Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture: Isaiah and Jeremiah
Author: Maclaren, Alexander, 1826-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Expositions of Holy Scripture: Isaiah and Jeremiah" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE


ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

ISAIAH AND JEREMIAH



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

ISAIAH

_Chaps. I to XLVIII_



CONTENTS

THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH _versus_ JUDAH (Isaiah i. 1-9; 16-20)

THE STUPIDITY OF GODLESSNESS (Isaiah i. 3)

WHAT SIN DOES TO MEN (Isaiah i. 30-31)

THE PERPETUAL PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE (Isaiah iv. 5)

A PROPHET'S WOES (Isaiah v. 8-30)

VISION AND SERVICE (Isaiah vi. 1-13)

THE EMPTY THRONE FILLED (Isaiah vi. 1)

A SERAPH'S WINGS (Isaiah vi. 2)

THE MAKING OF A PROPHET (Isaiah vi. 5)

SHILOAH AND EUPHRATES (Isaiah viii. 6, 7)

THE KINGDOM AND THE KING (Isaiah ix. 2-7)

LIGHT OR FIRE? (Isaiah x. 17)

THE SUCKER FROM THE FELLED OAK (Isaiah xi. 1-10)

THE WELL-SPRING OF SALVATION (Isaiah xii. 3)

THE HARVEST OF A GODLESS LIFE (Isaiah xvii. 10, 11)

'IN THIS MOUNTAIN' (Isaiah xxv. 6-8)

THE FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE (Isaiah xxv. 6)

THE VEIL OVER ALL NATIONS (Isaiah xxv. 7)

THE SONG OF TWO CITIES (Isaiah xxvi. 1-10)

OUR STRONG CITY (Isaiah xxvi. 1-2)

THE INHABITANT OF THE ROCK (Isaiah xxvi. 3-4)

THE GRASP THAT BRINGS PEACE (Isaiah xxvii. 5)

THE JUDGMENT OF DRUNKARDS AND MOCKERS (Isaiah xxviii. 1-13)

A CROWN OF PRIDE OR A CROWN OF GLORY (Isaiah xxviii 3-5)

MAN'S CROWN AND GOD'S (Isaiah lxii 3)

THE FOUNDATION OF GOD (Isaiah xxviii. 16)

GOD'S STRANGE WORK (Isaiah xxviii. 21)

THE HUSBANDMAN AND HIS OPERATIONS (Isaiah xxviii. 23-29)

'QUIETNESS AND CONFIDENCE' (Isaiah xxx. 15)

GOD'S WAITING AND MAN'S (Isaiah xxx. 18)

THREE PICTURES OF ONE REALITY (Isaiah xxxi. 5)

THE LORD'S FURNACE (Isaiah xxxi. 9)

THE HIDING-PLACE (Isaiah xxxii. 2)

HOW TO DWELL IN THE FIRE OF GOD (Isaiah xxxiii. 14, 15; I John iv. 16)

THE FORTRESS OF THE FAITHFUL (Isaiah xxxiii. 16)

THE RIVERS OF GOD (Isaiah xxxiii. 21)

JUDGE, LAWGIVER, KING (Isaiah xxxiii. 22)

MIRACLES OF HEALING (Isaiah xxxv. 5-6)

MIRAGE OR LAKE (Isaiah xxxv. 6-7)

THE KING'S HIGHWAY (Isaiah xxxv. 8-9)

WHAT LIFE'S JOURNEY MAY BE (Isaiah xxxv. 9-10)

THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH (Isaiah xxxvii 14-21; 33-38)

WHERE TO CARRY TROUBLES (Isaiah xxxvii. 14)

GREAT VOICES FROM HEAVEN (Isaiah xl. 1-10)

O THOU THAT BRINGEST GOOD TIDINGS (Isaiah xl. 9)

'HAVE YE NOT? HAST THOU NOT' (Isaiah xl. 2; 28)

UNFAILING STARS AND FAINTING MEN (Isaiah xl. 26; 29)

THE SECRET OF IMMORTAL YOUTH (Isaiah xl. 30, 31)

CHRIST THE ARRESTER OF INCIPIENT EVIL AND THE NOURISHER OF INCIPIENT
GOOD (Isaiah xlii. 3, 4)

THE BLIND MAN'S GUIDE (Isaiah xlii. 16)

THY NAME: MY NAME (Isaiah xliii, 1; 7)

JACOB--ISRAEL--JESHURUN (Isaiah xliv. 1, 2)

FEEDING ON ASHES (Isaiah xliv. 20)

WRITING BLOTTED OUT AND MIST MELTED (Isaiah xliv. 22)

HIDDEN AND REVEALED (Isaiah xlv. 15, 19)

A RIGHTEOUSNESS NEAR AND A SWIFT SALVATION (Isaiah xlv. 12, 13)

A RIVER OF PEACE AND WAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (Isaiah xlviii. 18)



THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH _VERSUS_ JUDAH

'The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah
and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings
of Judah. I Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath
spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have
rebelled against Me. 3. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his
master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
4. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers,
children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have
provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away
backward. 5. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more
and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6. From
the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it;
but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been
closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. 7. Your
country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land,
strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown
by strangers. 8. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a
vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9.
Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we
should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto
Gomorrah.... 16. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your
doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17. Learn to do well;
seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for
the widow. 18. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:
though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19. If ye be willing
and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. 20. But if ye refuse
and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the
Lord hath spoken it.'--ISAIAH 1,1-9; 16-20.


The first bars of the great overture to Isaiah's great oratorio are
here sounded. These first chapters give out the themes which run
through all the rest of his prophecies. Like most introductions, they
were probably written last, when the prophet collected and arranged his
life's labours. The text deals with the three great thoughts, the
_leit-motifs_ that are sounded over and over again in the prophet's
message.

First comes the great indictment (vs. 2-4). A true prophet's words are
of universal application, even when they are most specially addressed
to a particular audience. Just because this indictment was so true of
Judah, is it true of all men, for it is not concerned with details
peculiar to a long-past period and state of society, but with the broad
generalities common to us all. As another great teacher in Old
Testament times said, 'I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or
thy burnt-offerings, to have been continually before me.' Isaiah has
nothing to say about ritual or ceremonial omissions, which to him were
but surface matters after all, but he sets in blazing light the
foundation facts of Judah's (and every man's) distorted relation to
God. And how lovingly, as well as sternly, God speaks through him! That
divine lament which heralds the searching indictment is not unworthy to
be the very words of the Almighty Lover of all men, sorrowing over His
prodigal and fugitive sons. Nor is its deep truth less than its
tenderness. For is not man's sin blackest when seen against the bright
background of God's fatherly love? True, the fatherhood that Isaiah
knew referred to God's relation to the nation rather than to the
individual, but the great truth which is perfectly revealed by the
Perfect Son was in part shown to the prophet. The east was bright with
the unrisen sun, and the tinted clouds that hovered above the place of
its rising seemed as if yearning to open and let him through. Man's
neglect of God's benefits puts him below the animals that 'know' the
hand that feeds and governs them. Some men think it a token of superior
'culture' and advanced views to throw off allegiance to God. It is a
token that they have less intelligence than their dog.

There is something very beautiful and pathetic in the fact that Judah
is not directly addressed, but that verses 2-4 are a divine soliloquy.
They might rather be called a father's lament than an indictment. The
forsaken father is, as it were, sadly brooding over his erring child's
sins, which are his father's sorrows and his own miseries. In verse 4
the black catalogue of the prodigal's doings begins on the surface with
what we call 'moral' delinquencies, and then digs deeper to disclose
the root of these in what we call 'religious' relations perverted. The
two are inseparably united, for no man who is wrong with God can be
right with duty or with men. Notice, too, how one word flashes into
clearness the sad truth of universal experience--that 'iniquity,'
however it may delude us into fancying that by it we throw off the
burden of conscience and duty, piles heavier weights on our backs. The
doer of iniquity is 'laden with iniquity.' Notice, too, how the awful
entail of evil from parents to children is adduced--shall we say as
aggravating, or as lessening, the guilt of each generation? Isaiah's
contemporaries are 'a seed of evil-doers,' spring from such, and in
their turn are 'children that are corrupters.' The fatal bias becomes
stronger as it passes down. Heredity is a fact, whether you call it
original sin or not.

But the bitter fountain of all evil lies in distorted relations to God.
'They have forsaken the Lord'; that is why they 'do corruptly.' They
have 'despised the Holy One of Israel'; that is why they are 'laden
with iniquity.' Alienated hearts separate from Him. To forsake Him is
to despise Him. To go from Him is to go 'away backward.' Whatever may
have been our inheritance of evil, we each go further from Him. And
this fatherly lament over Judah is indeed a wail over every child of
man. Does it not echo in the 'pearl of parables,' and may we not
suppose that it suggested that supreme revelation of man's misery and
God's love?

After the indictment comes the sentence (vs. 5-8). Perhaps 'sentence'
is not altogether accurate, for these verses do not so much decree a
future as describe a present, and the deep tone of pitying wonder
sounds through them as they tell of the bitter harvest sown by sin. The
penetrating question, 'Why will ye be still stricken, that ye revolt
more and more?' brings out the solemn truth that all which men gain by
rebellion against God is chastisement. The ox that 'kicks against the
pricks' only makes its own hocks bleed. We aim at some imagined good,
and we get--blows. No rational answer to that stern 'Why?' is possible.
Every sin is an act of unreason, essentially an absurdity. The
consequences of Judah's sin are first darkly drawn under the metaphor
of a man desperately wounded in some fight, and far away from
physicians or nurses, and then the metaphor is interpreted by the plain
facts of hostile invasion, flaming cities, devastated fields. It
destroys the coherence of the verses to take the gruesome picture of
the wounded man as a description of men's sins; it is plainly a
description of the consequences of their sins. In accordance with the
Old Testament point of view, Isaiah deals with national calamities as
the punishment of national sins. He does not touch on the far worse
results of individual sins on individual character. But while we are
not to ignore his doctrine that nations are individual entities, and
that 'righteousness exalteth a nation' in our days as well as in his,
the Christian form of his teaching is that men lay waste their own
lives and wound their own souls by every sin. The fugitive son comes
down to be a swine-herd, and cannot get enough even of the swine's food
to stay his hunger.

The note of pity sounds very clearly in the pathetic description of the
deserted 'daughter of Zion.' Jerusalem stands forlorn and defenceless,
like a frail booth in a vineyard, hastily run up with boughs, and open
to fierce sunshine or howling winds. Once 'beautiful for situation, the
joy of the whole earth,... the city of the great King'--and now!

Verse 9 breaks the solemn flow of the divine Voice, but breaks it as it
desires to be broken. For in it hearts made soft and penitent by the
Voice, breathe out lowly acknowledgment of widespread sin, and see
God's mercy in the continuance of 'a very small remnant' of still
faithful ones. There is a little island not yet submerged by the sea of
iniquity, and it is to Him, not to themselves, that the 'holy seed' owe
their being kept from following the multitude to do evil. What a
smiting comparison for the national pride that is--'as Sodom,' 'like
unto Gomorrah'!

After the sentence comes pardon. Verses 16 and 17 properly belong to
the paragraph omitted from the text, and close the stern special word
to the 'rulers' which, in its severe tone, contrasts so strongly with
the wounded love and grieved pity of the preceding verses. Moral
amendment is demanded of these high-placed sinners and false guides. It
is John the Baptist's message in an earlier form, and it clears the way
for the evangelical message. Repentance and cleansing of life come
first.

But these stern requirements, if taken alone, kindle despair. 'Wash
you, make you clean'--easy to say, plainly necessary, and as plainly
hopelessly above my reach. If that is all that a prophet has to say to
me, he may as well say nothing. For what is the use of saying 'Arise
and walk' to the man who has been lame from his mother's womb? How can
a foul body be washed clean by filthy hands? Ancient or modern
preachers of a self-wrought-out morality exhort to impossibilities, and
unless they follow their preaching of an unattainable ideal as Isaiah
followed his, they are doomed to waste their words. He cried, 'Make you
clean,' but he immediately went on to point to One who could make
clean, could turn scarlet into snowy white, crimson into the lustrous
purity of the unstained fleeces of sheep in green pastures. The
assurance of God's forgiveness which deals with guilt, and of God's
cleansing which deals with inclination and habit, must be the
foundation of our cleansing ourselves from filthiness of flesh and
spirit. The call to repentance needs the promise of pardon and divine
help to purifying in order to become a gospel. And the call to
'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,' is
what we all, who are 'laden with iniquity,' and have forsaken the Lord,
need, if ever we are to cease to do evil and learn to do well.

As with one thunder-clap the prophecy closes, pealing forth the eternal
alternative set before every soul of man. Willing obedience to our
Father God secures all good, the full satisfaction of our else hungry
and ravenous desires. To refuse and rebel is to condemn ourselves to
destruction. And no man can avert that consequence, or break the
necessary connection between goodness and blessedness, 'for the mouth
of the Lord hath spoken it,' and what He speaks stands fast for ever
and ever.



THE STUPIDITY OF GODLESSNESS

'The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel
doth not know, My people doth not consider.'--ISAIAH i. 3.


This is primarily an indictment against Israel, but it touches us all.
'Doth not know' _i.e._ has no familiar acquaintance with; 'doth not
consider,' _i.e._ frivolously ignores, never meditates on.

I. This is a common attitude of mind towards God.

Blank indifference towards Him is far more frequent than conscious
hostility. Take a hundred men at random as they hurry through the
streets, and how many of them would have to acknowledge that no thought
of God had crossed their minds for days or months? So far as they are
concerned, either in regard to their thoughts or actions, He _is_ 'a
superfluous hypothesis.' Most men are not conscious of rebellion
against Him, and to charge them with it does not rouse conscience, but
they cannot but plead guilty to this indictment, 'God is not in all
their thoughts.'

II. This attitude is strange and unnatural.

That a man should be able to forget God, and live as if there were no
such Being, is strange. It is one instance of that awful power of
ignoring the most important subjects, of which every life affords so
many and tragic instances. It seems as if we had above us an opium sky
which rains down soporifics, go that we are fast asleep to all that it
most concerns us to wake to. But still stranger is it that, having that
power of attending or not attending to subjects, we should so commonly
exercise it on _this_ subject. For, as the ox that knows the hand that
feeds him, and the ass that makes for his 'master's crib' where he is
sure of fodder and straw, might teach us, the stupidest brute has sense
enough to recognise who is kind to him, or has authority over him, and
where he can find what he needs. The godless man descends below the
animals' level. And to ignore Him is intensely stupid. But it is worse
than foolish, for

III. This attitude is voluntary and criminal.

Though there is not conscious hostility in it, the root of it is a
sub-conscious sense of discordance with God and of antagonism between
His will and the man's When we are quite sure that we love another, and
that hearts beat in accord and wills go out towards the same things, we
do not need to make efforts to think of that other, but our minds turn
towards him or her as to a home, whenever released from the
holding-back force of necessary occupations. If we love God, and have
our will set to do His will, our thoughts will fly to Him, 'as doves to
their windows.'

It is fed by preoccupation of thought with other things. We have but a
certain limited amount of energy of thought or attention, and if we
waste it, as much as most of us do, on 'things seen and temporal,'
there is none left for the unseen realities and the God who is
'eternal, invisible.' It is often reinforced by theoretical
uncertainty, sometimes real, often largely unreal. But after all, the
true basis of it is, what Paul gives as its cause, 'they did not _like_
to retain God in their knowledge.'

The criminality of this indifference! It is heartlessly ungrateful.
Dogs lick the hand that feeds them; ox and ass in their dull way
recognise something almost like obligation arising from benefits and
care. No ingratitude is meaner and baser than that of which we are
guilty, if we do not requite Him 'in whose hands our breath is, and
whose are all our ways,' by even one thankful heart-throb or one word
shaped out of the breath that He gives.

IV. This attitude is fatal.

It separates us from God, and separation from Him is the very
definition of Death. A God of whom we never think is all the same to us
as a God who does not exist. Strike God out of a life, and you strike
the sun out of the system, and wrap all in darkness and weltering
chaos. 'This is life eternal, to know Thee'; but if 'Israel doth not
know,' Israel has slain itself.



WHAT SIN DOES TO MEN

'Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no
water. 31. And the strong shall be as tow, and His work as a spark; and
they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.'--ISAIAH i.
30-31.


The original reference of these words is to the threatened retribution
for national idolatry, of which 'oaks' and 'gardens' were both seats.
The nation was, as it were, dried up and made inflammable; the idol was
as the 'spark' or the occasion for destruction. But a wider
application, which comes home to us all, is to the fatal results of
sin. These need to be very plainly stated, because of the deceitfulness
of sin, which goes on slaying men by thousands in silence.

                     'That grim wolf with privy paw
                      Daily devours apace.'

I. Sin withers.

We see the picture of a blasted tree in the woods, while all around are
in full leaf, with tiny leaves half developed and all brown at the
edges. The prophet draws another picture, that of a garden not
irrigated, and therefore, in the burning East, given over to barrenness.

Sin makes men fruitless and withered.

It involves separation from God, the source of all fruitfulness (Ps.
i.).

Think of how many pure desires and innocent susceptibilities die out of
a sinful soul. Think of how many capacities for good disappear. Think
of how dry and seared the heart becomes. Think of how conscience is
stifled.

All sin--any sin--does this.

Not only gross, open transgressions, but any piece of godless living
will do it.

Whatever a man does against his conscience--neglect of duty, habitual
unveracity, idleness--in a word, his besetting sin withers him up.

And all the while the evil thing that is drawing his life-blood is
growing like a poisonous, blotched fungus in a wine-cask.

II. Sin makes men inflammable.

'As tow' or tinder.

A subsidiary reference may be intended to the sinful man as easily
catching fire at temptation. But the main thought is that sin makes a
man ready for destruction, 'whose end is to be burned.'

The materials for retribution are laid up in a man's nature by
wrong-doing. The conspirators store the dynamite in a dark cellar.
Conscience and memory are charged with explosives.

If tendencies, habits, and desires become tyrannous by long indulgence
and cannot be indulged, what a fierce fire would rage then!

We have only to suppose a man made to know what is the real moral
character of his actions, and to be unable to give them up, to have
hell.

All this is confirmed by occasional glimpses which men get of
themselves. Our own characters are the true Medusa-head which turns a
man into stone when he sees it.

What, then, are we really doing by our sins? Piling together fuel for
burning.

III. Sin burns up.

'Work as a spark.' The evil deeds brought into contact with the doer
work destruction. That is, if, in a future life or at any time, a man
is brought face to face with his acts, then retribution begins. We
shake off the burden of our actions by want of remembrance. But that
power of ignoring the past may be broken down at any time. Suppose it
happens that in another world it can no longer be exercised, what then?

Evil deeds are the occasion of the divine retribution. They are 'a
spark.' It is they who light the pyre, not God. The prophet here
protests in God's name against the notion that He is to be blamed for
punishing. Men are their own self-tormentors. The sinful man immolates
himself. Like Isaac, he carries the wood and lays the pile for his own
burning.

Christ severs the connection between us and our evil. He restores
beauty and freshness to the blighted tree, planting it as 'by the river
of water,' so that it 'bringeth forth its fruit in its season,' and its
'leaf also doth not wither.'



THE PERPETUAL PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE

'And the Lord will create over the whole habitation of Mount Zion, and
over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a
flaming fire by night.'--ISAIAH iv. 5.


The pillar of cloud and fire in the Exodus was one: there are to be as
many pillars as there are 'assemblies' in the new era. Is it straining
the language too much to find significance in that difference? Instead
of the formal unity of the Old Covenant, there is a variety which yet
is a more vital unity. Is there not a hint here of the same lesson that
is taught by the change of the one golden lamp-stand into the seven,
which are a better unity because Jesus Christ walks among them?

The heart of this promise, thus cast into the form of ancient
experiences, but with significant variations, is that of true communion
with God.

That communion makes those who have it glorious.

That communion supplies unfailing guidance.

A man in close fellowship with God will have wonderful flashes of
sagacity, even about small practical matters. The gleam of the pillar
will illumine conscience, and shine on many difficult, dark places. The
'simplicity' of a saintly soul will often see deeper into puzzling
contingencies than the vulpine craftiness of the 'prudent.' The darker
the night, the brighter the guidance.

That communion gives a defence.

The pillar came between Egypt and Israel, and kept the foe off the
timid crowd of slaves. Whatever forms our enemies take, fellowship with
God will invest us with a defence as protean as our perils. The same
cloud is represented in the context as being 'a pavilion for a shadow
in the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from
rain.'



A PROPHET'S WOES

'Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till
there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the
earth! 9. In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses
shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant. 10. Yea,
ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer
shall yield an ephah. 11. Woe unto them that rise up early in the
morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night,
till wine inflame them! 12. And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and
pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of
the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands. 13. Therefore my
people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and
their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with
thirst. 14. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth
without measure: and their glory and their multitude, and their pomp,
and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. 15. And the mean man
shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the
eyes of the lofty shall be humbled: 16. But the Lord of hosts shall be
exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in
righteousness. 17. Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and
the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat. 18. Woe unto them
that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart
rope: 19. That say, Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that we
may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and
come, that we may know it! 20. Woe unto them that call evil good, and
good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that
put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21. Woe unto them that are
wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! 22. Woe unto
them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle
strong drink: 23. Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away
the righteousness of the righteous from him! 24. Therefore as the fire
devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root
shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because
they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word
of the Holy One of Israel. 25. Therefore is the anger of the Lord
kindled against His people, and He hath stretched forth His hand
against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and
their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this His
anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. 26. And
He will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto
them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed
swiftly: 17. None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall
slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed,
nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: 28. Whose arrows are sharp,
and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like
flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind: 29. Their roaring shall be
like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar,
and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall
deliver it. 30. And in that day they shall roar against them like the
roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and
sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.'--ISAIAH v.
8-30.


Drunkenness is, in this text, one of a ring of plague-spots on the body
politic of Judah. The prophet six times proclaims 'woe' as the
inevitable end of these; such 'sickness' is 'unto death' unless
repentance and another course of conduct bring healing. But drunkenness
appears twice in this grim catalogue, and the longest paragraph of
denunciation (vv, 11-17) is devoted to it. Its connection with the
other vices attacked is loose, but it is worth noting that all these
have an inner kinship, and tend to appear together. They are 'all in a
string,' and where a community is cursed with one, the others will not
be far away. They are a knot of serpents intertwined. We touch but
slightly on the other vices denounced by the prophet's burning words,
but we must premise the general observation that the same
uncompromising plainness and boldness in speaking out as to social sins
ought to characterise Christian teachers to-day. The prophet's office
is not extinct in the church.

The first plague-spot is the accumulation of wealth in few hands, and
the selfish withdrawal of its possessors from the life of the
community. In an agricultural society like that of Judah, that clotting
of wealth took the shape of 'land-grabbing,' and of evicting the small
proprietors. We see it in more virulent forms in our great commercial
centres, where the big men often become big by crushing out the little
ones, and denude themselves of responsibility to the community in
proportion as they clothe themselves with wealth. Wherever wealth is
thus congested, and its obligations ignored by selfish indulgence, the
seeds are sown which will spring up one day in 'anarchism.' A man need
not be a prophet to have it whispered in his ear, as Isaiah had, that
the end of selfish capitalism is a convulsion in which 'many houses
shall be desolate,' and many fields barren. England needs the warning
as much as Isaiah's Judah did.

Such selfish wealth leads, among other curses, to indolence and
drunkenness, as the next woe shows. The people described make drinking
the business of their lives, beginning early and sitting late. They
have a varnish of art over their swinishness, and must have music as
well as wine. So, in many a drink-shop in England, a piano or a band
adds to the attractions, and gives a false air of aestheticism to pure
animalism. Isaiah feels the incongruity that music should be so
prostituted, and expresses it by adding to his list of musical
instruments 'and wine' as if he would underscore the degradation of the
great art to be the cupbearer of sots. Such revellers are blind to the
manifest tokens of God's working, and the 'operation of His hands'
excites only the tipsy gaze which sees nothing. That is one of the
curses which dog the drunkard-that he takes no warning from the plain
results of his vice as seen in others. He knows that it means shattered
health, ruined prospects, broken hearts, but nothing rouses him from
his fancy of impunity. High, serious thoughts of God and His government
of the world and of each life are strange to him. His sin compels him
to be godless, if he is not to go mad. But sometimes he wakes to a
moment's sight of realities, and then he is miserable till his next
bout buys fatal forgetfulness.

The prophet forces the end of a drunken nation on the unwilling
attention of the roisterers, in verses 13-17, which throb with
vehemence of warning and gloomy eloquence. What can such a people come
to but destruction? Knowledge must languish, hunger and thirst must
follow. Like some monster's gaping mouth, the pit yawns for them; and,
drawn as by irresistible attraction, the pomp and the wicked, senseless
jollity elide down into it. In the universal catastrophe, one thing
alone stands upright, and is lifted higher, because all else has sunk
so far,-the righteous judgment of the forgotten God. The grim picture
is as true for individuals and their deaths as for a nation and its
decay. And modern nations cannot afford to have this ulcer of
drunkenness draining away their strength any more than Judah could. 'By
the soul only are the nations great and free,' and a people can be
neither where the drink fiend has his way.

Three woes follow which are closely connected. That pronounced on
daring evil-doers, who not only let sin draw them to itself, but go
more than halfway to meet it, needing no temptation, but drawing it to
them eagerly, and scoffing at the merciful warnings of fatal
consequences, comes first. Next is a woe on those who play fast and
loose with plain morality, sophisticating conscience, and sapping the
foundations of law. Such juggling follows sensual indulgence such as
drunkenness, when it becomes habitual and audacious, as in the
preceding woe. Loose or perverted codes of morality generally spring
from bad living, seeking to shelter itself. Vicious principles are an
afterthought to screen vicious practices. The last subject of the
triple woes is self-conceit and pretence to superior illumination. Such
very superior persons are emancipated from the rules which bind the
common herd. They are so very clever that they have far outgrown the
creeping moralities, which may do for old women and children. Do we not
know the sort of people? Have we none of them surviving to-day?

Then Isaiah comes back to his theme of drunkenness, but in a new
connection. It poisons the fountain of justice. There is a world of
indignant contempt in the prophet's scathing picture of those who are
'mighty' and 'men of strength,'-but how is their strength shown? They
can stand any quantity of wine, and can 'mix their drinks,' and yet
look sober! What a noble use to put a good constitution to! These
valiant topers are in authority as judges, and they sell their
judgments to get money for their debauches. We do not see much of such
scandals among us, but yet we have heard of leagues between
liquor-sellers and municipal authorities, which certainly do _not_
'make for righteousness.' When shall we learn and practise the lesson
that Isaiah was reading his countrymen,--that it is fatal to a nation
when the private character of public men is regarded as of no account
in political and civic life? The prophet had no doubt as to what must
be the end of a state of things in which the very courts of law were
honeycombed with corruption, and demoralised by the power of drink. His
tremendous image of a fierce fire raging across a dry prairie, and
burning the grass to its very roots, while the air is stifling with the
thick 'dust' of the conflagration, proclaims the sure fate, sooner or
later, of every community and individual that 'rejects the law of the
Lord of Hosts, and despises the word of the Holy One of Israel.' Change
the name, and the tale is told of us; for it is 'righteousness that
exalteth a nation,' and no single vice drags after it more infallibly
such a multitude of attendant demons as the vice of drunkenness, which
is a crying sin of England to-day.



VISION AND SERVICE

'In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a
throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. 2. Above
it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered
his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did
fly. 3. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the
Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. 4. And the posts
of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was
filled with smoke. 5. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because
I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of
unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. 6.
Then flew one of the seraphims onto me, having a live coal in his hand,
which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7. And he laid it
upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine
iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8. Also I heard the voice
of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then
said I, Here am I; send me. 9. And he said, Go, and tell this people,
Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive
not. 10. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their
ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 11.
Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be
wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be
utterly desolate, 12. And the Lord have removed men far away, and there
be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. 13. But yet in it shall
be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a tell tree,
and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves:
so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.'--ISAIAH vi. 1-13.


WE may deal with this text as falling into three parts: the vision, its
effect on the prophet, and his commission.

I. The Vision.--'In the year that King Uzziah died' is more than a date
for chronological accuracy. It tells not only when, but why, the vision
was given. The throne of David was empty.

God never empties places in our homes and hearts, or in the nation or
the Church, without being ready to fill them. He sometimes empties them
that He may fill them. Sorrow and loss are meant to prepare us for the
vision of God, and their effect should be to purge the inward eye, that
it may see Him. When the leaves drop from the forest trees we can see
the blue sky which their dense abundance hid. Well for us if the
passing of all that can pass drives us to Him who cannot pass, if the
unchanging God stands out more clear, more near, more dear, because of
change.

As to the substance of this vision, we need not discuss whether, if we
had been there, we should have seen anything. It was doubtless related
to Isaiah's thoughts, for God does not send visions which have no point
of contact in the recipient. However communicated, it was a divine
communication, and a temporary unveiling of an eternal reality. The
form was transient, but Isaiah then saw for a moment 'the things which
are' and always are.

The essential point of the vision is the revelation of Jehovah as king
of Judah. That relation guaranteed defence and demanded obedience. It
was a sure basis of hope, but also a stringent motive to loyalty, and
it had its side of terror as well as of joyfulness. 'You only have I
known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for
all your iniquities.' The place of vision is the heavenly sanctuary of
which the temple was a prophecy. Eminently significant and
characteristic of the whole genius of the Old Testament is the absence
of any description of the divine appearance. The prophet saw things
'which it is not lawful for a man to utter,' and his silence is not
only reverent, but more eloquent than any attempt to put the Ineffable
into words. Even in this act of manifestation God was veiled, and
'_there_ was the hiding of His power.' The train of His robe can be
spoken of, but not the form which it concealed even in revealing it.
Nature is the robe of God. It hides while it discloses, and discloses
while it hides.

The hovering seraphim were in the attitude of service. They are
probably represented as fiery forms, but are spoken of nowhere else in
Scripture. The significance of their attitude has been well given by
Jewish commentators, who say, 'with two he covered his face that he
might not see, and with two he covered his body that he might not be
seen' and we may add, 'with two he stood ready for service, by flight
whithersoever the King would send.' Such awe-stricken reverence, such
humble hiding of self, such alacrity for swift obedience, such flaming
ardours of love and devotion, should be ours. Their song celebrated the
holiness and the glory of Jehovah of hosts. We must ever remember that
the root-meaning of 'holiness' is separation, and that the popular
meaning of moral purity is secondary and derivative. What is
rapturously sung in the threefold invocation of the seraphs is the
infinite exaltation of Jehovah above all creatural conditions,
limitations, and, we may add, conceptions. That separation, of course,
includes purity, as may be seen from the immediate effect of the vision
on the prophet, but the conception is much wider than that. Very
beautifully does the second line of the song re-knit the connection
between Jehovah and this world, so far beneath Him, which the burst of
praise of His holiness seems to sever. The high heaven is a bending
arch; its inaccessible heights ray down sunshine and drop down rain,
and, as in the physical world, every plant grows by Heaven's gift, so
in the world of humanity all wisdom, goodness, and joy are from the
Father of lights. God's 'glory' is the flashing lustre of His
manifested holiness, which fills the earth as the train of the robe
filled the temple. The vibrations of that mighty hymn shook the
'foundations of the threshold' (Rev. Ver.) with its thunderous
harmonies. 'The house was filled with smoke' which, since it was an
effect of the seraph's praise, is best explained as referring to the
fragrant smoke of incense which, as we know, symbolised 'the prayers of
saints.'

II. The effect of the vision on the prophet.--The vision kindled as
with a flash Isaiah's consciousness of sin. He expressed it in regard
to his words rather than his works, partly because in one aspect speech
is even more accurately than act a cast, as it were, of character, and
partly because he could not but feel the difference between the mighty
music that burst from these pure and burning lips and the words that
flowed from and soiled his own. Not only the consciousness of sin, but
the dread of personal evil consequences from the vision of the holy
God, oppressed his heart. We see ourselves when we see God. Once flash
on a heart the thought of God's holiness, and, like an electric
search-light, it discloses flaws which pass unnoticed in dimmer light.
The easy-going Christianity, which is the apology for religion with so
many of us, has no deep sense of sin, because it has no clear vision of
God. 'I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye
seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'

The next stage in Isaiah's experience is that sin recognised and
confessed is burned away. Cleansing rather than forgiveness is here
emphasised. The latter is, of course, included, but the main point is
the removal of impurity. It is mediated by one of the seraphim, who is
the messenger of God, which is just a symbolical way of saying that God
makes penitents 'partakers of His holiness,' and that nothing less than
a divine communication will make cleansing possible. It is effected by
a live coal. Fire is purifying, and the New Testament has taught us
that the true cleansing fire is that of the Holy Spirit. But that live
coal was taken from the altar. The atoning sacrifice has been offered
there, and our cleansing depends on the efficacy of that sacrifice
being applied to us.

The third stage in the prophet's experience is the readiness for
service which springs up in his purged heart. God seeks for volunteers.
There are no pressed men in His army. The previous experiences made
Isaiah quick to hear God's call, and willing to respond to it by
personal consecration. Take the motive-power of redemption from sin out
of Christianity, and you break its mainspring, so that the clock will
only tick when it is shaken. It is the Christ who died for our sins to
whom men say, 'Command what Thou wilt, and I obey.'

III. The prophet's commission.--He was not sent on his work with any
illusions as to its success, but, on the contrary, he had a clear
premonition that its effect would be to deepen the spiritual deafness
and blindness of the nation. We must remember that in Scripture the
certain effect of divine acts is uniformly regarded as a divine design.
Israel was so sunk in spiritual deadness that the issue of the
prophet's work would only be to immerse the mass of 'this people'
farther in it. To some more susceptible souls his message would be a
true divine voice, rousing them like a trumpet, and that effect was
what God desired; but to the greater number it would deepen their
torpor and increase their condemnation. If men love darkness rather
than light, the coming of the light works only judgment.

Isaiah recoils from the dreary prospect, and feels that this dreadful
hardening cannot be God's ultimate purpose for the nation. So he humbly
and wistfully asks how long it is to last. The answer is twofold, heavy
with a weight of apparently utter ruin in its first part, but
disclosing a faint, far-off gleam of hope on its second. Complete
destruction, and the casting of Israel out from the land, are to come.
But as, though a goodly tree is felled, a stump remains which has vital
force (or _substance_) in it, so, even in the utmost apparent
desperateness of Israel's state, there will be in it 'the holy seed,'
the 'remnant,' the true Israel, from which again the life shall spring,
and stem and branches and waving foliage once more grow up.



THE EMPTY THRONE FILLED

'In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a
throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.'--ISAIAH
vi. 1.


Uzziah had reigned for fifty-two years, during the greater part of
which he and his people had been brilliantly prosperous. Victorious in
war, he was also successful in the arts of peaceful industry. The later
years of his life were clouded, but on the whole the reign had been a
time of great well-being. His son and successor was a young man of
five-and-twenty; and when he came to the throne ominous war-clouds were
gathering in the North, and threatening to drift to Judah. No wonder
that the prophet, like other thoughtful patriots, was asking himself
what was to come in these anxious days, when the helm was in new hands,
which, perhaps, were not strong enough to hold it. Like a wise man, he
took his thoughts into the sanctuary; and there he understood. As he
brooded, this great vision was disclosed to his inward eye. 'In the
year that King Uzziah died' is a great deal more than a date for
chronological purposes. It tells us not only the _when_, but the _why_,
of the vision. The earthly king was laid in the grave; but the prophet
saw that the true King of Israel was neither the dead Uzziah nor the
young Jotham, but the Lord of hosts. And, seeing that, fears and
forebodings and anxieties and the sense of loss, all vanished; and new
strength came to Isaiah. He went into the temple laden with anxious
thoughts; he came out of it with a springy step and a lightened heart,
and the resolve 'Here am I; send me.' There are some lessons that seem
to me of great importance for the conduct of our daily life which may
be gathered from this remarkable vision, with the remarkable note of
time that is appended to it.

Now, before I pass on, let me remind you, in a word, of that apparently
audacious commentary upon this great vision, which the Evangelist John
gives us: 'These things said Esaias, when he had beheld _His_ glory and
spake of _Him_.' Then the Christ is the manifest Jehovah; is the King
of Glory. Then the vision which was but a transitory revelation is the
revelation of an eternal reality, and 'the vision splendid' does not
'fade but brightens, into the light of common day'; when instead of
being flashed only on the inward eye of a prophet, it is made flesh and
walks amongst us, and lives our life, and dies our death. Our eyes have
seen the King in as true a reality, and in better fashion, than ever
Isaiah did amid the sanctities of the Temple. And the eyes that have
seen only the near foreground, the cultivated valleys, and the homes of
men, are raised, and lo! the long line of glittering peaks, calm,
silent, pure. Who will look at the valleys when the Himalayas stand
out, and the veil is drawn aside?

I. Let me say a word or two about the ministration of loss and sorrow
in preparing for the vision.

It was when 'King Uzziah died' that the prophet 'saw the Lord sitting
upon the throne.' If the Throne of Israel had not been empty, he would
not have seen the throned God in the heavens. And so it is with all our
losses, with all our sorrows, with all our disappointments, with all
our pains; they have a mission to reveal to us the throned God. The
possession of the things that are taken away from us, the joys which
our sorrows smite into dust, have the same mission, and the highest
purpose of every good, of every blessing, of every possession, of every
gladness, of all love--the highest mission is to lead us to Him. But,
just as men will frost a window, so that the light may come in but the
sight cannot go out, so by our own fault and misuse of the good things
which are meant to lead us up to, and to show us, God, we frost and
darken the window so that we cannot see what it is meant to show us.
And then a mighty and merciful hand shivers the painted glass into
fragments, because it has been dimming 'the white radiance of
Eternity.' And though the casement may look gaunt, and the edges of the
broken glass may cut and wound, yet the view is unimpeded. When the
gifts that we have misused are withdrawn, we can see the heaven that
they too often hide from us. When the leaves drop there is a wider
prospect. When the great tree is fallen there is opened a view of the
blue above. When the night falls the stars sparkle. When other props
are struck away we can lean our whole weight upon God. When Uzziah dies
the King becomes visible.

Is that what our sorrows, our pains, losses, disappointments do for us?
Well for those to whom loss is gain, because it puts them in possession
of the enduring riches! Well for those to whom the passing of all that
can pass is a means of revealing Him who 'is the same yesterday, and
to-day, and for ever'! The message to us of all these our pains and
griefs is 'Come up hither.' In them all our Father is saying to us,
'Seek ye My face.' Well for those who answer, 'Thy face, Lord, will I
seek. Hide not Thy face far from me.'

Let us take care that we do not waste our griefs and sorrows. They
absorb us sometimes with vain regrets. They jaundice and embitter us
sometimes with rebellious thoughts. They often break the springs of
activity and of interest in others, and of sympathy with others. But
their true intention is to draw back the thin curtain, and to show us
'the things that are,' the realities of the throned God, the skirts
that fill the Temple, the hovering seraphim, and the coal from the
altar that purges.

II. Let me suggest how our text shows us the compensation that is given
for all losses.

As I have pointed out already, the thought conveyed to the prophet by
this vision was not only the general one, of God's sovereign rule, but
the special one of His rule over and for, and His protection of, the
orphan kingdom which had lost its king. The vision took the special
shape that the moment required. It was because the earthly king was
dead that the living, heavenly King was revealed.

So there is just suggested by it this general thought, that the
consciousness of God's presence and work for us takes in each heart the
precise shape that its momentary necessities and circumstances require.
That infinite fulness is of such a nature as that it will assume any
form for which the weakness and the need of the dependent creature
call. Like the one force which scientists now are beginning to think
underlies all the various manifestations of energy in nature, whether
they be named light, heat, motion, electricity, chemical action, or
gravitation, the one same vision of the throned God, manifest in Jesus
Christ, is protean. Here it flames as light, there burns as heat, there
flashes as electricity; here as gravitation holds the atoms together,
there as chemical energy separated and decomposes them; here results in
motion, there in rest; but is the one force. And so the one God will
become everything and anything that every man, and each man, requires.
He shapes himself according to our need. The water of life does not
disdain to take the form imposed upon it by the vessel into which it is
poured. The Jews used to say that the manna in the wilderness tasted to
each man as each man desired. And the God, who comes to us all, comes
to us each in the shape that we need; just as He came to Isaiah in the
manifestation of His _kingly_ power, because the throne of Judah was
vacated.

So when our hearts are sore with loss, the New Testament Manifestation
of the King, even Jesus Christ, comes to us and says, 'The same is my
mother and sister and brother,' and His sweet love compensates for the
love that can die, and that has died. When losses come to us He draws
near, as durable riches and righteousness. In all our pains He is our
anodyne, and in all our griefs He brings the comfort; He is all in all,
and each withdrawn gift is compensated, or will be compensated, to each
in Him.

So, dear friends, let us learn God's purpose in emptying hearts and
chairs and homes. He empties them that He may fill them with Himself.
He takes us, if I might so say, into the darkness, as travellers to the
south are to-day passing through Alpine tunnels, in order that He may
bring us out into the land where 'God Himself is sun and moon,' and
where there are ampler ether and brighter constellations than in these
lands where we dwell. He means that, when Uzziah dies, our hearts shall
see the King. And for all mourners, for all tortured hearts, for all
from whom stays have been stricken and resources withdrawn, the old
word is true: 'Lord shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.'

Let me recall to you what I have already insisted on more than once,
that the perfecting of this vision is in the historical fact of the
Incarnate Son. Jesus Christ shows us God. Jesus Christ is the King of
Glory. If we will go to Him, and fix our eyes and hearts on Him, then
losses may come, and we shall be none the poorer; death may unclasp our
hands from dear hands, but He will close a dearer one round the hand
that is groping for a stay; and nothing can betaken away but He will
more than fill the gap it leaves by His own sweet presence. If our eyes
behold the King, if we are like John the Seer in his rocky Patmos, and
see the Christ in His glory and royalty, then He will lay His hands on
us and say, 'Fear not! Weep not; I am the First and the Last,' and
forebodings, and fears, and sense of loss will all be changed into
trustfulness and patient submission. 'Seeing Him, who is invisible,' we
shall be able to endure and to toil, until the time when the vision of
earth is perfected by the beholding of heaven. Blessed are they who
with purged eyes see, and with yielding hearts obey, the heavenly
vision, and turn to the King and offer themselves for any service He
may require, saying, 'Here am I; send me.'



A SERAPH'S WINGS

'With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet,
and with twain he did fly.'--ISAIAH vi. 2.


This is the only mention in Scripture of the seraphim. I do not need to
enter upon the much-debated, and in some respects interesting, question
as to whether these are to be taken as identical with the cherubim, or
as to whether they are altogether imaginary and symbolical beings, nor
as to whether they are identical with the angels, or part of their
hierarchy. All that may be left on one side. I would only notice,
before I deal with the specific words of my text, the significance of
the name. It means 'the flaming' or 'burning ones,' and so the
attendants of the divine glory in the heavens, whether they be real or
imaginary beings, are represented as flashing with splendour, as full
of swift energy, like a flame of fire, as glowing with fervid love, as
blazing with enthusiasm. That is the type of the highest creatural
being, which stands closest to God. There is no ice in His presence,
and the nearer we get to Him in truth, the more we shall glow and burn.
Cold religion is a contradiction in terms, though, alas, it is a
reality in professors.

And so with that explanation, and putting aside all these other
questions, let us gather up some, at least, of the lessons as to the
essentials of worship, and try to grasp the prophecy of the heavenly
state, given us in these words.


I. The Wings of Reverence.

He covered his face, or _they_ covered _their_ faces, lest they should
see. As a man brought suddenly into the sunlight, especially if out of
a darkened chamber, by an instinctive action shades his eyes with his
hand, so these burning creatures, confronted with the still more fervid
and fiery light of the divine nature, fold one pair of their great
white pinions over their shining faces, even whilst they cry 'Holy!
Holy! Holy! is the Lord God Almighty!'

And does not that teach us the incapacity of the highest creature, with
the purest vision, to gaze undazzled into the shining light of God? I,
for my part, do not believe that any conceivable extension of creatural
faculties, or any conceivable hallowing of creatural natures, can make
the creature able to gaze upon God. I know that it is often said that
the joy of the future life for men is what the theologians call 'the
beatific vision,' in which there shall be direct sight of God, using
that word in its highest sense, as applied to the perceptions of the
spirit, and not of the sense. But I do not think the Bible teaches us
that. It does teach us 'We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as
He is.' But who is the 'Him'? Jesus Christ. And, in my belief, Jesus
Christ will, to all eternity, be the medium of manifesting God, and
there will remain, to all eternity, the incapacity which clogs
creatures in time--' No man hath seen God at any time, nor _can_ see
Him.'

But my text, whilst it thus suggests solemn thoughts of a Light that
cannot be looked at with undazzled eyes, does also suggest to us by
contrast the possibility of far feebler-sighted and more sinful
creatures than these symbolical seraphs coming into a Presence in which
God shall be manifest to them; and they will need no veil drawn by
themselves across their eyes. God has veiled Himself, that 'we, with
unveiled faces, beholding His glory, may be changed into the same
image.' So the seraph, with his white wings folded before his eyes, may
at once stand to us as a parallel and a contrast to what the Christian
may expect. We, _we_ can see Jesus, with no incapacity except such as
may be swept away by His grace and our will. And direct vision of the
whole Christ is the heaven of heaven, even as the partial vision of the
partially perceived Christ is the sweetest sweetness of a life on earth.

There is no need for us to draw any screen between our happy eyes and
the Face in which we 'behold the glory as of the only Begotten of the
Father.' All the tempering that the divine lustre needed has been done
by Him who veils His glory with the veil of Christ's flesh, and therein
does away the need for any veil that we can draw.

But, beyond that, there is another consideration that I should like to
suggest, as taught us by the use of this first pair of the six wings,
and that is the absolute need for the lowliest reverence in our worship
of God. It is strange, but true, I am afraid, that the Christian danger
is to weaken the sense of the majesty and splendour and separation of
God from His creatures. And all that is good in the Christian
revelation may be so abused as that there shall come, what I am sure
does in effect sometimes come, a terrible lack of due reverence in our
so-called worship. What does that lofty chorus of 'Holy! Holy! Holy!'
that burst from those immortal lips mean but the declaration that God
is high above, and separate from, all limitations and imperfections of
creatures? And we Christians, who hear it re-echoed in the very last
Book of Scripture by the four-and-twenty elders who represent redeemed
humanity, have need to take heed that we do not lose our reverence in
our confidence, and that we do not part with godly fear in our filial
love. If one looks at a congregation of professing Christians engaged
in their worship, does not one feel and see that there is often a
carelessness and shallowness, a want of realisation of the majesty and
sanctity and tremendousness of that Father to whom we draw near?
Brethren, if a seraph hides his face, surely it becomes us to see to it
that, since we worship a God who is a consuming fire,' we serve Him
with far deeper 'reverence and godly fear' than ordinarily mark our
devotions.


II. The Wings of Humility.

'With twain he covered his feet.' The less comely and inferior parts of
that fiery corporeity were veiled lest they should be seen by the Eyes
that see all things. The wings made no screen that hid the seraph's
feet from the eye of God, but it was the instinctive lowly sense of
unworthiness that folded them across the feet, even though they, too,
burned as a furnace. The nearer we get to God, the more we shall be
aware of our limitations and unworthiness, and it is because that
vision of the Lord sitting on 'His throne, high and lifted up,' with
the thrilling sense of His glory filling the holy temple of the
universe, does not burn before us that we can conceit ourselves to have
anything worth pluming ourselves upon. Once lift the curtain, once let
my eye be flooded with the sight of God, and away goes all my
self-conceit, and all my fancied superiority above others. One little
molehill is pretty nearly the same height as another, if you measure
them both against the top of the Himalayas, that lie in the background,
with their glittering peaks of snow. 'Star differeth from star in
glory' in a winter's night, but when the great sun swims into the sky,
they all vanish together. If you and I saw God burning before us, as
Isaiah saw Him, we should veil ourselves, and lose all that which so
often veils Him from us--the fancy that we are anything when we are
nothing. And the nearer we get to God, and the purer we are, the more
shall we be keenly conscious of our imperfections and our sins. 'If I
say I am perfect,' said Job in his wise way, 'this also should prove me
perverse.' Consciousness of sin is the continual accompaniment of
growth in holiness. 'The heavens are not pure in His sight, and He
chargeth His angels with folly.' Everything looks black beside that
sovereign whiteness. Get God into your lives, and you will see that the
feet need to be washed, and you will cry, 'Lord! not my feet only, but
my hands and my head!'


III. Lastly-The Wings for Service.

'With twain he did fly.' That is the emblem of joyous, buoyant,
unhindered motion. It is strongly, sadly contrary to the toilsome
limitations of us heavy creatures who have no wings, but can at best
run on His service, and often find it hard to 'walk with patience in
the way that is set before us.' But--service with wings, or service
with lame feet, it matters not. Whosoever, beholding God, has found
need to hide his face from that Light even whilst he comes into the
Light, and to veil his feet from the all-seeing Eye, will also feel
impulses to go forth in His service. For the perfection of worship is
neither the consciousness of my own insufficiency, nor the humble
recognition of His glory, nor the great voice of praise that thrilled
from those immortal lips, but it is the doing of His will in daily
life. Some people say the service of man is the service of God. Yes,
when it is service of man, done for God's sake, it is so, and only
then. The old motto, 'Work is worship,' may preach a great truth or a
most dangerous error. But there is no possibility of error or danger in
maintaining this: that the climax and crown of all worship, whether for
us footsore servants upon earth, or for these winged attendants on the
throne of the King in the heavens, is activity in obedience. And that
is what is set before us here.

Now, dear brethren, we, as Christians, have a far higher motive for
service than the seraphs had. We have been redeemed, and the spirit of
the old Psalm should animate all our obedience: 'O Lord, truly I am Thy
servant.' Why? The next clause tells us: 'Thou hast loosed my bonds.'
The seraphs could not say that, and therefore our obedience, our
activity in doing the will of the Father in heaven, should be more
buoyant, more joyful, more swift, more unrestricted than even theirs.

The seraphim were winged for service even while they stood above the
throne and pealed forth their thunderous praise which shook the Temple.
May we not discern in that a hint of the blessed blending of two modes
of worship which will be perfectly united in heaven, and which we
should aim at harmonising even on earth? 'His servants serve Him and
see His face.' There is possible, even on earth, some foretaste of the
perfection of that heavenly state in which no worship in service shall
interfere with the worship in contemplation. Mary, sitting at Christ's
feet, and Martha, busy in providing for His comfort, may be, to a large
extent, united in us even here, and will be perfectly so hereafter,
when the practical and the contemplative, the worship of noble
aspiration, of heart-filling gazing, and that of active service shall
be indissolubly blended.

The seraphs sang 'Holy! Holy! Holy!' but they, and all the hosts of
heaven, learn a new song from the experience of earth, and redeemed men
are the chorus-leaders of the perfected and eternal worship of the
heavens. For we read that it is the four-and-twenty elders who begin
the song and sing to the Lamb that redeemed them by His blood, and that
the living creatures and all the hosts of the angels to that song can
but say 'Amen!'



THE MAKING OF A PROPHET

'Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean
lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine
eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'--ISAIAH vi. 5.


In previous pages we have seen how Isaiah's vision of Jehovah throned
in the Temple, 'high and lifted up,' derived significance from the time
of its occurrence. It was 'in the year that' the earthly King 'died'
that the heavenly King was revealed. The passing of the transient
prepared the way for the revelation of the Eternal, and the revelation
of the Eternal more than compensated for the passing of the transient.
But strengthening and calming as these thoughts are, they by no means
exhaust the purpose of the vision, nor do they describe all its effects
on the recipient. These were, first and immediately, the consciousness
of unworthiness and sin, expressed in the words that I have taken for
my text. Then came the touch of the 'live coal from the altar,' laid on
the unclean lips by the seraph; and on that followed willing surrender
for a perilous service.

These three stages flowing from the vision of God, recognition of sin,
experience of purging, abandonment to obedience and service, must be
repeated in us all, if we are to live worthy lives. There may be much
that is beautiful and elevating and noble without these; but unless in
some measure we pass through the prophet's experience, we shall fail to
reach the highest possibilities of beauty and of service that open
before us. So I wish to consider, very simply, these three stages in my
remarks now.

I. If we see _God_ we shall see our _sin_.

There came on the prophet, as in a flash, the two convictions, one
which he learned from the song of the seraphs, ringing in music through
the Temple, and one which rose up, like an answering note from the
voice of conscience within. They sang 'Holy! holy! holy! Lord God
Almighty.' And what was the response to that, in the prophet's
heart?--'I am unclean.' Each major note has a corresponding minor, and
the triumphant doxology of the seraph wakes in the hearer's conscience
the lowly confession of personal unlikeness to the holiness of God. It
was not joy that sprang in Isaiah's heart when he saw the throned King,
and heard the proclamation of His name. It was not reverence merely
that bowed his head in the dust, but it was the awakened consciousness,
'Thou art holy; and now that I understand, in some measure, what Thy
holiness means, I look on myself and I say, "unclean! unclean!"'

The prophet's confession assumes a form which may strike us as somewhat
singular. Why is it that he speaks of 'unclean lips,' rather than of an
unclean heart? I suppose partly because, in a very deep sense, a man's
words are more accurately a cast, as it were, from a man's character
than even his actions, and partly because the immediate occasion of his
confession was the words of the seraphim, and he could not but contrast
what came burning from their pure lips with what had trickled from, and
soiled, his own.

But, however expressed, the consciousness of personal unlikeness to the
holiness of God is the first result, and the instantaneous result, of
any real apprehension of that holiness, and of any true vision of Him.
Like some search-light flung from a ship over the darkling waters,
revealing the dark doings of the enemy away out yonder in the night,
the thought of God and His holiness streaming in upon a man's soul, if
it does so in any adequate measure, is sure to disclose the heaving
waters and the skulking foes that are busy in the dark.

But it was not only the consciousness of sinfulness and antagonism that
woke up instantaneously in response to that vision of the holy God. It
was likewise a shrinking apprehension of personal evil from contact of
God's light with Isaiah's darkness. 'Who shall ascend into the hill of
the Lord? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.' What is to
become, then, of the man that has neither the one nor the other? The
experience of all the world witnesses that whenever there comes, in
reality, or in a man's conceptions or fancy, the contact of the
supernatural, as it is called, with the natural, there is a shrinking,
a sense of eerieness, an apprehension of vague possibilities of evil.
The sleeping snake that is coiled in every soul stirs and begins to
heave in its bulk, and wake, when the thought of a holy God comes into
the heart. Now, I do not suppose that consciousness of sin is the whole
explanation of that universal human feeling, but I am very sure it is
an element in it, and I suspect that if there were no sin, there would
be no shrinking.

At all events, be that as it may, these are the two thoughts that,
involuntarily and spontaneously and immediately, sprang in this man's
heart when his purged eyes saw the King on His throne. He did not leap
up with gladness at the vision. Its consolatory and its strengthening
aspects were not the first that impinged upon his eye, or upon his
consciousness, but the first thing was an instinctive recoil, 'Woe is
me; I am undone.' Now, brethren, I venture to think that one main
difference between shallow religion and real is to be found here, that
the dim, far-off vision, if we may venture to call it so, which serves
the most of us for a sight of God, leaves us quite complacent, and with
very slight and superficial conceptions of our own evil, and that if
once we saw, in so far as it is possible for humanity to-day to see,
God as He is, and heard in the depths of our hearts that 'Holy! holy!
holy!' from the burning seraphim, the easy-going, self-satisfied
judgment of ourselves which too many of us cherish would be utterly
impossible; and would disappear, shrivelled up utterly in the light of
God. 'I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,' said Job, 'but
now mine eye seeth Thee; therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust
and ashes.' A hearsay God and a self-complacent beholder--a God really
seen, and a man down in the dust before Him! Has that vision ever
blazed in on you? And if it has, has not the light shown you the
seaminess of much in which a dimmer light detects no flaws or stains?
Thank God if, having seen Him, you see yourselves. If you have not
felt, 'I am unclean and undone,' depend upon it, your knowledge of God
is faint and dim, and He is rather One heard of from the lips of others
than realised in your own experience.

II. Again, note the second stage here, in the education of a soul for
service--the sin, recognised and repented, is burned away.

'Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand,
which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; and he laid it
upon my mouth, and said, Lo! this hath touched thy lips; and thine
iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.'

Now, I would notice as to this stage of the process, first, that Isaiah
singularly passes beyond all the old ritual in which he had been
brought up, and recognises another kind of cleansing than that which it
embodied. He had got beyond the ritual to what the ritual meant. We
have passed beyond the ritual, too, by another process; and, though I
would by no means read full, plain, articulate Christian thought into
the vision of Isaiah--which would be an anachronism, and unfaithful to
the gradual historical development of the idea and means of
redemption--yet I cannot help pointing to the fact that, even although
this vision is located as seen in the Temple, there is not a single
reference (except that passing allusion to the altar) to the ritual of
the Temple, but the cleansing comes in another fashion altogether.

But far more important than that thought is the human condition that is
required ere this cleansing can be realised. 'I am a man of unclean
lips.' 'I am undone!' It was because that conviction and confession
sprang in the prophet's consciousness that the seraph winged his way
with the purifying fire in his hands. Which being translated is just
this: faith alone will not bring cleansing. There must go with it what
we call, in our Christian phraseology, repentance, which is but the
recognition of my own antagonism to the holiness of God, and the
resolve to turn my back on my own past self. Now, it seems to me that a
great deal of what is called, and in a sense is, Evangelical teaching,
fails to represent the full counsel of God, in the matter of man's
redemption, because it puts a one-sided emphasis on faith, and slurs
over the accompanying idea of repentance. And I am here to say that a
trust in Jesus Christ, which is unaccompanied by a profound penitent
consciousness and abhorrence of one's own sins, and a resolve to turn
away from them for the time to come, is not a faith which will bring
either pardon or cleansing. We do not need to have less said about
trust; we need to have a great deal more said about repentance. You
have to learn what it is to say, 'I abhor myself'; you have to learn
what it is to say, 'I will turn right round, and leave all that past
behind me; and go in the opposite direction'; or the faith which you
say you are exercising will neither save nor cleanse your souls nor
your lives.

Again, note that we have here set forth most strikingly the other great
truth that, side by side, and as closely synchronous as the flash and
the peal, as soon as the consciousness of sin and the aversion from it
spring in a man's heart, the seraph's wings are set in motion. Remember
that beautiful old story in the historical books, of how the erring
king, brought to sanity and repentance by Nathan's apologue, put all
his acknowledgments in these words, 'I have sinned against the Lord';
and how the confession was not out of his lips, nor had died in its
vibration in the atmosphere, before the prophet, with divine authority,
replied with equal brevity and completeness, and as if the two sayings
were parts of one sentence, '_And_ the Lord hath made to pass the
iniquity of thy sin.' That is all. Simultaneous are the two things. To
confess is to be forgiven, and the moment that the consciousness of sin
rises in the heart, that moment does the heavenly messenger come to
still and soothe.

Still further, notice how the cleansing comes as a divine gift. It is
purifying, much more than pardon, that is set forth in the symbolical
incident before us. The seraph is the divine messenger, and he brings a
coal from the altar, and lays that upon the prophet's lips, which is
but the symbolical way of saying that the man who is conscious of his
own evil will find in himself a blessed despair of being his own
healer, and that he has to turn to the divine source, the vision of
which has kindled the consciousness, to find there that which will take
away the evil. The Lord is 'He that healeth us.'

But, further, the cleansing is by fire. By which, as I suppose, in the
present context, and at Isaiah's stage of religious knowledge and
experience, we are to understand that great thought that God burns away
our sins, as you put a piece of foul clay into the fire, and the stain
melts from the surface like a dissipating cloud as the heat finds its
way into the substance. 'He will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with
fire'--a fire that quickens. A new impulse will be granted, which will
become the life of the sinful man's life, and will emancipate him from
the power of his own darkness and evil.

Now, let us remember that _we_ have the fulness of all that was
shadowed to the prophet in this vision, and that the reality of every
one of these emblems is gathered together--if I may so say--not with
confusion, but with abundance and opulence in Jesus Christ Himself. Is
He not the seraph? Is He not Himself the burning coal? Is He not the
altar from which it is taken? All that is needed to make the foulest
clean is given in Christ's great work. Brethren, we shall never
understand the deepest secret of Christ and of Christianity until we
learn and hold fast by the conviction that the central work of Jesus is
to deal with man's sin; and that whatever else Christianity is, it is
first and foremost God's way of redeeming the world, and making it
possible for the unholy to dwell with His holy self.

III. Lastly, and only a word, the third stage here is--the purged
spirit is ready for service.

God did not bid the prophet go on His mission till the prophet had
voluntarily accepted the mission. He said, 'Who will go for us?' He
wants no pressed men in His army. He does not work with reluctant
servants. There is, first, the yielding of the will, and then there is
the enduement with the privilege of service. The prophet, having passed
through the preceding experiences, had thereby received a quick ear to
hear God's calling for volunteers. And we shall not hear Him asking
'Who will go?' unless we have, in our measure, passed through similar
experiences. It will be a test of having done so, of our having been
purged from our evil, if, when other people think that it is only Eli
speaking, we know that it is the Lord that has called us, and say,
'Here am I.'

For such experiences as I have been describing do influence the will,
and mould the heart, and make it a delight to do God's commandments,
and to execute His purpose, and to be the ministers of His great Word.
Some of us are willing to say that we have learned God's holiness; that
we have seen and confessed our sins; that we have received pardon and
cleansing. Have these experiences made you ready for any service? Have
they made your will flexible--made you dethrone yourself, and enthrone
the King whom the prophet saw? If they have, they are genuine; if they
have not, they are not. Submission of will; glorying in being the
instrument of the divine purpose; ears sharpened to catch His lowest
whisper; eyes that, like those of a dog fixed on his master, watch for
the faintest indication from his guiding eye--these are the infallible
tests and signs of having had lips and heart touched with the live coal
that burns away our uncleanness.

So, friends, would that I could flash upon every conscience that
vision! But you can do so for yourselves. Let me beseech you to bring
yourselves honestly into that solemn light of the character of God, and
to ask yourselves, 'How can two walk together except they be agreed?'
Do not put away such thoughts with any shallow, easy-going talk about
how God is good and will not be hard upon a poor fellow that has tried
to do his best. God is good; God is love. But divine goodness and love
cannot find a way by which the unclean shall dwell with the clean. What
then? This then--Jesus Christ has come. We may be made clean if we
trust in Him, and forsake our sins. He will touch the heart and lips
with the fire of His own Spirit, and then it will be possible to dwell
with the everlasting burnings of that flaming fire which is a holy God.
Blessed are they that have seen the vision; blessed they that have felt
it disclosing their own sins; blessed they whose hearts have been
purged. Blessed most of all they who, educated and trained through
these experiences, have taken this as the motto of their lives, 'Here
am I; send me.'



SHILOAH AND EUPHRATES

Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly
... the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and
many.' ISAIAH viii. 6, 7.


The kingdom of Judah was threatened with a great danger in an alliance
between Israel and Damascus. The cowardly King Ahaz, instead of
listening to Isaiah's strong assurances and relying on the help of God,
made what he thought a master-stroke of policy in invoking the help of
the formidable Assyrian power. That ambitious military monarchy was
eager to find an excuse for meddling in the politics of Syria, and
nothing loath, marched an army down on the backs of the invaders, which
very soon compelled them to hasten to Judah in order to defend their
own land. But, as is always the case, the help invoked was his ruin.
Like all conquering powers, once having got its foot inside the door,
Assyria soon followed bodily. First Damascus and Israel were ravaged
and subdued, and then Judah. That kingdom only purchased the privilege
of being devoured last. Like the Spaniards in Mexico, the Saxons in
England, the English in a hundred Indian territories, the allies that
came to help remained to conquer, and Judah fell, as we all know.

This is the simple original application of these words. They are a
declaration that in seeking for help from others Judah was forsaking
God, and that the helper would become ruler, and the ruler an
oppressive tyrant.

The waters of Shiloah that go softly stand as an emblem of the Davidic
monarchy as God meant it to be, and, since that monarchy was itself a
prophecy, they therefore represent the kingdom of God or the Messianic
King. The 'waters strong and many' are those of the Euphrates, which
swells and overflows and carries havoc, and are taken as the emblem of
the wasting sweep of the Assyrian king, whose capital stood on its
banks.

But while thus there is a plain piece of political history in the
words, they are also the statement of general principles which apply to
every individual soul and its relations to the kingdom, the gentle
kingdom, of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


I. The Gentle Kingdom.

That little brooklet slipping quietly along; what a striking image of
the Kingdom of Jesus Christ!

It suggests the character of the King, the 'meek and lowly in heart.'
It suggests the manner of His rule as wielded in gentleness and
exercising no compulsion but that of love. It suggests the blessed
results of His reign under the image of the fertility, freshness, and
beauty which spring up wherever 'the river cometh.' That kingdom we are
all summoned to enter.


II. The Rejection of the Kingdom.

Strange and awful fact that men do turn away from it and Him.

In what does rejection consist?

In not trusting in His power to help and deliver.

In seeking help from other sources. This rejection is often unconscious
on the part of men who are guilty of it.


III. The Allies who are preferred to the gentle King.

The crowd of worldly things.

What is to be noticed is that at first the preference seems to answer
and be all right.


IV. The Allies becoming Tyrants.

The swift Euphrates in spate. That is what the rejecters have chosen
for themselves. Better to have lived by Shiloah than to have built
their houses by the side of such a raging stream. Mark how this is a
divine retribution indeed, but a natural process too.

(a) If Christ does not rule us, a mob of tyrants will.

Our own passions. Our own evil habits. The fascinating sins around us.

(b) They soon cease to seem helpers, and become tyrants.

How quickly the pleasure of sin disappears--like some bird that loses
its gay plumage as it grows old.

How stern becomes the necessity to obey; how great the difficulty of
breaking off evil habits! So a man becomes the slave of his own lusts,
of his indulged tastes, which rise above all restraints and carry away
all before them, like the Euphrates in flood. Fertility is turned to
barrenness; a foul deposit of mud overlays the soil; houses on the sand
are washed away; corpses float on the tawny wave. The soul that rejects
Christ's gentle sway is harried and laid waste by a mob of base-born
tyrants. We have to make our choice--either Christ or these; either a
service which is freedom, or an apparent freedom which is slavery;
either a worship which exalts, or a worship which embrutes. 'If the Son
make you free, ye shall be free indeed.'

'There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.' It
is peaceful to pitch our tents beside its calm flow, whereon shall go
no hostile fleets, and whence we shall but pass to the city above, in
the midst of the street whereof the 'river of water of life, clear as
crystal, proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.'



THE KINGDOM AND THE KING

'The people that walked in darkness hare seen a great light: they that
dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light
shined. 3. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy:
they joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men
rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4. For Thou hast broken the yoke of
His burden, and the staff of His shoulder, the rod of His oppressor, as
in the day of Midian. 5. For every battle of the warrior is with
confused noise, and garments rolled in blood: but this shall be with
burning and fuel of fire. 6. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son
is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name
shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting
Father, The Prince of Peace. 7. Of the increase of His government and
peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His
kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with
justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts
will perform this.'--ISAIAH ix. 2-7.


The darker the cloud, the brighter is the rainbow. This prophecy has
for its historical background the calamitous reign of the weak and
wicked Ahaz, during which the heart of the nation was bowed, like a
forest before the blast, by the dread of foreign invasion and conquest.
The prophet predicts a day of gloom and anguish, and then, out of the
midst of his threatenings, bursts this glorious vision, sudden as
sunrise. With consummate poetic art, the consequences of Messiah's rule
are set forth before He Himself is brought into view.

I. Image is heaped on image to tell the blessedness of that reign (vs.
2-5). Each trait of the glowing description is appropriate to the
condition of Israel under Ahaz; but each has a meaning far beyond that
limited application. Isaiah may, or may not, have been aware of 'what'
or 'what time' his words portrayed in their deepest, that is, their
true meaning, but if we believe in supernatural prediction which,
though it may have found its point of attachment in the circumstances
of the present, was none the less the voice of the Spirit of God, we
shall not make, as is often done now, the prophet's construction of his
words the rule for their interpretation. What the prophecy was
discerned to point to by its utterer or his contemporaries, is one
thing; quite another is what God meant by it.

