some measure of hope that the minister addresses even those who are the slaves of bad habits. The Spirit, it may be, does not so depart as to determine that He will not return We may rather regard Him as hovering over the transgressor who has so pertinaciously grieved and withstood Him; and let there be only the least intimation of a wish for His presence, and He may descend, and take up His abode in the soul which He has been forced to forsake. And, if conscience were but roused, there may be a desire for the return of the Spirit. Whilst we do not shut the door even against habitual sinners, our great effort must be that of persuading men against the forming bad habits. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The power of evil habit

If a man be a confirmed drunkard or gambler, it has almost passed into a proverb, that there is but little hope of reform, and you regard it as little short of miracle if he be brought to abandon the wine or the dice. In such instances, the habit forces itself on your notice in all its fearful tyranny. The efforts to break sway are made, in a certain sense, in public, and whether they fail or succeed, you are able to observe. But if these be the more notorious cases of striving against the power of an evil habit, you are not to think that the power may not be as actuary, or as injuriously exerted in cases where there is little or nothing of manifest tyranny. There may be habits of mental or moral indulgence; habits of self-indulgence; habits of covetousness; habits of indifference to serious things; habits of delaying the season of repentance--these may be, and often are found in one and the same person; and though, unquestionably, no one of these can be parallel to the habit by which the drunkard or the gambler is enthralled, yet they resemble so many lesser cords tying down a man in place of one massive chain; and the endeavour to break loose will be equally likely to be unsuccessful. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The deceitfulness of sin

In this, and in the like cases, it is especially by and through its deceitfulness, that sin produces final obduracy, making “the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint.” The man is blinded to the fact, that he is being hardened; it is all done underhand; and while there is the rapid formation of an inveterate habit of indulgence, a depraved inclination, or a habit of covetousness, or a habit of selfishness, or a habit of procrastination, there may be great ease and satisfaction, and a feeling of cordial commiseration for those slaves of their passions who may be said hardly to put forth exertion, and to be led captive by Satan at his will. Away then with the limiting the power of evil habits to persons who live in the practice of gross sins. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Sin not self-reformatory

It might seem, if sin can be called unnatural and monstrous, that nature could shake it off, and return to her own law. It might seem also that the results of sin would cure the sinner of his evil tendencies, and send him back on the path of wisdom. We grant that a man in a state of sin may be led to abandon some sin, or some excess of sin, from considerations of prudence. We grant also that affliction softens many characters which it fails to lead to sincere repentance, by lowering their pride, or by sobering their views of life. We have no doubt that the seeds of a better life are sown amid the storms and floods of calamity. And for the Christian it is certain that sorrow is a principal means of growth in holiness. Nay, it may even happen that a sin committed by a Christian may, in the end, make him a better man, as Peter, after his denial of Christ. We admit, also, that a life of sin, being a life of unrest and disappointment, cannot fail of being felt to be such, so that a sense of inward want, a longing for redemption, enters into the feelings of many hearts that are not willing to confess it. But all this does not oppose the view which we take of sin, that it contains within itself no radical cure, no real reformation Man is not led by sin into holiness. The means of recovery lie outside of the region of sin, beyond the reach of experience,--they lie in the free grace of God, which sin very often opposes and rejects, when it comes with its healing medicines and its assurances of deliverance. The most which prudence can do, acting in view of the experienced consequences of sin, is to plaster over the exterior, to avoid dangerous habits, to choose deep seated sins in lieu of such as lie on the surface. (T. D. Woolesey, D. D.)

Sin not self-reformatory

That sin by no process, direct or indirect, can purify the character, will appear--

I. FROM THE SELF-PROPAGATING NATURE OF SIN. If sin has the nature to spread and strengthen its power, if by repetition habits are formed which are hard to be broken, if the blindness of mind which supervenes adds to the ease of sinning, if sin spreading from one person to another increases the evil of society, and therefore reduces the power of each one of its members to rise above the general corruption, do not all these considerations show that sin provides no cure for itself, that there is, without Divine intervention, no remedy for it at all? Can anyone show that there is any maximum of strength in sin, so that after some length of continuance, after the round of experiences is run over, after wisdom is gained, its force abates, and the soul enters on a work of self-restoration!

