Isaiah Chapter Fifty-seven
The blessed death of the righteous. (1,2) The abominable idolatries of the Jewish nation. (3-12) Promises to the humble and contrite. (13-21)
Commentary on Isaiah 57:1,2
(Read Isaiah 57:1,2)
The righteous are delivered from the sting of death, not from the stroke of it. The careless world disregards this. Few lament it as a public loss, and very few notice it as a public warning. They are taken away in compassion, that they may not see the evil, nor share in it, nor be tempted by it. The righteous man, when he dies, enters into peace and rest.
Commentary on Isaiah 57:3-12
(Read Isaiah 57:3-12)
The Lord here calls apostates and hypocrites to appear before him. When reproved for their sins, and threatened with judgments, they ridiculed the word of God. The Jews were guilty of idolatry before the captivity; but not after that affliction. Their zeal in the worship of false gods, may shame our indifference in the worship of the true God. The service of sin is disgraceful slavery; those who thus debase themselves to hell, will justly have their portion there. Men incline to a religion that inflames their unholy passions. They are led to do any evil, however great or vile, if they think it will atone for crimes, or purchase indulgence for some favourite lust. This explains idolatry, whether pagan, Jewish, or antichristian. But those who set up anything instead of God, for their hope and confidence, never will come to a right end. Those who forsake the only right way, wander in a thousand by-paths. The pleasures of sin soon tire, but never satisfy. Those who care not for the word of God and his providences, show they have no fear of God. Sin profits not; it ruins and destroys.
Commentary on Isaiah 57:13-21
(Read Isaiah 57:13-21)
The idols and their worshippers shall come to nothing; but those who trust in God's grace, shall be brought to the joys of heaven. With the Lord there is neither beginning of days, nor end of life, nor change of time. His name is holy, and all must know him as a holy God. He will have tender regard to those who bring their mind to their condition, and dread his wrath. He will make his abode with those whose hearts he has thus humbled, in order to revive and comfort them. When troubles last long, even good men are tempted to entertain hard thoughts of God. Therefore He will not contend for ever, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands, nor defeat the purchase of his Son's blood. Covetousness is a sin that particularly lays men under the Divine displeasure. See the sinfulness of sin. See also that troubles cannot reform men unless God's grace work in them. Peace shall be published, perfect peace. It is the fruit of preaching lips, and praying lips. Christ came and preached peace to Gentiles, as well as to the Jews; to after-ages, who were afar off in time, as well as to those of that age. But the wicked would not be healed by God's grace, therefore would not be healed by his comforts. Their ungoverned lusts and passions made them like the troubled sea. Also the terrors of conscience disturbed their enjoyments. God hath said it, and all the world cannot unsay it, That there is no peace to those who allow themselves in any sin. If we are recovered from such an awful state, it is only by the grace of God. And the influences of the Holy Spirit, and that new heart, from whence comes grateful praise, the fruit of our lips, are his gift. Salvation, with all its fruits, hopes, and comforts, is his work, and to him belongs all the glory. There is no peace for the wicked man; but let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Isaiah》
 The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.
The righteous — Just and holy men.
No man — Few or none.
Layeth it to heart — Is duly affected with this sad sign of God's displeasure.
 He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.
He — This just and merciful man shall enter into a state of rest, where he shall be out of the reach of the approaching miseries.
They — just men. Here is a sudden change of the number, which is very frequent in the prophets.
Beds — In their graves, which are not unfitly called their beds, as their death is commonly called sleep in scripture.
 But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.
Hither — To God's tribunal, to receive your sentence.
Sons — Not by propagation, but by imitation.
And the whore — Not the genuine children of Abraham, their dispositions were far more suitable to a bastardly brood, than to Abraham's seed.
 Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood,
Against whom — Consider whom it is that you mock and scoff, when you deride God's prophets.
A seed — A generation of liars, whose practices contradict your professions, who deal deceitfully both with God and men.
 Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?
Enflaming — Lusting after them, and mad upon them.
Slaying — In way of sacrifice to their idols.
Valleys — He seems to allude to the valley of Hinnom in which these cruelties were practised.
Clifts — Which they chuse either for shade, or for those dark vaults, in rocks, which were convenient for idolatrous uses.
 Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?
Portion — Thou hast chosen for thy portion those idols, which were worshipped by the sides of brooks or rivers where such smooth stones commonly lie.
They — Thou hast forsaken me and chosen idols.
Offered — For the devil is God's ape, and idolaters used the same rites and offerings in the worship of idols which God had prescribed in his own.
Comfort — Should I be pleased with such a people and such actions?
 Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.
Mountain — In high places, which were much used for religious worship, both by Israelites and by Heathens.
Thy bed — Thine altar, in which thou didst commit spiritual whoredom with idols.
 Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.
The posts — Behind the posts of the doors of thine house: where the Heathens placed their tutelar gods to whose protection they committed their houses, that so they might have their eyes and minds upon them, whensoever they went out or came in.
Set up — Those monuments which thou didst set up there as remembrances of those idol-gods whom they represented.
Discovered — Thou hast uncovered thy nakedness; to others beside me thine husband.
Gone up — Into the adulterous bed.
Enlarged — That it might receive many adulterers together. Thou hast multiplied thine idols and altars.
A covenant — Thou hast covenanted to serve them.
 And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.
The King — The king of Assyria, called the king by way of eminency, to whom the Israelites in the days of Isaiah were very prone to trust, and send presents. And so the prophet passes from their idolatry to another sin, even their confidence in Heathen princes.
Increase — Didst send great quantities.
Far off — Into Assyria, which was far from Judea.
Debase — Thou wast willing to submit to the basest terms to procure their aid.
 Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.
Wearied — Thou hast not eased, but tired thyself with thy tedious journey.
Yet — And yet thou didst not perceive that thy labour was lost.
Hast found — Thou hast sometimes found success in these ways.
Not grieved — Therefore thou didst not repent of thy sin herein.
 And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?
Feared — And who are they, the fear of whom drives thee to these wicked courses? Lied - That thou hast dealt thus perfidiously with me.
Not remembered — Hast thou forgotten all those great things which I have done for thee.
Held my peace — Have not I forbore to punish thee from time to time, that by this goodness I might oblige thee to love me.
And thou — Or, therefore thou dost not fear or regard me. Thou abusest my long-suffering.
 When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;
But — But they shall be carried away suddenly and violently by the blast of mine anger.
Vanity — A vapour which quickly vanishes away.
Inherit — Shall enjoy my favour and presence in my temple.
 And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.
And he — God will raise up a man who shall say with authority and efficacy.
Cast up — Make causeways, where it is needful, for their safe and easy passage, and remove all things which may hinder them in their return.
 For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.
For — I will not proceed to the utmost severity with sinful men.
 For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.
Covetousness — Of which sin the Jews were eminently guilty. But this comprehends all those sins for which God contended with them.
He went — Yet he was not reformed, but trespassed more and more.
 I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.
Mourners — To those who are humbled under God's hand, that mourn in Zion for their own and others sins.
 I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.
I create — I will by my almighty power produce.
Peace — That peace which is not wrought by mens hands, but only by God's lips or word. The doubling of the word signifies the certainty and abundance this peace.
Far off — To the Gentiles who are far from God, as well as to the Jews, who are called a people near unto God, Psalms 148:14.
 But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
Cast up — Their minds are restless, being perpetually hurried with their own lusts and passions, and with guilt, and the dread of the divine vengeance.
 There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
No peace — Though they may have a great share of prosperity, yet they have no share in this inward, and spiritual, and everlasting peace.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Isaiah》
57 Chapter 57
The righteous perisheth
The righteous perishing
In view of this prevailing demoralization and worldliness (Isaiah 56:9-12), the righteous one succumbs to the grinding weight of external and internal sufferings: he “perishes,” dies before his time (Ecclesiastes 7:15), from the midst of his contemporaries, disappearing from this life (Psalms 12:1; Micah 7:2), and no man lays it to heart, i.no one considers the Divine accusation and threatening implied in this early death. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Literally, men of piety. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Good men die
Righteousness delivereth from the sting of death, but not from the stroke of it. (M. Henry.)
Death of the righteous
1. One reason why, when the righteous dieth, no man layeth it to heart is because the world do not know the righteous.
2. Another reason is, disinclination of all men by nature to lay such things to heart.
3. They do not think it of much importance. But the death of every good man is a loss to the world, a loss to the Church militant--the people of God are the salt of the earth, and the more taken away and the less left, the less likely are we to be blessed as a nation. (James Wells.)
Such early removals form a problem insoluble by our poor reason. They seem, at first sight, inconsistent alike with the Divine wisdom and power and love. They look almost like the frustration of God’s plans and purposes, a failure in His sovereign designs. It is the architect just completing His work when that work comes with a crash to the ground. It is the sculptor putting the finishing strokes of his chisel on the virgin marble, when the toil of months or years strews the floor of his studio. It is the gardener bringing forth from his conservatory the long-husbanded plants in their freshness and beauty, to bask in early summer sun, when a frost or hailstorm unexpectedly comes, and in one night they have perished! (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Why is the young soldier stricken clown just; when the armour of life has been assayed? Wherefore hath God apparently thus made His noblest work in vain? The words of Isaiah give a twofold answer to these questions and mysteries; the one negative, the other positive.
I. THE NEGATIVE ANSWER. “The righteous is taken away from the evil to come.” It was so in the case of Josiah (2 Kings 22:18-20).
II. THE POSITIVE EXPLANATION. “He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness; or rather, as it has been rendered, each one walking straight before him, or as Bishop Lowth translates it, “he that walketh in the straight oath.”
1. Josiah, the good, the pious, when he died, “entered into peace.” It is a beautiful Old Testament evidence of the immediate blessedness of the departed righteous. His body rested in the tomb, as in a “bed” or couch; his spirit--the spirit that walked so “uprightly on earth, with no divergence from the path of duty and piety--continues, in a loftier state of existence, this elevated “walk.” The work cut short in this lower world is not arrested; it is only transferred. In a higher and loftier sphere he still pursues these active ministries of righteousness. There is an evident contrast between these opening words of the chapter and the terrible refrain with which it closes--“There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked;” none in life, none in death, none in their limitless future. But “the righteous,” thus taken away, “enter into peace.”
2. Another thought, too, is brought out in the original which we miss in our translation, and which suggests the same assurance of immediate bliss. It occurs in the words just quoted--“The righteous is taken away,” “Merciful men are taken away;” this in the Hebrew is, “The righteous, the merciful, are gathered”--gathered to their fathers.
3. One other thought on early death may be suggested by these words. While the spirit is pursuing its onward path of bliss and glory, it has not, in the truest sense, bid farewell to its earthly sphere. The lips are silenced, the music of the voice is hushed, the blank of the absent is too painfully realized. But “the righteous” survive dissolution even in this world; in their deathless memories of goodness and worth, they continue to “walk.” The old promise dictated by the sweet singer of Israel (apparently paradoxical) becomes literally true, regarding those prematurely taken away--“With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” For what, after all, is long life? Is it measured and computed by formal arithmetic? counted by days, or weeks, or months, or years? No! the fourscore years of a misspent life is no life at all. It is a bankruptcy of being. It may be a life only sowing and perpetuating baneful influences; an untimely birth would be better. Whereas, that is the truest length of days, where, it may be for a brief but bright and consecrated season, some young life has shone gloriously for God, and which, though now a fallen meteor, has left a trail of light behind it, for which parent and brother and sister will for ever bless Him who gave the transient boon! (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
The death of the good
I. THEIR DEATH IS THE PERISHING OF THE BODY
1. Why, then, pamper the body?
2. Why centre interests on the wants and enjoyments of the body?
II. THEIR DEATH IS GENERALLY DISREGARDED BY MANKIND. How soon the best of men are forgotten. There are two reasons for disregarding the death of the good.
