Isaiah Chapter Forty-six
The idols could not save themselves, but God saves his people. (1-4) The folly of worshipping idols. (5-13)
Commentary on Isaiah 46:1-4
(Read Isaiah 46:1-4)
The heathen insulted the Jews, as if their idols Bel and Nebo were too hard for Jehovah. But their worshippers cannot help them; both the idols and the idolaters are gone into captivity. Let not God's people be afraid of either. Those things from which ungodly men expect safety and happiness, will be found unable to save them from death and hell. The true God will never fail his worshippers. The history of the life of every believer is a kind of abstract of the history of Israel. Our spiritual life is upheld by his grace, as constantly as our natural life by his providence. And God will never leave them. The Author will be the Finisher of their well-being, when, by decays, they need help as much as in infancy. This promise to Israel, enfeebled and grown old as a nation, is applicable to every aged follower of Christ. When compassed about with infirmities, and perhaps those around begin to grow weary of you, yet I am He that I have promised to be, He that you would have me to be. I will bear you up; carry you on in your way, and carry you home at last. If we learn to trust in and love him, we need not be anxious about our remaining days or years; he will still provide for us and watch over us, both as the creatures of his power, and as new-created by his Spirit.
Commentary on Isaiah 46:5-13
(Read Isaiah 46:5-13)
Here the folly of those who made idols, and then prayed to them, is exposed. How does the profuseness of idolaters shame the niggardliness of many who call themselves God's servants, but are for a religion which costs them nothing! The service of sin always costs a great deal. God puts it to them what senseless, helpless things idols are. Let, then, the Jews show themselves men, avoiding such abominations. Many Scripture prophecies, delivered long ago, are not yet fulfilled; but the fulfilling of some is an earnest that the rest will come to pass. Nothing can help more to make us easy, than to be assured that God will do all his pleasure. Even those who know not and mind not God's revealed will, are called and used to fulfil the counsels of his secret will. Heaven and earth shall pass away, sooner than one tittle of the word of God. Obstinate sinners are addressed. Such were far from acceptance, but they were summoned to hearken to the word of the Lord. The salvation of a sinner begins with a humble and contrite heart, that trembles at God's word, with godly sorrow working true repentance, and faith in his mercy, through the obedience unto death of our Divine Surety. Christ, as the Divine righteousness and salvation to his people, would come in the appointed time. His salvation abides in his church for all believers.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Isaiah》
 Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.
Bel — The chief idol of the Babylonians, called by profane historians Jupiter Belus.
Boweth — As the Babylonians used to bow down to him to worship, so now he bows down to the victorious Persians.
Nebo — Another of the famous idols, which used to deliver oracles.
Their idols — Were taken and broken, and the materials of them, gold, silver, and brass, were carried upon beasts into Persia.
Your carriages — O ye Persians, to whom he turns his speech.
 They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
They — The Babylonians.
Together — The Babylonians and their idols together, neither could help the other.
Deliver — The Babylonians could not deliver their idols.
 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
Carried — Whom I have nourished, ever since you were a people, and came out of Egypt; and that as tenderly, as parents bring up their own children.
 They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
Remove — He can stir neither hand nor foot to help his people.
 Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
Bring it — Think of this again and again, ye who have been guilty of this foolish sin.
 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Declaring — Foretelling from the beginning of the world, future events which should happen in succeeding ages, even to the end of the world.
 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
A bird — Cyrus, called a bird for his swiftness, and ravenous for his fierceness, and victoriousness over his enemies.
 I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.
I bring — Tho' you are unrighteous, I will shew myself a righteous and faithful God, making good my promise of delivering you out of Babylon after seventy years.
It — My work of saving you from the Babylonish captivity.
Will place — I will bring my people to Zion, and save them from all their enemies.
My glory — In whom I will once again glory as my people.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Isaiah》
46 Chapter 46
Bel boweth down
Bel and Nebo
Bel and Nebo are the Jupiter and Mercury of the Babylonian
pantheon (they are represented by these planets), and were the supreme deities
in Babylon at this time.
Bel (Bilu) is the Babylonian form of the Hebrew Ba’al (= lord), and like that word is a generic name applicable to any deity. When used as a proper name it usually denotes Merodach (Marduk), the tutelary divinity of the city of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:44); although there was an older Bel, who is spoken of as his father. The elevation of BelMerodach to the chief place among the older gods, as recorded in the mythical Chaldean account of the Creation (Tablet 4.1 ff.), is the legendary counterpart of the ascendency acquired by Babylon over the more ancient cities of the Euphrates valley. Nebo (Nabu) was the son of Merodach; the chief seat of his worship being Borsippa, in the vicinity of Babylon. His name, which is supposed to be from the same root as the Hebrew nabi’, “prophet,” seems to mark him out as the “speaker” of the gods (another point of contact with Mercury, “the chief speaker”-- Acts 14:12). He was also regarded as the inventor of writing. The frequency with which the Chaldean kings are named after him (Nabo-polassar, Nebu-chadnezzar, Nabo-nidus) has been thought to show that he was the patron deity of the dynasty. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
A contrast--idols and God
1. This is an incident in the fall of Babylon. Cyrus has broken in, and the mighty city lies open to the Persian army, exasperated by long waiting at her gates. The blood of her nobles has flowed freely over the marble floors of her palaces; most of her defenders are slain. Women and children are cowering in the inmost recesses of their homes, or filling the streets with screams of terror and appeals for help, as they fly from the brutal soldiery. The final and most sanguinary conflicts have taken place within the precincts of the idol temples; but all is still now. The priests have fallen around the altars which they served; their blood mingling with that of their victims, and their splendid vestments are become their winding sheets. And now, down the marble staircases, trodden in happier days by the feet of myriads of votaries, 1 o, the soldiers are carrying the helpless idols. The stern monotheism of Persia would have no pity for the many gods of Babylon; there are no idol-shrines in the land of the sun-worshippers where they could find a niche: but they are borne away as trophies of the completeness of the victory. There is Bel, whose name suggested that of the capital itself. How ignominiously it is handed down from its pedestal! And Nebo follows. The hideous images, lavishly inset with jewels and richly caparisoned, are borne down the stately steps, their bearers laughing and jeering as they come. The gods get little respect from their rude hands, which are only eager to despoil them of a jewel. And now, at the foot of the stairs, they are loaded up on the backs of elephants, or pitched into the ox-waggons. In more prosperous days they were carried with excessive pomp through the streets of Babylon, wherever there was plague or sickness. Then the air had been full of the clang of cymbals and trumpets, and the streets thronged with worshipping crowds; but all that is altered. “The things that ye carried about are made a load, a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity” (Isaiah 46:12, R V). So much for the gods of Babylon being borne off into captivity.