First we have the picture of the nation groping in a darkness that
might be felt, the emblem of ignorance, sin, and sorrow, and inhabiting
a land over which, like a pall, death cast its shadow. On that dismal
gloom shines all at once a 'great light,' the emblem of knowledge,
purity, and joy. The daily mercy of the dawn has a gospel in it to a
heart that believes in God; for it proclaims the divine will that all
who sit in darkness shall be enlightened, and that every night but
prepares the way for the freshness and stir of a new morning. The great
prophecy of these verses in its indefiniteness goes far beyond its
immediate occasion in the state of Judah under Ahaz. As surely as the
dawn floods all lands, so surely shall all who walk in darkness see the
great light; and wherever is a 'land of the shadow of death,' there
shall the light shine. It is 'the light of the world.'

Verse 3 gives another phase of blessing. Israel is conceived of as
dwindled in number by deportation and war. But the process of
depopulation is arrested and reversed, and numerical increase, which is
always a prominent feature in Messianic predictions, is predicted. That
increase follows the dawning of the light, for men will flock to the
'brightness of its rising.' _We_ know that the increase comes from the
attractive power of the Cross, drawing men of many tongues to it; and
we have a right to bring the interpretation, which the world's history
gives, into our understanding of the prophecy. That enlarged nation is
to have abounding joy.

Undoubtedly, the rendering 'To it thou hast increased the joy' is
correct, as that of the Authorized Version (based upon the Hebrew text)
is clearly one of several cases in which the partial similarity in
spelling and identity in sound of the Hebrew words for 'not' and 'to
it,' have led to a mistaken reading. The joy is described in words
which dance and sing, like the gladness of which they tell. The mirth
of the harvest-field, when labour is crowned with success, and the
sterner joy of the victors as they part the booty, with which mingles
the consciousness of foes overcome and dangers averted, are blended in
this gladness. We have the joy of reaping a harvest of which we have
not sowed the seed. Christ has done that; we have but to enjoy the
results of His toil. We have to divide the spoil of a victory which we
have not won. He has bound the strong man, and we share the benefits of
His overcoming the world.

That last image of conquerors dividing the spoil leads naturally to the
picture in verse 4 of emancipation from bondage, as the result of a
victory like Gideon's with his handful. Who the Gideon of this new
triumph is, the prophet will not yet say. The 'yoke of his burden' and
'the rod of his oppressor' recall Egypt and the taskmasters.

Verse 5 gives the reason for the deliverance of the slaves; namely, the
utter destruction of the armour and weapons of their enemy. The Revised
Version is right in its rendering, though it may be doubtful whether
its margin is not better than its text, since not only are 'boot' and
'booted' as probable renderings of the doubtful words as 'armour' and
'armed man,' but the picture of the warrior striding into battle with
his heavy boots is more graphic than the more generalised description
in the Revised Version's text. In any case, the whole accoutrements of
the oppressor are heaped into a pile and set on fire; and, as they
blaze up, the freed slaves exult in their liberty. The blood-drenched
cloaks have been stripped from the corpses and tossed on the heap, and,
saturated as they are, they burn. So complete is the victory that even
the weapons of the conquered are destroyed. Our conquering King has
been manifested, that He might annihilate the powers by which evil
holds us bound. His victory is not by halves. 'He taketh from him all
his armour wherein he trusted.'

II. Now we are ready to ask, And who is to do all this? The guarantee
for its accomplishment is the person of the conquering Messiah. The
hopes of Israel did not, and those of the world do not, rest on
tendencies, principles, laws of progress, advance of civilisation, or
the like abstractions or impersonalities, but on a living Person, in
whom all principles which make for righteousness and blessedness for
individuals and communities are incarnated, and whose vital action
works perpetually in mankind.

In this prophecy the prophet is plainly speaking greater things than he
knew. We do not get to the meaning if we only ask ourselves what did he
understand by his words, or what did his hearers gather from them? They
and he would gather the certainty of the coming of Messiah with
wondrous attributes of power and divine gifts, by whose reign light,
gladness, liberty would belong to the oppressed nation. But the depth
of the prophecy needed the history of the Incarnation for its
disclosure. If this is not a God-given prediction of the entrance into
human form of the divine, it is something very like miraculous that,
somehow or other, words should have been spoken, without any such
reference, which fit so closely to the supernatural fact of Christ's
incarnation.

The many attempts to translate verse 6 so as to get rid of the
application of 'Mighty God,' 'Everlasting Father,' to Messiah, cannot
here be enumerated or adequately discussed. I must be content with
pointing out the significance of the august fourfold name of the victor
King. It seems best to take the two first titles as a compound name,
and so to recognise four such compounds.

There is a certain connection between the first and second of these
which respectively lay stress on wisdom of plan and victorious energy
of accomplishment, while the third and fourth are also connected, in
that the former gathers into one great and tender name what Messiah is
to His people, and the latter points to the character of His dominion
throughout the whole earth. 'A wonder of a counsellor,' as the words
may be rendered, not only suggests His giving wholesome direction to
His people, but, still more, the mystery of the wisdom which guides His
plans. Truly, Jesus purposes wonders in the depth of His redeeming
design. He intends to do great things, and to reach them by a road
which none would have imagined. The counsel to save a world, and that
by dying for it, is the miracle of miracles. 'Who hath been His
counsellor in that overwhelming wonder?' He needs no teacher; He is
Himself the teacher of all truth. All may have His direction, and they
who follow it will not walk in darkness.

'The mighty God.' Chapter x. 21 absolutely forbids taking this as
anything lower than the divine name. The prophet conceives of Messiah
as the earthly representative of divinity, as having God with and in
Him as no other man has. We are not to force upon the prophet the full
new Testament doctrine of the oneness of the incarnate Word with the
Father, which would be an anachronism. But we are not to fall into the
opposite error, and refuse to see in these words, so startling from the
lips of a rigid monotheist, a real prophecy of a divine Messiah, dimly
as the utterer may have perceived the figure which he painted. Note,
too, that the word 'mighty' implies victorious energy in battle. It is
often applied to human heroes, and here carries warlike connotations,
kindred with the previous picture of conflict and victory. Thus
strength as of God, and, in some profound way, strength which is
divine, will be the hand obeying the brain that counsels wonder, and
all His plans shall be effected by it.

But these are not all His qualities. He is 'the Father of Eternity'--a
name in which tender care and immortal life are marvellously blended.
This King will be in reality what, in old days, monarchs often called
themselves and seldom were,--the Father of His people, with all the
attributes of that sacred name, such as guidance, love, providing for
His children's wants. Nor can Christians forget that Jesus is the
source of life to them, and that the name has thus a deeper meaning.
Further, He is possessed of eternity. If He is so closely related to
God as the former name implies, that predicate is not wonderful. Dying
men need and have an undying Christ. He is 'the same yesterday, and
to-day, and for ever.'

The whole series of names culminates in 'the Prince of Peace,' which He
is by virtue of the characteristics expressed in the foregoing names.
The name pierces to the heart of Christ's work. For the individual He
brings peace with God, peace in the else discordant inner nature, peace
amid storms of calamity--the peace of submission, of fellowship with
God, of self-control, of received forgiveness and sanctifying. For
nations and civic communities He brings peace which will one day hush
the tumult of war, and burn chariots and all warlike implements in the
fire. The vision tarries, because Christ's followers have not been true
to their Master's mission, but it comes, though its march is slow. We
can hasten its arrival.

Verses 7 and 8 declare the perpetuity of Messiah's kingdom, His Davidic
descent, and those characteristics of His reign, which guarantee its
perpetuity. 'Judgment' which He exercises, and 'righteousness' which He
both exercises and bestows, are the pillars on which His throne stands;
and these are eternal, and it never will totter nor sink, as earthly
thrones must do. The very life-blood of prophecy, as of religion, is
the conviction that righteousness outlasts sin, and will survive 'the
wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.'

The great guarantee for these glowing anticipations is that the 'zeal
of the Lord of hosts' will accomplish them. _Zeal_, or rather
_jealousy_, is love stirred to action by opposition. It tolerates no
unfaithfulness in the object of its love, and flames up against all
antagonism to the object. 'He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of
Mine eye.' So the subjects of that Messiah may be sure that a wall of
fire is round about them, which to foes without is terror and
destruction, and to dwellers within its circuit glows with lambent
light, and rays out beneficent warmth.



LIGHT OR FIRE?

'And the Light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a
flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one
day.'--ISAIAH x. 17.


With grand poetry the prophet pictures the Assyrian power as a forest
consumed like thistles and briers by the fire of God. The text suggests
solemn truths about the divine Nature and its manifestations.

I. The Essential Character of God.

Light and Holiness are substantially parallel. Light symbolises purity,
but also knowledge and joy. Holiness is Separation from Creatures, but
chiefly from their Evils.

II. The Different Attitudes which Men assume to that Character.

'Light of _Israel_': '_His_ Holy One.'

God becomes ours, and we have an interest in that radiant Personality
if we choose to claim it by faith, love, and obedience. We are free to
accept God as ours or to reject Him.

III. The Opposite Aspects which that Character accordingly assumes.

(a) The self-same divine Character has two effects according to the
character of the beholder.

To those who respond to God's love it is--heaven. To those who are
indifferent or alienated it may be pain, and will harm them if they see
it and do not yield to it.

God's holiness is not retributive justice but moral perfectness, which
to a good man will be joy, and to a bad man, intolerable.

The light which is gladsome to a healthy eye is agony to a diseased one.

(b) All the manifestations and operations of that divine Character have
a twofold aspect. Christ is either a stone of stumbling or a sure
foundation. Men are either the better or the worse for Him. The Gospel
is the savour of life unto life or of death unto death. The tremendous
'either--or.' The Cross rejected harms the moral nature, hardens
conscience, deepens condemnation.

All divine operations are necessarily on the side of God's lovers and
against those who love Him not. They are contrary to Him, therefore He
is so to them. 'With the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward.'

The final Judgment will be either rapture or despair, like the coming
of a bridegroom, or the fiery rain that burnt up Sodom.

The very dew of Heavenly Bliss would be corroding poison to a godless
spirit.



THE SUCKER FROM THE FELLED OAK

'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a
Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2. And the Spirit of the Lord shall
rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of
counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
3. And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord:
and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove
after the hearing of his ears: 4. But with righteousness shall he judge
the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he
shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of
his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5. And righteousness shall be the
girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6. The
wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down
with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them. 7. And the cow and the bear shall
feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat
straw like the ox. 8. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of
the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's
den. 9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for
the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters
cover the sea. 10. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse,
which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles
seek: and his rest shall be glorious.'--ISAIAH xi. 1-10.


The hopeless fall of Assyria is magnificently pictured in the close of
chapter x., as the felling of the cedars of Lebanon by the axe swung by
Jehovah's own hand. A cedar once cut down puts out no new shoots; and
so the Assyrian power, when it falls, will fall for ever. The metaphor
is carried on with surpassing beauty in the first part of this
prophecy, which contrasts the indestructible vitality of the Davidic
monarchy with the irremediable destruction fated for its formidable
antagonist. The one is a cedar, the stump of which rots slowly, but
never recovers. The other is an oak, which, every woodman knows, will
put out new growth from the 'stool.' But instead of a crowd of little
suckers, the prophet sees but one shoot, and that rising to more than
the original height and fruitfulness of the tree. The prophecy is
distinctly that of One Person, in whom the Davidic monarchy is
concentrated, and all its decadence more than recovered.

Isaiah does not bring the rise of the Messiah into chronological
connection with the fall of Assyria; for he contemplates a period of
decay for the Israelitish monarchy, and it was the very burden of his
message as to Assyria that it should pass away without harming that
monarchy. The contrast is not intended to suggest continuity in time.
The period of fulfilment is entirely undetermined.

The first point in the prophecy is the descent of the Messiah from the
royal stock. That is more than Isaiah's previous Messianic prophecies
had told. He is to come at a time when the fortunes of David's house
were at their worst. There is to be nothing left but the stump of the
tree, and out of it is to come a 'shoot,' slender and insignificant,
and in strange contrast with the girth of the truncated bole, stately
even in its mutilation. We do not talk of a growth from the stump as
being a 'branch'; and 'sprout' would better convey Isaiah's meaning.
From the top of the stump, a shoot; from the roots half buried in the
ground, an outgrowth,--these two images mean but one person, a
descendant of David, coming at a time of humiliation and obscurity. But
this lowly shoot will 'bear fruit,' which presupposes its growth.

The King-Messiah thus brought on the scene is then described in regard
to His character (v. 2), the nature of His rule (vs. 3-5), the
universal harmony and peace which He will diffuse through nature (vs.
6-9), and the gathering of all mankind under His dominion. There is
much in the prophetic ideal of the Messiah which finds no place in this
prophecy. The gentler aspects of His reign are not here, nor the deeper
characteristics of His 'spirit,' nor the chiefest blessings in His
gift. The suffering Messiah is not yet the theme of the prophet.

The main point as to the character of the Messiah which this prophecy
sets forth is that, whatever He was to be, He was to be by reason of
the resting on Him of the Spirit of Jehovah. The directness, fulness,
and continuousness of His inspiration are emphatically proclaimed in
that word 'shall rest,' which can scarcely fail to recall John's
witness, 'I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven;
and it abode upon Him.' The humanity on which the Divine Spirit
uninterruptedly abides, ungrieved and unrestrained, must be free from
the stains which so often drive that heavenly visitant from our
breasts. The white-breasted Dove of God cannot brood over foulness.
There has never been but one manhood capable of receiving and retaining
the whole fulness of the Spirit of God.

The gifts of that Spirit, which become qualities of the Messiah in whom
He dwells, are arranged (if we may use so cold a word) in three pairs;
so that, if we include the introductory designation, we have a
sevenfold characterisation of the Spirit, recalling the seven lamps
before the throne and the seven eyes of the Lamb in the Apocalypse, and
symbolising by the number the completeness and sacredness of that
inspiration. The resulting character of the Messiah is a fair picture
of one who realises the very ideal of a strong and righteous ruler of
men. 'Wisdom and understanding' refer mainly to the clearness of
intellectual and moral insight; 'counsel and might,' to the qualities
which give sound practical direction and vigour to follow, and carry
through, the decisions of practical wisdom; while 'the knowledge and
fear of the Lord' define religion by its two parts of acquaintance with
God founded on love, and reverential awe which prompts to obedience.
The fulfilment, and far more than fulfilment, of this ideal is in
Jesus, in whom were 'hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' to
whom no circumstances of difficulty ever brought the shadow of
perplexity, who always saw clearly before Him the path to tread, and
had always 'might' to tread it, however rough, who lived all His days
in unbroken fellowship with the Father and in lowly obedience.

The prophet saw not all the wonders of perfect human character which
that indwelling Spirit would bring to realisation in Him; but what he
saw was indispensable to a perfect King, and was, at all events, an arc
of the mighty circle of perfection, which has now been revealed in the
life of Jesus. The possibilities of humanity under the influence of the
Divine Spirit are revealed here no less than the actuality of the
Messiah's character. What Jesus is, He gives it to His subjects to
become by the dwelling in them of the spirit of life which was in Him.

The rule of the King is accordant with His character. It is described
in verses 3-5. The first characteristic named may be understood in
different ways. Accord-to some commentators, who deserve respectful
consideration, it means, 'He shall draw His breath in the fear of
Jehovah'; that is, that that fear has become, as it were, His very
life-breath. But the meaning of 'breathing' is doubtful; and the phrase
seems rather to express, as the Revised Version puts it, 'His delight
shall be in the fear of the Lord.' That might mean that those who fear
Jehovah shall be His delight, and this would free the expression from
any shade of tautology, when compared with the previous clause, and
would afford a natural transition to the description of His rule. It
might, on the other hand, continue the description of His personal
character, and describe the inward cheerfulness of His obedience, like
'I delight to do Thy will.' In any case, the 'fear of the Lord' is
represented as a sweet-smelling fragrance; and, if we adopt the former
explanation, then it is almost a divine characteristic which is here
attributed to the Messiah; for it is God to whom the fear of Him in
men's hearts is 'an odour of a sweet smell.'

Then follow the features of His rule. His unerring judgment pierces
through the seen and heard. That is the quality of a monarch after the
antique pattern, when kings were judges. It does not appear that the
prophet rose to the height of perceiving the divine nature of the
Messiah; but we cannot but remember how far the reality transcends the
prophecy, since He whose 'eyes are as a flame of fire' knows what is in
man, and the earliest prayers of the Church were addressed to Jesus as
'Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men.'

The relation of Messiah to two classes is next set forth. The oppressed
and the meek shall have Him for their defender and avenger,--a striking
contrast to the oppressive monarchs whom Isaiah had seen. We remember
who said 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,' 'Blessed are the meek.' The
King Himself has taught us to deepen the meaning of the words of the
prophet, and to find in them the expression of the law of His kingdom
by which its blessings belong to those who know their need and come
with humble hearts. But the same acts which are for the poor are
against the oppressors. The emendation which reads 'tyrant' (_arits_)
for 'earth' (_erets_) brings the two clauses descriptive of the
punitive acts into parallelism, and is probably to be preferred. The
same pillar was light to Israel and darkness to the Egyptians. Christ
is the savour of life unto life and of death unto death. But what is
His instrument of destruction? 'The rod of His mouth' or 'the breath of
His lips.' And who is He whose bare word thus has power to kill and
make alive? Is not this a divine prerogative? and does it not belong in
the fullest sense to Him whose voice rebuked fevers, storms, and
demons, and pierced the dull, cold ear of death? Further,
righteousness, the absolute conformity of character and act to the
standard in the will of God, and faithfulness, the inflexible
constancy, which makes a character consistent with itself, and so
reliable, are represented by a striking figure as being twined together
to make the girdle, which holds the vestments in place, and girds up
the whole frame for effort. This righteous King 'shall not fail nor be
discouraged.' He is to be reckoned on to the uttermost, or, as the New
Testament puts it, He is 'the faithful and true witness.' This is the
strong Son of God, who gathered all His powers together to run with
patience the race set before Him, and to whom all may turn with the
confidence that He is faithful 'as a Son over His own house,' and will
inviolably keep the promise of His word and of His past acts.

We pass from the picture of the character and rule of the King over men
to that fair vision of Paradise regained, which celebrates the
universal restoration of peace between man and the animals. The picture
is not to be taken as a mere allegory, as if 'lions' and 'wolves' and
'snakes' meant bad men; but it falls into line with other hints in
Scripture, which trace the hostility between man and the lower
creatures to sin, and shadow a future when 'the beasts of the field
shall be at peace with thee.' The psalm which sings of man's dominion
over the creatures is to be one day fulfilled; and the Epistle to the
Hebrews teaches that it is already fulfilled in Christ, who will raise
His brethren, for whom He tasted death, to partake in His dominion. The
present order of things is transient; and if earth is to be, as some
shadowy hints seem to suggest, the scene of the future glories of
redeemed humanity, it may be the theatre of a fulfilment of such
visions as this. But we cannot dogmatise on a subject of which we know
so little, nor be sure of the extent to which symbolism enters into
this sweet picture. Enough that there surely comes a time when the King
of men and Lord of nature shall bring back peace between both, and
restore 'the fair music that all creatures made To their great Lord.'

Verse 10 begins an entirely new section, which describes the relations
of Messiah's kingdom to the surrounding peoples. The picture preceding
closed with the vision of the earth filled with the knowledge of the
Lord, and this verse proclaims the universality of Messiah's kingdom.
By 'the root of Jesse' is meant, not the root from which Jesse sprang,
but, in accordance with verse 1, the sprout from the house of Jesse.
Just as in that verse the sprout was prophesied of as growing up to be
fruitbearing, so here the lowly sucker shoots to a height which makes
it conspicuous from afar, and becomes, like some tall mast, a sign for
the nations. The contrast between the obscure beginning and the
conspicuous destiny of Messiah is the point of the prophecy. 'I, if I
be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.' Strange
elevation for a king is a cross! But it is because He has died for men
that He has the right to reign over them, and that they 'shall seek' to
Him. 'His resting-place shall be glorious.'

The seat of His dominion is also the seat of His repose. The beneficent
activity just described is wielded from a calm, central palace, and
does not break the King's tranquillity. That is a paradox, except to
those who know that Jesus Christ, sitting in undisturbed rest at the
right hand of God, thence works with and for His servants. His repose
is full of active energy; His active energy is full of repose. And that
place of calm abode is 'glorious' or, more emphatically and literally,
'glory. He shall dwell in the blaze of the uncreated glory of God,--a
prediction which is only fulfilled in its true meaning by Christ's
ascension and session at the right hand of God, in the glory which He
had with the Father before the world was, and into which He has borne
that lowly manhood which He drew from the cut-down stem of Jesse.



THE WELL-SPRING OF SALVATION

'Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
ISAIAH xii. 3.


There are two events separated from each other by more than fifteen
hundred years which have a bearing upon this prophecy: the one supplied
the occasion for its utterance, the other claimed to be its
interpretation and its fulfilment. The first of these is that scene
familiar to us all, where the Israelites in the wilderness murmured for
want of water, and the law-giver, being at his wits' end what to do
with his troublesome charges, took his anxieties to God, and got for an
answer the command to take with him the elders of Israel and his
miracle-working rod, and to go to the rock, 'and the Lord shall stand
upon the rock before thee and them, and the water shall flow forth.' It
was not the rock, nor the rod, nor Moses and the elders, but the
presence of God that brought the refreshing draught. And that that
incident was in Isaiah's mind when he wrote our text is very clear to
anybody who will observe that it occurs in the middle of a song of
praise, which corresponds to the Israelites' song at the Red Sea after
the destruction of Pharaoh, and is part of a great prophecy in which he
describes God's future blessings and mercies under images constantly
drawn from the Egyptian bondage and the Exodus in the desert. Now, that
interpretation, or rather that application, of the words of my text,
was very familiar to the Jews long, long before the New Testament was
thought about. For, as many of you will know, there came in the course
of time a number of ceremonies to be added to a feast established by
Moses himself--the Feast of Tabernacles. That was a feast in which the
whole body of the Israelitish people dwelt for a week in leafy booths,
in order to remind them of the time when they were wanderers in the
wilderness; and as is usually the case, the ritual of the celebration
developed a number of additional symbolical observances which were
tacked on to it in the course of centuries. Amongst these there was
this very memorable one: that on each of the days of the Feast of
Tabernacles, at a given point in the ceremonial, the priests went from
the temple, winding down the rocky path on the temple mountain, to the
Pool of Siloam in the valley below, and there in their golden vases
they drew the cool sparkling water, which they bore up, and amidst the
blare of trumpets and the clash of cymbals poured it on the altar,
whilst the people chanted the words of my text, 'With joy shall ye draw
water out of the wells of salvation.'

That ceremonial had been going on for eight hundred years from Isaiah's
time; and once more the period came round when it was to be performed;
and on the seven days of the feast, punctually at the appointed time,
the procession wound down the rocky slopes, drew the water in the
golden vases, bore it up to the temple, and poured it upon the altar;
and on the last great day of the feast, the same ceremonial went on up
to a given point; and just as the last rites of the chant of our text
were dying on the ears, there was a little stir amidst the crowd, which
parted to make way for him, and a youngish man, of mean appearance and
rustic dress, stepped forward, and there, before all the gathered
multitudes and the priests standing with their empty urns, symbol of
the impotence of their system, 'on the last day, that great day of the
feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me
and drink.' Brethren, such a commentary, at such a time, from such a
commentator, may well absolve me from the necessity of enforcing the
evangelistic bearing of the words of my text. And so, then, with that
understanding of the deepest meaning of these words that we have to
look at, I ask you to take them in the simplest possible way, and to
consider three points: the Well of Salvation, the Act of Drawing the
Water, the Gladness of those that draw. 'With _joy_ shall _ye_ draw
water out of the fountains of salvation.'

Now, with regard to the first point, let me remind you to begin with,
that the idea of the word here is not that which we attach to a well,
but that which we attach to a spring. It does not describe the source
of salvation as being a mere reservoir, still less as being a created
or manufactured thing; but there lies in it the deep idea of a source
from which the water wells up by its own inward energy. Then, when we
have got that explanation, and the deep, full, pregnant meaning of the
word salvation as a thing past, a thing present, a thing future, a
thing which negatively delivers a man from all sin and sorrow, and a
thing which positively endows a man with beauty, happiness, and
holiness--when we have got that, then the question next cries aloud for
answer--this well-spring of salvation, is--what? Who? And the first
answer and the last answer is GOD--GOD HIMSELF. It is no mere bit of
drapery of the prophet's imagery, this well-spring of salvation; it is
something much more substantial, much deeper than that. You remember
the old psalm, 'With Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall
we see light'; and what David and John after him called life, Isaiah
and Paul after him calls salvation. And you remember too, no doubt, the
indictment of another of the prophets, laying hold of the same metaphor
in order to point to the folly and the suicide of all godless living:
'My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the
fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves broken
cisterns.' They were manufactured articles, and because they were made
they could be cracked, but the fountain, because it rises by its own
inherent energy, springing up into everlasting life, is all-sufficient.
God Himself is the well-spring of salvation.

If I had time to enlarge upon this idea, I might remind you how nobly
and blessedly that principle is confirmed when we think of this great
salvation, past, present, and future, negative and positive,
all-sufficient and complete, as having its origin in His deep nature,
as having its process in His own finished work, and as being in its
essence the communication of Himself. That last thing I should like to
say a word or two about. If there is a man or a woman that thinks of
salvation as if it were merely a shutting up of some material hell, or
the dodging round a corner so as to escape some external consequence of
transgression, let him and her hear this: the possession of God is
salvation, that and nothing else. To have Him within me, that is to be
saved; to have His life in His dear Son made the foundation of my life,
to have my whole being penetrated and filled with God, that is the
essence of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. And because it comes
unmotived, uncaused, self-originated, springing up from the depths of
His own heart; because it is all effected by His own mighty work who
has trodden the winepress alone, and, single-handed, has wrought the
salvation of the race; and because its essence and heart is the
communication of God Himself, and the bestowing upon us the
participation in a divine nature, therefore the depth of the thought,
_God Himself_ is the well-fountain of salvation.

But there is still another step to take. If these things which I have
only just been able to glance at in the most superficial, and perhaps,
therefore, confused manner, in any measure commend themselves to your
judgments and your consciences, let me ask you to go with me one step
further, and to figure to yourselves the significance and the
strangeness of that moment to which I have already referred, when a man
stood up in the temple court, and, with distinct allusion to the whole
of the multitude of Old Testament sayings, in which God and the
communication of God's own energy were represented as being the
fountain of salvation and the salvation from the fountain, and said,
'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me.' Why, what a thing--let us
put it into plain, vulgar English--what a thing for a man to say--'If
any man thirst.' Who art Thou that dost thus plant Thyself opposite the
race, sure that Thou hast no needs like them, but, contrariwise, canst
refresh and satiate the thirsty lips of them all? Who art Thou that
dost proclaim Thyself as sufficient for the fruition of the mind that
yearns for truth and thirsts for certitude, of the parched heart that
wearies and cracks for want of love, of the will that longs to be
rightly and lovingly commanded? Oh, dear brethren, not only the Titanic
presumption of proposing oneself as enough for a single soul, but the
inconceivable madness of proposing oneself as enough for all the race
in all generations to the end of time, except on one hypothesis, marks
this utterance of Him who has also said, 'I am meek and lowly of
heart.' Strange lowliness! singular meekness! Who was He? Who is this
that steps into the place that only a God can fill, and says, 'I can do
it all. If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink'?

Dear brethren, some of us can, thank God, answer that question as I
pray that every one of you may be able to answer it, 'Thou art the King
of Glory, O Christ; Thou art the everlasting son of the Father. With
Thee is the fountain of life; Thou Thyself art the living water.'

But I think there is a still further step to be taken. It is not only
that our Lord Jesus Christ, in His nature, in His person, is the
communicator of the divine life to man, just as--if you will let me
take such a metaphor--just as up in the hills sometimes you will find
some little tarn or loch all shut in; but having trickling from it a
thread of limpid life, and, wherever it flows, the water of the loch
goes; only, the one is lake and the other is river, and the latter is
the medium of communication of the former to the thirsty pastures of
the wilderness. And not only so, but--if I might venture to build upon
a word of the context--there seems to be another consideration there.
The words which precede my text are a quotation from a song of the
Israelites in their former Exodus: 'The Lord Jehovah is my strength and
my song; He also is become my salvation.' Now, if our Bible has been
correct--and I do not enter upon that question--in emphasising the
difference between _is_ and _is become_, mark where it takes us. It
takes us to this, that there was some single, definite, historical act
wherein God _became_ in an eminent manner and in reality what He had
always been in purpose, intent, and idea. Then that to which my text
originally alludes, to which it looks back, is the great deliverance
wrought by the banks of the Red Sea. It was because Pharaoh and his
hosts were drowned in it that Miriam and her musical sisters, with
their timbrel and dance, not only said, 'The Lord is my strength,' but
'He _has become_ my strength'--there where the corpses are floating
yet. What answers to that in the matter with which we are concerned?
Brethren, it is not enough to say that God is the fountain of
salvation, it is not enough to say that the Incarnate Christ is the
medium of salvation. Will you take the other step with us, and say that
the Cross of Christ is the realisation of the divine intention of
salvation? Then He, who from everlasting was the strength and song of
all the strong and the songful, _is become_ the salvation of all the
lost, and the fountain is 'opened for sin and for uncleanness.' A
definite, historical act, the manifestation of Jesus Christ, is the
bringing to man of the salvation of God. So much, then, for that first
point to which I desired to ask your attention.

And now let me say a word or two as to the second. I wish to speak
about this process of drawing from the fountain. That metaphor, without
any further explanation, might very naturally suggest more idea of
human effort than in reality belongs to it. Men have said: 'Yes; no
doubt God is the fountain of salvation; no doubt Christ is the river of
salvation; no doubt His death is the opening of the fountain for sin
and for uncleanness; but how am I to bring myself into contact and
connection with it?' And there have been all sorts of answers. Every
kind of pump has been resorted to. Go up to the Agricultural Hall and
you will see no end of contrivances for bringing water to the surface.
There are not so many there as men have found out for themselves to
bring the water of salvation to their lips, and the effect has always
been the same. There has been something wrong with the valves; the pump
has not worked properly; there has been something wrong with the crank;
the pipe has not gone down to the water; and there has been nothing but
a great jingling of empty buckets, and aching and wearied elbows, and
what the woman said to Christ has been true all round, 'Sir, thou hast
nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.' Ay! thank God, it _is_
deep; and if we let our Lord be His own interpreter, we have only to
put together three sayings of His in order to come to the true meaning
of this metaphor. My text says, 'With joy ye shall draw water'; and
Christ, sitting at the well of Samaria--what a strange combination of
the weakness and the weariness of manhood and the strength and
self-consciousness of Divinity was there!--wearied with His journey,
said, 'If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to
thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him and He would
have given thee living water.' So, then, drawing is asking. That is
step number one.

Take another word of the Master's that I have already quoted for other
purposes, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.' So,
then, drawing, or asking, or coming are all equivalent. That is step
number two.

And, then, take another word. 'He that cometh unto Me shall never
hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.' So, then,
drawing, asking, coming, all melt into the one simple word--believing.
Trust in Him, and thou hast come, thou hast asked, thou hast drawn,
thou dost possess.

But whilst I would lay the foundation thus broad, thus simple, do not
forget, dear brethren, what I was saying about a definite historical
act. You will hear people say, 'Oh, I trust in Christ!' What do you
trust in Christ? You will hear people say, 'Oh, I look to the goodness
of God.' Be it so. God forbid I should say a word to prevent that; but
what I would insist upon is that a mere vague regard to a vague Christ
is not the faith that is equivalent to drawing from the fountain of
salvation. There must be a further object in a faith that saves. It
must lay hold of the definite historical act in which Christ has become
the salvation of the world.

Do not take it upon my words, take it upon His own. He once said to His
fellow-countrymen in His lifetime, 'I am the living bread'; and many of
our modern teachers would go that length heartily. Was that where
Christ stopped? By no means. Was His Gospel a gospel of incarnation
only? Certainly not. 'I am the living bread that came down from
heaven.' Anything more? Yes; this more, 'and the bread which I will
give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. He that
eateth Me he shall live by Me.' 'Well,' say some people, 'that means
following His example, accepting His teaching, being loyal to His
Person, absorbing His Spirit.' Yes, it means all that; but is that all
it means? Take His own commentary: 'He that eateth My flesh and
drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.' Yes, brethren, a Christ
incarnate, blessed be God! A Christ crucified, blessed be God! And not
the one but _both_ must be the basis of our faith and our hope.

Now, will you let me say one thing about this matter of drawing the
water? It is an act of faith in a whole Jesus, and eminently in the
mighty act and sacrifice of His Cross. But to go back again to the
context: 'He also is become _my_ salvation. 'That is what I desire, God
helping me, to lay on the hearts of all my hearers--that a definite act
of faith in Christ crucified is not enough unless it is a personal act,
unless it is what our old Puritan forefathers used to call
'appropriating faith.' Never mind about the somewhat dry and technical
phraseology; the thing is what I insist upon--'_my_ salvation.' O
brother! what does it matter though all Niagara were roaring past your
door; you might die of thirst all the same unless you put your own lips
to it. Down on your knees like Gideon's men; it is safest there; that
is the only attitude in which a man can drink of this fountain. Down on
your knees and put your lips to it--your very own lips--and drink for
your own soul's salvation. Christ died for the world. Yes; but the
world for which Christ died is made up of individuals who were in His
heart. It is Paul's words that I would beseech you to make your own:
'The Son of God, who loved _me_ and gave Himself for _me_.' Every one
of you is entitled to say that, if you will. You remember that verse
filled with adoring contemplation that we sometimes sing, one word in
which seems to me to be coloured by the too sombre doctrine of the
epoch from which it came:--

  'My soul looks back to see
    The burden Thou didst bear,
  When hanging on the accursed tree,
    And _knows_ her guilt was there.'

'He also is my strength and my song. He is become my salvation;
therefore, in joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.'

Now, I have left myself no time to do more than say one word about that
last point, the gladness of the water-drawers. It is a pretty picture
in our text, full of the atmosphere and spirit of Eastern life: the
cheery talk and the ringing laughter round the village well, where the
shepherds with their flocks linger all day long, and the maidens from
their tents come--a kind of rude Exchange in the antique world; and,
says our prophet, 'As the dwellers in the land at their village
springs, so ye, the weary travellers at "the eye of the desert," will
draw with gladness.' So we have this joy.

Dear brethren, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meant for something better
than to make us glad, but it is meant to make us glad too, and he is
but a very poor Christian who has not found that it is the joy and
rejoicing of his heart. We need not put too much emphasis and stress
upon that side of the truth; but we need not either suppress it or
disregard it in our modern high-flown disinterestedness. There are joys
worth calling so which only come from possessing this fountain of
salvation. How shall I enumerate them? The best way, I think, will be
to quote passages.

There is the gladness of forgiven sin and a quieted conscience: 'Make
me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may
rejoice.' There is the joy of a conscious possession of God: 'Blessed
are the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in
the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the
day.' There is the joy of fellowship and communion with Jesus Christ
and His full presence: 'I will see you again; and your hearts shall
rejoice, and your joy no man taketh away from you.' There is the joy of
willing obedience: 'I delight to do Thy will.' 'It is joy to the just
to do judgment.' There is the joy of a bright hope of an inheritance
'incorruptible,' 'wherein ye greatly rejoice,' and there is a joy
which, like that Greek fire they talk about, burns brighter under
water, and glows as the darkness deepens--a joy which is independent of
circumstances, and can say, 'Although the fig-tree shall not blossom,
neither shall fruit be in the vines, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.'

And all that, brother and friend, may be yours and mine; and then what
this same prophet says may also be true: 'The ransomed of the Lord
shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their
heads'--that is for the pilgrimage; 'They shall obtain joy and
gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away'--that is for the
home. There is another prophecy in this same book of Isaiah: 'Ho, every
one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters'; that was the voice of the
Christ in prophecy. There is a saying spoken in the temple courts: 'If
any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink'; that was the voice of
the Christ upon earth. There is a saying at the end of
Scripture--almost the last words that the Seer in Patmos heard:
'Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely'; that was
the voice of the Christ from the throne. And the triple invitation
comes to every soul of man in the world, and to thee, and thee, and
thee, my brother. Answer, answer as the Samaritan woman did: 'Sir, give
me this water that I thirst not, neither come hither' any more to draw
of the broken cisterns.



THE HARVEST OF A GODLESS LIFE

'Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not
been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant
pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: In the day shalt
thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy
seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief
and of desperate sorrow.'--ISAIAH xvii. 10, 11.


The original application of these words is to Judah's alliance with
Damascus, which Isaiah was dead against. He saw that it would only
precipitate the Assyrian invasion, as in fact it did. Judah had
forsaken God, and because they had done so, they had gone to seek for
themselves delights--alliance with Damascus. The image of planting a
garden of pleasures, and 'vine slips of a stranger' refers to sensuous
idolatry as well as to the entangling alliance. Then follows a
contemptuous description of the rapid growth of this alliance and of
the care with which Israel cultivated it. 'In a day thou makest thy
plant to grow' (or fencest it), and next morning it was in blossom, so
sedulously had they nursed and fostered it. Then comes the smiting
contrast of what it was all for--'A harvest heap in the day of sickness
and incurable pain.'

Now we may take this in a more general way as containing large truths
which affect the life of every one of us.

I. The Sin of a Godless Life.

(a) Notice the Sin charged. It is merely negative--_forgettest_. There
is no charge of positive hostility or of any overt act. This
forgetfulness is most natural and easy to be fallen into. The constant
pressure of the world. It indicates alienation of heart from God.

It is most common among us, far more so than active infidelity, far
more so than gross sin, far more so than conscious hostility.

(b) The implied Criminality of it. He is the 'Rock of thy strength' and
the 'God of thy salvation.' Rock is the grand Old Testament name of
God, expressing in a pregnant metaphor both what He is in Himself and
what in relation to those who trust Him. It speaks of stability,
elevation, massiveness, and of defence and security. The parallel title
sets Him forth as the Giver of salvation; and both names set in clear
light the sinful ingratitude of forgetting God, and force home the
question: 'Do ye thus requite the Lord, oh foolish people and unwise?'

(c) The implied Absurdity of it. What a contrast between the safe
'munitions of rocks' and the unsheltered security of these Damascene
gardens! What fools to leave the heights and come down into the plain!
Think of the contrast between the sufficiency of God and the emptiness
of the substitutes. Forgetfulness of Him and preference of creatures
cannot be put into language which does not convict it of absurdity.

II. The Busy Effort and Apparent Success of a Godless Life.

(a) If a man loses his hold on God and has not Him to stay himself on,
he is driven to painful efforts to make up the loss. God is needed by
every soul. If the soul is not satisfied in Him, then there are hungry
desires. This is the explanation of the feverish activity of much of
our life.

(b) Such work is far harder than the work of serving God. It takes a
great deal of toil to make that garden grow. The world is a hard
taskmaster. God's service is easy. He sets us in Eden to till and dress
it, but when we forget Him, the ground is cursed, and bears thorns and
thistles, and sweat drips from our brows.

Men take more pains to damn themselves than to save themselves. There
is nothing more wearying than the pursuit of pleasure. 'Pleasant
plants'--that is a hopeless kind of gardening. There is nothing more
degrading.

'Ye lust and desire to have,'--what a contrast is in, Ask and have! We
might live even as the lilies or the ravens, or with only this
difference, that we laboured, but were as uncaring and as peaceful as
they.

God is _given_. The world has to be _bought_. Its terms are 'Nothing
for nothing.'

(c) Such work has sometimes quick, present success.

'In the day.' It is hard for men to labour towards far-off unseen good.
We like to have what will grow up in a night, like Jonah's gourd. So
these present satisfactions in a worldly life appeal to worldly,
sensuous natures. And it is hard to set over against these a plant
which grows slowly, and only bears fruit in the next world.

III. The End of it all.

'A harvest heap in the day of grief.' This clearly points on to a
solemn ending--the day of judgment.

(a) How poor the fruit will be that a God-forgetting man will take out
of life! There is but _one heap_ from all the long struggle. He has
'sowed much and brought home little.' What shall we take with us out of
our busy years as their net result? A very small sack will be large
enough to hold the harvest that many of us have reaped.

(b) All this God-forgetting life of pleasure-seeking and idolatry is
bringing on a terrible, inevitable consummation.

'Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.'

No doubt there is often a harvest of grief and desperate sorrow
springing, even in this life, from forgetting God. For it is only they
who set their hopes on Him that are never disappointed, and only they
who have chosen Him for their portion who can always say, 'I have a
goodly heritage.' But the real harvest is not reaped till death has
separated the time of sowing from that of ingathering. The sower shall
reap; i.e. every man shall inherit the consequences of his deeds. 'They
that have planted it shall eat it.'

(c) That harvest home will be a day of sadness to some. These are
terrible words--'grief and desperate sorrow,' or 'pain and incurable
sickness.' We dare not dilate on this. But if we trust in Christ and
sow to the Spirit, we shall then 'rejoice before God as with the joy of
harvest,' and 'return with joy, bringing our sheaves with us.'



'IN THIS MOUNTAIN'

'In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast
of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of
marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. 7. And He will destroy in
this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the
veil that is spread over all nations. 8. He will swallow up death in
victory.'--ISAIAH xxv. 6-8.


A poet's imagination and a prophet's clear vision of the goal to which
God will lead humanity are both at their highest in this great song of
the future, whose winged words make music even in a translation. No
doubt it starts from the comparatively small fact of the restoration of
the exiled nation to its own land. But it soars far beyond that. It
sees all mankind associated with them in sharing their blessings. It is
the vision of God's ideal for humanity. That makes it the more
remarkable that the prophet, with this wide outlook, should insist with
such emphasis on the fact that it has a local centre. That phrase 'in
this mountain' is three times repeated in the hymn; two of the
instances occurring in the verses of my text have lying side by side
with them the expressions 'all people' and 'all nations,' as if to
bring together the local origin, and the universal extent, of the
blessings promised.

The sweet waters that are to pour through the world well up from a
spring opened 'in this mountain.' The beams that are to lighten every
land stream out from a light blazing there. The world's hopes for that
golden age which poets have sung, and towards which earnest social
reformers have worked, and of the coming of which this prophet was
sure, rest on a definite fact, done in a definite place, at a definite
time. Isaiah knew the place, but what was to be done, or when it was to
be done, he knew not. You and I ought to be wiser. History has taught
us that Jesus Christ fulfils the visioned good that inspired the
prophet's brilliant words. We might say, with allowable licence, that
'this mountain,' in which the Lord does the great things that this song
magnifies, is not so much Zion as Calvary.

Brethren, in these days, when so many voices are proclaiming so many
short cuts to the Millennium, this clear declaration of the source of
the world's hope is worth pondering. For us all, individually, this
localisation of the origin of the universal good of mankind is an offer
of blessings to us if we will go thither, where the provision for the
world's good is stored--'In this mountain'; therefore, to seek it
anywhere else is to seek it in vain.

Now, I wish, under the impression of that conviction, to put before you
just these three thoughts: where the world's food comes from; where the
unveiling which gives light to the world comes from; and where the life
which destroys death for the world comes from--'In this mountain.'

I. Where does the world's food come from?

Physiologists can tell, by studying the dentition--the system of the
teeth--and the digestive apparatus of an animal, what it is meant to
live upon, whether vegetables or flesh, or a mingled diet of both. And
you can tell, if you will, by studying yourself, what, or whom, you are
meant to live upon. The poet said, 'We live by admiration, hope, and
love.' But he did not say on what these faculties, which truly nourish
man's spirit, are to fix and fasten. He tells of the appetites; he does
not tell of their food. My text does: 'In this mountain shall the Lord
make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the
less well refined.' Friends, look at these hearts of yours with their
yearnings, with their passionate desires, with their clamant needs.
Will any human love--the purest, the sweetest, the most unselfish, the
most utter in its surrender--satisfy the heart-hunger of the poorest of
us? No! Look at the capacities of grasping thought and truth in our
spirits, which are ever seek, seek, seeking for absolutely certain
foundations on which we may build the whole structure of our beliefs.
You have to go deeper down than the sand of man's thinkings and
teachings before you can reach what will bear without shifting the
foundations of a life's credence and confidence. Look at these
tumultuous wills of ours that fancy they crave to be independent, and
really crave an absolute master whom it is blessedness to obey. You
will find none such beneath the stars. The very elements of our being,
our heart, will, mind, desires, passions, longings, all with one voice
proclaim that the only food for a man is God.

Jesus Christ brings the food that we need. Remember His own adaptation
of this great vision of my text in more than one parable; such as the
supper that was provided, and to which all men were invited, and, 'with
one consent,' declined the invitation. Remember His own utterance,' I
am the Bread of God which came down from heaven to give life to the
world.' Remembering such words, let me plead with you to listen to the
voice of warning as well as of invitation, which sounds from Cradle and
Cross and Throne. 'Why will ye spend your money for that which is not
bread'--you know it is not--'and your labour for that which satisfieth
not?'--you know it does not. Turn to Him, 'eat, and your souls shall
live.' 'In this mountain is prepared a feast... for all nations.'

Notice that although it does not appear on the surface, and to English
readers, this world's festival, in which every want is met, and every
appetite satisfied, is a feast on a sacrifice. That touches the deepest
need, about which I shall have a word or two to say presently. But in
the meantime let me just press this upon you, that the Christ who died
on the Cross is to be lived on by us; and that it is His sacrifice that
is to be the nourishment of our spirits.

Would that the earnest men, who are trying to cure the world's evils
and to still the world's wants, and are leaving Jesus Christ and His
religion out of their programme, would take thought and ask themselves
whether there is not something more in the hunger of humanity than
their ovens can ever bake bread for! They are spinning ropes of sand,
if they are trying to lift the world clear of its miseries and of its
hunger, and are not presenting Jesus Christ. I hope I am no bigot; I
know that I sympathise earnestly with all these other schemes for
helping mankind, but this I am bound to say here--all of them put
together will not reach the need of the case, unless they start from,
and are subsidiary to, and develop out of, the presenting of the primal
supply for the universal want, Christ, who alone is able to still the
hunger of men's hearts. Education will do much, but university degrees
and the highest culture will not satisfy a hungry heart. Fitting
environment, as it is fashionable to call it, will do a great deal, but
nothing outside of a man will staunch his evils or still the hunger
that coils and grips in his heart. Competent wealth is a good-there 1s
no need to say that in Manchester-but millionaires have been known to
be miserable. A heart at rest in the love of husband, wife, parent,
child, is a blessing earnestly to be sought and thankfully to be
treasured by us all; but there is more than that wanted. Put a man in
the most favourable circumstances; give him competent worldly means; do
all that modern philosophers who leave religion out of the question are
trying to do; put in practice your most advanced Socialistic schemes,
and you will still have a man with a hungry heart. He may not know what
he wants; very often he will entirely mistake what that is, but he will
be restless for want of an unknown good. Here is the only thing that
will still his heart: 'The bread which I give is My flesh, which I will
give for the life of the world.'

Brother and sister, this is not a matter only for social reformers, and
to be dealt with as bearing upon wide movements that influence
multitudes. It comes home to you and me. Some of you do not in the
least degree know what I am talking about when I speak of the hunger of
men's hearts; for you have lost your appetites, as children that eat
too many sweets have no desire for their wholesome meals. You have lost
your appetite by feeding upon garbage, and you say you are quite
content. Yes, at present; but deep down there lies in your hearts a
need which will awake and speak out some day; and you will find that
the husks which the swine did eat are scarcely wholesome nutriment for
a man. And there are some of you that turn away with disgust, and I am
glad of it, from these low, gross, sensuous delights; and are trying to
satisfy yourselves with education, culture, refinement, art, science,
domestic love, wealth, gratified ambition, or the like. There are
tribes of degraded Indians that in times of famine eat clay. There is a
little nourishment in it, and it distends their stomachs, and gives
them the feeling of having had a meal. And that is like what some of
you do. Dear friends, will you listen to this?--'Why do ye spend your
money for that which is not bread?' Will you listen to this?--'I am the
Bread of Life,' Will you listen to this?--'In this mountain will the
Lord make unto all people a feast of fat things.'

II. Where does the unveiling that gives light to the world come from?

My text, as I have already remarked, emphatically repeats 'in this
mountain' in its next clause. 'He will destroy in this mountain the
face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread
over all nations.'

Now, of course, the pathetic picture that is implied here, of a dark
pall that lies over the whole world, suggests the idea of mourning, but
still more emphatically, I think, that of obscuration and gloom. The
veil prevents vision and shuts out light, and that is the picture of
humanity as it presents itself before this prophet--a world of men
entangled in the folds of a dark pall that lay over their heads, and
swathed them round about, and prevented them from seeing; shut them up
in darkness and entangled their feet, so that they stumbled in the
gloom. It is a pathetic picture, but it does not go beyond the
realities of the case. For, with all our light on other matters, with
all our freedom of action, with all our frequent forgetfulness of the
fact that we are thus encompassed, it remains true that, apart from the
emancipation and illumination that are effected by Jesus Christ, this
is the picture of mankind as they are. And you are beneath that veil,
and swathed, obstructively as regards light and liberty, by its heavy
folds, unless Christ has freed you.

But we must go a step further than that, I think; and although one does
not wish to force too much meaning on to a poetic metaphor, still I
cannot help supposing that that universal pall, as I called it, which
is cast over all nations, has a very definite and a very tragic
meaning. There is a universal fact of human experience which answers to
the figure, and that is sin. That is the black thing whose ebon folds
hamper us, and darken us, and shut out the visions of God and
blessedness, and all the glorious blue above us. The heavy, dark mist
settles down on the plains, though the sky above is undimmed by it, and
the sun is blazing in the zenith. Not one beam can penetrate through
the wet, chill obstruction, and men stumble about in the fog with lamps
and torches, and all the while a hundred feet up it is brightness and
day. Or, if at some points the obstruction is thinned and the sun does
come through, it is shorn of all its gracious beams and power to warm
and cheer, and looks but like a copper-coloured, livid, angry ball. So
the 'veil that is spread over all nations, 'that awful fact of
universal sinfulness, shuts out God--who is our light and our joy--from
us, and no other lights or joys are more than twinkling tapers in the
mist. Or it makes us see Him as men in a fog see the sun--shorn of His
graciousness, threatening, wrathful, unlovely.

Brethren, the fact of universal sinfulness is the outstanding fact of
humanity. Jesus Christ deals with it by His death, which is God's
sacrifice and the world's atonement. That Lamb of God has borne away
the world's sins, and my sins and thy sins are there. By the fact of
His death He has rent the veil from the top to the bottom, and the
light comes in, unhindered by the terrible solemn fact that all of us
have sinned and come short of the glory of God. By His life He
communicates to each of us, if we will trust our poor sinful souls to
Him, a new power of living which is triumphant over temptation, and
gives the victory over sin if we will be true to Him. And so the last
shreds of the veil, like the torn clouds of a spent thunderstorm, are
parted into filmy rags and float away below the horizon, leaving the
untarnished heavens and the flaming sunshine; and 'we with unveiled
faces' can lift them up to be irradiated by the light. 'In this
mountain will the Lord destroy the covering that is spread over all
nations.'

The weak point of all these schemes and methods to which I have already
referred for helping humanity out of the slough, and making men
happier, is that they underestimate the fact of sin. If a man comes to
them and says, 'I have broken God's law. What am I to do? I have a
power within me that impels me now to evil. How am I to get rid of it?'
they have no adequate answer. There is only one remedy that deals
radically with the fact of human transgression; only one power that
will deliver each of us, if we will, from the penalty, the guilt, the
power of sin; and that is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and its
result, the inspiration of the spirit of life that was in Jesus Christ,
breathed into us from the Throne itself. Thus, and thus only, is the
veil done away in Christ.

III. Lastly, where does the life that destroys death come from?

'He will swallow up death in victory,' or, as probably the word more
correctly means, 'He will swallow up death _for ever_.' None of the
other panaceas for the world's evils that I have been speaking of even
attempt to deal with that 'Shadow feared of Man' that sits at the end
of all our paths. Jesus Christ has dealt with it. Like the warrior of
Judah who went down into a pit and slew a lion, He has gone down into
the lair of the dreadful thing, and has come up leaving Death dead on
the threshold.

By His death Christ has so altered that grim fact, which awaits us all,
that to those who will trust their souls to Him it ceases to be death,
even though the physical fact remains unaltered. For what is death? Is
it simply the separation of soul from body, the cessation of corporeal
existence? Surely not. We have to add to that all the spiritual
tremors, all the dreads of passing into the unknown, and leaving this
familiar order of things, and all the other reluctances and
half-conscious feelings which make the difference between the death of
a man and the death of a dog. And all these are swept clean away, if we
believe that Jesus died, and died as our Redeemer and our Saviour. So,
unconsciously and instinctively, the New Testament writers will seldom
condescend to call the physical fact by the ugly old name. It has
changed its character; it is 'a sleep' now; it is 'an exodus,' a 'going
out' from the land of Egypt into a land of peace. It is a plucking up
of the tent-pegs, according to another of the words which the writers
employ for death, in preparation for entering, when the 'tabernacle is
dissolved,' into 'a house not made with hands,' a statelier edifice,
'eternal in the heavens.' To die in Christ is not to die, but becomes a
mere change of condition and of place, to be with Him, which is far
'better.' So an Apostle who was coming within measurable distance of
his own martyrdom, even whilst the headsman's block was all but in his
sight, said: 'He hath abolished death,' the physical fact remaining
still.

By His resurrection Jesus Christ has established immortality as a
certainty for men. I can understand a man, who has persuaded himself
that when he dies he is done with, dressing his limbs to die without
dread if without hope. But that is a poor victory over death, which,
even in the act of getting rid of the fear of it, invests it with
supreme and ultimate power over humanity. Surely, surely, to believe
that the grave is a blind alley, with no exit at the other end,--to
believe that, however it may minister to a quiet departure, is no
victory over the grave. But to die believing, on the other hand, that
it is only a short tunnel through which we pass, and come out into
fairer lands on the other side of the mountains, is to conquer that
last foe even while it seems to conquer us.

Jesus Christ, who died that we might never die, lives that we may
always live. For His immortal life will give to each of us, if we join
ourselves to Him by simple faith and lowly obedience, an immortal life
that shall persist through, and be increased by, the article of bodily
death. And when we pass into the higher realm of fulness of joy,
then--as Paul quotes the words of my text--'shall be brought to pass
the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.'

Dear brethren, gather all these thoughts together. Do they not plead
with you to cast yourselves on Jesus Christ, and to turn to Him alone?
He will give you the food of your souls; if you will not sit at His
table you will starve. He will strip you of the covering that is cast
over you, as over us all; if you will not let Him unwind its folds from
your limbs, then like the clothes of a drowning man, they will sink
you. He will give you immortal life, which laughs at death, and you
will be able to take up the great song, 'O Death, where is thy sting; O
grave, where is thy victory?... Thanks be to God which giveth us the
victory.' 'In this mountain' and in this mountain only, are the food,
the illumination, the life of the world. I beseech you, do not turn
away from them, lest you stumble on the dark mountains, where are
starvation and gloom and death, but rather join that happy company of
pilgrims who sing as they march, 'Come! let us go up to the mountain of
the Lord. He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.'



THE FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE

And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a
feast.' ISAIAH xxv. 6.


There is here a reference to Sinai, where a feast followed the vision
of God. It was the sign of covenant, harmony, and relationship, and was
furnished by a sacrifice.

I. The General Ideas contained in this Image of a Feast.

We meet it all through Scripture; it culminates in Christ's parables
and in the 'Marriage Supper of the Lamb.'

In the image are suggested:--

Free familiarity of access, fellowship, and communion with Him.

Abundant Supply of all wants and desires.

Festal Joy.

Family Intercommunion.

II. The Feast follows on Sacrifice. We find that usage of a feast
following a sacrifice existing in many races and religions. It seems to
witness to a widespread consciousness of sin as disturbing our
relations with God. These could be set right only by sacrifice, which
therefore must precede all joyful communion with Him.

The New Testament accepts that truth and clears it from the admixture
of heathenism.

God provides the Sacrifice.

It is not brought by man. There is no need for our efforts--no
atonement to be found by us. The sacrifice is not meant to turn aside
God's wrath.

Communion is possible through Christ.

In Him God is revealed.

Objective hindrances are taken away.

Subjective ones are removed.

Dark fears--indifference--dislike of fellowship--Sin--these make
communion with God impossible.

At Sinai the elders 'saw God, and did eat and drink' Here the end of
the preceding chapter shows the 'elders' gazing on the glory of
Jehovah's reign in Zion.

III. The Feast consists of a Sacrifice.

Christ is the food of our souls, He and His work are meant to nourish
our whole being. He is the object for all our nature.

The Sacrifice must be incorporated with us. It is not enough that it be
offered, it must also be partaken of.

Now the Sacrifice is eaten by faith, and by occupation with it of each
part of our being, according to its own proper action. Through love,
obedience, hope, desire, we may all feed on Jesus.

The Lord's Supper presents the same thoughts, under similar symbols, as
Isaiah expressed in his prophecy.

Symbolically we feast on the sacrifice when we eat the Bread which is
the Body broken for us. But the true eating of the true sacrifice is by
faith. _Crede et manducasti_--Believe, and thou hast eaten.



THE VEIL OVER ALL NATIONS

'He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over
all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.'--ISAIAH xxv.
7.


The previous chapter closes with a prediction of the reign of Jehovah
in Mount Zion 'before His elders' in Glory. The allusion apparently is
to the elders being summoned up to the Mount and seeing the Glory, 'as
the body of heaven in its clearness.' The veil in this verse is
probably a similar allusion to that which covered Moses' face. It will
then be an emblem of that which obscures for 'all nations the face of
God.' And what is that but sin?

I. Sin veils God from men's sight.

It is not the necessary inadequacy of the finite mind to conceive of
the Infinite that most tragically hides God from us. That inadequacy is
compatible with true and sufficient knowledge of Him. Nor is it 'the
veils of flesh and sense,' as we often hear it said, that hide Him. But
it is our sinful moral nature that darkens His face and dulls our eyes.
'Knowledge' of God, being knowledge of a Person, is not merely an
intellectual process. It is much more truly acquaintance than
comprehension; and as such, requires, as all acquaintance does, some
foundation of sympathy and appreciation.

Every sin darkens the witness to God in ourselves, In a pure nature,
conscience would perfectly reveal God; but we all know too sadly and
intimately how it is gradually silenced, and fails to discriminate
between what pleases and what displeases God. In a pure nature, the
obedient Will would perfectly reveal God and the man's dependence on
Him. We all know how sin weakens that.

Every sin diminishes our power of seeing Him in His external
Revelation. Every sin ruffles the surface of the soul, which is a
mirror reflecting the light that streams from Creation, from
Providence, from History. A mass of black rock flung into a still lake
shatters the images of the girdling woods and the overarching sky.

Every sin bribes us to forget God. It becomes our interest, as we
fancy, to shut Him out of our thoughts. Adam's impulse is to carry his
guilty secret with him into hiding among the trees of the garden. We
cannot shake off His presence, but we can--and when we have sinned, we
have but too good reason to exercise the power--we can dismiss the
thought of Him. 'They did not _like_ to retain God in their knowledge.'

Individual sins may seem of small moment, but an opaque veil can be
woven out of very fine thread.

II. To veil God from our sight is fatal.

We imagine that to forget Him leaves us undisturbed in following aims
disapproved by Him, and we spend effort to secure that false peace by
fierce absorption in other pursuits, and impatient shaking off of all
that might wake our sleeping consciousness of Him.

But what unconscious self-murder that is, which we take such pains to
achieve! To know God is life eternal; to lose Him from our sight is to
condemn all that is best in our nature, all that is most conducive to
blessedness, tranquillity, and strenuousness in our lives, to languish
and die. Every creature separated from God is cut off from the fountain
of life, and loses the life it drew from the fountain, of whatever kind
that life is. And that in man which is most of kin with God languishes
most when so cut off. And when we have blocked Him out from our field
of vision, all that remains for us to look at suffers degradation, and
becomes phantasmal, poor, unworthy to detain, and impotent to satisfy,
our hungry vision.

III. The Veil is done away in Christ.

He shows us God, instead of our own false conceptions of Him, which are
but distorted refractions of His true likeness. Only within the limits
of Christ's revelation is there knowledge of God, as distinguished from
guesses, doubtful inferences, partial glimpses. Elsewhere, the greatest
certitude as to Him is a 'peradventure'; Jesus alone says 'Verily,
verily.'

Jesus makes us able to see God.

Jesus makes us delight in seeing Him.

All dread of the 'steady whole of the Judge's face' is changed to the
loving heart's joy in seeing its Beloved.

IV. The Veil is wholly removed hereafter.

The prophecy from which the text is taken is obviously not yet
fulfilled. It waits for the perfect condition of redeemed manhood in
another life. But even then, the chief reason why the Christian is
warranted in cherishing an unpresumptuous hope that he will know even
as he is known is not that then he will have dropped the veil of flesh
and sense, but that he will have dropped the thicker, more stifling
covering of sin, and, being perfectly like God, will be able perfectly
to gaze on Him, and, perfectly gazing on Him, will grow ever more
perfectly like Him.

The choice for each of us is whether the veil will thicken till it
darkens the Face altogether, and that is death; or whether it will thin
away till the last filmy remnant is gone, and 'we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is.'



THE SONG OF TWO CITIES

'In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a
strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. 2. Open
ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may
enter in. 3. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed
on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee. A. Trust ye in the Lord for ever:
for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength: 5. For He bringeth
down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, He layeth it low; He
layeth it low, even to the ground He bringeth it even to the dust. 6.
The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps
of the needy. 7. The way of the just is uprightness: Thou, most
upright, dost weigh the path of the Just. 8. Yea, in the way of Thy
judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee; the desire of our soul is
to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee. 9. With my soul have I
desired Thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek
Thee early: for when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of
the world will learn righteousness. 10. Let favour be shewed to the
wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness
will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the
Lord.'--ISAIAH xxvi. 1-10.'


'This song' is to be interpreted as a song, not with the cold-blooded
accuracy proper to a scientific treatise. The logic of emotion is as
sound as that of cool intellect, but it has its own laws and links of
connection. First, the song sets in sharp contrast the two cities,
describing, in verses 1-4, the city of God, its strength defences,
conditions of citizenship, and the peace which reigns within its walls;
and in verses 5 and 6 the fall and utter ruin of the robber city, its
antagonist Jerusalem, on its rocky peninsula, supplies the form of
Isaiah's thought; but it is only a symbol of the true city of God, the
stable, invisible, but most real, polity and order of things to which
men, even while wandering lonely and pilgrims, do come, if they will.
It is possible even here and now to have our citizenship in the
heavens, and to feel that we belong to a great community beyond the sea
of time, though our feet have never trodden its golden pavements, nor
our eyes seen its happy glories.

In one aspect, it is ideal, but in truth it is more real than the
intrusive and false things of this fleeting present, which call
themselves realities. 'The things which are' are the things above. The
things here are but shows and shadows.

The city's walls are salvation. There is no need to name the architect
of these fortifications. One hand only can pile their strength. God
appoints salvation in lieu of all visible defences. Whom He purposes to
save are saved. Whom He wills to keep safe are kept safe. They who can
shelter behind that strong defence need no other. Weak, sense-governed
hearts may crave something more palpable, but they do not really need
it. A parapet on an Alpine road gives no real security, but only
satisfies imagination. The sky needs no pillars to hold it up.

Then an unknown voice breaks in upon the song, calling on unnamed
attendants to fling wide the gates. The city is conceived of as empty;
its destined inhabitants must have certain qualifications. They must be
righteous, and must 'keep faithfulness' being true to the God who is
'faithful and true' in all His relations. None but the righteous can
dwell in conscious citizenship with the Unseen while here, and none but
the righteous can enter through the gates into the city. That
requirement is founded in the very nature of the case, and is as
emphatically proclaimed by the gospel as by the prophet. But the gospel
tells more articulately than he was enlightened to do, how
righteousness is to be won. The last vision of the Apocalypse, which is
so like this song in its central idea, tells us of the fall of Babylon,
of the descent to earth of the New Jerusalem, and leaves as its last
message the great saying, 'Blessed are they that wash their robes that
they may ... enter in through the gate into the city.'

Our song gives some hint of similar thoughts by passing from the
description of the qualifications for entrance to the celebration of
the security which comes from trust. The safety which is realised
within the walls of the strong city is akin to the 'perfect peace' in
which he who trusts is kept; and the juxtaposition of the two
representations is equivalent to the teaching that trust, which is
precisely the same as the New Testament faith, is the condition of
entrance. We know that faith makes righteous, because it opens the
heart to receive God's gift of righteousness; but that effect of faith
is implied rather than stated here, where security and peace are the
main ideas. As some fugitives from the storm of war sit in security
behind the battlements of a fortress, and scarcely hear the din of
conflict in the open field below, the heart, which has taken refuge by
trust in God, is kept in peace so deep that it passes description, and
the singer is fain to give a notion of its completeness by calling it
'peace, peace.' The mind which trusts is steadied thereby, as light
things lashed to a firm stay are kept steadfast, however the ship toss.
The only way to get and keep fixedness of temper and spirit amid change
and earthquake is to hold on to God, and then we may be stable with
stability derived from the foundations of His throne to which we cling.

Therefore the song breaks into triumphant fervour of summons to all who
hear it, to 'trust in Jab Jehovah for ever,' Such settled, perpetual
trust is the only attitude corresponding to His mighty name, and to the
realities found in His character. He is the 'Bock of Ages' the grand
figure which Moses learned beneath the cliffs of Sinai and wove into
his last song, and which tells us of the unchanging strength that makes
a sure hiding-place for all generations, and the ample space which will
hold all the souls of men, and be for a shadow from the heat, a covert
from the tempest, a shelter from the foe, and a home for the homeless,
with many a springing fountain in its clefts.

The great act of judgment which the song celebrates is now (vs. 5, 6)
brought into contrast with the blessed picture of the city, and by the
introductory 'for' is stated as the reason for eternal trust. The
language, as it were, leaps and dances in jubilation, heaping together
brief emotional and synonymous clauses. So low is the once proud city
brought, that the feet of the poor tread it down. These 'poor' and
'needy' are the true Israel, the suffering saints, who had known how
cruel the sway of the fallen robber city was; and now they march across
its site; and its broken columns and ruined palaces strew the ground
below their feet. 'The righteous nation' of the one picture are 'the
poor and needy' of the other. No doubt the prophecy has had partial
accomplishments more than once or twice, when the oppressed church has
triumphed, and some hoary iniquity been levelled at a blow, or toppled
over by slow decay. But the complete accomplishment is yet future, and
not to be realised till that last act, when all antagonism shall be
ended, and the net result of the weary history of the world be found to
be just these two pictures of Isaiah's--the strong city of God with its
happy inhabitants, and the everlasting desolations of the fallen city
of confusion.

The triumphant hurry of the song pauses for a moment to gaze upon the
crash, and in verse 7 gathers its lessons into a kind of proverbial
saying, which is perhaps best translated 'The path of the just is
smooth (or "plain"); Thou levellest smooth the path of the just.' To
render 'upright' instead of 'smooth' seems to make the statement almost
an identical proposition, and is tame. What is meant is, that, in the
light of the end, the path which often seemed rough is vindicated. The
judgment has showed that the righteous man's course had no unnecessary
difficulties. The goal explains the road. The good man's path is
smooth, not because of its own nature, but because God makes it so. We
are to look for the clearing of our road, not to ourselves, nor to
circumstances, but to Him; and even when it is engineered through rocks
and roughnesses, to believe that He will make the rough places plain,
or give us shoes of iron and brass to encounter them. Trust that when
the journey is over the road will be explained, and that this
reflection, which breaks the current of the swift song of the prophet,
will be the abiding, happy conviction of heaven.

