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Isaiah Chapter Forty                            

 

Isaiah 40

Chapter Contents

The preaching of the gospel, and glad tidings of the coming of Christ. (1-11) The almighty power of God. (12-17) The folly of idolatry. (18-26) Against unbelief. (27-31)

Commentary on Isaiah 40:1-11

(Read Isaiah 40:1-11)

All human life is a warfare; the Christian life is the most so; but the struggle will not last always. Troubles are removed in love, when sin is pardoned. In the great atonement of the death of Christ, the mercy of God is exercised to the glory of his justice. In Christ, and his sufferings, true penitents receive of the Lord's hand double for all their sins; for the satisfaction Christ made by his death was of infinite value. The prophet had some reference to the return of the Jews from Babylon. But this is a small event, compared with that pointed out by the Holy Ghost in the New Testament, when John the Baptist proclaimed the approach of Christ. When eastern princes marched through desert countries, ways were prepared for them, and hinderances removed. And may the Lord prepare our hearts by the teaching of his word and the convictions of his Spirit, that high and proud thoughts may be brought down, good desires planted, crooked and rugged tempers made straight and softened, and every hinderance removed, that we may be ready for his will on earth, and prepared for his heavenly kingdom. What are all that belongs to fallen man, or all that he does, but as the grass and the flower thereof! And what will all the titles and possessions of a dying sinner avail, when they leave him under condemnation! The word of the Lord can do that for us, which all flesh cannot. The glad tidings of the coming of Christ were to be sent forth to the ends of the earth. Satan is the strong man armed; but our Lord Jesus is stronger; and he shall proceed, and do all that he purposes. Christ is the good Shepherd; he shows tender care for young converts, weak believers, and those of a sorrowful spirit. By his word he requires no more service, and by his providence he inflicts no more trouble, than he will strengthen them for. May we know our Shepherd's voice, and follow him, proving ourselves his sheep.

Commentary on Isaiah 40:12-17

(Read Isaiah 40:12-17)

All created beings shrink to nothing in comparison with the Creator. When the Lord, by his Spirit, made the world, none directed his Spirit, or gave advice what to do, or how to do it. The nations, in comparison of him, are as a drop which remains in the bucket, compared with the vast ocean; or as the small dust in the balance, which does not turn it, compared with all the earth. This magnifies God's love to the world, that, though it is of such small account and value with him, yet, for the redemption of it, he gave his only-begotten Son, John 3:16. The services of the church can make no addition to him. Our souls must have perished for ever, if the only Son of the Father had not given himself for us.

Commentary on Isaiah 40:18-26

(Read Isaiah 40:18-26)

Whatever we esteem or love, fear or hope in, more than God, that creature we make equal with God, though we do not make images or worship them. He that is so poor, that he has scarcely a sacrifice to offer, yet will not be without a god of his own. They spared no cost upon their idols; we grudge what is spent in the service of our God. To prove the greatness of God, the prophet appeals to all ages and nations. Those who are ignorant of this, are willingly ignorant. God has the command of all creatures, and of all created things. The prophet directs us to use our reason as well as our senses; to consider who created the hosts of heaven, and to pay our homage to Him. Not one fails to fulfil his will. And let us not forget, that He spake all the promises, and engaged to perform them.

Commentary on Isaiah 40:27-31

(Read Isaiah 40:27-31)

The people of God are reproved for their unbelief and distrust of God. Let them remember they took the names Jacob and Israel, from one who found God faithful to him in all his straits. And they bore these names as a people in covenant with Him. Many foolish frets, and foolish fears, would vanish before inquiry into the causes. It is bad to have evil thoughts rise in our minds, but worse to turn them into evil words. What they had known, and had heard, was sufficient to silence all these fears and distrusts. Where God had begun the work of grace, he will perfect it. He will help those who, in humble dependence on him, help themselves. As the day, so shall the strength be. In the strength of Divine grace their souls shall ascend above the world. They shall run the way of God's commandments cheerfully. Let us watch against unbelief, pride, and self-confidence. If we go forth in our own strength, we shall faint, and utterly fall; but having our hearts and our hopes in heaven, we shall be carried above all difficulties, and be enabled to lay hold of the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Isaiah

 

Isaiah 40

Verse 1

[1] Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Ye — Ye prophets and ministers.

Verse 2

[2] Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

Warfare — The time of her captivity, and misery.

Double — Not twice as much as her sins deserved, but abundantly enough to answer God's design in this chastisement, which was to humble and reform them, and to warn others by their example.

Verse 3

[3] The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

The voice — An abrupt speech. Methinks I hear a voice.

Wilderness — This immediately relates to the deliverance of the Jews out of Babylon, and smoothing their passage from thence to Judea, which lay through a great wilderness; but principally to their redemption by the Messiah, whose coming was ushered in by the cry of John the baptist, in the wilderness.

Prepare ye the way — You to whom this work belongs. He alludes to the custom of princes who send pioneers before them to prepare the way through which they are to pass. The meaning is, God shall by his spirit so dispose mens hearts, and by his providence so order the affairs of the world, as to make way for the accomplishment of his promise. This was eminently fulfilled, when Christ, who was, and is God, blessed for ever, came into the world in a visible manner.

Verse 6

[6] The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

Cry — God speaks unto his ministers.

He — The prophet.

All flesh — The prophet having foretold glorious things, confirms the certainty of them, by representing the vast difference between the nature, and word, and work of men and of God. All that men are or have, yea, their highest accomplishments, are but like the grass of the field, weak and vanishing, soon nipt and brought to nothing; but God's word is like himself, immutable and irresistible: and therefore as the mouth of the Lord, and not of man, hath spoken these things, so doubt not but they shall be fulfilled.

Verse 9

[9] O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Zion — Zion or Jerusalem is the publisher, and the cities of Judah the hearers.

Get up — That thy voice may be better heard.

Afraid — Lest thou shouldest be found a false prophet.

Say — To all my people in the several places of their abode.

Behold — Take notice of this wonderful work, and glorious appearance of your God.

Verse 10

[10] Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.

His arm — He shall need no succours, for his own power shall be sufficient to govern his people, and to destroy his adversaries.

His reward — He comes furnished with recompences as well of blessings for his friends, as of vengeance for his enemies.

His work — He carries on his work effectually: for that is said in scripture to be before a man which is in his power.

Verse 12

[12] Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

Who hath — Who can do this but God? And this discourse of God's infinite power and wisdom, is added to give them the greater assurance, that God was able to do the wonderful things, he had promised.

Verse 13

[13] Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him?

Who — Who did God either need or take to advise him in any of his works, either of creation or the government of the world.

Verse 15

[15] Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

Are counted — By him, and in comparison of him.

The dust — Which accidentally cleaves to the balance, but makes no alteration in the weight.

The isles — Those numerous and vast countries, to which they went from Judea by sea, which are commonly called isles.

Verse 16

[16] And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.

Lebanon — If men were to offer a sacrifice agreeable to his infinite excellency, the whole forest of Lebanon could not afford either a sufficient number of beasts to be sacrificed: or, a sufficient quantity of wood to consume the sacrifice.

Verse 18

[18] To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?

To whom — This is a proper inference from the foregoing discourse of God's infinite greatness; from whence he takes occasion to shew both the folly of those that make mean and visible representations of God, and the utter inability of men or idols to give any opposition to God.

Verse 19

[19] The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.

Melteth — He melts metal into a mould, which afterwards is graven or carved to make it more exact.

Verse 20

[20] He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.

He — That can hardly procure money to buy a sacrifice.

Chuseth — He is so mad upon his idols, that he will find money to procure the choicest materials, and the best artist to make his idol.

An image — Which after all this cost, cannot stir one step out of its place to give you any help.

Verse 21

[21] Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Known — God to be the only true God, the maker and governor of the world.

Verse 22

[22] It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

Sitteth — Far above this round earth, even in the highest heavens; from whence he looketh down upon the earth, where men appear to him like grasshoppers. As here we have the circle of the earth, so elsewhere we read of the circle of heaven, Job 22:14, and of the circle of the deep, or sea, Proverbs 8:27, because the form of the heaven, and earth and sea is circular.

Spreadeth — For the benefit of the earth and of mankind, that all parts might partake of its comfortable influences.

Verse 24

[24] Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.

Sown — They shall take no root, for planting and sowing are in order to taking root. They shall not continue and flourish, as they have vainly imagined, but shall be rooted up and perish.

Verse 26

[26] Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

Bringeth — That at first brought them out of nothing, and from day to day brings them forth, making them to rise and set in their appointed times.

Faileth — Either to appear when he calls them; or to do the work to which he sends them.

Verse 27

[27] Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?

What — Why dost thou give way to such jealousies concerning thy God, of whose infinite power and wisdom, and goodness, there are such evident demonstrations.

Is hid — He takes no notice of my prayers and tears, and sufferings, but suffers mine enemies to abuse me at their pleasure. This complaint is uttered in the name of the people, being prophetically supposed to be in captivity.

Judgment — My cause. God has neglected to plead my cause, and to give judgment for me against mine enemies.

Verse 30

[30] Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

The youths — The youngest and strongest men, left to themselves.

Verse 31

[31] But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Wait — That rely upon him.

Renew — Shall grow stronger and stronger.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Isaiah

 

40 Chapter 40

 

Verses 1-11


Verses 1-31


Verse 1

Isaiah 40:1

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people

The great prophecy of Israel’s restoration

In passing from chaps, 36-39, to chap. 40. we find ourselves introduced into a new world. The persons whom the prophet addresses, the people amongst whom he lives and moves, whose feelings he portrays, whose doubts he dispels, whose faith he confirms, are not the inhabitants of Jerusalem under Ahaz, or Hezekiah, or Manasseh, but the Jewish exiles in Babylonia. Jerusalem and the Temple are in ruins (Isaiah 44:10), and have been so for long Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 61:4 --the “old waste places”): the proud and imposing Babylonian empire is to all appearance as secure as ever; the exiles are in despair or indifferent; they think that God has forgotten them, and have ceased to expect, or desire, their release (Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 49:14; Isaiah 49:24). Toarouse the indifferent, to reassure the wavering, to expostulate with the doubting, to announce with triumphant confidence the certainty of the approaching restoration, is the aim of the great prophecy which now occupies the last twenty-seven chapters of the Book of Isaiah. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

The Gospel of Isaiah

Here beginneth the Gospel of the prophet Isaiah, and holdeth on to the end of the book. (J. Trapp.)