2. Close on this graphic picture of the discomfiture of the gods of Babylon, we are invited to consider a description of Jehovah, in which the opposite to each of these items stands out in clear relief. He speaks to the house of Jacob, and to all the remnant of the house of Israel, as children whom He had borne from the birth, and carried from earliest childhood. Their God needed not to be borne, He bore; needed no carriage, since His everlasting arms made cradle and carriage both. Such am He had been, He would be. He would not change. He would carry them, even to hoar hairs. He had made and He would bear; yea, He would carry and deliver.
3. This contrast is a perpetual one. Some people carry their religion; other people are carried by it. Some are burdened by the prescribed creeds, ritual, observances, exactions, to which they believe themselves to be committed. Others have neither thought nor care for these things. They have yielded themselves to God, and are persuaded that He will bear them and carry them, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that they go, until they come to the place of which God has spoken to them Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 63:9). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Israel’s infancy and maturer life
“From the womb” and “from the lap” point back to the time when the nation whose existence began with Abraham, marching from Egypt, was born, so to speak, to the light of the world; from that time it has lain like a willingly assumed burden on Jehovah, who carries it as a nurse the babe (Numbers 11:12); as a man his son (Deuteronomy 1:31); as an eagle its young (Deuteronomy 32:11). The seneetus and canities in Isaiah 46:4 are self-evidently the nation’s, but not as if this were at present in a senile state, but the yet future and latest days of its history. Up to that moment Jehovah is He, i.e the Absolute One, and always the same (chap. 41:4). As He has done hitherto, He will act in the future--bearing and saving. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
National life--its stages
The general analogy between the life of individuals and that of nations, is sufficiently obvious, and is finely expressed by Florus, in his division of the Roman history into the periods of childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. (J. A. Alexander.)
Idols found wanting, but Jehovah found faithful
The confidence of Babylon is buried among her heaps of rubbish, for her gods have fallen from their thrones. As for us, our trust is in the living God, who lives to carry His chosen.
I. FALSE CONFIDENCES PASS AWAY.
1. The Lord has made a full end of false gods and their worship. “Bel boweth down,” &c. Not only concerning Bel and Nebo, but concerning many a set of heathen deities, a note of exultant derision may be taken up. “The idols He shall utterly abolish.”
2. The like thing has happened unto false systems of teaching. If you are at all readers of the history of religious thought, you will know that systems of philosophy, and philosophical religions, have come up, and have been generally accepted as indisputable, and have done serious injury to true religion for a time; and yet they have vanished like the mirage of the desert.
3. It will be just the same with us if we trust in false confidences of any sort; such, for instance, as our experiences, or attainments, or services, or orthodox belief.
II. OUR GOD ABIDES ALWAYS THE SAME. “Even to your old age I am He.” He is always the same in Himself, and always the same to His people.
1. We rightly expect trials between here and heaven; and the ordinary wear and tear of life, even if life should not be clouded by an extreme trial, will gradually wear us out. What saith our God concerning the days of decline and decay? He says to us, “I am He.” He will not grow weak. His eye will not be dim. His ear will not be heavy.
2. If life should flow never so smoothly, yet there are the rapids of old age, and the broken waters of infirmity, and the cataract of disease--and these we are apt to dread; but why? Is it not sure that the Lord changes not?
3. In the course of years, not only do we change, but our circumstances change. If you are where you ought to be, your confidence is in God now, and you will have the same God then, and He will still be your guardian and provider. His bank will not break, nor His treasury fail.
4. “Ah!” say you, “but what I most mourn is the death of friends.” Yes; that calamity is a daily sorrow to men who are getting into years. But the Lord says, “I am He,” as much as to say, “I am left to you, and will not fail you.”
5. Some trouble themselves more than there is need concerning prophetic crises which are threatened. We know so little of the future that to worry about it will be the height of unwisdom. The Lord took care of the world before we were here to help Him, and He will do it just as well when we are gone. We can leave politics, religion, trade, morals, and everything else with Him. What we have to do is to obey Him, and trust Him, and rejoice in Him.
6. “Still,” says one, “there are such evil tokens in the Church itself as must cause serious apprehension to godly men.” But never despair of the Church of God, for of her it is true, “Even to hoar hairs will I carry you; to your old age I am He.” The Head of the Church never alters. His choice of His Church is not reversed. His purpose for His Church is not shaken. We shall see better days and brighter times yet, if we have but faith in God and importunity in prayer.
III. WHILE FALSE CONFIDENCES PASS AWAY, GOD WILL FOR EVER BE THE SAME. His former mercies guarantee to us future mercies.
1. He says, “I have made.” It is well to remember the mercy of God to us in our formation, and in the first days of our birth and infancy. But God made us in another sense. He new-made us.
2. Then He also tells us that He has carried us; and if we have been carried by Him, He will carry us the rest of the way. What a great care has our gracious God, since none of His children can run alone without His power, His love, His grace!
3. Practically, God’s mercies through life are always the same. Notice two things which are always here--the same God and the same mercy. There is nobody else here but the Lord alone with His people. You and your God; and you are nobody but a poor thing that has to be carried. God’s great “I,” and that alone, fills up the whole space. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And even to your old age I am He
The best support in frailty
Nothing can exhibit the character of God in a more amiable point
of view, than the representations which the Scriptures give us of His conduct
to youth and age.
Youth is ardent, thoughtless, and presumptuous. But to them God says, Wilt thou not from this time cry unto Me, My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth? Old age needs a comforter. God saith in the text, “Even to your old age,” &c.
I. THE GRACIOUS ASSURANCE GOD HERE DELIVERS TO HIS AGED SAINTS.
1. God’s continued presence with them. Few of the companions of their early days remain. But the Guide of their youth lives to be the companion of their age.
2. It implies unabated affection. The aged are ready to complain, and in many cases with truth, that relatives and friends are cold to them, and weary of them. They fear that their moral infirmities will provoke the anger of their Father in heaven. But God having loved His own that are in the world, will love them to the end.
3. The promise assures aged saints of the kindest tokens of endearment from their God and Father. He will bear them in His arms as the parent does the child for whose welfare she is most solicitous.
4. This promise assures aged believers of effectual support. Various are the burdens which the aged have to bear, and various are the duties which they are required to perform, and for which they have no might. In youth, saints are apt to err on the side of presumption, and in old age, on that of despondence. But the grace of God can strengthen the bending back and invigorate the fainting spirit.
5. It assures them of His patience and indulgence. This may be intimated in the phrase--“I will bear.” Men are more disposed to bear with the young than with the old. He will correct you for the failings of age to secure their amendment, and to make your decline a more happy specimen of the beauty and the power of religion; but it will be with a gentle hand. He will dig about the aged tree and prune it, that it may still bear fruit.