II. FROM THE FACT, THAT THE MASS OF THE PERSONS WHO ARE TRULY RECOVERED FROM SIN, ASCRIBE THEIR CURE TO SOME EXTERNAL CAUSE,--nay, I should say to some extraordinary cause, which sin had nothing to do with bringing into existence. Ask anyone who seems to you to have a sincere principle of godliness, what it was that wrought the change in his case, by which he forsook his old sins. Will he tell you that it was sin leading him round, by the experience of its baneful effects, to a life of holiness? Will he even refer it to a sense of obligation awakened by the law of God? Or, will he not rather ascribe it to the perception of God’s love in pardoning sinners through His Son? Nor will he stop there; he will go beyond the outward motive of truth to the inward operation of a Divine Spirit. You cannot make those who have spent the most thought about sin, and had the deepest experience of its quality, admit that spiritual death of itself works a spiritual resurrection. Moreover, were it so, you could not admit the necessity of the Gospel. What is the use of medicine, if the disease, after running its course, strengthens the constitution, so as to secure it against maladies in the future? Can truth, with all its motives, do as much? To this it may be added, that the prescriptions of the Gospel themselves often fail to cure the soul; not half of those who are brought up under the Gospel are truly Christians. This again shows how hard the cure of sin is.

III. WE DO NOT FIND THAT INORDINATE DESIRE IS RENDERED MODERATE BY THE EXPERIENCE THAT IT FAILS TO SATISFY THE SOUL. A most important class of sins are those of excited desire, or, as the Scriptures call them, of lust. The extravagance of our desires--the fact that they grow into undue strength, and reach after wrong objects, is owing to our state of sin itself, to the want of a regulative principle of godliness. But no such gratification can fill the soul. How is it now with the soul which has thus pampered its earthly desires, and starved its heavenly! Does it cure itself of its misplaced affections? If it could, all the warnings and contemplations of the moral philosophers might be thrown to the winds, and we should only need to preach intemperance in order to secure temperance; to feed the fire of excess, that it might the more speedily burn out. But who would risk such an experiment? Does the aged miser relax his hold on his money bags, and settle down on the lees of benevolence?

IV. THE PAIN OR LOSS, ENDURED AS A FRUIT OF SIN, IS NOT, OF ITSELF, REFORMATORY. I have already said that under the Gospel such wages of sin are often made use of by the Divine Spirit to sober, subdue, and renovate the character. But even under the Gospel, how many, instead of being reformed by the punishment of their sins, are hardened, embittered, filled with complaints against Divine justice and human law! We find continual complaints on the part of the prophets that the people remained hardened through all the discipline of God, although it was fatherly chastisement, which held out hope of restoration to the Divine favour. Such was a large experience of the efficacy of punishment under the Jewish economy. Turn now to a state of things where the Divine clemency is wholly unknown or seen only in its feeblest glimmerings. Will naked law, will pure justice work a reform to which Divine clemency is unequal?

V. REMORSE OF CONSCIENCE IS NOT REFORMATORY. Remorse, in its design, was put into the soul as a safeguard against sin. But in the present state of man remorse has no such power for the following reasons--

1. It is dependent for its power, and even for its existence, on the truth of which the mind is in possession. Of itself it teaches nothing; it rather obeys the truth which is before the mind at the time. If now the mind lies within the reach of any means by which it can ward off the force of truth, or put falsehood in the place of truth, sin will get the better of remorse,--the dread of remorse will cease to set the soul upon its guard.

2. Every sinner has such means of warding off the force of truth, and so of weakening the power of self-condemnation, at his command. The sophistries which a sinful soul plays off upon itself, the excuses which palliate, if they do not justify transgression, are innumerable.

3. Remorse, according to the operation of the law of habit, is a sentiment which loses its strength as the sinner continues to sin.

4. But, once more, suppose that all this benumbing of conscience is temporary, as indeed it may well be; suppose that through these years of sinning it has silently gathered its electric power, but, when the soul is hackneyed in sin and life is in the dregs, will give a terrible shock--will this work reform? Will there be courage to undertake a work then for which the best hopes, the greatest strength of resolution, and the help of God are wanted? No! discouragement then must prevent reform. The sorrow of the world worketh death.