Does Isaiah 40:1-31. treat of the return from Babylon?

The specific application of this chapter to the return from Babylon is without the least foundation in the text itself. The promise is a general one of consolation, protection, and change for the better, to be wrought by the power and wisdom of Jehovah, which are contrasted, first, with those of men, of nations, and of rulers, then with the utter impotence of idols. That the ultimate fulfilment of the promise was still distant, is implied in the exhortation to faith and patience. The reference to idolatry proves nothing with respect to the date of the prediction, although more appropriate in the writings of Isaiah than of a prophet in the Babylonish Exile. It is evidently meant, however, to condemn idolatry in general, and more particularly all the idolatrous defections of the Israelites under the old economy. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

A comforting message

There is evident allusion to the threatening in Isaiah 39:7. Having there predicted the captivity in Babylon, as one of the successive strokes by which the fate of Israel as a nation and the total loss of its peculiar privileges should be brought about, the prophet is now sent to assure the spiritual Israel, the true people of Jehovah, that although the Jewish nation should not cease to be externally identified with the Church, the Church itself should not only continue to exist, but in a far more glorious state than ever. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

God’s return to a pardoned people

The beginning of the good tidings is Israel s pardon; yet it seems not to be the people’s return to Palestine which is announced in consequence of this, so much as their God’s return to them. “Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight a highway for our God. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come.” (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

“My” people; “your” God

All the prophecy we are about to study may be said to hang from these pronouns. They are the hinges on which the door of this new temple of revelation swings open before the long-expectant people. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

A storehouse of Divine promise

This portion (chaps. 40-66.) of the great prophet’s writings may well be regarded as the Old Testament Store house and Repertory of “exceeding great and precious promises,” in which Jehovah would seem to anticipate His own special Gospel name as “the God of all comfort.” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

Jehovah and His Church

1. A glorious change awaits the Church, consisting in a new and gracious manifestation of Jehovah’s presence, for which His people are exhorted to prepare (Isaiah 40:1-5).

2. Though one generation perish after another, this promise shall eventually be fulfilled, because it rests not upon human but Divine authority (Isaiah 40:6-8).

3. Zion may even now see Him approaching as the conqueror of His enemies, and at the same time as the Shepherd of His people (Isaiah 40:9-11).

4. The fulfilment of these pledges is insured by His infinite wisdom, His almighty power, and His independence both of individuals and nations (Isaiah 40:12-17).

5. How much more is He superior to material images, by which men represent Him or supply His place (Isaiah 40:18-25).

6. The same power which sustains the heavens is pledged for the support of Israel (Isaiah 40:26-31). (J. A. Alexander.)

“Comfort ye, comfort ye”

The double utterance of the “Comfort ye,” is the well-known Hebrew expression of emphasis, abundance, intensity;--“Great comfort, saith your God.” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

God’s great comfort

At the close of the prophecy, the prophet tells us what the strength and abundance of that comfort is. Earth’s best picture of strong consolation is that of the mother bending over the couch of her suffering and sorrowing child (Isaiah 66:13). (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

A Divine art

When the soul is in the period of its exile and bitter pain, it should do three things.

I. LOOK OUT FOR COMFORT.

1. It will come certainly. Wherever the nettle grows, beside it grows the dock-leaf; and wherever there is severe trial, there is, somewhere at hand, a sufficient store of comfort, though our eyes, like Hagar’s, are often holden that we cannot see it. It is as sure as the faithfulness of God. “I never had,” says Bunyan, writing of his twelve years’ imprisonment, “in all my life, so great an insight into the Word of God as now; insomuch that I have often said, Were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comforts’ sake.” God cannot forget His child.

2. It will come proportionately. Thy Father holds a pair of scales. This on the right is called As, and is for thine afflictions; this on the left is called So, and is for thy comforts. And the beam is always kept level The more thy trial, the more thy comfort. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth through Christ.

3. It will come Divinely. God reserves to Himself the prerogative of comfort. It is a Divine art.

4. It will come mediately. What the prophet was as the spokesman of Jehovah, uttering to the people in human tones the inspirations that came to him from God, so to us is the great prophet, whose shoe-latchet the noblest of the prophetic band was not worthy to unloose; and our comfort is the sweeter because it reaches us through Him.

5. It will come variously. Sometimes by the coming of a beloved Titus; a bouquet; a bunch of grapes; a letter; a message; a card. There are many strings in the dulcimer of consolation. In sore sorrow it is not what a friend says, but what he is, that helps us. He comforts best who says least, but simply draws near, takes the sufferer’s hand, and sits silent in his sympathy. This is God’s method.

II. STORE UP COMFORT. This was the prophet’s mission. He had to receive before he could impart. Thy own life becomes the hospital ward where thou art taught the Divine art of comfort. Thou art wounded, that in the binding up of thy wounds by the Great Physician thou mayest learn how to render first-aid to the wounded everywhere.

III. PASS ON COMFORT. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The Divine ministry of comfort

There are ministries in the world.

1. There is the Divine ministry of instruction. In this ministry nature, history, and the Bible are constantly employed.

2. There is the Divine ministry of Justice. Nemesis is always and everywhere at work, treading on the heels of wrong, and inflicting penalties.

3. In the text we have the Divine ministry of comfort. The words suggest three thoughts concerning this ministry.

I. It implies the existence of DISTRESS. Bright and fair as the material world often appears, a sea of sorrow rolls through human souls The distress is of various kinds.

1. Physical suffering.

2. Social bereavement.

3. Secular anxieties.

4. Moral compunction.

II. It implies the existence of SPECIAL MEANS. All this distress is an abnormal state of things. Misery is not an institution of nature, and the creation of God, but the production of the creature. To meet this abnormal state something more than natural instrumentality is required.

1. There must be special provisions. Those provisions are to be found in the Gospel. To the physically afflicted there are presented considerations fitted to energise the soul, endow it with magnanimity, fill it with sentiments and hopes that will raise it, if not above the sense of physical suffering, above its depressing influence. To the socially, bereaved it brings the glorious doctrine of a future life. To the secularly distressed it unfolds the doctrine of eternal providence. In secular disappointments and anxieties it says, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”

2. There must be special agency. A physician may know the disease of his patient, but if he does not know the precise mode of application he will not succeed. So it is with the Gospel. A man to give comfort to another requires a special qualification. The comforting elements must be administered--

III. It implies a LIMITED SPHERE. “My people.” The whole human family is in distress, but there is only a certain class qualified to receive comfort, those who are here called God’s “people,” and who are they? Those who have surrendered themselves to His will, yielded to His claims, and dedicated themselves to His service. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Comfort for God’s people

I. THE SPEAKER. It is the God of comfort, the God of all comfort that here speaks comfortably to His people. There is a danger of our thinking too much of comfort, and one may only value the word preached as it administers comfort; this is a great error, because all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, and reproof, as well as for comfort. One great end which even the Scriptures have in view, is not only to lead us to patience in suffering, but to comfort us under suffering. It is one thing for man to speak comfort, it is another thing for God to speak comfort.

II. THE PERSONS THAT ARE HERE SPOKEN TO. “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.”

1. The Lord has a people upon earth--He has never been without a people.

2. The Lord has a people; and if He has a people He will try them, and they shall not be found summer flies just resting on the surface of things, but they shall be found to be those that know the truth in the power of it, and they shall be made to feel and experience the worth of it. It shall not be enough for them to say, I am a sinner, but they shall feel the wretchedness of being a sinner, they shall not only confess that Christ is precious, but they shall be placed where they shall know Him to be precious.

3. The Lord has a people; and it is a most blessed consideration to reflect that while He has a people, He is their God. Talk not of your wretchedness and your poverty and your disease, of your weakness; if God be your God, not only heaven is your home, but you have that without which heaven would not be worth the having.

4. God has a people; no wonder then He comforts them--His eye is upon them from the beginning to the end of the year. They are the salt of the earth to Him, and he that touches them touches the apple of His eye.

III. THE LORD’S MESSAGE UNTO HIS MINISTERS. “Comfort ye,” etc. The-great cause of comfort to a child of God may be summed up in a little sentence--through eternity he never shall come to the close of it. Let me point out some few of those great mercies that flow to a child of God in consequence of his having Christ as his portion.

1. He has that which made David glad (Psalms 32:1-2). The great contest Satan has with our consciences is about the pardon of our sins. Well might the people of God then be comforted by this truth, that their sins have all been blotted out as a cloud.

2. Do you ask for another ground of comfort? See it in a covenant, ordered in all things (2 Samuel 23:5).

3. But the Psalmist found another source of comfort. “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Psalms 73:1-28.). There is no mercy on earth greater than to have a God in heaven, to have an Intercessor at the right hand; to have the heart of God; to have the promise of God: to have Jehovah Himself as my portion.

4. One comfort more is the bright prospect that is before the child of God. (J. H.Evans, M. A.)

Comfort for Zion

It was once said by Vinet, that the three great objects of the preacher were the illumination, consolation, and regeneration of men. The work of comforting is surely an important one, but it is God’s people whom we are to comfort. We are not to say, Peace, peace! where there is no peace. Stoical indifference is not real comfort, but peace alone is found in God.

I. Notice what a discovery is made in the text of GOD’S NATURE. He has not hidden away from men; He is not asleep or tied down by law, but His tender mercies are over all His works. He is near to every one of us, seeking our love and confidence.

II. HUMAN SOULS NEED COMFORT. Constitutional characteristics render us susceptible to consolatory truths. Even those hardened in sin have been melted by a woman’s tears, or have yielded to the persuasiveness of a child.

III. Look at the GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS COMFORT IS ADMINISTERED. Not those of philosophy. When the Greeks, under Xenophon, caught sight of the Euxine, they jubilantly cried, “The sea, the sea!” The discoveries of Divine grace--a sea without a bottom or a shore--elicit profounder joy. (G. Norcross, D. D.)

“Comfort ye, comfort ye My people

The words of this passage (1-11) look on to the captivity. The people, afflicted, chastened, broken in spirit, are called upon to listen to the strains of consolation which God had breathed for them in His word. I venture to think that they were laden with a richer consolation in that they came down a vista of nearly two hundred years. Old words are precious to mourners. That which is spoken at the moment is apt to be coloured by the thoughts and the doubts of the moment; an old word spoken out of the region of these present sorrows has double force. It seems to bring that which is absolute and universal to bear on that which is present and passing. This is why the Scripture is so precious to mourners. It belongs to all time. And these words rule all its declarations. It is comfort throughout and to the end. The mercies of judgment is a subject we too little study. Yet mercy is the deepest element in every judgment with which God afflicts mankind. Stern, hard, unfaltering to the eye, but full of rich mercy to the heart. It was in tender mercy that man, the sinner, was sent forth to labour. In society we see on a large scale how God’s judgments are blessings in disguise. Great epidemics are healing ordinances. They purify the vital springs. They leave a purer, stronger health when their dread shadow has passed by. Catastrophes in history are like thunderstorms; they leave a fresher, brighter atmosphere.