Lastly, the song looks back and tells how the poor and needy, in whose
name the prophet speaks, had filled the dreary past, while the tyranny
of the fallen city lasted, with yearning for the judgment which has now
come at last. Verses 8 and 9 breathe the very spirit of patient longing
and meek hope. There is a certain tone of triumph in that 'Yea,' as if
the singer would point to the great judgment now accomplished, as
vindicating the long, weary hours of hope deferred. That for which 'the
poor and needy' wait is the coming 'in the path of Thy judgments.' The
attitude of expectance is as much the duty and support of Christians as
of Israel. We have a greater future clearer before us than they had.
The world needs God's coming in judgment more than ever; and it says
little for either the love to God or the benevolence towards man of
average Christians, that they should know so little of that yearning of
soul which breathes through so much of the Old Testament. For the glory
of God and the good of men, we should have the desire of our souls
turned to His manifestation of Himself in His righteous judgments. It
was no personal end which bred the prophet's yearning. True, the
'night' round him was dreary enough, and sorrow lay black on his people
and himself; but it was God's 'name' and 'memorial' that was uppermost
in his desires. That is to say, the chief object of the devout soul's
longings should be the glory of God's revealed character. And the
deepest reason for wishing that He would flash forth from His
hiding-place in judgments, is because such an apocalypse is the only
way by which wilfully blind eyes can be made to see, and wilfully
unrighteous hearts can be made to practise righteousness.

Isaiah believed in the wholesome effect of terror. His confidence in
the power of judgments to teach the obstinate corresponds to the Old
Testament point of view, and contains a truth for all points of view;
but it is not the whole truth. We know only too well that sorrows and
judgments do not work infallibly, and that men 'being often reproved,
harden their necks.' We know, too, more clearly than any prophet of old
could know, that the last arrow in God's quiver is not some unheard-of
awfulness of judgment, but an unspeakable gift of love, and that if
that 'favour shown to the wicked' in the life and death of God's Son
does not lead him to 'learn righteousness,' nothing else will.

But while this is true, the prophet's aspirations are founded on the
facts of human nature too, and judgments do sometimes startle those
whom kindness had failed to touch. It is an awful thought that human
nature may so steel itself against the whole armoury of divine weapons
as that favour and severity are equally blunted, and the heart remains
unpierced by either. It is an awful thought that there may be induced
such truculent obstinacy of love of evil that, even when in 'a land of
uprightness,' a man shall choose evil, and forcibly shut his eyes, that
he may not see the majesty of the Lord, which he does not wish to see
because it condemns his choice, and threatens to burn up him and his
work together. A blasted tree when all the woods are green, a fleece
dry when all around is rejoicing in the dew, a window dark when the
whole city is illuminated, one black sheep amid the white flock, or
anything else anomalous and alone in its evil, is less tragic than the
sight, so common, of a man so sold to sin that the presence of good
only makes him angry and restless. It is possible to dwell amidst the
full light of Christian truth, and in a society moulded by its
precepts, and to be unblessed, unsoftened thereby. If not softened,
then hardened; and the wicked who in the land of uprightness deals
wrongfully is all the worse for the light which he hated because it
showed him the sinfulness of the sin which he obstinately loved and
would keep.



OUR STRONG CITY

'In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a
strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye
the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter
in.'--ISAIAH xxvi 1-2.


What day is 'that day'? The answer carries us back a couple of
chapters, to the great picture drawn by the prophet of a world-wide
judgment, which is followed by a burst of song from the ransomed people
of Jehovah, like Miriam's chant by the shores of the Red Sea. The 'city
of confusion,' the centre of the power hostile to God and man, falls;
and its fall is welcomed by a chorus of praises. The words of my text
are the beginning of one of these songs. Whether or not there were any
historical event which floated before the prophet's mind is wholly
uncertain. If there were a smaller judgment upon some city of the
enemy, it passes in his view into a world-wide judgment; and my text is
purely ideal, imaginative, and apocalyptic. Its nearest ally is the
similar vision of the Book of the Revelation, where, when Babylon sank
with a splash like a millstone in the stream, the ransomed people
raised their praises.

So, then, whatever may have been the immediate horizon of the prophet,
and though, there may have stood on it some historical event, the city
which he sees falling is other than any material Babylon, and the
strong city in which he rejoices is other than the material Jerusalem,
though it may have suggested the metaphor of my text. The song fits our
lips quite as closely as it did the lips from which it first sprang,
thrilling with triumph: 'We have a strong city; salvation will God
appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous
nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.'

There are three things, then, here: the city, its defences, its
citizens.

I. The City.

Now, no doubt the prophet was thinking of the literal Jerusalem; but
the city is ideal, as is shown by the bulwarks which defend, and by the
qualifications which permit entrance. And so we must pass beyond the
literalities of Palestine, and, as I think, must not apply the symbol
to any visible institution or organisation if we are to come to the
depth and greatness of the meaning of these words. No church which is
organised amongst men can be the New Testament representation of this
strong city. And if the explanation is to be looked for in that
direction at all, it can only be the invisible aggregate of ransomed
souls which is regarded as being the Zion of the prophecy.

But perhaps even that is too definite and hard. And we are rather to
think of the unseen but existent order of things or polity to which men
here on earth may belong, and which will one day, after shocks and
convulsions that shatter all which is merely institutional and human,
be manifested still more gloriously.

The central thought that was moving in the prophet's mind is that of
the indestructible vitality of the true Israel, and the order which it
represented, of which Jerusalem on its rock was but to him a symbol.
And thus for us the lesson is that, apart altogether from the existing
and visible order of things in which we dwell, there is a polity to
which we may belong, for 'ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the
living God,' and that that order is indestructible. Convulsions come,
every Babylon falls, all human institutions change and pass. 'The
kingdoms old' are 'cast into another mould.' But persistent through
them all, and at the last, high above them all, will stand the stable
polity of Heaven, '_the_ city which hath _the_ foundations.'

_There_ is a lesson for us, brethren, in times of fluctuation, of
change of opinion, of shaking of institutions, and of new social,
economical, and political questions, threatening day by day to
reorganise society. 'We have a strong city'; and whatever may come--and
much destructive will come, and much that is venerable and antique,
rooted in men's prejudices, and having survived through and oppressed
the centuries, will have to go; but God's polity, His form of human
society of which the perfect ideal and antitype, so to speak, lies
concealed in the heavens, is everlasting. Therefore, whatsoever
changes, whatsoever ancient and venerable things come to be regarded as
of no account, howsoever the nations, like clay in the hands of the
potter, may have to assume new forms, as certainly they will, yet the
foundation of God standeth sure. And for Christian men in revolutionary
epochs, whether these revolutions affect the forms in which truth is
grasped, or whether they affect the moulds into which society is run,
the only worthy temper is the calm, triumphant expectation that through
all the dust, contradiction, and distraction, the fair city of God will
be brought nearer and made more manifest to man. Isaiah, or whoever was
the writer of these great words of my text, stayed his own and his
people's hearts in a time of confusion and distress, by the thought
that it was only Babylon that could fall, and that Jerusalem was the
possessor of a charmed, immortal life.

This strong city, the order of human society which God has appointed,
and which exists, though it be hidden in the heavens, will be
manifested one day when, like the fair vision of the goddess rising
from amidst the ocean's foam, and shedding peace and beauty over the
charmed waves, there will emerge from all the wild confusion and
tossing billows of the sea of the peoples the fair form of the 'Bride,
the Lamb's wife.' There shall be an apocalypse of the city, and whether
the old words which catch up the spirit of my text, and speak of that
Holy City as 'descending from heaven' upon earth, at the close of the
history of the world, are to be taken, as perhaps they are, as
expressive of the truth that a renewed earth is to be the dwelling of
the ransomed or no, this at least is clear, that the city shall be
revealed, and when Babylon is swept away, Zion shall stand.

To this city--existent, immortal, and waiting to be revealed--you and I
may belong to-day. 'We _have_ a strong city.' You may lay hold of life
either by the side of it which is transient and trivial and
contemptible, or by the side of it which goes down through all the
mutable and is rooted in eternity. As in some seaweed, far out in the
depths of the ocean, the tiny frond that floats upon the billow goes
down and down and down, by filaments that bind it to the basal rock, so
the most insignificant act of our fleeting days has a hold upon
eternity, and life in all its moments may be knit to the permanent. We
may unite our lives with the surface of time or with the centre of
eternity. Though we dwell in tabernacles, we may still be 'come to
Mount Zion,' and all life be awful, noble, solemn, religions, because
it is all connected with the unseen city across the seas. It is for us
to determine to which of these orders--the perishable, noisy and
intrusive and persistent in its appeals, or the calm, silent, most
real, eternal order beyond the stars--our petty lives shall attach
themselves.

II. Now note, secondly, the defences.

'Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.' This 'evangelical
prophet,' as he has been called, is distinguished, not only by the
clearness of his anticipations of Jesus Christ and His work, but by the
fulness and depth which he attaches to that word 'salvation.' He all
but anticipates the New Testament completeness and fulness of meaning,
and lifts it from all merely material associations of earthly or
transitory deliverance, into the sphere in which we are accustomed to
regard it as especially moving. By 'salvation' he means and we mean,
not only negative but positive blessings. Negatively it includes the
removal of every conceivable or endurable evil, 'all the ills that
flesh is heir to,' whether they be evils of sin or evils of sorrow;
and, positively, the investiture with every possible good that humanity
is capable of, whether it be good of goodness, or good of happiness.
This is what the prophet tells us is the wall and bulwark of his
ideal-real city.

Mark the eloquent omission of the name of the builder of the wall.
'God' is a supplement. Salvation 'will _He_ appoint for walls and
bulwarks.' No need to say who it is that flings such a fortification
around the city. There is only one hand that can trace the lines of
such walls; only one hand that can pile their stones; only one that can
lay them, as the walls of Jericho were laid, in the blood of His
first-born Son. 'Salvation will He appoint for walls and bulwarks.'
That is to say in a highly imaginative and picturesque form, that the
defense of the City is God Himself; and it is substantially a parallel
with other words which speak about Him as being 'a wall of fire round
about it and the glory in the midst of it.' The fact of salvation is
the wall and the bulwark. And the consciousness of the fact and the
sense of possessing it, is for our poor hearts, one of our best
defenses against both the evil of sin and the evil of sorrow. For
nothing so robs temptation of its power, so lightens the pressure of
calamities, and draws the poison from the fangs of sin and sorrow, as
the assurance that the loving purpose of God to save grasps and keeps
us. They who shelter behind that wall, feel that between them and sin,
and them and sorrow, there rises the inexpugnable defense of an
Almighty purpose and power to save, lie safe whatever betides. There is
no need of other defenses. Zion

                     'Needs no bulwarks,
                      No towers along the steep.'

God Himself is the shield and none other is required.

So, brethren, let us walk by the faith that is always confident, though
it depends on an unseen hand. It is a grand thing to be able to stand,
as it were, in the open, a mark for all 'the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune' and yet to feel that around us there are walls most
real, though invisible, which permit no harm to come to us. Our feeble
sense-bound souls much prefer a visible wall. We, like a handrail on
the stair. Though it does not at all guard the descent, it keeps our
heads from getting dizzy. It is hard for us, as some travellers may
have to do, to walk with steady foot and unthrobbing heart along a
narrow ledge of rock with beetling precipice above us and black depths
beneath, and we would like a little bit of a wall of some sort, for
imagination if not for reality, between us and the sheer descent. But
it is blessed to learn that naked we are clothed, solitary we have a
Companion, and unarmed we have our defenceless heads covered with the
shadow of the great wing, which, though sense sees it not, faith knows
is there. A servant of God is never without a friend, and when most
unsheltered

                    'From marge to blue marge
                     The whole sky grows his targe,
                     With sun's self for visible boss,'

beneath which he lies safe.

'Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks,' and if we realise,
as we ought to do, His purpose to keep us safe, and His power to keep
us safe, and the actual operation of His hand keeping us safe at every
moment, we shall not ask that these defences shall be supplemented by
the poor feeble earthworks that sense can throw up.

III. Lastly, note the citizens.

Our text is part of a 'song,' and is not to be interpreted in the
cold-blooded fashion that might suit prose. A voice, coming from whom
we know not, breaks in upon the first strain with a command, addressed
to whom we know not--'Open ye the gates'--the city thus far being
supposed to be empty--'that the righteous nation which keepeth the
truth may enter in.' The central idea there is just this, 'Thy people
shall be all righteous.' The one qualification for entrance into the
city is absolute purity.

Now, brethren, that is true in regard to our present imperfect
denizenship within the city; and it is true in regard to men's passing
into it in its perfect and final form. As to the former, there is
nothing that you Christian people need more to have dinned into you
than this, that your continuance in the state of a redeemed man, with
all the security and blessing that attach thereto, depends upon your
continuing to be righteous. Every sin, every flaw, every dropping
beneath our own standard in conscience of what we ought to be, has for
its inevitable result that we are robbed for the time being of
consciousness of the walls of the city being about us and of our being
citizens thereof. 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who
shall stand in His holy place?' The New Testament, as emphatically as
the old psalm, answers,' He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.'
'Let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous.'
There is no way by which Christian men here on earth can pass into and
keep within the city of the living God, except they possess personal
purity, righteousness of life, and cleanness of heart.

They used to say that Venice glass was so made that any poison poured
into it shivered the vessel. Any drop of sin poured into your cup of
communion with God, shatters the cup and spills the wine. Whosoever
thinks himself a citizen of that great city, if he falls into
transgression, and soils the cleanness of his hands, and ruffles the
calm of his pure heart by self-willed sinfulness, will wake to find
himself not within the battlements, but lying wounded, robbed,
solitary, in the pitiless desert. My brother, it is 'the righteous
nation' that 'enters in,' even here on earth.

I do not need to remind you how, admittedly by us all, that is the case
in regard to the final form of the city of our God, into which nothing
shall enter 'that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or
maketh a lie.' Heaven can only be entered into hereafter by, as here
and now it can only enter into, those who are pure of heart. All else
there would shrivel as foul things born In the darkness do in the
light, and be consumed in the fire. None but the pure can enter and see
God.

'The nation which keepeth the truth'--that does not mean adherence to
any revelation, or true creed, or the like. The word which is employed
means, not truth of thought, but truth of character; and might,
perhaps, be better represented by the more familiar word in such a
connection, 'faithfulness.' A man who is true to God, keeping up a
faithful relation to Him who is faithful to us, he, and only he, will
pass into, and abide in, the city.

Now, brethren, so far our text carries us, but no further; unless,
perhaps, there may be a hint of something yet deeper in the next clause
of this song. If any one asks, How does the nation become righteous?
the answer may lie in the immediately following exhortation--'Trust ye
in the Lord for ever.' But whether that be so or not, if we want an
answer to the questions, How can my stained feet be cleansed so as to
be fit to tread the crystal pavements? how can my foul garments be so
purged as not to be a blot and an eyesore, beside the white, lustrous
robes that sweep along them and gather no defilement there? the only
answer that I know of is to be found by turning to the final visions of
the New Testament, where the spirit of this whole section of our
prophet is reproduced. Again, Babylon falls amidst the songs of saints;
and then, down upon all the dust and confusion of the crash of ruin,
the seer beholds the Lamb's wife, the new Jerusalem, descending from
above. To his happy eyes its glories are unveiled, its golden streets,
its open gates, its walls of precious stones, its flashing river, its
peaceful inhabitants, its light streaming from the throne of God and of
the Lamb. And when that vision passes, his last message to us is,
'Blessed are they that wash their robes that they may enter through the
gates into the city.' None but those who wash their garments, and make
them white in the blood of the Lamb, can, living, come unto the city of
the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; or, dying, can pass through the
iron gate that opens to them of its own accord, and find themselves as
day breaks in the street of the Jerusalem which is above.



THE INHABITANT OF THE ROCK

'Thou wilt keep him In perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee:
because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the
Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.'--ISAIAH xxvi. 3-4.


There is an obvious parallel between these verses and the two preceding
ones. The safety which was there set forth as the result of dwelling in
the strong city is here presented as the consequence of trust. The
emblem of the fortified place passes into that of the Rock of Ages.
There is the further resemblance in form, that, just as in the two
preceding verses we had the triumphant declaration of security followed
by a summons to some unknown persons to 'open the gates,' so here we
have the triumphant declaration of perfect peace, followed by a summons
to all to 'trust in the Lord for ever.' If we may suppose the
invocation of the preceding verses to be addressed to the watchers at
the gate of the strong city, it is perhaps not too fanciful to suppose
that the invitation in my text is the watcher's answer, pointing the
way by which men may pass into the city.

Whether that be so or no, at all events I take it as by no means
accidental that, immediately upon the statement of the Old Testament
law that righteousness alone admits to the presence of God, there
follows so clear and emphatic an anticipation of the great New
Testament Gospel that faith is the condition of righteousness, and that
immediately after hearing that only 'the righteous nation which keepeth
the truth' can enter there, we hear the merciful call, 'Trust ye in the
Lord for ever.' So, then, I think we have in the words before us,
though not formally yet really, very large teaching as to the nature,
the object, the blessed effects, and the universal duty of that trust
in the Lord which makes the very nexus between man and God, according
to the teaching of the New Testament.

I. First, then, I desire to notice in a sentence the insight into the
true nature of trust or faith given by the word employed here.

Now the literal meaning of the expression here rendered 'to trust' is
to lean upon anything. As we say, trust is reliance. As a weak man
might stay his faltering, tottering steps upon some strong staff, or
might lean upon the outstretched arm of a friend, so we, conscious of
our weakness, aware of our faltering feet, and realising the roughness
of the road, and the smallness of our strength, may lay the whole
weight of ourselves upon the loving strength of Jehovah.

And that is the trust of the Old Testament, the faith of the New--the
simple act of reliance, going out of myself to find the basis of my
being, forsaking myself to touch and rest upon the ground of my
security, passing from my own weakness and laying my trembling hand
into the strong hand of God, like some weak-handed youth on a coach-box
who turns to a stronger beside him and says: 'Take thou the reins, for
I am feeble to direct or to restrain.' Trust is reliance, and reliance
is always blessedness.

II. Notice, secondly, the steadfast peacefulness of trust.

Now there are difficulties about the rendering and precise significance
of the first verse of my text with which I do not need to trouble you.
The Authorised Version, and still more perhaps the Revised Version,
give substantially, as I take it, the prophet's meaning; and the margin
of the Revised Version is still more literal and accurate than the
text, 'A steadfast mind Thou keepest in perfect peace, because it
trusteth in Thee.' If this, then, be the true meaning of the words, you
observe that it is the steadfast mind, steadfast because it trusts,
which God keeps In the deep peace that is expressed by the
reduplication of the word.

And if we break up that complex thought into its elements, it just
comes to this, first, that trust makes steadfastness. Most men's lives
are blown about by winds of circumstance, directed by gusts of passion,
shaped by accidents, and are fragmentary and jerky, like some ship at
sea with nobody at the helm, heading here and there, as the force of
the wind or the flow of the current may carry them. If my life is to be
steadied, there must not only be a strong hand at the tiller, but some
outward object which shall be for me the point of aim and the point of
rest. No man can steady his life except by clinging to a holdfast
without himself. Some of us look for that stay in the fluctuations and
fleetingnesses of creatures; and some of us are wiser and saner, and
look for it in the steadfastness of the unchanging God. The men who do
the former are the sport of circumstances, and the slaves of their own
natures, and there is no consistency in noble aim and effort throughout
their lives, corresponding to their circumstances, relations, and
nature. Only they who stay themselves upon God, and get down through
all the superficial shifting strata of drift and gravel, to the
base-rock, are steadfast and solid.

My brother, if you desire to govern yourself, you must let God govern
you. If you desire to be firm, you must draw your firmness from the
unchangingness of that divine nature which you grasp. How can a willow
be stiffened into an iron pillar? Only--if I might use such a violent
metaphor--when it receives into its substance the iron particles that
it draws from the soil in which it is rooted. How can a bit of
thistledown be kept motionless amidst the tempest? Only by being glued
to something that is fixed. What do men do with light things on deck
when the ship is pitching? Lash them to a fixed point. Lash yourselves
to God by simple trust, and then you will partake of His serene
immutability in such fashion as it is possible for the creature to
participate in the attributes of the Creator.

And then, still further, the steadfast mind--steadfast because it
trusts--is rewarded in that it is kept by God. It is no mere mistake in
the order of his thought which leads this prophet to allege that it is
the steadfast mind which God keeps. For, though it is true, on the one
hand, that the real fixity and solidity of a human character come more
surely and fully through trust in God than by any other means, on the
other hand it is true that, in order to receive the full blessed
effects of trust into our characters and lives, we must persistently
and doggedly keep on in the attitude of confidence. If a man holds out
to God a tremulous hand with a shaking cup in it, which Le sometimes
presents and sometimes twitches back, it is not to be expected that God
will pour the treasure of His grace into such a vessel, with the risk
of most of it being spilt upon the ground. There must be a steadfast
waiting if there is to be a continual flow.

It is the mind that cleaves to God which God keeps. I suppose that
there was floating before Paul's thoughts some remembrance of this
great passage of the evangelical prophet when he uttered his words,
which ring so strikingly with so many echoes of them, when he said,
'The peace of God which passeth understanding shall keep your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus.' It is the steadfast mind that is kept in
perfect peace. If we 'keep ourselves,' by that divine help which is
always waiting to be given,' in the' faith and 'love of God,' He will
keep us in the hour of temptation, will keep us from falling, and will
garrison our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And then, still further, this faithful, steadfast heart and mind, kept
by God, is a mind filled with deepest peace. There is something very
beautiful in the prophet's abandoning the attempt to find any adjective
of quality which adequately characterises the peace of which he has
been speaking. He falls back upon the expedient which is the confession
of the impotence of human speech worthily to portray its subject when
he simply says, 'Thou shalt keep in peace, peace ... because he
trusteth in Thee.' The reduplication expresses the depth, the
completeness of the tranquillity which flows into the heart, Such
continuity, wave after wave, or rather ripple after ripple, is possible
even for us. For, dear brethren, the possession of this deep, unbroken
peace does not depend on the absence of conflict, on distraction,
trouble, or sorrow, but on the presence of God. If we are in touch with
Him, then our troubled days may be calm, and beneath all the surface
tumult there may be a centre of rest. The garrison in some high
hill-fortress looks down upon the open where the enemy's ranks are
crawling like insects across the grass, and scarcely hears the noise of
the tumult, and no arrow can reach the lofty hold. So, up in God we may
dwell at rest whate'er betide. Strange that we should prefer to live
down amongst the unwalled villages, which every spoiler can harry and
burn, when we might climb, and by the might and the magic of trust in
the Lord bring round about ourselves a wall of fire which shall consume
the poison out of the evil, even whilst it permits the sorrow to do its
beneficent work upon us!

III. Note again the worthiness of the divine Name to evoke, and the
power of the divine character to reward, the trust.

We pass to the last words of _my_ text:--'In the Lord Jehovah is
everlasting strength.'

Now I suppose we all know that the words feebly rendered in the
Authorised Version 'everlasting strength' are literally 'the Rock of
Ages'; and that this verse is the source of that hallowed figure which,
by one of the greatest of our English hymns, is made familiar and
immortal to all English-speaking people.

But there is another peculiarity about the words on which I dwell for a
moment, and that is, that here we have, for one of the only two times
in which the expression occurs in Scripture, the great name of Jehovah
reduplicated. 'In Jab Jehovah is the Rock of Ages.' In the former verse
the prophet had given up in despair the attempt to characterise the
peace which God gave, and fallen back upon the expedient of naming it
twice over. In this verse, with similar eloquence of reticence, he
abandons the attempt to describe or characterise that great Name, and
in adoration, contents himself with twice taking it upon his lips, in
order to _impress_ what he cannot _express_, the majesty and the
sufficiency of that name.

What, then, is the force of that name? We do not need, I suppose, to do
more than simply remind you that there are two great thoughts
communicated by that self-revelation of God which lies in it.
_Jehovah_, in its literal grammatical signification, puts emphasis upon
the absolute, underived, and therefore unlimited, unconditioned,
unchangeable, eternal being of God. 'I AM THAT I AM.' Men and creatures
are what they are made, are what they become, and some time or other
cease to be what they were. But God is what He is, and is because He
is. He is the Source, the Motive, the Law, the Sustenance of His own
Being; and changeless and eternal He is for ever. In that name is the
Rock of Ages.

That mighty name, by its place in the history of Revelation, conveys to
us still further thoughts, for it is the name of the God who entered
into covenant with His ancient people, and remains bound by His
covenant to bless us. That Is to say, He hath not left us in darkness
as to the methods and purpose of His dealings with us, or as to the
attitude of His heart towards us. He has bound Himself by solemn words,
and by deeds as revealing as words. So we can reckon on God. To use a
vulgarism which is stripped of its vulgarity if employed reverently, as
I would do it--we know where to have Him. He has given us the elements
to calculate His orbit; and we are sure that the calculation will come
right. So, because the name flashes upon men the thought of an absolute
Being, eternal, and all-sufficient, and self-modified, and changeless,
and because it reveals to us the very inmost heart of the mystery, and
makes it possible for us to forecast the movements of this great Sun of
our heavens, therefore in the name '_Jab Jehovah_ is the Bock of Ages.'

The metaphor needs no expansion. We understand that it conveys the idea
of unchangeable defence. As the cliffs tower above the river that
swirls at their base, and takes centuries to eat the faintest line upon
their shining surface, so the changeless God rises above the stream of
time, of which the brief breakers are human lives, 'sparkling,
bursting, borne away.' They who fasten themselves to that Rock are safe
in its unchangeable strength, God the Unchangeable is the amulet
against any change, that is not growth, in the lives of those who trust
Him. Some of us may recall some great precipice rising above the
foliage, which stands to-day as it did when we were boys, unwasted in
its silent strength, while generations of leaves have opened and
withered at its base, and we have passed from childhood to age. Thus,
unaffected by the transiency that changes all beneath, God rises, the
Bock of Ages in whom we may trust. 'The conies are a feeble folk, but
they make their houses in the rocks.' So our weakness may house itself
there and be at rest.

IV. Lastly, note the summons to trust.

We know not whose voice it is that is heard in the last words of my
text, but we know to whose ears it is addressed. It is to all. 'Trust
ye in the Lord for ever.'

Surely, surely the blessed effects of trust, of which we have been
speaking, have a voice of merciful invitation summoning us to exercise
it. The promise of peace appeals to the deepest, though often neglected
and misunderstood, longings of the human heart. Inly we sigh for that
repose.' O dear brethren, if it is true that into our agitated and
struggling lives there may steal, and in them there may abide, this
priceless blessing of a great tranquillity, surely nothing else should
be needed to woo us to accept the conditions and put forth the trust.
It is strange that we should turn away, as we are all tempted to do,
from that rest in God, and try to find repose in what was only meant
for stimulus, and is altogether incapable of imparting rest. Storms
live in the lower regions of the atmosphere; get up higher and there is
peace. Waves dash and break on the surface region of the ocean; get
down deeper, nearer the heart of things, and again there is peace.

Surely the name of the Bock of Ages is an invitation to us to put our
trust in Him. If a man knew God as He is, he could not choose but trust
Him. It is because we have blackened His face with our own doubts, and
darkened His character with the mists that rise from our own sinful
hearts, that we have made that bright Sun in the heavens, which ought
to fall upon our hearts with healing in its beams, into a lurid ball of
fire that shines threatening through the dim obscurity of our misty
hearts. But if we knew Him we should love Him, and if we would only
listen to His own self-revelation, we should find that He draws us to
Himself by the manifestation of Himself, as the sun binds all the
planets to his mass and his flame by the eradiation of his own mystic
energies.

The summons is a summons to a faith corresponding to that upon which it
is built. 'Trust ye in the Lora for ever, for in the Lord is the
strength that endures for ever.' Our continual faith is the only fit
response to His unchanging faithfulness. Build rock upon rock.

The summons is a summons addressed to us all. 'Trust ye'--whoever ye
are--'in the Lord for ever.' You and I, dear friends, hear the summons
in a yet more beseeching and tender voice than was audible to the
prophet, for our faith has a nobler object, and may have a mightier
operation, seeing that its object is 'the Lamb of God that taketh away
the sin of the world'; and its operation, to bring to us peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ. When from the Cross there comes to all
our hearts the merciful invitation, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and thou shalt be saved,' why should not we each answer,

  'Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
  Let me hide myself in Thee'?



THE GRASP THAT BRINGS PEACE

'Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me; yea,
let him make peace with Me.'--ISAIAH xxvii. 5.


Lyrical emotion makes the prophet's language obscure by reason of its
swift transitions from one mood of feeling to another. But the main
drift here is discernible. God is guarding Israel, His vineyard, and
before Him its foes are weak as 'thorns and briers,' whose end is to be
burned. With daring anthropomorphism, the prophet puts into God's mouth
a longing for the enemies to measure their strength against His, a
warrior's eagerness for the fight. But at once this martial tone gives
place to the tender invitation of the text, and the infinite divine
willingness to be reconciled to the enemy speaks wooingly and offers
conditions of peace. All this has universal application to our
relations to God.

I. The Hostility.

That our relations with God are 'strained,' and that men are 'enemies
of God,' is often repelled as exaggeration, if not as directly false.
And, no doubt, the Scripture representation has often been so handled
as to become caricature rather than portraiture. Scripture does not
deny the lingering presence in men of goodness, partial and defective,
nor does it assert that conscious antagonism to God is active in
godless men. But it does assert that 'God is not in all their
thoughts,' and that their wills are 'not subject to the law of God.'
And in such a case as man's relations to God, indifference and
forgetfulness cannot but rest upon divergence of will and contrast of
character. Why do men 'not like to retain God in their knowledge, 'but
because they feel that the thought of Him would spoil the feast, like
the skeleton in the banqueting chamber? Beneath the apparent
indifference lie opposition of will, meeting God's 'Thou shalt' with
man's 'I will not'; opposition of moral nature, impurity shrinking from
perfect purity; opposition of affection, the warmth of human love being
diverted to other objects than God.

II. The entreating Love that is not turned aside by hostility.

The antagonism is wholly on man's part.

True, man's opposition necessarily turns certain sides of the divine
character to present a hostile front to him. Not only God's physical
attributes, if we may so call them, but the moral attributes which
guide the energies of these, namely, His holiness and His
righteousness, and the acts of His sovereignty which flow from these,
must be in opposition to the man who has set himself in opposition to
God. 'The face of the Lord is against them that do evil.' If it were
not, He would not be God.

But still, God's love enfolds all men in its close and tender clasp. As
the context says, in close connection with the threat to burn the
briers and thorns, 'Fury is not in Me.' Man's hostility does not rouse
God's. He wars against the sin because He still loves the sinner. His
love 'must come with a rod,' but, at the same time, it comes 'with the
spirit of meekness.' It gives its enemy all that it can; but it cannot
give all that it would.

He stoops to sue for our amity. It is the creditor who exhausts
beseechings on His debtor, so much does He wish to 'agree with His
adversary quickly.' The tender pleading of the Apostle was but a faint
echo of the marvellous condescension of God, when he, 'in God's stead,
besought: 'Be ye reconciled to God.'

III. The grasp which ends alienation.

The word for 'strength' here means a stronghold or fortified place,
which serves as an asylum or refuge. There may be some mingling of an
allusion to the fugitive's taking hold of the horns of the altar, and
so being safe from the vengeance of his pursuers. If we may take this
double metaphor as implied in the text, it vividly illustrates the
essence of the faith which brings us into peace with God. That faith is
the flight of the soul to God, and, in another aspect, it is the
clinging of the soul to Him. How much more these two metaphors tell of
the real nature of faith than many a theological treatise! They speak
of the urgency of the peril from which it seeks deliverance. A fugitive
with the hot breath of the avenger of blood panting behind him, and
almost feeling the spear-point in his back, would not let the grass
grow under his feet. They speak of the energetic clutch of faith, as
that of the man gripping the horns of the altar. They suggest that
faith is something much more vital than intellectual assent or
credence, namely, an act of the whole man realising his need and
casting himself on God.

And they set in clear light what is the connection between faith and
salvation. It is not the hand that grasps the altar that secures
safety, but the altar itself. It is not the flight to the fortress, but
the massive walls themselves, which keeps those who hunt after the
fugitive at bay. It is not my faith, but the God on whom my faith
fastens, that brings peace to my conscience.

IV. The peace that this grasp brings.

In Christ God has 'put away all His wrath, and turned Himself from the
fierceness of His anger.' And He was in Christ, reconciling the world
to Himself. It is a one-sided warfare that men wage with Him, and when
we abandon our opposition to Him, the war is ended. We might say that
God, clasped by faith and trusted in and loved, is the asylum from God
opposed and feared. His moral nature must be against evil, but faith
unites us to Jesus, and, by union with Him, we receive the germ of a
nature which has no affinity with evil, and which God wholly delights
in and loves. To those who live by the life, and growingly bear the
image of His Son, the divine Nature turns a face all bright and
favouring, and His moral and physical attributes are all enlisted on
their side. The fortress looks grim to outsiders gazing up at its
strong walls and frowning battlements, but to dwellers within, these
give security, and in its inmost centre is a garden, with flowers and a
springing fountain, whither the noise of fighting never penetrates. We
have but to cease to be against Him, and to grasp the facts of His love
as revealed in the Cross of Christ, the sacrifice who taketh away the
sin of the world, and we are at peace with God. Being at peace with
Him, the discords of our natures warring against themselves are attuned
into harmony, and we are at peace within. And when God and we are at
one, and we are at one with ourselves, then all things will be on our
side, and will work together for good. To such a man the ancient
promise will be fulfilled: 'Thou shalt be in league with the stones of
the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.'



THE JUDGMENT OF DRUNKARDS AND MOCKERS

'Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious
beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of
them that are overcome with wine! 2. Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and
strong one, which, as a tempest of hail, and a destroying storm, as a
flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with
the hand. 3. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be
trodden under feet: 4. And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of
the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before
the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet
in his hand he eateth it up. 5. In that day shall the Lord of hosts be
for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of
His people. 6. And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in
judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate. 7.
But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out
of the way: the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink,
they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong
drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8. For all tables
are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. 9.
Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand
doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the
breasts. 10. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept;
line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: 11.
For with stammering lips, and another tongue, will He speak to this
people. 12. To whom He said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause
the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
13. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept,
precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little,
and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be
broken, and snared, and taken.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 1-13.


This prophecy probably falls in the first years of Hezekiah, when
Samaria still stood, and the storm of war was gathering black in the
north. The portion included in the text predicts the fall of Samaria
(verses 1-6) and then turns to Judah, which is guilty of the same sins
as the northern capital, and adds to them mockery of the prophet's
message. Isaiah speaks with fiery indignation and sharp sarcasm. His
words are aflame with loathing of the moral corruption of both
kingdoms, and he fastens on the one common vice of drunkenness--not as
if it were the only sin, but because it shows in the grossest form the
rottenness underlying the apparent beauty.

I. The woe on Samaria (verses 1-6). Travellers are unanimous in their
raptures over the fertility and beauty of the valley in which Samaria
stood, perched on its sunny, fruitful hill, amid its vineyards. The
situation of the city naturally suggests the figure which regards it as
a sparkling coronet or flowery wreath, twined round the brows of the
hill; and that poetical metaphor is the more natural, since revellers
were wont to twist garlands in their hair, when they reclined at their
orgies. The city is 'the crown of pride'--that is, the object of
boasting and foolish confidence--and is also 'the fading flower of his
sparkling ornament'; that is, the flower which is the ornament of
Ephraim, but is destined to fade.

The picture of the city passes into that of the drunken debauch, where
the chief men of Samaria sprawl, 'smitten down' by wine, and with the
innocent flowers on their hot temples drooping in the fumes of the
feast. But bright and sunny as the valley is, glittering in the light
as the city sits on her hill, careless and confident as the revellers
are, a black cloud lies on the horizon, and one of the terrible sudden
storms which such lands know comes driving up the valley. 'The Lord
hath a mighty and strong one'--the conqueror from the north, who is
God's instrument, though he knows it not.

The swift, sudden, irresistible onslaught of the Assyrian is described,
in harmony with the figure of the flowery coronal, as a tempest which
beats down the flowers and flings the sodden crown to the ground. The
word rendered 'tempest' is graphic, meaning literally a 'downpour.'
First comes hail, which batters the flowers to shreds; then the effect
of the storm is described as 'destruction,' and then the hurrying words
turn back to paint the downpour of rain, 'mighty' from its force in
falling, and 'overflowing' from its abundance, which soon sets all the
fields swimming with flood water. What chance has a poor twist of
flowers in such a storm? Its beauty will be marred, and all the petals
beaten off, and nothing remains but that it should be trampled into
mud. The rush of the prophet's denunciation is swift and irresistible
as the assault it describes, and it flashes from one metaphor to
another without pause. The fertility of the valley of Samaria shapes
the figures. As the picture of the flowery chaplet, so that which
follows of the early fig, is full of local colour. A fig in June is a
delicacy, which is sure to be plucked and eaten as soon as seen. Such a
dainty, desirable morsel will Samaria be, as sweet and as little
satisfying to the all-devouring hunger of the Assyrian.

But storms sweep the air clear, and everything will not go down before
this one. The flower fadeth, but there is a chaplet of beauty which men
may wreathe round their heads, which shall bloom for ever. All sensuous
enjoyment has its limits in time, as well as in nobleness and
exquisiteness; but when it is all done with, the beauty and festal
ornament which truly crowns humanity shall smell sweet and blossom. The
prophecy had regard simply to the issue of the historical disaster to
which it pointed, and it meant that, after the storm of Assyrian
conquest, there would still be, for the servants of God, the residue of
the people, both in Israel and in Judah, a fuller possession of the
blessings which descend on the men who make God their portion. But the
principle involved is for ever true. The sweeping away of the
perishable does draw true hearts nearer to God.

So the two halves of this prophecy give us eternal truths as to the
certain destruction awaiting the joys of sense, and the permanence of
the beauty and strength which belong to those who take God for their
portion.

Drunkenness seems to have been a national sin in Israel; for Micah
rebukes it as vehemently as Isaiah, and it is a clear bit of Christian
duty in England to-day to 'set the trumpet to thy mouth and show the
people' this sin. But the lessons of the prophecy are wider than the
specific form of evil denounced. All setting of affection and seeking
of satisfaction in that which, in all the pride of its beauty, is 'a
fading flower,' is madness and sin. Into every life thus turned to the
perishable will come the crash of the destroying storm, the mutterings
of which might reach the ears of the feasters, if they were not drunk
with the fumes of their deceiving delights. Only one kind of life has
its roots in that which abides, and is safe from tempest and change.
Amaranthine flowers bloom only in heaven, and must be brought thence,
if they are to garland earthly foreheads. If we take God for ours, then
whatever tempests may howl, and whatever fragile though fragrant joys
may be swept away, we shall find in Him all that the world 'fails to
give to its votaries. He is 'a crown of glory' and 'a diadem of
beauty.' Our humanity is never so fair as when it is made beautiful by
the possession of Him. All that sense vainly seeks in earth, faith
finds in God. Not only beauty, but 'a spirit of judgment,' in its
narrower sense and in its widest, is breathed into those to whom God is
'the master light of all their seeing'; and, yet more, He is strength
to all who have to fight. Thus the close union of trustful souls with
God, the actual inspiration of these, and the perfecting of their
nature from communion with God, are taught us in the great words, which
tell how beauty, justice, and strength are all given in the gift of
Jehovah Himself to His people.

II. The prophet turns to Judah (vs. 7-13), and charges them with the
same disgusting debauchery. His language is vehement in its loathing,
and describes the filthy orgies of those who should have been the
guides of the people with almost painful realism. Note how the words
'reel' and 'stagger' are repeated, and also the words 'wine' and
'strong drink.' We see the priests' and prophets' unsteady gait, and
then they 'stumble' or fall. There they lie amid the filth, like hogs
in a sty. It is very coarse language, but fine words are the Devil's
veils for coarse sins; and it is needful sometimes to call spades
spades, and not to be ashamed to tell men plainly how ugly are the
vices which they are not ashamed to commit. No doubt some of the
drunken priests and false prophets in Jerusalem thought Isaiah
extremely vulgar and indelicate, in talking about staggering teachers
and tables swimming in 'vomit.' But he had to speak out. So deep was
the corruption that the officials were tipsy even when engaged in their
official duties, the prophets reeled while they were seeing visions;
the judges could not sit upright even when pronouncing judgment.

Verses 9 and 10 are generally taken as a sarcastic quotation of the
drunkards' scoffs at the prophet. They might be put in inverted commas.
Their meaning is, 'Does he take us grave and reverend seigniors,
priests and prophets, to be babies just weaned, that he pesters us with
these monotonous petty preachings, fit only for the nursery, which he
calls his "message"?' In verse 10, the original for 'precept upon
precept,' etc., is a series of short words, which may be taken as
reproducing the 'babbling tones of the drunken mockers.'

The loose livers of all generations talk in the same fashion about the
stern morality which rebukes their vice. They call it weak,
commonplace, fit for children, and they pretend that they despise it.
They are much too enlightened for such antiquated teaching. Old women
and children may take it in, but men of the world, who have seen life,
and know what is what, are not to be fooled so. 'What will this babbler
say?' was asked by the wise men of Athens, who were but repeating the
scoffs of the prophets and priests of Jerusalem, and the same jeers are
bitter in the mouth of many a profligate man to-day. It is the fate of
all strict morality to be accounted childish by the people whom it
inconveniently condemns.

In verse 11 and onwards the prophet speaks. He catches up the mockers'
words, and retorts them. They have scoffed at his message as if it were
stammering speech. They shall hear another kind of stammerers when the
fierce invaders' harsh and unintelligible language commands them. The
reason why these foreign voices would have authority, was the national
disregard of God's voice. 'Ye would not hear' Him when, by His prophet,
He spoke gracious invitations to rest, and to give the nation rest, in
obedience and trust. Therefore they shall hear the battle-cry of the
conqueror, and have to obey orders spoken in a barbarous tongue.

Of course, the language meant is the Assyrian, which, though cognate
with Hebrew, is so unlike as to be unintelligible to the people. But is
not the threat the statement of a great truth always being fulfilled
towards the disobedient? If we will not listen to that loving Voice
which calls us to rest, we shall be forced to listen to the harsh and
strident tones of conquering enemies who command us to slavish toil. If
we will not be guided by His eye and voice, we shall be governed by
whip and bridle. Our choice is either to hearken to the divine call,
which is loving and gentle, and invites to deep repose springing from
faith, or to have to hear the voice of the taskmasters. The monotony of
despised moral and religious teaching shall give place to a more
terrible monotony, even that of continuous judgments.

'The mills of God grind slowly.' Bit by bit, with gradual steps, with
dismal persistence, like the slow drops on the rock, the judgments of
God trickle out on the mocking heart. It takes a long time for a child
to learn a pageful when he gets his lesson a sentence at a time. So
slowly do His chastisements fall on men who have despised the
continuous messages of His love. The word of the Lord, which was
laughed at when it clothed itself in a prophet's speech, will be heard
in more formidable shape, when it is wrapped in the long-drawn-out
miseries of years of bondage. The warning is as needful for us as for
these drunken priests and scornful rulers. The principle embodied is
true in this day as it was then, and we too have to choose between
serving God in gladness, hearkening to the voice of His word, and so
finding rest to our souls, and serving the world, the flesh, and the
devil, and so experiencing the perpetual dropping of the fiery rain of
His judgments.



A CROWN OP PRIDE OR A CROWN OF GLORY

'The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under
feet; 4. And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat
valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the
summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in
his hand he eateth it up. 5. In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for
a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his
people.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 3-5.


The reference is probably to Samaria as a chief city of Israel. The
image is suggested by the situation of Samaria, high on a hill-side,
crowning the valley, and by the rich vegetation and bright flowers
which makes it even now one of the few lovely scenes in Palestine; and
by the luxurious riot and sensual excess that were always
characteristic of the northern kingdom.

The destruction of Samaria and of the kingdom, then, is here
prophesied--the garland will fade, the hail will batter all its
drooping flowerets, and it shall be trodden under foot. Look at that
withered wreath that gleamed yesterday on some fair head, to-day flung
into the ashpit or kicked about the street. That is a modern rendering
of the prophet's imagery. But the reference goes further than merely to
the city: the whole state of the nation is expressed by the symbol, as
doomed to quick decay, fading in itself, and further smitten down by
divine judgments.

There is a contrasted picture, that of 'the residue of the people' to
whom there is an amaranthine crown, a festal diadem glorious and
beautiful, which can never fade, even God Himself. To them who love Him
He is an ornament, and His presence is the consecration of the true
joyful feast. They who are crowned by Him are crowned, not for idle
revelry, but for strenuous toil ('sit in judgment') and for brave
purpose ('turn the battle to the gate,') and their coronation day is
ever the day when earthly garlands are withered, whether it be the
crises and convulsions of nations and institutions, or times of
personal trial, or 'in the hour of death or in the day of judgment.'

Expanding then these thoughts, we have--

I. All godless joys are but fading chaplets.

Of course the first application of such words is to purely sensuous
delights.

Men who seek to make life a mere revel and banquet.

Nothing is so short-lived as gratification of appetite. It is not
merely that each act lasts but for a moment, but also that past
gratifications leave no sort of solace to the appetite behind them;
whereas past acquirements or deeds of goodness are a perpetual joy as
well as the foundation of the present. There is something essentially
isolated in each act of sensuous delight. No man can by so willing
recall the taste of eaten food, nor slake his thirst by remembrance of
former draughts, or cool himself by thinking of 'frosty Caucasus.' But
each such gratification is done when it is done, and there is an end of
its power to gratify.

Further, the power of enjoyment wanes, though the lust for it waxes.
Hence each act has less and less power of satisfying.

One sees _blase_ young men of twenty-five. It was a man of under
thirty-five who wrote, 'Man delights not me, no, nor woman neither.' It
was a used-up _roue_ that was represented as saying, 'Vanity of
vanities, all is vanity.' It was of sensuous 'pleasures' that poor
Burns wrote,--

                   'Like the snowfall in the river,
                    A moment white,--then melts for ever.'

When a people is given over to such excess, late or soon the fate of
Samaria comes upon them. Think of the French Revolution or of the fall
of Rome, and learn that the prophet was announcing a law for all
nations, in his fiery denunciation, and one which holds good to-day as
ever.

But we may generalise more widely. Every godless life is essentially
transitory; of course, all life is so in one view. But suppose two men,
working side by side at the same occupation, passing through the same
circumstances. So far as physical changes go, these men are the same.
Both lose much. Both leave behind much. Both cease to be interested in
much that was dear to them. Both die at last, and leave it all. Is
there any difference? The transitoriness is the same, and the eternal
consequences are eternal alike in both; and yet there is a very solemn
sense in which the one man's life has utterly perished, and the other's
abides. Suppose a man, educated to be a first-rate man of business,
dies. Which of his trained faculties will he have scope for in that new
order of things? Or a student, or a lawyer, or a statesman?

Oh, it is not our natural mortality that makes these thoughts so awful;
but it is the thought that the man who is doing these things is
immortal. The head which wears the fading wreath will live for ever.
'What will ye do in the end?'

II. Godly life brings unfading joys.

Communion with God yields abiding joys. The law of change remains the
same. The law of death remains the same. But the motives which direct
and impel the godly man are beyond the reach of change.

The habits which he contracts are for heaven as well as for earth. The
treasures which he amasses will always be his.

His life in its essence and his work are one in all worlds. What a
grand continuity, then, knits into one a godly life whether it is lived
on earth or in heaven!

Communion with God gives beauty and ornament to the whole character. It
brings the true refining and perfecting of the soul. No doubt many
Christian men, as we see them, are but poor specimens of this effect of
godliness; still, it is an effect produced in proportion to the depth
and continuity of their communion. We might dwell on the effect on
Will, Affections, Understanding, produced by dwelling in God. It is
simple fact that the highest conceivable type of beauty is only reached
through communion with God.

Communion with God gives power as well as gladness. The life of abiding
with God is also one of strenuous effort and real warfare. In the
context it is promised that God will be for strength to them that turn
the battle to the gate.

The luxurious life of self-indulgence ends, as all selfish life must
do, in the vanishing of delights. The life of joy in God issues, as all
true joy does, in power for work and in power for conflict.

'God doth anoint thee with His odorous oil, to wrestle, not to reign.'

III. There will be a coronation day.

'In that day,' the day when 'the crown of pride shall be trodden under
foot,' the people of God are crowned with the diadem of beauty which is
God Himself. That twofold work of that one day suggests--

The double aspect of trials and sorrows.

The double aspect of death.

The double aspect of final Judgment.

'Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the
Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.'

To be crowned or discrowned 'in that day' is the alternative set before
each of us. Which of the two do we choose?



MAN'S CROWN AND GOD'S

'In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a
diadem of beauty.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 5.

'Thou shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord.'--ISAIAH
lxii 3.


Connection of first prophecy--destruction of Samaria. Its situation,
crowning the hill with its walls and towers, its fertile 'fat valley,'
the flagrant immorality and drunkenness of its inhabitants, and its
final ruin, are all presented in the highly imaginative picture of its
fall as being like the trampling under foot of a garland on a
reveller's head, the roses of which fade and droop amid the fumes of
the banqueting hall, and are then flung out on the highway. The
contrast presented is very striking and beautiful. When all that gross
and tumultuous beauty has faded and died, then God Himself will be a
crown of beauty to His people.

The second text comes into remarkable line with this. The verbal
resemblance is not quite so strong in the original. The words for
_diadem_ and _crown_ are not the same; the word rendered _glory_ in the
second text is rendered _beauty_ in the first, but the two texts are
entirely one in meaning. The same metaphor, then, is used with
reference to what God is to the Church and what the Church is to God.
He is its crown, it is His.

I. The Possession of God is the Coronation of Man.

(a) Crowns were worn by guests at feasts. They who possess God sit at a
table perpetually spread with all which the soul can wish or want.
Contrast the perishable delights of sense and godless life with the
calm and immortal joys of communion with God; 'a crown that fadeth not
away' beside withered garlands.

(b) Crowns were worn by kings. They who serve God are thereby invested
with rule over selves, over circumstances, over all externals. He alone
gives completeness to self-control.

(c) Crowns were worn by priests. The highest honour and dignity of
man's nature is thereby reached. To have God is like a beam of sunshine
on a garden, which brings out the colours of all the flowers; contrast
with the same garden in the grey monotony of a cloudy twilight.

II. The Coronation of Man in God is the Coronation of God in Man.

That includes the following thoughts.

The true glory of God is in the communication of Himself. What a
wonderful light that throws on divine character! It is equivalent to
'God is Love.'

He who is glorified by God glorifies God, as showing the most wonderful
working of His power in making such a man out of such material, by an
alchemy that can convert base metal into fine gold; as showing the most
wonderful condescension of His love in taking to His heart man, into
whose flesh the rotting leprosy of sin has eaten.

Such a man will glorify God by becoming a conscious herald of His
praise. He who has God in his heart will magnify Him by lip and life.
Redeemed men are 'secretaries of His praise' to men, and 'to
principalities and powers in heavenly places is made known by the
Church the manifold wisdom of God.'

He who thus glorifies God is held in God's hand.

'None shall pluck them out of My Father's hand.'

All this will be perfected in heaven. Redeemed men lead the universal
chorus that thunders forth 'glory to Him that sitteth on the throne.'

'He shall come to be glorified in His saints.'

'Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.'



THE FOUNDATION OF GOD

'Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a
foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure
foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 16.


'Therefore thus saith the Lord.' Then these great words are God's
answer to something. And that something is the scornful defiance by the
rulers of Israel of the prophet's threatenings. By their deeds, whether
by their words or no, they said that they had made friends of their
enemies, and that so they were sure that, whatsoever came, they were
safe. To this contemptuous and false reliance God answers, not as we
might expect, first of all, by a repetition of the threatenings, but by
a majestic disclosure of the sure refuge which He has provided, set in
contrast to the flimsy and false ones, on which these men built their
truculent confidence; 'I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone.' And
then, after the exhibition of the great mercy which has been evoked by
the very blasphemy of the rulers, and not till then, does He reiterate
the threatenings of judgment, against which this foundation is laid,
that men may escape; God first declares the refuge, and then warns of
the tempest.

Without entering at all upon the question, which for all believing and
simple souls is settled by the New Testament, of the Messianic
application of the words before us, I take it for granted. There may no
doubt be an allusion here to the great solid blocks which travellers
tell us may still be seen at the base of the encircling walls of the
Temple hill. A stone so gigantic and so firm God has laid for man to
build upon.

I. Note, then, first, the foundation, which is Christ.

There are many aspects of the great thought on which I cannot touch
even for a moment. For instance, let me remind you how, in a very deep
sense, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the whole of the divine
dealings with us; and how, in another aspect, historically, since the
day on which He appeared on earth, He has more and more manifestly and
completely been the foundation of the whole history of the world. But
passing these aspects, let us rather fix upon those which are more
immediately in the prophet's mind.

Jesus Christ is the foundation laid for all men's security against
every tempest or assault. The context has portrayed the coming of a
tremendous storm and inundation, in view of which this foundation is
laid. The building reared on it then is, therefore, to be a refuge and
an asylum. Have not we all of us, like these scornful men in Jerusalem,
built our refuges on vain hopes, on creatural affections, on earthly
possessions, on this, that, and the other false thing, all of which are
to be swept away when the storm comes? And does there not come upon us
all the blast of the ordinary calamities to which flesh is heir, and
have we not all more or less consciousness of our own evil and
sinfulness; and does there not lie before every one of us at the end of
life that solemn last struggle, and beyond that, as we most of us
believe, a judgment for all that we have done in the body? 'I lay in
Zion for a foundation a stone.' Build upon that, and neither the
tempest of earthly calamities, changes, disappointments, sorrows,
losses, nor the scourge that is wielded because of our sins, nor the
last wild tempest that sweeps a man on the wings of its strong blast
from out of life into the dark region, nor the solemn final retribution
and judgment, shall ever touch us. And when the hail sweeps away the
refuge of lies, and the waters overflow the hiding-place, this
foundation stands sure--

  And lo! from sin and grief and shame
  I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name.

Brethren, the one foundation on which building, we can build secure,
and safe as well as secure, is that foundation which is laid in the
incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God. The
foundation of all our security is Jesus Christ.

We may look at the same thought under somewhat different aspects. He is
the foundation for all our thinking and opinions, for all our belief
and our knowledge. 'In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge,' and whatsoever of solid fact men can grasp in their
thinkings in regard to all the most important facts and truths with
which they come into relation, is to be found in the life and death of
Jesus Christ, and in the truths which these reveal. He is the
foundation of all our knowledge of God, and of all our true knowledge
of ourselves, of all our true knowledge of duty, and all our true
knowledge of the relations between the present and the future, between
man and God.

And in His life, in the history of His death and resurrection, is the
only foundation for any real knowledge of the awful mysteries that lie
beyond the grave. He is the Alpha from whom all truth must be deduced,
the Omega to which it all leads up. Certitude is in Him. Apart from Him
we are but groping amid peradventures. If we _know_ anything about God
it is due to Jesus Christ. If we _know_ anything about ourselves it is
due to Him. If we _know_ anything about what men ought to do, it is
because He has done all human duty. And if, into the mist and darkness
that wraps the future, there has ever travelled one clear beam of
insight, it is because He has died and risen again. If we have Him, and
ponder upon the principles that are involved in, and flow from, the
facts of His life and death, then we know; and 'the truth as it is in
Jesus' is the truth indeed. To possess Him is to hold the key to all
mysteries, and knowledge without Him is but knowledge of the husk, the
kernel being all unreached. That Stone is the foundation on which the
whole stately fabric of man's knowledge of the highest things must ever
be reared.

He is the foundation of all restful love. A Czar of Russia, in the old
days, was mad enough to build a great palace upon the ice-blocks of the
Neva. And when the spring came, and the foundations melted, the house,
full of delights and luxury, sank beneath the river. We build upon
frozen water, and when the thaw comes, what we build sinks and is lost
to sight. Instead of love that twines round the creature and trails,
bleeding and bruised, along the ground when the prop is taken away, let
us turn our hearts to the warm, close, pure, perfect changeless love of
the undying Christ, and we shall build above the fear of change. The
dove's nest in the pine-tree falls in ruin when the axe is laid to the
root. Let us build our nests in the clefts of the rock and no hand will
ever reach them. Christ is the foundation on which we may build an
immortal love.

He is the foundation for all noble and pure living. He is the fixed
pattern to which it may be conformed. Otherwise man's notions of what
is virtuous and good are much at the mercy of conventional variations
of opinion. This class, that community, this generation, that school,
all differ in their notions of what is true nobleness and goodness of
life. And we are left at the mercy of fluctuating standards unless we
take Christ in His recorded life as the one realised ideal of manhood,
the pattern of what we ought to be. We cannot find a fixed and
available model for conduct anywhere so useful, so complete, so capable
of application to all varieties of human life and disposition as we
find in Him, who was not this man or that man, in whom the manly and
the feminine, the gentle and the strong, the public and the private
graces were equally developed. In Christ there is no limitation or
taint. In Christ there is nothing narrow or belonging to a school. This
water has no taste of any of the rocks through which it flowed. You
cannot say of Jesus Christ that He is a Jew or a Gentile, that He is
man or woman, that He is of the ancient age or the modern type, that He
is cut after this pattern or that. All beauty and all grace are in Him,
and every man finds there the example that he needs. So, as the perfect
pattern, He is the foundation for all noble character.

As the one sufficient motive for holy and beauteous living, He is the
foundation. 'If ye love Me, keep My commandments.' That is a new thing
in the world's morality, and that one motive, and that motive alone,
has power, as the spring sunshine has, to draw beauty from out the
little sheaths of green, and to tempt the radiance of the flowers to
unfold their lustre. They that find the reason and the motive for
goodness and purity in Christ's love to them, and their answering love
to Christ, will build a far fairer fabric of a life than any others,
let them toil at the building as they may. So, dear brethren, on this
foundation God has built His mercy to all generations, and on this
foundation you and I may build our safety, our love, our thinkings, our
obedience, and rest secure.

II. Note next the tried preciousness of the foundation.

The language of the text, 'a stone of proof,' as it reads in the
original, probably means a stone which has been tested and stood the
trial. And because it is thus a tested stone, it therefore is a
precious stone. There are two kinds of testing--the testing from the
assaults of enemies, and the testing by the building upon it of
friends. And both these methods of proof have been applied, and it has
stood the test.

Think of all the assaults that have been made from this side and the
other against Christ and His gospel, and what has become of them all?
Travellers tell us how they often see some wandering tribes of savage
Arabs trying to move the great stones, for instance, of Baalbec--those
wonders of unfinished architecture. But what can a crowd of such
people, with all their crowbars and levers, do to the great stone
bedded there, where it has been for centuries? They cannot stir it one
hair's-breadth. And so, against Jesus Christ and His gospel there has
stormed for eighteen hundred years an assaulting crowd, varying in its
individuals and in its methods of attack, but the same in its purpose,
and the same in the fruitlessness of its effort. Century after century
they have said, as they are saying to-day, '_Now_ the final assault is
going to be delivered; it can never stand _this_.' And when the smoke
has cleared away there may be a little blackening upon the edge, but
there is not a chip off its bulk, and it stands in its bed where it
did; and of all the grand preparations for a shattering explosion,
nothing is left but a sulphurous smell, and a wreath of smoke, and both
are floating away down into the distance. Generation after generation
has attacked the gospel; generation after generation has been foiled;
and I do not need to be a prophet, or the son of a prophet, to be quite
sure of this, that all who to-day are trying to destroy men's faith in
the Incarnate Son of God, who died for them and rose again, will meet
the same fate. I can see the ancient and discredited systems of
unbelief, that have gone down into oblivion, rising from their seats,
as the prophet in his great vision saw the kings of the earth, to greet
the last comer who had fought against God and failed, with 'Art thou
also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?' The stone will
stand, whosoever tries to blow it up with his dynamite, or to pound it
with his hammers.

But there is the other kind of testing. One proves the foundation by
building upon it. If the stone be soft, if it be slender, if it be
imperfectly bedded, it will crumble, it will shift, it will sink. But
this stone has borne all the weight that the world has laid upon it,
and borne it up. Did any man ever come to Jesus Christ with a sorrow
that He could not comfort, with a sin that He could not forgive, with a
soul that He could not save? And we may trust Him to the end. He is a
'tried stone.' 'This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved
him out of all his troubles,' has been the experience of nineteen
centuries.

So, being tried, it is precious,--precious to God who laid it there at
a great and real cost to Himself--having given up 'His only begotten
Son'; precious, inasmuch as building upon it is the one safety from the
raging tempest and flood that would else engulf and destroy us.

III. Note, next, the process of building.

The metaphor seems to be abandoned in the last words of our text, but
it is only apparently so. 'He that believeth shall not make haste.' So,
then, we build by believing. The act of building is simple faith in
Jesus Christ. We _come_ to Him, as the Apostle Peter has it in his
quotation of this text--come to Him as unto a living stone, and the
coming and the building are both of them metaphors for the one simple
thing, trust in the Lord. The bond that unites men on earth with Christ
in Heaven, is the exercise of simple faith in Him. By it they come into
contact with Him, and receive from Him the security and the blessing
that He can bestow. Nothing else brings a man into living fellowship
with Him. When we trust in the Lord we, as it were, are bedded into
Him; and resting upon Him with all our weight, then we are safe. That
confidence involves the abandonment of all the 'refuges of lies.' There
must be utter self-distrust and forsaking and turning away from every
dependence upon anything else, if we are to trust ourselves to Jesus
Christ. But the figure of a foundation which gives security and
stability to the stones laid upon it, does not exhaust all the
blessedness of this building upon Christ. For when we really rest upon
Him, there comes from the foundation up through all the courses a vital
power. Thus Peter puts it: 'To whom, coming as unto a living stone, ye
also as living stones are built up.' We might illustrate this by the
supposition of some fortress perched upon a rock, and in the heart of
the rock a clear fountain, which is guided by some pipe or other into
the innermost rooms of the citadel. Thus, builded upon Christ, 'our
defence shall be the munitions of rocks, and our waters shall be sure.'
From Him, the foundation, there will rise into all the stones, built
upon Him, the power of His own endless life, and they, too, become
living stones.

IV. So note, lastly, the quiet confidence of the builders.

'He that believeth shall not _make haste._' The word is somewhat
obscure, and the LXX., which is followed by the New Testament, readers
it, 'Shall not be confounded or put to shame.' But the rendering of our
text seems to be accurate enough. 'He shall not make haste.' Remember
the picture of the context--a suddenly descending storm, a swiftly
rising and turbid flood, the lashing of the rain, the howling of the
wind. The men in the clay-built hovels on the flat have to take to
flight to some higher ground above the reach of the innundation, on
some sheltered rock out of the flashing of the rain and the force of
the tempest. He who is built upon the true foundation knows that his
house is above the water-level, and he does not need to be in a hurry.
He can remain quietly there till the flood subsides, knowing that it
will not rise high enough to drown or even disturb him. When all the
other buildings are gone, his stands. And he that thus dwells on high
may look out over the wild flood, washing and weltering to the horizon,
and feel that he is safe. So shall he not have to make haste, but may
wait calm and quiet, knowing that all is well.

Dear friends, there is only one refuge for any of us--only one from the
little annoyances and from the great ones; from to-day's petty
troubles, and from the day of judgment; from the slight stings, if I
may so say, of little sorrows, cares, burdens, and from the poisoned
dart of the great serpent. There is only one refuge for any of us, to
build upon Jesus Christ, as we can do by simple faith.

And oh! remember, He must either be the foundation on which we build,
or the stone of stumbling against which we stumble, and which one day
will fall upon us and grind us to powder. Do you make your choice; and
when God says, as He says to each of us: 'Behold! I lay in Zion a
foundation,' do you say, 'And, Lord, I build upon the foundation which
Thou hast laid.'



GOD'S STRANGE WORK

'That He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act,
His strange act.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 21.


How the great events of one generation fall dead to another! There is
something very pathetic in the oblivion that swallows up
world-resounding deeds. Here the prophet selects two instances which to
him are solemn and singular examples of divine judgment, and we have
difficulty in finding out to what he refers. To him they seemed the
most luminous illustrations he could find of the principle which he is
proclaiming, and to us all the light is burned out of them. They are
the darkest portion of the verse. Several different events have been
suggested. But most probably the historical references here are to
David's slaughter of the Philistines (2 Sam. v., and I Chron. xiv.).
This is probable, but by no means certain. If so, the words are made
still more threatening by asserting that He will treat the Israelites
as if they were Philistines. But the point on which we should
concentrate attention is this remarkable expression, according to which
judgment is God's strange work. And that is made more emphatic by the
use of a word translated 'act,' which means service, and is almost
always used for work that is hard and heavy--a toil or a task.

I. The work in which God delights.

It is here implied that the opposite kind of activity is congenial to
Him. The text declares judgment to be an anomaly, out of His ordinary
course of action and foreign to His nature.

We may pause for a moment on that great thought that God has a usual
course of action, which is usual because it is the spontaneous
expression and true mirror of His character. What He thus does shows
that character to His creatures, who cannot see Him but in the glass of
His works, and have to infer His nature, as they best may, from His
works. The Bible begins with His nature and thence interprets His work.

The work in which God delights is the utterance of His love in blessing.

The very essence of love is self-manifestation.

The very being of God is love, and all being delights in its own
self-manifestation, in its own activity.

How great the thought is that He is glad when we let Him satisfy His
nature by making us glad!

The ordinary course of His government in the world is blessing.

II. The Task in which He does not delight, or His Strange Work.

The consequences of sin are God's work. The miseries consequent on sin
are self-inflicted, but they are also God's judgments on sin. We may
say that sin automatically works out its results, but its results
follow by the will of God on account of sin.

That work is a necessity arising from the nature of God. It is foreign
to His heart but not to His nature. God is both 'the light of Israel'
for blessing, and 'a consuming fire.' The two opposite effects are
equally the result of the contact of God and man. Light pains a
diseased eye and gladdens a sound one. The sun seen through a mist
becomes like a ball of red-hot iron. The whole revelation of God
becomes a pain to an unloving soul.

But God's very love compels Him to punish.

Some modern notions of the love of God seem to strike out righteousness
from His nature altogether, and substitute for it a mere good nature
which is weakness, not love, and is cruelty, not kindness.

There is nothing in the facts of the world or in the teachings of the
gospel which countenances the notion of a God whose fondness prevents
Him from scourging.

What do you call it when a father spares the rod and spoils the child?

Even this world is a very serious place for a man who sets himself
against its laws. Its punishments come down surely and not always
slowly. There is nothing in it to encourage the idea of impunity.

That work is to Him an Unwelcome Necessity. Bold words. 'I have no
pleasure in the death of a sinner.' 'He doth not willingly inflict.'
The awful power of sin to divert the current of blessing. Christ's
tears over Jerusalem. How unwelcome that work is to them is shown by
the slowness of His judgments, by multiplied warnings. 'Rising up
early,' He tells men that He will smite, in order that He may never
need to smite.

That work is a certainty. However reluctantly He smites, the blow
_will_ fall.

III. The Strange Work of Redemption.

The mightiest miracle. The revelation of God's deepest nature. The
wonder of the universe.



THE HUSBANDMAN AND HIS OPERATIONS

'Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. 24. Doth
the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of
his ground! 25. When lie hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not
cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the
principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
26. For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
27. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument,
neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches
are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. 28. Bread corn
is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with
the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. 29. This also
cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and
excellent in working.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 23-29.


The prophet has been foretelling a destruction which he calls God's
_strange_ act. The Jews were incredulous, 'scornful men.' They did not
believe him; and the main reason for their incredulity was that a
divine destruction of the nation was so opposite to the divine
conservation of it as to amount to an impossibility. God had raised up
and watched over the people. He had planted it in the mountain of His
inheritance, and now was it going to be thrown down by the same hand
which had built it up? Impossible.

The prophet's answer to that question is this parable of the
husbandman, who has to perform a great variety of operations. He
ploughs, but that is not all. He lays aside the plough when it has done
its work, and takes up the seed-basket, and, in different ways, sows
different seeds, scattering some broadcast, and dropping others
carefully, grain by grain, into their place--'dibbling' it in, as we
should say. But seedtime too, passes, and then he cuts down what he had
so carefully sown, and pulls up what he had so sedulously planted, and,
in different ways, breaks and bruises the grain. Is he inconsistent
because he ploughs in winter and reaps in harvest? Does his carrying
the seed-basket at one time make it impossible that he shall come with
flail and threshing-oxen at another? Are not all the various operations
co-operant to one end? Does not the end need them all? Is not one
purpose going steadily forward through ploughing, sowing, reaping,
threshing? Is not that like the work of the great Husbandman, who
changes His methods and preserves His plan through them all, who has
His 'time to sow' and His 'time to reap,' and who orders the affairs of
men and kingdoms, for the one purpose that He may gather His wheat into
His garner, and purge from it its chaff?