6. The text contains a promise of complete deliverance. Many are the afflictions and temptations of old age, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all Human life is like a hill. Its sunny side we climb in childhood and youth; in middle life we loiter a while on its summit; in old age we descend its dark side, and at its foot lies the valley of the shadow of death. The staff which supported your decrepitude shall help you in your dying agony; the rod which drove enemies from your course shall terrify them from your pillow; yea, the Comforter of your age shall take you to Himself, that in Him you may find the bliss of eternity.
II. THE GROUNDS OF CONFIDENCE IN THESE PROMISES, that God will do all this to His aged people.
1. God hath made. His creating goodness is frequently employed in Scripture as an encouragement to hope in His protecting care (chap. 43:1, 2). Besides, you are His workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works.
2. The character of Him who makes the promise confirms it. What is the reason why the word “I” is five times repeated in this verse? It is to point out the pleasure God takes in making promises of mercy to His aged people, and to fix their view on the Author of it, that they may confide more fully in its accomplishment. The greatest promises, if made by those destitute of power to fulfil them, excite contempt; or, if made by persons whose integrity is questionable, are thought of with the torturing anxieties of suspicion, rather than the comforts of hope; but in God we see everything to make distrust appear foolish and criminal, and to produce a steadfast and triumphant faith.
1. This subject is admirably adapted to lead the aged to their proper duties. It should lead them to love God with all their heart and strength. The reflection, I am poor and needy, but the Lord thinks on me, is powerfully adapted to melt the heart. Your capacities of service are more limited than they once were; but this consideration should make you more zealous in the holy improvement of them. Let it teach you patience. Let it teach you to be joyful. Be not weary of a season thus marked by the Divine pity and care.
2. Let the conduct of God to the aged be imitated by us as far as possible. Let not your regard to them wax cold, though you may perceive in them increasing infirmities. Give them every proper testimony of your kindness.
3. Let aged transgressors consider, that none of these consolations is theirs, and that they exclude themselves from them by their temper and conduct. (H. Belfrage, D. D.)
The aged saint comforted
I. WHAT HAS GOD DONE FOR YOU ALREADY? “I have made.” This brings Him very near. Others have claimed us as children; and we early learned to say, My father. But to them we owe our being subordinately, and instrumentally: to Him we owe it supremely and efficiently. They were “fathers of our flesh”: but He is “the Father of our spirits.” But there is another and a higher operation of which the Scripture-speaks. “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise.” “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” As the subjects of His grace, a foundation is laid for everlasting confidence and joy in Him.
II. WHAT GOD WILL DO.
1. He will carry. This implies something more than to guide and to lead. It supposes helplessness on their side; and tender support and assistance on His. God has a large family; but, as Bishop Hall observes, none of His children can go alone. Yet they are not left to perish in their weakness.
2. He will deliver. This implies that they are exposed to danger; but that they shall not become a prey. He delivers them from trouble. In trouble. By trouble.
III. BUT HOW LONG HOW FAR WILL HIS TENDERNESS AND CARE EXTEND? “To old age; to hoar hairs.” This is a period in which a man is deprived of many of his relations and friends; is gazed on by a new generation; feels a thousand infirmities, anxieties, and distresses; and is reduced to dependence upon those around him.
1. The promise does not necessarily suppose that you will reach this period. The meaning is, that if you should reach this period you need not be afraid of it; He will be with you, and “a very present help in trouble.”
2. It is only said that He will be with you “to old age, and to hoar hairs.” He will be with you all through “the months of vanity, and the wearisome nights appointed you”; He will be with you even when “your heart and flesh fail you.” This is implied. But it was not necessary to mention it--old age and death are so near each other--they touch. This subject displays--
The God of the aged
I. THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT I hold to be, the constancy of God’s love, its perpetuity, and its unchangeable nature. God declares that He is not simply the God of the young saint; that He is not simply the God of the middle-aged saint: but that He is the God of the saints in all their ages from the cradle to the tomb. The doctrine, then, is twofold: that God Himself is the same, whatever may be our age; and that God’s dealings towards us, both in providence and in grace, are alike unchanged.
II. But now we come to our real subject, which is, to consider THE TIME OF OLD AGE AS A SPECIAL PERIOD, and to mark, therefore, the constancy of Divine love--that God bears and succours His servants in their later years.
1. Old age is a time of peculiar memory.
2. The aged man, too, hath peculiar hopes. He hath few hopes of the future in this world. But he has one hope, and that is the very same which he had when he first trusted in Christ. What is the ground of thy hope? Is it not the same as that which animated thee when thou wast first united with the Christian Church? Thou saidst then, “My hope is in the blood of Jesus Christ.” And the object or end of hope, is not that the same? And is not the joy of that hope just the same?
3. Old age is a time of peculiar solicitude. An old man is not anxious about many things, as we are; for he hath not so many things for which to concern himself. He hath not the cares of starting in business, as he once had. He hath no children to launch out in business. But his solicitude hath somewhat increased in another direction.
4. Old age hath its peculiar blessedness. The old man has a good experience to talk about. He has peculiar fellowship with Christ. There are peculiar communings, peculiar openings of the gates of paradise, peculiar visions of glory, just as you come near to it.
5. The aged saint has peculiar duties.
1. What a precious thought, young men and women, is contained in this text. You want a safe investment; here is an investment safe enough. Young man, God’s religion will last as long as you will; His comforts you will never be able to exhaust in all your life.
2. Middle-aged men, you are plunged in the midst of business, and are sometimes supposing what will become of you in your old age. But is there any promise of God to you when you suppose about to-morrows? Listen to what David says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”
3. Venerable fathers in the faith, and mothers in Israel, take these words for your joy. Do not let the young people catch you indulging in melancholy, sitting in your chimney corner, grumbling and growling, but go about cheerful and happy, and they will think how blessed it is to be a Christian. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
God always with His people
When we begin with the Alpha of our life’s spelling, we find Him good; and when we come to the Omega, and faintly pronounce the last letter of life, we know still better how gracious He is. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s presence with the aged
I remember, when I was a lad, I took a long walk from the place where I was working, late on a Saturday night, to my father’s house; and all the way along that walk the night increased about me, the darkness got thicker and thicker. I knew that just before I should reach home I should pass through what to me was the gloomiest and thickest wood that ever was. It was gloomy even at midday. And I remember I was feeling my way through that dense wood, when suddenly my heart leapt to my mouth, and the same instant almost all my fears vanished. For a great, strong voice rang through every timber of the wood--“Are you coming, Johnny?” ’Twas my father coming to meet me! Oh,the night became almost light about me. I could almost fancy I saw the outline of a great, strong man flashed upon the darkness--so vivid was the impression, not only on the ear, but also on the imagination. Then the whole darkness was vocal with the crash of his voice. Some of you are in darkness. It is wearing late, my brother. It is getting dark and late and lonely, and not many people are tramping your road now. Time was when the road was filled with your friends. You are like one who sits up far into the night, and sees the lights in the neighbours’ houses one by one put out, while the darkness and silence are deepening round about him. But suddenly, suddenly, in this darkness and loneliness, God’s voice rings out, “I am here; fear not; never nearer than now, in your hoar hairs and old age.” (J. M‘Neill.)