Reigns of terror are the gates through which man passes out into a wider world. May we pray, then, in calamities for deliverance, when they are so likely to be blessings? Yes, for prayer is the blessed refuge of our ignorance and dread. But Isaiah had the profoundest right to speak o| comfort, because he could speak of the advent of the Redeemer to the world. He not only preaches comfort, but discloses the source from which it springs--“Emmanuel, God with us.” (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Divine comfort

1. Living in the midst of sorrow, and himself personally its victim, the Christian has need of comfort. Whatever form the affliction may take, it is hard for flesh and blood to bear; it runs contrary to all the tastes and desires of the natural man. Often under its pressure, especially when long continued and severe, is he tempted to faint and despond; it may be, even to repine and murmur; to doubt the faith fulness of God; to ask, in bitterness of heart, why such woe is appointed to man?

2. With what power, then, do words like these reach him in the midst of his sorrow, coming from God Himself, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people!” No sooner are they heard than hope revives, and the assurance of Divine sympathy at once soothes his trouble, and allays his fears.

I. GOD HAS A PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.

The Lord’s people comforted

II. I proceed TO COMPLY WITH THE INJUNCTION IN THE TEXT. To this end, I will endeavour to obviate some few of the most common causes of that want of comfort to which the people of God are liable.

1. One cause is their misunderstanding the nature and extent of that pardon of sin, which the Gospel provides.

2. Another cause arises from their seeking comfort where it is not to be found. You can never find it from poring into your own hearts. Look in faith to Jesus Christ--His glorious person and gracious offices, etc.

3. Another cause arises from their mistaking the proofs and marks of a really religious state. They suppose that it consists in warm and rapturous feelings. Your salvation is grounded on the faithfulness of Him who cannot lie. (E. Cooper.)

The trials of business men

These words came to the prophet in the olden time, but they come just as forcibly to any man who stands to-day in any one of the pulpits of our great cities. A preacher has no more right to ignore commercial sorrows than any other kind of sorrow.

I. A great many of our business men feel ruinous trials and temptations coming to them FROM SMALL AND LIMITED CAPITAL IN BUSINESS. This temptation of limited capital has ruined men in two ways. Despondency has blasted them. Others have said, “Here I have been trudging along. I have been trying, to be honest all these years. I find it is of no use. Now it is make or break.

II. A great many of our business men are tempted to OVER-ANXIETY AND CARE. God manages all the affairs of your life, and He manages them for the best.

III. Many of our business men are tempted TO NEGLECT THEIR HOME DUTIES. How often it is that the store and the home seem to clash, but there ought not to be any collision. If you want to keep your children away from places of sin, you can only do it by making your home attractive. We need more happy, consecrated, cheerful Christian homes.

IV. A great many of our business men are tempted to PUT THE ATTAINMENT OF MONEY ABOVE THE VALUE OF THE SOUL. The more money you get, the better if it come honestly and go usefully. But money cannot satisfy a man’s soul; it cannot glitter in the dark valley; it cannot pay our fare across the Jordan of death; it cannot unlock the gate of heaven.

Treasures in heaven are the only uncorruptible treasures. Have you ever ciphered out in the rule of Loss and Gain the sum, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Seek after God; find His righteousness, and all shall be well here and hereafter. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)

Religious comfort

I. SHOW WHAT THE COMFORT IS which the Gospel of our Lord conveys to mankind. Whenever we speak of comforting another, the very expression implies that he is in tribulation and distress. Without the Gospel of Christ the condition of men must be wretched.

II. DESCRIBE THE PERSONS WHO ARE AUTHORISED TO TAKE THAT COMFORT TO THEMSELVES. Evangelical obedience is to be the foundation of evangelical comfort. (T. Gisborne.)

Comfort for God’s people

“Comfort ye My people”--

1. By reminding them that I am their God.

2. By reminding them that their captivity in this world is nearly over, and that they will soon be home.

3. The Saviour is coming to this world, and is on His way to show His glory here. He will come and fill the world with His victories. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Comfort proclaimed

What a sweet title: “My people!” What a cheering revelation: “Your God!” How much of meaning is couched in those two words, “My people!” Here is speciality. The whole world is God’s. But He saith of a certain number, “My people.” While nations and kindreds are passed by as being simply nations, He says of them. “My people.” In this word there is the idea of proprietorship. In some special manner the “Lord’s portion Is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” He has done more for them than others; He has brought them nigh to Himself. How careful God is of His people; mark how anxious He is concerning them, not only for their life, but for their comfort. He would not only have us His living people, His preserved people, but He would have us be His happy people too. He likes His people to be fed, but what is more, He likes to give them “wines on the lees well refined,” to make glad their hearts.

I. TO WHOM IS THIS COMMAND ADDRESSED? The Holy Spirit is the great Comforter, and He it is who alone can solace the saints; but He uses instruments to relieve His children in their distress and to lift up their hearts from desperation. To whom, then, is this command addressed?

1. To angels, first of all. You often talk about the insinuations of the devil. Allow me to remind you that there is another side of that question, for if evil spirits assault us, doubtless good spirits guard us. It is my firm belief that angels are often employed by God to throw into the hearts of His people comforting thoughts.

2. But on earth this is more especially addressed to the Lord’s ministers. The minister should ask of God the Spirit, that he may be filled with His influence as a comforter.

3. But do not support your ministers as an excuse for the discharge of your own duties; many do so. When God said, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,” He spake to all His people to comfort one another.

II. WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THIS COMMAND?

1. Because God loves to see His people look happy. The Roman Catholic supposes that God is pleased with a man if he whips himself, walks barefooted for many miles, and torments his body. When I am by the seaside, and the tide is coming in, I see what appears to be a little fringe, looking almost like a mist; and I ask a fisherman what it is. He tells me there is no mist there; and that what I see are all little shrimps dancing in ecstasy, throwing themselves in convulsions and contortions of delight. I think within myself, “Does God make those creatures happy, and did He make me to be miserable? Can it ever be a religious thing to be unhappy?” No; true religion is in harmony with the whole world; it is in harmony with the whole sun and moon and stars, and the sun shines and the stars twinkle; the world has flowers in it and leaping hills and carolling birds; it has joys in it; and I hold it to be an irreligious thing to go moping miserably through God’s creation.

2. Because uncomfortable Christians dishonour religion.

3. Because a Christian in an uncomfortable state cannot work for God much. It is when the mind is happy that it can be laborious.

4. Again, “Comfort ye” God’s people, because ye profess to love them.

III. God never gives His children a duty without giving them THE MEANS TO DO IT. Let me just hint at those things in the everlasting Gospel which have a tendency to comfort the saints. Whisper in the mourner’s ear electing grace, and redeeming mercy, and dying love. Tell him that God watcheth the furnace as the goldsmith the refining pot. If that does not suffice, tell him of his present mercies; tell him that he has much left, though much is gone. Tell him that Jesus is above, wearing the breast-plate, or pleading his cause. Tell him that though earth’s pillars shake, God is a refuge for us; tell the mourner that the everlasting God faileth not, neither is weary. Let present facts suffice thee to cheer him. But if this is not enough, tell him of the future; whisper to him that there is a heaven with pearly gates and golden streets. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Comfort for England

I will make one little change in the translation, taking the words of Dr. George Adam Smith, “Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem.” “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God! Speak ye to the heart of England, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished.” Had the Hebrew prophets no other claim upon our regard we ought to hold them in everlasting respect for their patriotism. For Israel the prophet thought a man might well die. Israel was also God’s people. The strength of Israel in every time of trouble was the Lord of hosts. And the prophet’s interest was not confined to the sacrifices of the temple, nor to the coteries of pious people, but swept into its heart everything that concerned the welfare of the community.

1. Why should not our faith go farther afield and have a more generous range? We also carry in our hearts, not only as citizens, but also as Christians, this England which God gave to our fathers, and has continued in its glory unto their children. Why should we not take our courage in both our hands and, looking at the history of the past and comparing it with the history of the present, recognise in our own people another Israel called of God in a special manner, set apart by God for a special mission, and gather into our soul all the promises of God, and also make our boast in Him as the prophets did? What did they depend on, the Hebrew prophets, for this great conception that God had called the nation, and had a great work for that nation to do? They depended on the facts of history behind them creating in their soul an irresistible conviction. And I ask you whether the right arm of the Most High has not been as conspicuous in English history? From what perils in past centuries has He not delivered this country when the whole world was against us and was put to confusion! Have not we been surrounded by the sea, our national character formed, for purposes that we can recognise? What nation has ever planted so many colonies, explored so many unknown lands, made such practical contributions to civilisation, set such an illustrious example of liberty?

Within our blood is the genius for government, the passion for justice, the love of adventure, and the intelligence of pure faith. Our Lord came of the Jewish stock, and therefore that people must have a lonely place, but when it comes to the carrying out of those great blessings, physical, political, social, and religious, which have been conferred upon the world by the Cross and the pierced hand of the Lord, I challenge anyone to say whether any nation has so extended them within her own borders, or been so willing to give them to the ends of the earth as God’s England.

2. I do not forget England’s sins, for we have sinned in our own generation by inordinate love of material possessions, by discord between the classes of the commonwealth, by a certain insolence which has offended foreign peoples, and also by hideous sins of the flesh. Our sins have been great, and it becomes us to acknowledge them. Does our sin destroy our calling? Does our sin break the Covenant which the Eternal made with our fathers? No people ever sinned against God like Israel. And between the sin of Israel and the sin of England, God’s chosen people of ancient and modern times, there has been the similarity which arises from the sin of people in the same position. Both boasted themselves over-much against other peoples. Both were intoxicated with prosperity. Both depended upon it instead of utilising and conserving the favour of the Most High. When we desire to confess our sins where do we go? We go to the confessions of the Hebrew prophets. And when we ask mercy for our sins, what are the promises we plead? The great promise of mercy declared by the evangelical prophet and now sealed by the life and death and resurrection of our Lord! Because the Hebrew prophet believed that his people were God’s people, he had the courage to speak plainly to them. He is not a traitor to his country who on occasions points out his country’s sins. When Israel sinned there was no voice so loud as that of Isaiah or Amos, but they delighted not in the work, any more than their God delighted in judgment. If God sent them with a rod they took the rod and gave the stroke, but the stroke fell also on the prophet’s own heart, and he suffered most of all the people. When the people repented and turned again to God, when they brought forth works meet for repentance and showed humility, there was no man so glad as the prophet.