1. The thought of death is repugnant to the heart.
2. The concerns of life are all-absorbing.
III. THEIR DEATH IS A DELIVERANCE FROM ALL THE EVILS THAT ARE COMING ON THE WORLD. “Taken away from the evil to come.”
IV. THEIR DEATH IS A STEP INTO A HIGHER LIFE. “He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds.”
1. The death of the good as to the body is only sleep--natural, refreshing, temporary.
2. Their souls march on. “ Each one walking in his uprightness.” Endless progress. “ It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” (Homilist.)
The righteous is taken away from the evil to come
Spared future evil
1. It may be from the evil of personal suffering. The prolongation of life to old age often involves an immense amount of bodily ills and pains.
2. It may be to spare the heart of affection sore trials. How often do children grow up, to break the hearts of fond parents.
3. It may be to take His child out of harm’s way.
4. It may be to shield him from some impending calamity that is coming upon the Church or the world.
5. Or (if we accept the marginal reading) it is to save them “from that which” is “evil.” Life itself, under the curse of sin, is evil, even in its best estate, and the God of mercy cuts it short and receives His loved one into His bosom. (Homiletic Review.)
The blessings of short life
We all spend much time in panegyric of longevity. But I propose to preach about the blessings of an abbreviated earthly existence.
I. IT MAKES ONE’S LIFE WORK VERY COMPACT.
II. MORAL DISASTER MIGHT COME UPON THE MAN IF HE TARRIED LONGER.
III. ONE IS THE SOONER TAKEN OFF FROM THE DEFENSIVE.
IV. ONE ESCAPES SO MANY BEREAVEMENTS.
V. IT PUTS ONE SOONER IN THE CENTRE OF THINGS. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)
He shall enter into peace
The believer in life, death, and eternity
Taking them together, the words of the text will lead us to contemplate the child of God--
IN THE STRENGTH AND VIGOUR OF LIFE.
II. IN THE SUFFERING AND THE ARTICLE OF DEATH.
III. IN THE CONSEQUENCES OF DISSOLUTION, AS THEY AFFECT BOTH BODY AND SOUL. (J. Haslegrave, M. A.)
A glimmering of New Testament consolation
Here is a glimmering of the consolation in the New Testament, that the death of the righteous man is better than the present life, because it is the entrance into peace. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion
The term “portion”
suggests that the “smooth stones” were fetishes.
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
False sods the idolater’s portion
In stony valleys they set up their gods, which they called their portion, and took for their lot, as God’s people take Him for their lot and portion. (M. Henry.)
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way
The weariness of sin
The text is a striking
representation of the sinner’s conduct in fruitless efforts to obtain happiness
anywhere but from heaven.
He wanders from object to object, he becomes weary in his pursuit, yet he will not abandon it.
I. HE PURSUES A WEARISOME COURSE. Nothing is so wearisome as fruitless efforts for happiness.
1. The sensual course for happiness is a wearisome one. The voluptuary and the debauchee very soon show exhaustion.
2. The secular course for happiness is a wearisome one. He who seeks happiness in the pursuit of gain will soon find it wearisome.
3. The intellectual course for happiness is a wearisome one. He who looks for true happiness in study and research will soon find it a weariness.
4. The superstitious course is a wearisome one. Millions are sinking into religious superstition--pilgrimages, penances, prayers, and devotional routine. What millions are found wearied in this path!
II. THOUGH THE COURSE IS WEARISOME HE PERSEVERES. “Yet saidst thou not, There is no hope.” Although Israel was wearied in seeking foreign help, still it continued; so with the sinner. To persevere in these wearisome methods for happiness is very foolish.
1. Because they will never become easier than they are. On the contrary, he who pursues these methods of happiness will become more and more weary on his way.
2. Because there is a pleasant way to true happiness. What is that? The loving surrender of your nature to God. The religious way to happiness is pleasant, because--
“Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” How suited is the invitation of Christ to the wearied millions of earth who are seeking for happiness in wrong directions: “Come unto Me, all ye,” etc. (Homilist.)
Man’s weary way
I. THE WAY WHICH IS HERE SUGGESTED TO US. “Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way.” The way which the Israelites took was their own way as distinguished from God’s way. The way in which a man is walking, and by which he is seeking for salvation, until he has found peace through Christ, is more or less directly his own way.
II. THIS WAY, WHICH IS MAN’S OWN WAY, IS SPOKEN OF AS A GREAT WAY. “Thou art weaned in the greatness of thy way. Looking at salvation as It Is in Itself, at the deliverance which is desired, a great deliverance is necessary; looking to the efforts which man will make to effect and attain this deliverance, great efforts are evidently necessary, and great efforts are frequently made. Micah speaks of a man giving thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil, yea, giving the life of his firstborn for the sin of his soul, if perchance he may save that soul. And it is perfectly marvellous to see the efforts which men have made, and arc making, in false religions, to secure that which they desire, namely, their soul’s salvation.
III. THIS WAY OF MAN’S OWN SEEKING IS A WEARY WAY. What disappointments the Israelites met with! So with a man seeking, salvation in his own way as distinct from God’s way. Just in proportion as a man is in earnest, just in proportion to the depth of his convictions of sin and righteousness, just in proportion to the sense which he has of the holiness of God, and the realities of eternity, will be the man’s dissatisfaction with his own efforts and his own acts of self-denial.
IV. Although this is a weary way, and an unsatisfying way, yet IT HAS IN IT SOME PROMISES OF SUCCOUR AND SOME POWER OF SATISFACTION, WHICH PREVENTS THE MAN FROM WHOLLY DESPAIRING. The man “finds life to his hand.” There is enough in what he is doing, there is enough in what he is finding, to prevent him from wholly despairing. These persons are not prepared to “say there is no hope; they are not prepared to despair of salvation in the manner in which they are seeking it; they are not wholly cast down. “Therefore thou wast not grieved, not wholly disheartened. They go on persevering and pressing forward, hoping that a brighter day will come. Contrast with this way of man God’s way. The way of salvation sought and followed by the Jews resembles very much the way of salvation which the natural heart of man follows when he pursues and seeks that salvation; but now, what is, the way which God would have us to walk in, as contrasted with this way of man’s own devising? That which marks God’s way, and distinguishes it especially from man’s way, is this--that man’s way is a way of fear and dread, while God’s way is a way of love. “ But how,”you will say, “are we to pass from this state, which is man’s natural state of seeking for salvation, to that state which is described as God’s method of seeking and conferring salvation?” The prophet tells us (verses 18, 19). (E. Bayley, M. A.)
“The life of thine hand”
“The life of thine hand” may mean, “a revival of thy vigour.” (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
Yet saidst thou not, There is no hope
Hope, yet no hope: no hope, yet hope
(with Jeremiah 18:12, “And they said, There is no hope, ‘ etc.):--The subtlety of the human heart exerts itself to the utmost to prevent that heart from trusting in the Saviour, and while evil is always cunning, it shows itself to be supremely so in its efforts to guard the Cross against the approaches of sinners. By the Cross, as the Saviour said, the thoughts of many hearts are revealed. There are two phases in spiritual life which well illustrate the deceitfulness of the heart. The first is that described in my first text, in which the man, though wearied in his many attempts, is not and cannot be convinced of the hopelessness of self-salvation. When you shall have hunted the man out of this, you will then meet with a new difficulty, which is described in the second text. Finding there is no hope in himself, the man draws the unwarrantable conclusion that there is no hope for him in God. It is self-righteousness in both cases. In the one case it is the soul content with self-righteousness, in the second place it is man sullenly preferring to perish rather than receive the righteousness of Christ.
I. We have to speak of A HOPE WHICH IS NO HOPE. “Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope,” etc. This well pictures the pursuit of men after satisfaction in earthly things. They are content because they have found the life of their hand. Living from hand to mouth is enough for them; that they are still alive, that they possess present comforts and present enjoyments, this contents the many. As for the future, they say, “ Let it take care of itself.” They have no foresight for their eternal state; the present hour absorbs them.
1. The text applies very eminently to, those who are seeking salvation by ceremonies.”
2. A great mass of people, even though they reject priestcraft, make themselves priests, and rely upon their good works. The way of salvation by works, if it were possible, would be a very wearisome way. How many good works would carry a man to heaven, would be a question which it were very hard to answer.
3. Many are looking for salvation to another form of self-deception, namely the way of repentance and reformation.
II. We shall now turn to the second text. “And they said, There is no hope,” etc. Here we have No HOPE--AND YET HOPE. When the sinner has at last been driven by stress of weather from the roadstead of his own confidence, then he flies to the dreary harbour of despair. Despair is the mother of all sorts of evil. When a man sates,. “There is no hope of heaven for me;” then he throws the reins upon the neck of his lusts, and goes on from bad to worse. There is hope for you in Him whom God has provided to be the Saviour of such as you are. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And shall say, Cast ye up
God righteous, yet gracious
The second half of Isaiah 57:13 forms a transition to the
next section, which is a promise of salvation to the true Israel.
In striking contrast to the menacing tone of Isaiah 57:3 f is the impressive and elevated language in which the prophet now sets forth the gracious thoughts of Jehovah towards His erring but repentant people. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
A round to God
In this passage the cry goes forth, not on behalf of a conqueror, or a sovereign, but on behalf of God’s people. They are the honoured procession for which a road is to be prepared. “Cast up, cast up”--that is, heap up, fill in, “prepare the way, take up the stumbling-blockout of the way of My people.” The figure, then, is striking. As royalty demanded for itself a smooth path, a road from which all dangers and obstructions were taken away, so a soul that is on its way to God has thrown over it, as it were, something of the sovereignty which it approaches, and a mysterious voice is heard, crying, “Clear the way I heap up! heap up! cast out the stumbling-stones.” (H. W. Beecher.)
1. The want of a true and large ideal of Christian life, as an inward, spiritual and Divine disposition, and the attempt to live in mere conformity to rules, and with a vague impression that if one conforms to the Church he shall in some way, he knows scarcely how, be saved, is itself one of the causes of perpetual stumbling. The attempt to live merely for the fulfilment of social moralities; the attempt to live so that all the rules which are prescribed by all those who are governing in the Lord, shall be obeyed; the attempt to live upon any such low conception as that of regulations, conventions, observances, is sure to make the Christian life poor, and the travel uncertain. For “a new creature in Christ Jesus” is the apostolic definition of a Christian. Our aspiration and effort will be in proportion to the dignity and the ideality, if I may, so say, of our conception of what religion is. If we suppose it to be simply not doing evil, we shall put forth but very little exertion, and we shall receive but very little stimulus.
2. The attempt to live the Christian life with a low tone of feeling is a reason why men do not make greater progress. In all the writings of the New Testament you will find that fervour, intensity is required in every feeling. We not only need to have moralities, but we need to have Christian graces, which are, as it were, orchids, epiphytes, and fed upon higher and purer things--light, and moisture, and other elements that the air contains. Now, none of these can thrive in our temperate climate. A temperate climate is good for temperate things; but for intensities it is not good. And many dominant and characteristic traits of Christian character are such as never can be brought out without fervour.
3. Lack of deep and continuous devotion. This is either from the want of a sense of the great spirit-world on whose border we live perpetually, or it is the result of excessive occupation, over-occupation, which crowds all the time, and prevents one from ripening in a true Christian devotion.
4. Another hindrance which men find on the road of progress in their Christian life, is their ignorance as to the effect of outward activity in developing inward fervour, and the effect of inward fervour in developing outward activity--as to the effect of the reciprocal action of the inward and the outward life. Men arc accustomed to separate these qualities, which should never be disjoined. Men should be active that they may be emotive; and they should be emotive, that emotion may work into activity.