This parable sets forth a philosophy of the divine operations very
beautiful and true, and none the less impressive for the simple garb in
which it is clothed.

I. All things come from one steady, divine purpose.

We may notice in passing how reverentially the prophet believes that
agriculture is taught by God. He would have said the same of
cotton-spinning or coal-mining. Think how striking a figure that is, of
all the world as God's farm, where He practises His husbandry to grow
the crops which He desires.

What a picture the parable gives of sedulous and patient labour for a
far-off result!

It insists on the thought of one steady divine purpose ever directing
the movements of the divine hand.

That is the negation of the godless theory that the affairs of men are
merely the work of men, or are merely the result of impersonal causes.
The world is not a jungle where any or every plant springs of itself,
but it is cultivated ground which has an Owner who looks after it.

It is the affirmation that God's action is regulated by a purpose which
is intelligent, unchanging, all-embracing to us because revealed.

II. That steady purpose is man's highest good.

The end of all the farmer's care is the ripening of the seed. God's
purpose is our moral, intellectual, and spiritual perfecting.

Neither His own 'glory' nor man's 'happiness,' which are taken by
different schools of thought to be the divine aim in creation and
providence, is an object worthy of Him or adequate to explain the facts
of every man's experience, unless both are regarded as needing man's
perfecting, for their attainment. God's glory is to make men godlike.
Man's happiness cannot be secured without His holiness.

God has larger and nobler designs for us than merely to make us happy.

'This is the will of God concerning you, even your sanctification.'

Nothing short of that end would be worthy of God, or would explain His
methods.

III. That purpose needs great variety of processes.

This is true about nations and about individuals.

Different stages of growth need different treatment.

The parable names three operations:--

Ploughing, which is preparation;

Sowing, or casting in germinating principles;

Threshing, which is effected by tribulation, a word which means driving
a 'tribulum' or threshing-sedge over ears of grain.

So sorrow is indispensable for our perfecting.

By it earthly affections are winnowed away, and our dependence on God
increased. A certain refinement of spirit results, like the pallor on
the face of a chronic invalid, which has a delicate beauty unattainted
by ruddy health. A capacity for sympathy, too, is often the result of
one's own trials. Rightly borne, they tend to bend or break the will,
and they teach how great it is to suffer and be strong.

But sorrow is not enough; joy is indispensable too. The crop is
threshed in tribulation, but is grown mostly in sunshine. Calm,
uneventful hours, continuous possession of blessings, have a ministry
not less than afflictions have. The corn in the furrow, waving in the
western wind, and with golden sunlight among its golden stems, is
preparing for the loaf no less than when bound in bundles and lying on
the threshing-floor, or cut and bruised by sharp teeth of dray or heavy
hoofs of oxen, or blows of swinging flails.

So do not suppose that sorrow is the only instrument for perfecting
character, and see that you do not miss the sanctifying and ripening
effect of your joyous hours.

Again, different types of character require different modes of
treatment. In the parable, 'the fitches' are sown in one fashion, and
'the cummin' in another the 'wheat' and 'barley' in still another; and
similar variety marks the methods of separating the grain from the
husk, one kind of crop being threshed another having a wheel turned
upon it. Thus each of us gets the kind of joys and pains that will have
most effect on us. God knows where is the tenderest spot, and makes no
mistakes in His dealing. He sends us 'afflictions sorted, sorrows of
all sizes.'

Let us see that we trust to His loving and wise adaptation of our
trials to our temperaments and needs. Let us see that we never let
clouds obscure the clearness of our perception, or, failing perception,
the serenity of our trust, that all things work together, and all work
for our highest good--our being made like our Lord. We should less
often complain of the mysteries of Providence if we had learned the
meaning of Isaiah's parable.

IV. All the processes end in garnering the grain.

There is a barn or storehouse for the ripened and threshed crops. The
farmer's toil and careful processes would be absurd and unintelligible
if, after them all, the crop, so sedulously ripened and cultivated and
cleansed, was left to rot where it fell. And no less certainly does the
discipline of this life cry aloud for heaven and a conscious personal
future life, if it is not to be all set down as grim irony or utterly
absurd. There must be a heaven if we are not to be put to intellectual
bewilderment.

What was needed for growth here drops away there, as blossoms fall when
their work is done. Sunshine and rain are no more necessary when the
fields are cleared and the barn-yard is filled. Much in our nature, in
our earthly condition, in God's varying processes, will drop away. When
school-time is done the rod is burned. But nothing will perish that can
contribute to our perfecting.

So let us ask Him to purge us with His fan in His hand now, lest we
should be found at last fruitless cumberers of the ground or chaff
which is rootless, and fit only to be swept out of the threshing-floor.



'QUIETNESS AND CONFIDENCE'

'In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence
shall be your strength.'--ISAIAH xxx. 15.


ISRAEL always felt the difficulty of sustaining itself on the height of
dependence on the unseen, spiritual power of God, and was ever
oscillating between alliances with the Northern and Southern powers,
linking itself with Assyria against Egypt, or with Egypt against
Assyria. The effect was that whichever was victorious it suffered; it
was the battleground for both, it was the prize of each in turn. The
prophet's warnings were political wisdom as truly as religious.

Here Judah is exhorted to forsake the entangling dependence on Egypt,
and to trust wholly to God. They had gone away from Him in their fears.
They must come back by their faith. To them the great lesson was trust
in God. Through them to us the same lesson is read. The principle is
far wider than this one case. It is the one rule of life for us all.

The two clauses of the text convey substantially the same idea. They
are in inverted parallelism. 'Returning and rest' correspond to
'quietness and confidence,' so as that 'rest' answers to 'quietness'
and 'returning' to 'confidence.' In the former clause we have the
action towards God and then its consequence. In the latter we have the
consequence and then the action.

I. The returning.

Men depart from God by speculative thought or by anxious care, or by
sin.

To 'return' is just to trust.

The parallel helps us here--'returning' is parallel with 'confidence.'
This confidence is to be exercised especially in relation to one's own
path in life and the outward trials and difficulties which we meet, but
its sphere extends far beyond these. It is a disposition of mind which
covers all things. The attitude of trust, the sense of dependence, the
assurance of God's help and love are in all life the secrets of peace
and power.

Am I sinful? then trust. Am I bewildered and ignorant? then trust. Am I
anxious and harassed? then trust.

Note the thought, that we come back to God by simple confidence, not by
preparing ourselves, not by our expiation, but only by trusting in Him.

Of course the temptations to the opposite attitude are many and great.

Note, too, that every want of confidence is a departure from God. We go
away from Him not only by open sin, not only by denial of Him, but by
forget-fulness, by want of faith.

The _ground_ of this confidence is laid in our knowledge of Him,
especially in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The _exercise_ of this confidence is treated as voluntary. Every man is
responsible for his faith.

The _elements_ of this confidence are, as regards ourselves, our sense
of want in all its various aspects; and, as regards Him, our assurance
of His love, of His nearness to help.

II. Confiding nearness to God brings quiet rest.

'Rest' and 'being quiet' are treated here partly as consequences of
faith, partly as duties which we are bound to strive to achieve.

1. See how confidence in God stills and quiets the soul.

The very exercise of communion with Him brings peace and rest, inasmuch
as all things are then possessed which we can desire. There is a still
fruition which nothing can equal and nothing destroy.

Trust in God brings rest from our own evil consciences.

It brings rest from our own plans and purposes.

Trust gives insight into the meaning of all this else unintelligible
world.

It brings the calming and subduing of desires, which in their eagerness
torture, in their fruition trouble, and in their disappointment madden.

It brings the gathering in of ourselves from all the disturbing
diffusion of ourselves through earthly trifles.

2. Notice what this rest is not.

It does not mean the absence of causes of disturbance.

It does not mean the abnegation of forethought.

It does not mean an indolent passiveness.

3. Notice the duty of being thus quiet and resting.

How much we fail in this respect.

We have faith, but there seems some obstruction which stops it from
flowing refreshingly through our lives.

We are bound to seek for its increased continuity and power in our
hearts and lives.

III. Confidence and rest in God bring safety and strength.

That is true in the lowest sense of 'saved,' and not less true in the
highest. The condition of all our salvation from temporal as well as
spiritual evils lies thus in the same thing--that we trust God.

No harm comes to us when we trust, because then God is with us, and
works for us, and cares for us. So all departments of life are bound
together by the one law. Trust is the condition of being 'saved.'

And not only so, but also trust is strength. God works _for_ us; yes,
but better than that, God works _in_ us and fits _us_ to work.

What powers we might be in the world! Trust should make us strong. To
have confidence in God should bring us power to which all other power
is as nothing. He who can feel that his foot is on the rock, how firm
he should stand!

Best gives strength. The rest of faith doubles our forces. To be freed
from anxious care makes a man much more likely to act vigorously and to
judge wisely.

Stillness of soul, born of communion with God, makes us strong.

Stillness of soul, born of deliverance from our fears, makes us strong.

Here then is a golden chain--or shall we rather say a live
wire?--whereof one end is bound to the Throne and the other encircles
our poor hearts. Trust, so shall we be at rest and safe. Being at rest
and safe, we shall be strong. If we link ourselves with God by faith,
God will flash into us His mysterious energy, and His strength will be
made perfect in our weakness.



GOD'S WAITING AND MAN'S

'And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you,
and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for
the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are they that wait for
Him.'--ISAIAH xxx. 18.


God's waiting and man's--bold and beautiful, that He and we should be
represented as sharing the same attitude.

I. God's waiting,

1. The first thought is--why should He wait--why does He not act at
once? Because something in us hinders. We cannot enter into spiritual
blessings till we are made capable of them by faith. It would not be
for our good to receive some temporal blessings till sorrow has done
its work on us. The great thought here is that God has a right time for
help. He is 'a God of judgment,' _i.e._. discerns our moral condition
and shapes His dealings thereby. He never gives the wrong medicine.

2. His waiting is full of work to fit us to receive His grace. It is
not a mere passive standing by, till the fit conditions are seen in us;
but He 'is exalted' while He waits, _i.e._. lifted up in the
manifestation of His might, and by His energy in preparing us for the
gifts that He has prepared for us. 'He that hath wrought us for the
self-same thing is God.' He who prepares a place for us is preparing us
for the place. He who has grace which He is ready to give us here, is
making us ready for His grace. The meaning of all God's work on us is
to form a character fit to possess His highest gifts.

3. His waiting is very patient. The divine husbandman 'waiteth for the
precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it.' How wonderful that
in a very real sense He attends on our pleasure, as it were, and lets
us determine His time to work.

4. That waiting is full of divine desire to help. It is not the waiting
of indifference, which says: 'If you will have it--well and good. If
not, it does not matter to Me.' But 'more than they that watch for the
morning,' God waits 'that He may be gracious unto you.'

II. Man's waiting.

Our attitude is to be in some real sense analogous to His.

Its main elements are firm anticipation, patient expectation, steadfast
desire, self-discipline to fit us for the influx of God's grace.

We are not to prescribe 'times and seasons which the Father hath put in
His own power.' The clock of Eternity ticks more slowly than our
short-pendulumed timepieces. 'If the vision tarry, wait for it.' We may
well wait for God when we know that He waits for us, and that, for the
most part, when He sees that we are waiting, He knows that His time is
come.

But it is to be noted that the waiting desire to which He responds is
directed to something better and greater than any gifts from Him, even
to Himself, for it is they who 'wait for _Him_,' not only for His
benefits apart from Himself, however precious these may be, who are
blessed.

The blessedness of such waiting, how it calms the heart, brings into
constant touch with God, detaches from the fever and the fret which
kill, opens our eyes to mark the meanings of our life's history, and
makes the divine gifts infinitely more precious when they do come.

After all, the time of waiting is at the longest very short. And when
the perfect fruition is come, and we enter into the great spaces of
Eternity, it will seem as an handbreadth.

  'Take it on trust a little while,
  Thou soon shalt read the mystery right
  In the full sunshine of His smile.'



THREE PICTURES OF ONE REALITY

'As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending
also He will deliver it; and passing over He will preserve it'--ISAIAH
xxxi. 5.


The immediate occasion of this very remarkable promise is, of course,
the peril in which Jerusalem was placed by Sennacherib's invasion; and
the fulfilment of the promise was the destruction of his army before
its gates. But the promise here, like all God's promises, is eternal in
substance, and applies to a community only because it applies to each
member of that community. Jerusalem was saved, and that meant that
every house in Jerusalem was saved, and every man in it the separate
object of the divine protection So that all the histories of Scripture,
and all the histories of men in the world, are but transitory
illustrations of perennial principles, and every atom of the
consolation and triumph of this verse comes to each of us, as truly as
it did to the men that with tremulous heart began to take cheer, as
they listened to Isaiah. There is a wonderful saying in one of the
other prophets which carries that lesson, where, bringing down the
story of Jacob's struggle with the angel of Peniel to the encouragement
of the existing generation, he says,' He spake to _us_.' They were
hundreds of years after the patriarch, and yet had fallen heirs to all
that God had ever said to him So, from that point of view, I am not
spiritualising, or forcing the meaning of these words, when I bring
them direct into the lives of each one of ourselves.

I. And, first, I would note the very striking and beautiful pictures
that are given in these verses.

There are three of them, on each of which I must touch briefly. 'As
birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem.' The form of
the words in the original shows that it is the mother-bird that is
thought about. And the picture rises at once of her fluttering over the
nest, where the callow chickens are, unable to fly and to help
themselves. It is a kind of echo of the grand metaphor in the song that
is attributed to Moses, which speaks of the eagle fluttering over her
nest, and taking care of her young. Jerusalem was as a nest on which,
for long centuries, that infinite divine love had brooded. It was but a
poor brood that had been hatched out, but yet 'as birds flying' He had
watched over the city. Can you not almost see the mother-bird, made
bold by maternal love, swooping down upon the intruder that sought to
rob the nest, and spreading her broad pinion over the callow fledglings
that lie below? That is what God does with us. As I said, it is a poor
brood that is hatched out. That does not matter; still the Love bends
down and helps. Nobody but a prophet could have ventured on such a
metaphor as that, and nobody but Jesus Christ would have ventured to
mend it and say, 'As a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,'
when there are hawks in the sky. So He, in all the past ages, was the
One that 'as birds flying ... defended' His people, and would have
gathered them under His wings, only they would not.

Now, beautiful as this metaphor is, as it stands, it seems to me, like
some brilliant piece of colouring, to derive additional beauty from its
connection with the background upon which it stands out. For just a
verse before the prophet has given another emblem of what God is and
does, and if you will carry with you all those thoughts of tenderness
and maternal care and solicitude, and then connect them with that
verse, I think the thought of His tenderness will start up into new
beauty. For here is what precedes the text: 'Like as a lion, and the
young lion roaring on his prey when a multitude of shepherds is called
forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor bow
himself for the noise of them. So shall the Lord of hosts come down to
fight for Mount Zion.' Look at these two pictures side by side, on the
one hand the lion, with his paw on his prey, and the angry growl that
answers when the shepherds vainly try to drag it away from him. That is
God. Ay! but that is only an aspect of God. 'As birds flying, so the
Lord will defend Jerusalem.' We have to take that into account too.
This generation is very fond of talking about God's love; does it
believe in God's wrath? It is very fond of speaking about the
gentleness of Jesus; has it pondered that tremendous phrase, 'the wrath
of the Lamb'? The lion that growls, and the mother-bird that
hovers--God is like them both. That is the first picture that is here.

The second one is not so obvious to English readers, but it is equally
striking, though I do not mean to dwell upon it. The word that is
translated in our text twice, 'defend' and 'defending'--'So will the
Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem, and defending will deliver'--means,
literally, 'shielding.' Thus we have the same general idea as that in
the previous metaphor of the mother-bird hovering above the nest: God
is like a shield held over us, and so flinging off front the broad and
burnished surface of the Almighty buckler, all the darts that any foe
can launch against as. 'Our God is a Sun and Shield.' I need not
enlarge on this familiar metaphor.

But the third picture I wish to point to in more detail: 'Passing over,
He will deliver.' Now, the word that is there rendered 'passing over,'
is almost a technical word in the Old Testament, because it is that
employed in reference to the Passover. And so you see the swiftness of
genius with which the prophet changes his whole scene. We had the nest
and the mother-bird, we had the battlefield and the shield; now we are
swept away back to that night when the Destroying Angel stalked through
the land, and 'passed over' the doors on which the blood had been
sprinkled. And thus this God, who in one aspect may be likened to the
mother-bird hovering with her little breast full of tenderness, and
made brave by maternal love conquering natural timidity, and in another
aspect may be likened to the broad shield behind which a man stands
safe, may also be likened to that Destroying Angel that went through
Egypt, and smote wherever there were not the tokens of the blood on the
lintels, and 'passed over' wherever there were. Of course, the original
fulfilment of this third picture is the historical case of the army of
Sennacherib; outside the walls, widespread desolation; inside the
walls, an untroubled night of peace. That night in Egypt is paralleled,
in the old Jewish hymn that is still sung at the Passover, with the
other night when Sennacherib's men were slain; and the parallel is
based on our text. So, then, here is another illustration of what I
started with saying, that the past events of Scripture are transient
expressions of perennial principles and tendencies. For the Passover
night was not to be to the contemporaries of the prophet an event
receding ever further into the dim distance, but it was a present
event, and to be reproduced in that catastrophe when 'in the morning
when they arose, they were all dead corpses.' And the event is being
repeated to-day, and will be for each of us, if we will.

So, then, there are these three pictures--the Nest and the Mother-bird,
the Battlefield and the Shield, Egypt and the Destroying Angel.

II. We note the reality meant by these pictures.

They mean the absolute promise from God of protection for His people
from _every_ evil. We are not to cut it down, not to say that it
applies absolutely in regard to the spiritual world, but that it does
not apply in regard to temporal things. Yes, it does entirely, only you
have to rise to the height of God's conception of what is good and what
is evil in regard to outward things, before you understand how
completely, and without qualification or deduction, this promise is
fulfilled to every man that puts his trust in Him. Of course, I do not
need to remind you, for your own lives will do so sufficiently, that
this hovering protector, this strong Shield, this Destroying Angel that
passes by our houses if the blood is on the threshold, does not
guarantee us any exemption from the common 'ills that flesh is heir
to.' We all know that well enough. But what does it guarantee? That all
the poison shall be wiped off the arrow, that all the evil shall be
taken out of the evil, that it will change its character, that if we
observe the conditions, the sharpest sorrow will come to us with this
written on it by the Father's hand, 'With My love to My child'; that
pain will be discipline, and discipline will be blessed. Ah! dear
friends! I am sure there are many of us that can set to our seals that
God is true in this matter, and that we have found that His rod does
blossom, and that our sorest sorrows have been our greatest mercies,
drawing us nearer to Him; 'Defending He will deliver, and passing over
He will preserve.'

III. And now let me remind you of the way by which we can make the
reality of these pictures ours.

You know that all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament are
conditional, and that there are many of them that were never fulfilled,
and were spoken in order that they might not be fulfilled, if only the
people took warning. I wish folk would carry a little more consciously
in their minds that principle in interpreting them all, and in asking
about their fulfilment. Not only in regard to these ancient events, but
in regard to our individual experience, God's promises and threatenings
are conditional.

Take that first metaphor of the hovering mother-bird. Listen to this
expansion of it in one of the psalms: 'He shall cover thee with His
feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.' The word for _trust_
here means to 'fly into a refuge.' Can you not see the picture? A
little brood round the parent bird, frightened by some beast of prey,
or hovering hawk in the sky, and fluttering under its wings, and all
safe and huddled together there close against the warm breast, and in
amongst the downy feathers. 'Under His wings shalt thou trust.' Put
thou thy trust in God, and God is to thee the hovering bird, the broad
shield, the Angel that 'passes over.'

Take the other picture of the Passover night. Only by our individual
faith in Jesus Christ as our individual Saviour can we put the blood on
our door-posts so that the Destroying Angel shall pass by. So, if we
would have the sweetness of such words as these fulfilled in our daily
lives, however disturbed and troubled and sorrowful and solitary they
may be, the first condition is that under His wings shall we flee for
refuge, and we do so by trust in Him.

But having thus fled thither, we must continue there, if we would
continue under His protection. Such continuance of safety because of
continuous faith is possible only by continued communion. Remember our
Lord's expansion of the metaphor in His lament: 'How often would I have
gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under
her wings, and ye would not.' We can resist the drawing. We can get
away from the shelter of the wing. We can lift up our wills against
Him. And what becomes of the chicken that does _not_ run to the
mother's pinions when the hawk is hovering? That is what becomes of the
man that stops outside the refuge in Christ, or that by failure of his
faith departs from that refuge. 'Ye would not; therefore your house is
left unto you desolate.' That house, in the Jerusalem which God
'defends,' is _not_ defended.

Another condition of divine protection is obedience. We need not expect
that God will take care of us, and preserve us, when we did not ask His
leave to get into the dangerous place that we find ourselves in. Many
of us do the converse of what the Apostle condemns, we begin 'in the
flesh,' and think we shall end 'in the Spirit'; which being translated
is, we do not ask God's leave to do certain things, to enter into
certain engagements or arrangements with other people, and the like,
and then we expect God to come and help us in or out of them. That is
by no means an uncommon form of delusion. You remember what Jesus
Christ said when the Devil tried to entice Him to do a thing of that
sort, by quoting Scripture to Him--'He shall give His angels charge
concerning Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways. Cast Thyself down. Trust
to the promise as a kind of parachute to keep Thee from falling bruised
on the stones of the Temple-court.' Christ's answer was: 'Thou shalt
not tempt the Lord thy God.' You will not get God's protection in ways
of your own choosing.

And so, brethren, 'all things work together for good to them that
love,' to them that trust, to them that keep close, to them that obey.
And for such the old faithful promise will be faithful and new once
more, 'Because He hath set His love upon Me, therefore will I deliver
Him'--that will be the summing up of our lives; 'and I will set Him on
high because He hath known My Name,' that will be the meaning of our
deaths.



THE LORD'S FURNACE

'The Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and His furnace in
Jerusalem.'--ISAIAH xxxi. 9.


This very remarkable characterisation of God stands here as a kind of
seal, set upon the preceding prophecy. It is the reason why that will
certainly be fulfilled. And what precedes is mainly a promise of a
deliverance for Israel, which was to be a destruction for Israel's
enemies. It is put in very graphic and remarkable metaphors: 'Like as a
lion roareth on his prey when a multitude of shepherds is called forth
against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself
for the noise of them: so shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight
for Mount Zion.' The enemies of Israel are picturesquely and poetically
represented as a crowd of shepherds vainly trying to scare a lion by
their shouts. He stands undaunted, with his strong paw on his prey, and
the boldest of them durst not venture to drag it from beneath his
claws. So, says Isaiah, with singularly daring imagery, God will put
all His strength into keeping fast hold of Israel, and no one can pluck
His people from His hands.

Then, with a sudden and striking change of metaphor, the prophet passes
from a picture of the extreme of fierceness to one of the extreme of
tenderness. 'As birds flying'--mother birds fluttering over their
nests--'so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem,' hovering over it
and going from side to side to defend with His broad pinions, 'passing
over, He will preserve it.' These figures are next translated into the
plain promise of utter discomfiture and destruction, panic and flight
as the portion of the enemies of Israel, and the whole has this broad
seal set to it, that He who promises is 'the Lord, whose fire is in
Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem.'

We shall not understand these great words if we regard them as only a
revelation of destructive and terrible power. They are that indeed, but
they are far more than that. It is the very beauty and completeness of
this emblem that has a double aspect, and is no less rich in joy and
blessing than pregnant with warning and terror. As Isaiah says in
another place, Jerusalem is 'Ariel,' which probably means 'the hearth
of God.' His presence in the city is as a fire for the comfort and
defence of the happy inhabitants, and at the same time for the
destruction of all evil and enemies. Far more truly than He dwelt in
the city of David does God dwell in the Church, and His presence is its
security. What, then, of instruction and hope may we gather from this
wonderful emblem?

I. In the Church, God is present as a great reservoir of fervid love.

Every language has taken fire as the symbol of love and emotion. We
speak so naturally of warm love, fervent feeling, glowing earnestness,
ardent enthusiasm and the like, that we are scarcely aware of using
figurative language. We do not usually ascribe emotion to God, but
surely the deepest and most sacred of the senses in which it is true
that fire is His emblem, is that He is love. His fire is in Zion. He
dwells in His Church, a storehouse of blazing love, heated seventy
times seven hotter than any creatural love, and pouring out its ardours
for the quickening and gladdening of all who walk in the light of that
fire, and thaw their coldness at its blaze.

Then, if so, how comes it that so many Christian Churches are
ice-houses instead of furnaces? How comes it that they who profess to
live in the Zion where this fire flames are themselves so cold? If
God's blazing furnace is in Jerusalem, it should send the thermometer
up in all the houses of the city. But what a strange contradiction it
is for men to be in God's Church, the very focus and centre of His
burning love, and themselves to be almost down below zero in their
temperature! The Christian Church ought to be all aflame in all its
members, with the fire of love kindled and alight from God Himself.
Every community of Christian people ought to radiate warmth and light
which it has absorbed from its present God. Our love ought to answer
His, and, being caught and kindled from that mighty fire, should throw
back to its source some of the heat received, in fervours of reflected
love, and should pour the rest beneficently on all around. Love to God
and love to man are regarded in Christian morals as beams of the same
fire, only travelling in different directions. But what a miserable
contrast to such an ideal the reality in so many of our churches is! A
fiery furnace with its doors hung with icicles is no greater a
contradiction and anomaly than a Christian Church or a single soul,
which professes to have been touched by the infinite loving kindness of
God, and yet lives as cold and unmoved as we do. The 'Lord's fire is in
Zion.' Are there any tokens of that fire amongst us, in our own hearts
and in our collective temperature as Christian Churches?

There is no religion worth calling so which has not warmth in it. We
hear a great deal from people against whom I do not wish to say a word,
about the danger of an 'emotional Christianity.' Agreed, if by that
they mean a Christianity which has no foundation for its emotion in
principle and intelligence; but not agreed if they mean to recommend a
Christianity which professes to accept truths that might kindle a soul
beneath the ribs of death and make the dumb sing, and yet is never
moved one hair's-breadth from its quiet phlegmaticism. There is no
religion without emotion. Of course it must be intelligent emotion,
built upon the acceptance of divine truth, and regulated and guided by
that, and so consolidated into principle, and it must be emotion which
works for its living, and impels to Christian conduct. These two
provisoes being attended to, then we can safely say that warmth is the
test of life, and the readings of the thermometer, which measure the
fervour, measure also the reality of our religion. A cold Christian is
a contradiction in terms. If the adjective is certainly applicable, I
am afraid the applicability of the noun is extremely doubtful. If there
is no fire, what is there? Cold is death.

We want no flimsy, transitory, noisy, ignorant, hysterical agitation.
Smoke is not fire. If the temperature were higher, and the fire more
wisely fed, there would not be any. But we do want a more obvious and
powerful effect of their solemn, glorious, and heart-melting beliefs on
the affections and emotions of professing Christians, and that they may
be more mightily moved by love, to all heroisms and service and
enthusiasms and to consecration which shall in some measure answer to
the glowing heart of that fire of God which flames in Zion.

II. God's revelation of Himself, and presence in His Church, are an
instrument of cleansing.

Fire purifies. In our great cities now there are 'disinfecting ovens,'
where infected articles are taken, and exposed to a high temperature
which kills the germs of disease, so that tainted things come out sweet
and clean. That is what God's furnace in Zion is meant to do for us.
The true way of purifying is by fire. To purify by water, as John the
Baptist saw and said, is but a poor, cold way of getting outward
cleanliness. Water cleanses the surface, and becomes dirty in the
process. Fire cleanses within and throughout, and is not tainted
thereby. You plunge some foul thing into the flame, and, as you look,
the specks and spots melt out of it. Raise the temperature, and you
kill the poison germs. That is the way that God cleanses His people;
not by external application, but by getting up the heat. The fire of
His love, the fire of His spirit, is, as St. Bernard says, a blessed
fire, which 'consumes indeed, but does not hurt; which sweetly burns
and blessedly lays waste, and so puts forth the force and fire against
our vices, as to display the operation of the anointing oil upon our
souls.' The Hebrew captives were flung into the fiery furnace. What did
it burn? Only their bonds. They themselves lived and rejoiced in the
intense heat. So, if we have any real possession of the divine flame,
it will burn off our wrists the bands and chains of our old vices, and
we shall stand pure and clean, emancipated by the fire which will
consume only our sins, and be for our true selves as our native home,
where we walk at liberty and expatiate in the genial warmth. That is
the blessed and effectual way of purifying, which slays only the death
that we carry about with us in our sin, and makes us the more truly
living for its death. Cleansing is only possible if we are immersed in
the Holy Ghost and in fire, as some piece of foul clay, plunged into
the furnace, has all the stains melted out of it. For all sinful souls
seeking after cleansing, and finding that the 'damned spot' will not
'out' for all their washing, it is surely good news and tidings of
great joy that the Lord has His fire in Zion, and that its purifying
power will burn out all their sin.

III. Further, there is suggested another thought: that God, in His
great revelation of Himself, by which He dwells in His Church, is a
power of transformation.

Fire turns all which it seizes into fire. 'Behold how much wood is
kindled by how small a fire' (R.V.). The heap of green wood with the
sap in it needs but a tiny light pushed into the middle, and soon it is
all ablaze, transformed into ruddy brightness, and leaping heavenwards.
However heavy, wet, and obstinate may be the fuel, the fire can change
it into aspiring and brilliant flame.

And so God, coming to us in His 'Spirit of burning,' turns us into His
own likeness, and makes us possessors of some spark of Himself.
Therefore it is a great promise, 'He shall baptize you in the Holy
Ghost, and in fire.' He shall plunge you into the life-giving furnace,
and so 'make His ministers like a flame of fire,' like the Lord whom
they serve. The seraphim who stand round the throne are 'burning'
spirits, and the purity which shines, the love which glows, the swift
life which flames in them, are all derived from that unkindled and
all-animating Fire who is their and our God. The transformation of all
the dwellers in Zion into miniature likenesses of this fire is the very
highest hope that springs from the solemn and blessed truth that the
Lord has His fire in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem.

IV. But, further, this figure teaches that the same divine fire may
become destructive.

The emblem of fire suggests a double operation, and the very felicity
of it as an emblem is that it has these two sides, and with equal
naturalness may stand for a power which quickens, and for one which
destroys. The difference in the effects springs not from differences in
the cause, but in the objects with which the fire plays. The same God
is the fire of life, the fire of love, of purifying and transformation
and glad energy to whosoever will put his trust in Him, and a fire of
destruction and anger unto whosoever resists Him. The alternative
stands before every soul of man, to be quickened by fire or consumed by
it. We may make the furnace of God our blessedness and the reservoir of
a far more joyful and noble life than ever we could have lived in our
coldness; or we may make it terror and destruction. There lie the two
possibilities before every one of us. We cannot stand apart from Him;
we have relations with Him, whether we will or no; He is something to
us. He is, and must be for all, a flaming fire. We can settle whether
it shall be a fire which is life-giving unto life, or a fire which is
death-giving unto death.

Here are two buildings: the one the life of the man that lives apart
from God, and therefore has built only with wood, hay, and stubble; the
other the life of the man that lives with God and for Him, and so has
built with gold, silver, and precious stones. The day and the fire
come; and the fates of these two are opposite effects of the same
cause. The licking tongues surround the wretched hut, built of
combustibles, and up go wood and hay and stubble, in a smoking flare,
and disappear. The flames play round the gold and silver and precious
stones, and every leap of their light is answered by some facet of the
gems that flash in their brilliancy, and give back the radiance.

You can settle which of these two is to be your fate. 'The Lord's fire
is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem.' To those who, by faith in
that dear Lord who came to cast fire on earth,' have opened their
hearts, to the entrance of that searching, cleansing flame, and who
therefore burn with kindred and answering fervours, it is joy to know
that their 'God is a consuming fire,' for therein lies their hope of
daily purifying and ultimate assimilation. To those, on the other hand,
who have closed their hearts to the warmth of His redeeming love in
Christ, and the quickening of His baptism by fire, what can the
knowledge be but terror, what can contact with God in judgment be but
destruction? 'The day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the
proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be as stubble, and the day
that cometh shall burn them up.' What will that day do for you?



THE HIDING-PLACE

'And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from
the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a
great rock in a weary land.'--ISAIAH xxxii. 2.


We may well say, Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Here are distinctly
attributed to one of ourselves, if we take the words in their
simplicity and fulness, functions and powers which universal experience
has taught us not to look for in humanity. And there have been a great
many attempts--as it seems to me, altogether futile and baseless
ones--to break the force of these words as a distinct prophecy of Jesus
Christ. Surely the language is far too wide to have application to any
real or ideal Jewish monarch, except one whose kingdom is an
everlasting kingdom? Surely the experience of a hundred centuries might
teach men that there is _one_ man, and one alone, who is the refuge
from all dangers, the fruition of all desires, the rest and refreshment
in all toils.

And I, for my part, have no hesitation in saying that the only
reference of these words which gives full value to their wealth of
blessing, is to regard them as a prophecy of _the_ man--Christ Jesus;
hiding in whom we are safe, 'coming' to whom we 'never thirst,' guarded
and blest by whom no weariness can befall us, and dwelling in whom this
weary world shall be full of refreshment and peace!

I do not need to point out the exquisite beauty of the imagery or the
pathos and peace that breathe in the majestic rhythm of the words.
There is something more than poetical beauty or rhetorical
amplification of a single thought in those three clauses. The
'hiding-place' and 'covert' refer to one class of wants; the 'rivers of
water in a dry place' to yet another; and 'the shadow of a great rock
in a weary land' to yet a third. And, though they are tinged and dyed
in Eastern imagery, the realities of life in Western lands, and in all
ages, give them a deeper beauty than that of lovely imagery, and are
the true keys to understanding their meaning. We shall, perhaps, best
grasp the whole depth of that meaning according to the Messianic
reference which we give to the text, if we consider the sad and solemn
conception of man's life that underlies it; the enigmatical and
obstinate hope which it holds out in the teeth of all experience--'A
_man_ shall be a refuge'; and the solution of the riddle in the man
Christ Jesus.

I. First, there underlies this prophecy a very sad but a very true
conception of human life.

The three classes of promises have correlative with them three phases
of man's condition, three diverse aspects of his need and misery. The
'covert' and the 'hiding-place' imply tempest, storm, and danger; the
'river of water' implies drought and thirst; 'the shadow of a great
rock' implies lassitude and languor, fatigue and weariness. The view of
life that arises from the combination of these three bears upon its
front the signature of truth in the very fact that it is a sad view.

For, I suppose, notwithstanding all that we may say concerning the
beauty and the blessedness scattered broadcast round about us;
notwithstanding that we believe, and hold as for our lives the happy
'faith that all which we behold is full of blessing,' it needs but a
very short experience of this life, and but a superficial examination
of our own histories and our own hearts, in order to come to the
conclusion that the world is full of strange and terrible sadness, that
every life has dark tracts and long stretches of sombre tint, and that
no representation is true to fact which dips its pencil only in light
and flings no shadows on the canvas. There is no depth in a Chinese
picture, because there is no shade. It is the wrinkles and marks of
tear and wear that make the expression in a _man's_ portrait. 'Life's
sternest painter "is" its best.' The gloomy thoughts which are charged
against Scripture are the true thoughts about man and the world as man
has made it. Not, indeed, that life needs to be so, but that by reason
of our own evil and departure from God there have come in as a
disturbing element the retributive consequences of our own godlessness,
and these have made danger where else were safety, thirst where else
were rivers of water, and weariness and lassitude where else were
strength and bounding hope.

So then, look for a moment at these three points that come out of my
text, in order to lay the foundation for subsequent considerations.

We live a life defenceless and exposed to many a storm and tempest. I
need but remind you of the adverse circumstances--the wild winds that
go sweeping across the flat level, the biting blasts that come down
from the snow-clad mountains of destiny that lie round the low plain
upon which we live. I need but remind you of the dangers that are
lodged for our spiritual life in the temptations to evil that are round
us. I need but remind you of that creeping and clinging consciousness
of being exposed to a divinely commissioned retribution and punishment,
which perverts the Name that ought to be the basis of all our
blessedness into a Name unwelcome and terrible, because threatening
judgment. I need but remind you how men's sins have made it needful
that when the mighty God, even the Lord, appears before them, 'it shall
be very tempestuous round about him.' Men fear and ought to fear 'the
blast of the breath of His nostrils,' which must burn up all that is
evil. And I need but remind you of that last wild wind of Death that
whirls the sin-faded leaves into dark corners where they lie and rot.

My brother, you have not lived thus long without learning how
defenceless you are against the storm of adverse circumstances. You
have not lived thus long without learning that though, blessed be God!
there do come in all our lives long periods of halcyon rest, when
'birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave,' and the heavens above
are clear as sapphire, and the sea around is transparent as opal--yet
the little cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, may rise on the horizon,
and may thicken and blacken and grow greater and nearer till all the
sky is dark, and burst in lightning and rain and fierceness of wind,
till 'through the torn sail the wild tempest is streaming,' and the
white crests of the waves are like the mane of Death's pale horse
leaping upon the broken ship. We have all learnt in how profound a
sense, by reason of outward adverse circumstances and inward
temptations, by reason of the fears of a Justice which we know is
throned at the centre of the creation, by reason of a death which to us
is a terror, and by reason of that universal fear of 'after death the
judgment,' storm and tempest swoop upon our paths. God made the
sunshine, and we have made it a storm. God made life blessed and full
of safety and peace, and we have wrenched ourselves from Him and stand
defenceless amidst its dangers.

Then, there is another aspect and conception of life which underlies
these words of my text. The image of the desert was before the
prophet's rapt vision. He saw the sand whirled into mad dancing columns
before the blast which swept across the unsheltered flat, with nothing,
for a day's march, to check its force. But the wilderness is not only
shelterless, it is waterless too--a place in which wild and ravening
thirst finds no refreshing draughts, and the tongue cleaves to the
blackening gums.

'Rivers of water in a dry place'; and what is the prose fact of that?
That you and I live in the midst of a world which has no correspondence
with, nor power of satisfying, our truest and deepest selves--that we
bear about with us a whole set of longings and needs and weaknesses and
strengths and capacities, all of which, like the climbing tendrils of
some creeping plant, go feeling and putting out their green fingers to
lay hold of some prop and stay--that man is so made that for his rest
and blessedness he must have an external object round which his spirit
may cling, on which his desires may fasten and rest, by which his heart
may be blessed, which shall be authority for his will, peace for his
fears, sprinkling and cleansing for his conscience, light for his
understanding, shall be in complete correspondence with his inward
nature--be water for his thirst, and bread for his hunger.

And as thus, on the very nature which each of us carries, there is
stamped the signature of dependence, and the necessity of finding an
external object on which to rest; and as, further, men will not be
tutored even by their own miseries or by the voice of their own wants,
and ever confound their wishes with their wants and their whims with
their needs, therefore it comes to pass that the appetite which was
only meant to direct us to God, and to be as a wholesome hunger in
order to secure our partaking with relish and delight of the divine
food that is provided for it, becomes unsatisfied, a torture, and
unslaked, a ravening madness; and men's needs become men's misery; and
men's hunger becomes men's famine; and men's thirst becomes men's
death. We do dwell in a dry land where no water is.

All about us there are these creatures of God, bright and blessed and
beautiful, fit for their functions and meant to minister to our
gladness. They are meant to be held in subordination. It is not meant
that we should find in them the food for our souls. Wealth and honour
and wisdom and love and gratified ambition and successful purpose, and
whatsoever other good things a man may gather about him and achieve--he
may have them all, and yet in spite of them all there will be a great
aching, longing vacuity in his soul. His true and inmost being will be
groping through the darkness, like a plant growing in a cellar, for the
light which alone can tinge its pale petals and swell its shrivelling
blossoms to ripeness and fruit.

A dry place, as well as a dangerous place--have not you found it so? I
believe that every soul of man has, if he will be honest with himself,
and that there is not one among us who would not, if he were to look
into the deepest facts and real governing experience of his life,
confess--I thirst: 'my soul thirsteth.' And oh, brethren, why not go on
with the quotation, and make that which is else a pain, a condition of
blessedness? Why not recognise the meaning of all this restless
disquiet, and say 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God'?

And then there is the other idea also underlying these words, yet
another phase of this sad life of ours--not only danger and drought,
but also weariness and languor. The desert stretches before us again,
where there is no shelter from the blast and no trickling stream amid
the yellowing sand; where the fierce ball above beats down cruelly, and
its hot rays are flung up cruelly into our faces, and the glare blinds
us, and the stifling heat wearies us, and work is a torture and motion
is misery, and we long for nothing so much as to be quiet and to hide
our heads in some shade.

I was reading recently one of our last books of travel in the
wilderness of the Exodus, in which the writer told how, after toiling
for hours under a scorching sun, over the hot, white, marly flat,
seeing nothing but a beetle or two on the way, and finding no shelter
anywhere from the pitiless beating of the sunshine, the weary
travellers came at last to a little Retem bush only a few feet high,
and flung themselves down and tried to hide, at least, their heads,
from those 'sunbeams like swords,' even beneath its ragged shade. And
my text tells of a great rock, with blue dimness in its shadow, with
haply a fern or two in the moist places of its crevices, where there is
rest, and a man can lie down and be cool, while all outside is burning
sun, and burning sand, and dancing mirage.

Oh! the weariness felt by us all, of plod, plod, plodding across the
sand! That fatal monotony into which every man's life stiffens, as far
as outward circumstances, outward joys and pleasures go! the depressing
influence of custom which takes the edge off all gladness and adds a
burden to every duty! the weariness of all that tugging up the hill, of
all that collar-work which we have to do! Who is there that has not his
mood, and that by no means the least worthy and man-like of his moods,
wherein he feels not, perhaps, that all is vanity, but--'how infinitely
wearisome it all is.'

And so every race of man that ever has lived has managed out of two
miseries to make a kind of shadowy gladness; and, knowing the weariness
of life and the blackness of death, has somewhat lightened the latter
by throwing upon it the thought of the former, and has said, 'Well, at
any rate, if the grave be narrow and dark, and if outside "the warm
precincts of the cheerful day" there be that ambiguous night, at least
it is the place for sleep; and, if we cannot be sure of anything more,
we shall rest then, at any rate.' So the hope of 'long disquiet merged
in rest' becomes almost bright, and man's weariness finds most pathetic
expression in his thinking of the grave as a bed where he can stretch
himself and be still. Life is hard, life is dry, life is dangerous.

II. But another thought suggested by these words is--The Mysterious
Hope which shines through them.

One of ourselves shall deliver us from all this evil in life. '_A man_
shall be a refuge, rivers of water, the shadow of a great rock.' Such
an expectation seems to be right in the teeth of all experience and far
too high-pitched ever to be fulfilled. It appears to demand in him who
should bring it to pass powers which are more than human, and which
must in some inexplicable way be wide as the range of humanity and
enduring as the succession of the ages.

It is worth while to realise to ourselves these two points which seem
to make such words as these of our text a blank impossibility.
Experience contradicts them, and common-sense demands for their
fulfilment an apparently impossible human character.

All experience seems to teach--does it not?--that no human arm or heart
can be to another soul what these words promise, and what we need. And
yet the men who have been disappointed and disenchanted a thousand
times do still look among their fellows for what their fellows, too,
are looking for, and none have ever found. Have _we_ found what we seek
among men? Have we ever known amongst the dearest that we have clung
to, one arm that was strong enough to keep us in all danger? Has there
ever been a human love to which we can run with the security that
_there_ is a strong tower where no evil can touch us? There have been
many delights in all our lives mediated and ministered to us by those
that we loved. They have taught us, and helped us, and strengthened us
in a thousand ways. We have received from them draughts of wisdom, of
love, of joy, of guidance, of impulse, of comfort, which have been, as
water in the desert is, more precious than gold. Our fellow-travellers
have shared their store with us, 'letting down their pitchers upon
their hand,' and giving us drink; but has the draught ever slaked the
thirst? They carry but a pitcher, and a pitcher is not a fountain. Have
there been any in all the round of those that we have loved and
trusted, to whom we have trusted absolutely, without having been
disappointed? They, like us, are hemmed in by human limitations. They
each bear a burdened and thirsty spirit, itself needing such supplies.
And to the truest, happiest, most soul-sufficing companionship, there
comes at last that dread hour which ends all sweet commerce of giving
and receiving, and makes the rest of life, for some of us, one
monotonous ashen-grey wilderness where no water is. These things make
it impossible for us to find anywhere amongst men our refuge and our
fruition.

And yet how strange, how pathetic, is the fact that after all
disappointments, men still obstinately continue to look among their
fellows for guidance and for light, for consolation, for defence, and
for strength! After a thousand failures they still hope. Does not the
search at once confess that hitherto they have not found, else why be
seeking still?--and that they yet believe they will yet find, else why
not cease the vain quest? And surely He who made us, made us not in
vain, nor cursed us with immortal hopes which are only persistent lies.
Surely there is some living Person who will vindicate these
unquenchable hopes of humanity, and receive and requite our love and
trust, and satisfy our longings, and explain the riddle of our lives.
If there be not, nor ever has been, nor ever can be a man who shall
satisfy us with his love, and defend us with his power, and be our
all-sufficient satisfaction and our rest in weariness, then much of
man's noblest nature is a mistake, and many of his purest and
profoundest hopes are an illusion, a mockery, and a snare. The
obstinate hope that, within the limits of humanity, we shall find what
we need is a mystery, except on one hypothesis, that it, too, belongs
to 'the unconscious prophecies' that God has lodged in all men's hearts.

Nor need I remind you, I suppose, how such functions as those of which
my text speaks not only seem to be contradicted by all experience, but
manifestly and obviously to transcend the possibilities of human
nature. _A man_ to defend me; and he himself--does _he_ need no
defence? A man to supply my wants; and is his spirit, then, other than
mine, that it can become the all-sufficient fulness for my emptiness?
He that can do this for one spirit must be greater than the spirit for
which he doeth it. He that can do it for the whole race of man, through
all ages, in all circumstances, down to the end of time, in every
latitude, under every condition of civilisation--who must _he_ be who,
for the whole world, evermore and always, is their defence, their
gladness, their shelter, and their rest?

The function requires a divine power, and the application of the power
requires a human hand. It is not enough that I should be pointed to a
far-off heaven, where there dwells an infinite loving God--I believe
that we need more than that. We need both of the truths: 'God is my
refuge and my strength,' and 'A man shall be a hiding-place from the
wind, and a covert from the tempest.'

III. That brings me to the last point to be noticed, namely:--The
solution of the mystery in the person of Jesus Christ.

That which seemed impossible is real. The forebodings of humanity have
not fathomed the powers of Divine Love. There _is_ a man, our brother,
bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, who can be to single souls
the adequate object of their perfect trust, the abiding home of their
deepest love, the unfailing supply for their profoundest wants. There
_is_ one man to whom it is wise and blessed to look as the exclusive
source of all our peace, the absolute ruler of all our lives. There
_is_ a man in whom we find all that we have vainly sought in men. There
_is_ a man, who can be to all ages and to the whole race their refuge,
their satisfaction, their rest. 'It behoved Him to be made in all
points like unto His brethren,' that His succour might be ever near,
and His sympathy sure. The man Christ Jesus who, being man, is God
manifest in the flesh, exercises in one and the same act the offices of
divine pity and human compassion, of divine and human guardianship, of
divine and human love.

  'And so the Word had breath, and wrought
  With human hands the creed of creeds
  In loveliness of perfect deeds,
  More strong than all poetic thought.'

The dreams of weary hearts that have longed for an impossible
perfection are all below the reality. The fact surpasses all
expectation. It is more than all prophecies, it is more than all hopes,
it is more than all praise. It is God's unspeakable gift. Well might an
angel voice proclaim the mystery of love, 'Unto you is _born_ a
Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.' The ancient promise of our text is
history now. A man has been and is all these things for us.

A refuge and a hiding-place from every storm--adverse circumstances
sweep upon us, and His mighty hand is put down there as a buckler,
behind which we may hide and be safe. Temptations to evil storm upon
us, but if we are enclosed within Him they never touch us. The fears of
our own hearts swirl like a river in flood against the walls of our
fortress home, and we can laugh at them, for it is founded upon a rock!
The day of judgment rises before us solemn and certain, and we can
await it without fear, and approach it with calm joy. I call upon no
mountains and hills to cover me.

'Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.'

'Rivers of water in a dry place,'--hungry and thirsty, my soul fainted
within me. I longed for light, and behold darkness. I longed for help,
and there was none that could come close to my spirit to succour and to
give me drink in the desert. My conscience cried in all its wounds for
cleansing and stanching, and no comforter nor any balm was there. My
heart, weary of limited loves and mortal affections, howsoever sweet
and precious, yearned and bled for one to rest upon all-sufficient and
eternal. I thirsted with a thirst that was more than desire, that was
pain, and was coming to be death, and I heard a voice which said, 'If
any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.'

'The shadow of a great rock in a weary land,'--and my heart was weary
by reason of the greatness of the way, and duties and tasks seemed
toils and burdens, and I was ready to say, 'Wherefore has Thou made me
and all men in vain? Surely all this is vanity and vexation of spirit,'
and I heard One that laid His hand upon me and said, 'Come unto Me, and
I will give thee rest.' I come to Thee, O Christ, faint and perishing,
defenceless and needy, with many a sin and many a fear; to Thee I turn
for Thou hast died for me, and for me thou dost live. Be Thou my
shelter and strong tower. Give me to drink of living water. Let me rest
in Thee while in this weary land, and let Thy sweet love, my Brother
and my Lord, be mine all on earth and the heaven of my heaven!



HOW TO DWELL IN THE FIRE OF GOD

'Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall
dwell with everlasting burnings? 15. He that walketh righteously, and
speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that
shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from
hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.'--ISAIAH
xxxiii. 14, 15.

'He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God'--1 JOHN iv. 16.


I have put these two verses together because, striking as is at first
sight the contrast in their tone, they refer to the same subject, and
they substantially preach the same truth. A hasty reader, who is more
influenced by sound than by sense, is apt to suppose that the solemn
expressions in my first text, 'the devouring fire' and' everlasting
burnings,' mean _hell_. They mean _God_, as is quite obvious from the
context. The man who is to 'dwell in the devouring fire' is the _good_
man. He that is able to abide 'the everlasting burnings' is 'the man
that walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly,' that 'despiseth the
gain of oppression, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that
stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from
seeing evil.' The prophet has been calling all men, far and near, to
behold a great act of divine judgment in which God has been manifested
in flaming glory, consuming evil; now he represents the 'sinners in
Zion,' the unworthy members of the nation, as seized with sudden
terror, and anxiously asking this question, which in effect means: 'Who
among us can abide peacefully, joyfully, fed and brightened, not
consumed and annihilated, by that flashing brightness and purity?' The
prophet's answer is the answer of common-sense--like draws to like. A
holy God must have holy companions.

But that is not all. The fire of God is the fire of love as well as the
fire of purity; a fire that blesses and quickens, as well as a fire
that destroys and consumes. So the Apostle John comes with his answer,
not contradicting the other one, but deepening it, expanding it,
letting us see the foundations of it, and proclaiming that as a holy
God must be surrounded by holy hearts, which will open themselves to
the flame as flowers to the sunshine, so a loving God must be clustered
about by loving hearts, who alone can enter into deep and true
friendship with Him.

The two answers, then, of these texts are one at bottom; and when
Isaiah asks, 'Who shall dwell with the everlasting fire?'--the
perpetual fire, burning and unconsumed, of that divine
righteousness--the deepest answer, which is no stern requirement but a
merciful promise, is John's answer, 'He that dwelleth in love dwelleth
in God.'

The simplest way, I think, of bringing out the force of the words
before us will be just to take these three points which I have already
suggested: the world's question, the partial answer of the prophet, the
complete answer of the Apostle.

I. The World's Question.

I need only remind you how frequently in the Old Testament the emblem
of fire is employed to express the divine nature. In many places,
though by no means in all, the prominent idea in the emblem is that of
the purity of the divine nature, which flashes and flames as against
all which is evil and sinful. So we read in one grand passage in this
book of Isaiah, 'the Light of Israel shall become a fire'; as if the
lambent beauty of the highest manifestation of God gathered itself
together, intensified itself, was forced back upon itself, and from
merciful, illuminating light turned itself into destructive and
consuming fire. And we read, you may remember, too, in the description
of the symbolical manifestation of the divine nature which accompanied
the giving of the Law on Sinai, that 'the glory of the Lord was like
devouring fire on the top of the mountain,' and yet into that blaze and
brightness the Lawgiver went, and lived and moved in it.

There is, then, in the divine nature a side of antagonism and
opposition to evil, which flames against it, and labours to consume it.
I would speak with all respect for the motives of many men in this day
who dread to entertain the idea of the divine wrath against evil, lest
they should in any manner trench upon the purity and perfectness of the
divine love. I respect and sympathise with the motive altogether; and I
neither respect nor sympathise with the many ferocious pictures of that
which is called the wrath of God against sin, which much so-called
orthodox teaching has indulged in. But if you will only remove from
that word 'anger' the mere human associations which cleave to it, of
passion on the one hand, and of a wish to hurt its object on the other,
then you cannot, I think, deny to the divine nature the possession of
such passionless and unmalignant wrath, without striking a fatal blow
at the perfect purity of God. A God that does not hate evil, that does
not flame out against it, using all the energies of His being to
destroy it, is a God to whose character there cleaves a fatal suspicion
of indifference to good, of moral apathy. If I have not a God to trust
in that hates evil because He loveth righteousness, then 'the pillared
firmament itself were rottenness, and earth's base built on stubble';
nor were there any hope that this damnable thing that is killing and
sucking the life-blood out of our spirits should ever be destroyed and
cast aside. Oh! it is short-sighted wisdom, and it is cruel kindness,
to tamper with the thought of the wrath of God, the 'everlasting
burnings' of that eternally pure nature wherewith it wages war against
all sin.

But then, let us remember that, on the other side, the fire which is
the destructive fire of perfect purity is also the fire that quickens
and blesses. God is love, says John, and love is fire, too. We speak of
'the flame of love,' of 'warm affections,' and the like. The symbol of
fire does not mean destructive energy only. And these two are one.
God's wrath is a form of God's love; God hates because He loves.

And the 'wrath' and the 'love' differ much more in the difference of
the eyes that look, than they do in themselves. Here are two bits of
glass; one of them sifts out and shows all the fiery-red rays, the
other all the yellow. It is the one same pure, white beam that passes
through them both, but one is only capable of receiving the fiery-red
beams of the wrath, and the other is capable of receiving the golden
light of the love. Let us take heed lest, by destroying the wrath, we
maim the love; and let us take heed lest, by exaggerating the wrath, we
empty the love of its sweetness and its preciousness; and let us accept
the teaching that these are one, and that the deepest of all the things
that the world can know about God lies in that double saying, which
does not contradict its second half by its first, but completes its
first by its second--God is Righteousness, God is Love.

Well, then, that being so, the question rises to every mind of ordinary
thoughtfulness: 'Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who
among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?' A God fighting against
evil; can you and I hope to hold familiar fellowship with Him? A God
fighting against evil; if He rises up to exercise His judging and His
punishing energies, can we meet Him? 'Can thy heart endure and thy
hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee?' is the
question that comes to each of us if we are reasonable people. I do not
dwell upon it; but I ask you to take it, and answer it for yourselves.

To 'dwell with everlasting burnings' means two things. First, it means
to hold familiar intercourse and communion with God. The question which
presents itself to thoughtful minds is--What sort of man must I be if I
am to dwell near God? The lowliest bush may be lit by the divine fire
and not be consumed by it; and the poorest heart may be all aflame with
an indwelling God, if only it yield itself to Him, and long for His
likeness. Electricity only flames into consuming fire when its swift
passage is resisted. The question for us all is--How can I receive this
holy fire into my bosom, and not be burned? Is any communion possible,
and if it is, on what conditions? These are the questions which the
heart of man is really asking, though it knows not the meaning of its
own unrest.

'To dwell with everlasting burnings' means, secondly, to bear the
action of the fire--the judgment of the present and the judgment of the
future. The question for each of us is--How can we face that judicial
and punitive action of that Divine Providence which works even here,
and how can we face the judicial and punitive action in the future?

I suppose you all believe, or at least say that you believe, that there
is such a future judgment. Have you ever asked yourselves the question,
and rested not until you got a reasonable answer to it, on which, like
a man leaning on a pillar, you can lean the whole weight of your
expectations--How am I to come into the presence of that devouring
fire? Have you any fireproof dress that will enable you to go into the
furnace like the Hebrew youths, and walk up and down in the midst of
it, well and at liberty? Have you? 'Who shall dwell amidst the
everlasting fires?'

That question has stirred sometimes, I know, in the consciences of
every man and woman that is listening to me. Some of you have tampered
with it and tried to throttle it, or laughed at it and shuffled it out
of your mind by the engrossments of business, and tried to get rid of
it in all sorts of ways: and here it has met you again to-day. Let us
have it settled, in the name of common-sense (to invoke nothing
higher), once for all, upon reasonable principles that will stand; and
do you see that you settle it to-day.

II. And now, look next at the prophet's answer.

It is simple. He says that if a man is to hold fellowship with, or to
face the judgment of, the pure and righteous God, the plainest dictate
of reason and common-sense is that he himself must be pure and
righteous to match. The details into which hid answer to the question
runs out are all very homely, prosaic, pedestrian kind of virtues,
nothing at all out of the way, nothing that people would call splendid
or heroic. Here they are:--'He that walks righteously,'--a short
injunction, easily spoken, but how hard!--'and speaketh uprightly, he
that despiseth the gain of oppression, that shaketh his hands from
holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, that
shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.' Righteous action, righteous
speech, inward hatred of possessions gotten at my neighbour's cost, and
a vehement resistance to all the seductions of sense, shutting one's
hands, stopping one's ears, fastening one's eyes up tight so that he
may not handle, nor hear, nor see the evil--there is the outline of a
trite, everyday sort of morality which is to mark the man who, as
Isaiah says, can 'dwell amongst the everlasting fires.'

Now, if at your leisure you will turn to Psalms xv. and xxiv., you will
find there two other versions of the same questions and the same
answer, both of which were obviously in our prophet's mind when he
spoke. In the one you have the question put: 'Who shall abide in Thy
tabernacle?' In the other you have the same question put: 'Who shall
ascend into the hill of the Lord?' And both these two psalms answer the
question and sketch the outline (and it is only an outline) of a
righteous man, from the Old Testament point of view, substantially in
the same fashion that Isaiah does here.

I do not need to remark upon the altogether unscientific and
non-exhaustive nature of the description of righteousness that is set
forth here. There are a great many virtues, plain and obvious, that are
left out of the picture. But I ask you to notice one very special
defect, as it might seem. There is not the slightest reference to
anything that we call religion. It is all purely pedestrian, worldly
morality; do righteous things; do not tell lies; do not cheat your
neighbour; stop your ears if people say foul things in your hearing;
shut your eyes if evil comes before you. These are the kind of duties
enjoined, and these only. The answer of my text moves altogether on the
surface, dealing only with conduct, not with character, and dealing
with conduct only in reference to this world. There is not a word about
the inner nature, not a word about the inner relation of a man to God.
It is the minimum of possible qualifications for dwelling with God.

Well, now, do you achieve that minimum? Suppose we waive for the moment
all reference to God; suppose we waive for the moment all reference to
motive and inward nature; suppose we keep ourselves only on the outside
of things, and ask what sort of _conduct_ a man must have that is able
to walk with God? We have heard the answer.

Now, then, is that _me_? Is this sketch here, admittedly imperfect, a
mere black-and-white swift outline, not intended to be shaded or
coloured, or brought up to the round; is this mere outline of what a
good man ought to be, at all like me? Yes or no? I think we must all
say No to the question, and acknowledge our failure to attain to this
homely ideal of conduct. The requirement pared down to its lowest
possible degree, and kept as superficial as ever you can keep it, is
still miles above me, and all I have to say when I listen to such words
is, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'

My dear friends, take this one thought away with you:--the requirements
of the most moderate conscience are such as no man among us is able to
comply with. And what then? Am I to be shut up to despair? am I to say:
Then nobody can dwell within that bright flame? Am I to say: Then when
God meets man, man must crumble away into nothing and disappear? Am I
to say, for myself: Then, alas for me! when I stand at His judgment bar?

III. Let us take the Apostle's answer.

God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.' Now, to
begin with, let us distinctly understand that the New Testament answer,
represented by John's great words, entirely endorses Isaiah's; and that
the difference between the two is not that the Old Testament, as
represented by psalmist and prophet, said, 'You must be righteous in
order to dwell with God,' and that the New Testament says, 'You need
not be.' Not at all! John is just as vehement in saying that nothing
but purity can bind a man in thoroughly friendly and familiar
conjunction with God as David or Isaiah was. He insists as much as
anybody can insist upon this great principle, that if we are to dwell
with God we must be like God, and that we are like God when we are like
Him in righteousness and love.

'He that saith he hath fellowship with Him, and walketh in darkness, is
a liar!' That is John's short way of gathering it all up. Righteousness
is as essential in the gospel scheme for all communion and fellowship
with God as ever it was declared to be by the most rigid of legalists;
and if any of you have the notion that Christianity has any other terms
to lay down than the old terms--that righteousness is essential to
communion--you do not understand Christianity. If any of you are
building upon the notion that a man can come into loving and familiar
friendship with God as long as he loves and cleaves to any sin, you
have got hold of a delusion that will wreck your souls yet,--is,
indeed, harming, wrecking them now, and will finally destroy them if
you do not got rid of it. Let us always remember that the declaration
of my first text lies at the very foundation of the declaration of my
second.

What, then, is the difference between them? Why, for one thing it is
this--ISAIAH tells us that we must be righteous, John tells us how we
may be. The one says, 'There are the conditions,' the other says, 'Here
are the means by which you can have the conditions.' Love is the
productive germ of all righteousness; it is the fulfilling of the law.
Get that into your hearts, and all these relative and personal duties
will come. If the deepest, inmost life is right, all the surface of
life will come right. Conduct will follow character, character will
follow love.

The efforts of men to make themselves pure, and so to come into the
position of holding fellowship with God, are like the wise efforts of
children in their gardens. They stick in their little bits of rootless
flowers, and they water them; but, being rootless, the flowers are all
withered to-morrow and flung over the hedge the day after. But if we
have the love of God in our hearts, we have not rootless flowers, but
the seed which will spring up and bear fruit of holiness.

But that is not all. Isaiah says 'Righteousness,' John says 'Love,'
which makes righteousness. And then he tells us how we may get love,
having first told us how we may get righteousness: 'We love Him because
He first loved us.' It is just as impossible for a man to work himself
into loving God as it is for a man to work himself into righteous
actions. There is no difference in the degree of impossibility in the
two cases. But what we can do is, we can go and gaze at the thing that
kindles the love; we can contemplate the Cross on which the great Lover
of our souls died, and thereby we can come to love Him. John's answer
goes down to the depths, for his notion of love is the response of the
believing soul to the love of God which was manifested on the Cross of
Calvary. To have righteousness we must have love; to have love we must
look to the love that God has to us; to look rightly to the love that
God has to us we must have faith. Now you have gone down to the very
bottom of the matter. Faith is the first step of the ladder, and the
second step is love and the third step is righteousness.

And so the New Testament, in its highest and most blessed declarations,
rests itself firmly upon these rigid requirements of the old law. You
and I, dear brethren, have but one way by which we can walk in the
midst of that fire, rejoicing and unconsumed, namely that we shall know
and believe the love which God hath to us, love Him back again 'with
pure hearts fervently,' and in the might of that receptive faith and
productive love, become like Him in holiness, and ourselves be
'baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.' Thus, fire-born and
fiery, we shall dwell as in our native home, in God Himself.



THE FORTRESS OF THE FAITHFUL

'He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of
rocks; bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.'--ISAIAH
xxxiii. 16.


This glowing promise becomes even more striking if we mark its
connection with the solemn question in the previous context. 'Who among
us shall dwell with the devouring fire?' is the prophet's question;
'who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?' That question
really means, Who is capable 'of communion with God'? The prophet
sketches the outline of the character in the subsequent verses, and
then recurring to his metaphor of a habitation, and yet with a most
lovely and significant modification, he says, 'he'--the man that he has
been sketching--'shall dwell,' not 'with the everlasting burnings,' but
'on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks,' like
some little hill, fort, or city, perched upon a mountain, and having
within it ample provision and an unfailing spring of water. 'His bread
shall, be given him, his water shall be sure.' To dwell with 'the
devouring fire' is to 'dwell on high,' to be safe and satisfied. So
then, whilst the words before us have, of course, direct and immediate
reference to the Assyrian invasion, and promise, in a literal sense,
security and exemption from its evils to the righteous in Israel, they
widen and deepen into a picturesque, but not less real, statement of
what comes into the religious life, by communion with God. There are
three things: elevation, security, satisfaction.

'He shall dwell on high.'

In the East, and in all unsettled countries, you will find that the
sites of the cities are on the hilltops, for a very plain reason, and
that is the fact that underlies the prophet's representation. To hold
fellowship with God, to live in union with Him, to have His thoughts
for my thoughts, and His love wrapping my heart, and His will enshrined
in my will; to carry Him about with me into all the pettinesses of
daily life, and, amidst the whirlpool of duties and changing
circumstances, to sit in the centre, as it were the eye of the
whirlpool where there is a dead calm, _that_ lifts a man on high.
Communion with God secures elevation of spirit, raising us clean above
the flat that lies beneath. There are many ways by which men seek for
lofty thoughts, and a general elevation above the carking cares and
multiplied minutenesses of this poor, mortal, transient life; but while
books and great thoughts, and the converse of the wise, and art, and
music, and all these other elevating influences have a real place and a
blessed efficiency in ennobling life, there is not one of them, nor all
of them put together, that will give to the human spirit that strange
and beautiful elevation above the world and the flesh and the devil,
which simple communion with God will give. I have seen many a poor man
who knew nothing about the lofty visions that shape and lift humanity,
who had no side of him responsive to aesthetics or art or music, who
was no thinker, no student, who never had spoken to anybody above the
rank of a poor labouring man, and to whom all the wisdom of the nations
was a closed chamber, who yet in his life, ay! and on his face, bore
marks of a spirit elevated into a serene region where there was no
tumult, and where nothing unclean or vicious could live. A few of the
select spirits of the race may painfully climb on high by thought and
effort. Get God into your hearts, and it will be like filling the round
of a silken balloon with light air; you will soar instead of climbing,
and 'dwell on high.' When you are up there, the things below that look
largest will dwindle and 'show,' as Shakespeare has it, 'scarce so
gross as beetles,' looked at from the height, and the noises will sink
to a scarcely audible murmur, and you will be able to see the lie of
the country, and, as it says in the context, 'your eyes shall behold
the land that is very far off.' Yes! the hilltop is the place for wide
views, and for understanding the course of the serpentine river, and it
is the place to discover how small are the mightiest things at the
foot, and how little a way towards the sun the noises of human praise
or censure can ever travel. 'He shall dwell on high,' and he will see a
long way off, and understand the relative magnitude of things, and the
strife of tongues will have ceased for him.

And more than that is implied in the promise. If we dwell on high, we
shall come down with all the more force on what lies below. There is no
greater caricature and misconception of Christianity than that which
talks as if the spirit that lived in daily communion with God, high
above the world, was remote from the world. Why, how do they make
electricity nowadays? By the fall of water from a height, and the
higher the level from which it descends, the mightier the force which
it generates in the descent. So nobody will tell on the world like the
man who lives above it. The height from which a weight rushes down
measures the force of its dint where it falls, and of the energy with
which it comes. 'He shall dwell on high'; and only the man that stands
above the world is able to influence it.

Again, here is another blessing of the Christian life, put in a
picturesque form: 'His defence shall be munitions of rocks.' That is a
promise of security from assailants, which in its essence is true
always, though its truth may seem doubtful to the superficial estimate
of sense. The experience of the South African war showed how
impregnable 'the munitions of rocks' were. The Boers lay safe behind
them, and our soldiers might fire lyddite at them all day and never
touch them. So, the man who lives in communion with God has between him
and all evil the Rock of Ages, and he lies at the back of it, quiet and
safe, whatever foe may rage on the other side of it.