VI. THE EXPERIENCE OF SIN BRINGS THE SOUL NO NEARER TO RELIGIOUS TRUTH. For sin, amongst other of its effects, makes us more afraid of God or more indifferent to Him. The first inward change wrought by sin is to beget a feeling of separation from God. To this we may add that a habit of scepticism is contracted in a course of sinning, which it is exceedingly hard to lay aside. It became necessary in order to palliate sin and render self-reproach less bitter to devise excuses for the indulgence of wrong desires. Is then such a habit easy to be shaken off? Is it easy, when habits of sin have brought on habits of scepticism, to become perfectly candid, and to throw aside the doubts of a lifetime, which are often specious and in a certain sense honestly entertained? The blindness of the mind is the best security against reformation.

1. From the course of thought in this discourse it appears that our present life shows no favour to the opinion that sin is a necessary stage in the development of character towards perfection. The tendency of sin, as life shows, is to grow blinder, more insensible, less open to truth, less capable of goodness.

2. And, again, the experience of this world throws light, or, I should rather say, darkness, on the condition of the sinner who dies impenitent. There is no tendency in the experience of his whole life towards reform. How can it be shown that there will be hereafter!

3. Our subject Points, as with a finger that can be seen, to the best time for getting rid of sin. All we have said is but a commentary on that text, “Exhort one another daily while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Sin is now shapening your character; he is adding stroke after stroke for the final countenance and form. If you wait all will be fixed; his work will be done. (T. D. Woolesey, D. D.)

Isaiah a physician as well as a seer

He says, you are vitally wrong, organically out of health: the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint: the chief members of your constitution are wrong. It is a question of the head and the heart. Not, the foot has gone astray, and the hand has been playing an evil game, or some inferior member of the body has given hint of restlessness and treason; but, the head, where the mind abides, is sick; the heart, continually keeping the life current in action, is faint and cannot do its work. Until you see the seriousness of the case you cannot apply the right remedies. (J. Parker, D. D.)

What is human nature?

Do not consult the sanguine poet, for he takes a roseate view of everything: he sees in leprosy only the beauty of its snowiness; he looks upon the green mantling pool, and sees nothing there but some hint of verdure. Do not consult the gloomy pessimist, for at midday he sees nothing but a variety of midnight, and in all the loveliness of summer he sees nothing but an attempt to escape from the dreariness of winter. But consult the line of reason and solid fact, or undeniable experience, and what is this human nature? Can it be more perfectly, more exquisitely described than in the terms used by the prophet in the fifth and sixth verses of this chapter? Do the poor only fill our courts of law? Are our courts of justice only a variety of our ragged schools? Is sin but the trick of ignorance or the luxury of poverty? Or the question may be started from the other point: Are only they who are born to high degree guilty of doing wrong? Read the history of crime, read human history in all its breadth, and then say if there be not something in human nature corresponding to this description. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 8

Isaiah 1:8

A cottage in a vineyard

A lodge in a garden

The true point of the comparison will not appear until the crop is over, and the lodge forsaken by the keeper.
Then the poles fall down or lean every way, and those green boughs with which it is shaded will have been scattered by the wind leaving only a ragged, sprawling wreck,--a most affecting type of utter desolation--“as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrah.” (Thomsons The, Land and the Book. ”)


Verse 9

Isaiah 1:9

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very mall remnant.

The influence of good men

1. God’s greatness in the universe. The “Lord of hosts,” or Jehovah of hosts. Who are His “hosts”? Angels. Who shall count the number of these troops? He is their Creator and Sustainer.

2. God’s authority over good men. He is here represented as having “left a very small remnant.” whilst an existences are absolutely His, He has a special interest in the good. He keeps good men here as long as He thinks fit. He removes them at His pleasure.

I. THEIR INFLUENCE IS HIGHLY BENEFICENT. From what evil did this remnant deliver the country? The answer will come out with potency by replying to two other questions.

1. What was the moral condition of Sodom and Gomorrah? Their sin was “very grievous” (Genesis 18:20).

2. What was their doom? (Genesis 19:24-25.) Now, it was from this moral corruption and terrible doom these good people, it is said in our text, delivered others. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” History abounds with examples of moral declination, and all hearts are conscious of this gravitating force, What is the counteractive? The life of Christ in man. That life flashes a light upon the corrupt heart of society, and makes it blush. But few will dare to sin in the presence of living holiness. Vice cowers under the radiant eye of virtue.