5. A very common hindrance to Christian development is the attempt of men to perform their Christian work outside of their appropriate spheres. Wherever you are, there begin the battle; there subdue everything that stands in conflict with the law of conscience, and the law of love, and the law of purity, and the law of truth. Begin the fight wherever God sounds the trumpet, and He will give you grace that as your day is, so your strength shall be. But until we cease dividing our life into two parts--secular and religious--we never shall be very eminent and consistent as Christians; we never shall make any very great progress in the Christian life.
6. Too much companion ship is not good.
7. This stands closely connected with another social hindrance to the development of true Christian life, and that is, the addiction of men to pleasure. I mean not indulgence in wasting and disallowable pleasures, but an excessive addiction to recreation of any kind. We are bound to grow in grace. If we do not, grow, we are bound to know the reason why. (H. W.Beecher.)
The way of religion
The way of religion is now cast up; it is a highway; ministers’ business is to direct people in it, and to help them over the discouragements they meet with, that nothing may offend them. (M. Henry.)
The way of Christ prepared
I. THE STUMBLING-BLOCKS WHICH CHRISTIANS HAVE THROWN IN THE WAY OF THE JEWS.
4. Neglect of the law of Moses.
5. Unbelief of the prophets.
II. THE STUMBLING-BLOCKS WHICH THE JEWS HAVE PUT IN THEIR OWN WAY.
2. Traditions of men.
4. A false view of God.
5. Unbelief in the Son of God.
III. THE BLESSED FRUITS OF THEIR REMOVAL. These fruits are set before us in the verses which follow our text.
1. Humiliation and contrition (Isaiah 57:15).
2. Revival and healing. The promise goes on thus: “To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. I have seen his ways and will heal him.”
3. Comfort and peace. “I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him” (Isaiah 57:18-19).
What is the way, the way of salvation? Jesus Christ says, “I am the way.” This is the entrance into the way, and this is the track of that way even to the end--trust in Christ. “Are not good works needed?” says one. They always flow from faith in Christ. Such being the way, it is very simple. Straight as an arrow, is it not? And yet in this way there are stumbling-blocks.
I. LET US SHOW WHY THIS IS.
1. The way of believing is such an uncommon way. Men do not understand the way of trusting. They want to see, to reason, to argue. How very difficult it would be for a cow, that has always lived by the day the short life that can be fed on grass, if it had to live by reason, as men do. And when man has to live by faith he is as awkward at it as a cow would be at reasoning. He is out of his element.
2. Men, when they are really seeking salvation, are often much troubled in mind. They feel that if God be just He must punish them for their wrong-doing. And when they are told that if they believe in Jesus Christ all manner of sin and of blasphemy shall be forgiven, they wonder how it can be. Conscience makes unbelievers of us all; and stumbling-blocks are created by our trembling condition.
3. Besides this, men are often ignorant of the way of salvation. I am not speaking now as though I blamed them. I was brought up to attend the house of God regularly. Yet when I began to see the Lord, I did not know the way of salvation. I knew the letter of it, but not the real meaning: how can a man know it till the Spirit of God reveals it to him?
4. Satan is always ready to prevent souls from finding peace in Christ. Thus have I shown why there are so many stumbling-blocks.
II. Now I am going to TRY TO LIFT SOME OF THEM OUT OF THE WAY.
1. Here is one of them. One man says, “I would fain believe in this Jesus Christ of whom you tell me, but if I were to come to God through Christ, would He receive me? “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” In all the history of the human race there never has been found a man that came to Jesus Christ whom Christ rejected yet.
2. “But,” says another, “I am a very peculiar person. I could very well believe that any man in the world who trusted Christ would be saved except myself; but I cannot think that He would save me, for I am so odd. Ah, I am odd myself, and I had the same feeling that you have. I thought that I was a lot left out of the catalogue. If you knew other people you would find that there are other strange people besides yourself; and if God saves so many strange people, why should He not save you? He delights to do wonders. He will crowd heaven with curiosities of mercy.
3. But I hear another say, “Sir, I have such a horrible sense of sin; I cannot rest in my bed! I cannot think that I shall be saved.” Wait a bit there; let me speak to this person over here. What is your trouble? “My trouble is, sir, that I have no sense of sin. I know that I am a sinner, and a great sinner; but I do not think that I shall be saved, for I have no horrible thoughts “ Will you change with the other man? Will he change with you? I should not advise either of you to make any change; for, in the first place, despairing thoughts-are--not necessary to salvation; and, in the second place, so long as you know yourself a sinner, and are willing to confess it, such thoughts are untrue. Despairing one, look to the Cross and live; and thou who dost not despair, look to the same Cross and live; for there is salvation for every eye that looks to Jesus crucified.
4. A trembler cries, “I am afraid to come and trust Christ, because I do not know whether I am one of the elect.” If you trust Jesus Christ I will tell you then that you are Go ‘ elect, to a certainty.
5. “All,” says another, person, “I think I have committed this unpardonable sin. Do you long to he delivered from the power of sin? Then you have not committed the unpardonable sin, because it is a sin unto death, and after a man commits it he never has a living wish or desire after God from that moment.
6. “Oh, but,” says another person, “my stumbling-block is this: that the whole thing seems too good to be true, that I, by simply believing in Jesus Christ, shall be saved. I confess that it does seem too good to be true, but it is not. God in Christ Jesus is clearly capable of marvellous deeds of grace. There are some stumbling-blocks that I cannot remove; they must always stand there, I am afraid.
7. An objector says to me. “I would believe in Jesus; I have no fault to find with Him, but, then, look at His followers, many of them are hypocrites. We do look at His professed followers, and the tears are in our eyes, for the worst enemies He has are they of His own household. Suppose Judas does betray Christ, is Christ any the worse for that? You are not asked to trust in Judas, you are asked to trust in Christ. The reason why it pays to make bad sovereigns is because, good ones are so valuable; and that is why it pays certain people, as they think, to pass themselves off as Christians. If there were no real Christians, there would be no pretenders to that name.
8. “But,” says another, “here is my stumbling-block: if I were to believe in Christ, and become a Christian, I should have to alter my whole life.” Just so. There would have to be a turning of everything upside down,” but then He that sits upon the throne says, “Behold, I make all things new.
9. “Oh, but,” says one, “I should have to run the gauntlet in my family if I became a Christian.” Which is the better thing, do you think--to be sneered at for doing right or to be commended for doing wrong? (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Take up the stumbling-block
As a Conqueror the Messiah was coming, but there was great sin and unpreparedness. Hence the prophet cried, “Take up, take up the stumbling-blocks.” Christ is still advancing in power in the world. His truth is the direct and permanent way by which man may tread to heaven and immortality. Various stumbling-blocks of human placing need removal.
I. There is the stumbling-block of SELFISHNESS. This has always cumbered the way. Ananias and Judas yielded to it.
II. Close by this block is another, that of INTOLERANCE. The Church, strong outwardly, was impatient of divergence of opinion.
III. TERRORISM had also to be rolled out of the way. Figure was taken for fact. The great Father was presented in the guise of an implacable judge. Harsh representations of God and future punishment caused revolt.
IV. There is the stumbling-block of an ELABORATE CEREMONIAL SYSTEM.
V. The block of INDIFFERENTISM, on the other hand, also needs removal. Indifferentism is only another name for selfism. It should matter to each man if his fellow suffers.
VI. Some will say that all the stumbling-blocks mentioned are nothing compared with those formed by THE INCONSISTENCIES OF CHRISTIAN PEOPLE. The last is a conglomerate rock. Worldly attractions, amusements, desires, lusts, are often too strong for those who profess to be unworldly. Byron said, “The inconsistencies of professing Christians made me an infidel. Was he alone? Conclusion: How are these evils, these blocks of offence to be removed, and a way made for the coming of our King Jesus? There must be more faith in the presence and potency of the Holy Spirit in the Church. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
(with Isaiah 58:12, “the restorer of paths”):--Few are the exceptionally gifted men and women whom God calls to be pioneers, discoverers and creators of new paths--road-makers. “Primal needed work,” to use Walt Whitman’s phrase, is not possible for the majority of us. We have not the genius, the energy, the courage, the self-reliance, the independence of intellectual comradeship which characterize the select company who are able to hew their way, like Stanley’s men in “Darkest Africa,” through forests, and force their way through wildernesses and deserts, thus opening up new highways for human thought and life, and action, and civilization, and new highways for God. But we can all be road-menders. We can all aid in removing the stumbling-blocks out of the way. We can all be restorers of paths. This is the humbler task. It demands fewer talents, less daring, less originality than pioneer work, but who can gauge its value? Who will venture to affirm that it is less honouring or less acceptable to God, and less of a boon to man and the world? Perhaps, after all, to mend the old roads, to restore the former paths which have fallen out of repair, and make them straighter, safer, and more comfortable to the feet of travel-worn pilgrims, is as noble and useful a vocation as any to which God calls His servants.
I. What need there is for road-menders and restorers of paths in THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL WORLD! To protect the widow and orphan; to stand by the oppressed; to ameliorate the lot of the starving poor and the slaves of the sweater; to grapple with the drink curse, the gambling curse, the curse of impurity, the curse of an inordinate love of gold and pleasure; the curse of preventable poverty, preventable disease, preventable premature old age and death--what a field of service for God and man!
II. What need there is for road-menders and restorers of paths in OUR NATIONAL AFFAIRS! As lovers of our country; as patriots’ who have a share in shaping the home and foreign policies of our Governments and moulding public thought and national conduct and character, let us do what we can to lead our nation into saner and safer and nobler paths.
III. What need there is for road-menders and restorers of paths in THE RELIGIOUS WORLD! Is not much of our Churchianity to-day an empty form, a mere show? How far removed from our professedly Christian life in the Church are our commercial life, our political life, our home life, our society life in the world! What an amount of nominal Church membership and formal Christianity there is nowadays!
IV. What need there is for road-menders and restorers of paths in THE SPHERE OF PERSONAL GOODNESS AND HELPFULNESS! After all, the best contribution any one of us can make to the glory of God and the welfare of man is that of a really good life; a life fashioned after the pattern given us by our Lord and Master; a life filled by the Holy Spirit, a life of friendship and filial fellowship with God. (R. Briggs, M. A.)
For thus saith
the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity.
A royal manifesto
A royal manifesto win His character as Sovereign, God brings before us, and before His loyal subjects in every age, what we may regard as His two titles and His two palaces.
I. HIS TWO TITLES.
1. “The High and Lofty One.” The nation had lapsed into unblushing idolatry. They had made surrender of their traditional creed, and specially of its fundamental article--the personality and unity of Jehovah; degrading it with the abominations of the Phoenician and Assyrian mythologies. In-addition to altars to Baal, crowning the high places, statues of Astarte were erected amid the groves of Terebinth. This latter goddess seemed to have been adopted by Ahaz as his tutelary deity; an awful and debasing counterfeit truly of the Supreme: sitting on a lion, holding a thunderbolt and sceptre in either hand, and her head surrounded with the crescent moon. No king, before or since, so defiled and desecrated the holy temple. Isaiah himself, amid this awful deterioration, this widespread atheism, might well be apt to give way to despair. His faith at times could hardly fail to be clouded. But the God he served calmed his fears and allayed his apprehensions by a special proclamation of His glory, and goodness, “I am the alone High and Lofty One.
2. “Whose name is Holy. The worst characteristic of these heathen deities was their unholiness.
II. HIS TWO PALACES.
1. The palace of eternity. “That inhabiteth eternity.” In nothing do we feel how puny we are, as when we attempt to scan the marvels and glories of this Divine dwelling-place, with its illimitable corridors of space and time.