Now, of course, the prophet meant to tell his countrymen that, in the
theocracy of which they were parts, righteousness and nothing else was
the national security, and if a man or a nation lived in communion with
God, it bore a charmed life. That is a great deal more true, in regard
to externals, in the miraculous 'dispensation,' as it is called, of the
Old Testament than it is now, and we are not to take over these
promises in their gross literal form into the Christian era, as if they
were unconditional and absolutely to be fulfilled. But at the same
time, if you reflect how many of our troubles do come to us mainly
because we break our communion with God, I think we shall see that this
old word has still an application to our daily lives and outward
circumstances. Deduct from any man's life all the discomfort and
trouble and calamity which have come down upon him because he was not
in touch with God, and there will not be very much left. Yet there will
be some, and the deepest and sorest of all our sorrows are not to be
interpreted as occasioned by defects in our dwelling in God. Then has
my text no application to them? Yes, because what still remains of
earthly cares and sorrows and evils would, in communion with God,
change its character. The rind is the same; but all the interior
contents have been, as children will do with a fruit, scooped out, and
another kind of thing has been put inside, so that though the outward
appearance is the same, what is at the heart of it is utterly
different. It is no longer some coarse, palate-biting, common
vegetable, but a sweet confection, made by God's own hands, and put
into the gourd, which has been hollowed out and emptied of its evil.
That is, perhaps, a very violent figure, but take a plain case as
illustration. Suppose two men, each of them going to his wife's
funeral. The two hearses pass inside the cemetery gates, one after the
other. Outwardly the two afflictions are the same, but the one man
says, 'The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away'; the other man says,
'They have taken away my gods, and what shall I do more?' _Are_ the two
things the same? 'He shall dwell on high, his place of defence shall be
the munitions of rocks,' and if we do hide ourselves in the cleft, then
no evil shall befall us, nor any plague come nigh our dwelling.

But there is another truth contained in this great promise, viz., that
in regard to all the real evils which beset men, and these are all
summed up in the one, the temptation to do wrong, their arrows will be
blunted, and their force be broken, if we keep our minds in touch with
God through humble communion and lowly obedience. Dear brethren, the
way by which we can conquer temptations around, and silence
inclinations within which riotously seek to yield to the temptations
is, I believe, far more by cultivating a consciousness of communion
with God, than by specific efforts directed to the overcoming of a
given and particular temptation. Keep inside the fortress, and no
bullet will come near you. Array yourselves in the most elaborate
precautions and step out from its shadow, and every bullet will strike
and wound. Let me keep up my fellowship with God, and I may laugh at
temptation. Security depends on continual communion with God by faith,
love, aspiration, and obedience.

Now, I need not say more than a word about the last element in these
promises, the satisfaction of desires. 'His bread shall be given him,
and his water shall be sure.' In ancient warfare sieges were usually
blockades; and strong fortresses were reduced by famine much more
frequently than by assault. Mafeking and Ladysmith and Port Arthur were
in most danger from that cause. The promise here assures us that we
shall have all supplies in our abode, if God is our abode. Wherever he
who dwells in God goes, he carries with him his provisions, and he does
not need elaborate arrangements of pipes or reservoirs, because there
is a fountain in the courtyard that the enemy cannot get at. They may
stop the springs throughout the land, they may cut off all water
supplies, so that 'there shall be no fruit in the vine, and the labour
of the olive shall fail,' but they cannot touch the fountain. 'His
water shall be sure,' and he can say, 'In the days of famine I shall be
satisfied.'

God is and gives all that we need for sustenance, for growth, for
refreshment, for satisfaction of our desires. Keep near Him, and you
will find in the heart of the devouring fire a shelter, and you will
have all that you want for life here. My text will be true about us, in
the measure in which we do thus dwell, and if we thus dwell here, and
so dwell on high, with the munitions of rocks for our fortress, and
'the bread of God that came down from heaven' for our food, and the
water of life for our refreshment, then, when there is no longer any
need of places for defence, the other saying will be true, 'They shall
hunger no more, neither thirst any more, for the Lamb which is in the
midst of the throne shall feed them ... and shall lead them to living
fountains of waters, and God, the Lord, shall wipe away all tears from
their eyes.'



THE RIVERS OF GOD

'But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers
and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall
gallant ship pass thereby.'--ISAIAH xxxiii. 21.


One great peculiarity of Jerusalem, which distinguishes it from almost
all other historical cities, is that it has no river. Babylon was on
the Euphrates, Nineveh on the Tigris, Thebes on the Nile, Rome on the
Tiber; but Jerusalem had nothing but a fountain or two, and a well or
two, and a little trickle and an intermittent stream. The water supply
to-day is, and always has been, a great difficulty, and an insuperable
barrier to the city's ever having a great population.

That deficiency throws a great deal of beautiful light on more than one
passage in the Old Testament. For instance, this same prophet contrasts
the living stream, the waters of Siloam, as an emblem of the gentle
sway of the divine King of Israel, with 'the river, strong and mighty,'
which was the symbol of Assyria; and a psalm that we all know well,
sings, 'There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of
God,'--a triumphant exclamation which is robbed of half its force,
unless we remember that the literal Jerusalem had no river at all. The
vision of living waters flowing from the Temple which Ezekiel saw is a
variation of the same theme, and suggests that in the Messianic days
the deficiency shall be made good, and a mysterious stream shall spring
up from behind, and flow out from beneath, the temple doors, and then
with rapid increase and depth and width, but with no tributaries coming
into it, shall run fertilising and life-giving everywhere, till it
pours itself into the noisome waters of the sullen sea of death and
heals even them.

The same general representation is contained in the words before us.
Isaiah's great vision is not, as I take it, of a future, but of what
the Jerusalem of his day might be to the Israelite if he would live by
faith. The mighty Lord, 'the glorious Lord,' shall Himself 'be a place
of broad rivers and streams.'

I. First, then, this remarkable promise suggests to me how in God there
is the supply of all deficiencies.

The city was perched on its barren, hot rock, with scarcely a drop of
water, and its inhabitants must often have been tempted to wish that
there had been running down the sun-bleached bed of the Kedron a
flashing stream, such as laved the rock-cut temples and tombs of
Thebes. Isaiah says, in effect, 'You cannot see it, but if you will
trust yourselves to God, there will be such a river.'

In like manner every defect in our circumstances, everything lacking in
our lives--and we all have something which does not correspond with, or
which falls beneath, our wishes and apparent needs--everything which
seems to hamper us in some aspects, and to sadden us in others, may be
compensated and made up if we will hold fast by God; and although to
outward sense we dwell 'in a dry and barren land where no water is,'
the eye of faith will see, flashing and flowing all around, the
rejoicing waters of the divine presence, and they will mirror the sky,
and the reflections will teach us that there is a heaven above us.

If there is in any life a gap, that is a prophecy that God will fill
it. If there is anything in your circumstances in regard to which you
often feel sadly, and are sometimes tempted to feel bitterly, how much
stronger and more fully equipped you would be, if it were otherwise, be
sure that in God there is that which can supply the want, and that the
consciousness of the want is a merciful summons to seek its supply from
and in Him. If there is a breach in the encircling wall of your
defences, God has made it in order that He Himself, and not an enemy,
may enter your lives and hearts. 'In the year that King Uzziah died, I
saw the Lord sitting on a throne,' and it did not matter though that
mortal king was dead, for the true King was thereby revealed as living
for ever, just as when the summer foliage, fluttering and green, drops
from the tree, the sturdy stem and the strong branches are made the
more visible. Our felt deficiencies are doors by which God may come in.
Do you sometimes feel as if you would be better if you had easier
worldly circumstances? Is your health precarious and feeble? Have you
to walk a solitary path through this world, and does your heart often
ache for companionship? You can have all your heart's desire fulfilled
in deepest reality in God, in the same way that that riverless city had
Jehovah for 'a place of broad rivers and streams.'

II. Take another side of the same thought. Here is a revelation of God
and His sweet presence as our true defence.

The river that lay between some strong city and the advancing enemy was
its strongest fortification when the bridge of boats was taken away.
One of the ancient cities to which I have referred is described by one
of the prophets as being held as within the coils of a serpent, by
which he means the various bendings and twistings of the Euphrates,
which encompassed Babylon, and made it so hard to be conquered. The
primitive city of Paris owed its safety in the wild old times when it
was founded, to its being on an island. Venice has lived through many
centuries, because it is girded about by its lagoons. England is what
it is, largely because of 'the streak of silver sea.' So God's city has
a broad moat all round it. The prophet goes on to explain the force of
his bold figure in regard to the safety promised by it, when he says:
'Wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass
thereby.' Not a keel of the enemy shall dare to cut its waters, nor
break their surface with the wet plash of invading oars. And so, if we
will only knit ourselves with God by simple trust and continual
communion, it is the plainest prose fact that nothing will harm us, and
no foe will ever get near enough to us to shoot his arrows against us.

That is a truth for faith, and not for sense. Many a man, truly
compassed about by God, has to go through fiery trial and sorrow and
affliction. But I venture to appeal to every heart that has known grief
most acutely, protractedly, and frequently, and has borne it in the
faith of God, and with submission to Him; and I know that they who are
the 'experts,' and who alone have the right to speak with authority on
the subject, will confirm the statement that I make, that sorrows
recognised as sent from God are the truest blessings of our lives. No
real evil befalls us, because, according to the old superstition that
money bewitched was cleansed if it was handed across running water, our
sorrows only reach us across the river that defends.

Isaiah is full of symbols of various kinds for the impregnability of
Zion. Sometimes, as in my text, he falls back upon the thought of the
bright waters of the moat on which no enemy can venture to sail.
Sometimes he draws his metaphor from the element opposed to water, and
speaks of a wall of fire round about us. But the simple reality that
lies below all the poetry is, that trust in God brings His presence
around me, and that makes it impossible that any evil should befall me,
and certain that whatever does befall me is His messenger, His loving
messenger, for my good. If we believed that, and lived on the belief,
the whole world would be different.

III. Take, again, another aspect of this same thought, which suggests
to us God's presence as our true refreshment and satisfaction.

The waterless city depended on cisterns, and they were often broken,
and were always more or less foul, and sometimes the water fell very
low in them. Isaiah says to us: Even when you are living in external
circumstances like that:

  'When all created streams are dry,
  Thy fulness is the same.'

The fountain of living waters--if we may slightly vary the metaphor of
my text--never sinks one hair's-breadth in its crystal basin, however
many thirsty lips may be glued to its edge, and however large may be
their draughts from it. This metaphor, turned to the purpose of
suggesting how in God every part of our nature finds its appropriate
nourishment and refreshment which it does not find anywhere besides,
has become one of the commonplaces of the pulpit. Would it were the
commonplace of our lives! It is easy to talk about Him as being the
fountain of living waters; it is easy to quote and to admire the words
which the Master spoke to the Samaritan woman when He said, 'I would
have given thee living water,' and 'the water which I give will be a
fountain springing up into everlasting life.' We repeat or learn such
sayings, and then what do we do? We go away and try to slake our thirst
at broken cisterns, and every draught which we take is like the salt
water from which a shipwrecked-boat's crew in its madness will
sometimes not be able to refrain, each drop increasing the raging
thirst and hastening the impending death.

If we believed that God was the broad river from which we could draw
and draw, and drink and drink, for ever and ever, should we be clinging
with such desperate tenacity, as most of us exhibit, to earthly goods?
Should we whimper with such childish regrets, as most of us nourish,
when these goods are diminished or withdrawn? Should we live as we
constantly do, day in and day out, seldom applying ourselves to the one
source of strength and peace and refreshment, and trying, like fools,
to find what apart from Him the world can never give? The rivers in
northern Tartary all lose themselves in the sand. Not one of them has
volume or force enough to get to the sea. And the rivers from which we
try to drink are sand-choked long before our thirst is slaked. So, if
we are wise, we shall take Isaiah's hint, and go where the water flows
abundantly, and flows for ever.

IV. There is a last point that I would also suggest, namely, the
manifold variety in the results of God's presence.

It shapes itself into many forms, according to our different needs.
'The glorious Lord shall be a place of broad rivers.' Yes; but notice
the next words--'and streams.' Now, the word which is there translated
'streams' means little channels for irrigation and other purposes, by
which the water of some great river is led off into the melon patches,
and gardens, and plantations, and houses of the inhabitants. So we have
not only the picture of the broad river in its unity, but also that of
the thousand little rivulets in their multiplicity, and in their
direction to each man's plot of ground. It is the same idea that is in
the psalm which I have already quoted: 'There is a river, _the streams_
whereof make glad the city of our God.' You can divide the river up
into very tiny trickles, according to the moment's small wants. If you
make but a narrow channel, you will get but a shallow streamlet; and if
you make your channel broad and deep, you will get much of Him.

It is of no profit that we live on the river's bank if we let its
waters go rolling and flashing past our door, or our gardens, or our
lips. Unless you have a sluice, by which you can take them off into
your own territory, and keep the shining blessing to be the source of
fertility in your own garden, and of coolness and refreshment to your
own thirst, your garden will be parched, and your lips will crack.
There is a 'broad river,' and there are also 'streams'; which, being
brought down to its simplest expression, just comes to this--that we
may and must make God our very own property. It is useless to say
'_our_ God,' 'the God of Israel,' 'the God of the Church,' 'the Great
Creator,' 'the Universal Father,' and so on, unless we say '_my_ God
and _my_ Saviour,' '_my_ Refuge and _my_ Strength.' How much of the
river have you dipped up in your own vessel? How much of it have you
taken with which to water your own vineyard and refresh your own souls?

The time comes when Isaiah's prophecy shall be perfectly fulfilled,
according to the great words in the closing hook of Scripture, about
the river of the water of life proceeding out of the Throne of God and
of the Lamb. But, till that time comes, we do not need to wander
thirsty in a desert; but all round us we may hear the mighty waters
rolling everywhere, and drink deep draughts of delight and supply for
all our needs, from the very presence of God Himself.



JUDGE, LAWGIVER, KING

'For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our
King; He will save us.'--ISAIAH xxxiii. 22.


There is reference here to the three forms of government in Israel: by
Moses, by Judges, by Kings. In all, Israel was a Theocracy. Isaiah
looks beyond the human representative to the true divine Reality.

I. A truth for us, in both its more specific and its more general forms.

(a) Specific. Christ is all these three for us--Authority; His will
law; Defender.

(b) More general. Everything that human beings are to us, they are by
derivation from Him--and He sums in Himself all forms of good and
blessing. Every name among men for any kind of helper belongs to Him.
All tender, helpful relationships are but 'broken lights of Thee.'

II. A lesson hard to learn and to remember.

One knows not whether it is harder for faith to look beyond the visible
helpers or delights to the Unseen Real One, or to look through tears,
when these are gone, and to see Him clearly filling an otherwise empty
field of vision. When we have a palpable prop to lean on, it is
difficult to be clearly aware that, unless the palpable support were
held up by the Unseen, it could not be a prop, and to lean on it would
be like resting one's weight on a staff stuck in yielding mud. But it
is no less difficult to tell our hearts that we have all that we ever
had, when what we had leaned on for many happy days and found to hold
us up is stricken from beneath us. Present, the seen lawgiver, judge,
or king stays the eyes that should travel past him to God Himself;
removed, his absence makes a great emptiness, in whose vacuity it is
difficult for faith to discern the real presence of Him who is all that
the departed seemed to be. The painted glass stays the eye; shattered,
it lets in only the sight of a void and far-off sky.

Israel could not breathe freely in the rarefied air on the heights of a
theocracy, and demanded a visible king. It had its desire, and as a
consequence, 'leanness in its soul.' Christendom has found it as
difficult to do without visible embodiments of authority, law, defence,
and hence many evils and corruptions in the institutions and practices
of organised Christianity.

III. A conviction which makes strong and blessed.

To have dominant in our minds, and operative through our lives, the
settled conviction that God in Christ is for us judge, lawgiver, and
king, and that the purpose of all these offices or relationships is
that 'He will save us' is the secret of tranquillity, the fountain of
courage, the talisman which makes life all different and us who live in
it different. Fear cannot survive where that conviction rules and
fortifies a heart. We shall not be slavish adherents of men if we are
accustomed to take our orders from our Lawgiver. Earthly prizes or
dignities will not dazzle eyes that have seen the King in His beauty.
We shall pay little heed to men's judgments if there flames ever before
conscience the thought, 'He that judgeth me is the Lord.' 'He will save
us'; who can destroy what His hand is stretched out to preserve? 'If
God is for us, who is against us? It is God that justifieth; who is He
that condemneth?'



MIRACLES OF HEALING

'Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf
shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the
tongue of the dumb sing.'--ISAIAH xxxv. 5,6.


'Then'--when? The previous verse answers, 'Behold, your God will come,
He will come and save you.' And what or when is that 'coming'? A glance
at the place which this grand hymn occupies in the series of Isaiah's
prophecies answers that question. It stands at the close of the first
part of these, and is the limit of the prophet's vision. He has been
setting forth the Lord's judgments upon all heathen, and His
deliverance of Israel from its oppressors; and the 'coming' is His
manifestation for that double purpose. Before its flashing brightness,
barrenness is changed into verdure, diseases that lame men's powers
vanish, the dry and thirsty land gleams with the shining light of
sudden streams. Across the wilderness stretches a broad path, raised
high above the bewildering monotony of pathless sand, too plain to be
missed, too lofty for wild beasts' suppleness to spring upon it: along
it troop with song and gladness the returning exiles, with hope in
their hearts as they journey to Zion, where they find a joyful home
undimmed by sorrow, and in which sighing and sorrow are heard and felt
no more.

Now this is poetry, no doubt; the golden light of imagination suffuses
it all, but it is poetry with a solid meaning in it. It is not a mere
play of fancy exalting the 'coming of the Lord' by heaping together all
images that suggest the vanishing of evil and the coming of good. If
there is a basis of facts in it, what are they? What is the period of
that emphatic 'then' at the beginning of our text? The return of the
Jews from exile? Yes, certainly; but some greater event shines through
the words. Some future restoration of that undying race to their own
land? Yes, possibly, again we answer, but that does not exhaust the
prophecy. The great coming of God to save in the gift of His Son? Yes,
that in an eminent degree. The second coming of Christ? Yes, that too.
All the events in which God has come for men's deliverance are shadowed
here; for in them all, the same principles are at work, and in all,
similar effects have followed. But mainly the mission and work of Jesus
Christ is pointed at here--whether in its first stage of Incarnation
and Passion, or in its second stage of Coming in glory, 'the second
time without sin, unto salvation.'

And the bodily diseases here enumerated are symbols, just as Christ's
miracles were symbolical, just as every language has used the body as a
parable of the soul, and has felt that there is such a harmony between
them that the outward and visible does correspond to and shadow the
inward and spiritual.

I think, then, that we may fairly take these four promises as bringing
out very distinctly the main characteristics of the blessed effects of
Christ's work in the world. The great subject of these words is the
power of Christ in restoring to men the spiritual capacities which are
all but destroyed. We have here three classes of bodily infirmities
represented as cured at the date of that blessed 'Then.' Blindness and
deafness are defects in perception, and stand for incapacities
affecting the powers of knowledge. Lameness affects powers of motion,
and stands for incapacity of activity. Dumbness prevents speech, and
stands for incapacity of utterance.

I. Christ as the restorer of the powers of knowing.

Bodily diseases are taken to symbolise spiritual infirmities.

Mark the peculiarities of Scripture anthropology as brought out in this
view of humanity:---

Its gloomy views of man's actual condition.

Its emphatic declaration that that condition is abnormal.

Its confidence of effecting a cure.

Its transcendentally glorious conception of what man may become.

Men are blind and deaf; that is to say, their powers of perception are
destroyed by reason of disease. What a picture! The great spiritual
realities are all unseen, as Elisha's young servant was blind to the
fiery chariots that girdled the prophet. Men are blind to the starry
truths that shine as silver in the firmament. They are deaf to the
Voice which is gone out to the ends of the earth, and yet they have
eyes and ears, conscience, intuitions. They possess organs, but these
are powerless.

And while the blindness is primarily in regard to spiritual and
religious truths, it is not confined to these, but wherever spiritual
blindness has fallen, the whole of a man's knowledge will suffer. There
will be blindness to the highest philosophy, to the true basis and
motive of morals, to true psychology, to the noblest poetry. All will
be of the earth, earthy. You cannot strike religion out of men's
thoughts, as you might take a stone out of a wall and leave the wall
standing; you take out foundation and mortar, and make a ruinous heap.

I know, of course, that there may be much mental activity without any
perception of spiritual realities, but all knowledge which is not
purely mathematical or physical suffers by the absence of such
perception. All this blindness is caused by sin.

Christ is the giver of spiritual sight. He restores the faculty by
taking away the hindrance to its exercise. Further, He gives sight
because He gives light.

But turn to facts of experience, and consider the mental apathy of
heathenism as contrasted with the energy of mind within the limits of
Christendom. Greece, of course, is a brilliant exception, but even
there (1) what of the conceptions of God? (2) what of the effect of the
wise on the mass of the nation? Think of the languid intellectual life
of the East. Think of the energy of thought which has been working
within the limits of Christianity. Think of Christian theology compared
with the mythologies of idolatry. And the contrast holds not only in
the religious field but all over the field of thought.

There is no such sure way of diffusing a culture which will refine and
strengthen all the powers of mind as to diffuse the knowledge of Jesus,
and to make men love Him. In His light they will see light.

To know Him and to keep company with Him is 'a liberal education,' as
is seen in many a lowly life, all uninfluenced by what is called
learning, but enriched with the finest flowers of 'culture,' and having
gathered them all in Christ's garden.

Christ is the true light; in Him do we see. Without Him, what is all
other knowledge? He is central to all, like genial heat about the roots
of a plant. There is other knowledge than that of sense; and for the
highest of all our knowledge we depend on Him who is the Word. In that
region we can neither observe nor experiment. In that region facts must
be brought by some other means than we can command, and we can but draw
more or less accurate deductions from them. Logic without revelation is
like a spinning-machine without any cotton, busy drawing out nothing.
Here we have to listen. 'The entrance of Thy words giveth light.' Your
God shall come and save you; then, by that divine coming and saving,
'the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall
be unstopped.'

II. Christ as the Restorer of the Powers of Action.

Again turn to heathenism, see the apathetic indolence, the
unprogressive torpor, 'Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of
Cathay.' Sin lames for service of God; it leaves the lower nature free
to act, and that freedom paralyses all noble activity.

Christianity brings the Energising of the Soul--

(a) By its reference of everything to God--our powers and our
circumstances and our activities.

(b) By its prominence given to Retribution. It speaks not merely of
_vita brevis_--but of _vita brevis_ and an Eternity which grows out of
it.

(c) By its great motive for work--love.

(d) By the freedom It brings from the weight that paralysed.

It takes away sin. Lifting that dreary load from our backs, it makes us
joyful, strong, and agile.

The true view of Christianity is not, as some of its friends, and some
of its foes, mistakenly concur in supposing, that it weakens interest
in, and energy on, the Present, but that it heightens the power of
action. A life plunged in that jar of oxygen will glow with redoubled
brilliance.

III. Christ as the Restorer of Powers of Utterance.

The silence that broods over the world. It is dumb for all holy,
thankful words; with no voice to sing, no utterance of joyful praise.

Think of the effect of Christianity on human speech, giving it new
themes, refining words and crowding them with new meanings. Translate
the Bible into any language, and that language is elevated and enriched.

Think of the effect on human praise. That great treasure of Christian
poetry.

Think of the effect on human gladness. Christ fills the heart with such
reasons for praise, and makes life one song of joy.

Thus Christ is the Healer.

To men seeking for knowledge, He offers a higher gift--healing. And as
for true knowledge and culture, in Christ, and in Christ alone, will
you find it.

Let your culture be rooted in Him. Let your Religion influence all your
nature.

The effects of Christianity are its best evidence. What else does the
like of that which it does? Let Jannes and Jambres 'do the same with
their enchantments.' We may answer the question, 'Art Thou He that
should come?' as Christ did, 'The blind receive their sight, and the
lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear.'

The perfect Restoration will be in heaven. Then, indeed, when our souls
are freed from mortal grossness, and the thin veils of sense are rent
and we behold Him as He is, then when they rest not day nor night, but
with ever renewed strength run to His commandments, then when He has
put into their lips a new song--'then shall the eyes of the blind be
opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; then shall the lame man
leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.'



MIRAGE OR LAKE

'For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the
desert. And the glowing sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty
ground springs of water.' ISAIAH xxxv. 6, 7.


What a picture is painted in these verses! The dreary wilderness
stretches before us, monotonous, treeless, in some parts bearing a
scanty vegetation which flourishes in early spring and dies before
fierce summer heats, but for the most part utterly desolate, the sand
blinding the eyes, the ground cracked and gaping as if athirst for the
rain that will not fall; over it the tantalising mirage dancing in
mockery, and amid the hot sand the yelp of the jackals. What does this
dead land want? One thing alone--water. Could that be poured upon it,
all would be changed; nothing else will do any good. And it comes.
Suddenly it bursts from the sand, and streams bring life along the
desert. It gathers into placid lakes, with their whispering reeds and
nodding rushes, and the thick cool grass round their margins. The foul
beasts that wandered through dry places seeking rest are drowned out.
So full of blessed change will be the coming of the Lord, of which all
this context speaks. Mark that this burst of waters is when 'the Lord
shall come,' and that it is the reason for the restoration of lost
powers in men, and especially for a chorus of praise from dumb lips.
This, then, is the central blessing. It is not merely a joyful
transformation, but it is the reason for a yet more joyful
transformation (chap. xliv. 3). Recall Christ's words to the Samaritan
woman and in the Temple on the great day of the Feast.

Then this is pre-eminently a description of the work of Christ.

I. Christ brings the Supernatural Communication of a New Life.

We may fairly regard this metaphor as setting forth the very deepest
characteristic of the gospel. Consider man's need, as typified in the
image of the desert. Mark that the supply for that need must come from
without; that coming from without, it must be lodged in the heart of
the race; that the supernatural communication of a new life and power
is the very essence of the work of Christ; that such a communication is
the only thing adequate to produce these wondrous effects.

II. This new life slakes men's thirst.

The pangs and tortures of the waterless wilderness. The thirst of human
souls; they long, whether they know it or not, for--

   Truth for Understanding.
   Love for Heart.
   Basis and Guidance for Will and Effort.
   Cleansing for Conscience.
   Adequate objects for their powers.

They need that all these should be in One.

The gnawing pain of our thirst is not a myth; it is the secret of man's
restlessness. We are ever on the march, not only because change is the
law of the world, nor only because effort and progress are the law for
civilised men, but because, like caravans in the desert, we have to
search for water.

In Christ it is slaked; all is found there.

III. The Communication of this New Life turns Illusions into Realities.

'The mirage shall become a pool.' Life without Christ is but a long
illusion. 'Sin makes a mock of fools.' How seldom are hopes fulfilled,
and how still less frequently are they, when fulfilled, as good as we
painted them! The prismatic splendours of the rain bow, which gleam
before us and which we toil to catch, are but grey rain-drops when
caught. Joys attract and, attained, have incompleteness and a tang of
bitterness. The fish is never so heavy when landed on the sward as it
felt when struggling on our hook. 'All is vanity'--yes, if creatures
and things temporal are pursued as our good. But nothing is vanity, if
we have the life in us which Jesus comes to give. His Gospel gives
solid, unmingled joys, sure promises which are greater when fulfilled
than when longed for, certain hopes whose most brilliant colours are
duller than those of the realities. The half has not been told of the
'things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.'

Sure Promises.

A certain Hope.

IV. This New Life gives Fruitfulness. It stimulates all our nature. A
godless life is in a very tragic sense barren, and a wilderness. There
is in it nothing really worth doing, nor anything that will last.
Christ gives Power, Motive, Pattern, and makes a life of holy activity
possible. The works done by men apart from Him are, if measured by the
whole relations and capacities of the doers, unfruitful works, however
they may seem laden with ruddy clusters. It is only lives into which
that river of God which is full of water flows that bring forth fruit,
and whose fruit remains. The desert irrigated becomes a garden of the
Lord.

Note, too, how this river drowns out wild beasts. The true way of
conquering evil is to turn the river into it. Cultivate, and weeds die.
The expulsive power of a new affection is the most potent instrument
for perfecting character.

What is the use of water if we do not drink? We may perish with thirst
even on the river's bank. 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me and
drink.'



THE KING'S HIGHWAY

'And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the
way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be
for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No
lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it
shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there.'--ISAIAH
xxxv. 8, 9.


We can fancy what it is to be lost in a forest where a traveller may
ride round in a circle, thinking he is advancing, till he dies. But it
is as easy to be lost in a wilderness, where there is nothing to see,
as in a wood where one can see nothing. And there is something even
more ghastly in being lost below the broad heavens in the open face of
day than 'in the close covert of innumerous boughs.' The monotonous
swells of the sand-heaps, the weary expanse stretching right away to
the horizon, no land-marks but the bleaching bones of former victims,
the gigantic sameness, the useless light streaming down, and in the
centre one tiny, black speck toiling vainly, rushing madly hither and
thither--a lost man--till he desperately flings himself down and lets
death bury him, that is the one picture suggested by the text. The
other is of that same wilderness, but across it a mighty king has flung
up a broad, lofty embankment, a highway raised above the sands, cutting
across them so conspicuously that even an idiot could not help seeing
it, so high above the land around that the lion's spring falls far
beneath it, and the supple tiger skulks baffled at its base. It is like
one of those roads which the terrible energy of conquering Rome carried
straight as an arrow from the milestone in the Forum over mountains,
across rivers and deserts, morasses and forests, to flash along them
the lightning of her legions, and over whose solid blocks we travel
to-day in many a land.

The prophet has seen in his vision the blind and deaf cured, the
capacities of human nature destroyed by sin restored. He has told us
that this miraculous change has come from the opening of a spring of
new life in the midst of man's thirsty desert, and now he gets before
us, in yet another image, another aspect of the glorious change which
is to follow that coming of the Lord to save, which filled the farthest
horizon of his vision. The desert shall have a plain path on which
those diseased men who have been healed journey. Life shall no longer
be trackless, but God will, by His coming, prepare paths that we should
walk in them; and as He has given the lame man power to walk, so will
he also provide the way by which His happy pilgrims will journey to
their home.

I. The pathless wandering of godless lives.

The old, old comparison of life to a journey is very natural and very
pathetic. It expresses life's ceaseless change; every day carries us
into a new scene, every day the bends of the road shut out some happy
valley where we fain would have rested, every day brings new faces, new
associations, new difficulties, and even if the same recur, yet it is
with such changes that they are substantially new, and of each day's
march it is true, even when life is most monotonous, that 'ye have not
passed this way heretofore.' It expresses life's ceaseless effort and
constant plodding. To-day's march does not secure to-morrow's rest,
but, however footsore and weary, we have to move on, like some child
dragged along by a careless nurse. It expresses the awful crumbling
away of life beneath us. The road has an end, and each step takes us
nearer to it. The numbers that face us on the milestones slowly and
surely decrease; we pass the last and on we go, tramp, tramp, and we
cannot stop till we reach the narrow chamber, cold and dark, where, at
any rate, we have got the long march over.

But to many men, the journey of life is one which has no definite
direction deliberately chosen, which has no all-inclusive aim, which
has no steady progress. There may be much running hither and thither,
but it is as aimless as the marchings of a fly upon a window, as busy
and yet as uncertain as that of the ants who bustle about on an
ant-hill.

Now that is the idea, which our text implies, of all the activity of a
godless life, that it is not a steady advance to a chosen goal, but a
rushing up and down in a trackless desert, with many immense exertions
all thrown away. Then, in contrast, it puts this great thought: that
God has come to us and made for us a path for our feet.

II. The highway that God casts up.

Of course that coming we take to be Christ's coming, and we have just
to consider the manner in which His coming fulfils this great promise,
and has made in the trackless wilderness a way for us to walk in.

1. Christ gives us a Definite Aim for Life. I know, of course, that men
may have this apart from Him, definite enough in all conscience. But
such aims are unworthy of men's whole capacities. Not one of them is
fit to be made the exclusive, all-embracing purpose of a life, and,
taken together, they are so multifarious that in their diversity they
come to be equal to none. How many we have all had! Most of us are like
men who zig-zag about, chasing after butterflies! Nor are any such aims
certain to be reached during life, and they all are certain to be lost
at death.

Godless men are enticed on like some dumb creature lured to
slaughter-house by a bunch of fodder--once inside, down comes the
pole-axe.

But Christ gives us a definite aim which is worthy of a man, which
includes all others; which binds this life and the next into one.

2. Christ gives us distinct knowledge of whither we should go. It is
not enough to give general directions; we need to know what our next
step is to be. It is of no avail that we see the shining turrets far
off on the hill, if all the valleys between are unknown and trackless.
Well: we have Him to point us our course. He is the exemplar--the true
ideal of human nature. Hour by hour His pattern fits to our lives.
True, we shall often be in perplexity, but that perplexity will clear
itself by patient thought, by holding our wills in suspense till He
speaks, and by an honest wish to go right. There will no longer be
doubt as to what is our law, though there may be as to the application
of it. We are not to be guided by men's maxims, nor by the standards
and patterns round us, but by Him.

3. Christ gives means by which we can reach the aim. He does so by
supplying a stimulus to our activity, in the motive of His love; by the
removal of the hindrances arising from sin, through His redeeming work;
by the gifts of new life from His Spirit.

'The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he
knoweth not how to go to the city.' But he that follows Jesus treads
the right way to the city of habitation.

4. Christ goes with us. The obscure words, 'It shall be for those' are
by some rendered, 'He shall be with them,' and we may take them so, as
referring to the presence with His happy pilgrims of the Lord Himself.
Perhaps Isaiah may have been casting back a thought to the desert
march, where the pillar led the host. But at all events we have the
same companion to 'talk with us by the way,' and make 'our hearts burn
within us,' as had the two disconsolate pedestrians on the road to
Emmaus. It is Jesus who goes before us, whether He leads us to green
pastures and waters of quietness or through valleys of the shadow of
death, and we can be smitten by no evil, since He is with us.

III. The travellers upon God's highway.

Two conditions are laid down in the text. One is negative-the unclean
can find no footing there. It is 'the way of holiness,' not only
because holiness is in some sense the goal to which it leads, but still
more, because only holy feet can tread it, holy at least in the
travellers' aspiration and inward consecration, though still needing to
be washed daily. One is positive--it is 'the simple' who shall not err
therein. They who distrust themselves and their own skill to find or
force a path through life's jungle, and trust themselves to higher
guidance, are they whose feet will be kept in the way.

No lion or ravenous beast can spring or creep up thereon. Simple
keeping on Christ's highway elevates us above temptations and evils of
all sorts, whether nightly prowlers or daylight foes.

This generation is boasting or complaining that old landmarks are
blotted out, ancient paths broken, footmarks obliterated, stars hid,
and mist shrouding the desert. But Christ still guides, and His promise
still holds good: 'He that followeth Me shall not walk in the darkness,
but shall have the light of life.' The alternative for each 'traveller
between life and death' is to tread in His footsteps or to 'wander in
the wilderness in a solitary way, hungry and thirsty,' with fainting
soul. Let us make the ancient prayer ours: 'See if there be any wicked
way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'



WHAT LIFE'S JOURNEY MAY BE

'The redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the Lord shall
return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their
heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall
flee away.'--ISAIAH XXXV 9,10.


We have here the closing words of Isaiah's prophecy. It has been
steadily rising, and now it has reached the summit. Men restored to all
their powers, a supernatural communication of a new life, a pathway for
our journey--these have been the visions of the preceding verses, and
now the prophet sees the happy pilgrims flocking along the raised way,
and hears some faint strains of their glad music, and he marks them,
rank after rank, entering the city of their solemnities, and through
the gates can behold them invested with joy and gladness, while sorrow
and sighing, like some night-loving birds shrinking from the blaze of
that better sun which lights the city, spread their black wings and
flee away.

The noble rhythm of our English version rises here to a strain of
pathetic music, the very cadence of which stirs thoughts that lie too
deep for tears, and one shrinks from taking these lofty words of
immortal hope--which life's sorrows have interpreted, I trust, for many
of us--as the text of a sermon. But I would fain try whether some of
their gracious sweetness and power may not survive even our rude
handling of them.

The prophet here is not only speaking of the literal return of his
brethren from captivity. The place which this prophecy holds at the
very close of the book, the noble loftiness of the language, the entire
absence of any details or specific allusions which compel reference to
the Captivity, would be sufficient of themselves to make us suspect
that there was very much more here. The structure of prophecy is
misunderstood unless it be recognised that all the history of Israel
was itself a prediction, a great supernatural system of types and
shadows, and that all the interventions of the divine hand are one in
principle, and all foretell the great intervention of redeeming love,
in the person of Jesus Christ. Nor need that be unlikely in the eyes of
any who believe that Christ's coming is the centre of the world's
history, and that there is in prophecy a supernatural element. We are
not reading our own fancies into Scripture; we are not using, in
allowable freedom, words which had another meaning altogether, to adorn
our own theology, but we are apprehending the innermost meaning of
prophecy, when we see in it Christ and His salvation (1 Peter i. 10).

We have then here a picture of what Christ does for us weary journeyers
on life's road,

I. Who are the travellers?

'Redeemed,' 'ransomed of the Lord.' Israel had in its past history one
great act, under the imagery of which all future deliverances were
prophesied. The events of the Exodus were the great storehouse from
which prophets drew the clothing of their brightest hopes; and that is
a lesson for us of how to use the history of God's past deliverances.
They believed that each transitory act was a revelation of an
unchanging purpose and an unexhausted power, and that it would be
repeated over and over again. Experience supplied the material out of
which Hope wove its fairest webs, but Faith drove the shuttle. Here the
names which describe the pilgrims come from the old story. They are
slaves, purchased or otherwise set free from captivity by a divine act.
The epithets are transferred to the New Testament, and become the
standing designation for those who have been delivered by Christ.

That designation, 'ransomed of the Lord,' opens out into the great
evangelical thoughts which are the very life-blood of vital
Christianity.

Emancipation from bondage is the first thing that we all need. 'He that
committeth sin is the slave of sin.' An iron yoke presses on every neck.

The needed emancipation can only be obtained by a ransom price. The
question of to whom the ransom is paid is not in the horizon of prophet
or apostle or of Jesus Himself, in using this metaphor. What is
strongly in their minds is that a great surrender must be greatly made
by the Emancipator.

Jesus conceived of Himself as giving 'His life a ransom for the many.'

The emancipation must be a divine act. It surpasses any created power.

There can be no happy pilgrims unless they are first set free.

II. The end of the journey.

'They shall come to Zion.' It is one great distinctive characteristic
and blessedness of the Christian conception of the future that it takes
away from it all the chilling sense of strangeness, arising from
ignorance and lack of experience, and invests it with the attraction of
being the mother-city of us all. So the pilgrims are not travelling a
dreary road into the common darkness, but are like colonists who visit
England for the first time, and are full of happy anticipations of
'going home,' though they have never seen its shores.

That conception of the future perfect state as a 'city' includes the
ideas of happy social life, of a settled polity, of stability and
security. The travellers who were often solitary on the march will all
be together there. The nomads, who had to leave their camping-place
each morning and let the fire that cheered them in the night die down
into a little ring of grey ashes, will 'go no more out,' but yet make
endless progress within the gates. The defenceless travellers, who were
fain to make the best 'laager' they could, and keep vigilant watch for
human and bestial enemies crouching beyond the ring of light from the
camp-fires, are safe at last, and they that swallowed them up shall be
far away.

Contrast the future outlook of the noblest minds in heathenism with the
calm certainty which the gospel has put within the reach of the
simplest! 'Blessed are your eyes, for they see.'

III. The joy of the road.

The pilgrims do not plod wearily in silence, but, like the tribes going
up to the feasts, burst out often, as they journey, into song. They are
like Jehoshaphat's soldiers, who marched to the fight with the singers
in the van chanting 'Give thanks unto the Lord, for His mercy endureth
for ever.' The Christian life should be a joyful life, ever echoing
with the 'high praises of God.' However difficult the march, there is
good reason for song, and it helps to overcome the difficulties. 'A
merry heart goes all the day, a sad heart tires in a mile.' Why should
the ransomed pilgrims sing? For present blessings, for deliverance from
the burden of self and sin, for communion with God, for light shed on
the meaning of life, and for the sure anticipation of future bliss.

'Everlasting joy on their heads.' Other joys are transitory. It is not
only 'we poets' who 'in our youth begin with gladness,' whereof 'cometh
in the end despondency and madness'; but, in a measure, these are the
outlines of the sequence in all godless lives. The world's festal
wreathes wilt and wither in the hot fumes of the banqueting house, and
'the crown of pride shall be trodden under foot.' But joy of Christ's
giving 'shall remain,' and even before we sit at the feast, we may have
our brows wreathed with a garland 'that fadeth not away.'

IV. The perfecting of joy at last.

'They shall obtain joy and gladness': but had they not had it on their
heads as they marched? Yes; but at last they have it in perfect measure
and manner. The flame that burned but dimly in the heavy air of earth
flashes up into new brightness in the purer atmosphere of the city.

And one part of its perfecting is the removal of all its opposites.
Sorrow ends when sin and the discipline that sin needs have ended. 'The
inhabitant shall not say: I am sick; the people that dwell therein
shall be forgiven their iniquity.' Sighing ends when weariness, loss,
physical pain, and all the other ills that flesh is heir to have ceased
to vex and weigh upon the spirit. Life purges the dross of imperfection
from character. Death purges the alloy of sorrow and sighing from joy,
and leaves the perfected spirit possessor of the pure gold of perfect
and eternal gladness.



THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH

'And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and
read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it
before the Lord. 15. And Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord, saying, 16. O
Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, Thou
art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: Thou
hast made heaven and earth. 17. Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear;
open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of
Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. 18. Of a
truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and
their countries, 19. And have cast their gods into the fire: for they
were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore
they have destroyed them. 20. Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us
from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou
art the Lord, even Thou only. 21. Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto
Hezekiah, saying. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Whereas thou hast
prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria.... 33. Therefore thus
saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into
this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields,
nor cast a bank against it. 34. By the way that he came, by the same
shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. 35.
For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my
servant David's sake. 36. Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and
smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five
thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were
all dead corpses. 37. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went
and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 38. And it came to pass, as he was
worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and
Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the
land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his you reigned in his stead.'--ISAIAH
xxxvii. 14-21, 33-38.


Is trust in Jehovah folly or wisdom? That was the question raised by
Sennacherib's invasion. A glance at the preceding chapters will show
how the high military official, 'the rabshakeh,' or chief of the
officers, shaped all his insolent and yet skilful mixture of threats
and promises so as to demonstrate the vanity of trust in Egypt or in
Jehovah, or in any but 'the great king.' Isaiah had been labouring to
lift his countrymen to the height of reliance on Jehovah alone, and now
the crucial test of the truth of his contention had come. On the one
hand were Sennacherib and his host, flushed with victory, and sure of
crushing this puny kinglet Hezekiah and his obstinate little city,
perched on its rock. On the other was nothing but a prophet's word.
Where is the stronger force? And does political prudence dictate
reliance on the Unseen or on the visible? The moment is the crisis of
Isaiah's work, and this narrative has been placed, with true insight
into its importance, at the close of the first half of this book.

To grasp the significance of the text the preceding events have to be
remembered. Hezekiah's kingdom had been overrun, and tribute exacted
from him. The rabshakeh had been sent from the main body of the
Assyrian army, which was down at Lachish in the Philistine low country
on the road to Egypt, in order to try to secure Jerusalem by promises
and threats, since it was too important a post to leave in the rear, if
Egypt was to be invaded. That attempt having failed, and the Egyptian
forces being in motion, this new effort was made to induce Hezekiah to
surrender. A letter was sent, whether accompanied by any considerable
armed force or no does not appear. At this point the narrative begins.
It may be best studied as an illustration of the trial of faith, its
refuge, its pleading, and its deliverance.

I. Note the trial of faith. Rabshakeh had derided the obstinate
confidence in Jehovah, which kept these starving men on the walls
grimly silent in spite of his coaxing. The letter of Sennacherib harps
on the same string. It is written in a tone of assumed friendly
remonstrance, and lays out with speciousness the apparent grounds for
calling trust in Jehovah absurdity. There are no threats in it. It is
all an appeal to common sense and political prudence. It marshals
undeniable facts. Experience has shown the irresistible power of
Assyria. There have been plenty of other little nations which have
trusted in their local deities, and what has become of them? Barbarous
names are flourished in Hezekiah's face, and their wasted dominions are
pointed to as warnings against his committing a parallel folly. There
is nothing in the letter which might not have been said by a friend,
and nothing which was not said by the Jews who had lost their faith in
their God. It was but the putting into plain words of what
'common-sense' and faint faith had often whispered to Hezekiah. The
very absence of temper or demand in the letter gives it an aspect of
that 'sweet reasonableness' so dear to sense-bound souls.

_Mutatis mutandis_, the letter may stand for a specimen of the
arguments which worldly prudence brings to shake faith, in all ages.
We, too, are assailed by much that sounds most forcible from the point
of view of mere earthly calculation. Sennacherib does not lie in
boasting of his victories. He and his shoals of soldiers are very real
and potent. It does seem madness for one little kingdom to stand out,
and all the more so because its king is cooped up in his city, as the
cuneiform inscription proudly tells, 'like a bird in a cage,' and all
the rest of his land is in the conqueror's grip. They who look only at
the things seen cannot but think the men of faith mad. They who look at
the things unseen cannot but know that the men of sense are fools. The
latter elaborately prove that the former are impotent, but they have
left out one factor in their calculations, and that is God. One man and
God at his back are stronger than Sennacherib and all his mercenaries.

II. Note the refuge of tempted faith. What was Hezekiah to do with the
crafty missive? It was hoped that he would listen to reason, and come
down from his perch. But he neither yielded nor took counsel with his
servants, but, like a devout man, went into the house of the Lord, and
spread the letter before the Lord. It would have gone hard with him if
he had not been to the house of the Lord many a time before. It is not
easy to find our way thither for the first time, when our eyes are
blinded by tears or our way darkened by calamities. But faith
instinctively turns to God when anything goes wrong, because it has
been accustomed to turn to Him when all was right, according to the
world's estimate of right and wrong. Whither should the burdened heart
betake itself but to Him who daily bears our burdens? The impulse to
tell God all troubles is as truly a mark of the faithful soul as the
impulse to tell everything to the beloved is the life-breath of love.

The act of spreading the letter before the Lord is an eloquent symbol,
which some prosaic and learned commentators have been dull enough to
call gross, and to compare to Buddhist praying-mills! Its meaning is
expressed in the prayer which follows. It is faith's appeal to His
knowledge. It is faith's casting of its burden on the Lord. Our faith
is of little power to bless, unless it impels us to take God into
confidence in regard to everything which troubles us. If the letter is
not grave enough to be spread before _Him_, it is too small to annoy
_us_. If we truly live in fellowship with God, we shall find ourselves
in His house, with the cause of our trouble in our hands, before we
have time to think. Instinct acts more quickly than reason, and, if our
faith be vital, it will not need to be argued into speaking to God of
all that weighs upon us.

III. Note the pleading of faith. Hezekiah's address to God is no mere
formal recapitulation of divine names, but is the effort of faith to
grasp firmly the truths which the enemy denies, and on which it builds.
So considered, the accumulation of titles in verse 16 is very
instructive, and shows how a trustful soul puts forth the energy of its
faith in summoning to mind the great aspects of the divine name as
bulwarks against suggested fears, and bases of supplication. Hezekiah
appeals to 'the God of Hosts,' the Ruler of all the embattled forces of
the universe, as well as of the armies of angels. What is Sennacherib's
array compared with these? He appeals to the 'God of Israel,' as
pleading the ancient relationship, which binds the unchangeable
Guardian of the people to be still what He has been, and casts the
responsibility of Israel's preservation upon Him. He appeals to Him
'who sits between the cherubim,' as thence defending and filling the
threatened city. He grasps the thought that Jehovah is 'God alone' with
a vividness which is partly due no doubt to Isaiah's teaching, but is
also the indignant recoil of faith from the assumption of the letter,
that Jehovah was but as the beaten deities of Gozan and the rest. Faith
clings the more tenaciously to truths denied, as a dog will hold on to
the stick that one tries to pull from it.

Thus, having heartened himself and pled with God by all these names,
Hezekiah comes to his petition. It is but translating into words the
symbol of spreading the letter before God. He asks God to behold and to
hear the defiant words. Prayer tells God what it knows that He knows
already, for it relieves the burdened heart to tell Him. It asks Him to
see and hear what it knows that He does see and hear. But the prayer is
not for mere observance followed by no divine act, but for taking
knowledge as the precursor of the appropriate help. Of such seeing and
hearing by God, believing prayer is the appointed condition. 'Your
Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him'; but
that is not a reason for silence, but for supplication.

Hezekiah rightly regarded Sennacherib's words as meant to reproach the
living God, for the point of the letter was to dissuade from trust in
Him, as no more powerful than the petty deities of already conquered
cities. The prayer, therefore, pleads that God would take care of His
own honour, and by delivering Jerusalem, show His sole sovereignty. It
is a high and wonderful level for faith to reach, when it regards
personal deliverance mainly in its aspect as vindicating God and
warranting faith. We may too easily conclude that God's honour is
involved in our deliverance, and it is well to be on our guard against
that.

But it is possible to die to self so fully as to feel that our cause is
His, because His is so entirely ours; and then we may come to that
heroic faith which seeks even personal good more for God's sake than
for our own. It was noble that this man should have no word to say
about self but 'Save us, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know
that Thou art God alone.' Like him, we may each feel that our defence
is more God's affair than ours, in proportion as we feel we are His
rather than our own. That siege of Jerusalem was indeed as a duel
between faith and unbelief on the one hand, and between Jehovah and the
gods who were 'no gods' on the other. Sennacherib's letter was a
defiant challenge to Jehovah to do His best for this people, and when
faith repeated in prayer the insolence of unbelief only one result was
possible. It came.

IV. Note the deliverance of faith. Isaiah's grand prophecy tempts us to
linger over its many beauties and magnificent roll of triumphant scorn,
but it falls outside our purpose. As for the catastrophe, it should be
noted that its place and time are not definitely stated, and that
probably the notion that the Assyrian army was annihilated before
Jerusalem is a mistake. Sennacherib and his troops were at Libnah, on
their way to meet the Egyptian forces. If there were any of them before
Jerusalem, they would at most be a small detachment, sufficient to
invest it. Probably the course of events was that, at some time not
specified, soon after the dismissal of the messengers who brought the
letter, the awful destruction fell, and that, when the news of the
disaster reached the detachment at Jerusalem, as the psalm which throbs
with the echoes of the triumph says, 'They were troubled, and hasted
away.'

How complete was the crushing blow the lame record of this campaign in
the inscriptions shows, in which the failure of the attempt to capture
the city is covered up by vapouring about tribute and the like. If it
had not failed, however, the success would certainly have been told, as
all similar cases are told, with abundant boasting. The other fact is
also to be remembered, that Sennacherib tried no more conclusions with
Jerusalem and Jehovah, and though he lived for some twenty years
afterwards, never again ventured on to the soil where that mighty God
fought for His people.

The appended notice of Sennacherib's death has been added by some
narrator, since it probably occurred after Isaiah's martyrdom. 'All
they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.' Such a career as
his could not but give taste for violence and bloodshed, and dimmish
regard for human life. Retribution comes slowly, for twenty years
intervened between the catastrophe to the army and the murder of the
king. Its penalties increase as its fall delays; for first came the
blotting out of the army, and then, when that had no effect, at last
the sword in his own heart. 'He that being often reproved hardeneth his
neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.'

But the great lesson of that death is the same as that of the other
king's deliverance. Hezekiah 'went unto the house of the Lord,' and
found Him a very present help in trouble. Sennacherib was slain in the
house of his god. The two pictures of the worshippers and their fates
are symbolic of the meaning of the whole story. Sennacherib had dared
Jehovah to try His strength against him and his deities. The challenge
was accepted, and that bloody corpse before the idol that could not
help preaches a ghastly sermon on the text, 'They that make them are
like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. O Israel, trust
thou in the Lord: He is their help and their shield.'



WHERE TO CARRY TROUBLES

And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and
read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it
before the Lord.'--ISAIAH xxxvii. 14.


When Hezekiah heard the threatenings of Sennacherib's servants, he rent
his clothes and went into the house of the Lord, and sent to Isaiah
entreating his prayers. When he received the menacing letter, his faith
was greater, having been heartened by Isaiah's assurances. So he then
himself appealed to Jehovah, spreading the letter before Him, and
himself prayed God to guard His own honour, and answer the challenge
flung down by the insolent Assyrian. It is noble when faith increases
as dangers increase.

I. We have here an example of what to do with troubles and difficulties.

We are to lay them out before God, as we can do by praying about them.
Hezekiah's trouble was great. His kingdom could be crushed like an
eggshell by the grasp of Sennacherib's hand. But little troubles as
well as great ones are best dealt with by being 'spread before the
Lord.' Whatever is important enough to disturb me is important enough
for me to speak to God about it. Whether the poison inflaming our blood
be from a gnat's bite, or a cobra's sting, the best antidote is--pray
about it.

How much more real and fervid our prayers would be, if we habitually
turned all our affairs into materials for petition! That is a very
empty dispute as to whether we ought to pray for deliverance from
outward sorrows. If we are living in touch with God, we cannot but take
Him into our confidence, if we may so say, as to everything that
affects us. And we should as soon think of hiding any matter from our
dearest on earth as from our Friend in heaven. 'In _everything_, by
prayer and supplication' is the commandment, and will be the instinct
of the devout heart.

Note Hezekiah's assurance that God cares about him.

Note his clear perception that God is his only help.

Note his identification of his own deliverance with God's honour. We
cannot identify our welfare, or deliverance in small matters, with
God's fair fame, in such a fashion. But we ought to be quite sure that
He will not let us sink or perish, and will never desert us. And we can
be quite sure that, if we identify ourselves and our work with Him, He
will identify Himself with us and it. His treatment of His servants
will tell the world (and not one world only) what He is, how faithful,
how loving, how strong.

II. We have here an example of how God answers His servants' prayers.

It was 'by terrible things in righteousness' that Hezekiah's answer
came. His prayer was at one end of the chain, and at the other was a
camp full of corpses. One poor man's cry can set in motion tremendous
powers, as a low whisper can start an avalanche. That magnificent
theophany in Psalm xviii., with all its majesty and terror of flashing
lightnings and a rocking earth, was brought about by nothing more than
'In my distress I called upon the Lord,' and its purpose was nothing
more than to draw the suppliant out of many waters and deliver him from
his strong enemy.

That army swept off the earth may teach us how much God will do for a
praying child of His. His people's deliverance is cheaply purchased at
such a price. 'He reproved kings for their sake.'

One man with God beside him is stronger than all the world. As the
psalmist learned in his hour of peril, 'Thou, Lord, makest me to dwell
in safety, thou alone!'



GREAT VOICES FROM HEAVEN

'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2. Speak ye
comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is
accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of
the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3. The voice of him that
crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight
in the desert a highway for our God. 4. Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be
made straight, and the rough places plain: 5. And the glory of the Lord
shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth
of the Lord hath spoken it. 6. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What
shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as
the flower of the field: 7. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is
grass. 8. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our
God shall stand for ever. 9. 0 Zion, that bringest good tidings, get
thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good
tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid:
say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! 10. Behold, the Lord God
will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His
reward is with Him, and His work before Him.'--ISAIAH xi. 1-10.


How majestically this second part of the Book of Isaiah opens with
these mysterious voices! Other prophecies are wont to begin with
symbolic visions, but here the ear takes the place of the eye; and
instead of forms and flashing lights, which need to be translated, the
prophet hears words, the impressiveness of which is heightened by the
absence of any designation of the speakers. This much is clear, that
the first words are God's, addressed to the prophets. They are the
keynote of the whole. Israel is comforted in the assurance that her
trial is ended and her sin purged. Then there is silence, broken by a
voice to which no personality is attached, the herald and forerunner of
the coming King and God. When the echoes of it have died away, another
is heard, commanding yet another unnamed to 'cry,' and, in response to
the latter's asking what is to be the burden of his message, bidding
him peal out the frailty of man and the eternal vigour of the word of
the Lord, which assures its own fulfilment.

Then comes a longer pause. The way has been prepared, the coming God
has come; He has set up His throne in the restored Jerusalem, and His
glory is seen upon her. So there rings out from unnamed lips the
stirring command to the city, thus visited by the indwelling God, to
proclaim the glad tidings with a voice, the strength of which shall
correspond to their gladness and certainty. This rapid glance at the
structure of the whole naturally suggests the fourfold division to
which we shall adhere.

I. God speaks and bids His servants speak (vs. 1, 2), That is a
wonderfully tender word with which the silence and sadness of exile are
broken. The inmost meaning of God's voice is ever comfort. What a world
of yearning love there is, too, in the two little words 'my' and
'your'! The exiles are still His; He who has hidden His face from them
so long is still theirs. And what was true of them is true of us; for
sin may separate us from God, but it does not separate Him from us, and
He still seeks to make us recognise the imperishable bond, which itself
is the ground of both our comfort and of His will that we should be
comforted.

As the very first words go deep into the meaning of all God's voices,
and unveil the permanence of His relation of love even to sinful and
punished men, so the next disclose the tender manner of His approach to
us, and prescribe the tone for all His true servants: 'Speak ye to the
heart of Jerusalem,' with loving words, which may win her love; for is
she not the bride of Jehovah, fallen though she be? And is not humanity
the beloved of Jesus, in whom God's heart is unveiled that our hearts
may be won? How shall human voices be softened to tenderness worthy of
the message which they carry? Only by dwelling near enough to Him to
catch the echoes, and copy the modulations, of His voice, as some birds
are taught sweeter notes than their own. The prophet's charge is laid
upon all who would speak of Christ to men. Speak to the heart, not only
to the head or to the conscience. God beseeches in the person of His
'ambassadors.' The substance of the message may well find its way to
the heart; for it is the assurance that the long, hard service of the
appointed term of exile is past, that the sin which brought it about is
forgiven, and, more wonderful and gracious still, that God's mercy
reckons that the ills which followed on faithlessness have more than
expiated it. We need not seek for any other explanation of these
startling words than the exuberance of the divine pity, which 'doth not
willingly afflict.'

Of course, the captivity is in the foreground of the prophet's vision;
but the wider sense of the prophecy embraces the worse captivity of sin
under which we all groan, and the divine voice bids His prophets
proclaim that Jehovah comes, to set us all free, to end the weary
bondage, and to exact no more punishment for sins.

II. The forerunner speaks. There is something very impressive in the
abrupt bursting in of this second voice, all unnamed. It is the
reverberation, as it were, of the former, giving the preparation on the
side of man for the coming of Jehovah. Israel in bondage in Egypt had
been delivered by Jehovah marching through the wilderness, a wilderness
stretched between Babylon and Jerusalem; these supply the scenery, so
to speak; but the scenery is symbolic, and the call is really one to
prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness of human sin, by raising
up the cast-down by reason of transgressions or sorrows, to subdue
lofty thoughts and self-sufficiency by humble self-abnegation, to make
the 'crooked things' or 'rugged things' straight or smooth, and the
rough ground where heights were tumbled on heights a deep valley, by
forsaking evil.

The moral preparation, not the physical, is meant. It was fitting that
the road for such a coming should be prepared. But the coming was not
so contingent on the preparation that the 'glory of the Lord' would not
'be revealed' unless men made a highway for Him. True, that the
revelation of His glory to the individual soul must be preceded by such
a preparation; but that raising of abjectness and levelling of
loftiness needs some perception of Him ere it can be done by man.
Christ must come to the heart before the heart can be prepared for His
coming. John the Baptist came crying in the wilderness, but his fiery
message did little to cast up a highway for the footsteps of the King.
John's immovable humility pierced to the very heart of the prophecy
when he answered the question 'Who art thou?' with 'I am a voice. The
voice was unnamed; why, what does it matter who I am?'

The substance and the range of the coming manifestation are next
defined. It is to be the revelation of 'the glory of the Lord,' and to
be for all mankind, not for Israel only. That lowly life and that
shameful death were a strange revelation of God's glory. If _they_
revealed it, then it cannot consist in power or any of the majestic
'attributes,' but in love, pity, and long-suffering. Love is the
divinest thing in God. The guarantee for all lies simply here, that God
has spoken it. It is because the unnamed herald's ear has heard the
divine voice uttering the gracious assurances of verse 1, that _his_
voice is lifted up in the commands and assurances of verse 4. Absolute
faith in God's utterances, however they seem to transcend experience,
is wisdom and duty.

III. Yet another voice, whether sounding from heaven or earth is as
uncertain as is the person to whom it is addressed, authoritatively
commands a third to 'cry,' and, on being asked what is to be the burden
of the call, answers. This new herald is to proclaim man's frailty and
the immortal vigour of God's word, which secures the fulfilment of His
promises. Is it the questioning voice, or the commanding one, which
says, 'All flesh is grass,... the people is grass'? If the former, it
is the utterance of hopelessness, all but refusing the commission. But,
dramatic as that construction is, it seems better to regard the whole
as the answer to the question, 'What shall I cry?' The repetition of
the theme of man's frailty is not unnatural, and gives emphasis to the
contrast of the unchangeable stability of God's word. An hour of the
deadly hot wind will scorch the pastures, and all the petals of the
flowers among the herbage will fall. So everything lovely, bright, and
vigorous in humanity wilts and dies. One thing alone remains fresh from
age to age,--the uttered will of Jehovah. His breath kills and makes
alive. It withers the creatural, and it speaks the undying word.

This message is to follow those others which tell of God's merciful
promises, that trembling hearts may not falter when they see all
created stays sharing the common lot, but may rest assured that God's
promises are as good as God's facts, and so may hope when all things
visible would preach despair. It was given to hearten confidence in the
prophecy of a future revelation of the glory of God. It remains with us
to hearten confidence in a past revelation, which will stand unshaken,
whatever forces war against it. Its foes and its friends are alike
short-lived as the summer's grass. The defences of the one and the
attacks of the other are being antiquated while being spoken; but the
bare word of God, the record of the incarnate Word, who is the true
revelation of the glory of God, will stand for ever,--'And this is the
Word which by the gospel is preached to you.'

IV. The prophet seems to be the speaker in verses 9-11, or perhaps the
same anonymous voice which already commanded the previous message
summons Jerusalem to become the ambassadress of her God. The coming of
the Lord is conceived as having taken place, and He is enthroned in
Zion. The construction which takes Jerusalem or Zion (the double name
so characteristic of the second part of Isaiah) to be the recipient of
the good tidings is much less natural than that which regards her as
their bearer.

The word rendered 'tellest good tidings' is a feminine form, and falls
in with the usual personification of a city as a woman. She, long laid
in ruins, the Niobe of nations, the sad and desolate widow, is bid to
bear to her daughter cities the glad tidings, that God is in her of a
truth. It is exactly the same thought as 'Cry out and shout, thou
inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of
thee.' The prophecy refers to the Church. It sets forth her highest
office as being the proclamation of her indwelling King. The possession
of Christ makes the Church the evangelist for the world; for it gives
the capacity and the impulse as well as the obligation to speak the
glad tidings. Every Christian has this command binding on him by the
fact of his having Christ.

The command sets forth the bold clearness which should mark the
herald's call. Naturally, any one with a message to peal out to a crowd
would seek some vantage-ground, from which his words might fly the
farther. If we have a message to deliver, let us seek the best place
from which to deliver it. 'Lift up thy voice with strength.' No whisper
will do. Bated breath is no fit vehicle for God's gospel. There are too
many of God's heralds who are always apologising for their message, and
seeking to reconcile it with popular opinions. We are all apt to speak
truth less confidently because it is denied; but, while it is needful
to speak with all gentleness and in meekness to them that oppose, it is
cowardly, as well as impolitic, to let one tremor be heard in our tones
though a world should deny our message.

The command tells the substance of the Church's message. Its essence is
the proclamation of the manifested God. To gaze on Jesus is to behold
God. That God is made known in the twin glories of power and
gentleness. He comes 'as a strong one.' His dominion rests on His own
power, and on no human allies. His reign is retributive, and that not
merely as penally recompensing evil, but as rewarding the faith and
hope of those who waited for Him.

But beyond the limits of our text, in verse 11, we have the necessary
completion of the manifestation, in the lovely figure of the Shepherd
carrying the lambs in His arms, and gently leading the flock of
returning exiles. The strength of Jesus is His lowliness; and His
mighty arm is used, not to wield an iron sceptre, but to gather us to
His bosom and guide us in His ways. The paradox of the gospel, which
points to a poor, weak man dying in the dark on a cross and says,
'Behold the great Power of God!' is anticipated in this prophecy. The
triumphant paradox of the Apostle is shadowed here: 'We preach Christ
crucified, ... the power of God, and the wisdom of God.'



O THOU THAT BRINGEST GOOD TIDINGS

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


There is something very grand in these august and mysterious voices
which call one to another in the opening verses of this chapter. First,
the purged ear of the prophet hears the divine command to him and to
his brethren--Comfort Jerusalem with the message of the God who comes
for her deliverance. Then afar off another voice is heard, the herald
and forerunner of the approaching Deity; and when thus the foundation
has been laid, yet another takes up the speech, and 'The voice said,
Cry,' and the anonymous recipient of the command asks with what message
he shall be entrusted, and the answer is the signature and pledge of
the divine fulfilment of the word thus spoken. And then there comes, as
I take it, a pause of silence, within which the great Epiphany and
manifestation takes place, and the coming God comes, enters into the
rebuilded city, and there shines in His beauty; and then breaks forth
the rapturous commandment of my text to the resuscitated city, to tell
to all her daughters of Judah the glad tidings of a present God.

I need not, I suppose, spend your time in vindicating the translation
of our Bible as against one which has been made very familiar by being
wedded to Handel's music, and has commended itself to many, according
to which Zion is rather the recipient than the herald of the tidings,
'O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with
strength,' and so on.

And I suppose I need not either spend any time in vindicating the
transference of the text to the Gentile Church, beyond the simple
remark that, whatever be the date of this second portion of Isaiah's
prophecy, its standpoint is the time of the Captivity, when Jerusalem
lay desolate, burned with fire, and all their pleasant things were laid
waste, so that the city here addressed is the new form of the ancient
Zion, which had risen from her ashes, and had a better tidings of glad
significance to impart to all the nations. And so, dear brethren,
looking at the words from that point of view, I think that they may
very fairly yield to us two or three very old-fashioned and well-worn
thoughts, which may yet be stimulating and encouraging to us. I take
them as simply as possible, just as they run here in this text, which
brings out very strikingly and beautifully, first, the function of the
Evangelist Zion; secondly, the manner of her message; and lastly, its
contents.

I. Look with me at the thoughts that cluster round the name, 'O Zion,
that bringest glad tidings.'

It is almost a definition of the Church; at any rate, it is a
description of her by her most characteristic office and function, that
which marks and separates her from all associations and societies of
men. This is her highest office; this is the reason of her being; this
is her noblest dignity. All mystical powers have been claimed for her,
men have been bidden to submit their judgment and manhood to her
authority; but her true dignity is that she bears a gospel in her hand,
and that grace is poured into her lips. Fond and sense-bound regrets
have been sighed forth that her miracle-working gifts have faded away;
but so long as her voice can quicken dead souls, and make the tongue of
the dumb to speak, her noblest energies remain unimpaired, and so we
may think of her as most exalted and dignified in that her Master
addresses her, 'O Zion, that bringest good tidings.'

Now, if I was right in my preliminary remark, to the effect that, prior
to my text, we are to suppose the manifestation and approach of the
Divine Deliverer, then I think it is quite clear that what constitutes
Zion the messenger of good tidings is the presence in her of the living
God. Translate that into New Testament language, and it just comes to
this: that what constitutes the Church the evangelist for the world is
the simple possession of Christ or of the Gospel. That thought branches
into some considerations on which we may touch.