3. When the prophet takes up the work of consolation he has no bounds, he makes the comfort of God to run down the streets like a river. It is not enough to say it once, but twice must he sound it, till the comfort of God shall run like lightning through Jerusalem. And when he takes to comforting he is not to be bound by theories of theology or arguments of the schools. He is not going to ask questions--whether a man can expiate his sins, or whether a nation can win repentance. He flings all this kind of argument to the wind, for he has come out from the presence of the Eternal, who does not keep accounts like that, and he cries, “Speak ye home to Jerusalem; her warfare is accomplished.” Accomplished! More than that! God hath now repented! It was His people repented first, now He is repenting. They repented of their sins; behold, God has begun to repent of His judgment! “I have,” he makes the Eternal say--“I have been over-hard with these people, and I have punished them more than they have deserved. Go and comfort them. Comfort them royally. Give it out with a lavish hand--they have received double for all their sins.” When the prophet speaks in this fashion he is not referring to material prosperity, for the words were spoken to the exiles in Babylon. He comforted the exiles because they had repented and been reconciled unto God. The comfort I preach is not based on arms. It is based on the nobler spirit which God has given England during the progress of the war in South Africa. We sinned, and according to our sin was our punishment. We have repented. Through our churches and through our homes, and individually, we have laid the lessons of the Eternal to heart; and according to our repentance shall be the blessing of God. (J. Watson, M. A.)

“Comfort ye My people”

This command is adapted to the needs of the country in which we live. There is a good deal of weariness and depression in modem life. If the blessings of an advanced civilisation can make people happy, there are multitudes who ought to be enraptured, for they are surrounded by material comfort. The gospel of recreation is preached to them. Outward nature is enjoyed and reverenced. Music and painting are filling them with sensibility; literature is contributing to their intellectual gratification; and church privileges abound. Worship to-day gratifies the artistic faculty, without putting a very great strain on the spiritual nature of man. There never was so much ingenuity displayed as now in the manufacture of forms of enjoyment. People never waged such a successful war as to-day against physical and social discomfort. And yet, if you watch them closely, you can see that they are not really satisfied. Affection to-day is not at rest, intellect is not at rest, conscience is not at rest, faith is not at rest. Thank God, there is sweet satisfaction of soul to be found. “Comfort ye,” etc.

I. There is a message in this text for ALL WHO ARE UNDER DISCIPLINE ON ACCOUNT OF SIN. The connection between sin and punishment is never really broken. Men were never so clever as they are to-day in the efforts they have put forth to evade the penalties of wrong-doing, and they very often succeed so far as outward effects are concerned, But the inward penalty is always sure. Loss of self-respect, loss of faculty, and deterioration of nature itself. “Thy warfare is accomplished,” thy discipline may come to an end. It is the spirit of rebellion which lengthens the period of discipline. Lay down your weapons, give up fighting against God, and He will forgive you now, and the consequences of your wrongdoing shall inwardly be done away. Further, your pardon will tell at once on the outward consequences of your wrong-doing. You forfeited the confidence of your friends by your sin; that will come back to you. You damaged your health; that will improve. You injured your social position; that will be retrieved. Just as there is no decree in God’s mind as to the length of time during which a man’s discipline shall be continued, so there is no decree as to the amount of suffering man can endure. The suffering, like the time, may be relieved by speedy submission and penitence.

II. There is a message in this text for ALL WHO IN RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE HAVE NEVER GOT BEYOND CONVICTION. Beyond conviction there is the forgiveness of God. Beyond the sin there is purity. Beyond doubt there is faith; and beyond all this miserable weariness of spirit there is rest.

III. There is a message here, also, for ALL TIMID CHRISTIANS. They feel it would be presumption to expect conscious pardon and Christian perfection. Cultivate your capacity to take in the comfort of God.

IV. There is a message here for ALL DISCONSOLATE CHRISTIANS. You want new ideas, the old ones are about worn out. Thy warfare with weariness is accomplished.

V. There is a message here for DISCONSOLATE CHURCHES. The Jewish Church was disconsolate at the time of the captivity, and there are Churches to-day which are in a sort of captivity. They have made exceptional provision for the needs of the people, yet they are declining. The declension of Churches in great populations is due to many causes, but due to one cause that is a great deal overlooked, and that is the very peculiar temperament of the generation in which your lot has been east. Competition, in particular, has led to a vast amount of advertising. But disconsolate Churches may be comforted. We are coming out of the captivity of those habits and conditions which have come down from the restrictive ages of society. Modern evangelism has grown steadily in the elements of truth and spiritual intelligence. It is resulting to-day in the deepening of spiritual life, and in the expansion of the kingdom of God.

VI. There is a message here for THE NATION AND THE EMPIRE. The return from captivity was the beginning of a new spiritual movement, which was destined to extend over many countries. The classical period of human history was about to begin. My text is the new strain with which the prophet greets the expanding prospect. As one has said, It is the keynote of the revived and purified Israel, and the reason of the hold of Christendom on Europe and on modern times. There is a wonderful correspondence between that period and ours. England is the centre to-day. Judaism at the time referred to was rational-ised by being brought into contact with forms of Roman and Greek thought. Christianity is being rationalised by contact with natural religion. But who is the leader of the improvement of the modern world? “Who is this that cometh from Edom?” etc. (chap. 63:1). Was it some king ruling the nations with a rod of iron? No. Some soldier with a two-edged sword? No. Some philosopher ruling the intellect of the race? No. Jehovah s righteous servant and witness it was: “that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” And the Lord Christ, the Son of God, never spoke to the race as He is speaking to-day, and He needs His messengers to prepare His way. (T. Allen, D. D.)

Conviction and comfort

A quaint Scotch preacher said that the needle of the law opens the way for and carries the thread of the Gospel. I once quoted this saying in a tent-meeting, and a hearer remarked to me afterwards: “Yes, you’re right; but the needle should be pulled out and not left behind.” (H. G. Guinness, D. D.)


Verse 2

Isaiah 40:2

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem

Voices that speak to the heart

This is one characteristic of the voices that reach us from God: they speak home to the heart (R.., marg.). The phrase in the Hebrew is the ordinary expression for wooing, and describes the attitude of the suppliant lover endeavouring to woo a maiden’s heart. Love can detect love.

I. THE VOICE OF FORGIVENESS. The first need of the soul is forgiveness. It can endure suffering; and if that suffering, like the Jewish exile, has been caused by its own follies and sins, it will meekly bow beneath it, saying with Eli, under similar circumstances, “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth good to Him.” But the sense of being unforgiven! This bitterness of heart for sin is the first symptom of returning life! And before God can enter upon His great work of salvation, before He can clear away the debris and restore the ruined temple, before He can reproduce His image, it is needful to assure the penitent and believing soul that its time of service is accomplished, that its iniquity is pardoned. In dealing with the question of sin and its results, let us always distinguish between its penal and natural consequences. The distinction comes out clearly in the ease of drunkenness or criminal violence. Society steps in and inflicts the penalties of the fine, the prison, or the lash; but in addition to these, there is the aching head, the trembling hand, the shattered nervous system. So in respect to all sin. The natural consequences remain. David was forgiven, but the sword never left his house. The drunkard, the dissolute, the passionate, may be pardoned, and yet have to reap as they sowed. The consequences of forgiven sin may be greatly sanctified; the Marah waters cured by the tree of the Cross--yet they must be patiently and inevitably endured. It was thus that Jerusalem was suffering, when these dulcet notes reached her. The backsliding and rebellious people were doomed to serve their appointed time and captivity, and suffer the natural and inevitable results of apostasy. Hence the double comfort of this first announcement.

II. THE VOICE OF DELIVERANCE. Between Babylon and Palestine lay a great desert of more than thirty days’ journey. But the natural difficulties that seemed to make the idea of return chimerical, were small compared with those that arose from other circumstances. The captives were held by as proud a monarchy as that which refused to let their fathers go from the brick-kilns of Egypt. Mountains arose in ranges between them and freedom, and valleys interposed their yawning gulfs. But when God arises to deliver His people who cry day and night unto Him, mountains swing back, as did the iron gate before Peter; valleys lift their hollows into level plains; crooked things become straight, and rough places smooth.

III. THE VOICES OF DECAY AND IMMORTAL STRENGTH. As man’s soul is still, and becomes able to distinguish the voices that speak around him in that eternal world to which he, not less than the unseen speakers, belongs, it hears first and oftenest the lament of the angels over the transcience of human life and glory. In a stillness, in which the taking of the breath is hushed, the soul listens to their conversation as they speak together. “Cry,” says one watcher to another. “What shall I cry?” is the instant inquiry. There is, continues the first, “but one sentiment suggested by the aspect of the world of men. All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the wild flowers of the meadow-lands, blasted by the breath of the east wind, or lying in swathes beneath the reaper’s scythe.” The words meet with a deep response in the heart of each thoughtful man. But listen further to the voices of the heavenly watchers. The failure of man shall not frustrate the Divine purpose. “The Word of the Lord shall stand for ever.”