II. Their influence is highly beneficent, HOWEVER FEW THEIR NUMBER. “A very small remnant.” A little goodness on this earth goes a great way. Even one man like Moses, Elijah, Paul, Luther, Whitefield, Wesley, may stop the flow of depravity and turn the destinies of an age. Conclusion--

1. The criminal ignorance of nations in relation to their true benefactors

2. The supreme value of Christianity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Beneficial influence of goodness

On a hot summer’s day, some years ago, I was sailing with a friend in a tiny boat on a miniature lake enclosed like a cup within a circle of steep, bare Scottish hills. On the shoulder of the brown sunburnt mountain, and full in sight, was a well with a crystal stream trickling over its lip, and making its way down towards the lake. Around the well’s month and along the course of the rivulet a belt of green stood out in strong contrast with the iron surface of the rocks all around. We soon agreed as to what should be made of it. There it was, a legend clearly printed by the finger of God on the side of these silent hills, teaching the passer-by how needful a good man is, and how useful he may be in a desert world. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The, Lord of hosts

Jehovah of hosts, or of armies, is a favourite expression of the Hebrew writers, and especially of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi, by which they recognise Him as the universal governor of heaven and earth, “who has ordained and constituted the services of men and angels in a wonderful order,” and who employs His kingly and almighty power to rule the nations in righteousness, and, as now, both to punish and to save His chosen people. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)


Verse 10

Isaiah 1:10

Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom

The true prophet deals with the needs of the present

It is a very miserable thing for a preacher when he lives wholly either in the past or in the future, and so allows either the one or the other to divert him from the duty he owes to God in the present.
What is more pitiful, more unlike the idea of a true prophet, than to find one whose work is to preach to men of the twentieth century occupying his time in discoursing of the sins of the Jews centuries before Christ, or even of those sinners of Jerusalem who crucified the Lord, unless his first care be to warn them lest they fall after the same example of unbelief? And Isaiah would have done a very poor service to the Jews at that time if, instead of holding out to them light for their present guidance and wisdom to direct them in the emergencies of the terrible crisis through which they were passing, he had simply been forever inviting them to contemplate the glories of a future into which they would never enter. He was there to tell men what God’s will was in relation to themselves, to deal with their own difficulties, to answer the problems by which their hearts were agitated, to cheer them under the reverses by which they were disheartened, to rebuke them for the evil which was separating them from God, and warn them of the judgment which God would bring upon them; but, at the same time, to assure them of His infinite pity and compassion. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)

Plain speaking

This is plain speaking; but God never sends velvet-tongued men as His messengers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Corrupt rulers

The fish stinks first at the head. (Turkish proverb.)


Verses 11-15

Isaiah 1:11-15

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?
saith the Lord

Hypocrisy and partiality in religion

These words are not to be understood absolutely but comparatively, and with respect to the manners of these men. For--

I. GOD COULD NOT ABSOLUTELY REJECT SACRIFICES, because they were of His own appointing, as we are abundantly certified in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. And they were instituted for very good put poses.

1. As federal rites between God and His people, that by eating of what was offered upon His altar they might profess their union and communion with Him, that they were of His family, He their Father, and they His children. And this is what made idolatry so odious to Him, and for which He declares Himself a jealous God, that when they sacrificed to idols they made the same acknowledgments to them.

2. Sacrifices were instituted to expiate sins of ignorance and trespasses of an inferior nature. It is true, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews affirms, that it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should purify the conscience, so as to wash away the guilt of sin, which only can be atoned for by the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. But yet they availed to the purifying of the flesh, and were accepted of God in lieu of temporal punishments.

3. Sacrifices were designed to teach men that without shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins. They were hereby led to consider that infinite justice properly required the life of the offender, but that infinite mercy accepted of a vicarious life.

4. Peace offerings, or sacrifices of gratitude were offered to God in hope of obtaining some favour, or as a thanksgiving for having received some signal mercy from Him.