2. What a transition, from the halls and corridors of eternity, to the human bosom! There is a twofold description here given of this humbler tabernacle where Jehovah dwells--a twofold characteristic of the human heart.
The High gracious to the lowly
I. Let us consider who Is SPEAKING IN THE TEXT. This is necessary to a right apprehension of what He says, and particularly to a clear perception of those riches of condescension, compassion, and grace, which His words unfold to our view.
1. He is “the High and Lofty One.”
2. He inhabiteth eternity. He is therefore as different as possible from the children of men.
3. His name is Holy.
II. Let us consider WHAT IS SAID BY HIM.
1. He tells us that He “dwells in the high and holy place;” that is, in the heaven of heavens, the peculiar residence of the Deity, where His glory is chiefly manifested, and His favour is chiefly enjoyed. Heaven is not only high, but the highest place in the whole creation. There is no other place that can for a moment be compared with it, either in glory or felicity. Nor is there any other place so holy.
2. God here says that He dwells also with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit. By the man thus described we are to understand the sinner who has been enlightened by the Spirit Of God, who has been convinced of his sinfulness, and brought to true repentance.
3. God here tells us what is the end He has in view in dwelling with such characters. It is to “revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” The same God that afflicts the sinner revives and cheers him. Learn--
God in heaven and in the heart
God has two special dwellings--the high and holy place, i.e the heaven not merely of space, but of pure and blessed spirits; and the hearts of men who have felt their sin and their need of God.
1. These two dwellings are far apart, How wide and great the one, how small and narrow the other! How permanent the one, how passing the other! How bright and untroubled the one, how dark and troubled the other!
2. They have yet something in common. The high place is akin to the humble spirit, for to see the far and high, and to long for it, is to rise; to have something of God within lifts up. The holy place is akin to the contrite heart; for to feel the sin and separation is to reach to the holy, and this comes from having God already in the heart at work.
3. They are to be brought into one. God dwells in them to unite them, to revive the spirit, to give life. And where God gives true life, He gives the earnest of heaven and eternity. These hearts are therefore on the way to being God’s perpetual home.
4. The full end of these words is in Christ. He came from the high and holy place to dwell among men, and find a way into human hearts--to make heaven and the heart one and eternal. (British Weekly.)
Man’s greatness and God’s greatness
I. THAT IN WHICH THE GREATNESS OF GOD CONSISTS.
1. The first measurement, so to speak, which is given of God’s greatness, is in respect of time. He inhabiteth eternity.
2. There is a second measure given us of God in this verse. It is in respect of space. He dwelleth in the high and lofty place. He dwelleth, moreover, in the most insignificant place--even the heart of man. And the idea by which the prophet would here exhibit to us the greatness of God is that of His eternal omnipresence. It is difficult to say which conception carries with it the greatest exaltation--that of boundless space or that of unbounded time.
3. The third measure which is given us of God respects His character. His name is Holy
(1) The chief knowledge which we have of God’s holiness comes from our acquaintance with unholiness. We know what impurity is--God is not that. We scarcely can be rightly said to know, that is to feel, what God is. And therefore this is implied in the very name of holiness. Holiness in the Jewish sense means simply separateness. From all that is wrong, and mean, and base, our God is for ever separate.
II. THAT IN WHICH MAN’S GREATNESS CONSISTS.
1. The nature of that greatness. In these two things the greatness of man consists. One is to have God so dwelling in us as to impart His character to us; and the other is to have God so dwelling in us that we recognize His presence, and know that we are His and He is ours.
2. The persons who are truly great. These the Holy Scripture has divided into two classes--those who are humble and those who are contrite in heart. Or rather, it will be observed that it is the same class of character under different circumstances. Humbleness is the frame of mind of those who are in a state of innocence, contrition of those who are in a state of repentant guilt. Let not the expression” innocence” be misunderstood. Innocence in its true and highest sense never existed but once upon this earth. Innocence cannot be the religion of man now. But yet there are those who have walked with God from youth, not quenching the spirit which He gave them, and who are therefore comparatively innocent beings. They are described here as the humble in heart. Two things are required for this state of mind. One is that a man should have a true estimate of God, and the other is that he should have a true estimate of himself, The other class of those who are truly great are the contrite in spirit. Conclusion:--
1. The danger of coming into collision with such a God as our God. Day by day we commit sins of thought and word of which the dull eye of man takes no cognizance. He whose name is Holy cannot pass them by. God can wait, for He has a whole eternity before Him in which He may strike.
2. The heavenly character of condescension. It is not from the insignificance of man that God’s dwelling with him is so strange. But the marvel is that the habitation which He has chosen for Himself is an impure one. If we would be Godlike, we must follow in the same steps. Our temptation is to do exactly the reverse. We are for ever wishing to obtain the friendship and the intimacy of those above us in the world.
3. The guilt of two things of which the world is full--vanity and pride. The distinction consists in this--the vain man looks for the admiration of others--the proud man requires nothing but his own. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
A voice from eternity to the children of Him,
I. THIS VOICE REVEALS AN EXISTENCE THAT STANDS IN SUBLIME CONTRAST WITH ALL THAT IS HUMAN.
II. THIS VOICE REVEALS A PRIVILEGE OF IMMENSE VALUE TO THE GOOD.
1. This VOICE reveals God’s special regard for a good man’s experience. This High and Lofty One condescends to regard with special interest those of a “contrite “ and “humble” spirit.
2. This voice reveals God’s special contact with a good man’s existence. He not only dwells in the “high and holy place,” but “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” “Dwelling” implies a close intimacy. He is, by the influences of His love, nearer to the good than He is to others; near to guide, to succour, to strengthen. Dwelling implies not only a close intimacy, but a permanent one. He does not come and go as an occasional sojourner; He continues as a settled resident in the soul. He is always with His people, in sorrow and joy, in life and death.
3. This VOICE reveals God’s special quickening of a good man’s spirit. “To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” God comes down to the spirit, not to crush it, but to revive it, to give it a new life, to bring out by the sunshine of His presence all its dormant germs, and to make it fruitful in all good works. He gives it a life, over which circumstances, time, and death, have no power. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
He is a God, saith one, whose nature is majesty, whose place is immensity, whose time is eternity, whose life is sanctity, whose power is omnipotency, whose work is mercy, whose wrath is justice, whose throne is sublimity, whose seat is humility. (J. Trapp.)
Though intellectually incomprehensible, the thought of it is inestimably valuable.
1. It furnishes us with the only satisfactory account of the origin of the universe. Creation is but God’s eternal thoughts in shape, His eternal will in action.
2. It shows to us our incapability of pronouncing upon His ways. During our existence here, He is working out a plan that, like Himself, never had a beginning and will never have an end.
3. It enables us to give an eternal freshness to the Bible. Being eternal, what He thought when He inspired men to write the Book He thinks now. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The contrite spirit
The word “contrition ‘ in the text is a very strong word. It literally means a pounded state, as of a stone which by blow on blow of heavy hammers, or the grinding of wagon wheels, has been crushed into dust. By this vigorous metaphor it strives to make vivid to us the moral state of a man whose whole strength of self-reliance and erectness of moral carriage has been broken down through the sense of guilt and moral weakness; one who by repeated trials of his own instability, and blow after blow of discouraging rebuke from God, feels himself left in the path of evil a heart-broken man, over whom the trampling feet of innumerable masterful sins, with all their evil followers, seem to find free passage; a man beaten down and crushed out of spirit by vain struggles against sin and inescapable poundings from the violated laws of God. Now this moral condition, though it looks hopeless, is really a hopeful one. It is the only hopeful one. And the hopefulness of it lies here, that no man is ever so crushed in heart by sin unless he hates sin. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The High and Lofty One dwelling with the contrite man
(with Isaiah 66:1-2):--
I. We remark that, FROM ETERNITY, THE RESIDENCE OF GOD HAS ALWAYS CORRESPONDED WITH HIS INFINITE NATURE AND PERFECTIONS. This seems to be implied in the text in three particulars: being eternal, He has inhabited eternity; as the High and Lofty One, He has occupied the throne of supremacy; and His name being Holy, He has dwelt in the high and holy place.
II. IF HE CONDESCEND TO HOLD INTERCOURSE WITH MAN, IT CAN ONLY BE IN HARMONY WITH THE SAME PRINCIPLE. He has not one principle for one world and another principle for another. Select any principle of His conduct, and you will find that, like Himself, it is from everlasting to everlasting; and all this owing to that infinite perfection of His nature which neither requires nor admits of a change.
1. Why is it that He comes forth and gives us this description of Himself? Why, but to show us that, if He condescends to hold any intercourse with us, the terms of that intercourse must be prescribed entirely by Himself. “You judge” (as if He had said) “of what a fellow-creature may expect from you by his tittles; hear My titles”--Jehovah, the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy. What distinction can you add to them. You estimate a mortal’s rank by the remoteness of his ancestry--“I am the First, the unoriginated Being.” You judge of a mortal’s rank by the mansion he inhabits, and, on occasion, you prepare for his reception accordingly. “I dwell in the high and holy place.” You can be awed by the presence of even human worth; what, then, should you feel in the presence of Him whose name is Holy--who, if He looks on iniquity, can only look on it to scorch and wither it up? You think of erecting a temple which shall attract the Majesty of heaven by its splendours, as if you should invite a monarch to descend from his throne by gilding his footstool. On account of His greatness, you would enlarge its dimensions. “But do not I fill heaven and earth?” On account of His grandeur, you would multiply its priests and bedizen them with costly robes. Think of His state and retinue above, where His train filleth the temple, where thousand thousands minister unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before Him! On account of His supremacy, you would multiply His sacrifices. “Will I eat the flesh of bulls,” saith God, “or drink the blood of goats?” Multiply them as you will, set all Lebanon in a blaze, and offer up all its herds as a burnt-offering, still
He can say, “Every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” Offer up the whole material world, and He could say, “The world is Mine, and the fulness thereof.” But because man may have convicted himself of folly in these respects, is he, therefore, to retire mortified and in despair of ever securing the Divine presence? Let us hear what God the Lord will yet say to us. “I dwell., with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” What is the transition from that height to that depth nothing to Him, that He speaks of it in one sentence--in the same breath? “With him also”--as if it made little or no difference to His greatness whether He dwelt there or here!
2. Having thus humbled Himself, we see the reasonableness of His selecting the humble and the contrite as the objects of His Divine regard. It is only such that are prepared to receive Him. As the infinite and eternal Spirit, He comes to commune with our spirit; but in the case of every class except the humble, He finds the ground already occupied, and He has to stand at the door and knock. As the High and Lofty One, He comes to have His supremacy recognized, to receive us at His footstool; but all except the humble are seated on little thrones of their own, and will not come down to receive Him. As the Being whose name is Holy, He comes to imprint on us the likeness of His own image; but none save the humble and those melted in contrition are in a state to receive the sacred impress. He comes to be honoured, appreciated, adored; but all save the humble are busied in asserting their own little claims--are, in effect, prepared to quarrel with His supremacy, and to pluck at His sceptre. Can we wonder, then, that if He comes to commune with us, His abode should be with the humble? Where should goodness dwell but with gratitude? Where should the fulness of the Creator pour itself forth but into the emptiness of the creature?
3. But will He commune even with the contrite? For here the wonder presents itself, that He should condescend even to this. And what part of His conduct towards us is not marked with condescension? And what part of His condescension is not an abyss of wonder?