IV. VOICES TO HERALD THE SHEPHERD-KING. The Old Version and the margin of the R.V. are, perhaps, preferable to the R.V. Zion, the grey fortress of Jerusalem, is bidden to climb the highest mountain within reach, and to lift up her voice in fearless strength, announcing to the cities of Judah lying around in ruins that God was on His way to restore them. “Say unto the cities, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come.” All eyes are turned to behold the entrance on the scene of the Lord God, especially as it has been announced that He will come as a mighty one. But, lo! a Shepherd conducts His flock with leisurely steps across the desert sands, gathering the lambs with His arm, and carrying them in His bosom, and gently leading those that give suck. It is as when, in after centuries, the beloved apostle was taught to expect the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and, lo! in the midst of the throne stood a Lamb as it had been slain. Do not be afraid of God. He has a shepherd’s heart and skill. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

God the Comforter of His people

The skill of a physician is shown, in the first place, in selecting out of many diseases that under which his patient suffers; and, in the second place, in choosing, out of many remedies, that which is most likely to effect his cure. There is as great variety in the diseases of the soul as in those of the body. And if there be this variety in spiritual diseases, and this variety of remedy, then evidently, in ministering to a mixed people, the preacher of Christianity will have to decide in each separate case what is the precise form of sickness, and what the exact medicine best adapted to its cure. Where the soul is utterly insensible to the truths of religion, there must not be the same process as where the conscience is busy in remonstrance. There are spiritual patients with whom we must try argument; but there are others with whom argument would be altogether out of place, whose disquieted minds totally incapacitate them for any process of reasoning; who require the cordials of the Gospel, that they may be strengthened for the trials and endurances of life. There is the lowering medicine for the over-sanguine and presumptuous; and there is the stimulating for the timid and mistrustful.

I. In our text, there is a specification of one large class of medicine; and therefore, by inference, ONE LARGE CLASS OF SICKNESS. “Comfort” is the staple of the prescription. And what was the condition of these patients? We may ascertain this from the subsequent words, “Cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hands double for all her sins.” Here evidently the condition of Jerusalem is one of distress and anxiety and distraction; and this accords most exactly with a passage in the Psalms, and with which we shall connect our text--“In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul.” Here there is the same medicine--“comfort”; but you have the disease more clearly defined--a “multitude of thoughts.” Bishop Austin’s version is, “The multitude of my anxieties within me”; whilst the representation in the original Hebrew would seem that of a man involved in a labyrinth, from whose intricacies there was no way of escape. All this agrees precisely with the case of Jerusalem in the text. And what cause of distressing anxiety would there be whilst there was warfare unfinished, and sin unforgiven! A multitude of thoughts is a very common symptom; but in different patients it requires very different medicines. A man might be “a man after God’s own heart,” and yet subject to the invasion of a crowd of anxieties. It is not uncommon for religious persons to erect standards of excellence, failing to reach which they become uneasy and doubtful as to their spiritual state. Reading the promises of the Bible, which speak of the righteous as “kept in perfect peace,” which breathe tranquillity, abstraction from earthly cares and foretastes of the blessedness of heaven, they conclude that what they ought to experience is perfect serenity of mind; and when they often experience distracting anxieties which the spirit is unable to throw off altogether, and when in times of approaching in prayer the Lord God of heaven and earth, they find their attention broken, then they will add to every other grief a worse grief than all--they will suspect their own sincerity in religion. And never can it be a part of our business to lessen the extent of what is blameworthy, or to endeavour to persuade the righteous that freedom from anxiety is not a privilege to be sought for, or that the concentration of the whole soul is not to be attempted, and failure therein not bitterly lamented. But we know that amid the turmoil of this busy world there will often be such an invasion of the altar of the Lord as when the birds came down on Abraham’s sacrifice. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And whilst we could not wish men to regard their infirmities as sufficient excuses, or to be content with imperfection, as though unavoidable; still, where there is the honest endeavour to stay the mind on God, and abstract it from earth, we may tell them that piety may consist with anxiety, and sincerity of prayer with a multitude of thoughts. God is speaking to those who were sorely distracted, and yet He still calls them “My people.” It is not every failure which should fill you with apprehension as to your state before God.

So wonderfully are we made, so many are the inlets into the mind, so great are the facilities with which evil angels can ply their suggestions, so difficult, moreover, is it to keep that attention to worldly business which is required from us as members of society, from being deformed by that carefulness which is forbidden us as members of Christ’s Church; that, indeed, it were vain to hope, however it be right to desire, that anxiety shall never harass us in a world that teems with trouble. So far from being necessarily a cause of despair or despondency, the Christian may rise superior to all these intruders, and prove that they do but heighten the blessedness of the blessing, though invaded by the influence of earth. God speaks to those as still “His people” who are wearied and worn down with warfare and toil; and in place of speaking to them reproachfully He has only soothing things to utter--“Comfort ye,” etc.

II. Our latter observations have somewhat trenched on THE CHARACTER OF THE MEDICINE which should be tried when the disease is a multitude of thoughts; but we must now examine with attention, and endeavour to determine its faithfulness and its efficiency. The case is that of a righteous man on whom cares and sorrows press with great weight; and whose mind is torn with anxieties and thronged by a crowd of restless intruders distracting him even in his communings with God. Now, the very disease under which this man labours incapacitates him in a great measure for any process of argument. His distracted mind is quite unfitted for that calm and searching inquiry which is required into the matter of the evidences of Christianity for strictly convincing him of the inspiration of Scripture. His mind is evidently unfitted for duly considering, and examining with that singleness of purpose which is demanded by their solemnity, mysteriousness, and importance such truths as those of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Ask ye what these comforts are? There are the rich assurances of God’s forgiving love; there are the gracious declarations of His everlasting purpose of preserving to the end those whom He has chosen in Christ; there are the multiplied promises which make to the eye of faith the page of Scripture one sheet of burning brightness, always presenting most radiantly what is most suited to the necessity. There are the foretastes of immortality. You may without sinfulness and merely through infirmity be invaded and harassed by a multitude of thoughts. But the evil is that when thus invaded and harassed the Christian is apt to attempt a critical examination of his spiritual state, to encourage doubts as to his acceptance with God, and to try and satisfy himself by some process of reasoning as to whether he has indeed believed unto the saving of his soul, whereas his very state is one which unfits him for reasoning, for sitting in judgment on himself, and delivering an accurate verdict. He is sick, and requires God’s comfort.

III. The comforting message is to be delivered to Jerusalem, and annexed is a statement of her warfare being accomplished; and if you connect with this the exclamation of St. Paul--“I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course,” you will see that we make no far-fetched application of the text, if we affirm it as SPECIALLY APPROPRIATE ON THE APPROACH OF THE LAST ENEMY, DEATH. Never is it likely that there will be a more tumultuous gathering of conflicting emotions than when the mind fixes itself on approaching death. It is here that the power of all mere human resources must eventually fail. Christianity furnishes an abundance of what is needed for allaying the fear of death, and soothing man’s passage to the tomb. (H. Mevill, B. D.)

Her warfare is accomplished

The Christian’s warfare

The acceptableness of any announcement will depend very much upon the state of mind and feeling in which we are found in respect to the subject of such announcement. Go to the soldier, wearied with a long campaign, and many a hazardous engagement, longing for a sight of his beloved home--to him how welcome will be the announcement, “Thy warfare is accomplished!” It was on this principle that the prophet Isaiah was directed to take a message of consolation to the ancient people of God. The language of the text may, without any impropriety, be applied to the termination of any state of anxiety, hardship, and grief.

I. THE LIFE OF THE TRUE BELIEVER IS A WARFARE. Frequently is it represented to us in the Holy Scripture by this form of military phraseology. Hence, says the apostle, “Fight the good fight of faith”; and, writing to Timothy, “That by these thou mightest war a good warfare”; “I have fought a good fight,” etc.

1. The great principle of the conflict is faith, founded and implanted in the mind by a super-natural agency. No man will ever in a Christian sense contend, until he is united by a living faith to Jesus, the Son of God: for faith acquaints him with his spiritual enemies; faith is the principle of the new life which puts itself into an attitude of resistance against all that is hostile to itself. “This is the victory that over-cometh the world, even our faith.” When a man is slumbering in his sin, nothing is further from his thoughts than to maintain a spiritual conflict with invisible, spiritual existences; but, under the influence of faith, he will find he is surrounded by a legion of foes. He looks within, and there he finds the corruption of fallen nature. Besides the corruption of an evil nature, there are the powers of darkness. The world, even in its lawful form, is a very serious enemy to our spiritual progress and our spiritual peace.

2. This contention will continue as long as life shall last.

II. THE HOUR OF DEATH WITNESSES THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THIS WARFARE.

1. Death is the instrumental means of separating us from our connection with the present evil world; it strikes at once a line of demarcation, which throws us beyond the reach of all the elements of this present sensible life. He upon whom death has performed his solemn office, has no further interest in the possessions, the endearments, the gains, the business, the pleasures, and the satisfactions of this vain world.

2. Then, death terminates the strife of sin.

3. Death confesses that the believer is a conqueror over himself, and fields the palm of victory at the moment when he inflicts the blow (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

III. THE CONSOLING AND EXHILARATING QUALITIES OF THIS BLESSED CONSUMMATION.

1. When the warfare ends, the rest begins.

2. This state of rest is also a state of peculiar and inexpressible delight. It is something more than rest, as implying a cessation from toil and from contention; it is a joyful rest. Think of the place of rest into which the departed spirits of the just are received. They are where Christ is; they behold His glory. And then, consider the society to which the ransomed spirits of the just are admitted. Think of the employments to which they are advanced. They serve God day and night in His temple, and His name is in their foreheads.

3. This felicity is evermore increasing.

4. This felicity will be for ever and ever. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” (G. Clayton.)

Undeserved grace

“Fulfilled is her warfare, absolved her guilt, received hath she of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins.” The very grammar here is eloquent of grace. The emphasis lies on the three predicates, which ought to stand in translation, as they do in the original, at the beginning of each clause. Prominence is given, not to the warfare, nor to the guilt, nor to the sins, but to this, that “accomplished” is the warfare, “absolved” the guilt, “sufficiently expiated” the sins. It is a great At Last which these clauses peal forth; but an At Last whose tone is not so much inevitableness as undeserved grace. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

Grace masked by grace

How full of pity God is, to take so much account of the sufferings sinners have brought upon themselves! How full of grace to reckon those sufferings “double the sins” that had earned them! It is, as when we have seen gracious men make us a free gift, and in their courtesy insist that we have worked for it. It is grace masked by grace. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

Double for all her sins

“Double for all her sins”

It is not to be pressed arithmetically, in which case God would appear over-righteous, and therefore unrighteous. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)


Verse 3

Isaiah 40:3

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness

The Baptist a pattern preacher

I.
DEPRECIATION OF SELF. Isaiah had predicted simply a “voice”; and John Baptist, accordingly, with a humility which ministers of the New Testament should follow, laid no stress on anything personal to himself--the announcement of his birth by an angel, his priestly descent, his years of preparation--though all these supplied advantages to his ministry. He concentrated attention on what he had to tell In me there is nothing to attract or benefit. I am only what centuries ago was predicted--a voice.