The reward of life-long consecration to God
In our great naval and military hospitals, it is only those grey-haired veterans who have fought the battle in youth and manhood, who can be received as in-door pensioners. It is long and devoted service which is the passport to admission there. The inmates bear upon them marks of the fight--the mutilated limb or the scar of battle, or medals hang on their breast, the mementoes of brave and heroic deeds. Let us work while it is called to-day. Let us give to God, not the crumbs which fall from life’s table, but the best of the feast; not the evening hour of weariness and sleep, but the morning prime of active energy; not the few stray winter berries left on the top of the olive tree, but the ripe and abundant autumn fruits. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Old age with and without God
Old age without God--it is the picture of querulousness, discontent, fretfulness, gloom! Old age with God--it is love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness. Old age without God--it is graphically described, in this chapter, as the overturn of all worldly pride and glory--“Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth”; it is the spoliation of the earthly temple, the pillage of everything that ministered to earth’s ephemeral happiness. Old age with God--it can stand with the prophet, even in the midst of catastrophe and ruin and death, claiming as its own the sustaining words, “Even to your old age I am He,” &c. (J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
I have made, and I will bear
Creating and carrying
I. The two ideas of creating and carrying are thrown together, and in such a way as to show that they are related: that IN THE FACT OF GOD THE CREATOR LIES ENFOLDED THE FACT OF GOD THE REDEEMER. We must not let the fact of redemption, wonderful as it is, throw the fact of creation into the background; because the two are inseparably linked. Redemption, in one sense, grows out of creation. Because God made man in His own image, He is bent on restoring him to that image. Because God made us, God loves us, educates us, bears with us, carries on the race on the line of His infinite patience, ministers to us with help and sympathy, is burdened with our perverseness and blindness, yea, comes down in person into the sphere of our humanity and takes its awful load of sin and sorrow and pain and death upon Himself. In anything that one makes he has a peculiar interest. The young artist knows that his first picture stands no chance in comparison with the works of his masters, and yet that piece of canvas is more to him than a Raphael or a Rembrandt. Love seems to thrive on defect. The idea is worked out in Wordsworth’s little poem, “The Idiot Boy.” And the same fact holds on the moral side. Parental love is not conditioned on a child’s goodness. All this is familiar enough. Are we afraid to carry the truth farther up--up to God? Are we of those who say that God must be just and may be merciful--as if mercy were not one of His essential attributes as well as justice? Why should the “must” hold in the one case any more than in the other? All that is included in the word “bear” is practically pledged to us in the fact of creation. One reason why we take so slowly to the idea of God’s bearing or carrying us, is because we divorce it from the fact that He made us; and we rook at the bearing simply as a concession, forgetting that God the Redeemer is bound up with God the Creator. You find that in the New Testament. Take the parable of the Prodigal Son. What is at the bottom of the whole story but this truth of sonship? It is that which defines the measure of the prodigal’s sin. That also defines the father’s longing, and the joy over the returning son, the free forgiveness and the festivity. God is under the stress of the parental instinct to take our sicknesses and to bear our infirmities, and He yields to it, gives Himself up to it in His own Divine measure. I am saying nothing which goes to mitigate the essential badness of sin, or God’s hatred of it, or to deny the fact of God’s punishment of it. Even fatherhood has limitations. God cannot restore His erring child without conditions. Simply to forgive the past is not enough. God aims at the perfect establishment of the filial relation, and that cannot be without a filial heart in the son, and the son’s cheerful obedience. If the prodigal had not come back repentant, he would not have had the robe and the ring.
II. SOME OF THE ASPECTS UNDER WHICH THIS TRUTH OF GOD’S BEARING MANIFESTS ITSELF.
1. It appears as a matter of tolerance. It is perfectly clear from the Bible that God’s love for His children makes Him bear patiently with their infirmities and errors. When an enthusiastic sculptor has once conceived the idea of a statue, he is not daunted by hardness in the stone, nor by defects in the grain. He is bent on carrying out his cherished ideal. The greater the difficulties, the more his energies are called out. Are we to suppose that God conceives a purpose less sharply or works it out with less intensity than a man does? This idea of bearing is at the root of the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. The truth also comes out experimentally in the Christian life of each one of us. Every one, if he is honest with himself, knows that God has had much to bear with him, and knows, too, how patiently God has borne it: and every one of us has had experience of God’s bearing in the sense of sympathetic love and helpfulness. How many of us know from most blessed experience what it is to have a great High Priest touched with the feeling of our infirmities. How many of us have known what it was to have Him bear our heavy load for us; and therefore, in the way that lies before us, can we not trust in larger measure the love of Him who made us to bear with us? God makes nothing in vain. When He made man in His own image, He did not make him to gratify a caprice, or in mere wantonness of power. He made him with a solemn, an awful, a glorious purpose over which He took heaven into counsel: and be sure that He will accomplish that purpose, that His patience shall not fail, that He who made will bear until He shall have perfected His work.
2. And meanwhile let us not forget the lesson of His bearing as it speaks to us of duty. Let us not presume on it. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
God our burden-bearer
I. THE BURDENS FOR WHICH GOD MAKES HIMSELF RESPONSIBLE. The lives of most of us are heavily weighted. We began our race unencumbered, but the years as they have passed have added burdens and responsibilities. There is the burden of existence. Of sin. Of responsibility for others. Of our life-work. In all these things we are doomed to be solitary. Each human soul must bear his own burden. We are a deadweight; but it matters nought to Him.
II. THE REASON WHY GOD ASSUMES THIS RESPONSIBILITY. “I have made, and I will bear.” When a parent sees his own evil nature re-appearing in his child, so far from casting that child aside, and quoting its faults as reasons for disowning it, he draws nearer to it, filled with a great pity, and murmurs, “I have made, and I will bear.” When a man has elicited in another a love which will never be at rest till it has nestled to his heart, even though considerations arise which make it questionable whether he has been wise, yet as he considers the greatness of the love which he has evoked, he says to himself, “I have made, and I will bear.” When a Christian minister has gathered around him a large congregation, and many have been converted from the world, as he looks around on those who count him captain or father, he says to himself, when voices summon him elsewhere, unless some overmastering consideration is pressed upon him, “I have made, and I will bear.” Now let us ascend, by the help of these reflections, to the Divine nature, which is not above similar considerations. He has made and fashioned us; He has implanted within us appetites that only He can satisfy; He has placed us amid circumstances of unusual difficulty, and entrusted to us work of unwonted importance; He has committed to us the post of duty which taxes us to the uttermost: and because He has done all this, He is responsible for all that is needed for the accomplishment of His purposes.