5. Sacrifices were instituted for types and representatives of that final sacrifice of the Son of God in whom they all centred and were consummated. (Psalms 40:6; Hebrews 10:5-6) “He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second,” i.e., the sacrifice of Himself; and consequently Paul calls the law our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, and Christ the end of the law, because it was ended in Him and by Him. In this sense it is that our Lord affirms that He came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. He fulfilled the moral law by His perfect holiness and virtue, and the law of sacrifices by His death and passion. From all this I infer that God does not reject sacrifices as such, and therefore we must conclude that--

II. HIS AVERSION TO THEM WAS OCCASIONED BY THE ILL MANNERS OF THOSE THAT OFFERED THEM, who had no concern to accomplish the good ends which were intended by them, nor considered that by these sacraments they laid themselves under renewed obligations to be sensible of their own demerits, to repent and reform whatever they found amiss in their lives, and to abound in the love of God, and the fruits of His Holy Spirit. It appears from the characters of these men, especially in their latter and worst times, that they satisfied themselves with the opus operatum, the external duties of religion, and had no regard to the renovation of their hearts and minds. (W. Reading, M. A.)

Religiousness

The common man’s commonest refuge from conscience. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

Sin offensive to God

1. The Scripture for our understanding ascribes senses to God, and here we find every sense displeased with their sins.

2. Neither were their sins only displeasing to His senses, but also grievous to His mind, and therefore He tells them, their new moons and appointed feasts His soul did hate; which is an emphatical speech, and an argument of God’s hearty detestation. (N. Rogers.)

Dissembled piety

Dissembled piety is double iniquity. (M. Henry.)

Moral whitewash

God is not mocked, and even man is not long imposed upon by a vain show of devotion. We once heard Father Taylor, a noted preacher to sailors in America, pray that men who thought themselves good, and were not, might be undeceived; and he cried, “Lord, take off the whitewash!” (D. Fraser, D. D.)

Religious hypocrisy: Dukes Orleans and Burgundy

On the 20 th of November 1407, the two cousins heard mass, and partook of the holy sacrament together at the church of the Augustins. Never was there a blacker instance of sacrilegious hypocrisy. At the very moment when he thus profaned the most solemn rite of Christianity, Jean sans Peur had deliberately doomed his enemy to a bloody and violent death. (Students France.)

Formal religion

Dickens describes how in Genoa he once witnessed “a great fiesta on the hill behind the house, when the people alternately danced under tents in the open air and rushed to say a prayer or two in an adjoining church bright with red and gold and blue and sliver: so many minutes of dancing and of praying in regular turns of each.” (H. O.Mackey.)

Inconsistency

Writing of Lorenzo de Medici, Mr. Howells says: “After giving his whole mind and soul to the destruction of the last remnant of liberty, after pronouncing some fresh sentence of ruin or death, he entered the Platonic Academy, and ardently discussed virtue and the immortality of the soul; then sallying forth to mingle with the dissolute youth of the city, he sang his carnival songs, and abandoned himself to debauchery; returning home with Pulci and Politian, he recited verses and talked of poetry; and to each of these occupations he gave himself up as wholly as if it were the sole occupation of his life.” (H. O. Mackey.)

“Holiness becometh Thine house”

When Ruskin was making explorations about Venice, in the Church of St. James, he discovered, engraved on a stone, these words, “Around the temple let the merchant’s weights be true, his measures just, and his contracts without guile.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)

The Paris Figaro mentions that a curious discovery was made recently when the famous robber gang of Papakoritzopoulo was broken up. In the pocket of this most notorious of European brigands was found a small Bible, neatly bound and wrapped in a clean, silk handkerchief, a prayer book, holy relics in tiny boxes, a cross, and other religious objects.

Inconsistency

The son of Sirach asks of him that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, and then touches it again, what availeth his washing? “So is it with a man that fasteth for his sins, and goeth again, and doeth the same: who will hear his prayer? or what doth his humbling profit him?” (F. Jacox, B. A.)

Audacious hypocrisy

When Pope Hadrian II consented at last to admit Lothair to the holy communion he warned him, “But if thou thinkest in thine heart to return to wallow in lust, beware of receiving this sacrament, lest thou provoke the terrible judgment of God.” And the king shuddered, but did not draw back. (F. Jacox, B. A.)