II. EXALTATION OF HIS MESSAGE AS DIVINE.

III. A PROCLAIMING AS THE CENTRAL TOPIC IN THE EVERLASTING MESSAGE A DIVINE, AND THEREFORE EFFECTUAL, HELPER FOR THE RUINED. “He shall gather”; “He shall carry”; “He shall gently lead”; “All flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord” (verses 10, 11, with 5). And John Baptist accordingly announced, as ministers of the New Testament should now announce, the presence in Christ Jesus of a perfect Saviour (John 1:26-27; John 1:29; Matthew 3:11; John 3:29-30). Who among the audience of the “faithful ambassador” have rightly caught the message? (1 Peter 2:3.)

1. Those who surrender all habits inconsistent with his call

2. Those who rejoice greatly in the guardianship and guidance of the great Deliverer proclaimed (1 Peter 1:5-6).

3. Those who steadily tread in the blessed steps of His life (Luke 1:74, 1 Peter 1:21). His sheep hear His voice; He knows them; they follow Him. (D. D. Stewart, M. A.)


Verses 3-5

Isaiah 40:3-5

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

The way of the Lord prepared

I.
THE JEWISH THEOCRACY. It is a favourite statement with those who seek to account for Christianity on entirely mundane principles, that Christ grew, as it were, out of His age. The age was waiting for some such Teacher, some such Gospel--and Teacher and Gospel came. Just as the wreck of the Roman Republic demanded a hand and brain like Caesar’s, and they appeared at the critical moment and reorganised the State, so the Great Preacher of the universal Gospel was called for by His times, and He came. There is something in the spirit of an age, we are told, which creates the heroes and teachers of the age. This is very interesting, and has a large measure of truth in it. Men of high genius are singularly sensitive to the influences around them, and are created while they create; but it is blankly impossible to account for Christ and Christianity by natural evolution, with the Jewish theocracy, a grand prophetic system which for nearly two thousand years looked unto and prophesied of the Messiah, standing in the way. There was existing for ages in the world, kept alive by marvellous interventions of a higher hand, a national community, whose function was distinctly, from first to last, to prepare the way for the Advent, for the Divine kingdom which was to rule over and to bless mankind. These Jews were set to bear witness of the reality of the Divine rule, and its necessity, if states were to be saved from chaos, and the whole world from wreck. There was a period, when Moses led them in the wilderness, when the theocracy came out with wonderful clearness. Then there was a period, under their kings, when, through their worldly conformity to the life of surrounding nations, the theocracy was obscured. But the captivity ended that conformity in sorrow and in shame. From the time of the captivity the idea of the theocracy was restored. The prophets are throughout its great witnesses. The expectation, as matter of history, grew intense as the Advent approached. The expectation of the Advent of a Being, a Person, who should fulfil the promise and the prophecy with which their national life and literature were charged; who should bring, what Christ has brought--a Gospel of salvation to the world. It is a wonderful feature of thepreparation, that just as the nation which exhibited the theocracy was dying away as a nation its belief in the theocracy grew more intense, and its witness grew more clear and impressive to the approaching Advent of the great world theocrat--the Christ.

II. THE JEWISH DISPERSION. It was a very wonderful chain of providential agencies which, before the Advent, scattered that people, these witnesses so charged with the promise and the prophecy, through the civilised world. Up to the time of the captivity the Jews kept themselves in a kind of stem, or, as the heathen around them called it, a sullen isolation. They cherished the sense of a lofty superiority. But, after the captivity, they displayed a singular facility of dispersion, a happy art of settling and flourishing among the Gentile peoples, which makes them to this day, pace the Anglo-Saxon, the first settlers of the world. In every chief city of the empire which Alexander founded a colony of Jews was sure to be settled; and the same state of things afterwards obtained in the far wider empire of Rome. In order to appreciate the significance of this, you must estimate the utter confusion of human beliefs and ideas about Divine things and beings which had been the fruit of the Greek and Roman conquests. Neither Greek nor Roman had belief enough in his gods to impose them on the conquered nations; nor did they find anything Divine among the conquered nations which seemed better worth worshipping than their own. This confusion of religious ideas and systems and deities, none of which had power to emerge with absolute or even strong claims to belief, was profoundly detrimental to moral earnestness, and indeed to any high-toned belief about Divine things. There was an utter confusion and decay of faith. But here were communities settled among them who had an absolute and indestructible belief in their Revelation. They had a God to worship of whom they could give intelligible account. The Jews lived among the heathen in isolation still; but the isolation was visibly based on a religious faith, and on religious records. These Jews, scattered abroad, were witnesses everywhere of the reality and necessity of Divine revelation to, and Divine legislation for, man. They familiarised men with the ideas which Christianity proclaimed, and on which it rested its authoritative claim to the homage and the obedience of mankind.

III. THERE WAS A VERY REMARKABLE CHANGE WITHIN THE BOSOM OF HEATHEN SOCIETY ITSELF, IN ITS INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL IDEAS, WHICH NOT ONLY OPENED THE WAY FOR THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY, BUT SEEMED TO DEMAND SOME SUCH REVELATION OF TRUTH TO MANKIND. Students of philosophy note a very decided progress between the age of Socrates and the age of Seneca in the consideration of questions bearing on man’s individual life and destiny. The supreme interest of a man’s life in the golden age of Greek philosophy lay in his relations, as a member of a society, as a citizen of a State. Within the little circle of Athenian society men realised a closeness of relation to each other, which made the State something of a household. The conquests of Alexander created an entirely new order of things. The Greek became, not the citizen of a State almost domestic in its magnitude and character, but the subject of a great Empire, lost in an undistinguished mass of fellow-subjects, and quite cut adrift from the landmarks and the moorings by which he had been wont to steer and stay his life. The Greek must think about himself and his world, and Alexander led him out into a world too big for him, which oppressed and distracted him, and overthrew all the traditions of his schools. It was a world, too, of ceaseless conflict and change. The state of the Greek world between Alexander’s conquests and the establishment of Roman supremacy, say, roughly, two hundred years, was such as to throw the thinker back upon himself, to lead him to realise his individual responsibility, to force on him the question, “What, after all, am I? Whence did I come? For what am I here? Whither do I tend? I am in a world full of confusion and misery--how am I to regulate my life, so that my happiness may not become a wreck?” So the great thinkers increasingly concerned themselves with questions which had to do with the individual man, his duty, his responsiblilty, his destiny, his means of arming himself for the battle of life, his means of saving himself from utter and hopeless loss. Thus there was a growing tendency in men to consider very much the question which Christianity came to treat of as salvation. The thoughts of man, the longings and aspirations of man, seem to be led up step by step to the point in which the cry, “Lord, save, or I perish!” was ready, did he but know all the meaning of his dumb pain, to fashion itself on his lips. All was waiting for the proclamation, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor,” etc. When men went abroad and proclaimed the Advent of a Saviour, they found a ready entrance to the world’s sad, wistful heart.

IV. THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Incomparably the most important secular herald of the Advent was the Empire--an Empire under whose sceptre such a decree could go forth (Luke 2:1). There are many points of view from which the Empire may be regarded as the herald of the kingdom which was destined to master it, and found on it the edifice of Christian society. We are working and building on the foundations of the Empire still. The whole of modern European society is but the fully developed Empire of Rome. It is the centre of the secular, as the Advent of Christ is the centre of the spiritual, history of mankind. I might say much about the universal peace, which made the preaching of a universal Gospel possible. About the universal law and language, which made the career of the preachers, at any rate, far easier and more rapid than it could have been in any previous state of society. The fundamental question opened by the Empire is also a fundamental question of Christianity, the relation of men to each other. Is it enmity? is it brotherhood? Is the struggle for existence the ruling principle of progress, or brotherly sympathy, care, and love? The state of natural enmity and constant war gave way to a state in which peace, good-fellowship, and mutual ministries were regarded as the natural condition of society. Briton and Egyptian, Syrian and Spaniard, formed together a great political unity; and were drawn into bonds of relation to each other, the nature and bearings of which men were eager to explore. There rose on the minds of men the idea of human brotherhood. Men began to speculate about a common good in which civilised humanity was to share, and a duty of the whole human community to its weaker members, its sick, its poor, its wretched. Men wanted to know why and how they were brethren, why and how they were to love. And so arose perhaps the greatest herald of the Advent in secular society, the longing for a kingdom which should fulfil the promise which Rome in the nature of things was constantly breaking; and give peace, concord, love to a distracted world. Thus the way was prepared, the highway through the desert was made. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

The Divine glory revealed in Christ

I. ITS LITERAL ACCOMPLISHMENT.

1. In the appearance of John the Baptist. Ages rolled away, and no such preparing voice was heard in the desert of Judea. But it was at length heard.

2. Following the footsteps of the servant, comes the Master. And as John had said, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” then was the glory of God manifested; and all flesh, living at that time in Judea, saw it together: the glory of God in human nature. Jesus Christ was the visible image of the glory of God all the time He was on earth. The visible image--

II. ITS SPIRITUAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. This is seen in the manifestation of Christ to the hearts of men. In this there is both preparation and manifestation; for Christ, in mercy, no more bursts upon the soul at once than He did upon the world; He sends His messenger to prepare the way before Him; this is the first part of the process. That preparing herald, figured by John the Baptist, is repentance. Consider what repentance is, and you will see how it prepares the soul for Christ, for pardon, happiness, and purity.

1. The first element is a deep and serious conviction of the fact of our sin. For if we justify ourselves, there will be no preparation.

2. The second element is a conviction of the extreme danger of sin and its infinite desert.

3. The third element is a burdened and disquieted spirit. This supposes a feeling that we are not able to deliver ourselves. The way of the Lord is then plain; all obstructions are removed when we come to this; for all true repentance, like the preaching of John the Baptist, concludes by saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!” It is here alone that we see the glory of God. For what is the happiness of a pardoned soul, but one of the brightest manifestations of the glory of God upon earth? Here is a visible manifestation of the glory of the Divine patience; that man, amidst all his repeated provocations, should at last be saved and made happy. The glory of the grace of God! What a comment on the words of the apostle, “By grace are ye saved!” And then, see the glory of that working of the Divine power by which the soul is finally brought into the enjoyment of all the mind that was in Christ; the soul changing from glory to glory, and the work completed by an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. This is the manifestation of Christ to the soul.