III. THE CONSOLATION WHICH ARISES FROM THESE CONSIDERATIONS.
1. In hours of anguish for recent sin. The sin is our own. And yet from the depth of sin-consciousness there is an appeal to God. He created, permitted us to be born as members of a sinful race. He knew all we should be, before He set His heart upon us and made us His own. May we not ask Him to bear with us whom He made, redeemed, and took to be His children by adoption and grace? And will He not answer, “I have made, and I will bear”?
2. In moments of great anxiety.
3. In days of anxious foreboding. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
False and true religion--bearing or borne
It makes all the difference to a man how he conceives his religion--whether as something that he has to carry, or as something that will carry him. We have many idolatries and idol manufactories among us. This cleavage is permanent in humanity--between the men that are trying to carry their religion and the men thatare allowing God to carry them. Let us see how God does carry.
1. The first requisite for stable and buoyant life is ground, and the faithfulness of law. What sends us about with erect bodies and quick, firm step, is the sense that the surface of the earth is sure, that gravitation will not fail, that our eyes and the touch of our feet and our judgment of distance do not deceive us. Now, what the body needs for its world, the soul needs for hers. For her carriage and bearing in life the soul requires the assurance that the moral laws of the universe are as conscience has interpreted them to her, and will continue to be as in experience she has found them. To this requisite of the soul God gives His assurance, “I have made, and I will bear.” These words were an answer to an instinct, the instinct that springs from the thought, “Well, here I am, not responsible for being here, but so set by someone else, and the responsibility of the life, which is too great for me, is His.” God’s Word comes to him to tell him that his instinct is sure.
2. The most terrible anguish of the heart, however, is that it carries something which can shake a man off even that ground. The firmest rock is of no use to the paralytic or to a man with a broken leg. And the most steadfast moral universe, and most righteous moral governor, is no comfort--but rather the reverse--to the man with a bad conscience, whether thatconscience be due to the guilt or to the habit of sin. Conscience whispers, “God indeed made thee, but what if thou hast unmade thyself? God reigns; the laws of life are righteous; creation is guided to peace. But thou art an outlaw of this universe, fallen from God of thine own will. Thou must bear thine own guilt, endure thy voluntarily contracted habits. How canst thou believe that God, in this fair world, would bear thee up, so useless, soiled, and infected a thing?” Yet here, according to His blessed Word, God does come down to bear up men. The thing is man’s realest burden, and man’s reaiest burden is what God stoops lowest to bear (chap. 53:4, 11). God has made this sin and guilt of ours His special care and anguish. We cannot feel it more than He does.
3. But this Gospel of God’s love bearing our sins is of no use to a man unless it goes with another--that God bears him up for victory over temptation, for attainment in holiness. God never gives a man pardon but to set him free for effort, and to constrain him for duty. He bears us best and longest by being the spirit and the soul and the life of our life. The Lord and His own are one.
4. God does not carry dead men. His carrying is not mechanical, but natural; not from below, but from within. You dare not be passive in God’s carriage. Again, in His bearing God bears, and does not overbear, using a man not as a man uses a stick, but as a soul uses a body,--informing, inspiring, recreating his natural faculties. Many distrust religion, as if it were to be an overbearing of their originality. But God is not by grace going to undo His work by nature. “I have made, and I will bear”--will bear what I have made. If that be God’s bearing, how wrong those are who, instead of asking God to carry them, are more anxious about how He and His religion are to be sustained by their consistency or efforts! (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
To whom will ye liken Me?
Idols cannot represent God
The Jews might have alleged that they served not the false gods of the Gentiles, but the God of Israel; and that they used images when they worshipped Him only that they might have before their eyes, like other nations, some beautiful object. This delusive notion is here reprobated; and they were taught that there is neither likeness nor equality betwixt the true God and these foolish pretended resemblances made of Him by the hands of men. (R. Macculloch.)
God incomprehensible by mere reason
God asserts an immeasurable difference between Himself and all created beings.
1. We distinguish the Creator from every creature by declaring Him self-existent. There is no way of accounting for the origin of everything except by supposing something which never had origin. Nothing could have begun to be unless there had been something which never began to be. Here is the grand distinction between the Creator and the creature: the being of the one is underived, and that of the other derived. The existence of all creatures is a dependent existence; it has been imparted by another, and may be withdrawn by that other. The existence of the Creator is a necessary existence, altogether independent, indebted to none for commencement, and resting on none for continuance. It is by His name Jehovah--that name which breathes self-existence--that God proclaims Himself inscrutable and unimaginable.
2. We learn from this the vanity of all attempts to explain or illustrate the Trinity in Unity. If we were able to produce exact instances of the union of three in one, we should have no right to point it out as at all parallel with the union of the Godhead. We ought to know beforehand that the created can furnish no delineation of the uncreated; so that it shows a forgetfulness of the self-existence of God to seek His resemblance in what He hath called into being. He best shows the workings of a sound judgment and ripened intellect who, in such a matter as the doctrine of the Trinity, submits to the disclosures of revelation, and receives it on the authority of God, though unable to explain it through any reasoning of his own. The doctrine of the Trinity is above reason, but it is not against reason.
3. Consider the paramount importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is so bound up with the whole of Christianity, that to think of removing it and yet of preserving the religion is to think of taking from the body all its sinew and its bone, and yet leaving it all its symmetry and its strength. The whole falls to pieces if you destroy this doctrine. The short but irresistible way of proving that the doctrine of the Trinity is in the largest sense a practical doctrine is to remind you that if this doctrine be false, Jesus Christ is nothing more than a man and the Holy Spirit nothing more than a principle or quality. To remove the doctrine of the Trinity is to remove whatever is peculiar to Christianity, to reduce the religion to a system of loftier morals and stronger sanctions than the world before possessed; but, nevertheless, having nothing to deserve the name of Gospel, because containing no tidings of an expiation for sin. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Remember the former things of old
The purposes of God
When we come to look at THE PURPOSES OF GOD, we must not be misled by words. The word “purpose,” with us, supposes several things, which have nothing to do with the same term when applied to God. There is, with God, no ignorance previously to the formation of His purposes; no new light thrown on circumstances, out of which His purpose arises; no period in His past eternity, when His purposes were not formed; no consulting either with Himself or with others, with regard to their formation. Perhaps you may be ready to say, if we are to look at the purpose of God in this way, it is not a purpose at all, in the sense in which we use the term. And it certainly is not, as you will perceive. We accommodate human language to the infinite characteristics of the Divine nature; but we must do it with caution, and must be careful what measure of idea we associate with our common terms, when we are applying them to God. If not, we shall be deceived in the conclusions we draw and the doctrines we believe. If the purpose of God is to be viewed as it really is, we take it to be simply this: God’s foreknowledge of everything that is to come to pass, together with the operation of His influence upon that foreknowledge, in connection with those things. His foreknowledge had no beginning; His resolution, as to what He was to do, could have no beginning. From the moment He foresaw, He resolved or purposed. Such appears to be the meaning of the word “purpose” as applied to God. If it should be said, “This is a view of ‘purpose’ altogether foreign from the view we take of it,” we grant it. But why? Because the nature of God is altogether foreign from ours. Ours is a finite and limited nature in itself; His is infinite and unlimited.