The first of them is this: Whoever has Christ has the power to impart
Him. All believers are preachers, or meant to be so, by virtue of the
possession of that Divine Christ for your own. We Nonconformists are
ready enough to proclaim the universal priesthood of all believers when
we are opposing ecclesiastical assumption; are we as ready to take it
for the law of our own lives, and to say, 'Yes, priests by the
imposition of a mightier hand, and ministers of Christ by the
possession of Christ, and therefore bound and able to impart Him to all
around'? He has given us His love, and He thereby has made us fit to
impart Him. Zion only needed to receive its God, in order thereby to
possess the power to say unto all the cities of Judah, 'Behold your
God.' It does not take much genius, it does not take much culture, it
does not need any prolonged training, for a man who has Christ to say,
'Behold, I have Him.' The very first Christian sermon that was ever
preached was a very short one, and a very effectual one, for it
converted the whole congregation, and it was this: 'We have found the
Messiah.' That was all--the utterance of individual possession and
personal experience--and it 'brought him to Jesus.'

Take another point. The possession of Christ for ourselves imposes upon
us the obligation to impart Him. All property in this world is trust
property, and everything that a man has that can help or bless the
moral or spiritual or intellectual condition of his fellows, he is
thereby under solemn obligation to impart. There is an obligation
arising from the bands that knit us to one another, so that no man can
possess his good alone without being untrue to what we call nowadays
the solidarity of humanity. You have, you say, the bread of life: very
well, what would you think of a man in a famine who, when women were
boiling their children, and men were fighting with the swine on the
dunghill for garbage, was content to eat his morsel alone, and leave
others to perish by starvation? You possess, you say, the healing for
all the diseases of humanity: very well, what would you think of a man
who, in a pestilence, was contented with swallowing his own specific,
and leaving others to die and to rot in the street? If you have the
Christ, you have Him that you may impart Him. 'He that withholdeth
bread, the people shall curse him'; of how much deeper malediction from
despairing lips will they be thought worthy who call themselves the
followers of Him that gave His life to be the bread of the world, and
yet withhold it from famishing souls?

And it is an obligation that arises, too, from the very purposes of our
calling. What are Christian men and women saved for? For their own
blessedness? Yes, and no. No creature in God's great universe but is
great enough to be a worthy end of the divine action; the happiness of
the humblest and most insignificant moves His mighty hand. Ay, but no
creature in God's universe so great as that he is a worthy end of the
divine action, if he is going to keep all the divine gifts in himself.
We are all brought into the light that we may impart light.

  'Heaven doth with us as we with torches do;
  Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
  Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
  As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch'd
  But to fine issues.'

II. And now turn to the second thought which I desire to draw from
these words. We have here, in a very picturesque and vivid form, the
setting forth of the manner in which the Evangelist Zion is to proclaim
her message.

The fair-featured herald is bidden to get up into the high
mountain--perhaps a mere picturesque detail, perhaps some reference to
the local position of the city set upon a hill--like the priests on
Ebal and Gerizim, or Alpine shepherds, calling to each other across the
valleys, to secure some vantage-ground, and next, to let her voice roll
out across the glen. No faltering whisper will do, but a voice that
compels audience, that can be heard above the tumult and afar off, and
confident and loud and clear, because courageous and without dread.
'Lift up thy voice with strength.' Yes, but a timid heart will make a
tremulous voice, and fear and doubt will whisper a message when courage
will ring it out. 'Be not afraid' is the foundation of the clearness
and the loudness with which the word is to be uttered.

That thought opens itself out into these two others, on each of which I
say a word or two. Our message is to be given with a courage and a
force that are worthy of it; 'Be not afraid.' That is a lesson for this
day, my brethren. There are plenty of causes of fear round about us if,
like poor Peter on the water, we look at the waves instead of at the
Master. There are the great forces of evil that are always arrayed
against Christ. There is the thoroughgoing and formidable rejection of
all that is dearest to us, which is creeping like poison through
cultivated society at home; there is the manifest disproportion between
our resources and the task that we have set ourselves to. 'They need
not depart; give ye them to eat,' said the Master. What! five thousand
people need not depart, and only this scanty provision of loaves and
fishes! Yes; the Master's hand can multiply it. There is the
consciousness of our own weakness; there is the apparent slow progress
of the Gospel in the world. All these things come surging in upon us
when our spirits are low and our faith weak; and yet the message comes
to us, 'Be not afraid.' I venture to break that injunction up into two
or three exhortations, which I cast into the shape of exhortations, not
from any assumption of superiority, but for the sake of point and force.

First of all, I would say, let us cherish a firm, soul-absorbing
confidence in the power and truth of the message we have to carry. I do
not speak now of the intellectual discipline which may be required from
each of us to meet the difficulties of this day--that is outside of my
present subject; but there is a moral discipline quite as important as
the intellectual. There cannot be any question, I suppose, to any one
who looks round about, and notices the tendencies of his own mind, but
that all we Christian people, in our various circles and organisations,
are under a very great temptation to a very perceptible lowering of our
key in the presence of widespread doubt. We are tempted to fancy that a
truth is less certain because it is denied; that because a has attacked
this thing, and b's clever book has unsettled that thing, and c's
researches seem to cast a great deal of doubt upon that other thing,
therefore we are to surrender them all, and talk about them as if they
were doubtful problems or hypotheses rather than sure verities of our
faith. And there are some of us, I venture to say, who are in danger of
another temptation, and that is of getting a little ashamed and
becoming afraid to say 'Yes, I stand by that great truth, God in Christ
reconciling the world to Himself,' for fear of being thought to
be--well, 'narrow' is the favourite word, 'old-fashioned,' or 'holders
of a creed outworn,' 'in antagonism with the spirit of the age,' and so
on, and so on. Brethren, I am not the man, I hope, to preach an
unreasonable attitude of antagonism; I am not the man to ask anybody to
exaggerate his beliefs because somebody else denies them, but I do
believe that among us all, and especially among young men, there is the
temptation just to be a little bit afraid, and not to let the voice
ring out with that clear certitude which becomes the messenger of the
Cross. Try by mental discipline to find intellectual standing-ground
that will be firm below your feet, and then remember that that is not
all, but that moral discipline is wanted also that I may open my mouth
boldly, as I ought to speak.'

And then, if I might venture to dwell for a moment or two further upon
this class of consideration, I would say, Do not let us make too much
of the enemy. There is no need why we should take them at their own
appraisement. Men are always tempted to think that no generation ever
had such a fight as their own generation. They have said that ever
since there was a Christian Church. But the true, healthy way of
looking at the adversary--and by that I mean all the various forms of
difficulty which beset us in our evangelistic work, difficulties in the
mission-field, difficulties in the state of things here round us--the
true, healthy way of looking at them all, is to look at them as the
brave Apostle Paul did, when he said, 'I am going to stop at Ephesus
till Pentecost, for there is a great and effectual door opened to me.'
And how did he know that? He tells us in the next clause, 'There are
many adversaries.' Where there are many adversaries, there is an
effectual door, if you and I are bold and big enough to go in and
occupy.

And then I would venture to say, still further, let us remember the
victories of the past. Let us make personal experience of the
overcoming powers that are stored and hidden in Christ's Gospel. And,
above all, let us remember who fights with us. Jesus Christ and one man
are always the majority. There is an old story, which you may remember,
about the Conqueror of Rome, who dashed his sword into the scales when
the ransom was being weighed; and Christ flings His sharp sword with
the two edges into the scales when we are weighing resources, and the
other kicks the beam. There are enemies, plenty of them, all round
about. Yes, and the spreading forth of their wings fills the breadth of
the land. Be it so. But notwithstanding the irruption of the barbarous
and cruel hosts, it is 'Thy land, O Emanuel!' And in His time He will
sweep them before His presence, as the north wind drives the locusts
into the hindermost sea. I do not know if any of you remember an
ancient Christian legend, and I do not know whether it is a legend or a
truth--it does not matter, it will serve for our purpose all the same
either way--how when the Emperor Julian, surnamed the Apostate, once
taunted a humble Christian man with the question, 'What is the
carpenter's son doing now?' and the answer was, 'Hewing wood for the
emperor's funeral pile,' and not very long after there came the fatal
field on which, according to ancient tradition, he died with the words
on his lips, 'Thou hast conquered, Galilean. As in Carlyle's grand
translation of Luther's Hymn of the Reformation--

  'Of our own strength we nothing can,
  Full soon were we downridden;
  But for us fights the proper Man,
  Whom God Himself hath bidden.
  Ask ye, who is the same?
  Christ Jesus is His name,
  The Lord Sabaoth's Son.
  He and none other one
  Shall conquer in this battle.'

'Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid.'

III. I come to the last thought that emerges from these words, and that
is the substance and contents of the Evangelist Zion's message: 'Say
unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!'

They were to be pointed to a great historical act, in which God had
manifested and made Himself visible to men; and the words of my text
are, not only an exclamation, but they are an entreaty, and the message
was to be given to these little daughter cities of Judah as
representing all of those for whom the deliverance had been
wrought--all which things are paralleled in the message that is
committed to our hand.

For, first of all, we all have given to us the charge of pointing men
to the great historical fact wherein God is visible to men, and so
crying, 'Behold your God!' God cannot be revealed by word, God cannot
be revealed by thought. There is no way open to Him to make Himself
known to His creatures except the way by which men make themselves
known to one another; that is, by their deeds; and so, high above all
speculation, high above all abstraction, nearer to us than all thought
stands the historical fact in which God shows Himself to the world, and
that is the person and work of Jesus Christ, 'the brightness of His
glory and the express image of His person,' in whom the abysses of the
divine nature are opened, and through whom all the certitude of divine
light that human eyes can receive pours itself in genial and yet
intensest radiance upon the world. How beautiful in that connection the
verses following my text are I need only indicate in a word as I pass,
'Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand,' and yet, 'behold, He
shall feed His flock like a shepherd.' And so in Christ is the power of
God, for I take it that He is the arm of the Lord; and in Christ is the
gentleness of God; and whilst men grope in the darkness, our business
is to point to the living, dying Son, and to say, 'There you have the
complete, the ultimate revelation of the unseen God.'

And do not let us forget that the burning centre of all that brightness
is the Cross, that ever-wondrous paradox; that the depth of humiliation
is the height of glorifying; that Christ's Cross is the throne of the
manifested divine power quite as much as it is the seat of the
manifested divine love, and that when He is hanging there in His
weakness and mortal agony, the words are yet true--strange,
paradoxical, blessedly true--'He that hath seen Me hath seen the
Father.' And when we say, pointing to His Cross and Him there, His brow
paled with dying, and His soul faint with loss--when we say, 'Behold
the Lamb!' we are also and therein saying, 'Behold your God!'

And therefore, with what of gentleness, with what of tenderness, with
what of patient entreaty as well as strength and confidence, the word
that speaks of a strength manifested in weakness, and a God made
visible in Christ, should be spoken, it needs not here to enlarge
upon--only take that one last thought that I suggested, that this
message comes to all those for whom God has appeared, and for whom the
deliverance has been wrought. We each have the right, and we each have
the charge, to go to every man and say, 'Behold your God!' and the
hearts of men will leap up to meet the message. For, though overlaid by
sin, perverted often into its own opposite by fear, misinterpreted and
misunderstood by the very men that bear it, there yet lies deep in
every heart the aching thirst for the living God, and we have the word
that alone can meet that thirst. All around us men are saying--'In all
the fields of science and of nature, in human history and in the spirit
of men, I find no God,' and are falling back into that dreary negation,
'Behold, we know not anything!' And some of them, orphaned in their
agony, are crying, though it be often in contemptuous tones that almost
sound as if they meant the opposite, 'Oh, that I knew where I might
find Him!' We have a word that can meet that. For cultivated Europe it
has come to this--Christ or nothing; either He has shown us the Father,
or there is no knowledge of Him possible. We do not need to dread the
alternative; we can face it, and overcome it. And in far-off lands men
are groping in twilight uncertainty, worshipping, with a nameless
horror at their hearts, gods capricious, gods cruel, gods
terrible--tamely believing in gods far-off and mysterious, cowering
before gods careless and heartless, degrading their manhood by
imitating gods foul and bestial, and yet all the while dimly feeling,
'Surely, surely there is somewhere a good and a fair Being, that has an
eye to see my sorrows, and a heart to pity them; an ear to hear my
prayer, and a hand to stretch out.' We have a word that can meet that.
Let that word ring out, brother, as far as your influence can reach.
Set the trumpet to thy mouth, and say, 'Behold your God!' and be sure
that from the uttermost parts of the earth we shall hear the choral
songs of many voices answering, 'Lo! this is our God, we have waited
for Him, and He will save us! This is our God; we will be glad and
rejoice in His salvation!'



'HAVE YE NOT? HAST THOU NOT?'

'Have ye not known, have ye not heard? hath it not been told yon from
the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the
earth?... Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard?'--ISAIAH xl. 21 and
28.


The recurrence of the same form of interrogation in these two verses is
remarkable. In the first case the plural is used, in the second the
singular, and we may reasonably conclude that as Israel is addressed in
the latter, the nations outside the sphere illumined by Revelation are
appealed to in the former. The context of the two passages confirms
this reference, for the witness of Creation and History is summoned in
the former section, and that of God's inward dealings with trustful
souls is brought out in the latter.

I. What Nature and History tell men about God.

Observe that emphatic '_told you_'; then the witness here appealed to
is truly a Revelation, though a silent one. 'There is no speech nor
language,' yet 'their line is gone out through all the earth, and their
words to the ends of the world.'

The general idea of the divine nature, as revealed 'from the beginning'
and 'from the foundation of the earth,' is that of Majesty transcending
all comparison.

The contrast is drawn between Him and men, in the magnificent image of
Him as throned above 'the circle of the earth,' and so far above that
all the busy tribes of men 'are as grasshoppers,' their restless
activity but aimless leaping, and 'the tumult of the peoples' only as a
meaningless chirping.

God's creative and sustaining power is further set forth by that great
image of His 'stretching out the heavens as a curtain, and spreading
them out as a tent to dwell in.' As easily as travellers set up their
tents when the day's march is done, did He stretch the great expanse
above the low earth; and all its depths and spaces are, in comparison
with Him, thin, transient, and as easily rolled up and put aside as the
stuff that makes a nomad's home for a night. Nor are the two implied
thoughts that 'the heavens' are a veil screening Him from men even
while they tell of Him to men, and that they are His lofty
dwelling-place, to be left out of view.

But in verse 26 we have a more specific and grander exhibition of God's
relation to the Universe. The stars, in number numberless, are
conceived of as a great army drilled and directed by Him. And that
metaphor, familiar to us as it is, and condensed into the divine title
so frequent in this prophetic book, is pregnant with great truths.

It speaks of God as the Imperator, the Commander, exercising supreme
authority by 'the word of His power,' and of creation as obedient
thereto. 'For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in the heavens.' The
Commander needs but to speak, and so mystic is the power of His uttered
will, that effects on the material universe follow that altogether
immaterial energy.

It speaks of the harmony and order of the whole Creation. 'By number'
and 'by name' He sways and ranks them. 'All things work together.' They
are an ordered whole--a kosmos, not a chaos. Modern science is slowly
establishing by experiment the truth which is enshrined in that old
name, 'the Lord of hosts,' that all things in the physical universe are
a unity.

It speaks of the perfectness of God's knowledge of each item in the
mighty whole. 'He calleth them all by name.' Thereby are expressed
authority, ownership, particular knowledge of, and relation to, each
individual of the overwhelming aggregate. God knows all, because He
knows each.

It speaks of the inexhaustible energy of His sustaining power, and the
consequent strength of His creatures. 'Preservation is a continued
creation.' The prophet saw much deeper than the mechanical view of the
creative act. To him God was, to use more modern language, 'immanent'
as well as 'transcendent.' True, He 'sits above the circle of the
earth,' but as truly He is working on His creatures, and it is by His
communicated strength that they are strong. If any being--star, or
insect--were separated utterly from Him, it would crumble into
nothingness.

But the appeal to Creation is singularly interrupted by an appeal to
History. The prophet drops from the serene expanse of the silent yet
eloquent heavens to the stormy scenes of changing dynasties and
revolutions of earth's kingdoms. How calm the one, how tumultuous the
other! How the one witnesses to Him by its apparently unchanging
continuance! how the other witnesses by its swift mutations! In the
one, He is revealed as Preserver; in the other, the most clear
demonstration of His power is given in His destroying of rebel
kingdoms. But in these acts by which ancient and firmly rooted
dynasties are rooted up or withered as by the simoom, He reveals a side
of His nature to which the calm heavens bore no witness. He is the
moral Governor of the world, 'The history of the world is the judgment
of the world,' and when hoary iniquities are smitten to death, 'the
Holy One' is revealed as the righteous Judge. And the conjoint witness
of creation and of history attests that none can be 'likened' to Him.

II. What Revelation tells Israel about God.

It is noteworthy that in the section of which our first text is the
centre, there is no mention of the divine Name, and even the well-known
title, 'the Holy One of Israel,' is truncated, so as to leave out
reference to the people of Revelation; whereas in this section He is
not only designated as God and Creator, but as Jehovah, the God who has
made a covenant with Israel, and made known His will and to some extent
His nature. The distinct climax in the divine Names itself implies a
nobler relation to men, and a clearer revelation than was declared in
the former part of this prophecy. It is the fitting preparation for the
loftier and infinitely more tender and touching aspect of the divine
nature which shines with lambent, inviting lustre within the sphere of
Revelation.

The distinctive glory of the long process of God's self-manifestation
to Israel is that, while it emphasises all that nature and history
affirm of Him, it sets Him forth as restoring the weak, as well as
sustaining the strong. The sad contrast between the untroubled and
unwearied strength of the calm heavens and the soon-exhausted strength
of struggling and often beaten men strikes the poet prophet's sensitive
soul. He did not know, what modern astronomy teaches us, that change,
convulsions, ruin, are not confined to earth, but that stars as well as
men faint and fail, dwindle and die. The scriptural view of Nature is
not that of the scientist, but that of the poet and of the devout man.
It lies quite apart from the scientific attitude, and has as good a
right to exist as it has. The contrast of heaven and earth is for the
prophet the contrast of strength with weakness, of joyful harmony with
moral disorder, of punctual, entire obedience with rebellion and the
clash of multitudes of anarchic self-willed men.

But there is a sadder contrast still--namely, that between God and the
wretched weaklings that men have made of themselves. 'He fainteth not,
neither is weary.' Strange anomaly that in His universe there should be
the faint and 'them that have no might'! The only explanation of such
an exception to the order of Creation is that men have broken loose
from Creation's dependence on God, and that therefore the inflow of
sustaining strength has been checked. In other words, man's weakness
comes from man's sin.

Hence to restore strength to those whose power has been drained away by
sin is God's divinest work. It is more to restore than to sustain. It
takes less energy to keep a weight stationary at a height than to roll
it up again if it falls to the bottom. Since sin is the cause of our
weakness, the first step to deliver from the weakness is to deliver
from the sin. If we are ever to be restored, hearts, consciences,
averted wills must be dealt with--and but One Hand can deal with these.

And not only does God outdo all His mightiest works in the work of
restoring strength to the faint, but He crowns that restoration by
making the restored weakling like Himself. 'He fainteth not, neither is
weary.' They, too, 'shall ran and not be weary, they shall walk and not
faint.' In the long drawn out grind of monotonous marching along the
common path of daily small duties and uneventful life, they shall not
faint; in the rare occasional spurts, occurring in every man's
experience, when extraordinary tax is laid on heart and limbs, they
shall not be weary. And they will be able both to walk and to run,
because they soar on wings as eagles. And they do all because they wait
on the Lord. Communion with Him buoys us above this low earth, and
bears us up into the heavenly places, and, living there, we shall be
fit for the slow hours of commonplace plodding and for the crowded
moments of great crises.



UNFAILING STABS AND FAINTING MEN

'...For that He is strong in power; not one faileth.... He giveth power
to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth
strength.'--ISAIAH xl. 26 and 29.


These two verses set forth two widely different operations of the
divine power as exercised in two sadly different fields, the starry
heavens and this weary world. They are interlocked, as it were, by the
recurrence in the latter of the emphatic words of the former. The one
verse says, 'He is strong in power'; the other, 'He giveth power.' In
the former verse, 'the greatness of His might' sustains the stars; in
the latter verse, a still diviner operation is set forth in that 'to
them that have no might He increaseth strength.' Thus there are three
contrasts suggested: that between unfailing stars, and men that faint;
that between the unwearied God and wearied men; and that between the
sustaining power that is exercised in the heavens and the restoring
power that is manifested on earth.

There is another interlocking between the latter of these two texts and
its context, which is indicated by a similar recurrence of epithets. In
my second text we read of the 'faint,' and in the verse that follows
it, again we find the expressions 'faint' and 'weary,' while in the
verse before my text we read that 'the Lord fainteth not, neither is
weary.' So again the contrast between Him and us is set forth, but, in
the verse that closes the chapter, we read how that contrast merges
into likeness, inasmuch as the unfainting and unwearied God makes even
the men that wait upon Him unwearied and unfainting. Here, then, we
have lessons that we may well ponder.

Note, first--

I. That sad contrast.

The prophet in the former of these verses seems to be expanding the
thoughts that lie in the name, 'the Lord of hosts,' in so far as that
name expresses the divine relation to the starry universe. The image
that underlies both it and the words of the text is that of a captain
who commands his soldiers, and they obey. Discipline and plan array
them in their ranks; they are not a mob, but an army. The voice that
reads the roll-call summons one after another to his place, and,
punctually obedient, there they stand, ready for any evolution that may
be prescribed. The plain prose of which is, that night by night above
the horizon rise the bright orbs, and roll on their path obedient to
the Sovereign will; 'because He is strong in might not one' is lacking.
Astronomers have taught us, what the prophet did not know, that even in
the apparently serene spaces there are collisions and catastrophes, and
that stars may dwindle and dim, and finally go out. But while Scripture
deals with creation neither from the scientific nor from the aesthetic
point of view, it leaves room for both of these--for all that the
poet's imagination can see or say, for all that the scientist's
investigation can discover, it sees that beneath the beauty is the
Fountain of all loveliness, beneath and behind the 'number' of the
numberless stars works the infinite will of God. Surely an intelligible
creation must have an intelligent source. Surely a universe in which
Mind can apprehend order and number must have a Mind at the back of it.
Wordsworth has nobly said of Duty what we may more truly say of God:
'Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong, And the most ancient heavens
through Thee are fresh and strong.' 'For that He is great in might, not
one faileth.' Scripture bids us think of God, not as a creative energy
that set the universe in motion, and leaves it to roll or spin, but as
of a Divine Presence--to use a word which can only be in a very
modified sense applied to that mysterious, intelligent
Entity--operating in, and being the sustaining Cause of, all that is.
This Divine Presence stamps its signature on the unfailing strength of
these bright creatures above.

But in our second text we drop from the illumination of the heavens to
the shadowed plain of this low earth. It is as if a man, looking up
into the violet sky, with all its shining orbs, should then turn to
some reeking alley, with its tumult and its squalor. Just because man
is greater than the stars, man 'fails,' whilst they shine on unwearied.
For what the prophet has in view as the clinging curse that cleaves to
our greatness, is not merely the bodily fatigue which is necessarily
involved in the very fact of bodily existence, since energy cannot be
put forth without waste and weariness, but it is far more the weary
heart, the heart that is weary of itself, the heart that is weary of
toil, the heart that is weary of the momentary crises that demand
effort, and wearier still of the effortless monotony of our daily
lives; the heart that all of us carry, and which to all of us sometimes
whispers, with a dark and gloomy voice which we cannot contradict,
'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.' I was going to say, happy are you
if you do not know that weariness, but I check myself and say, tenfold
more miserable are you if you have never been sober and wise enough to
have felt the weariness and weight of all this unintelligible world,
and of your own sorry selves.

For it is ever to be remembered that the faintness and the ebbing away
of might, which is the truly tragic thing in humanity, does not depend
upon physical constitution, but upon separation from the Source of all
strength, breaking the union between ourselves and God. If a star could
shake off its dependence, and shut out the influx of the sustaining
power that by continual creation preserves it, it would die into
darkness, or crumble into dust. It cannot, and we cannot, in so far as
our physical being is concerned, but we can shake ourselves free from
God, in so far as the life of the spirit is concerned, and the godless
spirit bears the Cain-curse of restlessness and weariness ever upon it.
So the contrast between the unfailing strengths that ever shine down
upon us from the heavens, and the weariness of body and of mind
afflicting the sleeping millions on whom they shine, is tragical
indeed. But far more tragical is the contrast, of which the other is
but an indication because it is a consequence, the contrast between the
punctual obedience with which these hosts, summoned by the great
Commander, appear and take their places, and the self-will which turns
a man into a 'wandering star unto whom is reserved the blackness of
darkness for ever.' Above is peace and order, because above is the
supremacy of an uncontested will. Below is tumult and weariness,
because when God says 'Thou shalt,' men respond, 'I will not.'

Secondly, my text suggests to us--

II. Another sad contrast, melting into a blessed likeness.

'He fainteth not, neither is weary.' 'He giveth power to the faint.'
'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall
utterly fail,' but waiting on God the curse removes, and faintness and
weariness cease, and the humble man becomes in some measure participant
of, and conformed to, that life which knows no exhausting, operates
unspent, burns with an undying flame, works and never wearies. We may
take to ourselves all the peace and strength that come from that
transcendent hope, whilst we are still subject, as of course we must
be, to the limitations imposed on spirits fettered, as well as housed,
in body. Whilst toil leaves as its consequence fatigue, and as our days
increase our strength wanes; whilst physical weariness remains
unaffected, there may pour into our spirits the influx of divine power,
by which they will remain fresh and strong through advancing years and
heavy tasks and stiff battles. Is it not something to believe it
possible that

                 'In old age, when others fade,
                  _We_ fruit still forth shall bring'

Is it not something to know it as a possibility that we may have that
within us which has no tendency to decay, which neither perishes with
the using nor is exhausted by exercise, which grows the more the longer
we live, which has in it the pledge of immortality, because it has in
it the impossibility of exhaustion? Thus to all of us who know how
weary life sometimes is, thus to those of us who in the flush of our
youth are deceived into thinking that the vigorous limbs will always be
vigorous, and the clear eyesight will always be keen, and to those of
us who, in the long weary levels of middle life, where there are few
changes, are worn out by the eventless recurrence, day after day, of
duties that have become burdensome, because they are so small, and to
those of us who are learning by experience how inevitably early
strength utterly fails; to us all surely it comes us a gospel, 'They
that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall run and
not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.' It is true; and each of
us may set to our seals, if we will, that the promise is faithful and
sure.

Is that not a higher exercise of power than to 'preserve the stars from
wrong'? Is not the strength that restores mightier than the strength
that sustains? Is not the hand that, put beneath the falling body,
stops its plunge, and lifts it whence it fell, displaying a greater
manifestation of strength, than the hand that held it unfailing at the
height? The mighty miracle of the calm, steadfast heavens, with no
vacant spaces where yesterday a star blazed, is less than the miracle
of that restoring energy which, coming to men separated from the
Fountain of power, re-establishes the connection between them, and out
of the fainting creature makes one that is neither faint nor weary for
ever. God is greater, in the miracle that He works upon you and me,
poor strengthless souls, than when He rolls the stars along. Redemption
is more than Creation, and to the hosts of 'the principalities and
powers in heavenly places, is made known,' by the Church, 'of restored
and redeemed souls, the manifold wisdom of God.'

What are the consequences that the prophet traces to this restoring
power? 'They shall mount up with wings as eagles.' Power to soar, to
lift our heavy selves from earth, and to reach the heavenly places
where we shall commune with God, that is the greatest of all gifts to
strengthened spirits. And it is the foundation of all the others, for
it is only they who know how to soar that can creep, and it is only
they who have renewed their strength hour by hour, by communion with
the Source of all energy and might, who when they 'drop with quivering
wings, composed and still,' down to the low earth, there live unwearied
and unfainting.

'They shall run and not be weary.' Crises come--moments when
circumstances demand from us more than ordinary energy and swifter rate
of progress. We have often, in the course of our years, to make short
spurts of unusual effort. 'They shall run and not be weary. They shall
walk.' The bulk of our lives is a slow jog-trot, and it is harder to
keep elasticity, buoyancy, freshness of spirit, in the eventless
mill-horse round of our trivial lives than it is in the rarer bursts.
Excitement helps us in the one; nothing but dogged principle, and close
communion with God, 'mounting on wings as eagles,' will help us in the
other. But we may have Him with us in all the arid and featureless
levels across which we have to plod, as well as in the height to which
we sometimes have to struggle upwards, or in the depths into which we
have sometimes to plunge. If we have the life of Christ within us, then
neither the one nor the other will exhaust our energy or darken our
spirits.

Lastly, one word as to--

III. The way by which these contrasts can be reconciled, and this
likeness secured.

'They that wait upon the Lord'--that is the whole secret. What does
waiting on the Lord include? Let me put it in three brief exhortations.
Keep near Him; keep still; expect. If I stray away from Him, I cannot
expect His power to come to me. If I fling myself about, in vain
impatience, struggling, resisting providences, shirking duties,
perturbing my soul, I cannot expect that the peace which brings
strength, or the strength which brings peace, will come to me. It must
be a windless sea that mirrors the sunshine and the blue, and the
troubled heart has not God's strength in it. If I do not expect to get
anything from Him, He will not give me anything; not because He will
not, but because He cannot. Take the old Psalmist's words, 'I have
quieted myself as a weaned child,' and nestle on the great bosom, and
its warmth, its fragrance, its serenity will be granted to you. Keep
hold of God's hand in expectation, in submission, in close union, and
the contact will communicate something of His own power. 'In quietness
and in confidence shall be your strength.' The bitter contrasts may all
be harmonised, and the miraculous assimilation of humanity to divinity
may, in growing measure according to our faith, be realised in us. And
though we must still bear the limitations of our present corporeal
condition, and though life's tasks must still oftentimes be felt by us
as toils, and life's burdens as too burdensome for our feeble
shoulders, yet we shall be held up. 'As thy day so shall thy strength
be,' and at last, when we mount up further than eagle's wings have ever
soared, and look down upon the stars that are 'rolled together as a
scroll,' we shall through eternal ages 'run and not be weary' and 'walk
and not faint.'



THE SECRET OF IMMORTAL YOUTH

'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall
utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their
strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and
not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.'--ISAIAH xl. 30, 31.


I remember a sunset at sea, where the bosom of each wavelet that
fronted the west was aglow with fiery gold, and the back of each turned
eastward was cold green; so that, looking on the one hand all was
glory, and on the other all was sober melancholy. So differently does
life look to you young people and to us older ones. Every man must buy
his own experience for himself, and no preaching nor talking will ever
make you see life as we see it. It is neither possible nor desirable
that you should; but it is both possible and most desirable that you
should open your eyes to plain, grave facts, which do not at all depend
on our way of looking at things, and that if they be ascertainable, as
they are, you should let them shape your lives.

Here are a couple of facts in my text which I ask you to look steadily
in the face, and to take account of them, because, if you do so now, it
may save you an immense deal of disappointment and sorrow in the days
that are to come. You have the priceless prerogative still in your
hands of determining what that future is to be; but you will never use
that power rightly if you are guided by illusions, or if, unguided by
anything but inclination, you let things drift, and do as you like.

So, then, my object is simply to deal with these two forecasts which my
text presents; the one a dreary certainty of weariness and decay, the
other a blessed possibility of inexhaustible and incorruptible strength
and youth, and on the contrast to build as earnest an appeal to you as
I can make.

I. Now, then, look at the first fact here, that of the dreary certainty
of weariness and decay.

I do not need to spend much time in talking about that. It is one of
the commonplaces which are so familiar that they have lost all power of
impression, and can only be rescued from their trivial insignificance
by being brought into immediate connection with our own experience. If,
instead of the toothless generality, 'the youths shall faint and be
weary,' I could get you young people to say, '_I--I_ shall faint and be
weary, and, as sure as I am living, I shall lose what makes to me the
very joy of life at this moment,' I should not have preached in vain.

Of course the words of my text point to the plain fact that all created
and physical life, by the very law of its being, in the act of living
tends to death; and by the very operation of its strength tends to
exhaustion. There are three stages in every creature's life--that of
growth, that of equilibrium, that of decay. You are in the first. If
you live, it is as certain as fate that you will come to the second and
the third. _Your_ 'eyes will grow dim,' _your_ 'natural force' will be
'abated,' _your_ body will become a burden, _your_ years that are full
of buoyancy will be changed for years of heaviness and weariness,
strength will decay, 'and the young men'--that is _you_--'shall utterly
fall.'

And the text points also to another fact, that, long before your
natural life shall have begun to tend towards decay, hard work and
occasional sorrows and responsibilities and burdens of all sorts will
very often make you wearied and ready to faint. In your early days you
dream of life as a kind of enchanted garden, full of all manner of
delights; and you stand at the threshold with eager eyes and
outstretched hands. Ah! dear young friend, long before you have
traversed the length of one of its walks, you will often have been sick
and tired of the whole thing, and weary of what is laid upon you.

My text points to another fact, as certain as gravitation, that the
faintness and weariness and decay of the bodily strength will be
accompanied with a parallel change in your feelings. We are drawn
onward by hopes, and when we get them fulfilled we find that they are
disappointing. Custom, which weighs upon us 'heavy as frost, and deep
almost as life,' takes the edge off everything that is delightsome,
though it does not so completely take away the pain of things that are
burdensome and painful. Men travel from a tinted morning into the sober
light of common day, and with failing faculties and shattered illusions
and dissipated hopes, and powers bending under the long monotony of
middle life, most of them live. Now all that is the veriest threadbare
morality, and I dare say while I have been speaking, some of you have
been thinking that I am repeating platitudes that every old woman could
preach. So I am. That is to say, I am trying to put into feeble words
the universal human experience. That is your experience, and what I
want to get you to think about now is that, as sure as you are living
and rejoicing in your youth and strength, this is the fate that is
awaiting you--'the youths shall faint and be weary, and shall utterly
fall.'

Well, then, one question: Do you not think that, if that is so, it
would be as well to face it? Do you not think that a wise man would
take account of all the elements in forecasting his life and would
shape his conduct accordingly? If there be something certain to come,
it is a very questionable piece of wisdom to make that the thing which
we are most unwilling to think about. I do not want to be a kill-joy; I
do not want to take anything out of the happy buoyancy of youth. I
would say, as even that cynical, bitter Ecclesiastes says, 'Rejoice, O
young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of
thy youth.' By all means; only take all the facts into account, and if
you have joys which shrivel up at the touch of this thought, then the
sooner you get rid of such joys the better. If your gladness depends
upon your forcibly shutting your eyes to what is inevitably certain to
come about, do you not think that you are living in a fool's paradise
that you had better get out of as soon as possible? There is the fact.
Will you be a wise and brave man and front it, and settle how you are
going to deal with it, or will you let it hang there on your horizon, a
thunder-cloud that you do not like to look at, and that you are all the
more unwilling to entertain the thought of, because you are so sure
that it will burst in storm? Lay this, then, to heart, though it is a
dreary certainty, that weariness and decay are sure to be your fate.

II. Now turn, in the next place, to the blessed opposite possibility of
inexhaustible and immortal strength. 'They that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.' The
life of nature tends inevitably downward, but there may be another life
within the life of nature, which shall have the opposite motion, and
tend as certainly upwards. 'The youths shall faint and be
weary'--whether they be Christians or not, the law of decay and fatigue
will act upon them; but there may be that within each of us, if we
will, which shall resist that law, and have no proclivity whatsoever to
extinction in its blaze, to death in its life, to weariness in its
effort, and shall be replenished and not exhausted by expenditure.
'They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,' and, in all
forms of motion possible to a creature they shall expatiate and never
tire. So let us look on this blessed possibility a little more closely.

Note, then, how to get at it. 'They that wait upon the Lord' is Old
Testament dialect for what in New Testament phraseology is meant by
'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.' For the notion expressed here by
'waiting' is that of expectant dependence, and the New Testament
'faith' is the very same in its attitude of expectant dependence, while
the object of the Old Testament 'waiting,' Jehovah, is identical with
the object of the New Testament faith, which fastens on God manifest in
the flesh, the Man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I am not diverting the language of my text from its true
meaning, but simply opening its depth, when I say that the condition of
the inflow of this unwearied and immortal life into our poor, fainting,
dying humanity is simply the trust in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of our
souls. True, the revelation has advanced; the contents of that which we
grasp are more developed and articulate, blessed be God! True, we know
more about Jehovah, when we see Him in Jesus Christ, than Isaiah did.
True, we have to trust in Him as dying on the Cross for our salvation
and as the pattern and example in His humanity of all nobleness and
beauty of life for young or old, but the Christ is the 'same yesterday,
and to-day, and for ever.' And the faith that knit the furthest back of
the saints of old to the Jehovah, whom they dimly knew, is in essence
identical with the faith that binds my poor sinful heart to the Christ
that died and that lives for my redemption and salvation. So, dear
brethren, here is the simple old message for each of you, young or old.
No matter where we stand on the course of life, there may come into our
hearts a Divine Indweller, who laughs at weariness and knows nothing of
decay; and He will come if, as sinful men, we turn ourselves to that
dear Lord, who fainted and was weary many a time in His humanity, and
who now lives, the 'strong Son of God, immortal love,' to make us
partakers in His immortality and His strength. The way, then, by which
we get this divine gift is by faith in Jesus Christ, which is the
expansion, as it was the root, of trust in Jehovah.

Further, what is this strength that we thus get, if we will, by faith?
It is the true entrance into our souls of a divine life. God in His Son
will come to us, according to His own gracious and profound promise:
'If any man open the door I will enter in.' He will come into our
hearts and abide there. He will give to us a life derived from, and
therefore, kindred with, His own. And in that connection it is very
striking to notice how the prophet, in the context, reiterates these
two words, _'fainteth_ not, neither is _weary._' He begins by speaking
of 'God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who fainteth
not, neither is weary.' He passes on to speak of His gift of power to
the faint. He returns to the contrast between the Creator's
incorruptible strength and the fleeting power of the strongest and
youngest. And then he crowns all with the thought that the same
characteristics will mark them in whom the unwearied God dwells, as
mark Him. We too, like Him, if we have Christ in our hearts by faith,
will share, in some fashion and degree, in His wondrous prerogative of
unwearied strength.

So, brethren, here is the promise. God will give Himself to you, and in
the very heart of your decaying nature will plant the seed of an
immortal being which shall, like His own, shake off fatigue from the
limbs, and never tend to dissolution or an end. The life of nature dies
by living; the life of grace, which may belong to us all, lives by
living, and lives evermore thereby. And so that life is continuous and
progressive, with no tendency to decay, nor term to its being. 'The
path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more,'
until it riseth to the zenith of the noontide of the day. Each of you,
looking forward to the certain ebbing away of creatural power, to the
certain changes that will pass upon you, may say, 'I know that I shall
have to leave behind me my present youthful strength, my unworn
freshness, my buoyancy, my confidence, my wonder, my hope; but I shall
carry my Christ; and in Him I shall possess the secret of an immortal
youth.'

The oldest angels are the youngest. The longer men live in fellowship
with Christ, the stronger do they grow. And though our lives, whether
we are Christians or no, are necessarily subject to the common laws of
mortality, we may carry all that is worth preserving of the earliest
stages into the latest; and when grey hairs are upon us, and we are
living next door to our graves, we may still have the enthusiasm, the
energy, and above all, the boundless hopefulness that made the gladness
and the spring of our long-buried youth. 'They shall still bring forth
fruit in old age.' 'The youths shall faint and be weary, but they that
wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.'

There is one more point to touch, and then I have done, and that is the
manner in which this immortal strength is exercised. The latter clauses
of my text give us, so to speak, three forms of motion. 'They shall
mount up with wings as eagles.' Some good commentators find in this a
parallel to the words in the 103rd Psalm, 'My youth is renewed like the
eagle's,' and propose to translate it in this fashion, 'They shall cast
their plumage like the eagle.' But it seems much more in accordance
with the context and the language to adopt substantially the reading of
our English version here, or to make the slight change, 'They shall
lift up their wings as the eagle,' implying, of course, the steady
upward flight towards the light of heaven.

So, then, there are three forms of unwearied strength lying ready for
you, young men and women, to take for your very own if you like:
strength to soar, strength to run, strength to walk.

There is strength to soar. Old men generally shed their wings, and can
only manage to crawl. They have done with romance. Enthusiasms are
dead. Sometimes they cynically smile at their own past selves and their
dreams. And it is a bad sign when an old man does that. But for the
most part they are content, unless they have got Christ in their
hearts, to keep along the low levels, and their soaring days are done.
But if you and I have Jesus Christ for the life of our spirits, as
certainly as fire sends its shooting tongues upwards, so certainly
shall we rise above the sorrows and sins and cares of this 'dim spot
which men call earth,' and find an ampler field for buoyant motion high
up in communion with God. Strength to soar means the gracious power of
bringing all heaven into our grasp, and setting our affections on
things above. As the night falls, and joys become fewer and life
sterner, and hopes become rarer and more doubtful, it is something to
feel that, however straitened may be the ground below, there is plenty
of room above, and that, though we are strangers upon earth, we can
lift our thoughts yonder. If there be darkness here, still we can
'outsoar the shadow of our night,' and live close to the sun in
fellowship with God. Dear brethren, life on earth were too wretched
unless it were possible to 'mount up with wings as eagles.'

Again, you may have strength to run--that is to say, there is power
waiting for you for all the great crises of your lives which call for
special, though it may be brief, exertion. Such crises will come to
each of you, in sorrow, work, difficulty, hard conflicts. Moments will
be sprung upon you without warning, in which you will feel that years
hang on the issue of an instant. Great tasks will be clashed down
before you unexpectedly which will demand the gathering together of all
your power. And there is only one way to be ready for such times as
these, and that is to live waiting on the Lord, near Christ, with Him
in your hearts, and then nothing will come that will be too hard for
you. However rough the road, and however severe the struggle, and
however swift the pace, you will be able to keep it up. Though it may
be with panting lungs and a throbbing heart, and dim eyes and quivering
muscles, yet if you wait on the Lord you will run and not be weary. You
will be masters of the crises.

Strength to walk may be yours--that is to say, patient power for
persistent pursuit of weary, monotonous duty. That is the hardest, and
so it is named last. Many a man finds it easy, under the pressure of
strong excitement, and for a moment or two, to keep up a swift pace,
who finds it very difficult to keep steadily at unexciting work. And
yet there is nothing to be done except by doggedly plodding along the
dusty road of trivial duties, unhelped by excitement and unwearied by
monotony. Only one thing will conquer the disgust at the wearisome
round of mill-horse tasks which, sooner or later, seizes all godless
men, and that is to bring the great principles of the gospel to bear on
them, and to do them in the might and for the sake of the dear Lord.
'They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk' along life's common
way in cheerful godliness, 'and they shall not faint.'

Dear friends, life to us all is, and must be, full of sorrow and of
effort. Constant work and frequent sorrows wear us all out, and bring
us many a time to the verge of fainting. I beseech you to begin right,
and not to add to the other occasions for weariness that of having to
retrace, with remorseful heart and ashamed feet, the paths of evil on
which you have run. Begin right, which is to say, begin with Christ and
take Him for inspiration, for pattern, for guide, for companion. 'Run
with patience the race set before you, looking unto Jesus the author of
your faith, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.'

And if you have Him in your hearts, then, however your creatural power
may grow weary, yet because He is with you, 'your shoes shall be iron
and brass, and as your days so shall your strength be,' and you may
lift up in your turn the glad, triumphant acknowledgment: 'For this
cause we faint not, but though our outward man perish, our inward man
is renewed day by day.'

God bless you all and make that your experience!



CHRIST THE ARRESTER OF INCIPIENT EVIL AND THE NOURISHER OF INCIPIENT
GOOD

'A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not
quench.... He shall not fail nor be discouraged.'--ISAIAH xlii. 3, 4.


The two metaphors which we have in the former part of these words are
not altogether parallel. 'A bruised reed' has suffered an injury which,
however, is neither complete nor irreparable. 'Smoking flax,' on the
other hand--by which, of course, is meant flax used as a wick in an
old-fashioned oil lamp--is partially lit. In the one a process has been
begun which, if continued, ends in destruction; in the other, a process
has been begun which, if continued, ends in a bright flame. So the one
metaphor may refer to the beginnings of evil which may still be
averted, and the other the beginnings of incipient and incomplete good.
If we keep this distinction in mind, the words of our text gain
wonderfully in comprehensiveness.

Then again, it is to be noticed that in the last words of our text,
which are separated from the former by a clause which we omit, we have
an echo of these metaphors. The word translated 'fail' is the same as
that rendered in the previous verse 'smoking,' or 'dimly burning'; and
the word 'discouraged' is the same as that rendered in the previous
verse 'bruised.' So then, this 'Servant of the Lord,' who is not to
break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax, is fitted for His
work, because He Himself has no share in the evils which He would heal,
and none in the weaknesses which He would strengthen. His perfect
manhood knows no flaws nor bruises; His complete goodness is capable of
and needs no increase. Neither outward force nor inward weakness can
hinder His power to heal and bless; therefore His work can never cease
till it has attained its ultimate purpose. 'He shall not fail nor be
discouraged'; shall neither be broken by outward violence, nor shall
the flame of His fading energy burn faint until He hath 'set judgment
in the earth,' and crowned His purposes with complete success.

We have, then, here set before us three significant representations of
the servant of the Lord, which may well commend Him to our confidence
and our love. I shall not spend any time in answering the question: Of
whom speaketh the prophet this? The answer is plain for us. He speaks
of the personal Servant of the Lord, and the personal Servant of the
Lord is Jesus Christ our Saviour. I ask you then to come with me while
I deal, as simply as may be, with these three ideas that lie before us
in this great prophecy.

I. Consider then, first, the representation of the Servant of the Lord
as the arrester of incipient ruin.

'He shall not break the bruised reed.' Here is the picture--a slender
bulrush, growing by the margin of some tarn or pond; its sides crushed
and dented in by some outward power, a gust of wind, a sudden blow, the
foot of a passing animal. The head is hanging by a thread, but it is
not yet snapped or broken off from the stem.

But, blessed be God! there emerges from the metaphor not only the
solemn thought of the bruises by sin that all men bear, but the other
blessed one, that there is no man so bruised as that he is broken; none
so injured as that restoration is impossible, no depravity so total but
that it may be healed, none so far off but that he may be brought nigh.
On no man has sin fastened its venomous claws so deeply but that these
may be wrenched away. In none of us has the virus so gone through our
veins but that it is capable of being expelled. The reeds are all
bruised, the reeds are none of them broken. And so my text comes with
its great triumphant hopefulness, and gathers into one mass as capable
of restoration the most abject, the most worthless, the most ignorant,
the most sensuous, the most godless, the most Christ-hating of the
race. Jesus looks on all the tremendous bulk of a world's sins with the
confidence that He can move that mountain and cast it into the depths
of the sea.

There is a man in Paris that says he has found a cure for that horrible
disease of hydrophobia, and who therefore regards the poor sufferers of
whom others despair as not beyond the reach of hope. Christ looks upon
a world of men smitten with madness, and in whose breasts awful poison
is working, with the calm confidence that He carries in His hand an
elixir, one drop of which inoculated into the veins of the furious
patient will save him from death, and make him whole. 'The blood of
Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' 'He will not break,' and that
means He will restore, 'the bruised reed.' There are no hopeless
outcasts. None of you are beyond the reach of a Saviour's love, a
Saviour's blood, a Saviour's healing.

But then the words in my text may be taken in a somewhat narrower
sense, applying more particularly to a class. In accordance with other
metaphors of Scripture, we may think of 'the bruised reed' as
expressive of the condition of men whose hearts have been crushed by
the consciousness of their sins. 'The broken and the contrite heart,'
bruised and pulverised, as it were, by a sense of evil, may be typified
for us by this bruised reed. And then from the words of my text there
emerges the great and blessed hope that such a heart, wholesomely
removed from its self-complacent fancy of soundness, shall certainly be
healed and bound up by His tender hand. Did you ever see a gardener
dealing with some plant, a spray of which may have been wounded? How
delicately and tenderly the big, clumsy hand busies itself about the
tiny spray, and by stays and bandages brings it into an erect position,
and then gives it water and loving care. Just so does Jesus Christ deal
with the conscious and sensitive heart of a man who has begun to find
out how bad he is, and has been driven away from all his foolish
confidence. Christ comes to such an one and restores him, and just
because he is crushed deals with him gently, pouring in His
consolation. Wheresoever there is a touch of penitence, there is
present a restoring Christ.

And the words may be looked at from yet another point of view. We may
think of them as representing to us the merciful dealing of the Master
with the spirits which are beaten and bruised, sore and wounded, by
sorrows and calamities; to whom the Christ comes in all the tenderness
of His gentleness, and lays a hand upon them--the only hand in all the
universe that can touch a bleeding heart without hurting it.

Brother and sister suffering from any sorrow, and bleeding from any
wound, there is a balm and a physician. There is one hand that will
never be laid with blundering kindness or with harshness upon our sore
hearts, but whose touch will be healing, and whose presence will be
peace.

The Christ who knows our sins and sorrows will not break the bruised
reed. The whole race of man may be represented in that parable that
came from His own lips, as fallen among thieves that have robbed him
and wounded him and left him bruised, but, blessed be God! only 'half
dead'; sorely wounded, indeed, but not so sorely but that he may be
restored. And there comes One with the wine and the oil, and pours them
into the wounds. 'The bruised reed shall He not break.'

II. Now, in the next place, look at the completing thought that is
here, in the second clause, which represents Christ as the fosterer of
incipient and imperfect good.

'The dimly-burning wick He shall not quench.' A process, as I have
said, is begun in the smoking flax, which only needs to be carried on
to lead to a brilliant flame. That represents for us not the beginnings
of a not irreparable evil, but the commencement of very dim and
imperfect good. Now, then, who are represented by this 'smoking flax'?
You will not misunderstand me, nor think that I am contradicting what I
have already been saying, if I claim for this second metaphor as wide a
universality as the former, and say that in all men, just because the
process of evil and the wounds from it are not so deep and complete as
that restoration is impossible, therefore is there something in their
nature which corresponds to this dim flame that needs to be fostered in
order to blaze brightly abroad. There is no man out of hell but has in
him something that needs but to be brought to sovereign power in his
life in order to make him a light in the world. You have consciences at
the least; you have convictions, you know you have, which if you
followed them out would make Christians of you straight away. You have
aspirations after good, desires, some of you, after purity and
nobleness of living, which only need to be raised to the height and the
dominance in your lives which they ought to possess, in order to
revolutionise your whole course. There is a spark in every man which,
fanned and cared for, will change him from darkness into light. Fanned
and cared for it needs to be, and fanned and cared for it can only be
by a divine power coming down upon it from without. This second
metaphor of my text, as truly as the other, belongs to every soul of
man upon the earth. He from whom all sparks and light have died out is
not a man but a devil. And for all of us the exhortation comes: 'Thou
hast a voice within testifying to God and to duty'; listen to it and
care for it.

Then again, dear brethren, in a narrower way, the words may be applied
to a class. There are some of us who have in us a little spark, as we
believe, of a divine life, the faint beginnings of a Christian
character. We call ourselves Christ's disciples. We are; but oh! how
dimly the flax burns. They say that where there is smoke there is fire.
There is a great deal more smoke than fire in the most of Christian
people in this generation, and if it were not for such thoughts as this
of my text about that dear Christ who will not lay a hasty hand upon
some little tremulous spark, and by one rash movement extinguish it for
ever, there would be but small hope for a great many of us.

Whether, then, the dimly-burning wick be taken to symbolise the
lingering remains of a better nature which still abides with all sinful
men, yet capable of redemption, or whether it be taken to mean the low
and imperfect and inconsistent and feeble Christianity of us professing
Christians, the words of my text are equally blessed and equally true.
Christ will neither despise, nor so bring down His hand upon it as to
extinguish, the feeblest spark. Look at His life on earth, think how He
bore with those blundering, foolish, selfish disciples of His; how
patient the divine Teacher was with their slow learning of His meaning
and catching of His character. Remember how, when a man came to Him
with a very imperfect goodness, the Evangelist tells us that Jesus,
beholding him, loved him. And take out of these blessed stories this
great hope, that howsoever small men 'despise the day of small things,'
the Greatest does not; and howsoever men may say 'Such a little spark
can never be kindled into flame, the fire is out, you may as well let
it alone,' He never says that, but by patient teaching and fostering
and continual care and wise treatment will nourish and nurture it until
it leaps into a blaze.

How do you make 'smoking flax' burn? You give it oil, you give it air,
and you take away the charred portions. And Christ will give you, in
your feebleness, the oil of His Spirit, that you may burn brightly as
one of the candlesticks in His Temple; and He will let air in, and
sometimes take away the charred portions by the wise discipline of
sorrow and trial, in order that the smoking flax may become a shining
light. But by whatsoever means He may work, be sure of this, that He
will neither despise nor neglect the feeblest inclination of good after
Him, but will nourish it to perfection and to beauty.

The reason why so many Christian men's Christian light is so fuliginous
and dim is just that they keep away from Jesus Christ. 'Abide in Me and
I in you.' 'As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide
in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.' How can the Temple
lamps burn bright unless the Priest of the Temple tends them? Keep near
Him that His hand may nourish your smoking dimness into a pure flame,
leaping heavenward and illuminating your lives.

III. And now, lastly, we have here the representation of the servant of
the Lord's exemption from human evil and weakness, as the foundation of
His restoring and fostering work.

'He shall not burn dimly nor be broken till He hath set judgment in the
earth.' There are no bruises in this reed; that is to say, Christ's
manhood is free from all scars and wounds of evil or of sin. There is
no dimness in this light, that is to say, Christ's character is
perfect, His goodness needs no increase. There is no trace of effort in
His holiness, no growth manifest in His God-likeness, from the
beginning to the end. There is no outward violence that can be brought
to bear upon Him that will stay Him in His purpose. There is no inward
failure of strength in Him that may lead us to fear that His work shall
not be completed. And because of these things, because of His perfect
exemption from human infirmity, because in Him was no sin. He is
manifested to take away our sins. Because in Him there was goodness
incapable of increase, being perfect from the beginning, therefore He
is manifested to make us participants of His own unalterable and
infinite goodness and purity. Because no outward violence, no inward
weakness, can ever stay His course, nor make Him abandon His purpose,
therefore His gospel looks upon the world with boundless hopefulness,
with calm triumph; will not hear of there being any outcast and
irreclaimable classes; declares it to be a blasphemy against God and
Christ to say that any men or any nations are incapable of receiving
the gospel and of being redeemed by it, and comes with supreme love and
a calm consciousness of infinite power to you, my brother, in your
deepest darkness, in your moods most removed from God and purity, and
insures you that it will heal you, and will raise all that in you is
feeble to its own strength. Every man may pray to that strong Christ
who fails not nor is discouraged--

                    'What in me is dark
                     Illumine; what is low, raise and support,'

in the confidence that He will hear and answer. If you do that you will
not do it in vain, but His gentle hand laid upon you will heal the
bruises that sin has made. Out of your weakness, as of 'a reed shaken
with the wind,' the Restorer will make a pillar of marble in the Temple
of His God. And out of your smoking dimness and wavering light, a spark
at the best, almost buried in the thick smoke that accompanies it, the
fostering Christ will make a brightness which shall flame as the
perfect light that 'shineth more and more unto the noontide of the day.'



THE BLIND MAN'S GUIDE

'I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them
in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before
them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them,
and not forsake them.'--ISAIAH xiii. 16.


The grand stormy verses before these words, with all their dread array
of natural convulsions, have one object--the tender guidance promised
in the text. So we have the combination of terror and love, the
blending in the divine government of terrible judgments and most gentle
guidance. The words apply, of course, primarily to the redemption of
Israel; but through them shines a picture of the greater redemption of
humanity.

1. The blind travellers. They are blind, and their road is unknown to
them. It is a symbol of our condition and of our paths in life. Our
limited foresight cannot discern certainly even the next moment. It is
always the unexpected that happens. We cannot tell what lies behind the
next bend in the road, and there are so many bends; and behind one of
them, we cannot tell whether it may be the next, sits 'the Shadow
feared of man.' Life is like the course of the Congo, which makes so
mighty a bend northward that, till it had been followed from source to
mouth, no one could have supposed that it was to enter the ocean far
away to the west. Not only God's mercies, but our paths, are 'new every
morning.' Experience, like conscience, sheds light mainly on what lies
behind, and scarcely 'doth attain to something of prophetic strain.'

2. The Leader. How tenderly God makes Himself the leader of the blind
pilgrims! It does not matter about being blind, if we put our hands in
His. Then He will 'be to us instead of eyes.' Jesus took the blind man
by the hand.

So here is the promise of guidance by Providence, Word, Spirit. And
here is the condition of receiving it, namely, our conscious blindness
and realisation of the complexities of life, leading to putting
ourselves into His hands in docile faith.

3. The gradual light. Darkness is made light. We receive the knowledge
of each step, when it needs to be taken; the light shines only on the
next; we are like men in a fog, who are able only to see a yard ahead.

4. The clearing away of hindrances. 'Crooked things straight.' A
careful guide lifts stones out of a blind man's way. How far is this
true? There will be plenty of crooked things left crooked, but still so
many straightened as to make our road passable.

5. The perpetual Presence. If God is with me, then all these blessings
will surely be mine. He will be with me if I keep myself with Him. It
is His felt presence that gives me light on the road, and levels and
straightens out the crookedest and roughest path.



THY NAME: MY NAME

'I have called thee by thy name.'--ISAIAH xliii. 1.

'Every one that is called by My name.'--ISAIAH xliii. 7.


Great stress is laid on names in Scripture. These two parallel and
antithetic clauses bring out striking complementary relations between
God and the collective Israel. But they are as applicable to each
individual member of the true Israel of God.

I. What does God's calling a man by his name imply?

1. Intimate knowledge.

Adam naming the creatures.

Christ naming His disciples.

2. Loving friendship.

Moses, 'I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight.'

3. Designation and adaptation to work.

Bezaleel--Exodus xxxi. 2; Cyrus--ISAIAH xlv. 3; Servant of the
Lord--ISAIAH xlix. 1.

II. What does God's calling a man by His name imply?

1. God's possession of him. That possession by God involves God's
protection and man's safety. He does not hold His property slackly.
'None shall pluck them out of My Father's hand.'

2. Kindred. The man bears the family name. He is adopted into the
household. The sonship of the receiver of the new name is dimly
shadowed.

3. Likeness.

The Biblical meaning of 'name' is 'character manifested.'

Nomen and omen coincide.

We must bring into connection with the texts the prominence given in
the Apocalypse to analogous promises.

'I will write on him the name of My God.' That means a fuller
disclosing of God's character, and a clear impress of that character on
perfected men 'His name shall be in their foreheads.'



JACOB--ISRAEL--JESHURUN

'Yet now hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen....
Fear not, O Jacob, My servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have
chosen.--ISAIAH xliv. 1, 2.


You observe that there are here three different names applied to the
Jewish nation. Two of them, namely Jacob and Israel, were borne by
their great ancestor, and by him transmitted to his descendants. The
third was never borne by him, and is applied to the people only here
and in the Book of Deuteronomy.

The occurrence of all three here is very remarkable, and the order in
which they stand is not accidental. The prophet begins with the name
that belonged to the patriarch by birth; the name of nature, which
contained some indications of character. He passes on to the name which
commemorated the mysterious conflict where, as a prince, Jacob had
power with God and prevailed. He ends with the name Jeshurun, of which
the meaning is 'the righteous one,' and which was bestowed upon the
people as a reminder of what they ought to be.

Now, as I take it, the occurrence of these names here, and their
sequence, may teach us some very important lessons; and it is simply to
these lessons, and not at all to the context, that I ask your attention.

I. I take, then, these three names in their order as teaching us,
first, the path of transformation.

Every 'Jacob' may become a 'righteous one,' if he will tread Jacob's
road. We start with that first name of nature which, according to
Esau's bitter etymology of it, meant 'a supplanter'--not without some
suggestions of craft and treachery in it. It is descriptive of the
natural disposition of the patriarch, which was by no means attractive.
Cool, calculating, subtle, with a very keen eye to his own interests,
and not at all scrupulous as to the means by which he secured them, he
had no generous impulses, and few unselfish affections. He told lies to
his poor old blind father, he cheated his brother, he met the
shiftiness of Laban with equal shiftiness. It was 'diamond cut diamond'
all through. He tried to make a bargain with God Himself at Bethel, and
to lay down conditions on which he would bring Him the tenth of his
substance. And all through his earlier career he does not look like the
stuff of which heroes and saints are made.

But in the mid-path of his life there came that hour of deep dejection
and helplessness, when, driven out of all dependence on self, and
feeling round in his agony for something to lay hold upon, there came
into his nightly solitude a vision of God. In conscious weakness, and
in the confidence of self-despair, he wrestled with the mysterious
Visitant in the only fashion in which He can be wrestled with. 'He wept
and made supplication to Him,' as one of the prophets puts it, and so
he bore away the threefold gift--blessing from those mighty lips whose
blessing is the communication, and not only the invocation, of mercy, a
deeper knowledge of that divine and mysterious Name, and for himself a
new name.

That new name implied a new direction given to his character.

Hitherto he had wrestled with men whom he would supplant, for his own
advantage, by craft and subtlety; henceforward he strove with God for
higher blessings, which, in striving, he won. All the rest of his life
was on a loftier plane. Old ambitions were dead within him, and though
the last of these names in our text was never actually borne by him, he
began to deserve it, and grew steadily in nobleness and beauty of
character until the end, when he sang his swan-song and lay down to
die, with thanksgiving for the past and glowing prophecies for the
future, pouring from his trembling lips.

And now, brethren, that is the outline of the only way in which, from
out of the evil and the sinfulness of our natural disposition, any of
us can be raised to the loftiness and purity of a righteous life. There
must be a Peniel between the two halves of the character, if there is
to be transformation.

Have you ever been beaten out of all your confidence, and ground down
into the dust of self-disgust and self-abandonment? Have you ever felt,
'there is nothing in me or about me that I can cling to or rely upon'?
Have you ever in the thickest of that darkness had, gleaming in upon
your solitude, the vision of His face, whose face we see in Jesus
Christ? Have you ever grasped Him who is infinitely willing to be held
by the weakest hand, and who never 'makes as though He would go
further,' except in order to induce us to say, with deeper earnestness
of desire, 'Abide with us, for it is dark'? And have you ever, in
fellowship with Him thus, found pouring into your enlightened mind a
deeper reading of the meaning of His character and a fuller conception
of the mystery of His love? And have you ever--certainly you have if
these things have preceded it, certainly you have not if they have
not--have you ever thereby been borne up on to a higher level of feeling
and life, and been aware of new impulses, hopes, joys, new directions
and new capacities budding and blossoming in your spirit?

Brethren! there is only one way by which, out of the mire and clay of
earth, there can be formed a fair image of holiness, and that is, that
Jacob's experience, in deeper, more inward, more wonderful form, should
be repeated in each one of us; and that thus, penitent and yet hopeful,
we should behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and draw
from Him our righteousness. That is the path of transformation. The
road passes through Peniel, and Jacob must become Israel before he is
Jeshurun. He must hold communion with God in Christ before he is
clothed with righteousness.

How different that path is from the road which men are apt to take in
working out their own self-improvement! How many forms of religion, and
how many toiling souls put the cart before the horse, and in effect
just reverse the process, and say practically--'first make yourselves
righteous, and then you will have communion with God'! That is an
endless and a hopeless task. I have no doubt that some of you have
spent--and I would not say wasted, but it has been almost so--years of
life, not without many an honest effort, in the task of
self-improvement, and are very much where you were long ago. Why have
you failed? Because you have never been to Peniel. You have never seen
the face of God in Christ, You have not received from Him the blessing,
even righteousness, from the God of your salvation.

Dear friends, give up treading that endless, weary path of vain effort;
and learn--oh! learn--that the righteousness which makes a soul pure
and beautiful must come as a gift from God, and is given only in Jesus
Christ.

This sequence too, I think, may very fairly be used to teach us the
lesson that there is no kind of character so debased but that it may
partake of the purifying and ennobling influence. All the Jacobs may be
turned into righteous ones, however crafty, however subtle, however
selfish, however worldly they are. Christianity looks at no man and
says, 'That is too bad a case for me to deal with.' It will undertake
any and every case, and whoever will take its medicines can be cured
'of whatsoever disease he had.'

To all of us, no matter what our past may have been, this blessed
message comes: 'There is hope for thee, if thou wilt use these means.'
Only remember, the road from the depths of evil to the heights of
purity always lies through Peniel. You must have power with God and
draw a blessing from Him, and hold communion with Him, before you can
become righteous.

How do they print photographs? By taking sensitive paper, and laying
it, in touch with the negative, in the sun. Lay your spirits on Christ,
and keep them still, touching Him, in the light of God, and that will
turn you into His likeness. That, and nothing else will do it.

II. And now there is a second lesson from the occurrence of these three
names, viz., here we may find expressed the law for the Christian life.

There are some religious people that seem to think that it is enough if
only they can say; 'Well! I have been to Jesus Christ and I have got my
past sins forgiven; I have been on the mountain and have held communion
with God; I do know what it is to have fellowship with Him, in many an
hour of devout communion.' and who are in much danger of treating the
further stage of simple, practical righteousness as of secondary
importance. Now the order of these names here points the lesson that
the apex of the pyramid, the goal of the whole course,
is--Righteousness. The object for which the whole majestic structure of
Revelation has been builded up, is simply to make good men and women.
God does not tell us His Name merely in order that we may know His
Name, but in order that, knowing it, we may be smitten with the love of
it, and so may come into the likeness of it. There is no religious
truth which is given men for the sake of clearing their understandings
and enlightening their minds only. We get the truth to enlighten our
minds and to clear our understandings in order that thereby, as becomes
reasonable men with heads on our shoulders, we may let our principles
guide our conduct. Conduct is the end of principle, and all Revelation
is given to us in order that we may be pure and good men and women.

For the same end all God's mercy of forgiveness and deliverance from
guilt and punishment in Jesus Christ is given to you, not merely in
order that you may escape the penalties of your evil, but in order
that, being pardoned, you may in glad thankfulness be lifted up into an
enthusiasm of service which will make you eager to serve Him and long
to be like Him. He sets you free from guilt, from punishment, and His
wrath, in order that by the golden cord of love you may be fastened to
Him in thankful obedience. God's purpose in redemption is that 'we,
being delivered out of the hand of our enemies should serve Him without
fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.'

And in like manner, righteousness, by which, in the present connection,
we mean simply the doing of the things, and the being the character,
which a conscience enlightened by the law of God dictates to us to be
and to do--righteousness is the intention and the aim of all religious
emotion and feeling. It is all very well to have the joy of fellowship
with God in our inmost soul, but there is a type of Christianity which
is a great deal stronger on the side of devout emotion than on the side
of transparent godliness; and although it becomes no man to say what
Jesus Christ could say to those whose religion is mainly emotional,
'Hypocrites!' it is the part of every honest preacher to warn all that
listen to him that there does lie a danger, a very real danger, very
close to some of us, to substitute devout emotion for plain, practical
goodness, and to be a great deal nearer God in the words of our prayers
than we are in the current and set of our daily lives. Take, then,
these three names of my text as flashing into force and emphasis the
exhortation that the crown of all religion is righteousness, and as
preaching, in antique guise, the same lesson that the very Apostle of
affectionate contemplation uttered with such earnestness:--'Little
children! let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is
righteous, even as He is righteous.' An ounce of practical godliness is
worth a pound of fine feeling and a ton of correct orthodoxy. Remember
what the Master said, and take the lesson in the measure in which you
need it: 'Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not
prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in
Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them,
I never knew you, depart from Me.' And the proof that I never knew you,
nor you Me, is: 'Ye that work iniquity.'

III. Then there is another lesson still which I draw from these words,
viz. the merciful judgment which God makes of the character of them
that love Him.