III. ITS ALLEGORICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. It is seen in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom upon earth. He sends forth His heralds. It is by the ministry of His Gospel that His dominion is established. The doctrine to be preached is that of repentance. So St. Paul preached at Athens. The manifestation of the master follows. Here is a manifestation of the glory of the heavenly wisdom, raising, exalting, and purifying the human intellect; of the Divine righteousness, putting a stop to all cruelty and injury. The glory of peace and harmony; the union of man’s heart to man, the extinction of external wars, and the diffusion of internal harmony. The glory of that order among families, and societies, and nations, preserved, and sanctified, and so regulated that no part infringes on the other, but the whole proceeds harmoniously, like a piece of sound mechanism. The glory of mercy and charity: teaching men to remember those that are in afflictions, as being themselves in like manner afflicted. This is a glory peculiar to the Christian revelation. (R. Watson.)

Preparation for the Advent Messiah

A positive preparation of the race itself was necessary, before the plan of redemption could be successfully revealed. This preparation was gradually going forward at the same time that our moral helplessness was so amply illustrated. If we reflect upon the nature of the Christian revelation we shall be convinced that its conceptions belong to an advanced period of civilisation. It addresses itself exclusively to the spiritual nature of man. But, in the earlier periods of our race, our conceptions are all from without; they have to do almost exclusively with sensible objects. The Gospel has to do with thought, feeling, sentiment, motive, and all their various attributes; and it could not be well understood until the mind of man had become somewhat at home in these conceptions. Nor is this all. The Christian religion addresses itself to the moral nature, the conscience of man.

I. Hence, a remedial dispensation would naturally be delayed, until the moral character of man, both individual and social, had been fully displayed; and MANKIND HAD BECOME IN SOME DEGREE CAPABLE OF APPRECIATING THE FACTS THUS PRESENTED TO THEIR NOTICE. But, besides this, the Gospel is a revelation communicated to man by language, and its authenticity, as is meet, is attested by miracles. Now, considerable progress must have been made in civilisation before such testimony could be given as we would be willing to receive on a question of so vital importance. Until the laws of nature are to some extent known, we cannot determine whether the Creator has or has not in a particular case departed from them. And this leads us to observe, again, that a revelation from God to man, informing him of this wonderful change in the conditions of his probation,--a revelation designed for all ages to the end of time, and destined towork a perfect transformation in the moral character of our race,--could not have been completed until language had arrived at a considerable degree of perfection. It was necessary that the doctrines and motives peculiar to the new dispensation should be promulgated with all possible explicitness, and yet guarded from all tendency either to incompleteness or excess. Amidst all the agitations of society, throughout all the overturnings of empire, the human mind, during this long period, had been gradually attaining maturity. Each nation, during its brief existence, had either added something to the stock of human knowledge, or made some contribution to the materials for human thought. Every revolution had illustrated in some new phase the principles of conduct, and had bequeathed the lesson to succeeding generations.

II. We see, then, that God not only prepared a language in which this revelation for all coming ages could, be written, but HE DIFFUSED THAT LANGUAGE OVER THE CIVILISED WORLD. He created a suitable vehicle for the truth, and He made that vehicle, as far as was necessary, universal. And this work was accomplished by means of the ambition of Alexander, and the all-grasping love of dominion of the citizens of Rome. Men ignorant of the existence and character of the true God, bowing down to the senseless images which their own hands had fashioned, indulging without restraint their own corrupt passions, were thus advancing His purposes, and opening the way for the advent of His Son.

III.

One other condition remains yet to be observed.

The nations inhabiting the shores of the Mediterranean were originally distinct in government, dissimilar in origin, diverse in laws, habits, and usages, and almost perpetually at war.

To pass from one to the other without incurring the risk of injury, nay, even of being sold into slavery, was almost impossible.

A stranger and an enemy were designated by the same word.

It was necessary that these various peoples should all be moulded into one common form; that one system of laws should bind them all in harmony. This seems to have been needful, in order that the new religion might be rapidly and extensively promulgated. In order to accomplish this purpose WAS THE ROMAN EMPIRE RAISED UP, AND ENTRUSTED WITH THE SCEPTRE OF UNIVERSAL DOMINION. In many respects it resembled the dominion of Great Britain at the present day in Asia. We perceive that the overturnings of forty centuries were required in order to prepare the world for the advent of the Messiah. The same omniscient wisdom has ever since been engaged in carrying forward the work which was then commenced. (D. Wayland, LL. D.)

Vox clamantis

It were surely a vain thing for a voice to cry in the wilderness where none can hear but the startled wild animals; where there are no sympathetic human hearts that can thrill with its message. But we must remember that of old the wilderness had a strange, weird attraction for many who aspired to live a holy life. And other souls who had similar longings, but did not possess the means or the courage to gratify them, would resort to the hermit of the wilderness for counsel and benediction.

1. The metaphor, so wild and striking, of a voice crying in the wilderness, is as appropriate as metaphor could be for representing the man of God who, in a degenerate age, lifts up his voice to declare the truth, to reprove sin, to call men to a new life. Rocks are not harder than hearts sometimes; the wandering blustering winds are not more inattentive to the speaker’s message than are some souls. To a divinely taught spirit nothing is so truly a desert as the crowded city. To him it is lonely, forbidding, sad, yet mightily attractive, awakening his tenderest compassions, calling forth his mightiest and most patient exertions.

2. Now that it has been done, we probably fall into the way of thinking that nothing was easier than for John the Baptist to preach to the Jews of the time of Herod, or for our Lord to open His mission to the same people, or for Paul to preach Christ at Corinth and Athens and Rome. How different the reality! Could any one of the inhabitants of these places have been consulted by God’s messenger beforehand he would probably have said: “Do you think that these cavilling, disputing doctors and philosophers will ever give credence to such stories as you bring? Do you think that these pleasure-loving people will ever wear the yoke of such an austere religion of self-sacrifice as you proclaim? Go home to your ordinary work again, and don’t trouble yourself to speak a message which nobody will hear; or if you cannot be at peace unless you say something about it, then go into the desert and speak it to yourself and to nature; for your chances of succeeding will be as great there as anywhere.” Strange all this, yet more strange the fact that it is the wilderness and the solitary place which shall rejoice and be glad for the messenger of God who comes to prepare Messiah’s way. The unlikely ground yields the harvest; they that are afar off come nigh. The voice in the wilderness is that of a herald announcing that a Greater One is on His way; be ye ready to receive Him. Widespread, radical, and lasting reformation was not achieved through the word of the Baptist; but such souls as could be prepared for the coming of the Lamb of God were aroused, called, separated from the hardened and worldly and unbelieving, and placed under discipline and teaching. From among their number our Lord chose His first disciples and chief apostles. Beyond the fringe of that little company which kept close to the Baptist something of good also was done. A wave of spiritual feeling passed over a great part of the nation; Jerusalem was greatly excited, if not savingly renewed. A general condition of desire was produced.

3. There are many advents of the Son of God, and for every one of them there is some forerunner, some voice crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye His way; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The voice of some John the Baptist has gone ringing through the wilderness of a dead faith, of a formal worship, of a worldly life, and men have been startled into attention, have been made conscious of shortcomings and sins. And although God never ceases to work among men, yet we come on barren dreary years of history, a very desert, when the signs of the Divine working are not apparent. Then arises some John the Baptist, or a general sense of dissatisfaction pervades the Churches, a sense of shortcoming and of shame, and the obstructions to a Divine manifestation are swept out of the way. Hardly a decade passes now without a cry arising from the Churches themselves: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” Their conscience becomes increasingly quick and true; their ideal grows nobler; their conception of the Christian life assimilates to the standard given in the Word of God. And with attainment comes a longing for more, a sense of need, a craving for God. Then let us prepare His way, as we would that of a dear Friend whom we long to see, and whom we would not keep from us by any neglect or disrespect of ours. (J. P. Gledstone.)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

I. GOD HAS MANY MESSENGERS, AND THEY HAVE OFTEN LIFTED UP THEIR VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS. Some speak with a voice of thunder to arouse a sleeping world. The doctrine of others distils as the dew. Some open new paths to the seekers after wisdom: to others it is given to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Ever since man was driven from Eden he has been a wanderer in the desert. The thorn and the thistle around him are the emblems of the sin and the sorrow which spiritually mark his nomad state of existence. No wonder, then, that the wilderness is so often used as an emblem of this present life, in which you and I must listen to the voice of Heaven’s messengers. We want more law work. Our consciences are too easily satisfied. Modern religion is far too superficial. The law prepares for the Gospel. The Comforter must first convince of sin.

II. ISAIAH USES IT AS AN ILLUSTRATION OF HIS OWN MINISTRY. He, too, living now probably in the idolatrous reign of Manasseh, felt himself in a spiritual desert. Yet by faith he sees afar off, and the seer is himself transported into that bright future. Already foreseeing the seventy years’ captivity of Judah, and then the joyful return of the exiles under the decree of Cyrus, Isaiah writes of these events as if himself living and acting among them. Yea more, he pictures the dawn of the day as ushered in by that return from Babylon.

III. THE TRANSITION IS EASY TO THE PERSONAL TIMES OF THE MESSIAH, AND OF HIS HERALD, JOHN THE BAPTIST. The homely and heart-searching appeals of the Baptist proved him to be the pioneer of the righteous King. Before this wilderness preacher the mountains of Pharisaic pride were levelled, the valleys of Sadducean unbelief were filled up, the tortuous vices of the courtly Judaean were corrected, and the rude ignorance of the Galilean smoothed and reformed.

IV. But even in this day THE WORDS HAD A WIDER SIGNIFICATION. Not only the land of Israel, but the Gentile world, even “all flesh,” was then being prepared “to see the salvation of God.” The former was accomplished by John’s own preaching; of the latter he was only the herald. Providential agencies were even then at work preparing Christ’s way among the Gentiles.

1. At the time when our Saviour was born the knowledge of the Greek language had spread more widely throughout Asia and Europe than has since been the case with any other tongue. What a preparation was this for the spread of the Christian religion. We know that there is no greater harrier separating nations than a difference of language. But at the very period when Christianity began to be published it found one language generally read and understood from the Alps to the Caucasus; and so the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament could now travel, with the gospels and epistles, to the many provinces of the Roman Empire; for the valleys had been exalted, and the mountains and hills made low.

2. A second preparation designed by God’s providence was--the extent of Roman dominion. The chief means employed by that great Empire for consolidating her possessions were her roads and her laws.