II. THE APPLICATION OF GOD’S PURPOSE IN REFERENCE TO MAN.
1. Are we to regard the purposes of God as involving in them the charge of originating immorality and sin? Did God purpose that man should be a sinner? If His purposes are to be taken and explained, as we take and explain our own, then this was the case. If He foresaw that man would fall before He made him, yet had not determined whether He should permit this or not, and then permitted it, we should say that the purpose of God implies in it a part at least of the moral guilt of His creature. But He had formed no such purpose as this. He foresaw that man would fall; He foresaw the provision that was to be made for his case; but there was no period in eternity when He had not foreseen this, and hence no purpose arose out of the mere incident of the liability of man to fall. He was left to the working of those powers which God gave him: and with the working of those powers the purposes of God never interfered.
2. But if we look not merely to the connection between the purpose of God and the origin of evil, but also to the connection between the purpose of God and the free agency of man, we have another field opened to us, in examining which we must very carefully recollect the views that we have taken of the Divine purpose. When God created man, He gave him powers and faculties which He intended to commit to his trust, and which He aid commit to his trust. He foresaw what use he would make of them, and how far he would abuse them; but He did not destroy them, in order that they might not be abused. There is an entire freedom in the operation of our faculties, so far as our own consciousness is concerned; are they not also exhibited to us as free, in the Word of God? Are we not addressed upon the subject of our shortcomings and our sins, as if we were held strictly free by the God that addresses us? Are we not hailed to return from our iniquity, as if we were free to return? Are we not invited to “lay hold on the hope set before us in the Gospel,” as if we were free to accept the invitation? Let us look next at the view that men take of our capacity; and we shall find, that except when they are induced to quarrel with the Word of God, except when they are induced to throw difficulties in the way of their own salvation, they too act upon the principle that man is free.
3. But let us look at the purpose of God in reference to man’s responsibility. If man were not free, on what ground could he be held to be responsible? and does any one doubt of his responsibility to God? The responsibility of man arises out of the very nature of his faculties, just like the proof of his free agency in the use of them. And we find the Word of God harmonising with the view, which our own faculties would alone give us, in holding the responsibility of man. Then what has the purpose of God to do with our responsibility? It merely foresees the consequences of that responsibility, and purposes to leave the man to those consequences. Reject and neglect the “great salvation,” and you cannot be saved: such is the announced purpose of God. Accept that salvation, and “he that believeth shall be saved”: such is also the announced purpose of God. His purpose, therefore, in all these respects, is nothing more than His foreknowledge, connected with His determination respecting what He foresees; both the foreknowledge and the determination how He shall act in reference to what He foresees, being eternal.
4. Regarding the purpose of God in this light, we may take yet another view of its application, namely, its connection with the Gospel of Christ. With your belief, or your unbelief, the purpose of God has nothing to do, except so far as that purpose determines to reward the one, and to punish the other.
A fourfold aspect of the Infinite
I. AS THE ONE AND ONLY GOD. “I am God, and there is none else.” The Bible establishes the doctrine of monotheism. This doctrine--
1. Agrees with our spiritual nature. The whole soul, both in its searches after truth and love, one for the intellect, the other for the heart, struggles after unity; it turns to the centre, as the needle to the pole, as the flower to the sun
2. Explains the harmony of the universe. How is it that all things in their constitution fit into each other, and in their operations are so harmonious and uniform? The whole machine shows in all its parts and revolutions that it had but one Architect.
3. Makes clear human obligation. If there be but one God, His will should be the supreme law of all our activities; His being should be the centre of our sympathies and love. Were there more gods than one we might be distracted on the question as to who should have our love and obedience.
II. AS ACQUAINTED WITH ALL THE FUTURITIES OF THE UNIVERSE. “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times, the things that are not yet done.” There is one mind in the universe, and only one, whose infinite glance comprehended all, swept over all space, and over all durations. Though such a fact baffles all our attempts at comprehension, its denial would undeify God. The whole history of the universe, from beginning to end, was in His mind before it took active shapes, or concrete embodiments. Hence--
III. AS PURPOSING NOTING THAT CAN BY ANY POSSIBILITY FAIL. “My counsel shall stand,” &c.
1. God has a concern for His pleasure. The apostle calls His pleasure a “good pleasure.” What is it? The pleasure of disinterested benevolence.
2. All God’s purposes point to His pleasure. Whatever will make His creatures happy is His pleasure; and the whole universe is constructed on this principle.
3. None of God’s purposes shall fail. “My purposes shall stand.” The special purpose here referred to was terribly realised (Daniel 5:30). Our purposes are constantly being broken; the vast shore of human history is crowded with the wrecks of broken purposes. Our purposes are broken sometimes--
IV. AS HAVING ABSOLUTE POWER TO SUBORDINATE EVEN UNGODLY MEN TO HIS SERVICE. “Calling a ravenous bird,” &c. In God’s great moral kingdom He has two classes of servants.
Conclusion--What an ennobling view of our God! He is One: let us centre our souls on Him; He knows all futurities, let us trust His providence. He will fulfil all His purposes, let us acquiesce in His arrangements. He renders even His moral enemies subservient to His own will, therefore let us “trust in Him who liveth for ever.” (Homilist.)
Cyrus, a ravenous bird
Cyrus is compared to a “ravenous bird” on account of the celerity of his movements (Isaiah 41:3), just asNebuchadnezzar had been likened to an eagle (Jeremiah 49:22;Ezekiel 17:3). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Declaring the end from the beginning
God as a Worker
God is not a passive existent, resting idly in immensity.
He is essentially, incessantly, everlastingly active. He “fainteth not, neither is weary.” He has done wonderful things, and He will do wonders more. The text suggests four things in relation to God, as a Worker in the future.
I. HE KNOWS ALL THAT IS TO BE DONE IN THE FUTURE. “Declaring the end from the beginning.” When we embark in an enterprise, difficulties start up in our path that never entered into our calculation and baffle us. Not so with God. When He began the work of redemption, He saw all the infidelities, superstitions, depravities, devils, and hells that would oppose Him.