III. FROM THIS IT FOLLOWS, THAT NO RELIGIOUS WORSHIP CAN BE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, EXCEPT AS IT HARMONIZES WITH THE CHARACTER OF GOD. Indeed, if this harmony were not necessary--if the individual or the Church could obtain access to God without such harmony with His character, it could not conduce to their real advantage. That in which the happiness of our spiritual nature consists must be something congenial to that nature, and something which is capable of imparting itself to that nature.
1. If supremacy comes here, He expects to behold subordination, and what is that but humility? Humility does not necessarily and of itself imply a sense of guilt. Angels are among the most humble of His creatures, for they never lose sight of their entire dependence on Him. And the greatest example of excellence which earth ever saw, though unstained by a single pollution, could say, “I am meek and lowly of heart.’
2. Humility is not enough for man. If they who have never sinned are humble, more than humility must be proper for man--there must be contrition also. The text implies this: it intimates that if the High and Holy One comes amongst us, He expects to be received amidst the sighs of penitence and the tears of godly sorrow.
3. But more--if this voice of mercy is to be heard--if He comes amongst us to address us, He expects that we should tremble at His word--that is, that our hearts should vibrate and respond to every accent Heutters. But if the very perfection of His nature makes this correspondence necessary, so also do the wants and the well-being of our nature. Everything in creation trembles and responds to the voice of God but the stony heart of man; and the welfare of everything depends on its power thus to respond.
IV. THE SUBJECT INTIMATES THAT ALL HUMAN INSTRUMENTALITY, IN THE SERVICE OF GOD, DEPENDS FOR ITS EFFICIENCY ON THE SAME CONDITION--THAT OF HARMONY WITH THE DIVINE CHARACTER. (J. Harris, D. D.)
The High and Lofty One
(with Isaiah 66:1-2):--
I. THE DIVINE MAJESTY. Consider--
1. The grandeur of His state. “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool,” a throne being an emblem of authority and power.
2. HIS attributes.
II. THE DIVINE CONDESCENSION.
1. THE OBJECTS OF HIS regard. The qualities which attract His attention belong to the mind and heart.
2. The expressions of the Divine regard.
The dignity and condescension of God
God is set before us--
I. IN THE DIGNITY OF HIS CHARACTER. We have--
1. His rank as supreme. “The High and Lofty One.”
2. His existence as eternal. “That inhabiteth eternity.”
3. His nature as unsullied. “Whose name is Holy.” And as His name is, so is He.
II. HIS WONDERFUL CONDESCENSION. “With him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,” etc.
1. Permanence. He “dwells” in the high and holy place; it is His chosen, His special, His fixed abode. When it is, therefore, added, “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,” the same idea is set forth. “If any man love Me,” said the Saviour, “he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
2. Attachment. We may have to do with those for whom we feel no regard; but we would not, if invited, take up our residence with such. When persons dwell together as a matter of free choice, it is evident that there is something to attract them to each other.
4. Consolation. Where He comes, He comes to bless; and how valuable is the blessing which is here specified--“to revive the spirit of the humble,” etc. This He does by the quickening and comforting influences of that Divine Spirit which is promised to all them that believe.
III. HIS FATHERLY REBUKES AND CORRECTIONS.
1. Their measure. He whose name is Holy cannot but show His displeasure against sin, whether it be found in the openly rebellious or in His own people. But, in reference to the latter, there are gracious limits within which His righteous anger is restrained. “For I will not contend for ever,” etc. (Isaiah 57:16).
2. Their cause. “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth,” etc. (Isaiah 57:17). It seems that a covetous spirit pervaded the people of that generation at large. Covetousness is an abominable thing in the sight of God.
3. Their final issue. For a time the chastisements were unavailing, but the people were brought at length to a state of penitence. It is therefore said, “I have seen his ways, and will heal him,” etc. (Isaiah 57:18).
IV. THE OFFERS OF HIS LOVE AND MERCY, “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord,” etc. (Isaiah 57:19). The expression “fruit of the lips” sometimes denotes praise, as when the apostle says, By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But while what is here announced might well excite our warmest gratitude, it is probable that the above phrase is used here in a more general signification. The fruit of the lips is what the lips produce, even words; and those which we have now to consider are pre-eminently gracious words. In reference to this proclamation we notice--
1. Its nature. There is a twofold view in which the word “peace” may be regarded. The first is that of good-will, which was the sense in which it was employed in ordinary salutations. But in its more restricted sense it means reconciliation.
2. Its objects. “Peace, peace, to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord.” The Jews are described as “a people near unto Him.” There are those among ourselves who may be regarded as farther from God and from righteousness than others. To the chief of sinners we are permitted to say, “I bring you good tidings of great joy.”
3. Its efficiency. “And I will heal him.” I will make the message effectual.
V. HIS FEELINGS TOWARDS HIS INCORRIGIBLE ENEMIES (Isaiah 57:20-21). (Anon.)
The contemplation of eternity
There are some subjects on which it would be good to dwell, if it were only for the sake of that enlargement of mind which is produced by their contemplation. And eternity is one of these, so that you cannot steadily fix the thoughts upon it without being sensible of a peculiar kind of elevation, at the same time that you are humbled by a personal feeling of utter insignificance. You have come in contact with something so immeasurable--beyond the narrow range of our common speculations--that you are exalted by the very conception of it. Now the only way we have of forming any idea of eternity is by going, step by step, up to the largest measures of time we know of, and so ascending, on and on, till we are lost in wonder. We cannot grasp eternity, but we can learn something of it by perceiving that, rise to what portion of time we will, eternity is vaster than the vastest. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
1. Eternity is the most distasteful subject to the natural man.
2. Whether ignored or not its importance remains the same.
3. In eternity there will be some marvellous revelations.
4. The nature of your eternity will be decided at the Cross.
It is not the number or the heinousness of your sins that will condemn to hell, nor the beauty or strictness of your morality that will bring to heaven. Eternity will be decided by your relation to a crucified Jesus. (A. G. Brown.)
“Eternity,” saith the puritan, Charnock, “is a perpetual duration which has neither beginning nor end. Time hath both. Those things we say are in time, that have beginning, grow up by degrees, have succession of parts. Eternity is contrary to time, and is therefore a permanent and immutable state, without any variation. It comprehends in itself all years, all ages, all periods of ages. It never begins! It endures after every duration of time, and never ceaseth. It doth as much outrun time as it went before the beginning of it. Time supposeth something before it, but there can be nothing before eternity; it were not then eternity. Time hath a continual succession; the former time passeth away, and another succeeds, the last year is not this year, nor this year the next. We must conceive of eternity contrary to the notion of time. As the nature of time consists in the succession of parts, so the nature of eternity is an infinite immutable duration. Eternity and time differ as the sea and rivers; the sea never changes place, but the rivers glide along, and are swallowed up in the sea so is time by eternity.” A simpler, but perhaps more striking definition, was that given by one of the pupils of the Deaf and Dumb Institution at Paris, who, in answer to the question, “What is eternity?” replied, “The lifetime of the Almighty.”
The word “eternal” is the unknown quantity of revelation, transcending present experience, and not to be represented by heaps of ages, or to be defined as endless. It is the timeless state. (N. Smyth, D. D.)
For I will not contend for ever
God’s contendings with man
LET US ADVERT TO THE CONTROVERSY ITSELF--WHAT IT IS, WHY IT IS, AND HOW IT IS CARRIED ON. What this quarrel is we know. It is a part of that ancient strife for mastery, which has been going on ever since the fall, between truth and error, light and darkness, holiness and sin. “The carnal mind is enmity against God. ‘ Unconverted men may demur to these representations; they tell us that they merely withhold from the Divine Being the homage which He expects and claims; but repugnance, hatred, enmity towards Him, they have none. But do they not hate the law of God? Would they not, if it were in their power, have Him alter the scheme of His entire moral government, His permissions, His requirements? This, speaking after the manner of men, makes God angry--sometimes the contendings of God with man take a judicial form. They are to condemn the sinner out of his own mouth, in that he did not see, in the bitter experiences of a life of evil, how the goodness of God was leading him to repentance. See a form of this contending with us, in that fixed and universal law of our being, which always makes us unhappy, when we are striving with God, when we reject His counsels, or resist His will, or try to get from under His yoke, or wrestle with all the obstructions of His providence, in order to have our own way. But, further, and more directly, God contends with us by His Word, and Spirit, and outward providences--by powerful awakenings at the heart when we look not for them, or byinterposed checks and barriers when we are bent on the way of sin. There are restraints upon us often from without. And there are restraints upon us from within from the suggestions, and the admonitions, and remonstrances of the Divine Spirit in our hearts. But a more comforting view of our text, and one more in harmony with its general spirit, is that which supposes God to be contending with us, avowedly for the purposes of His own Fatherly correction, and only for the fulfilment of those ends; waiting to remove from us His heavy hand. These contendings of God with His own children take many forms. Chastening is a universal discipline. Very hard to bear is this contending of God with us; there is only one thing harder, and that is, the state in which He should not contend with us at all, but should leave us to ourselves.
II. THE LIMITS WHICH GOD HAS HIMSELF ASSIGNED TO THIS CONTROVERSY WITH THE SOULS OF MEN, AND THE REASONS MOVING HIM THERETO,
Contend with us He must, and be wroth with us He must. It is a necessity forced upon Him by the circumstances of our fallen nature; but He will not contend for ever. Wisdom and goodness have decreed the bounds of this flooding wave and it shall go no farther. Now, in the case of the obstinately wicked and impenitent, we have seen why God will not contend for ever. They have their day of visitation and they outlive it; their accepted time and they sin on. The Judge wastes not scourges up, on them; they will make scourges enough for themselves. Hell itself is but Heaven’s assisting grace withdrawn, and man left to the evil of his own heart. But in His own children, the limits of God’s chastening are merciful limits. “He for our profit’--here is the universal law of the scourge; it will cease whenever our souls’ profit ceases. “I will not contend for ever;” nor longer than may be necessary to try our faith, to prove our repentance, to see what there is in our hearts, whether we will keep the Divine commandments or not. These seasons of sadness are sometimes permitted to take us off from a false theology and a false rest. “For the spirit should fail before Me. Very instructive are those Scriptures, and very comforting, which tell us how largely the thought of our mortal frailness enters into the considerate care of Heaven. The uppermost thought which our subject should leave upon the mind, and which the heart should cleave to with all the energies of a loving faith is, that it goes very hard with God to afflict man at all; and that He has in some mysterious sense to wrestle with the conflicting powers of the Godhead before He can give up a soul altogether. It seems as if God could take every step towards the sinner’s condemnation but the last. He can admonish, rebuke, threaten; but when it comes to smiting, then comes the hesitation, then begins God’s strange work. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Contention ended and grace reigning
The Lord is holding high soliloquy. He allows His prophet to stand where he can hear the sacred soliloquy of the great Supreme; and he does hear it, and then under the dictate of the Divine Spirit he records it in the inspired book, where it remains to this day for our instruction.
I. GOD CONTENDS WITH MEN, AND THE DIVINE CONTENTION IS WELL DESERVED ON THEIR PART. He says, “I will not contend for ever,” in which it is implied that He does contend sometimes. Smiting comes before saving.
1. I would speak of this to the seeking sinner. Anything is better than the horrible calm of the dead sea of spiritual indifference. The Lord’s design in contending with you is to convince you of your sin. The next reason for the
Lord’s contending with you will begin to operate when the first purpose has been accomplished. You will, in your self-abasement, be driven to look to the grace of God. It is hard to part a man from his sin, it is still harder to divorce him from his self-righteousness: and this is a part of the Lord’s contention with awakened souls. Moreover, no one can be surprised that the Lord lets forth a measure of His wrath upon seeking sinners when we see how they behave, even while they are seeking. We have known them red hot one day and icy cold another, and albeit that they long for mercy, you will see them at certain seasons acting as if they despised it.