V. HOW THIS PROPHECY SHEDS A LUSTRE ON THE WORLD’S FUTURE. Once more in this wide desert “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” and not “one,” but “all lands shall see it together.” Yes, He who ascended into heaven shall so come again. Are we ready for that day? Are we making others ready? I believe that every Christian should be as the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The true Church, in short, must remain in the desert until the mystic “times” are fulfilled. She is to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Meanwhile the voice of prophecy is given to cheer her amidst trial and disappointment. We labour for years to tunnel through the Alps: shall we not labour patiently to prepare the way of the Lord? (S. P. Jose, M. A.)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

I. THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS WHICH HINDER THE SPREAD OF THE REDEEMER’S KINGDOM, spoken of here as valleys, hills, etc. Heathenism abroad: ignorance and vice at home. Intemperance hinders the progress of God’s kingdom on every hand.

1. Intemperance hinders the progress of God’s kingdom at home. Our country is occupied by three armies--an army of paupers, an army of criminals, and an army of police, to stand between the vicious and the virtuous, and protect the latter from the assaults of the former. How is this? There is this huge evil established amongst us, which casts its dread shadow over everything that is lovely and of good report. Where, e.g., are the working men of England to be found to-day? Not in the house of prayer. In the case of many of them, they have no suitable clothes; but why is this? Because wages are low? Because trade is bad? I answer, because the money is carried to the public-house, and is thus worse than wasted. There are some who go many times, perhaps regularly, to the house of God, and yet are not saved. Why? The grand neutraliser of the Gospel is the habit of drinking intoxicating liquors.

2. It is also a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel abroad.

II. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO SWEEP THIS ENEMY AWAY. God has decreed that these mountains shall perish.

1. The Church can remove this mountain. Look at her power as a teacher. Are not the children of our country in her hands? Look at the political power which she possesses. Is there an election in which the Christian Church cannot turn the balance? She has not only the ordinary power which men have, but she has omnipotence at her command.

2. The Church must, if she would hold her own. If we are not assailing strong drink, it is assailing us.

3. The Church must, if she would please her Master. How are we to proceed? Abstinence first; then entire prohibition of the traffic.

III. THE GLORIOUS RESULT. (C. Garrett.)

Preparing the way of the Lord

I. THE ADVENT IMPLIED. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

1. The Lord here spoken of is doubtless the supreme Jehovah; and from the appropriation of the passage by inspired authority to Christ, I apprehend nothing less can be intended than to intimate that He who was coming was the true God and eternal Life. This was that Immanuel who was to bring in an everlasting righteousness, to redeem and restore the Israel of God, and accomplish salvation for all the ends of the earth. Let us, then, inquire, Is this interpretation of the passage justified by other scriptures, and especially by the event itself? Assuredly He came with all the signs and demonstrations of incarnate Deity. He Himself laid express claim to this high character, and most manifestly displayed the perfections which it involves. With these sublime views of His character agrees the testimony of all His inspired apostles.

2. The disciples of John were required to contemplate here the true Messiah coming to effect salvation, to fulfil all the promises made of old to their fathers. It is, therefore, of great interest and importance to ascertain what was involved in that character, and what was the work assigned Him to do. It is expressly declared that He came to do the will of God,--to magnify the law and make it honourable,--to render to it a perfect obedience, and make reconciliation for iniquity.

3. The way of the Lord to us must be understood of His approach to our consciences and hearts by His word and spirit.

II. The charge to “prepare the way of the Lord” implies that there ARE DIFFICULTIES OR OBSTACLES IN HIS WAY.

1. There is the pride and self-righteousness of the human heart,

2. The heart is by nature hard and impenitent, blinded to its own defects, and, even after the confession of them, unwilling to have them condemned or to give them up.

3. The state of human desires and affections presents other and formidable obstacles to the claims of the Lord. Their desires are low--their affections carnal. The poor grovelling heart must be raised to noble and exalted ends and aims.

4. In some there exists a mass of prejudice, and the truth of Christ is viewed under a false light, or through a perverting medium. They will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, and they cannot enter therein. Some are prejudiced against the authority of revelation--some against the mysteries of godliness--some against the doctrines of grace or salvation by the merit of another; and many dislike the holiness, the self-denial, the separation from the world which Christianity inculcates.

5. Repentance is necessary to prepare the way; humility, to receive and learn the doctrine; prayer, to give it success in the heart; and watchfulness, to carry it out into practice. Every one who is himself a disciple of the Lord, has something to do in preparing the way of Christ in the earth. (G. Redford, LL. D.)

The road maker

(with Mattheew 3:3):--To the writers of the Gospel story this vivid expression seems to have commended itself as peculiarly applicable to the Baptist. He came heralding the speedy advent of the Messiah, and his life and ministry were a preparation for the greater life and more potent ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. In all essentials that task still remains to be performed. The modern road maker--the herald and hastener of a better and holier day--must be distinguished--

I. BY A PROFOUND SENSE OF THE EVIL OF THE PRESENT. The prophet was no blind optimist cherishing a foolish hope of a happier future because he did not see the abounding evils around him. He saw with clear, penetrating eyes the moral and spiritual degradation of his nation and day. He speaks of it, ay, and of the national evils which must issue from it--exile, defeat, the overthrow of their beautiful city. That is true of the prophetic band from first to last--from Elijah to John. The man who deliberately closes his eyes to the evils of his day, or seeing them minimises their importance, or in thought disguises them by some euphonious phrase, will never--let his life be prolonged to beyond the age of the patriarchs--prepare the way of the Lord. Too many of us live in an imaginary world as different as possible from the world of stern fact. The men who do most in their own generation to make a way for a better day in the future are usually the men who see clearly one wrong which needs righting, one obstacle which needs removing, one lie which needs refuting, and give themselves to the doing of that one thing--e.g., Wilberforce and slavery, Wesley and Evangelism, Cobden and Free Trade, Booth and the submerged tenth. One word of warning. To look fearlessly at the evils of your own day is not without danger. Not until that Voice which speaks of comfort through forgiveness has been heard and welcomed does the call come which bids hands and feet and active will prepare the way of the Lord.

II. BY AN UNQUENCHABLE FAITH IN THE FUTURE. The road maker is an optimist because he is a man of faith. There is an optimism which is both foolish and unfounded. But if the optimist has first looked facts in the face, and then rises by sheer force of faith in God above all that contradicts his hope, his optimism is not a vice, but a shining and beneficent virtue. Such was this prophet’s. So with John. He is certain, despite the manifold evils--moral and social--that afflict his people, that the day of the Lord sanointed will be a glorious day--a day of great things; and he speaks of it and of Him whose shoe-latchet he is not worthy to unloose with an unbounded faith. “He must increase; I must decrease.” Note on what the road maker rests--not on man. “All flesh is grass; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God endureth for ever.” The people have God’s Word; when all their human leaders have fallen, and every visible authority for God is taken away, this shall be their rally and their confidence.

III. BY HIS READINESS TO SERVE OR SUFFER. So Isaiah: so John. No good cause but has exacted its toll of both from heroic hearts that have espoused it. (W. H. Williams.)

Comfort for the afflicted Church

I. THE DESIGN OF THIS PROPHECY is to speak peace and comfort to an afflicted Church. Not only to the Jewish Church under a temporal captivity, but to every Christian Church, and every faithful soul.

1. “Every valley shall be exalted.” As the way St. John was sent to prepare by repentance was in the hearts of men, this must express some change to be wrought in those hearts. And what does it proclaim, but that humility is the way to glory?

2. “Every mountain and hill shall be made low.” As the lowly and fruitful valleys represent the meek and pious servants of Christ, so do the lofty and barren mountains point out to us the haughty and unprofitable children of this world that oppose Him.

3. “The crooked shall be made straight.” This is a most essential part in a highway, the end and intent of which is, to lead those who travel in it directly to the place and city where they would be. Man, at his creation, was placed in the straight way to heaven and happiness. Had he kept the eyes of his faith steadily fixed upon it, and walked directly on in the path of God’s commandments, he had soon arrived at it. But he listened to the suggestions of the devil, who drew him out of it, pretending to show him a pleasanter and shorter road than that appointed. But no sooner was man a sinner than God was a Saviour. When the valley of humility is exalted by faith and the mountain of pride and self-sufficiency brought low in your hearts, the crooked shall instantly be made straight before you.

4. “The rough places plain.” When the low ground is raised, the high levelled, and the whole marked out with a line and made straight, nothing remains but to clear away all obstructions.

II. The words thus explained, what remains but that we APPLY THEM TO OURSELVES, FOR THE DIRECTION OF OUR PRACTICE? (Bp. Horne.)

Preparing the way of the Lord

I. THE DUTY OF PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD.

1. The herald. Allusion is here made to an ancient custom, according to which heralds were sent before to prepare the way for the monarch when he was about to march from one place to another. Christian ministers are the “voice” of God “crying in the wilderness.” The very circumstance of this voice being needed shows the disordered state of man by nature. It is not enough for ministers gently to remind men of their state and duty--they must “cry.” Very many are the souls that need to be thus roused.

2. The scene of his labours--“the wilderness.” This is highly descriptive of the state of men in every age. A wilderness, a desert, indeed, is this world, while void of God’s grace; destitute of beauty, and unfruitful as to every good work.

3. What is the work to which the herald calls? As far as we have it in our power, we are to aid in removing whatever hinders the reception of Christ in the world. What is it hinders the reception of Christ in our own hearts? The success of the messenger will ever depend upon his looking up to the Lord.

II. OUR ENCOURAGEMENTS.

1. Every difficulty, however formidable, shall be surmounted. For “every valley shall be exalted,” etc. What are the difficulties which present themselves? In the work of salvation there are two leading classes of impediments.

2. There shall be an universal manifestation of the Divine glory. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” There was a great manifestation of the Divine glory when Cyrus and the foes of the Church were made the instruments of delivering God’s people from their captivity. Christians! this is not our work, or we should soon be dismayed. It is the way of the Lord. He is to work; He is to display His own glory. What tenderness and-condescension has God shown!

3. The certainty of all this. “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” When one promises who can fulfil our wishes, we have all the encouragement we can possibly need. In no blindness of mistaken zeal, in no rashness of enthusiasm, yet with all holy boldness, let us labour to prepare the way of the Lord. (W. Williams.)

The King’s highway

I. VALLEYS MUST BE LEVELED UP.

1. Inattention.

2. Apathy.

3. Despondency.

II. EMINENCES MUST BE LEVELLED DOWN.

1.