II. HE HAS REVEALED ALL THAT IS TO BE DONE IN THE FUTURE. “Declaring,” &c. Applying the words to redemption, He has declared in many a grand prophetic passage what will be its end, sweeping all wrongs and woes, all sins and sufferings, from this planet, and filling it with Christly virtues and heavenly blessedness. Yes, and more, peopling heaven with untold millions of souls. His declaration of “the end” is very explicit, very frequent, very encouraging.
III. HE WILL EXECUTE ALL THAT IS TO BE DONE IN THE FUTURE. “My counsel shall stand.” He will employ thousands of instrumentalities and ministries, but He will do it. They will work by His direction, and by His power. He will do it gradually and efficiently.
IV. HE HAS A PLEASURE IN ALL THAT IS TO BE DONE IN THE FUTURE. “I will do all My pleasure.” To re-create and re-paradise lost souls is His pleasure. He rejoices over repentant sinners. (Homilist.)
My counsel shall stand
God’s standing counsel
To form a plan and then to alter it, or to have a fixed plan and to fail in it, is one of the many sad imperfections of humanity. In the first ease, some new light springs up which was not evident before. In the second some difficulty arises, which, as a mountain, hinders the carrying out of the plan. But who can suppose any of this in God--a Being of Infinite Power? (Isaiah 40:15-17.) With Him thereis no difficulty. He is a Being of Infinite wisdom. Nothing escapes Him. The past, the present, the future are an everlasting now. Unchanged are His resolves, as His nature is unchangeable (Psalms 33:11; Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:30; Acts 5:39; Hebrews 6:17).
I. THE DECLARATION.
1. We see this exemplified in the works of nature. Such is the regularity of all that the Great Mechanist is too usually lost sight of in the very machinery of His hands, as if it worked by its own power, regulated itself.
2. Still more distinctly do we see this declaration in the works of Providence. Wheel runs within wheel, but He is in every wheel, whatever its direction, whatever its movement. He is directly or indirectly in it. Look at Cyrus. Look at the history of Joseph. Look at Jesus Himself. (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:26-28.)
3. But if He does all His pleasure in His works of creation and providence, how much more in the greater, infinitely greater displays of Himself in His grace, which is His glory! (2 Timothy 1:9.)
II. THE GROUND OF SUCH DECLARATION. “I will do all My pleasure.” It is His own work. True, He works by means, and most commonly by human instrumentality. But it is in all respects His own work.
1. The subject has an awful look upon any who have been trifling. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. Look at the fall. Look at the sin and sinfulness of this polluted world. These are but a fearful comment on “My counsel shall stand.” “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” Look at the flood. Look at Babylon. Look at Jerusalem.
2. The subject is most encouraging to every returning sinner.
3. This is most consolatory to the tried saint.
4. Beware of any abuse of this great and glorious truth. If God’s counsel standeth fast, and He does all His pleasure, it is that God who delights in human instrumentality. (J. H. Evans, M.A.)
Hearken unto Me, ye stout-hearted
God’s voice to sinners
A WRETCHED CONDITION.
1. Insensibility to the good. “Stout-hearted.” The word “stout-hearted” does not mean courageous, intrepid, morally brave; it means hardness, obduracy, spiritual stubbornness. It represents a soul dead to all that is spiritually true and good.
2. Alienation from the good. “Far from righteousness.” To be “far from righteousness” is to be far from all that is noble, Godlike, and happy; it is to be in the kingdom of darkness, and in regions under the ban of Heaven.
II. A GLORIOUS PROMISE. “I bring near My righteousness,” &c. “Righteousness and salvation” are in morals convertible terms. The promise is, Divine deliverance to men in this wretched condition. This deliverance God brings near to the sinner. “Near”--
1. In the Gospel of Christ.
2. In the ministry of the good.
3. In the suggestions of conscience.
4. In the spiritual influence of events.
III. AN URGENT DUTY. “Hearken unto Me.”
1. Earnestly. Withdraw thine ear from the din of worldliness, sinful thoughts, and carnal passions, and open it to Me when I speak. Adjust yourself in a listening attitude.
2. Constantly. I am constantly speaking in nature, in conscience, in history, as well as in the Gospel. All My voices are one in significance and aim. I am calling you to My “righteousness” and “salvation.”
3. Practically. What I say attend to. Don’t let My voice pass away in mere impressions. Act on My counsels, obey My behests. (Homilist.)
God’s call to the unrighteous
1. The first thing on which we would fasten your attention is that God’s dealings with mankind have been all of a character which may be called unexpected. We do not believe that any reason could have been given why men should be redeemed, had the question been proposed to higher ranks of intelligence. Nay, forasmuch as no provision had been made for the rescue of fallen angels, it could not have been imagined that any would have been made for the rescue of fallen man; the conclusion must rather have been that ruin followed inevitably on rebellion, and there could not be reconciliation where once there had been offence. Even now that we know of the Mediator’s interference we can trace it to nothing but the unmeasured love of God, and can give no account of the wondrous matter of our redemption save that so it pleased Him “who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
2. We may be sure, that having summoned the stout-hearted to hearken, the words which immediately follow are such as God knows to be specially adapted to the case of the stout-hearted, that is, to contain the motives which are most likely to bring them to contrition and repentance. The nearness of salvation is made an argument with the ungodly why they should turn from evil courses, just as preached the Baptist--“Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
3. God goes on to speak with more distinctness of His purposes of mercy “And I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory.” We may believe of this prophecy as of similar ones where Zion is mentioned, that it refers originally to what Christ would accomplish at His first appearing in Judea, and delineates also what He would effect at His Second Advent. This salvation God placed in Zion, for it was only by the going up of the Mediator as a victim to the altar, by His ascending the Cross erected upon Calvary, that the curse of the law was exhausted and the honour of the Divine attributes secured. “For Israel My glory.” Wonderful words! I had thought that “the heavens declared Thy glory”; I read of the glory of the Lord like a devouring fire abiding in Sinai; and when the sun and moon are withdrawn from the firmament, of the New Jerusalem I am told that “the glory of God doth lighten, it.” In such cases, if I cannot define the glory, I am at least dazzled by its shinnings, and there Is something of correspondence between what I know of the nature of God and what I hear of His glory. But that man, fallen, sinful man should be His glory, the mortal the glory of the immortal, the corruptible the glory of the incorruptible--in this is a mystery which might seem too deep to be fathomed by our searchings, yet not a mystery while I have the Bible in my hands and know what God “hath done for us men and for our salvation.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The ungodly world
I. THE UNHAPPY MORAL CONDITION OF THE WORLD.
1. A condition of moral stubbornness.
2. Of moral unrighteousness.
II. THE GLORIOUS REMEDIAL PROVISION OF HEAVEN. “I bring near,” &c.
1. Christ has brought righteousness very near to mankind. It is inculcated in His teaching, exemplified in His life, honoured in His death.