Detestable worship

Dr. South says of him who, by hypothesis, comes to church with an ill intention, that he comes to God’s house upon the devil’s errand, and the whole act is thereby rendered evil and detestable before God. The prayers of a wicked man are by Jeremy Taylor likened to “the breath of corrupted lungs: God turns away from such unwholesome breathings.” (F. Jacox, B. A.)

Smuggler and preacher too

The letters of Robert Louis Stevenson tell an astonishing story of smuggling in the Shetlands. The revenue official had great trouble with a man known as Preaching Peter, who, whenever he returned with his spoils, sent round handbills to announce his coming, and went about the country preaching. After he had much prayed and much preached, he gave the benediction, and this was the signal for all who knew him to crowd round. “How many gallons shall I give you? How many do you want?” Such was the conversation; and so he sold his smuggled spirits and improved the people’s souls while he filled his own purse. Worship and wickedness:--A famous brigand in Sicily was constantly robbing and sometimes murdering. But he would never go forth on his expeditions without first kneeling at a little shrine in his cave, where he kept an image of the Virgin. (Christian Commonwealth.)

Pew holding

Emerson, in an essay, refers to “what is called religion, but is, perhaps, pew holding.”

A red-handed religionist

There is no name in Scottish history round which darker or grimmer or bloodier associations gather than the name of John Graham of Claverhouse. He hunted and harried the men of the Covenant. He shot some of them with his own hand. He brought misery and weeping, widowhood and orphanhood, to many a lowly and godly home. Yet he was scrupulous in the observance of all religious ordinances. Let me beware of this double life. (A. Smellie, M. A.)


Verse 13

Isaiah 1:13

The calling of assemblies, I cannot away with

Service not services

1.
Many think religion flourishes if services are well attended. But, unless we are “willing and obedient” our “fat things” will not make us fat. They will rather harm us. Paul says, “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” Your vocation is the main part of your service for Him, provided you are in the place where He would have you be. If you are not clear about that point, be sure and inquire of Him. In a well-ordered house there are many servants, and, if one tried to do another’s work, there would be confusion. Do your work and do it faithfully. If God has special and occasional service, beyond this, He will direct you to it.

2. Again, remember what the apostle says about service, “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”--fervent, that is, quite not, boiling. You might as well run a locomotive without steam as try and serve the Lord without fervour. How shall you get it? You can get it in a measure from the influence of those who themselves are warm in God’s service. Catch fire from such as Samuel Rutherford, whose volume reminds me of a contrivance they had before matches were invented. It was a kind of bottle, containing some mixture, into which you dipped the match, and it immediately took fire. These letters of Rutherford’s are just like that. When you feel dull, lukewarm, read one or two of those letters, and, provided your heart is sincere, see if it does not set you on fire. But we have better than that. We have Rutherford’s Master. The central source of holy zeal, of burning love, is there.

3. Again, be willing to do what is humble, what seems useless, if He so direct. It is a great trial of patience. Moses tended sheep forty years. God’s chief difficulty with us is, not filling, but emptying us; not edifying or building up, as it is pulling us down. Look at the history of the Church, and you will see that most, if not all, of those whom God has employed in a signal manner for His glory, have been, in one way or another, among the most afflicted of men either in heart or in body, sometimes in both. Therefore, do not be afraid of suffering; it helps service. The work of God is mostly hidden work, fully known to Him, known partly to those who are the immediate objects of it, scarcely known to ourselves. I am afraid, nowadays, there is a great deal too much speaking about the work done or doing. I have sometimes thought how well the apostles got on without newspapers--and the work was done all the same!

4. if we are thus doing God’s work fervently, humbly, patiently, though obscurely, looking to Him alone, we, like our Master, will finish the work that He has given us to do. Only as we abide in Christ, can we be able to complete our work. Mere machinery and outward activity are of no account without this daily dwelling in, and drawing from, Him. (T. Monod.)

Acceptable worship

To adore God for His goodness, and to pray to Him to make us good, is the sum and substance of all wholesome worship. Then is a man fit to come to church, sins and all, if he carry his sins into church not to carry them out again safely and carefully, as we are all too apt to do, but to cast them down at the foot of Christ’s Cross, in the hope (and no man ever hoped that hope in vain) that he will be lightened of that burden, and leave some of them, at least, behind him. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)


Verse 14

Isaiah 1:14

I am weary to bear them