Jeshurun means 'the righteous one.' How far beneath the ideal of the
name these Jewish people fell we all know, and yet the name is applied
to them. Although the realisation of the ideal has been so imperfect,
the ideal is not destroyed. Although they have done so many sins, yet
He calls them by His name of 'righteous.' And so we Christian people
find that the New Testament calls us 'saints.' That name is not applied
to some select and lofty specimens of Christianity, but to all
Christians, however imperfect their present life and character may be.
Then people sneer and say, 'Ah! a strange kind of saints these
Christians are! Do you think that a man can condone practical
immorality by saying that he is trusting in Jesus Christ? The Church's
"saint" seems to mean less than the world's "man of honour."' God
forbid that it should be fancied that Christian sainthood is more
tolerant of evil than worldly morality, or has any fantastic standard
of goodness which makes up for departures from the plain rule of right
by prayers and raptures. But surely there may be a principle of action
deep down at the bottom of a heart, very feeble in its present exercise
and manifestation, which yet is the true man, and is destined to
conquer the whole nature which now wars against it. Here, for instance,
is a tiny spark, and there is a huge pile of damp, green wood. Yes; and
the little spark will turn all the wood into flame, if you give it time
and fair play. The leaven may be hid in an immensely greater mass of
meal, but it, and not the three measures of flour, is the active
principle. And if there is in a man, overlaid by ever so many
absurdities, and contradictions, and inconsistencies, a little seed of
faith in Jesus Christ, there will be in him proportionately a little
particle of a divine life which is omnipotent, which is immortal, which
will conquer and transform all the rest into its own likeness; and He
who sees not as men see, beholds the inmost tendencies and desires of
the nature, as well as the facts of the life, and discerning the inmost
and true self of His children, and knowing that it will conquer, calls
us 'righteous ones,' even while the outward life has not yet been
brought into harmony with the new man, created in righteousness after
God's image.

All wrong-doing is inconsistent with Christianity, but, thank God, it
is not for us to say that _any_ wrong-doing is incompatible with it;
and therefore, for ourselves there is hope, and for our estimate of one
another there ought to be charity, and for all Christian people there
is the lesson--live up to your name. _Noblesse oblige!_ Fulfil your
ideal. Be what God calls you, and 'press toward the mark for the prize.'

If one had time to deal with it, there is another lesson naturally
suggested by these names, but I only put it in a sentence and leave it;
and that is the union between the founder of the nation and the nation.
The name of the patriarch passes to his descendants, the nation is
called after him that begat it. In some sense it prolongs his life and
spirit and character upon the earth. That is the old-world way of
looking at the solidarity of a nation. There is a New Testament fact
which goes even deeper than that. The names which Christ bears are
given to Christ's followers. Is He a King, is He a Priest? He 'makes us
kings and priests.' Is He anointed the Messiah? God 'hath anointed us
in Him.' Is He the Light of the World?

'Ye are the lights of the world.' His life passeth into all that love
Him in the measure of their trust and love. We are one with Jesus if we
rest upon Him; one in life, one in character, approximating by slow
degrees, but surely, to His likeness; and blessed be His name! one in
destiny. Then, my friend, if you will only keep near that Lord, trust
Him, live in the light of His face, go to Him in your weakness, in your
despair, in your self-abandonment; wrestle with Him, with the
supplication and the tears that He delights to receive, then you will
be knit to Him in a union so real and deep that all which is His shall
be yours, His life shall be the life of your spirit, His power the
strength of your life, His dominion the foundation of your dignity as a
prince with God, His all-prevailing priesthood the security that your
prayer shall have power, and the spotless robe of His righteousness the
fine linen, clean and white, in which arrayed, you shall be found of
Him, and in Him at last, in peace, 'not having your own righteousness,
but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which
is of God by faith.'



FEEDING ON ASHES

'He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he
cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right
hand?'--ISAIAH xliv. 20.


The prophet has been pouring fierce scorn on idolaters. They make, he
says, the gods they worship. They take a tree and saw it up: one log
serves for a fire to cook their food, and with compass and pencil and
plane they carve the figure of a man, and then they bow down to it and
say, 'Deliver me, for thou art my god!' He sums up the whole in this
sentence of my text, in which the tone changes from bitter irony to
astonished pity. Now, if this were the time and the place, one would
like to expand and illustrate the deep thoughts in these words in
reference to idolatry; thoughts which go dead in the teeth of a great
deal that is now supposed to be scientifically established, but which
may be none the more true for all that. He asserts that idolatry is
empty, a feeding on ashes. He declares, in opposition to modern ideas,
that the low, gross forms of polytheism and idol-worship are a
departure from a previous higher stage, whereas to-day we are told by a
hundred voices that all religion begins at the bottom, and slowly
struggles up to the top. Isaiah says the very opposite. The pure form
is the primitive; the secondary form is the gross, which is a
corruption. They tell us too, nowadays, that all religion pursues a
process of evolution, and gradually clears itself of its more imperfect
and carnal elements. Isaiah says, 'he cannot deliver his soul'; and no
religion ever worked itself up, unless under the impulse of a
revelation from without. That is Isaiah's philosophy of idolatry, and I
expect it will be accepted as the true one some day.

But my text has a wider bearing. It not only describes, in pathetic
language, the condition of the idolater, but it is true about all
lives, which are really idolatrous in so far as they make anything else
than God their aim and their joy. Every word of this text applies to
such lives--that is to say, to the lives of a good many people
listening to me now. And I would fain try to lay the truths here on
some hearts. Let me just take them as they lie in the words before me.

I. A life that substantially ignores God is empty of all true
satisfaction.

'He feedeth on ashes'! Very little imagination will realise the force
of that picture. The gritty cinders will irritate the lips and tongue,
will dry up the moisture of the mouth, will interfere with the
breathing, and there will be no nourishment in a sackful of them.

Dear brethren, the underlying truth is this--God is the only food of a
man's soul. You pick up the skeleton of a bird upon a moor; and if you
know anything about osteology--the science of bones--you will see, in
the very make of its breast-bone and its wing-bones, the declaration
that its destiny was to soar into the blue. You pick up the skeleton of
a fish lying on the beach, and you will see in its very form and
characteristics that its destiny is to expatiate in the depths of the
sea. And, written on you, as distinctly as flight on the bird, or
swimming on the fish, is this, that you are meant, by your very make,
to soar up into the heights of the glory of God, and to plunge deep
into the abysses of His infinite love and wisdom. Man is made for God.
'Whose image and superscription hath it?' said Christ. The coin belongs
to the king whose head and titles are displayed upon it; and on your
heart, friend, though a usurper has tried to recoin the piece, and put
his own foul image on the top of the original one, is stamped deep that
you belong to the King of kings, to God Himself.

For what does our heart want? A perfect, changeless, all-powerful love.
And what does our mind want? Reliable, guiding, inexhaustible, and yet
accessible truth. And what does our will want? Commandments which have
an authoritative ring in their very utterance, and which will serve for
infallible guides for our lives. And what do our weak, sinful natures
want? Something that shall free our consciences, and shall deliver us
from the burden of our transgressions, and shall calm our fears, and
shall quicken and warrant our lofty hopes. And what do men whose
destiny is to live for ever want but something that shall go with them
through all changes of condition, and, like a light in the midst of the
darkest tunnel, shall burn in the passage between this and the other
world, and shall never be taken away from them? We want a Person to be
everything to us. No accumulation of things will satisfy a man. And we
want all our treasures to be in one Person, and we need that that
Person shall live as long as we live, and as long as we need shall be
sufficient to supply us. And all this is only the spelling in many
letters of the one name--God. That is what we want, that, and nothing
less.

Then the next step that I suggest to you is, that where a man will take
God for the food of his spirit, and turn love and mind and will and
conscience and practical life to Him, seeing Him in everything, and
seeing all things in Him; saturating, as it were, the universe with the
thought of God, and recreating his own spirit with communion of
friendship to Him; to that man lower goods do first disclose their real
sweetness, their most poignant delight, and their most solid
satisfaction. To say of a world where God has set us, that it is all
'vanity and vexation of spirit,' goes in flat contradiction to what He
said when, creation finished, He looked upon His world, and proclaimed
to the waiting seraphim around that 'it was very good.' There is a view
of the world which calls itself pious, but is really an insult to God;
and the irreligious pessimism that is fashionable nowadays, as if human
life were a great mistake, and everything were mean and poor and
insufficient, is contrary to the facts and to the consciousness of
every man. But if you make things first which were meant to be second,
then you make what was meant to be food 'ashes.' They are all good in
their place. Wealth is good; wisdom is good; success is good; love is
good. And all these things may be enjoyed without God, and will each of
them yield their proportional satisfaction to the part of our nature to
which they belong. But if you put them first you degrade them; a change
passes over them at once. A long row of cyphers means nothing; put a
significant digit in front of it, and it means millions. Take away the
digit, and it goes back to nothing again. The world, and all its fading
sweets, if you put God in the forefront of it, and begin the series
with Him, is sweet, though it may be fleeting, and is meant to be felt
by us as such. But if you take away Him, it is a row of cyphers
signifying nothing, and able to contribute nothing to the real, deepest
necessities of the human soul. And so the old question comes--'Why do
ye spend your money for that which is not bread?' It is bread, if only
you will remember first that God is the food of your souls. But if you
try to nourish yourselves on it alone, then, as I said, a sackful of
such ashes will not stay your appetite. Oh! brethren, God has not so
blundered in making the world that He has surrounded us with things
that are all lies, but He has so made it that whosoever flies in the
face of the gracious commandment which is also an invitation, 'Seek ye
first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,' has not only no
security that the 'other things' shall 'be added unto him,' but has the
certainty that though they were added to him, in degree beyond his
dreams and highest hopes, they would avail nothing to satisfy the
hunger of his heart. As George Herbert puts it--

  Shadows well mounted, dreams in a career,
  Embroidered lies, nothing between two dishes,
  These are the pleasures here.'

'He feedeth on ashes,' because he does not take God for the food of his
soul.

II. So, secondly, notice that a life which thus ignores God is
tragically unaware of its own emptiness.

'A deceived heart hath turned him aside.' That explains how the man
comes to fancy that ashes are food. His whole nature is perverted, his
vision distorted, his power of judgment marred. He is given over to
hallucinations and illusions and dreams.

That explains, too, why men persist in this feeding on ashes after all
experience. There is no fact stranger or more tragical in our histories
than that we do not learn by a thousand failures that the world will
not avail to make us restful and blessed. You will see a dog chasing a
sparrow,--it has chased hundreds before and never caught one. Yet, when
the bird rises from the ground, away it goes after it once more, with
eager yelp and rush, to renew the old experience. Ah! that is like what
a great many of you are doing, and you have not the same excuse that
the dog has. You have been trying all your lives--and some of you have
grey hairs on your heads--to slake your thirst by dipping leaky buckets
into empty wells, and you are at it yet. As some one says, 'experience
throws a light on the wave behind us,' but it does very little to fling
a light on the sea before us. Experience confirms my text, for I
venture to put it to the experience of every man--how many moments of
complete satisfaction and rest can you summon up in your memory as
having been yours in the past? 'He that loveth silver shall not be
satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase.'
Appetite always grows faster than supply. And so, though we have tried
them in vain so often, we turn again to the old discredited sources,
and fancy we shall do better this time. Is it not strange? Is there any
explanation of it, other than that of my text? 'A deceived heart hath
turned him aside.'

And that deceived heart, stronger than experience, is also stronger
than conscience. Do you not know that you ought to be Christians? Do
you not know that it is both wrong and foolish of you to ignore God? Do
you not know that you will have to answer for it? Have you not had
moments of illumination when there has risen up before you the whole
vanity of your past lives, and when you have felt 'I have played the
fool, and erred exceedingly'? And yet, what has come of it all with
some of you? Why, what comes of it with the drunkard in the Book of
Proverbs, who, as soon as he has got over the bruises and the sickness
of his last debauch, says, 'I will seek it yet again.' 'A deceived
heart hath turned him aside.'

And how is it that this hallucination that you have fed full and been
satisfied, when all the while your hunger has not been appeased, can
continue to act on us? For the very plain reason that every one of us
has in himself a higher and a lower self, a set of desires for the
grosser, more earthly, and, using the word in its proper sense, worldly
sort--that is to say, directed towards material things, and a higher
set which look right up to God if they were allowed fair play. And of
these two sets--which really are one at bottom, if a man would only see
it--the lower gets the upper hand, and suppresses the higher and the
nobler. And so in many a man and woman the longing for God is crushed
out by the grosser delights of sense.

One sometimes hears of cowardly, unmanly sailors, who in shipwreck push
the women and children aside, and struggle to the boats. And there are
in all of us groups of sturdy mendicants, so to speak, who elbow their
way to the front, and will have their wants satisfied. What becomes of
the gentler group that stand behind, unnoticed and silent? It is an
awful thing when men and women do, as so many of us do, pervert the
tastes that are meant to lead them to God, in order to stifle the
consciousness that they need a God at all. There are tribes of low
savages who are known as 'clay-eaters.' That is what a great many of us
are; we feed upon the serpent's meat, the dust of the earth, and let
all the higher heavenly food, which addresses itself first to loftier
desires, but also satisfies these lower ones, stand unnoticed, unsought
for, unpartaken of. Dear friends, do not be befooled by that
treacherous heart of yours, but let the deepest voices in your soul be
heard. Understand, I beseech you, that their cry is for no created
person or thing, and that only God Himself can satisfy them.

III. And now, lastly, notice that a life thus ignoring God needs a
power from without to set it free.

'He cannot deliver his soul.' Can you? Do you think you can break the
habits of a lifetime? Do you think that, left to yourself, you would
ever have any inclination to break them? Certainly, left to yourselves,
you will never have the power. These long indulged appetites of ours
grow with indulgence; and that which first was light as a cobweb, and
soft as a silken bracelet, becomes heavier and solider until it is an
iron fetter upon the limb, which no man can break. There is nothing
more awful in life than the influence of habit, so unthinkingly
acquired, so inexorably certain, so limiting our possibilities and
enclosing us in its grip.

Dear brethren, there is something more wanted than yourselves to break
this chain. You have tried, I have no doubt, in the course of your
lives, more and more resolutely, to cure yourselves of some more or
less unworthy habits. They may be but mere slight tricks of attitude or
intonation, or movement. Has your success been such as to encourage you
to think that you can revolutionise your lives, and dethrone the
despots that have ruled over you in the past? I leave the question to
yourselves. To me it seems that the world of men is certain to go on
ignoring God, and seeking its delight only in the world of creatures,
unless there comes in an outside power into the heart of the world and
revolutionises all things.

It is that power that I have to preach, the Christ who is the 'Bread of
God that came down from Heaven,' who can lift up any soul from the most
obstinate and long-continued grovelling amongst the transitory things
of this limited world, and the superficial delights of sense and a
gratified bodily life; who can bring the forgiveness which is
essential, the deliverance from the power of evil which is not less
essential, and who can fill our hearts with Himself the food of the
world. He comes to each of us; He comes to you, with the old
unanswerable question upon His lips, 'Why do you spend your money for
that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth
not?' It is unanswerable, for you can give no reason sufficient for
such madness. All that you could say, and you durst not say it to Him,
is, 'a deceived heart hath turned me aside.' He comes with the old
gracious word upon His lips, 'Take! eat! this is My body which is
broken for you.' He offers us Himself. He can stay all the hungers of
all mankind. He can feed your heart with love, your mind with truth
which is Himself, your will with His sweet commands.

As of old He made the thousands sit down upon the grass, and they did
all eat and were filled, so He stands before the world to-day and says,
'I am the Bread of Life; He that cometh to Me shall never hunger.' And
if you will only come to Him--that is to say, will trust yourselves
altogether to the merits of His sacrifice, and the might of His
indwelling Spirit--He will take away all the taste for the leeks and
onions and garlic, and will give you the appetite for heavenly food. He
will spread for you a table in the wilderness, and what would else be
ashes will become sweet, wholesome, and nourishing. Nor will He cease
there, for in His own good time He will call us to the banqueting house
above, where He will make us to sit down to meat, and come forth
Himself and serve us. Here, hunger often brings pain, and eating is
followed by repletion. But there, appetite and satisfaction will
produce each other perpetually, and the blessed ones who then hunger
will not hunger so as to feel faintness or emptiness, nor be so filled
as to cease to desire larger portions of the Bread of God. I beseech
you, cry, 'Lord, ever more give us this bread!'



WRITING BLOTTED OUT AND MIST MELTED

'I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a
cloud, thy sins.'--ISAIAH xliv. 22.


Isaiah has often and well been called the Evangelical Prophet. Many
parts of this second half of his prophecies referring to the Messiah
read like history rather than prediction. But it is not only from the
clearness with which the great figure of the future king of Israel
stands out on his page that he deserves that title. Other thoughts
belonging to the very substance of the gospel appear in him with a
vividness and a frequency which well warrants its application to him.
He speaks much of the characteristically Christian conceptions of sin,
forgiveness, and redemption. The whole of the latter parts of this book
are laden with that burden. They are gathered up in the extraordinarily
pregnant and blessed words of my text, in which metaphors are blended
with much disregard to oratorical propriety, in order to bring out the
whole fulness of the prophet's meaning. 'I have blotted out'--that
suggests a book. 'I have blotted out as a cloud'--that suggests the
thinning away of morning mists. The prophet blends the two thoughts
together, and on that great revelation of a forgiveness granted before
it has been asked, and given, not only to one penitent soul wailing out
like the abased king of Israel in his deep contrition, 'according to
the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions,' but
promised to a whole people, is rested the great invitation, 'Return
unto Me, for I have redeemed thee.'

Let me try and bring out, as simply and earnestly as I can, the great
teaching that is condensed into these words.

I. Observe here the penetrating glance into the very essential
characteristics of all sin.

There are two words, as you see, employed in my text, 'transgressions'
and 'sins.' They apply to the same kind of actions, but they look at
them from different angles and points of view. They are partially
synonymous, but they cover very various conceptions, and if we take
note of the original significations of the two words, we get two very
important and often forgotten thoughts.

For that expression rendered in my text, and rendered correctly
enough--transgressions--means at bottom, 'rebellion,' the rising up of a
disobedient will, not only against a law, but against a lawgiver. There
we have a deepening of that solemn fact of a man's wrongdoing, which
brings it into immediate connection with God, and marks its foulness by
reason of that connection.

Ah! brethren, it makes all the difference to a man's notions of right
and wrong, whether he stops on the surface or goes down to the depths;
whether he says to himself, 'The thing is a vice; it is wrong; it is
contrary to what I ought to be'; or whether he gets down to the darker,
deeper, and truer thought, and says, 'The damnable thing about every
little evil that I do is this, that in it _I_--poor puny I--perk myself
up against God, and say to Him, "Thou wilt; wilt thou? _I_ shall not!"'
Sin is rebellion.

And so what becomes of the hazy distinction between great sins and
little ones? An overt act of rebellion is of the same gravity,
whatsoever may be its form. The man that lifts his sword against the
sovereign, and the man behind him that holds his horse, are equally
criminal. And when once you let in the notion that in all our actions
we have to do with a Person, to whom we are bound to be obedient, then
the distinction which sophisticates so many people's consciences, and
does such infinite harm in so many lives, between great and small
transgressions, disappears altogether. Sin is rebellion.

Then the other word of my text is equally profound and significant. For
it, literally taken, means--as the words for 'sin' do in other
languages besides the Hebrew--missing a mark. Every wrong thing that
any man does is beside the mark, at which he, by virtue of his manhood,
and his very make and nature, ought to aim. It is beside the mark in
another sense than that. As some one says, 'A rogue is a roundabout
fool.' No man ever secures that, and only that, which he aims at by any
departure from the straight path of imperative duty. For if he gets
some vulgar and transient titillation of appetite, or satisfaction of
desire, he gets along with it something that takes all the gilt off the
gingerbread, and all the sweetness out of the satisfaction. So that it
is always a blunder to be bad, and every arrow that is drawn by a
sinful hand misses the target to which all our arrows should be
pointed, and misses even the poor mark that we think we are aiming at.
Take these two thoughts with you--I will not dwell on them, but I
desire to lay them upon all your hearts--all evil is sin, and every sin
is rebellion against God, and a blunder in regard to myself.

II. And now I come to the second point of our text, and ask you to note
the permanent record which every sin leaves.

I explained in the earlier part of my remarks that we have a case here
of the thing that horrifies rhetoricians, but does not matter a bit to
a prophet, the blending or confusing of two metaphors. The first of
them--'I have blotted out'--suggests a piece of writing, a book, or
manuscript of some sort. And the plain English of what lies behind that
metaphor is this solemn thought, which I would might blaze before each
of us, in all our lives, that God's calm and all-comprehensive
knowledge and remembrance takes and keeps filed, and ready for
reference, the whole story of our whole acts. There _is_ a book. It is
a violent metaphor, no doubt, but there is a solemn truth underlying it
which we are too apt to forget. The world is groaning nowadays with
two-volume memoirs of men that nobody wants to know anything more
about. But every man is ever writing his autobiography with invisible
but indelible ink. You have seen those old-fashioned 'manifold writers'
in your places of business, and the construction of them is this: a
flimsy sheet of tissue paper, a bit of black to be put in below it, and
then another sheet on the other side; and the pen that writes on the
flimsy top surface makes an impression that is carried through the
black to the sheet below, and there is a duplicate which the writer
keeps. You and I, upon the flimsinesses of this fleeting--sometimes, we
think, futile--life, are penning what is neither flimsy nor futile,
which goes through the opaque dark, and is reproduced and docketed
yonder. That is what we are doing every day and every minute, writing,
writing, writing our own biography. And who is going to read it? Well,
God does read it now, and you will have to read it out one day, and how
will you like that?

This metaphor will bear a little further expansion. Scripture tells us,
and conscience tells us, what manner of manuscript it is that we are
each so busy adding line upon line to. It is a ledger; it is an
indictment. Our own handwriting puts down in the ledger our own debts,
and we cannot deny our own handwriting when we are confronted with it.
It is an indictment, and our own hand draws it, and we have to plead
'guilty,' or 'not guilty,' to it. Which, being translated into plain
fact, is this--that there goes with all our deeds some sense and
reality of responsibility for them, and that all our rebellions against
God, and our blunders against self, be they great or small, carry with
them a sense of guilt and a reality of guilt whether we have the sense
of it or not. God has a judgment at this moment about every man and
woman, based upon the facts of the unfinished biography which they are
writing.

Mystical and awful, yet blessed and elevating, is the thought that
nothing--_nothing,_ ever dies; and that what was, is now, and always
will be.

Amongst the specimens from the coal measures in a museum you will find
slabs upon which the tiniest fronds of ferns that grew nobody knows how
many millenniums since are preserved for ever. Our lives, when the blow
of the last hammer lays them open, will, in like manner, bear the
impress of the minutest filament of every deed that we have ever done.

But my metaphor will bear yet further expansion, for this
autobiographical record which we are busy preparing, which is at once
ledger and indictment, is to be read out one day. There is a great
scene in the last book of Scripture, the whole solemn significance of
which, I suppose, we shall not understand till we have learned it by
experience, but the truth of which we have sufficient premonitions to
assure us of, which declares that at a given time, on the confines of
Eternity, the Great White Throne is to be set, and the books are to be
opened, and the dead are judged 'out of the books,' which, the seer
goes on to explain, is 'according to their works.' The story of Esther
tells us how the sleepless monarch in the night-watches sent for the
records of the kingdom and had them read to him. The King who never
slumbers nor sleeps, in that dawning of heaven's eternal morning, will
have the books opened before Him, and my deeds will be read out. He and
I will hear them, whether any else may hear or no. That is my second
lesson.

III. The third is, that we have here suggested the darkening power of
sin.

The prophet, as I said, mixes metaphors. 'I have blotted out as a cloud
thy transgressions.' He uses two words for 'cloud' here; both of them
mean substantially the same thing, and both suggest the same idea. When
cloud fills the sky it darkens the earth, and shuts out the sunshine
and the blue, it closes the petals of the little flowers, it hushes the
songs of the birds. Sin makes for the sinning man 'an under-roof of
doleful grey,' which shuts out all the glories above. Put that metaphor
into plain English, and it is just this, 'Your sins have separated
between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from
you that He will not hear.' It is impossible for a man that has his
heart all stiffened by the rebellion of his will against God's, or all
seething with unrestrained passions, or perturbed with worldly longings
and desires, to enter into calm fellowship with God or to keep the
thought of God clear before his mind. For we know Him, not by sense nor
by reason, but by sympathy and by feeling. And whatsoever comes in to
disturb a man's purity, comes in to hinder his vision of God. 'Blessed
are the pure in heart, for they'--and they only--'shall see God.'
Whenever from the undrained swamps of my own passions and sensualities,
or from the as malarious though loftier grounds of my own self-regard,
be I student or thinker, or moral man, there rise up these light mists,
they will fill the sky and hide the sun. On a winter's night you will
see the Pleiades, or other bright constellations, varying in brilliancy
from moment to moment as some invisible cloud-wrack floats across the
heavens. So, brother, every evil thing that we do rises up and gets
diffused through our atmosphere, and blots out from our vision the face
of God Himself, the blessed Son.

Not only by reason of dimming and darkening my thoughts of Him is my
sin rightly compared to an obscuring cloud; but the comparison also
holds good because, just as the blanket of a wet mist swathing the
wintry fields prevents the sunshine from falling upon them in blessing,
so the accumulated effect of my evil doings and evil designings and
thinkings and willings comes between me and all spiritual blessings
which God can bestow, so that the very light of light, the highest
blessings that He yearns to give, and we faint for want of possessing,
are impossible even to His love to communicate until the cloud is swept
away. So my sin darkens my soul, and separates me from the light of
life.

But the metaphor carries with it, too, a suggestion of the limitations
of the power of sin. For when the cloud is thickest and most obscuring
it only hugs the earth, and rises but a little way Into the heavens;
and far above it the blue is as blue, and the sunshine as bright, as if
there were no mist or fog in the lower regions. Therefore, let us
remember that, while the cloud must veil us from the light, the light
is above it, and 'every cloud that veileth love' may some day be
thinned away by the love it veils.

IV. That brings me to the last word of my text,--viz. the prophet's
teaching as to the removal of the sin.

We have to carry both the metaphors together with us here. 'I have
blotted out'--that is, as erasing from a book. 'I have blotted out as a
cloud'--that is, the thinning away of the mist. The blurred and stained
page can be cancelled. Chemicals will take the ink out. 'The blood of
Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin'; and it, passed over all that foul
record, makes it pure and clean. 'What I have written, I have written,'
said Pilate in his obstinacy. 'What I have written, I have written,'
wails many a man in the sense of the irrevocableness of his past.
Brother! be not afraid. Christ can take away all that stained record,
and give you back the page ready to receive holier words.

The cloud is thinned away. What thins the cloud? As I have said, the
light which the cloud obscures, shining on the upper surface of it,
dissipates it layer by layer till it gets down at last to the
lowermost, and then rends a gap in it, and sends the shaft of the
sunbeam through on to the green earth. And that is only a highly
imaginative way of saying that it is the love against which we
transgress that thins away the cloud of transgression, and at last, as
the placid moon, by simply shining silently on, will sweep the whole
sky clear of its clouds, dissipates them all, and leaves the calm blue.
God forgives. The ledger account--if I may use so grossly commercial a
figure--is settled in full; the indictment is endorsed, 'acquitted.' He
remembers the sins only to breathe into the child's heart the assurance
of pardon, and no obstacle rises by reason of forgiven transgression
between the sinning man and the reconciled God.

Now, all this preaching of Isaiah's is enlarged and confirmed, and to
some extent the _rationale_ of it is set before us in the great Gospel
truth of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. Unless we know
that truth, we may well stand amazed and questioning as to whether a
righteous God, administering a rigorous universe, can ever pardon sin.
And unless we know that by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, granted to our
spirits, our whole nature may be remade and moulded, we might well be
tempted to say, Ah! the Ethiopian cannot change his skin nor the
leopard his spots. But Jesus Christ can change more than skin, even the
heart and spirit, the inmost depths of the nature.

Now, brother, my text speaks of this great blotting out as a past fact.
It is so in the divine mind with regard to each of us, because Christ's
great work has made reconciliation and atonement for all the sins of
all the world. And on the fact that it is past is based the
exhortation, 'Return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee.' God does not
say, 'Come back and I will forgive'; He does not say, 'Return and I
will blot out'; but He says, 'Return, for I _have_ blotted out.' Though
accomplished, the forgiveness has to be appropriated by individual
faith. The sins of the world have been borne, and borne away, by the
Lamb of God, but your sins are not borne away unless your hand is laid
on this head.

If it is, then you do not need to say, 'What I have written is written,
and it cannot be blotted out.' But as in the old days a monk would take
some manuscript upon which filthy stories about heathen gods and
foolish fables were written, and erase these to write the legends of
saints, or perhaps the words of the Gospels themselves; so on our
hearts, which have been scribbled all over with obscenities and
follies, He will write His new best name of Love, and we may be
epistles of Christ, written with the Spirit of the living God.



HIDDEN AND REVEALED

'Verily thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the
Saviour.... I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth;
I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me in vain: I the Lord speak
righteousness, I declare things that are right.'--ISAIAH xlv, 15,19.


The former of these verses expresses the thoughts of the prophet in
contemplating the close of a great work of God's power which issues in
the heathen's coming to Israel and acknowledging God. He adores the
depth of the divine counsels which, by devious ways and after long
ages, have led to this bright result. And as he thinks of all the
long-stretching preparations, all the apparently hostile forces which
have been truly subsidiary, all the generations during which these
Egyptian and Ethiopian tribes have been the enemies and oppressors of
that Israel whom they at last acknowledge for the dwelling-place of
God, and enemies of that Jehovah before whom they finally bow down, he
feels that he has no measuring-line to fathom the divine purposes, and
bows his face to the ground in reverent contemplation with that word
upon his lips: 'Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of
Israel, the Saviour.' It is a parallel to the apostolic words, 'O the
depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How
unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.'

But such thoughts are but a half truth, and may very easily become in
men's minds a whole error, and therefore they are followed by a
marvellous section in which the Lord Himself speaks, and of which the
whole burden is--the clearness and fulness with which God makes Himself
known to men. True it is that there are depths inaccessible in the
divine nature. True it is that there are mysteries unrevealed in the
method of the divine procedure, and especially in that of the relation
of heathen tribes to His gospel and His love. True it is that there are
mysteries opened in the very word of His grace. But notwithstanding all
this--it is also true that He makes Himself known to us all, that He
declares righteousness, that He calls us to seek Him, and that He wills
to be found and known by us.

The collocation of these two passages may be taken, then, as
representing the two phases of the Divine Manifestation, the obscurity
which must ever be associated with all our finite knowledge of God, and
the clear sunlight in which blazes all that we need to know of Him.

I. After all revelation, God is hidden.

There is revelation of His Name in all His works. His action must be
all self-manifestation. But after all it is obscure and hidden.

1. Nature hides while it reveals.

Nature's revelation is unobtrusive.

God is concealed behind second causes.

God is concealed behind regular modes of working (laws).

Nature's revelation is partial, disclosing only a fragment of the name.

Nature's revelation is ambiguous. Dark shadows of death and pain in the
sensitive world, of ruin and convulsions, of shivered stars, seem to
contradict the faith that all is very good; so that it has been
possible for men to drop their plummet in the deep and say, 'I find no
God,' and for others to fall into Manichaeism or some form or other of
dualism.

2. Providence hides while it reveals.

That is the sphere in which men are most familiar with the idea of
mystery.

There is much of which we do not see the issue. The process is not
completed, and so the end is not visible.

Even when we believe that 'to Him' and 'for good' are 'all things,' we
cannot tell how all will come circling round. We are like men looking
only at one small segment of an ellipse which is very eccentric.

There is much of which we do not see the consistency with the divine
character.

We are confronted with stumbling-blocks in the allotment of earthly
conditions; in the long ages and many tribes which are without
knowledge of God; in the sore sorrows, national and individual.

We can array a formidable host. But it is to be remembered that
revelation actually increases these. It is just because we know so much
of God that we feel them so keenly. I suppose the mysteries of the
divine government trouble others outside the sphere of revelation but
little. The darkness is made visible by the light.

3. Even in 'grace' God is hidden while revealed.

The Infinite and Eternal cannot be grasped by man.

The conception of infinity and eternity is given us by revelation, but
it is not comprehended so that its contents are fully known. The words
are known, but their full meaning is not, and no revelation can make
them, known to finite intelligences.

God dwells in light inaccessible, which is darkness.

Revelation opens abysses down which we cannot look. It raises and
leaves unsettled as many questions as it solves.

The telescope resolves many nebulae, but only to bring more
unresolvable ones into the field of vision.

Now all this is but one side of the truth. There is a tendency in some
minds to underrate what is plain because all is not plain. For some
minds the obscure has a fascination, apart altogether from its nature,
just because it is obscure. It is a noble emulation to press forward
and 'still to be closing up what we know not with what we know.' But
neither in science nor in religion shall we make progress if we do not
take heed of the opposing errors of thinking that all is seen, and of
thinking that what we have is valueless because there are gaps in it.
The constellations are none the less bright nor immortal fires, though
there be waste places in heaven where nothing but opaque blackness is
seen. In these days it is especially needful to insist both on the
incompleteness of all our religious knowledge, and to say that--

II. Notwithstanding all obscurity, God has amply revealed Himself.

Though God hides Himself, still there comes from heaven the voice--'I
have not spoken in secret,' Now these words contain these thoughts--

1. That whatever darkness there may be, there is none due to the manner
of the revelation.

God has not spoken in secret, in a corner. There are no arbitrary
difficulties made or unnecessary darkness left in His revelation. _We_
have no right to say that He has left difficulties to test our faith.
_He_ Himself has never said so. He deals with us in good faith, doing
all that can be done to enlighten, regard being had to still loftier
considerations, to the freedom of the human will, to the laws which He
has Himself imposed on our nature, and the purposes for which we are
here. It is very important to grasp this. We have been told as much as
_can_ be told. Contrast with such a revelation the cave-muttered
oracles of heathenism and their paltering double sense. Be sure that
when God speaks, He speaks clearly and to all, and that in Christianity
there is no esoteric teaching for a few initiated only, while the
multitude are put off with shows.

2. That whatever obscurity there may be, there is none which hides the
divine invitation or Him from those who obey it.

'I have never said ... seek ye Me in vain.' Much is obscure if
speculative completeness is looked for, but the moral relations of God
and man are not obscure.

All which the heart needs is made known. His revelation is clearly His
seeking us, and His revelation is His gracious call to us to seek Him.
He is ever found by those who seek. They have not to press through
obscurities to find Him, but the desire to possess must precede
possession in spiritual matters. He is no hidden God, lurking in
obscurity and only to be found by painful search. They who 'seek' Him
know where to find Him, and seek because they know.

3. That whatever may be obscure, the Revelation of righteousness is
clear.

We have to face speculative difficulties in plenty, but the great fact
remains that in Revelation steady light is focussed on the moral
qualities of the divine Nature and especially on His righteousness.

And the revelation of the divine righteousness reaches its greatest
brightness, as that of all the divine Nature does, in the Person and
work of Jesus. Very significantly the idea of God's righteousness is
fully developed in the immediately subsequent context. There we find
that attribute linked in close and harmonious conjunction with what
shallower thought is apt to regard as being in antagonism to it. He
declares Himself to be 'a just (righteous) God and a Saviour.' So then,
if we would rightly conceive of His righteousness, we must give it a
wider extension than that of retributive justice or cold, inflexible
aloofness from sinners. It impels God to be man's saviour. And with
similar enlarging of popular conceptions there follows: 'In the Lord is
righteousness and strength,' and therefore, 'In the Lord shall all the
seed of Israel be justified (declared and made righteous) and shall
glory'--then, the divine Righteousness is communicative.

All these thoughts, germinal in the prophet's words, are set in fullest
light, and certified by the most heart-moving facts, in the Person and
work of Jesus Christ. He 'declares at this time His righteousness, that
He might Himself be righteous and the maker righteous of them that have
faith in Jesus.' Whatever is dark, this is clear, that 'Jehovah our
Righteousness' has come to us in His Son, in whom seeking Him we shall
never seek in vain, but 'be found in Him, not having a righteousness of
our own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith
in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.'

If the great purpose of revelation is to make us know that God loves
us, and has given us His Son that in Him we may know Him and possess
His Righteousness, difficulties and obscurities in its form or in its
substance take a very different aspect. What need we more than that
knowledge and possession? Be not robbed of them.

Many things are not written in the book of the divine Revelation,
whether it be that of Nature, of human history, or of our own spirits,
or even of the Gospel, but these are written that we may believe that
Jesus is the Son of God, and believing, may have life in His name.



A RIGHTEOUSNESS NEAR AND A SWIFT SALVATION

'Hearken unto Me, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness: I
bring near My righteousness; it shall not be far off, and My salvation
shall not tarry.'--ISAIAH xlvi. 12,13.


God has promised that He will dwell with him that is humble and of a
contrite heart. Jesus has shed the oil of His benediction on the poor
in spirit. It is the men who form the exact antithesis to these
characters who are addressed here. The 'stout-hearted' are those who,
being untouched in conscience and ignorant of their sin, are
self-reliant and almost defiant before God. That temper is branded
here, though, of course, there is a sense in which a stout heart is a
priceless possession, but that sort of stoutness of heart is best
secured by the contrite of heart. Those who are far from righteousness
are those who are not only sinful in act, but do not desire to be
otherwise, having no approximation or drawing towards a nobler life, by
aspiration or effort.

To such men God speaks, as in the tone of a royal proclamation; and
what should we expect to hear pealing from His lips? Words of rebuke,
warning, condemnation? No; His voice is gentle and wooing, and does not
threaten blows, but proffers blessings: 'I will bring near My
righteousness. It shall not be far off,' though the stout-hearted maybe
'far from' it. Here we have a divine proclamation of a divine Love that
will not let us away from its presence; of a divine Work for us that is
finished without us; of an all-sufficient Gift to us.

I. A divine proclamation of a divine Love that will not let us away
from its presence.

There is a great contest between God and man: man seeking to withdraw
from God, and God following in patient, persistent love.

1. In general terms God keeps near us, however far away we go from Him.

Think of our forgetfulness of Him and His continual thought of us.
Think of our alienated hearts and His unchanging love.

We cannot turn away His care, we cannot exhaust His compassion, we
cannot alienate His heart. All men everywhere are objects of these, as
in every corner of the world the sky is overhead, and all lands have
sunshine.

What a picture of divine patience and placability that truth points for
us! It shows the Father coming after His prodigal son, and so surpasses
even the pearl of the parables.

2. The special reference to Christ's work.

That work is the exhibition in manhood and to men of a perfect
righteousness.

It is the implanting in the corrupt world of a new beginning. It is the
clothing us with Christ's righteousness, for which we are forgiven and
in which we are sanctified.

So Christ's work is God's coming to bring near His righteousness, and
now 'it is nigh thee in thy mouth and in thy heart.'

II. A divine proclamation of a divine Work which is finished without us.

The divine righteousness and its consequence are here represented as
being brought near while men are still 'stout-hearted.' We must feel
the emphasis laid on '_I_ will bring near _My_ righteousness,' and the
impression of merciful speed given by 'My salvation shall not tarry.'
The whole suggests such thoughts as these:--

The divine love is not drawn out by anything in us, but pours out on
us, even while we are far off and indifferent to it. His bringing near
of righteousness, and setting His salvation to run very swiftly side by
side with it, originates in Himself. It is the self-impelled and
self-fed flow of a fountain, and we need no pump or machinery to draw
it forth.

The divine work is accomplished without man's co-operation.

'It is finished,' was Christ's dying cry. But what is
finished?--Bringing the righteousness near. What still remains to be
done?--Making it mine. And that is accomplished by faith.

It is mine if by faith I claim it as mine, and knit myself with Him who
is righteousness and salvation for every man that they may be
accessible to and possessed by any man.

A man may be far from righteousness though it is near him and all
around him. Like Gideon's fleece, he may be dry when all is wet, or
like some rock in a field, barren and sullen, while all around the corn
is waving.

III. The proclamation of an all-sufficient Gift.

Righteousness, salvation, glory, are here brought together in
significant sequence. They are but several names for the same divine
gift, looked at from different angles. A diamond flashes varying
prismatic hues from its different facets.

That encyclopaedical gift, which in regard to man considered as sinful
brings pardon and a new nature 'in righteousness and holiness of
truth,' brings deliverance from peril and from every form of evil and
death, to him considered as exposed to consequences of sin both
physical and moral, and a true though limited participation in the
divine glory, even now, with the hope of entering into the blaze of it
hereafter, to him as considered as made in the divine image and having
lost it.

And all this wonderful triple hope, rapturous and impossible as it
seems when we think of man as he is, and of each of ourselves as we
each feel ourselves to be, is for us a sober certainty and a fact
sufficiently accomplished, to give firm ground for our largest
expectations if we hold fast by Jesus who brings that all-sufficient
gift of God within reach of each of us. The divine patience and love
follow us in all our wild wanderings, praying us 'with much entreaty
that we should receive the gift.' Jesus, who is God's righteousness and
love incarnate, beseeches us to take Him, and in Him righteousness,
salvation, and glory.



A RIVER OF PEACE AND WAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

'Oh that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace
been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the
sea.'--ISAIAH xlviii. 18.


I. The Wonderful Thought of God here.

This is an exclamation of disappointment; of thwarted love. The good
which He purposed has been missed by man's fault, and He regards the
faulty Israel with sorrow and pity as a would-be benefactor balked of a
kind intention might do. O Jerusalem! 'how often would I have gathered
thee.' 'If thou hadst known ... the things that belong unto thy peace!'

II. Man's opposition to God's loving purpose for us.

To have hearkened to His commandments would have enabled Him to let His
kindness have its way.

It is not only our act contrary to God's Law, but the source of that
act in our antagonistic will, which fatally bars out the possibility of
God's intended good from us. It is 'not hearkening' which is the root
of not doing.

That possibility of lifting up our puny wills against the
all-sovereign, Infinite Will is the mystery of mysteries.

The fact that the mysterious possibility becomes an actuality in us is
still more mysterious. If we could solve those two mysteries, we should
be far on the way to solve all the mysteries of man's relation to God,
and God's to man.

A will absolutely submitted to Him is His great ideal of human nature.
And that ideal we all can thwart, and alas, alas! we all do. It is the
deepest mystery; it is the blackest sin; it is the intensest folly.

Sin is negative as well as positive. Not to hearken is as bad as to act
in dead opposition to.

III. The lost good.

The great purpose of the divine Commandment is to show us, for our own
sakes, the path that leads to all blessedness.

Peace and Righteousness, or, in more modern words, all well-being and
all goodness, are the sure results of taking God's expressed Will as
the guide of life.

These two are inseparable. Indeed they are one and the same fact of
human experience, looked at from two points of view.

The force of the metaphor in both clauses is substantially the same. It
suggests in both--Abundance--Continuity--Uninterrupted Succession. But
regarded separately each has its own fair promise. 'As a
river'--flowing softly, not stagnant--that suggests the calm and gentle
flow of a placid and untroubled stream refreshing and fertilising. 'As
waves of the sea,' these suggest greater force than 'river.' The image
speaks of a righteousness massive and having power and a resistless
swing in it. It is the more striking because the waves of the sea are
the ordinary emblem of rebellious power. But here they stand as emblem
of the strength of a submissive, not of a rebellious, will. In that
obedience human nature rises to a higher type of strength than it ever
attains while in opposition to the Source of all strength.

Contrast--'Whose waters cast up mire and dirt.'

IV. The lost good regained.

God has yet a method to accomplish His loving desire. Even those who
have not hearkened may receive through Christ the good which they have
sinned away. In Him is peace; in Him is Righteousness, which comes from
faith. 'Hear, and your soul shall live.'



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE


ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

ISAIAH AND JEREMIAH

Isaiah, Chaps. XLIX to End. Jeremiah.



CONTENTS.


FEEDING IN THE WAYS (Isaiah xlix. 9)

THE MOUNTAIN ROAD (Isaiah xlix. 11)

THE WRITING ON GOD'S HANDS (Isaiah xlix. 16)

THE SERVANT'S WORDS TO THE WEARY (Isaiah l. 4)

THE SERVANT'S OBEDIENCE (Isaiah l. 5)

THE SERVANT'S VOLUNTARY SUFFERINGS (Isaiah l. 6)

THE SERVANT'S INFLEXIBLE RESOLVE (Isaiah l. 7)

THE SERVANT'S TRIUMPH (Isaiah l. 8, 9)

A CALL TO FAITH (Isaiah l. 10)

DYING FIRES (Isaiah l. 11)

THE AWAKENING OF ZION (Isaiah lii. 1)

A PARADOX OF SELLING AND BUYING (Isaiah lii. 3)

CLEAN CARRIERS (Isaiah lii. 11)

MARCHING ORDERS (Isaiah lii. 11, 12)

THE ARM OF THE LORD (Isaiah liii. 1)

THE SUFFERING SERVANT--I. (Isaiah liii. 2,3)

THE SUFFERING SERVANT--II. (Isaiah liii. 4-6)

THE SUFFERING SERVANT--III. (Isaiah liii. 7-9)

THE SUFFERING SERVANT--IV. (Isaiah liii. 10)

THE SUFFERING SERVANT--V. (Isaiah liii. 11)

THE SUFFERING SERVANT--VI. (Isaiah liii. 12)

THE PASSING AND THE PERMANENT (Isaiah liv. 10)

THE CALL TO THE THIRSTY (Isaiah lv. 1-13)

THE GREAT PROCLAMATION (Isaiah lv. 1)

GOD'S WAYS AND MAN'S (Isaiah lv. 8, 9)

CAN WE MAKE SURE OF TO-MORROW? (Isaiah lvi. 12)

FLIMSY GARMENTS (Isaiah lix. 6; Rev. iii. 18)

THE SUNLIT CHURCH (Isaiah lx. 1-3)

WALLS AND GATES (Isaiah lx. 18)

THE JOY-BRINGER (Isaiah lxi. 3)

THE HEAVENLY WORKERS AND THE EARTHLY WATCHERS (Isaiah lxii. 1, 6, 7)

MIGHTY TO SAVE (Isaiah lxiii. 1)

THE WINEPRESS AND ITS TREADER (Isaiah lxiii. 2, 3)

THE SYMPATHY OF GOD (Isaiah lxiii. 9)

HOW TO MEET GOD (Isaiah lxiv. 5)

'THE GOD OF THE AMEN' (Isaiah lxv. 16)


THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH

GOD'S LAWSUIT (Jer. ii. 9)

STIFF-NECKED IDOLATERS AND PLIABLE CHRISTIANS (Jer. ii. 11)

FOUNTAIN AND CISTERNS (Jer. ii. 13)

FORSAKING JEHOVAH (Jer. ii. 19)

A COLLOQUY BETWEEN A PENITENT AND GOD (Jer. iii. 21, 22)

A QUESTION FOR THE BEGINNING (Jer. v. 31)

POSSESSING AND POSSESSED (Jer. x. 16, R.V.)

CALMS AND CRISES (Jer. xii. 5, R.V.)

AN IMPOSSIBILITY MADE POSSIBLE (Jer. xiii. 23; 2 Cor. v. 17; Rev. xxi.
5)

TRIUMPHANT PRAYER (Jer. xiv. 7-9)

SIN'S WRITING AND ITS ERASURE (Jer. xvii, 1; 2 Cor. iii. 3; Col. ii. 14)

THE HEATH IN THE DESERT AND THE TREE BY THE RIVER (Jer. xvii. 6, 8)

A SOUL GAZING ON GOD (Jer. xvii. 12)

TWO LISTS OF NAMES (Jer. xvii. 13; Luke x. 20)

YOKES OF WOOD AND OF IRON (Jer. xxviii. 13)

WHAT THE STABLE CREATION TEACHES (Jer. xxxi. 36)

WHAT THE IMMENSE CREATION TEACHES (Jer. xxxi. 37)

A THREEFOLD DISEASE AND A TWOFOLD CURE (Jer. xxxiii. 8)

THE RECHABITES (Jer. xxxv. 16)

JEREMIAH'S ROLL BURNED AND REPRODUCED (Jer. xxxvi. 32)

ZEDEKIAH (Jer. xxxvii. 1)

THE WORLD'S WAGES TO A PROPHET (Jer. xxxvii. 11-21)

THE LAST AGONY (Jer. xxxix. 1-10)

EBEDMELECH THE ETHIOPIAN (Jer. xxxix. 18)

GOD'S PATIENT PLEADINGS (Jer. xliv. 4)

THE SWORD OF THE LORD (Jer. xlvii. 6, 7)

THE KINSMAN-REDEEMER (Jer. 1. 34)

'As SODOM' (Jer. lii. 1-11)



FEEDING IN THE WAYS

'They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high
places.' ISAIAH xlix. 9.


This is part of the prophet's glowing description of the return of the
Captives, under the figure of a flock fed by a strong shepherd. We have
often seen, I suppose, a flock of sheep driven along a road, some of
them hastily trying to snatch a mouthful from the dusty grass by the
wayside. Little can they get there; they have to wait until they reach
some green pasture in which they can be folded. This flock shall 'feed
in the ways'; as they go they will find nourishment. That is not all;
the top of the mountains is not the place where grass grows. _There_
are bare, savage cliffs, from which every particle of soil has been
washed by furious torrents, or the scanty vegetation has been burnt up
by the fierce 'sunbeams like swords.' There the wild deer and the
ravens live, the sheep feed down in the valleys. But '_their_ pasture
shall be in all high places.' The literal rendering is even more
emphatic: 'Their pasture shall be in all _bare heights_,' where a
sudden verdure springs to feed them according to their need. Whilst,
then, this prophecy is originally intended simply to suggest the
abundant supplies that were to be provided for the band of exiles as
they came back from Babylon, there lie in it great and blessed
principles which belong to the Christian pilgrimage, and the flock that
follows Christ.

They who follow Him, says my text, to begin with, shall find in the
dusty paths of common life, and in all the smallnesses and distractions
of daily duty, nourishment for their spirits. Do you remember what
Jesus said? 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to
finish His work.' We, too, may have the same meat to eat which the
world knows not of, and He will give that hidden manna to the combatant
as well as 'to him that overcometh.' In the measure in which 'we follow
the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,' in that measure do we find--like the
stores of provisions that Arctic explorers come upon, _cached_ for
them--food in the wilderness, and nourishment for our highest life in
our common work. That is a great promise, and it is a great duty.

It is a promise the fulfilment of which is plainly guaranteed by the
very nature of the case. Religion is meant to direct conduct, and the
smallest affairs of life are to come under its imperial control, and
the only way by which a man can get any good out of his Christianity is
by living it. It is when he sets to work on the principles of the
Gospel that the Gospel proves itself to be a reality in his blessed
experience. It is when he does the smallest duties from the great
motives that these great motives are strengthened by exercise, as every
motive is. If you wish to weaken the influence of any principle upon
you, do not work it out, and it will wither and die. If a man would
grasp the fulness of spiritual sustenance which lies in the Gospel of
Jesus Christ, let him go to work on the basis of the Gospel, and he
'shall feed in the ways,' and common duties will minister strength to
him instead of taking strength from him. We can make the smallest daily
incidents subserve our growth and our spiritual strength, because, if
we thus do them, they will bring to us attestations of the reality of
the faith by which we act on them. For convincing a man that a lifebuoy
is reliable there is nothing like having had experience of its power to
hold his head above the waves when he has been cast into them. _Live_
your Christianity, and it will attest itself. There will come, besides
that, the blessed memory of past times in which we trusted in the Lord
and were lightened, we obeyed God and found His promises true, we
risked all for God and found that we had all more abundantly. It is
only an active Christian life that is a nourished and growing Christian
life.

The food which God gives us is not only to be taken by faith, but it
has to be made ours more abundantly by work. Saint Augustine said in
another connection, 'Believe, and thou hast eaten.' Yes, that is
blessedly true, but it needs to be supplemented by 'they shall feed _in
the ways_,' and their work will bring them nourishment.

But this is a great duty as well as a great promise. How many of us
Christian people have but little experience of getting nearer to God
because of our daily occupations? To by far the larger number of us, in
by far the greater space of time in our lives, our daily work is a
distraction, and tends to obscure the face of God to us and to shut us
out from many of the storehouses of sustenance by which a quiet,
contemplative faith is refreshed. Therefore we need times of special
prayer and remoteness from daily work; and there will be very little
realisation of the nourishing power of common duties unless there is
familiar to us also the entrance into the 'secret place of the Most
High,' where He feeds His children on the bread of life.

We must not neglect either of these two ways by which our souls are
fed, and we must ever remember that the reason why so many Christian
people cannot set to their seal that this promise is true, lies mainly
in this, that the ways on which they go are either not the ways that
the Shepherd has walked in before them, or that they are trodden in
forgetfulness of Him and without looking to His guidance. The work that
is to minister to the Christian life must be work conformed to the
Christian ideal, and if we fling ourselves into our secular business,
as it is called--if you go to your counting-houses and shops, and I go
to my desk and books, and forget the Shepherd--then there is no grass
by the wayside for such sheep. But if we subject our wills to Him, and
if in all that we do we are trying to refer to Him and are working in
dependence on Him, and for Him, then the poorest work, the meanest, the
most entirely secular, will be a source of Christian nourishment and
blessing. We have to settle for ourselves whether we shall be
distracted, torn asunder by pressure of cares and responsibilities and
activities, or whether, far below the agitated surface which is ruffled
by the winds, and borne along by the tidal wave, there will be a great
central depth, still but not stagnant--whether we shall be fed, or
starved in our Christian life, by the pressure of our worldly tasks.
The choice is before us. 'They shall feed in the ways,' if the ways are
Christ's ways, and He is at every step their Shepherd.

Further, my text suggests that for those who follow the Lamb there
shall be greenness and pasture on the bare heights. Strip that part of
our text of its metaphor, and it just comes to the blessed old thought,
which I hope many of us have known to be a true one, that the times of
sorrow are the times when a Christian may have the most of the presence
and strength of God. 'In the days of famine they shall be satisfied,'
and up among the most barren cliffs, where there is not a bite for any
four-footed creature, they shall find springing grass and watered
pastures. Our prophet puts the same thought, under a kindred though
somewhat different metaphor, in another place in this book, where he
says, 'I will open rivers in high places.' That is clean contrary to
nature. The rivers do not run on the mountain-tops, but down in the low
ground. But for us, as the darkness thickens, the pillar may glow the
brighter; as the gloom increases, the glory may grow; the less of
nutriment or refreshment earth affords, the more abundantly does God
spread His stores before us, if we are wise enough to take them. It is
an experience, I suppose, common to all devout men, that their times of
most rapid growth were their times of trouble. In nature winter stops
all vegetable life. In grace the growing time is the winter. They tell
us that up in the Arctic regions the reindeer will scratch away the
snow, and get at the succulent moss that lies beneath it. When that
Shepherd, Who Himself has known sorrows, leads us up into those barren
regions of perpetual cold and snow, He teaches us, too, how to brush it
away, and find what we need buried and kept safe and warm beneath the
white shroud. It is the prerogative of the Christian soul not to be
without trouble, but to turn the trouble into nourishment, and to feed
on the barest heights.

May I turn these latter words of our text a somewhat different way,
attaching to them a meaning which does not belong to them, but by way
of accommodation? If Christian people want to have the bread of God
abundantly, they must climb. It is to those who live on the heights
that provision comes according to their need. If you would have your
Christian life starved, go down into the fertile valleys. Remember
Abraham and Lot, and the choice which each made. The one said: 'I want
cattle and wealth, and I am going down to Sodom. Never mind about the
vices of the inhabitants. There is money to be made there.' Abraham
said: 'I am going to stay up here on the heights, the breezy, barren
heights,' and God stayed beside him. If we go down we starve our souls.
If we desire them to be fat and flourishing, nourished with the hidden
manna, then we must go up. 'Their pasture shall be in all high places.'

Before I finish, let me remind you of the application of the words of
my text, which we owe to the New Testament. The context runs, as you
will remember, 'they shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the
heat nor the sun smite them. For He that hath mercy on them shall lead
them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them.' And you
remember the beautiful variation and deepening of this promise in that
great saying which the Seer in the Apocalypse gives us, when he speaks
of those 'who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,' and are led 'by
living fountains of water,' where 'God shall wipe away all tears from
their eyes.' So we are entitled to believe that on the loftiest
heights, far above this valley of weeping, there shall be immortal
food, and that on the high places of the mountains of God there shall
be pasture that never withers. The prophet Ezekiel has a similar
variation of my text, and transfers it from the captives on their march
homewards, to the happy pilgrims who have reached home, when he says:
'I will bring them unto their own land, and feed them upon the
mountains of Israel'--when they have reached them at last after the
weary march--' I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the
mountains of Israel shall their fold be; there shall they lie in a good
fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of
Israel.'



THE MOUNTAIN ROAD

'And I will make all My mountains a way, and My highways shall be
exalted.'--ISAIAH xlix. 11.


This grand prophecy is far too wide to be exhausted by the return of
the exiles. There gleamed through it the wider redemption and the true
return of the real captives. The previous promises all find their
fulfilment in the experiences of the soul on its journey back to God.
Here we have two characteristics of that journey.

I. The Path through the mountains.

'_My_ mountains.' That is the claim that all the world is His; and also
the revelation that He is the Lord of Providence. He makes our
difficult and steep places. Submission comes with that thought, and
even 'for the strength of the hills we bless Thee.' There are mountains
which are not His but ours, artificial difficulties of our own creating.

1. Our way does lie over the mountains. There are difficulties. The
Christian course is like a Roman road which never turned aside, but
went straight up and on. So much the better. A keener air blows,
bracing and health-giving, up there. Mosquitoes and malaria keep to the
lower levels.

2. There is always a path over the mountains. Some way opens when we
get close up, like a path through heather, which is not seen till
reached. We walk by faith. We foolishly forebode and fancy that we
cannot live if something happens, but there is no _cul de sac_ in our
paths if God's mountain-way is our way, nor does the faint track ever
die out if our faith is keen-sighted and docile.

II. The Pasture on the mountains--lit. 'bare heights.'

Pastures in the East are down in bottoms, not, like ours, upon the
hills. But this flock finds supplies on the barren hill-tops.

Sustenance in Sorrow and Loss.

1. Promise that whatever be our trials and losses we shall be taken
care of. Not, perhaps, as we should have liked, nor as abundantly fed
as down in the valleys, but still not left to starve. No carcases
strewed on the bleakest bit of road as one sees dead camels by the side
of the tracks in the desert.

2. Promise of sustenance of a higher kind even in sorrow. The Alpine
flora is specially beautiful, though minute. The blessings of
affliction; the more intimate knowledge of His love, submission of
will. 'Out of the eater came forth meat.'

'Passing through the valley of weeping they make it a well'; the tears
shed in times of rightly borne sorrow are gathered into a reservoir
from which refreshment, patience, trust and strength may be drawn in
later days.

But the perfect fulfilment of the promise lies beyond this life. 'On
the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be,' and they who have
found pasture on the barren heights of earthly sorrow shall 'summer
high in bliss upon the hills of God,' and shall at once both lie 'for
ever in a good fold,' and 'follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,' and
find fountains of living water bursting forth for ever on these fertile
heights.



THE WRITING ON GOD'S HANDS

'Behold! I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are
continually before Me.'--ISAIAH xlix. 16.


In the preceding context we have the infinitely tender and beautiful
words: 'Zion hath said, The Lord hath forsaken me. Can a woman forget
her sucking child? ... yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget
thee.' There is more than a mother's love in the Father's heart. But
wonderful in their revelation of God, and mighty to strengthen, calm,
and comfort, as these transcendent words are, those of my text, which
follow them, do not fall beneath their loftiness. They are a singularly
bold metaphor, drawn from the strange and half-savage custom, which
lingers still among sailors and others, of having beloved names or
other tokens of affection and remembrance indelibly inscribed on parts
of the body. Sometimes worshippers had the marks of the god thus set on
their flesh; here God writes on His hands the name of the city of His
worshippers. And it is not its name only, but its very likeness that He
stamps there, that He may ever look on it, as those who love bear with
them a picture of one dear face. The prophecy goes on: 'Thy walls are
continually before Me,' but in the prophet's time the walls were in
ruins, and yet they are present to the divine mind.

I. Now, the first thought suggested by these great words is that here
we have set forth for our strength and peace a divine remembrance,
tender as--yea, more tender than--a mother's.

When Israel came out of Egypt, the Passover was instituted as 'a
memorial unto all generations,' or, as the same idea is otherwise
expressed, 'it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand.' Here God
represents Himself as doing for Israel what He had bid Israel do for
Him. They were, as it were, to write the supreme act of deliverance in
the Exodus upon their hands, that it might never be forgotten. He
writes Zion on His hands for the same purpose.

Now, of course, the text does not primarily refer to individuals, but
to the community, whether Zion is understood, as the prophet understood
the name, to be ancient Israel, or as the Christian Church. But the
recognition of that fact should not be allowed to rob us of the
preciousness of this text in its bearing on the individual. For God
remembers the community, not as an abstraction or a generalised
expression, but as the aggregate of all the individuals composing it.
We lose sight of the particulars when we generalise. We cannot see the
trees for the wood. We think of 'the Church,' and do not think of the
thousands of men and women who make it up. We cannot discern the
separate stars in the galaxy. But God's eye resolves what to us is a
nebula, and to Him every single glittering point of light hangs rounded
and separate in the heaven. Therefore this assurance of our text is to
be taken by every single soul that loves God, and trusts Him through
Jesus Christ, as belonging to it, as though there were not another
creature on earth but itself.

  'The sun whose beams most glorious are,
    Disdaineth no beholder.'

Its light floods the world, yet seems to go straight into the eyeball
of every man that looks at it. And such is the divine love and
remembrance. There is no jostling nor confusion in the wide space of
the heart of God. They that go before shall not hinder them that come
after. The hungry crowd sat down in companies on the green grass, and
the first fifty, no doubt, were envied by the last of the hundred
fifties that made up the five thousand, and wondered whether the five
loaves and the two small fishes could go round, but the last fed full
as did the first. The great promise of our text belongs to me and thee,
and therefore belongs to us all.

That remembrance which each man may take for himself--and we are poor
Christians if we do not live in its light--is infinitely tender. The
echo of the music of the previous words still haunts the verse, and the
remembrance promised in it is touched with more than a mother's love.
'I am poor and needy,' says the Psalmist, 'yet the Lord thinketh upon
me.' He might have said, 'I am poor and needy, therefore the Lord
thinketh upon me.' That remembrance is in full activity when things are
darkest with us. Israel said, 'My Lord hath forgotten me,' because at
the point of view taken in the second half of Isaiah, it was captive in
a far-off land. You and I sometimes are brought into circumstances in
which we are ready to think 'God has, somehow or other, left me, has
forgotten me.' Never! never! However mirk the night, however apparently
solitary the way, however mysterious and insoluble the difficulties of
our position, let us fall back on this, that the captive Israel was
remembered by God, and let us be sure that no circumstances of our
lives are so dark or mysterious as to warrant the faintest shadow of
suspicion creeping over the brightness of our confidence in this great
promise. His divine remembrance of each of His servants is certain.

But do not let us forget that it was a very sinful Zion that God thus
remembered. It was because the nation had transgressed that they were
captives, but their very captivity was a proof that they were not
forgotten. The loving divine remembrance had to smite in order to prove
that it was active. Let us neither be puzzled by our sorrows nor made
less confident when we think of our sins. For there is no sin that is
strong enough to chill the divine love, or to erase us from the divine
remembrance. 'Captive Israel! captive because sinful, I have graven
_thee_ on the palms of My hands.'

II. A second thought here is that the divine remembrance guides the
divine action.

The palm of the hand is the seat of strength, the instrument of work;
and so, if Zion's name is written there, that means not only
remembrance, but remembrance which is at the helm, as it were, which is
moulding and directing all the work that is done by the hand that bears
the name inscribed upon it. The thought is identical with the one which
is suggested by part of the High Priest's official dress, although
there the thought has a different application. He bore the names of the
twelve tribes graven upon his shoulder, the seat of power, and upon his
breastplate that lay above the heart, the home of love. God holds out
the mighty Hand which works all things, and says to His children:
'Look, you are graven there'--at the very fountain-head, as it were, of
the divine activity. Which, being turned into plain English, is just
this, that for His Church as a whole, He does move amidst the affairs
of nations. You remember the grand words of one of the Psalms,--'He
reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do
My prophets no harm.' It is no fanatical reading of the history of
earthly politics and kingdoms, if we recognise that one of the most
prominent reasons for the divine activities in moulding the kingdoms,
setting up and casting down, is the advancement of the kingdom of
heaven and the building of the City of God. 'I have graven thee on the
palms of My hands'--and when the hands go to work, it is for the Zion
whose likeness they bear.

But the same truth applies to us individually. 'All things work
together'; they would not do so, unless there was one dominant Will
which turned the chaos into a cosmos. 'All things work,' that is very
plain. The tremendous activities round us both in Nature and in history
are clear to us all. But if all things and events are co-operant,
working into each other, and for one end, like the wheels of a
well-constructed engine, then there must be an Engineer, and they work
together because He is directing them. Thus, because my name is graven
on the palms of the mighty Hand that doeth all things, therefore 'all
things work together for my good.' If we could but carry that quiet
conviction into all the mysteries, as they sometimes seem to be, of our
daily lives, and interpret everything in the light of that great
thought, how different all our days would be! How far above the petty
anxieties and cares and troubles that gnaw away so much of our strength
and joy; how serene, peaceful, lofty, submissive, would be our lives,
and how in the darkest darkness there would be a great light, not only
of hope for a distant future, but of confident assurance for the
present. 'I have graven thee on the palms of My hands '--do Thou, then,
as Thou wilt with me.

III. A last thought here is that the divine remembrance works all
things, to realise a great ideal end, as yet unreached.

'Thy walls are continually before Me.' When this prophecy was uttered
the Israelites were in captivity, and the city was a wilderness, 'the
holy and beautiful House'--as this very book says--'where the fathers
praised Thee was burned with fire,' the walls were broken down, rubbish
and solitude were there. Yet on the palms of God's hands were inscribed
the walls which were nowhere else! They were 'before Him,' though
Jerusalem was a ruin. What does that mean? It means that that divine
remembrance sees 'things that are not, as though they were.' In the
midst of the imperfect reality of the present condition of the Church
as a whole, and of us, its actual components, it sees the ideal, the
perfect vision of the perfect future, and 'all the wonder that shall
be.' Zion may be desolate, but 'before Him' stands what will one day
stand on the earth before all men, 'the new Jerusalem, coming down from
heaven,' having walls great and high, and its foundations garnished
with all manner of precious stones. 'Thy walls are before Me,' though
the ruins are there before men.

So, brethren, the most radiant optimism is the only fitting attitude
for Christian people in looking into the future, either of the Church
as a whole, or of themselves as individual members of it. God's hand is
working for Zion and for me. It is guided by love that does not lose
the individual in the mass, nor ever forgets any of its children, and
it works towards the attainment of unattained perfection. 'This Man'
does not 'begin to build and' prove 'not able to finish.'

So let us be sure that, if only we keep ourselves in the love, and
continue in the grace of God, He will not slack nor stay His hand on
which Zion is graven, until it has 'perfected that which concerneth
us,' and fulfilled to each of us that 'which He has spoken to us of.'

I said at the beginning of these remarks that God did what He bids us
do. God bids us do what He does. His name should be on our hands; that
is to say, memory of Him, love of Him, regard to Him, confidence in Him
should mould and guide all our activity, and the aim that we shall be
builded up for a habitation of God through the Spirit should be the
conscious aim of our lives, as it is the aim which He has in view in
all His dealings with us. Our names on His hand; His name on our hands;
so shall we be blessed.



THE SERVANT'S WORDS TO THE WEARY

'The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I
should know how to sustain with words him that is weary; he wakeneth
morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are
taught.'--ISAIAH l. 4.


In chapter xlix. 1-6, the beginning of the continuous section of which
these verses are part, a transition is made from Israel as collectively
the ideal servant of the Lord, to a personal Servant, whose office it
is 'to bring Jacob again to Him.'  We see the ideal in the very act of
passing to its highest form, and that in which it is finally fulfilled
in history, namely, by the person Jesus. That Jesus was 'Thy Holy
Servant' was the earliest gospel preached by Peter and John before
people and rulers. It is not the most vital conception of our Lord's
nature and work. The prophet does not here pierce to the core, as in
his fifty-third chapter with its vision of the Suffering Servant, but
this is prelude to that, and the office assigned here to the Servant
cannot be fully discharged without that ascribed to Him there, as the
prophet begins to discern almost immediately. The text gives us a
striking view of the purpose of Messiah's mission and of His training
and preparation for it.