2. But now I turn to the people of God. Sometimes our Lord hath a contention with us. This is not at all wonderful when we consider how unworthily we often live towards His sacred name; indeed, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.” His contention with us will show itself occasionally in adverse providences. Even more severe are His blows when it comes to be a controversy carried on by His Spirit within the mind.
II. THIS DIVINE CONTENTION WILL COME TO AN END WITH THE CONTRITE, “I will not contend for ever,” etc. The question arises: When may we expect that this promise will be fulfilled? Notice the verse which precedes the text, for that assures us that God hath no controversy with the humble and the contrite. This is self-evident, for He declares Chat with such He will dwell, and the God of grace will not dwell in a house that is full of contention. He contends where He does not abide, but where He abides there is peace. It is wonderful how the pity of God has in some cases been excited, even by a temporary repentance. When wicked Ahab rent his clothes and put sackcloth upon himself, the Lord took note of it and said, “Seest thou how Ahab humbled himself before Me? Because he humbled himself before Me I will not bring the evil in his days.” When the Ninevites repented, though probably there was very little that was spiritual about their humbling, the Lord turned from His fierce anger and there was a reprieve for the wicked city. He has given a promise of grace which runs thus, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” He cannot spurn those who submit themselves before Him, for it is written, “Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly.” Condescension to the lowly is His glory, as the blessed Virgin sang of old, and as many fainting ones may sing at this moment if they will: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree: He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away.” Lowly roofs attract the Deity. He comes to those who are broken in heart, and when He comes the contention is over. And what else doth the Lord promise to do? He says He will dwell with the humble, and He adds that He will revive them.
III. GOD HIMSELF FINDS REASONS FOR ENDING THE CONTENTION. We could not have found any, for in ourselves there is much cause for the Lord’s anger, but none for His grace.
1. The first is found in human weakness, and its inability to bear the Divine contention.
2. His second reason is, to my mind, even more extraordinary. It is given in the next verse: “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth and smote him: I hid Me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. This argument is founded on the inoperativeness of the Divine contention upon the heart which is to be won. If wrath will not humble us the Lord may yet in His grace try what love can do. He will love us to a better mind.
IV. God Himself having found a reason why He should cease from contention, nay, two reasons,. HE HIMSELF INVENTS AND PROPOSES ANOTHER METHOD FOR ENDING HIS CONTENTIONS and making us right with Himself.
1. It is an astonishing method. “I have seen his ways, and will heal him.”
2. It is an effectual method. “I will heal him,”--not “I will smite him again,” but “I will treat his sin as if it were a disease.” It is true that sin is much more than a disease, and God might treat us altogether and only from its criminal side, but still it is a disease, and therefore He resolves to treat it as such.
3. It is a tender way. “I will lead him also.”
4. Observe, how complete is this method. As if all that went before were not enough, it is added, “I will restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.” He will take away the sorrow as well as the sin, the killing grief as well as the killing disease. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth
The punishment of backsliders; but their encouragement when penitent
words remind us of the language of the apostle to the Romans: “Where sin
abounded grace did much more abound.
I. THE ACCUSATORY PART.
1. The evil complained of--“The iniquity of his covetousness.” Then covetousness is iniquity. So the apostle considered it, or he would not have called it “idolatry.” All idolatry is not gross or corporeal. Much of it is refined and mental. It is lamentable to think that this evil so commonly prevails. You will find, by the sacred writers, that the Jews were always given to it. Is it not awful to see how this vice prevails in our country?
2. The reward of transgression. “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth and smote him.” Sin is the same in whomsoever it is found. The evil is not lessened when it is found in the people of God; it is even increased. They stand in nearer relation to God than others. They sin under greater obligations to God than others. They sin against a renewed nature and an enlightened con science. Hence God is peculiarly angry, “because of the provoking of His sons and of His daughters. Hence He says, You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” “Sin never hurts the believer,” is an antinomian sentiment: but what saith the Scriptures? Turn back to the history of Moses and Aaron. Turn to the history of David, even when God assured him that his sin was pardoned. How wise, how merciful, are those hidings and those smitings He employs to bring His people to Himself.
3. The perverseness under this. “He went on frowardly in the way of his heart.” It is said of Ahaz that, in his affliction, he sinned yet more and more against the Lord. So Jeremiah says, “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.” “Do afflictions produce no benefit?” Let us distinguish. There are many who have been afflicted, and yet have not been humbled by the dispensations of Providence, by which they have been exercised. But, you say, “Can this be, in any measure, the ease with real Christians? Will they require the rebukes of Divine Providence? Will they go on in the frowardness of their hearts?” Yes, for a while; and, sometimes, for a long while. There is Jonah--he was disobedient to the word of the Lord.
4. Here is God’s knowledge of all the ways and works of men. “I have seen his ways.” Therefore the speaker is authorized to say, “Be sure your sin will find you out. And now, after all that He has seen, what shall we certainly expect to hear next from Him? I have tried long enough, I have employed means long enough, I will now “avenge Me of My adversaries.” But no, “I have seen his ways”--and what ways!--“and will heal him,” etc.
II. THE PROMISSORY PART. Observe the extensiveness of the engagement. It takes in four things.
1. “I will heal him’, All sin is a disease, and it affects the soul much in the same way as affliction affects the body; depriving it of liberty, of enjoyment, of usefulness. It is the same with backsliding.
2. “I will lead him also.” Bishop Hall says, “Though God has a large family, not one of them can go alone.” Ann there is none so dull, but He can teach them.
3. “I will restore comforts unto him.”
4. “And I will restore comforts unto his mourners,”--for he had made others to mourn as well as himself. This is always the case. The wicked are not only corrupt, but they are “children who are corrupters.” But who are they of whom the Prophet here speaks? Not men of the world. They are not his mourners. They rather rejoice. They say, “Ah! so would we have it, instead of grieving over the falls of professors of religion and of the people of God. But “his mourners?” They are his ministers--they who only live when you “stand fast in the Lord.” They are the humble believers in Jesus, who are “sorrowful for the solemn assembly, and to whom the reproach of it is a burden.” (W. Jay.)
A cluster of promises
I. HERE ARE PROMISES, REACHING TO THE VERY ROOT OF ALL OUR SINFUL NEED, made to sinners as sinners, nay, to the very worst sinners.
1. The promise of healing “I will heal him.”
2. A promise of leading. The Hebrew is, I will conduct him safely to his own country.
3. “I will restore comforts to him.” It is not the singular word, it is not comfort, but “comforts;” all sorts of comforts, and this though I have seen his ways. This is just the language we have in Isaiah 54:8-12.
4. There is a fourth promise, “Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; a liberal promise! to those afar off--aye, far as the ends of the earth--from God, from light, and rest, and truth.
II. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THESE PROMISES ARE MADE. I said God makes promises to sinners, as sinners; will you observe the persons to whom these promises are made, as God describes them here? (Isaiah 54:17.) Covetousness is the root of all sin; covetousness sets up self instead of God in the heart, and everything that ariseth in practice contrary to God and His Word has its root in covetousness--selfism; but here is not merely covetousness, but the “iniquity of covetousness,” a state of mind that rests at nothing likely to gratify or minister to self, but will go through hell-fire to get at what it wants. Then, again (Isaiah 54:17), God smote, but the soul was no better; it is a terrible aggravation of a sinful state, when the correcting hand of God does not mend it; see what God says (Isaiah 1:5). Now, says God, “I have seen his ways,” obstinate, incorrigible, in sin, and “I will heal him. Such is the divinely gracious way in which peace is proclaimed to him that is afar off. (M. Rainsford.)
He went on frowardly
The deceitfulness of the heart, with respect to adversity
1. This sometimes appears by despising afflictions. Many attempt to outbrave calamity, as if they were stronger than God.
2. By repining under adversity.
3. By keeping death at a distance, if the affliction be of a bodily kind.
4. By forming empty resolutions of repentance and reformation, while under affliction.
5. By exciting men to make lies their refuge. The deceitful heart prompts them to trust in earthly means for deliverance from affliction.
6. By making them despise means. We have seen again and again how the deceitfulness of the heart works by contraries, in its opposition to God. If it prevail not with those under affliction to depend absolutely on means, it will strenuously urge the total neglect of them.
7. By seeking deliverance from the affliction itself, rather than the sanctified use of it.
8. By abusing adversity, as an occasion of hardening itself against God. (J. Jameson, M. A.)
I have seen his ways, and will heal him
Observing and healing
This could only be said of
God--He alone can see the ways of man.
We have here--
I. A DIVINE ATTRIBUTE. Intimate knowledge of the ways of men. “I have seen.” God has no need to be told. Tale-bearers exaggerate and lie. God does not even trust His angels. They go about the world observing the evil and the good. But it is not upon their reports He acts.” “I know, He says, “their thoughts.” “I have seen his ways. How solemnly should the fact impress us!
1. There is the man who makes a profession of religion. But that man knows how within him there exist the root and seeds of evil, that his life is a constant struggle, and sin with all its might is contending for the mastery. The deeper that man’s piety is, he realizes with the greater pain his weakness and imperfection, and is horrified at the list which is written up against him by an observing God.
2. Not only the righteous are the subjects of Divine observation, but the wicked as well. The observations of Almighty God produce very different results according to the character of the person He observes. To the man who strives after the way of righteousness it is an encouragement and a warning. But to him who neglects religion and follows sin it is filled with terrible dread and is the precursor of ineffable judgment.
II. A DIVINE PROMISE. The humblest efforts after holiness arc regarded by the great King, and are noted equally with the failures. He sees the whole--the follies, the weaknesses, the struggles, and the regrets, and He isfilled with pity. He knows that unaided man cannot divert his way, and therefore He vouchsafes to give a promise, “I will heal.” In this promise we have--
1. A manifestation of love.
2. A manifestation of authority, “Will heal.” It is God only who can heal man.
1. God will come to those who seek Him. They draw nigh to Him, He draws nigh to them.
2. How joyous is the sound of healing to a sick man! Much more the promise of forgiven sin.
3. Time is passing quickly. What are your ways? Are they such as encourage the Divine advances or repel infinite love? (Homilist.)
The Divine Healer
I. DIVINE KNOWLEDGE.
II. DIVINE MERCY.
1. “I will heal him,” “I will lead him also.” We all need guidance, as we move on through this wilderness.
2. Another part of the healing is the happiness of mind which Christ bestows upon His reconciled people. I will heal him and restore comforts unto him.
3. Then, too, will follow praise. “I create the fruit of the lips.” The songs of heaven will be begun in your souls, even now upon earth.