2. Christ has brought salvation very near to mankind. It comes within the reach of all to whom His Gospel is preached. “Say not in thine heart who shall ascend up into heaven,” &c.
III. THE URGENT SPIRITUAL DUTY OF MANKIND. “Hearken unto Me.” Why this attention?
1. It is only by faith that the remedial provision can be enjoyed.
2. It is only by attention that this faith can be attained. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Homilist.)
I bring near My righteousness
Justifying righteousness brought near
It appears from a comparison of many texts of Scripture, that when the word “righteousness” is connected, as in this passage, with “salvation,” it does not mean the Divine attribute of justice or rectitude, but the work of righteousness wrought out by the Lord Jesus Christ, and which it is the grand design of the Gospel to reveal and make offer of to sinners of mankind for their justification--their salvation.
I. Let us inquire with reference to THE RIGHTEOUSNESS SPOKEN OF, why it is termed, in this and so many other parts of Scripture, “the righteousness of God”? The Lord terms the work of His Son Jesus Christ--His obedience unto death--His whole endurance of the curse, and fulfilment of the precept of the law, His own, God’s righteousness. There is no difficulty in seeing why it should be called Christ’s, because He wrought it out. Our question is, Why the obedience unto death of the Lord Jesus Christ is termed “the righteousness of God”?
1. It is so called, in marked contrast and opposition to man’s own fancied righteousness (Romans 10:3).
2. Because it is that which God has, for the sinner’s justification, devised, provided, and stamped with the seal of His approabation and acceptance.
3. Because it was wrought out by God in the person of His eternal Son--Emmanuel, “God manifest in the flesh.”
II. WHERE, HOW, AND TO WHAT PARTIES OR PERSONS THE LORD BRINGS THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS NEAR?
1. Where? In the Gospel (Romans 1:16).
2. How? In the free and earnest character of the offers and invitations of the Gospel.
3. To whom? “Ye stouthearted that are far from righteousness.” Ye that not only have no righteousness but are living at ease,--“stout-hearted,” careless, and indifferent, for the present, at least, about finding one--“I bring near My righteousness” to you.
While ye despise it, “stout-hearted,” I offer it to you; while ye are “far from righteousness,” righteousness is brought near to you--it is pressed and urged upon you. Improvement--
1. It may occur to some as an objection, What use in bringing near, and freely offering, a salvation to men wholly indifferent about it? There can be no doubt, that so long as men are “stout-hearted, and far from righteousness,” they cannot, in the very nature of the thing, embrace this righteousness; and the offer of it to them is thus, in one sense, to no purpose. But only in one sense. For, not to speak of believers, who often find their hearts so hard, that till they see invitations to the “stout-hearted,” they cannot perceive their warrant at all to trust in Christ--the very freeness and universality of the offer, coming with overwhelming grace upon the “stout-hearted” sinner, may just be among the most powerful means blessed of the Holy Ghost for awakening him to deep and serious concern and thought.
2. That you may see how little weight there is in the objection to the doctrine of Christ’s righteousness as the ground of justification, observe that we read comparatively seldom in Scripture of the righteousness of Christ--generally of the righteousness of God.
3. We might have remarked, on the question, how the righteousness is brought near, that, besides the freeness and urgency of Gospel offers, the Lord comes specially near at particular seasons, in the events and dealings of His providence. (C. J. Brown.)
Two aspects of salvation
The two verses express a paradox which enters deeply into the thought of the prophet. While salvation is near in point of time, yet Israel is spiritually far from it. Hence the work of salvation or righteousness has two aspects; along with the providential deliverance of which the agent is Cyrus, there is an inward and spiritual salvation which consists in bringing the nation to right thoughts about itself and God. And in this spiritual transformation the instrument is the servant of Jehovah. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Jehovah’s righteousness and Israel’s salvation
(with Isaiah 51:5):--
I. What are these two things--JEHOVAH’S RIGHTEOUSNESS AND ISRAEL’S SALVATION? How are they related to one another and connected with one another? And what in particular is the meaning of the precedence or priority assigned to the one as coming before the other--My righteousness, My salvation?
1. It is very evident that the Lord’s righteousness must mean, not a Divine attribute, but a Divine work, or effect or manifestation of some kind.
2. A judicial dealing with His enemies, on the part of God, precedes and prepares the way for the deliverance or salvation of His people; and when He brings near the one, the other will not tarry.
3. God must first consult for His own righteous name before He can consult for His people’s complete safety; He must first right Himself before He can consistently and conclusively deliver them. Only in the train of the righteousness of God can His salvation go forth.
II. It may be said that THE LORD BRINGS HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS NEAR, or that it is near, in three senses.
1. In the Gospel offer as a free gift, wholly of grace, not of works at all.
2. In the powerful striving and working of His Spirit.
3. In the believing appropriation of it which His Spirit enables you to make. (R. S.Candlish, D. D.)
I will place salvation in Zion, for Israel My glory
The connection between the use of means and the accomplishment of Divine purposes
I. THE DIVINE PURPOSES WHICH THE SACRED SCRIPTURES REVEAL. They have respect--
1. To the exhibition of God’s glory in the development of His perfections.
2. To the deliverance of mankind from the consequences of sin.
3. To the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom in the earth.
4. To the total overthrow of the empire of darkness.
5. To the everlasting happiness of believers in the realms of glory.
II. WHAT MEANS ARE EMPLOYED FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THESE PURPOSES.
1. The means which are primary.
2. Those means which are subordinate.
III. THE CONNECTION WHICH EXISTS BETWEEN THE USE OF DIVINELY APPOINTED MEANS AND THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES. That such a connection exists we may argue--
1. On the principle of analogy. Through all the works of God there is an evident connection between the means and the end.
2. There is a peculiar fitness in the means to accomplish the end.
3. From Divine authority. That the means shall accomplish the end is the frequent subject of the Divine promise.
4. The evidence of fact further establishes this connection.
5. To deny this connection involves the greatest absurdity.
IV. THE PRACTICAL INFLUENCE OF THE DOCTRINE.
1. Ought we not to consider our personal interest in the subject? We are within the precincts of the Divine purposes, and the means of their accomplishment.
2. This subject strongly inculcates holiness in the disciples of Christ. Both the means and the end seem encircled with a halo of sanctity.
3. We learn our obligation and encouragement in the use of appointed means.
4. Let us be careful that the means we employ are those only of Divine appointment.
5. How dreadful the condition, and dangerous the conduct, of those who oppose the Divine purposes, and despise Divinely appointed means! (J. R. Cooper.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》