4. Peace, settled peace. “Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord: and I will heal him.” There is in that one word, “peace,” a treasury of blessedness which you may forego all else to buy. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
Wonder at God’s grace
There are a few objects in nature which never cease to astonish the beholder. I think Humboldt said he could never look upon the rolling prairies without astonishment: and I suppose some of us will never be able to look upon the ocean, or to see the sun rise or set, without feeling that we have before us something always fresh and always new. Now, I have been, not only for the love of it, but because of my calling of preaching it, a constant reader of Holy Scripture, and yet after these five-and-twenty years and more I frequently alight upon well-known passages which astonish me as much as ever. As if I had never heard them before, they come upon me, not merely with freshness, but even so as to cause amazement in my soul. This is one of those portions of Scripture. When I read the chapter describing the horrible wickedness of Israel--when I notice the strong terms which inspiration uses, and none of them too strong, to set forth the horrible wickedness of the nation--it staggers me. And then to see mercy following instead of judgment! It overwhelms me! “I have seen his ways, and”--it is not added, “ I will destroy him; I will sweep him away,” but, “ I will heal him.” Verily God’s grace, like the great mountains, cannot be scaled; like the deeps of the sea, it can never be fathomed, and, like space, it cannot be measured. It is, like God Himself, matchless, boundless. “ Oh, the depths! Oh, the depths!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The text declares that THE SINNER HAS BEEN OBSERVED OF THE LORD. Notice,
1. That God’s omniscience has observed the sinner. Man while living in rebellion against God is as much under His eye as the bees in a glass hive are under your eye when you stand and watch all their movements. The eye of Jehovah never sleeps it is never taken off from a single creature He has made. He sees man--sees him everywhere--sees him through and through; so that He not only hears his words, but knows his thoughts--does not merely behold his actions, but weighs his motives, and knows what is in the man as well as that which comes out of the man. God has seen your ways at home, your ways abroad, your ways in the shop, your ways in the bed-chamber, your ways within as well as your ways without--the ways of your judgment, the ways of your hope, the ways of yourdesire, the ways of your evil lustings, the ways of your murmurings, the ways of your pride. He has seen them all, and seen them perfectly and completely; and the wonder is that, after seeing all, He has not cut us down, but instead of it has proclaimed this amazing word of mercy, “I have seen his ways, and will heal him.”
2. But God had not only seen their ways in the sense of omniscience, but He had inspected their ways in the sense of judgment. He says, “I was wroth and I hid Myself.” Do not think because we preach free grace and dying love to you, and proclaim full pardon through the blood of Jesus, that therefore God winks at sin. No, He is a terrible God, “and will by no means spare the guilty.” And yet He whom the angels call “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth”--the, jealous God, the. God who revengeth, and is furious against sin--even He has said, “I have seen his ways, and will heal him.”
3. The Lord had tested him. If you read the chapter through you will see that God says He had attempted to reclaim him by chastisements.
II. THE SINNER IS THE OBJECT OF DIVINE MERCY TO AN EXTRAORDINARY DEGREE.
1. Notice how God speaks. “I will, I will.” Now, “I will “ and “I shall” are for the King; nay, in the highest sense they are only becoming when used by God Himself. It is not for you and me to say “I will”; we shall speak more wisely if we declare that we will if we can.
2. The disease that we suffer from is a disease He knows all about, because the text says, “I have seen his ways.”
3. Then the text goes on to say, “I will lead him also.” The poor soul of man, even when healed, does not know which way to go. There is not a more bewildered thing in this world than a poor sinner when first he is awakened. Have you ever gone with a candle into a barn where a number of birds have roosted? Have you disturbed them? Have you not seen how they dart hither and thither, and do not know which way to fly? The light confuses them. So it is when Christ comes to poor sinners. They do not know which way to go; they see a little, but the very light confuses them. Now, the loving Lord comes in, and He says, “I will lead him also.”
4. “I will restore comforts to him.” God begins by knocking our comforts away. He takes away the comfort we once had in our false peace, and He makes us mourn for sin. But after a while He restores comfort to us. What sort of comfort? The comfort of perfect forgiveness, the comfort of complete acceptance. The Father sets a warm kiss upon the child’s cheek, and that is the comfort of adoption. Whereas we were heirs of earth, we become heirs of heaven, and have the comforts of hope. We receive the comfort of daily fellowship, for we are admitted to speak with God, and to draw near to Him; the comfort of perfect security, for we are led to feel that whether we live or die we are safe in the arms of Jesus; the comfort of a blessed prospect beyond the grave in the land of the hereafter, where the flowers shall never wither; the comfort of knowing that all things work together for good; the comfort of having the angels for our servants, and heaven for our home. “ I will restore comforts to him;” and all this to the man of whom it is said, “Thou didst debase thyself even unto hell.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
God sees the sinner
In the old time, when the Grecians worshipped images of their gods, it was said that when spiders stretched their webs across the eyelids of the image of Jupiter, the people were regular in their attendance to worship him. They liked to feel that the spiders’ webs prevented Jupiter from seeing their sins, and in their poor, feeble way were no doubt grateful to the insects for covering the eyes of a god who, they thought, would punish them for their sins if he could see their ways. (W. Birch.)
And restore comforts unto him. -
The word “comfort” comes orginally from two Latin words, con and fortis, meaning much strength. In time of trouble, when you lift up your heart and bravely bear the bruden, the strength which enables you to do it is called comfort (W. Birch.)
1. It is a great comfort have peace of mind. Many people have sought to obtain wealth, hoping it would give peace of mind; but they have been mistaken. But what a comfort it is to those who have obtained it! It flows from the knowledge that our sins are forgiven.
2. Another comfort is that God is with us.
3. What a comfort to know that God is our helper. His fingers are tender, and His heart is loving as that of a gentle mother.
4. It is a comfort to know that God is our strength in time of temptation. When an engine has to lift a weight which is beyond its usual work, the engineer stands at the steam gauge, and when the finger reaches near the danger point, he cries, “Hold hard; it can do no more! “ If he allowed the engine to be pressed beyond the safety point, there might be an accident. Likewise, God knows the gauge of every man’s heart. He knows exactly what trials you can bear, and how much temptation you can stand. He declares that no man shall be tempted above that he is able.
5. It is our comfort to know that God is our support in the pathway of our life.
6. Here is another comfort--that our God is the Friend of sinners. (W. Birch.)
I create the fruit of the lips
THE GRAND SUBJECT OF HE GOSPEL PROCLAMATION. “Peace, peace! saith the Lord.” It implies a state of previous enmity and quarrel: a state of alarm and disquietude: and a remedy for both.
1. And does not the message of the Gospel find us in a state of enmity? We are not only “by nature children of wrath,” but by voluntary choice we have rebelled against our God.
2. And in a state of alarm and disquietude?
II. THE UNLIMITED OFFER OF ITS BENEFITS. “To him that is far off, and to him that is near, Peace, peace, saith the Lord.”
1. In respect of outward privileges, the Jewish Church was “near,” and all other nations were ‘ far off.
2. In respect of moral character, some may be thought nearer to God, some further off; and still no difference is made.
3. In respect of inward experience, again, some may feel discouraged by the idea that others have greater nearness to God than themselves.
4. In respect of local distance, “God is still no respecter of persons.” He orders that His Gospel be “preached in all the world.’
III. THE HOLY CHANGE INVARIABLY CONNECTED WITH THE RECEPTION OF THEM. “I will heal him.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)
The fruit of the lips
Our text tells us that God creates the fruit of the lips; but this must be understood, of course, with a reservation. He does not create the fruit of the lips as we commonly see it, but the good fruit, the true fruit, the fruit worth gathering. Because the natural fruit is so evil it needs the Creator again to step m, and make us new creatures, and our fruit new also, or else it will remain so bad that the verdict upon it must be “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” And what is that fruit which the Creator produces from a source which is naturally so barren?
1. The sacrifice of thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15). The fruit of the lips which God creates should be, above all things, praise.
4. There is one renowned topic upon which the lips ought always to be able to speak, and that is summed up in the two words, “Peace, peace.” From the mouth of truth should come kisses of peace, words of peace, the breath of peace. This is the best lip-salve--“Peace, peace.” Nothing can so sweeten the breath as “Peace, peace.” Nothing can so flavour the palate and delight the heart as this “Peace, peace,” felt within, and breathed without. No teeth of ivory, nor lips of coral, are complete in loveliness till over all there glistens the brightness of peace. Fierce speech becomes not loveliness, and threatening and clamour destroy beauty, but the charm of the lips is peace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We shall employ these words--
I. AS THE CRY OF THE AWAKENED. When men are awakened by the grace of God into a consciousness of their true condition they find themselves at war with God and at war with their own consciences, and consequently they begin to cry, “Peace, peace:” longing eagerly to end the dreadful conflict in which they find themselves engaged. Then there visits the man one who knowingly whispers, “You need not disturb yourself. These things are not so. Do you not know that these are all bugbears of a past generation? We men of modern thought have made great discoveries, and changed all the fears of our benighted ancestors into a brave unbelief. You can live at ease. Do not fret yourself about sin, or heaven, or hell, or eternity.” Vain are these stale scepticisms, the man is too much in earnest to be drugged with such soporifics. Boastful unbelief has small power over an agonized soul. God Himself has convinced this man of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and though he tries to disbelieve he cannot. Mr. Worldly Wiseman calls upon him, with his friend Dr. Legality, and his assistant-surgeon Mr. Civility, and these try their Balm of Conceit and Plaister of Natural Goodness. But if God has been dealing with this man, he will say, “But I am not right. I feel that I deserve the wrath of God, and that goodness is not in me.” No, the leprosy lies deep within, and no outward form can cleanse away the deep-seated pollution.
II. THIS IS THE ANSWER OF THE SAVIOUR. It is the fruit of the Saviour’s lips. He comes to a soul and says, “Peace, peace.” Did you ever see Him as dying of sin? If you have never seen Him with the eye of faith you do not know what peace means. But did you ever see Christ as He is risen from the dead? Here is another vision of consolation, another fount of peace. Did you ever see Jesus as He sits there triumphant at the Lord God’s fight hand? A poor, tried spirit is greatly comforted by that sight. If I were to go on picturing our glorious Lord Jesus Christ in any and all of His relationships to us, we should in each case hear Him say, “Peace, peace.”
III. AS THE SONG OF THE TRUE BELIEVER. He who has really, seen Christ, and placed his trust in Him, can now sing, “Peace, peace, peace.
IV. THIS SHOULD BE THE MOTTO OF EVERY BELIEVER.
1. This should be his spirit and desire in the Church, “Peace, peace.”
2. We should labour to carry out the, same quiet spirit in the family. When you get home do not change “Peace, peace, ‘into scolding and nagging. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.’
3. When peace reigns in your own family, go into the world with the same watchword--“Peace, peace.’” Do not set dogs by the ears, but tame lions and tigers. Compose differences, and make people friends.
4. What a difference there will be when this is taken up among all Christian sects--when there shall be no more envying and strife between this denomination and that, but each one shall be saying in Christ’s name, “We are brethren--peace, peace.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But the wicked are like the troubled sea
The restlessness of sin
Who are the wicked?
Not only all who think and feel and do the wrong, but all who have not the right spirit within them--supreme sympathy with the supremely good. There are degrees inwickedness as well as in goodness. There are certain things that render it impossible for wicked men to have true repose. What are they?
I. DISAPPOINTMENTS. The sinner is doomed to perpetual disappointments. He expects happiness in certain pursuits and objects that cannot according to the constitution of his soul yield him true satisfaction. He reposes trust in objects as frail as the reed and as uncertain as the clouds, and he is doomed to have his plans broken up and his confidence destroyed. Hence he is the subject of perpetual vexations and annoyances, for disappointment is evermore a soul-agitating power; it comes down sometimes upon the heart like a strong south-wester, stirring it to its very depths.
II. COMPUNCTIONS. Where there is sin there must come sooner or later remorse. An accusing conscience is not a mere wind that passes over the soul, rippling its surface; it is a volcanic force in its centre, shaking every part. It gave Cain no rest, it made Belshazzar totter and Felix tremble; it drove Judas to the rope.
III. SELFISH PASSIONS. Selfishness, which is the essence of wickedness, is the great disturbing force in the moral universe. Avarice, ambition, jealousy, revenge, envy, anger, are some of its fiendish progeny. (Homilist.)
“The troubled sea”
In order that the wicked may understand how far from peace they really are, the prophet points seaward, and bids the people listen to the moaning of the ocean. He bids them hearken to its thunders, as it pounds upon the rock-bound coast, and says eloquently and graphically, “The wicked are like yon troubled sea, for it cannot rest; its waters cast up mire and dirt.”
I. THE RESTLESSNESS OF THE OCEAN IS AN EMBLEM OF THE WICKED.
1. The sea is never still. We have, indeed, beheld it “like a millpond,” as we say; its surface so glassy and mirror-like that some would conclude that it was perfectly still. The sails, and masts, and hull of the ship were reflected in its glassy bosom. Yet even then the deep was not perfectly still. There was a solemn heave about it, as the flapping of the sails and the rolling of the yards plainly revealed. Moreover, even if the swell could have altogether subsided, the sea was not still for all that. There were currents, imperceptible save when the log was heaved and the reckoning taken, that bore the ship silently along. Furthermore, even if it were possible to get into a place where there were neither swell nor currents, the tides are everywhere uplifting and depressing the vessel at regular intervals to high or low watermark. The sea, therefore, is perhaps one of the best emblems of restlessness, for it has several motions and movements, even in its serenest moods. But it is not to the sea in a state of calm, but when it is lashed to foam, that the prophet compares the wicked. There is to them no permanent enjoyment: their pleasures are fleeting: they have no real rest of heart. Uncomfortable thoughts and painful prickings of conscience come when they are least welcome. Conscience is ill at ease, fear of death and of judgment can by no means be altogether set aside. Those who have been converted to God after a life of dissipation and a career of sin have honestly confessed that though there was a certain sort of pleasure in the ways of wickedness, there was meanwhile a strange unrest. Like Marcellus, the Roman general, of whom it is said that whether conqueror or conquered he was still dissatisfied, they were never content. The reference here is principally to the fierce passions that are in every human breast. In the breast of the saint they are restrained by the power of the reigning Christ, but in the life of the wicked they remain uncurbed, unbridled, let loose upon the world.
2. How readily the sea is stirred! At one moment it is comparatively calm, the surface smooth and glistening, but presently the accustomed eye notices in the distance the cat’s paw of the wind--a little ruffling of the surface in quite a circumscribed area. But the puffs become frequent and grow in force; the ripples become wavelets, and the wavelets waves; the waves soon rise to billows, and by and by the sea runs mountains high. It is identically the same with the wicked, now-soever gently the Prince of the power of the air blows upon them at first, all too soon the angry passions rear and-rage and roar. Pride and envy, lust and covetousness, ambition, malice, revenge, all these, little in their beginnings, grow in size and increase in number until they become adulteries, murders, blasphemies, and the like.
3. To what an awful pitch the agitation of the sea can attain. Oh, the dreadful length to which wickedness is carried!
4. How long, also, the agitation of the sea remains. Some seas, indeed, are always rough. They never know repose. Off some headlands the waves run mountains high at all seasons of the year, but in other places the storm that rises so readily takes long to subside. I have encountered the after-swell of a storm that must have raged some days before; long after the hurricane had blown itself out our vessel came into the region where its tracks remained. We crossed the pathway of the storm, though we were fortunate enough to miss the tempest itself. Oh, how long the agitation of sin remains. With some, indeed, there is a temporary lull, an attempt at reformation, more or less successful. Sometimes a man will curb his passions with philosophy, or become suddenly impressed that for his own reputation’s sake he must hold himself in cheek, but he has scarcely done so ere Satan raises another vehement wind and begins to arouse his passions in a different direction. I have known sinners get into just such a ease that they have overcome this temptation; they have managed, by sheer force of character and strength of purpose, to restrain certain unholy passions, and then the devil, fearing that he may miss his hold of them, raises another wind, in a contrary direction; and the remains of the previous storm come clashing with the beginnings of a new one, and the poor sinner is likely to be swamped betwixt the twain.
5. What a mighty noise the sea makes when it is troubled. There is a pleasant murmur with it in the time of calm, but when the winds of heaven begin to play upon it it thunders as it rolls and breaks on the beach, and hisses as it surges on the shore. Behold here another emblem of sin and of sinners. The wicked seem to delight in making loud proclamation of their sin.
6. When the sea is troubled it works havoc on every hand. Thus do the wicked work destruction in our midst. Alas! for those who are the prey of their passions. The great, the learned, the aged are not spared. Huge liners founder in the gale. Alas! that wicked men are constantly compassing the destruction of the smaller ships; and the children of our families and our schools are wrecked while yet their years are few. Moreover, wickedness is so insidious that some who have thought to rescue men from sin have been themselves engulfed by it. They had it in their hearts to be as lifeboats to them, but they themselves have gone down too. Law and order, like great cliffs and granite walls, have been torn down by the grasping hands of iniquity, while proprieties and decencies which one would have thought that even sinners would observe, have been levelled or overridden by men who ran to an excess of riot.
II. THE SEA IS AN EMBLEM OF WICKED MEN BECAUSE OF THE DEBRIS THAT IT CASTS UP. The egecta of the sea is, in God’s esteem, a fit image of the outcome of wicked men’s hearts. When the storm has subsided you will find a good deal of objectionable matter littering the beach--the vomit of the sea. How apt an emblem of that which the Christless heart produces! What evil deeds the unregenerate heart is capable of! And what shall we say about the words of wicked men? What shall the end be? Is the storm evermore to last? I see no cure for all this unless the Lord speaks peace. “Oh where is He that trod the sea?” He is on the mountain top; He is on His high and holy hill. It is dark, and Jesus has not yet come to us, but He has not forgotten us. Thrice happy day when the Christ of Galilee says, “Peace, be still,” to a sin-stirred world! (T. Spurgeon.)
Bad men and good: a contrast
What a contrast with the calm of God’s “holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13) high above all sublunary storms. (J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked
The standard of righteousness maintained
The fifty-seventh chapter ends with a declaration which shows that
amid all the goodness and graciousness of the Divine way the standard of
righteousness is never lowered: never is the dignity of law impaired.
Read these awful yet gracious words: “There is no peace, saith my. God, to the wicked.” If we thought that God was about to lose righteousness in sentiment, we are thus suddenly, with a very startling abruptness, brought back to the remembrance of the fact that wickedness is infinitely and eternally hateful to God, and that peace and wickedness are mutually destructive terms. The wicked man may create a wilderness and call it peace, but real contentment, benignity, resignation, or harmony, he can never know in wickedness. Herein we find the testimony of the Divine presence, the assertion and glory of the Divine law. God does not take away peace from the wicked in any arbitrary sense. Wickedness is itself incompatible with peace: the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. The unrest is actually in the wickedness; the tumult does not come from without, it comes from within. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The character and misery of the wicked
I. WHO COME UNDER THE DESCRIPTION OF THE WICKED? In general, all who have never undergone a change of heart.
1. Some are grossly ignorant of the plain and essential doctrines of the Christian religion, amidst the best means to gain an acquaintance with them.
2. Some break out into open acts of wickedness.
3. Others, though free from gross immoralities, are yet wicked, because they neglect the duties of religion. There are sins of commission, and there are sins of omission.
4. There are some who adopt loose and dangerous principles, who allege, either that the Scripture is not true, or that the great doctrines, as generally taught, are not contained in it.
5. Among the wicked we must also rank the formalist and hypocrite.
6. They are impatient of restraint and reproof.
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS THERE IS NO PEACE TO SUCH.
1. There is no peace to them with God. By their wickedness they wage war with Heaven, and the almighty King is angry with them every day.
2. There is no peace in their own conscience.
3. There is no peace to the wicked in a dying hour. By this is not meant that they shall undergo more pain of body than others. The pangs of dissolution are the same to all. Those, indeed, of whom the world was not worthy, have often suffered the most cruel and violent deaths. Nor is it meant that the wicked have never any composure in death, or hope of well-being hereafter. Some of them die as they have lived, stupid and thoughtless as beasts. Some good men may have fears and perplexities to the very last; and some bad men may remain unshaken, and die with more apparent confidence than the others. The fears of the good man cannot render his state less safe, nor the confidence of the bad render his less dangerous. Whatever their own sentiments are, it shall be “well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked.” What awful spectacles have some of the wicked exhibited on a death-bed!
4. There is no peace to the wicked after death. They enjoyed with others the common bounties of Providence, and were sensible of pleasure. In these they placed their only happiness; but now all is gone, and they are tormented. Conscience can be quieted no more. (W. Linn, D. D.)
No comfort for the wicked
The wicked would not be healed by the grace of God, and therefore shall not be healed by His comforts. (M. Henry.)
No peace to the wicked
1. The man who lives in a habitual course of sinning has no real comfort of mind from the pleasures of this world.
2. He must necessarily want all effectual support under the many evils and calamities of life.
3. He cannot but be sometimes troubled with the reproofs of his conscience.
4. He can never get rid of all the unwelcome thoughts of death, and of what is to be his portion in a future state. (Bishop Pearce.)
No peace to the wicked
I. WHO ARE THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED? “The wicked.” This description includes the outwardly immoral and profane--those who seem lost to every principle of virtue and religion--who have not the fear of God before their eyes--and who are equally indifferent to the censure and approbation of their fellow-creatures. But the words of the text are applicable to all those whose hearts have not been renewed by the Holy Spirit.
II. THE AFFECTING DECLARATION RESPECTING SUCH CHARACTERS. “There is no peace,” etc.
1. They cannot, while in this state, enjoy peace with God. Peace includes in it mutual reconciliation and agreement.
2. The wicked cannot enjoy peace with themselves. As the favour and presence of God are the only sources of real happiness, a state of enmity and separation from Him must be attended with misery. Subjection to His authority, and conformity to His will and image, promotes peace and order, but where these do not exist, there must be confusion and discord. The unruly passions will then agitate and distress the mind; pride, and envy, and hatred, and other unholy affections will struggle for the ascendency. Having no principle to check or govern them, they will increase in violence and hurry their possessor onward in the path of sin and danger. Conscience will also exert its influence to alarm and terrify them. In vain do the wicked seek peace of conscience by partial reformation or by the performance of outward duties. The accusations of a guilty conscience can be silenced only by an application to the blood of sprinkling.
3. There is no peace to the wicked in the world. Alienation from God necessarily leads to strife among men. It excites those corrupt passions and principles which render man the enemy of his fellow-man, as well as the source of misery to himself.
4. The wicked have no peace under the various afflictions of life. In the season of worldly prosperity, they may appear to others peaceful and happy, but no sooner does adversity come upon them, than we see the transient and unsubstantial nature of their enjoyment.
5. There is no peace to the wicked in the hour of death.
6. There is no peace to the wicked through eternity. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Wickedness an obstruction to social peace and happiness
In order to the proving of this, I shall insist on these three arguments
I. THE NATURAL TENDENCY OF WICKEDNESS.
II. THE CONSIDERATION OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE, AND HIS RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT OF TRY. WORLD.
III. THE EXPERIENCE OF ALL AGES. (B. Calamy, D. D.)
No peace to the wicked
I. A POSITIVE ASSERTION, an unlimited proposition, “There is no peace to the wicked.”
II. THE AUTHORITY UPON WHICH THE PROPOSITION IS ESTABLISHED, even the testimony of God Himself, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” (J. Lambe.)
The dismal reflections of the unbelieving mind
It is said of the infidel Hobbes, “that though he would speak very strange and unbecoming things of God, yet in his study in the dark, and in his retired thoughts, he trembled before Him. If his candle happened to go out in the night, he awoke in terror and amazement. He was unable to bear the dismal reflections of his dark and desolate mind; and knew not how to extinguish, nor how to bear the light of the candle of the, Lord within him.” Mr. False Peace, so John, Bunyan has it in his “Holy War, was the son of Mr. Flatterer, and his mother’s name before she was married was Mrs. Sooth-up. He liked to be called Mr. Peace, but there were witnesses enough to prove that time was when he delighted to boast that his real name was not Peace, but False Peace. “There is no peace (except false peace), saith my God, to the wicked.” (T. Spurgeon.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》