I. The purpose of Christ's mission.

There is a remarkable contrast between the stately prelude to the
section of the prophecy in chapter xlix., and the ideal in this text.
There the Servant calls the isles and the distant peoples to listen,
and declares that His mouth is 'like a sharp sword'; here all that is
keen and smiting in His word has softened into gentle whispers of
comfort to sustain the weary.

A mission addressed to 'the weary' is addressed to every man, for who
is not 'weighed upon with sore distress,' or loaded with the burden and
the weight of tasks beyond his power or distasteful to his
inclinations, or monotonous to nausea, or prolonged to exhaustion, or
toiled at with little hope and less interest? Who is not weary of
himself and of his load? What but universal weariness does the
universal secret desire for rest betray? We are all 'pilgrims weary of
time,' and some of us are weary of even prosperity, and some of us are
worn out with work, and some of us buffeted to all but exhaustion by
sorrow, and all of us long for rest, though many of us do not know
where to look for it.

Jesus may have had this word in mind, when He called to Him all them
'that labour and are heavy laden.' At all events, the prophet's ideal
and the evangelists' story accurately correspond. Christ's words have
other characteristics, but are eminently words that sustain the weary
and comfort the down-hearted. Who can ever calculate the new strength
poured by them into fainting hearts and languid hands, the all but dead
hopes that they have reanimated, the sorrows they have comforted, the
wounds they have stanched?

What a lesson here as to the noblest use of high endowments! What a
contrast to the use that so many of those to whom God has given 'the
tongue of them that are taught' make of their great gifts! Literature
yields but few examples of great writers who have faithfully employed
their powers for that purpose, which seems so humble and is so lofty,
the help of the weary, the comfort of the sad. Many pages in famous
books would be cancelled if all that had been written without
consideration for these classes were obliterated, as it will be one day.

But Christ not only speaks by outward words, but has other ways of
lodging sustenance and comfort in souls than by vocables audible to the
ear or visible to the eye on the page. 'The words that I speak unto
you, they are spirit and they are life.' He spoke by His deeds on
earth, and in one and the same set of facts, He 'began to do and to
teach,' the doing being named first. He 'now speaketh from Heaven' by
many an inward whisper, by the communication of His own Spirit, on Whom
this very office of ministering sustenance and comfort is laid, and
whose very name of the Comforter means One who by his being with a man
strengthens him.

II. The training and preparation of the Messiah for His mission.

The Messiah is here represented as having the tongue of 'them that are
taught,' and as having it, because morning by morning He has been
wakened to hear God's lessons. He is thus God's scholar--a thought of
which an unreflecting orthodoxy has been shy, but which it is necessary
to admit unhesitatingly and ungrudgingly, if we would not reduce the
manhood of Jesus to a mere phantasm. He Himself has said, 'As the
Father taught Me, I speak these things.' With emphatic repetition, He
was continually making that assertion, as, for instance, 'I have not
spoken of Myself, but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a
commandment what I should say, and what I should speak ... the things
therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto Me, so I
speak.'

The Gospels tell us of the prayers of Jesus, and of rare occasions in
which a voice from heaven spoke to Him. But while these are palpable
instances of His communion with God, and precious tokens of His true
brotherhood with us in the indispensable characteristics of the life of
faith, they are but the salient points on which the light falls, and
behind them, all unknown by us, stretches an unbroken chain of like
acts of fellowship. In that subordination as of a scholar to teacher,
both His divine and His human nature concurred, the former in filial
submission, the latter in continual, truly human derivation and
reception. The man Jesus was taught and, like the boy Jesus, 'increased
in wisdom.'

But while He learned as truly as we learn from God, and exercised the
same communion with the Father, the same submission to Him, which other
men have to exercise, and called 'us brethren, saying, I will put my
trust in Him,' the difference in degree between His close fellowship
with God the Father, and our broken and always partial fellowship,
between His completeness of reception of God's words and our imperfect
comprehension, between His perfect reproduction of the words He had
heard and our faint, and often mistaken echo of them, is so immense as
to amount to a difference in kind. His unity of will and being with the
Father ensured that all His words were God's. 'Never man spake like
this man.' The man who speaks to us once for all God's words must be
more than man. Other men, the highest, give us fragments of that mighty
voice; Jesus speaks its whole message, and nothing but its message. Of
that perfect reproduction He is calmly conscious, and claims to give
it, in words which are at once lowly and instinct with more than human
authority: 'All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known
unto you.' Who besides Him dare make such a claim? Who besides Him
could make it without being met by incredulous scorn? His utterance of
the Father's words was unmarred by defect on the one hand, and by
additions on the other. It was like pure water which tastes of no soil.
His soul was like an open vessel plunged in a stream, filled by the
flow and giving forth again its whole contents.

That divine communication to Jesus was no mere impartation of
abstractions or 'truths,' still less of the poor words of man's speech,
but was the flowing into His spirit of the living Father by whom He
lived. And it was unbroken. 'Morning by morning' it was going on. The
line was continuous, whereas for the rest of us, at the best, it is a
series of points more or less contiguous, but with dark spaces between.
'God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.'

So, then, let us hold fast by Him, the Son in whom God has spoken to
us, and to all voices without and within that would woo us to listen,
let us answer with the only wise answer: 'To whom shall we go? Thou
hast the words of eternal life.'



THE SERVANT'S OBEDIENCE

'I was not rebellious, neither turned away back'--ISAIAH l. 5.


I. The secret of Christ's life, filial obedience.

The fact is attested by Scripture. By His own words: 'My meat is to do
the will of My Father'; 'For thus it becometh us to fulfil all
righteousness'; 'I came down from heaven not to do My own will.' By His
servant's words: 'Obedient unto death'; 'Made under the law'; 'He
learned obedience by the things which He suffered.' It is involved in
the belief of His righteous manhood. It is essential to true manhood.
The highest ideal for humanity is conscious dependence on God, and the
very definition of righteousness is conscious conformity to the Will of
God. If Christ had done the noblest acts and yet had not always had
this sense of being a servant, He would not have been pure and holy.

It is not inconsistent with His true Divinity. We stand afar off, but
we can see this much.

The completeness of that obedience. It was continuous and it was entire.

The living heart of it: 'I delight to do Thy Will.' The Father's Will
was not a force without, but Christ's whole being was conformed to it,
and it was shrined within His heart and had become His choice and
delight.

The expressions of His obedience were His perfect fulfilment of the
divine commands, and His perfect endurance of the divine appointments.

Thus God's Will was the keynote, to which Christ's will struck the full
chord.

II. The yet deeper mysteries which that perfect obedience discloses.

1. A sinless human life must be more than human. The contrast with all
which we have known--the impossibility of retaining belief in the
perfect obedience of Jesus unless we have underlying it the belief in
His divinity. 'There is none good but one, that is God.'

2. The sinless human life suffers not for itself but for us. The
combination of holiness and sorrow leads on to the mystery of
atonement. The sinlessness is indispensable to the doctrine of His
sacrificial death.

III. The glorious gifts which flow from that perfect obedience.

1. It gives us a living law to obey.

2. It gives us a transforming power to receive.

3. It gives us a perfect righteousness to trust to.

This perfect obedience may be ours. Being ours, our lives will be
strong, free, peaceful.

That obedience becomes ours by faith, which leads to love, and love to
the glad obedience of sons.

THE SERVANT'S VOLUNTARY SUFFERINGS

'I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off
the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting.'--ISAIAH l. 6.

Such words are not to be dealt with coldly. Unless they be grasped by
the heart they are not grasped at all. We do not think of analysing in
the presence of a great sorrow. There can be no greater dishonour to
the name of Christ than an unemotional consideration of His sufferings
for us. The hindrances to a due consideration of these are manifold;
some arising from intellectual, and some from moral, causes. Most men
have difficulty in vivifying any historical event so as to feel its
reality. There is no nobler use of the historical imagination than to
direct it to that great life and death on which the salvation of the
world depends.

The prophet here has advanced from the first general conception of the
Servant of the Lord as recipient of divine commission, and submissive
to the divine voice, to thoughts of the sufferings which He would meet
with on His path, and of how He bore them.

I. The sufferings of the Servant.

The minute particularity is very noteworthy, scourging, plucking the
beard, shame, all sorts of taunts and buffets on the face, and the last
indignity of spitting. Clearly, then, He is not only to suffer
persecution, but is to be treated with insult and to endure that
strange blending, so often seen, of grim infernal laughter with grim
infernal fury, the hyena's laugh and its ferocity. Wherever it occurs,
it implies not only fell hate and cruelty, but also contempt and a
horrible delight in triumphing over an enemy. It is found in all
corrupt periods, and especially in religious persecutions. Here it
implies the rejection of the Servant.

The prophecy was literally fulfilled, but not in all its traits. This
may give a hint as to the general interpretation of prophecy and may
teach that external fulfilment only points to a deeper correspondence.
The most salient instance is in Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem riding
on an ass, which was but a finger-post to guide men's thoughts to His
fulfilling the ideal of the Messianic King. And yet, the minute
correspondences are worth noticing. What a strange, solemn glimpse they
give into that awful divine omniscience, and into the mystery of the
play of the vilest passions as being yet under control in their
extremest rage!

We must note the remarkable prominence in the narratives of the
Passion, of signs of contempt and mockery; Judas' kiss, the purple
robe, the crown of thorns, 'wagging their heads,' 'let be, let Elias
come,' etc.

Think of the exquisite pain of this to Christ. That He was sinless and
full of love made it all the worse to bear. Not the physical pain, but
the consciousness that He was encompassed by such an atmosphere of
evil, was the sharpest pang. We should think with reverent sympathy of
His perfect discernment of the sinful malignant hearts from which the
sufferings came, of His pained and rejected love thrown back on itself,
of His clear sight of what their heartless infliction of tortures would
end in for the inflicters, of His true human feeling which shrank from
being the object of contempt and execration.

II. His patient submission.

'I gave,'--purely voluntary. That word originally expressed the patient
submission with which He endured at the moment, when the lash scored
His back, but it may be widened out to express Christ's perfect
voluntariness in all His passion. At any moment He could have abandoned
His work if His filial obedience and His love to men had let Him do so.
His would-be captors fell to the ground before one momentary flash of
His majesty, and they could have laid no hand on Him, if His will had
not consented to His capture. Fra Angelico has grasped the thought
which the prophet here uttered, and which the evangelists emphasise,
that all His suffering was voluntary, and that His love to us
restrained His power, and led Him to the slaughter, silent as a sheep
before her shearers. For he has pourtrayed the majestic figure seated
in passive endurance, with eyes blindfolded but yet wide open behind
the bandage, all-seeing, wistful, sad, and patient, while around are
fragments of rods, and smiting hands, and a cruel face blowing spittle
on the unshrinking cheeks. He seems to be saying: 'These things hast
thou done, and I kept silence.' 'Thou couldest have no power at all
against Me unless it were given thee.'

III. His submission to suffering in obedience to the Father's Will.

The context connects His opened ear and His not being rebellious with
His giving His back to the smiters. That involves the idea that these
indignities and insults were part of the divine counsel in reference to
Him. That same combination of ideas is strongly presented in the early
addresses of Peter, recorded in the first chapters of Acts, of which
this is a specimen: 'Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel
and foreknowledge of God, ye with wicked hands have crucified and
slain.' The full significance of Christ's passion as that of the
atoning sacrifice was not yet clear to the apostle, any more than the
Servant's sufferings were to the prophet, but both prophet and apostle
were carried on by fuller experience and reflection on what they
already saw clearly, to discern the inwardness and depth of these. The
one soon came to see that 'by His stripes we are healed,' and the other
finally wrote: 'Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the
tree.' And whoever deeply ponders the startling fact that 'it pleased
the Lord to bruise Him,' sinless and ever obedient as He was, will be
borne, sooner or later, into the full sunlight of the blessed belief
that when Jesus suffered and died, 'He died for all.' His sufferings
were those of a martyr for truth, who is willing to die rather than
cease to witness for it; but they were more. They were the sufferings
of a lover of mankind who will face the extremest wrong that can be
inflicted, rather than abandon His mission; but they were more. They
were not merely the penalty which He had to pay for faithfulness to His
work; they were themselves the crown and climax of His work. The Son of
Man came, indeed, 'not to be ministered to but to minister,' but that,
taken alone, is but a maimed view of what He came for, and we must
whole-heartedly go on to say as He said, 'and to give His life a ransom
for many,' if we would know the whole truth as to the sufferings of
Jesus.

Again, since Christ suffers according to the will of God, it is clear
that all representations of the scope of His atoning death, which
represent it as moving the will of the Father to love and pardon, are
travesties of the truth and turn cause into effect. God does not love,
because Jesus died, but Jesus died because God loved.

Further, it is to be noted that His sufferings are the great means by
which He sustains the weary. The word to which His ears were opened,
morning by morning, was the word to which He was docile when He gave
His back to the smiters. It is His passion, regarded as the sacrifice
for a world's sin, from which flow the most powerful stimulants to
service and tonics for weary souls, the tenderest comfortings for
sorrow. He sustains and comforts by the example of His life, but far
more, and more sweetly, more mightily, by that which flows to us
through His death. His sufferings are powerful to sustain, when thought
of as our example, but they are a tenfold stronger source of patience
and strength, when laid on our hearts as the price of our redemption.
The Cross is, in all senses of the expression, the tree of life.

Wonder, reverence, love, gratitude, should well forth from our hearts,
when we think of these cruel sufferings, but the deepest fountains in
them will not be unsealed, unless we see in the suffering Servant the
atoning Son.



THE SERVANT'S INFLEXIBLE RESOLVE

'For the Lord God will help Me; therefore shall I not be confounded:
therefore have I set My face like a flint.'--ISAIAH l. 7.


What a striking contrast between the tone of these words and of the
preceding! There all is gentleness, docility, still communion,
submission, patient endurance. Here all is energy and determination,
resistance and martial vigour. It is like the contrast between a priest
and a warrior. And that gentleness is the parent of this boldness. The
same Will which is all submission to God is all resistance in the face
of hostile men. The utmost lowliness and the most resolved resistance
to opposing forces are found in that prophetic image of the Servant of
the Lord--even as they are found in the highest degree and most
perfectly in Jesus Christ.

The sequence in this context is worth noting. We had first Christ's
communion with God and communications from the Father; then the perfect
submission of His Will; then that submission expressed in His voluntary
sufferings; and now we have His immovable steadfastness of resistance
to the temptation, which lay in these sufferings, to depart from His
attitude of submission, and to abandon His work.

The former verse led us up to the verge of the great mystery of His
sacrificial death. This gives us a glimpse into the depths of His human
life, and shows Him to us as our example in all holy heroism.

I. The need which Christ felt to exercise firm resistance.

The words of the text are found almost reproduced in Jeremiah i. and
Ezekiel iii. All prophets and servants of God have had thus to resist,
and it would be superfluous to show how resistance to opposing
influences is the condition of all noble life and of all true service.

But was it so with Him? The more accurate translation of the second
clause of our text is to be noticed: 'Therefore I will not suffer
Myself to be overcome by the shame.'

Then the shame had in it some tendency to divert Him from His course.
Christ's humanity felt natural human shrinking from pain and suffering.
It shrank from the contempt and mockery of those around Him, and did so
with especial sensitiveness because of His pure and sinless nature, His
yearning sympathy, the atmosphere of love in which He dwelt, His clear
sight of the sin, and His prevision of the consequent sorrow. If so,
His sufferings did appeal to His human nature and constituted a
temptation.

At the beginning the Tempter addressed himself to natural desires to
procure physical gratification (bread), and to the equally natural
desire to avoid suffering and pain, and to secure His kingdom by an
easier method ('All these will I give Thee, if--').

And the latter temptation attended Him all through His life, and was
most insistent at its close. The shadow of the cross stretched along
His path from its beginning. But it is to be remembered that he had not
the same need of _self_-control which we have, in that His Will was not
reluctant, and that no rebellious desires had escaped from its control
and needed to be reduced to submission. 'I was not rebellious.' 'The
spirit is willing but the flesh is weak' was true in the fullest extent
only of Him. So the context gives us His perfect submission of will,
and yet the need to harden His face toward externals from which,
instinctively and without breach of filial obedience, His sensitive
nature recoiled. The reality of the temptation, the limits of its
reach, His consciousness of it, and His immovable obedience and
resistance, are all expressed in the deep and wonderful words, 'If it
be possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless not as I will, but
as Thou wilt.'

II. The perfect inflexible resolve.

'Face like a flint' seems to be quoted in Luke ix. 51; 'Steadily set
His face.' The whole story of the Gospels gives the one impression of a
life steadfast in its great resolve. There are no traces of His ever
faltering in His purpose, none of His ever suffering Himself to be
diverted from it, no parentheses and no digressions. There are no
blunders either. But what a contrast in this respect to all other
lives! Mark's Gospel, which is eminently the gospel of the Servant, is
full of energy and of this inflexible resolve, which speak in such
sayings as 'I must be about My Father's business'; 'I must work the
works of My Father while it is day.' That last journey, during which He
'steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,' is but a type of the
whole. Christ's life was a continuous or rather a continually repeated
effort.

This inflexible resolve is associated in Him with characteristics not
usually allied with it. The gentleness of Christ is so obvious in His
character that little needs to be said to point it out. To the
influence of His character more than to any other cause may be traced
the change in the perspective, so to speak, of Virtue, which
characterises modern notions of perfection as contrasted with antique
ones. Contrast the Greek and Roman type with the mediaeval ascetic, or
with the philanthropic type of modern times. Carlyle's ideal is
retrograde and an anachronism. Women and patient sufferers find example
in Him. But we have in Jesus Christ, too, the highest example of all
the stronger and robuster virtues, the more distinctly heroic,
masculine; and that not merely passive firmness of endurance such as an
American Indian will show in torments, but active firmness which
presses on to its goal, and, immovably resolute, will not be diverted
by anything. In Him we see a resolved Will and a gentle loving Heart in
perfect accord. That is a wonderful combination. We often find that
such firmness is developed at the expense of indifference to other
people. It is like a war chariot, or artillery train, that goes
crashing across the field, though it be over shrieking men and broken
bones, and the wheels splash in blood. Resolved firmness is often
accompanied with self-absorption which makes it gloomy, and with narrow
limitations. Such men gather all their powers together to secure a
certain end, and do it by shutting the eyes of their mind to everything
but the one object, like the painter, who blocks up his studio window
to get a top light, or as a mad bull lowers his head and blindly rushes
on.

There is none of all this in Christ's firmness. He was able at every
moment to give His whole sympathy to all who needed it, to take in all
that lay around Him, and His resolute concentration of Himself on His
work made Him none the less perfect in all which goes to make up
complete manhood. Not only was Christ's firmness that of a fixed Will
and a most loving Heart, like one of these 'rocking stones,' whose
solid mass can be set vibrating by a poising bird, but the fixed Will
came from the loving Heart. The very compassion and pity of His nature
led to that resolved continuance in His path of redeeming love, though
suffering and mockery waited for Him at each turn.

And so He is the Joshua, the Warrior-King, as well as the Priest. That
Face, ever ready to kindle into pity, to melt into tenderness, to
express every shade of tender feeling, was 'set as a flint.' That Eye,
ever brimming with tears, was ever fixed on one goal. That Character is
the type of all strength and of all gentleness.

III. The basis of Christ's fixed resolve in filial confidence.

'The Lord God will help Me.' So Christ lived by faith.

That faith led to this heroic resistance and immovable resolution.

That confidence of divine help was based upon consciousness of
obedience.

It is most blessed for us to have Him as our example of faith and of
brave opposition to all the antagonistic forces around us. But we need
more than an example. He will but rebuke our wavering purposes of
obedience, if He is no more than our pattern. Thank God, He is more,
even our Fountain of Power, from Whom we can draw life akin to, because
derived from, His own. In Him we can feel strength stealing into
flaccid limbs, and gain 'the wrestling thews that throw the world.' If
we are 'in Christ' and on the path of duty, we too may be able to set
our faces as a flint, and to say truthfully: 'None of these things move
me, neither count I my life dear to myself, that I may finish my course
with joy.' And yet we may withal be gentle, and keep hearts 'open as
day to melting charity,' and have leisure and sympathy to spare for
every sorrow of others, and a hand to help and 'sustain him that is
weary.'



THE SERVANT'S TRIUMPH

'He is near that justifieth Me; who will contend with Me? let us stand
together: who is Mine adversary? let him come near to Me. 9. Behold,
the Lord God will help Me; who is he that shall condemn Me? lo, they
all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.'--ISAIAH l.
8, 9.


We have reached the final words of this prophecy, and we hear in them a
tone of lofty confidence and triumph. While the former ones sounded
plaintive like soft flute music, this rings out clear like the note of
a trumpet summoning to battle. The Servant of the Lord seems here to be
eager for the conflict, not merely patient and enduring, not merely
setting His face like a flint, but confidently challenging His
adversaries, and daring them to the strife.

As for the form of the words, the image underlying the whole is that of
a suit at law. It is noteworthy that since Isaiah xli. this metaphor
has run through the whole prophecy. The great controversy is God
_versus_ Idols. God appears at the bar of men, pleads His cause, calls
His witnesses (xliii. 9). 'Let them' (_i.e._ idols) 'bring forth their
witnesses that they may be justified.'

Possibly the form of the words here is owing to the dominance of that
idea in the context, and implies nothing more than the general notion
of opposition and victory. But it is at least worth remembering that in
the life of Christ we have many instances in which the prophetic images
were literally fulfilled even though their meaning was mainly
symbolical: as _e.g._ the riding on the ass, the birth in Bethlehem,
the silence before accusers, 'a bone of Him shall not be broken,' and
in this very contest, 'shame and spitting.' So here there may be
included a reference to that time when the hatred of opposition reached
its highest point--in the sufferings and death of our Lord. And it is
at least a remarkable coincidence that that highest point was reached
in formal trials before the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, for
the purpose of convicting Him, and that these processes as legal
procedures broke down so signally.

Keeping up the metaphor, we mark here--

I. The Messiah's lofty challenge to His accusers. II. The Messiah's
expectation of divine vindication and acquittal. III. The Messiah's
confidence of ultimate triumph.

I. Messiah's lofty challenge to His accusers.

The 'justifying' which He expects may refer either to personal
character or to official functional faithfulness. I think it refers to
both, and that we have here, expressed in prophetic outline, not only
the fact of Christ's sinlessness, but the fact of His consciousness of
sinlessness.

The words are the strongest assertion of His absolute freedom from
anything that an adversary could lay hold of on which to found a
charge, and not merely so, but they also dare to assert that the
unerring and all-penetrating eye of the Judge of all will look into His
heart, and find nothing there but the mirrored image of His own
perfection. I do not need to dwell on the fact of Christ's sinlessness,
that He is perfect manhood without stain, without defect. I have had
occasion to touch upon that truth in a former sermon on 'I was not
rebellious.' Here we have to do not so much with sinlessness as with
the consciousness of sinlessness.

Now note that consciousness on Christ's part.

We have to reckon with the fact of it as expressed in His own words: 'I
do always the things that please Him. Which of you convinceth Me of
sin?' 'The Prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me.'

In Him there is the absence of all trace of sense of sin.

No prayer for forgiveness comes from His lips.

No penitence, no acknowledgment of even weakness is heard from Him.
Even in His baptism, which for others was an acknowledgment of
impurity, He puts His submission to the rite, not on the ground of
needing to be washed from sin, but of 'fulfilling all righteousness.'

Now, unless Christ was sinless, what do we say of these assertions? 'If
we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not
in us'--are we to apply that canon to Him when He stands before us and
asks, 'Which of you convinceth Me of sin?' Surely it augurs small
self-knowledge or a low moral standard if, from the lips of a religious
teacher, there never comes one word to indicate that he has felt the
hold of evil on him. I make bold to say that if Christ were not
sinless, the Apostle Paul stood far above Him, with his 'of whom I am
chief.' What difference would there be between Him and the Pharisees
who called forth His bitterest words by this very absence in them of
consciousness of sin: 'If ye were blind ye would have no sin, but now
ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth.'

Singularly enough the world has accepted Him at His own estimate, and
has felt that these lofty assertions of absolute perfection were borne
out by His life, and were consistent with the utmost lowliness of heart.

As to the adversary's failure, I need only recall the close of His
life, which is representative of the whole impression made on the world
by Him. What a wonderful and singular concurrence of testimonies was
borne to His pure and blameless life! After months of hatred and
watching, even the rulers' lynx-eyed jealousy found nothing, and they
had to fall back upon false witnesses. 'Hearest thou not how many
things they witness against Thee?' He stood with unmoved silence, and
the lies fell down dead at His feet. Had He answered, they would have
been preserved and owed their immortality to the Gospels: He held His
peace and they vanished. All attempts failed so signally that at the
last they were fain, in well-simulated holy abhorrence, to base His
condemnation on what He had said in their presence. 'How think ye, ye
have heard the blasphemy?' So all that the adversary, raking through a
life, could find, was that one word. That was His sin; in all else He
was pure. Remember Pilate's acquittal: 'I find no fault in Him,' and
his wife's warning, 'Have thou nothing to do with that just Person.'
Think of Judas, 'I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent
blood.' Listen to the penitent thief's low voice gasping out in his
pangs and almost collapse: 'This man hath done nothing amiss.' Listen
to the Centurion telling the impression made even on his rough nature:
'Truly this was a righteous Man.'

These are the answers to the Servant's challenge, wrung from the lips
of His adversaries; and they but represent the universal judgment of
humanity.

There is one Man whose life has been without stain or spot, whose soul
has never been crossed by a breath of passion, nor dimmed by a speck of
sin, whose will has ever been filled with happy obedience, whose
conscience has been undulled by evil and untaught to speak in
condemnation, whose whole nature has been like some fair marble, pure
in hue, perfect in form, and unstained to the very core. There is one
Man who can front the most hostile scrutiny with the bold challenge,
'Which of you convinceth Me of sin?' and His very haters have to
answer, 'I find no fault in Him,' while those that love Him rejoice to
proclaim Him 'holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.'
There is one Man who can front the most rigid Law of Duty and say, 'I
came not to destroy but to fulfil,' and the stony tables seem to glow
with tender light, as of rocky cliffs in morning sunshine, attesting
that He has indeed fulfilled all righteousness. There is one Man who
can stand before God without repentance or confession, and whose claim
'I do always the things that please Him,' the awful voice from the
opening heavens endorses, when it proclaims; 'This is My beloved Son in
whom I am well pleased.' The lowly Servant of God flings out His
challenge to the universe: 'Who will contend with Me?' and that gage
has lain in the lists for nineteen centuries unlifted.

II. The Messiah's expectation of divine vindication and acquittal.

Like many another man, Christ had to strengthen Himself against calumny
and slander by turning to God, and finding comfort in the belief that
there was One who would do Him right, and as throughout this context we
have had the true humanity of our Lord in great prominence, it is worth
while to dwell for a moment on that thought of His real sharing in the
pain of misconstruction and groundless charges, and of His too having
to say, as we have so often to say, 'Well, there is one who knows. Men
may condemn but God will acquit.'

But there is something more than that here. The divine vindication and
acquittal is not a mere hidden thought and judgment in the mind of God.
It is a declaring and showing to be innocent, and that not by word but
by deed. That expectation seemed to be annihilated and made ludicrous
by His death. But the 'justifying' of which our text speaks takes place
in Christ's resurrection and ascension.

'Manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit' (1 Timothy iii. 16).
'Declared to be the Son of God with power, ... by the resurrection from
the dead' (Rom. i. 4).

His death seems the entire abandonment of this holy and sinless man. It
seems to demonstrate His claims to be madness, His hope to be futile,
His promises to be wind. No wonder that the sorrowing apostles wailed,
'We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel.' The
death of Christ, if it were but a martyr's death, and if we had to
believe that that frame had crumbled into dust, and that heart ceased
for ever to beat, would not only destroy the worth of all that He
spoke, but would be the saddest instance in all history of the
irreversible sway that death wields over all mankind, and would deepen
the darkness and sadden the gloom of the grave. True, there were not
wanting even in His dying hours mysterious indications, such as His
promise to the penitent thief. But these only make the disappointment
the deeper, if there was nothing more after His death.

So Christ's justification is in His resurrection and ascension.

III. The Messiah's confidence of ultimate triumph.

In the last words of the text the adversaries are massed together. The
confidence that the Lord God will help and justify leads to the
conviction that all opposition to Him is futile and leads to
destruction.

We see the historical fulfilment in the fate of the nation. 'His blood
be upon us and upon our children.'

We have a truth applying universally that antagonism to Him is
self-destructive.

Two forms of destruction are here named. There is a slow decay going on
in the opponents and their opposition, as a garment waxing old, and
there is a being fretted away by the imperceptible working of external
causes, as by gnawing moths.

Applied to persons. To opposing systems.

How many antagonists the Gospel has had, and one after another has been
antiquated, and their books are only known because fragments of them
are preserved in Christian writings. Paganism is gone from Europe, and
its idols are in our museums. Each generation has its own phase of
opposition, which lasts for a little while. The mists round the sun
melt, the clouds piled in the north, surging up to bury it beneath
their banks, are dissipated. The sea roars and smashes on the cliffs,
but it ebbs and calms. Some of us have seen more than one school of
thought which came to the assault of Christianity, with colours flying
and drums rattling, defeated utterly and forgotten, and so it will
always be. One may be sure that each enemy in turn will descend to the
oblivion that has already received so many, and can imagine these
beaten foes rising from their seats to welcome the newcomer with the
sad greeting: 'Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like
unto us?'

We are 'justified' in His 'justification.'

The real connection between us and Christ by faith, makes our
justification to be involved in His, so that it is no mere
accommodation but a profound perception of the real relation between
Christ and us, when Paul, in Romans viii. 34, triumphantly claims the
words of our text for Christ's disciples, and rings out their challenge
on behalf of all believers: 'It is God that justifieth, who is he that
condemneth?'

Do you trust in Christ? Then you too can dare to say: 'The Lord God
will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?'

'Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his
servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in
the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.'--ISAIAH l. 10.

The persons addressed in this call to faith are 'those who fear the
Lord,' and 'obey the voice of His Servant.' In that collocation is
implied that these two things are necessarily connected, so that
obedience to Christ is the test of true religion, and the fear of the
Lord does not exist where the word of the Son is neglected or rejected.

But besides that most fruitful and instructive juxtaposition, other
important thoughts come into view here. The fact that the call to faith
is addressed to those who are regarded as already fearing God suggests
the need for renewed and constantly repeated acts of confidence, at
every stage of the Christian life, and opens up the whole subject of
the growth and progress of individual religion, as secured by the
continuous exercise of faith. The call is addressed to all at every
stage of advancement. Of course it is addressed also to those who are
disobedient and rebellious. But that wider aspect of the merciful
invitation does not come into view here.

But there is another clause in the description of the persons
addressed, 'Who walketh in darkness and hath no light.' This is, no
doubt, primarily a reference to the great sorrow that filled, like a
gloomy thundercloud, the horizon of Jewish prophets, small and
uninteresting as it seems to us, namely, the captivity of Israel and
their expulsion from their land. The faithful remnant are not to escape
their share in the national calamity. But while it lasts, they are to
wait patiently on the Lord, and not to cast away their confidence,
though all seems dark and dreary.

The exhortation thus regarded suggests the power and duty of faith even
in times of disaster and sorrow. But another meaning has often been
attached to these words, they have been lifted into another region, the
spiritual, and have been supposed to refer to a state of feeling not
unknown to devout hearts, in which the religious life is devoid of joy
and peace. That is a phase of Christian experience, which meets any one
who knows much of the workings of men's hearts, and of his own, when
faith is exercised with but little of the light of faith, and the fear
of the Lord is cherished with but scant joy in the Lord. Now if it be
remembered that such an application of the words is not their original
purpose, there can be no harm in using them so. Indeed we may say that,
as the words are perfectly general, they include a reference to all
darkness of life or soul, however produced, whether it come from the
night of sorrow falling on us from without, or from mists and gloom
rising like heavy vapours from our own hearts. So considered, the text
suggests the one remedy for all gloom and weakness in the spiritual
life.

Thus, then, we have three different sets of circumstances in which
faith is enforced as the source of true strength and our all-embracing
duty. In outward sorrow and trial, trust; in inward darkness and
sadness, trust; in every stage of Christian progress, trust. Or

I. Faith the light in the darkness of the world. II. Faith the light in
the darkness of the soul. III. Faith the light in every stage of
Christian progress.

        *       *       *       *       *

I. Faith our light in the darkness of the world.

The mystery and standing problem of the Old Testament is the
coexistence of goodness and sorrow, and the mystery still remains, and
ever will remain, a fact. It is partially alleviated if we remember
that one main purpose of all our sorrows is to lead us to this
confidence.

1. The call to faith is the true voice of all our sorrows.

It seems easy to trust when all is bright, but really it is just as
hard, only we can more easily deceive ourselves, when physical
well-being makes us comfortable. We are less conscious of our own
emptiness, we mask our poverty from ourselves, we do not seem to need
God so much. But sorrow reveals our need to us. Other props are struck
away, and it is either collapse or Him. We learn the vanity, the
transiency, of all besides.

Sorrow reveals God, as the pillar of cloud glowed brighter when the
evening fell. Sorrow is meant to awaken the powers that are apt to
sleep in prosperity.

So the true voice of all our griefs is 'Come up hither.' They call us
to trust, as nightfall calls us to light up our lamps. The snow keeps
the hidden seeds warm; shepherds burn heather on the hillside that
young grass may spring.

2. The call to faith echoes from the voice of the Servant.

Jesus in His darkness rested on God, and in all His sorrows was yet
anointed with the oil of gladness. In every pang He has been before us.
The rack is sanctified because He has been stretched upon it.

3. The substance of the call.

It is to _trust_, not to anything more. No attempts to stifle tears are
required. There is no sin in sorrow. The emotions which we feel to God
in bright days are not appropriate at such times. There are seasons in
every life when all that we can say is, 'Truly this is a grief, and I
will bear it.'

What then _is_ required? Assurance of God's loving will sending sorrow.
Assurance of God's strengthening presence in it, assurance of
deliverance from it. These, not more, are required; these are the
elements of the faith here called for.

Such faith may co-exist with the keenest sense of loss. The true
attitude in sorrow may be gathered from Christ's at the grave of
Lazarus, contrasted with the excessive mourning of the sisters, and the
feigned grief of the Jews.

There are times when the most that we can do is to trust even in the
great darkness, 'Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.' Submissive
silence is sometimes the most eloquent confession of faith. 'I was
dumb, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.'

4. The blessed results of such faith.

It is implied that we may find all that we need, and more, in God. Have
we to mourn friends? 'In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord
sitting on a throne.' Have we lost wealth? We have in Him a treasure
that moth or rust cannot touch. Are our hopes blasted? 'Happy is He ...
whose hope is in the Lord his God.' Is our health broken? 'I shall yet
praise Him, who is the health of my countenance.' 'The Lord is able to
give thee much more than these.'

How can we face the troubles of life without Him? God calls us when in
darkness, and by the darkness, to trust in His name and stay ourselves
on Him. Happy are we if we answer 'Though the fig-tree shall not
blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines ... yet I will rejoice in
the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation.'

II. Faith, our light in the darkness of the soul.

No doubt there may be such a thing as true fear of God in the soul
along with spiritual darkness, faith without the joy of faith. Now this
condition seems contradictory of the very nature of the Christian life.
For religion is union with God who is light, and if we walk in Him, we
are in the light. How then can such experience be?

We must dismiss the notion of God's desertion of the trusting soul. He
is always the same; He has 'never said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me
in vain.' But while putting aside that false explanation, we can see
how such darkness may be. If our religious life was in more vigorous
exercise, more pure, perfect and continuous, there would be no
separation of faith and the joy of faith. But we have not such
unruffled, perfect, uninterrupted faith, and hence there may be, and
often is, faith without much joy of faith. I would not say that such
experience is always the fruit of sin. But certainly we are not to
blame Him or to think of Him as breaking His promises, or departing
from His nature. No principles, be they ever so firmly held, ever so
undoubtingly received, ever so passionately embraced, exert their whole
power equally at all moments in a life. There come times of languor
when they seem to be mere words, dead commonplaces, as unlike their
former selves as sapless winter boughs to their summer pride of leafy
beauty. The same variation in our realising grasp affects the truths of
the Gospel. Sometimes they seem but words, with all the life and power
sucked out of them, pale shadows of themselves, or like the dried bed
of a wady with blazing, white stones, where flashing water used to
leap, and all the flowerets withered, which once bent their meek little
heads to drink. No facts are always equally capable of exciting their
correspondent emotions. Those which most closely affect our personal
life, in which we find our deepest joys, are not always present in our
minds, and when they are, do not always touch the springs of our
feelings. No possessions are always equally precious to us. The rich
man is not always conscious with equal satisfaction of his wealth. If,
then, the way from the mind to the emotions is not always equally open,
there is a reason why there may be faith without light of joy. If the
thoughts are not always equally concentrated on the things which
produce joy, _there_ is a reason why there may be the habit of fearing
God, though there be not the present vigorous exercise of faith, and
consequently but little light.

Another reason may lie in the disturbing and saddening influence of
earthly cares and sorrows. There are all weathers in a year. And the
highest hope and nearest possible approach to joy is sometimes 'Unto
the upright there ariseth light in the darkness.' Our lives are
sometimes like an Arctic winter in which for many days is no sun.

Another reason may be found in the very fact that we are apt to look
impatiently for peace and joy, and to be more exercised with these than
with that which produces them.

Another may be errors or mistakes about God and His Gospel.

Another may be absorption with our own sin instead of with Him. To all
these add temperament, education, habit, example, influence of body on
the mind, and of course also positive inconsistencies and a low tone of
Christian life.

It is clear then that, if these be the causes of this state, the one
cure for it is to exercise our faith more energetically.

Trust, do not look back. We are tempted to cast away our confidence and
to say: What profit shall I have if I pray unto Him? But it is on
looking onwards, not backwards, that safety lies.

Trust, do not think about your sins.

Trust, do not think so much about your joy.

It is in the occupation of heart and mind with Jesus that joy and peace
come. To make them our direct aim is the way not to attain them. Though
now there seems a long wintry interval between seed time and harvest,
yet 'in due season we shall reap if we faint not.'

'In the fourth watch of the night Jesus came unto them.'

III. Faith our guiding light in every stage of Christian progress.

Those who already 'fear God' are in the text exhorted to trust.

In the most advanced Christian life there are temptations to abandon
our confidence. We never on earth come to such a point as that, without
effort, we are sure to continue in the way. True, habit is a wonderful
ally of goodness, and it is a great thing to have it on our side, but
all our lives long, there will be hindrances without and within which
need effort and self-repression. On earth there is no time when it is
safe for us to go unarmed. The force of gravitation acts however high
we climb. Not till heaven is reached will 'love' be 'its own security,'
and nature coincide with grace. And even in heaven faith 'abideth,' but
there it will be without effort.

1. The most advanced Christian life needs a perpetual renewal and
repetition of past acts of faith.

It cannot live on a past any more than the body can subsist on last
year's food. The past is like the deep portions of coral reefs, a mere
platform for the living present which shines on the surface of the sea,
and grows. We must gather manna daily.

The life is continued by the same means as that by which it was begun.
There is no new duty or method for the most advanced Christian; he has
to do just what he has been doing for half a century. We cannot
transcend the creatural position, we are ever dependent. 'To hoar hairs
will I carry you.' The initial point is prolonged into a continuous
line.

2. The most advanced and mature faith is capable of increase, in regard
to its knowledge of its object, and in intensity, constancy, power. At
first it may be a tremulous trust, afterwards it should become an
assured confidence. At first it may be but a dim recognition, as in a
glass darkly, of the great love which has redeemed us at a great price;
afterwards it should become the clear vision of the trusted Friend and
lifelong companion of our souls, who is all in all to us. At first it
may be an interrupted hold, afterwards it should become such a grasp as
the roots of a tree have on the soil. At first it may be a feeble power
ruling over our rebel selves, like some king beleaguered in his
capital, who has no sway beyond its walls, afterwards it should become
a peaceful sovereign who guides and sways all the powers of the soul
and outgoings of the life. At first it may be like a premature rose
putting forth pale petals on an almost leafless bough, afterwards the
whole tree should be blossomed over with fragrant flowers, the homes of
light and sweetness. The highest faith may be heightened, and the
spirits before the throne pray the prayer, 'Lord, increase our faith.'

For us all, then, the merciful voice of the servant of the Lord calls
to His light. Our faith is our light in darkness, only as a window is
the light of a house, or the eye, of the body, because it admits and
discerns that true light. He calls us each from the darkness. Do not
try to make fires for yourselves, ineffectual and transient, but look
to Him, and you shall not walk in darkness, even amid the gloom of
earth, but shall have light in your darkness, till the time come when,
in a clearer heaven and a lighter air, 'Thy sun shall no more go down,
neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine
everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.'



DYING FIRES

'Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that gird yourselves about with
firebrands: walk ye in the flame of your fire, and among the brands
that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie
down in sorrow.'--ISAIAH l. 11.


The scene brought before us in these words is that of a company of
belated travellers in some desert, lighting a little fire that glimmers
ineffectual in the darkness of the eerie waste. They huddle round its
dying embers for a little warmth and company, and they hope it will
scare wolf and jackal, but their fuel is all burned, and they have to
go to sleep without its solace and security. The prophet's imaginative
picture is painted from life, and is a sad reality in the cases of all
who seek to warm themselves at any fire that they kindle for
themselves, apart from God.

I. A sad, true picture of human life.

It does not cover, nor is presented by the prophet as covering, all the
facts of experience. Every man has his share of sunshine, but still it
is true of all who are not living in dependence on and communion with
God, that they are but travellers in the dark.

Scripture uses the image of darkness as symbolic of three sad facts of
our experience: ignorance, sin, sorrow. Are not all these the
characteristics of godless lives?

As for ignorance--a godless man has no key to the awful problems that
front him. He knows not God, who is to him a dread, a name, a mystery.
He knows not himself, the depths of his nature, its possibilities for
good or evil, whence it cometh nor whither it goeth. He has no solution
for the riddle of the universe. It is to him a chaos, and darkness is
upon the face of the deep.

As to sin, the darkness of ignorance is largely due to the darkness of
sin. In every heart comes sometimes the consciousness that it is thus
darkened by sin. The sense of sin is with all men more or less--much
perverted, often wrong in its judgments, feeble, easily silenced, but
for all that it is there--and it is great part of the cold obstruction
that shuts out the light. Sin weaves the pall that shrouds the world.

As for darkness of sorrow--we must beware that we do not exaggerate.
God makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and there is
gladness in every life, much that arises from fulfilled desires, from
accomplished purposes, from gratified affections. But when all this has
been freely admitted, still sadness crouches somewhere in all hearts,
and over every life the storm sometimes stoops.

We need nothing beyond our own experience and the slightest knowledge
of other hearts to know how shallow and one-sided a view of life that
is which sees only the joy and forgets the sorrow, which ignores the
night and thinks only of the day; which, looking out on nature, is
blind to the pain and agony, the horror and the death, which are as
real parts of it as brightness and beauty, love and life. Every little
valley that lies in lovely loneliness has its scenes of desolation, and
tempest has broken over the fairest scenes. Every river has drowned its
man. Over every inch of blue sky the thunder cloud has rolled. Every
summer has its winter, every day its night, every life its death. All
stars set, all moons wane. 'Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet
birds sang' come after every leafy June.

Sorrow is as deeply embedded in the necessity and constitution of
things as joy. 'God hath set one over against another, and hath made
all things double.'

II. The vain attempts at light.

There is bitter irony in the prophet's description of the poor
flickering spot of light in the black waste and of its swift dying out.
The travellers without a watch-fire are defenceless from midnight
prowlers. How full of solemn truth about godless lives the vivid
outline picture is!

Men try to free themselves from the miseries of ignorance, sin, and
sorrow.

Think of the insufficiency of all such attempts, the feeble flicker
which glimmers for an hour, and then fuel fails and it goes out. Then
the travellers can journey no further, but 'lie down in sorrow,' and
without a watchfire they become a prey to all the beasts of the field.
It is a little picture taken from the life.

It vividly paints how men _will_ try to free themselves from the
miseries of their condition, how insufficient all their attempts are,
how transient the relief, and how bitter and black the end.

We may apply these thoughts to--

1. Men-made grounds of hope before God.

2. Men-made attempts to read the mysteries.

We do not say this of all human learning, but of that which, apart from
God's revelation, deals with the subjects of that revelation.

3. Men-made efforts at self-reformation.

4. Men-made attempts at alleviating sorrow.

Scripture abounds in other metaphors for the same solemn spiritual
facts as are set before us in this picture of the dying watchfire and
the sad men watching its decline. Godless lives draw from broken
cisterns out of which the water runs. They build with untempered
mortar. They lean on broken reeds that wound the hand pressed on them.
They spend money for that which is not bread. But all these metaphors
put together do not tell all the vanity, disappointments, and final
failure and ruin of such a life. That last glimpse given in the text of
the sorrowful sleeper stretched by the black ashes, with darkness round
and hopeless heaviness within, points to an issue too awful to be dwelt
on by a preacher, and too awful not to be gravely considered by each of
us for himself.

III. The light from God.

What would the dead fire and the ring of ashes on the sand matter when
morning dawned? Jesus is our Sun. He rises, and the spectres of the
night melt into thin air, and 'joy cometh in the morning.' He floods
our ignorance with knowledge of the Father whose name He declares, with
knowledge of ourselves, of the world, of our destiny and our duty, our
hopes and our home. He takes away the sin of the world. He gives the
oil of joy for mourning. For every human necessity He is enough. Follow
Him and your life's pilgrimage shall not be a midnight one, but
accomplished in sunshine. 'I am the light of the world; he that
followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of
life.'



THE AWAKENING OF ZION

'Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the
ancient days, in the generations of old.'--ISAIAH li. 9.

'Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion.'--ISAIAH lii. 1.


Both these verses are, I think, to be regarded as spoken by one voice,
that of the Servant of the Lord. His majestic figure, wrapped in a
light veil of obscurity, fills the eye in all these later prophecies of
Isaiah. It is sometimes clothed with divine power, sometimes girded
with the towel of human weakness, sometimes appearing like the
collective Israel, sometimes plainly a single person.

We have no difficulty in solving the riddle of the prophecy by the
light of history. Our faith knows One who unites these diverse
characteristics, being God and man, being the Saviour of the body,
which is part of Himself and instinct with His life. If we may suppose
that He speaks in both verses of the text, then, in the one, as priest
and intercessor, He lifts the prayers of earth to heaven in His own
holy hands--and in the other, as messenger and Word of God, He brings
the answer and command of heaven to earth on His own authoritative
lips--thus setting forth the deep mystery of His person and double
office as mediator between man and God. But even if we put aside that
thought, the correspondence and relation of the two passages remain the
same. In any case they are intentionally parallel in form and connected
in substance. The latter is the answer to the former. The cry of Zion
is responded to by the call of God. The awaking of the arm of the Lord
is followed by the awaking of the Church. He puts on strength in
clothing us with His might, which becomes ours.

The mere juxtaposition of these verses suggests the point of view from
which I wish to treat them on this occasion. I hope that the thoughts
to which they lead may help to further that quickened earnestness and
expectancy of blessing, without which Christian work is a toil and a
failure.

We have here a common principle underlying both the clauses of our
text, to which I must first briefly ask attention, namely--

I. The occurrence in the Church's history of successive periods of
energy and of languor.

It is freely admitted that such alternation is not the highest ideal of
growth, either in the individual or in the community. Our Lord's own
parables set forth a more excellent way--the way of uninterrupted
increase, whereof the type is the springing corn, which puts forth
'first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear,'
and passes through all the stages from the tender green spikelets that
gleam over the fields in the spring-tide to the yellow abundance of
autumn, in one unbroken season of genial months. So would our growth be
best, healthiest, happiest. So _might_ our growth be, if the mysterious
life in the seed met no checks. But, as a matter of fact, the Church
has not thus grown. Rather at the best, its emblem is to be looked for,
not in corn, but in the forest tree-the very rings in whose trunk tell
of recurring seasons when the sap has risen at the call of spring, and
sunk again before the frowns of winter. I have not to do now with the
causes of this. These will fall to be considered presently. Nor am I
saying that such a manner of growth is inevitable. I am only pointing
out a fact, capable of easy verification and familiar to us all. Our
years have had summer and winter. The evening and the morning have
completed all the days since the first.

We all know it only too well. In our own hearts we have known such
times, when some cold clinging mist wrapped us round and hid all the
heaven of God's love and the starry lights of His truth; when the
visible was the only real, and He seemed far away and shadowy; when
there was neither confidence in our belief, nor heat in our love, nor
enthusiasm in our service; when the shackles of conventionalism bound
our souls, and the fetters of the frost imprisoned all their springs.
And we have seen a like palsy smite whole regions and ages of the
Church of God, so that even the sensation of impotence was dead like
all the rest, and the very tradition of spiritual power had faded away.
I need not point to the signal historical examples of such times in the
past. Remember England a hundred years ago--but what need to travel so
far? May I venture to draw my example from nearer home, and ask, have
we not been living in such an epoch? I beseech you, think whether the
power which the Gospel preached by us wields on ourselves, on our
churches, on the world, is what Christ meant it and fitted to exercise.
Why, if we hold our own in respect to the material growth of our
population, it is as much as we do. Where is the joyful buoyancy and
expansive power with which the Gospel burst into the world? It looks
like some stream that leaps from the hills, and at first hurries from
cliff to cliff full of light and music, but flows slower and more
sluggish as it advances, and at last almost stagnates in its flat
marshes. Here we are with all our machinery, our culture, money,
organisations--and the net result of it all at the year's end is but a
poor handful of ears. 'Ye sow much and bring home little.' Well may we
take up the wail of the old Psalm, 'We see not our signs. There is no
more any prophet; neither is there any among us that knoweth how
long--arise, O Lord, plead Thine own cause.'

If, then, there are such recurring seasons of languor, they must either
go on deepening till sleep becomes death, or they must be broken by a
new outburst of vigorous life. It would be better if we did not need
the latter. The uninterrupted growth would be best; but if that has not
been attained, then the ending of winter by spring, and the suppling of
the dry branches, and the resumption of the arrested growth, is the
next best, and the only alternative to rotting away.

And it is by such times that the Kingdom of Christ always has grown.
Its history has been one of successive impulses gradually exhausted, as
by friction and gravity, and mercifully repeated just at the moment
when it was ceasing to advance and had begun to slide backwards. And in
such a manner of progress, the Church's history has been in full
analogy with that of all other forms of human association and activity.
It is not in religion alone that there are 'revivals,' to use the word
of which some people have such a dread. You see analogous phenomena in
the field of literature, arts, social and political life. In them all,
there come times of awakened interest in long-neglected principles.
Truths which for many years had been left to burn unheeded, save by a
faithful few watchers of the beacon, flame up all at once as the
guiding pillars of a nation's march, and a whole people strike their
tents and follow where they lead. A mysterious quickening thrills
through society. A contagion of enthusiasm spreads like fire, fusing
all hearts in one. The air is electric with change. Some great advance
is secured at a stride; and before and after that supreme effort are
years of comparative quiescence; those before being times of
preparation, those after being times of fruition and exhaustion--but
slow and languid compared with the joyous energy of that moment. One
day may be as a thousand years in the history of a people, and a nation
may be born in a day.

So also is the history of the Church. And thank God it is so, for if it
had not been for the dawning of these times of refreshing, the steady
operation of the Church's worldliness would have killed it long ago.

Surely, dear brethren, we ought to desire such a merciful interruption
of the sad continuity of our languor and decay. The surest sign of its
coming would be a widespread desire and expectation of its coming,
joined with a penitent consciousness of our heavy and sinful slumber.
For we believe in a God who never sends mouths but He sends meat to
fill them, and in whose merciful providence every desire is a prophecy
of its own fruition. This attitude of quickened anticipation, diffusing
itself silently through many hearts, is like the light air that springs
up before sunrise, or like the solemn hush that holds all nature
listening before the voice of the Lord in the thunder.

And another sign of its approach is the extremity of the need. 'If
winter come, can spring be far behind?' For He who is always with Zion
strikes in with His help when the want is at its sorest. His 'right
early' is often the latest moment before destruction. And though we are
all apt to exaggerate the urgency of the hour and the severity of _our_
conflict, it certainly does seem that, whether we regard the languor of
the Church or the strength of our adversaries, succour delayed a little
longer would be succour too late. 'The tumult of those that rise up
against Thee increaseth continually. It is time for Thee to work.'

The juxtaposition of these passages suggests for us--

II. The twofold explanation of these variations.

That bold metaphor of God's sleeping and waking is often found in
Scripture, and generally expresses the contrast between the long years
of patient forbearance, during which evil things and evil men go on
their rebellious road unchecked but by Love, and the dread moment when
some throne of iniquity, some Babylon cemented by blood, is smitten to
the dust. Such is the original application of the expression here. But
the contrast may fairly be widened beyond that specific form of it, and
taken to express any apparent variations in the forth-putting of His
power. The prophet carefully avoids seeming to suggest that there are
changes in God Himself. It is not He but His arm, that is to say. His
active energy, that is invoked to awake. The captive Church prays that
the dormant might which could so easily shiver her prison-house would
flame forth into action.

We may, then, see here implied the cause of these alternations, of
which we have been speaking, on its divine side, and then, in the
corresponding verse addressed to the Church, the cause on the human
side.

As to the former, it is true that God's arm sometimes slumbers, and is
not clothed with power. There are, as a fact, apparent variations in
the energy with which He works in the Church and in the world. And they
are real variations, not merely apparent. But we have to distinguish
between the power, and what Paul calls 'the might of the power.' The
one is final, constant, unchangeable. It does not necessarily follow
that the other is. The rate of operation, so to speak, and the amount
of energy actually brought into play may vary, though the force remains
the same.

It is clear from experience that there are these variations; and the
only question with which we are concerned is, are they mere arbitrary
jets and spurts of a divine power, sometimes gushing out in full flood,
sometimes trickling in painful drops, at the unknown will of the unseen
hand which controls the flow? Is the 'law of the Spirit of life' at all
revealed to us; or are the reasons occult, if there be any reasons at
all other than a mere will that it shall be so? Surely, whilst we never
can know all the depths of His counsels and all the solemn concourse of
reasons which, to speak in man's language, determine the energy of His
manifested power, He has left us in no doubt that this is the
weightiest part of the law which it follows--the might with which God
works on the world through His Church varies according to the Church's
receptiveness and faithfulness.

Our second text tells us that if God's arm seems to slumber and really
does so, it is because Zion sleeps. In itself that immortal energy
knows no variableness. 'He fainteth not, neither is weary.' 'The Lord's
arm is not shortened that He cannot save.' 'He that keepeth Israel
shall neither slumber nor sleep.' But He works through us; and we have
the solemn and awful power of checking the might which would flow
through us; of restraining and limiting the Holy One of Israel. It
avails nothing that the ocean stretches shoreless to the horizon; a jar
can hold only a jarful. The receiver's capacity determines the amount
received, and the receiver's desire determines his capacity. The law
has ever been, 'according to your faith be it unto you.' God gives as
much as we will, as much as we can hold, as much as we use, and far
more than we deserve. As long as we will bring our vessels the golden
oil will flow, and after the last is filled, there yet remains more
that we might have had, if we could have held it, and might have held
if we would. 'Ye are not straitened in Me, ye are straitened in
yourselves.'

So, dear brethren, if we have to lament times of torpor and small
success, let us be honest with ourselves, and recognise that all the
blame lies with us. If God's arm seems to slumber, it is because we are
asleep. His power is invariable, and the Gospel which is committed to
our trust has lost none of its ancient power, whatsoever men may say.
If there be variations, they cannot be traced to the divine element in
the Church, which in itself is constant, but altogether to the human,
which shifts and fluctuates, as we only too sadly know. The light in
the beacon-tower is steady, and the same; but the beam it throws across
the waters sometimes fades to a speck, and sometimes flames out clear
and far across the heaving waves, according to the position of the
glasses and shades around it. The sun pours out heat as profusely and
as long at midwinter as on midsummer-day, and all the difference
between the frost and darkness and glowing brightness and flowering
life, is simply owing to the earth's place in its orbit and the angle
at which the unalterable rays fall upon it. The changes are in the
terrestrial sphere; the heavenly is fixed for ever the same.

May I not venture to point an earnest and solemn appeal with these
truths? Has there not been poured over us the spirit of slumber? Does
it not seem as if an opium sky had been raining soporifics on our
heads? We have had but little experience of the might of God amongst us
of late years, and we need not wonder at it. There is no occasion to
look far for the reason. We have only to regard the low ebb to which
religious life has been reduced amongst us to have it all and more than
all accounted for. I fully admit that there has been plenty of
activity, perhaps more than the amount of real life warrants, not a
little liberality, and many virtues. But how languid and torpid the
true Christian life has been! how little enthusiasm! how little depth
of communion with God! how little unworldly elevation of soul! how
little glow of love! An improvement in social position and
circumstances, a freer blending with the national life, a full share of
civic and political honours, a higher culture in our pulpits, fine
chapels, and applauding congregations--are but poor substitutes for
what many of us have lost in racing after them. We have the departed
prophets' mantle, the outward resemblance to the fathers who have gone,
but their fiery zeal has passed to heaven with them; and softer, weaker
men, we stand timidly on the river's brink, invoking the Lord God of
Elijah, and too often the flood that obeyed them has no ear for our
feebler voice.

I speak to many who are in some sort representatives of the churches
throughout the land, and they can tell whether my words are on the
whole true or overstrained. We who labour in our great cities, what say
we? If one of the number may speak for the rest, we have to acknowledge
that commercial prosperity and business cares, the eagerness after
pleasure and the exigencies of political strife, diffused doubt and
widespread artistic and literary culture, are eating the very life out
of thousands in our churches, and lowering their fervour till, like
molten iron cooling in the air, what was once all glowing with ruddy
heat is crusted over with foul black scoriae ever encroaching on the
tiny central warmth. You from rural churches, what say you? Have you
not to speak of deepening torpor settling down on quiet corners, of the
passing away of grey heads which leave no successors, of growing
difficulties and lessened power to meet them, that make you sometimes
all but despair?

I am not flinging indiscriminate censures. I know that there are lights
as well as shades in the picture. I am not flinging censures at all.
But I am giving voice to the confessions of many hearts, that our
consciousness of our blame may be deepened, and we may hasten back to
that dear Lord whom we have left to serve alone, as His first disciples
left Him once to agonise alone under the gnarled olives in Gethsemane,
while they lay sleeping in the moonlight. Listen to His gentle rebuke,
full of pain and surprised love, 'What, could ye not watch with Me one
hour?' Listen to His warning call, loving as the kiss with which a
mother wakes her child, 'Arise, let us be going'--and let us shake the
spirit of slumber from our limbs, and serve Him as those unsleeping
spirits do, who rest not day nor night from vision and work and praise.

III. The beginning of all awaking is the Church's earnest cry to God.

It is with us as with infants, the first sign of whose awaking is a
cry. The mother's quick ear hears it through all the household noises,
and the poor little troubled life that woke to a scared consciousness
of loneliness and darkness, is taken up into tender arms, and comforted
and calmed. So, when we dimly perceive how torpid we have been, and
start to find that we have lost our Father's hand, the first instinct
of that waking, which must needs be partly painful, is to call to Him,
whose ear hears our feeble cry amid the sound of praise like the voice
of many waters, that billows round His throne, and whose folding arms
keep us 'as one whom his mother comforteth.' The beginning of all true
awaking must needs be prayer.

For every such stirring of quickened religious life must needs have in
it bitter penitence and pain at the discovery flashed upon us of the
wretched deadness of our past--and, as we gaze like some wakened
sleepwalker into the abyss where another step might have smashed us to
atoms, a shuddering terror seizes us that must cry, 'Hold Thou me up,
and I shall be safe.' And every such stirring of quickened life will
have in it, too, desire for more of His grace, and confidence in His
sure bestowal of it, which cannot but breathe itself in prayer.

Nor is Zion's cry to God only the beginning and sign of all true
awaking: it is also the condition and indispensable precursor of all
perfecting of recovery from spiritual languor.

I have already pointed out the relation between the waking of God and
the waking of His Church, from which that necessarily follows. God's
power flows into our weakness in the measure and on condition of our
desires. We are sometimes told that we err in praying for the
outpouring of His Holy Spirit, because ever since Pentecost His Church
has had the gift. The objection alleges an unquestioned fact, but the
conclusion drawn from it rests on an altogether false conception of the
manner of that abiding gift. The Spirit of God, and the power which
comes from Him, are not given as a purse of money might be put into a
man's hand once and for all, but they are given in a continuous
impartation and communication and are received and retained moment by
moment, according to the energy of our desires and the faithfulness of
our use. As well might we say, Why should I ask for natural life, I
received it half a century ago? Yes, and at every moment of that
half-century I have continued to live, not because of a past gift, but
because at each moment God is breathing into my nostrils the breath of
life. So is it with the life which comes from His Spirit. It is
maintained by constant efflux from the fountain of Life, by constant
impartation of His quickening breath. And as He must continually
impart, so must we continually receive, else we perish. Therefore,
brethren, the first step towards awaking, and the condition of all true
revival in our own souls and in our churches, is this earnest cry,
'Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord.

Thank God for the outpouring of a long unwonted spirit of prayer in
many places. It is like the melting of the snows in the high Alps, at
once the sign of spring and the cause of filling the stony river beds
with flashing waters, that bring verdure and growth wherever they come.
The winter has been long and hard. We have all to confess that we have
been restraining prayer before God. Our work has been done with but
little sense of our need of His blessing, with but little ardour of
desire for His power. We have prayed lazily, scarcely believing that
answers would come; we have not watched for the reply, but have been
like some heartless marksman who draws his bow and does not care to
look whether his arrow strikes the target. These mechanical words,
these conventional petitions, these syllables winged by no real desire,
inspired by no faith, these expressions of devotion, far too wide for
their real contents, which rattle in them like a dried kernel in a nut,
are these prayers? Is there any wonder that they have been dispersed in
empty air, and that we have been put to shame before our enemies?
Brethren in the ministry, do we need to be surprised at our fruitless
work, when we think of our prayerless studies and of our faithless
prayers? Let _us_ remember that solemn word, 'The pastors have become
brutish, and have not sought the Lord, therefore they shall not
prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.' And let us all,
brethren, betake ourselves, with penitence and lowly consciousness of
our sore need, to prayer, earnest and importunate, believing and
persistent, like this heaven-piercing cry which captive Israel sent up
from her weary bondage.

Look at the passionate earnestness of it--expressed in the short, sharp
cry, thrice repeated, as from one in mortal need; and see to it that
our drowsy prayers be like it. Look at the grand confidence with which
it founds itself on the past, recounting the mighty deeds of ancient
days, and looking back, not for despair but for joyful confidence, to
the generations of old; and let our faint-hearted faith be quickened by
the example, to expect great things of God. The age of miracles is not
gone. The mightiest manifestations of God's power in the spread of the
Gospel in the past remain as patterns for His future. We have not to
look back as from low-lying plains to the blue peaks on the horizon,
across which the Church's path once lay, and sigh over the changed
conditions of the journey. The highest watermark that the river in
flood has ever reached will be reached and overpassed again, though
to-day the waters may seem to have hopelessly subsided. Greater
triumphs and deliverances shall crown the future than have signalised
the past. Let our faithful prayer base itself on the prophecies of
history and on the unchangeableness of God.

Think, brethren, of the prayers of Christ. Even He, whose spirit needed
not to be purged from stains or calmed from excitement, who was ever in
His Father's house whilst He was about His Father's business, blending
in one, action and contemplation, had need to pray. The moments of His
life thus marked are very significant. When He began His ministry, the
close of the first day of toil and wonders saw Him, far from gratitude
and from want, in a desert place in prayer. When He would send forth
His apostles, that great step in advance, in which lay the germ of so
much, was preceded by solitary prayer. When the fickle crowd desired to
make Him the centre of political revolution, He passed from their hands
and beat back that earliest attempt to secularise His work, by prayer.
When the seventy brought the first tidings of mighty works done in His
name, He showed us how to repel the dangers of success, in that He
thanked the Lord of heaven and earth who had revealed these things to
babes. When He stood by the grave of Lazarus, the voice that waked the
dead was preceded by the voice of prayer, as it ever must be. When He
had said all that He could say to His disciples, He crowned all with
His wonderful prayer for Himself, for them, and for us all. When the
horror of great darkness fell upon His soul, the growing agony is
marked by His more fervent prayer, so wondrously compact of shrinking
fear and filial submission. When the cross was hid in the darkness of
eclipse, the only words from the gloom were words of prayer. When,
Godlike, He dismissed His spirit, manlike He commended it to His
Father, and sent the prayer from His dying lips before Him to herald
His coming into the unseen world. One instance remains, even more to
our present purpose than all these--'It came to pass, that Jesus also
being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost
descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him.' Mighty mystery! In
Him, too, the Son's desire is connected with the Father's gift, and the
unmeasured possession of the Spirit was an answer to _His_ prayer.

Then, brethren, let us lift our voices and our hearts. That which
ascends as prayer descends as blessing, like the vapour that is drawn
up by the kiss of the sun to fall in freshening rain. 'Call upon Me,
and I will answer thee, and show thee great and hidden things which
thou knowest not.'

IV. The answering call from God to Zion.

Our truest prayers are but the echo of God's promises. God's best
answers are the echo of our prayers. As in two mirrors set opposite to
each other, the same image is repeated over and over again, the
reflection of a reflection, so here, within the prayer, gleams an
earlier promise, within the answer is mirrored the prayer.

And in that reverberation, and giving back to us our petition
transformed into a command, we are not to see a dismissal of it as if
we had misapprehended our true want. It is not tantamount to, Do not
ask me to put on my strength, but array yourselves in your own. The
very opposite interpretation is the true one. The prayer of Zion is
heard and answered. God awakes, and clothes Himself with might. Then,
as some warrior king, himself roused from sleep and girded with
flashing steel, bids the clarion sound through the grey twilight to
summon the prostrate ranks that lie round his tent, so the sign of
God's awaking and the first act of His conquering might is this trumpet
call--'The night is far spent, the day is at hand, let us put off the
works of darkness,'--the night gear that was fit for slumber--'and put
on the armour of light,' the mail of purity that gleams and glitters
even in the dim dawn. God's awaking is our awaking. He puts on strength
by making us strong; for His arm works through us, clothing itself, as
it were, with our arm of flesh, and perfecting itself even in our
weakness.

Nor is it to be forgotten that this, like all God's commands, carries
in its heart a promise. That earliest word of God's is the type of all
His latter behests: 'Let there be light,' and the mighty syllables were
creative and self-fulfilling. So ever, with Him, to enjoin and to
bestow are one and the same, and His command is His conveyance of
power. He rouses us by His summons, He clothes us with power in the
very act of bidding us put it on. So He answers the Church's cry by
stimulating us to quickened zeal, and making us more conscious of, and
confident in, the strength which, in answer to our cry, He pours into
our limbs.

But the main point which I would insist on in what remains of this
sermon, is the practical discipline which this divine summons requires
from us.

And first, let us remember that the chief means of quickened life and
strength is deepened communion with Christ.

As we have been saying, our strength is ours by continual derivation
from Him. It has no independent existence, any more than a sunbeam
could have, severed from the sun. It is ours only in the sense that it
flows through us, as a river through the land which it enriches. It is
His whilst it is ours, it is ours when we know it to be His. Then,
clearly, the first thing to do must be to keep the channels free by
which it flows into our souls, and to maintain the connection with the
great Fountainhead unimpaired. Put a dam across the stream, and the
effect will be like the drying up of Jordan before Israel: 'the waters
that were above rose up upon an heap, and the waters that were beneath
failed and were cut off,' and the foul oozy bed was disclosed to the
light of day. It is only by constant contact with Christ that we have
any strength to put on.

That communion with Him is no mere idle or passive attitude, but the
active employment of our whole nature with His truth, and with Him whom
the truth reveals. The understanding must be brought into contact with
the principles of His word, the heart must touch and beat against His
heart, the will meekly lay its hand in His, the conscience draw at once
its anodyne and its stimulus from His sacrifice, the passions know His
finger on the reins, and follow, led in the silken leash of love. Then,
if I may so say, Elisha's miracle will be repeated in nobler form, and
from Himself, the Life thus touching all our being, life will flow into
our deadness. 'He put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his
eyes, and his hands upon his hands, and he stretched himself upon the
child, and the flesh of the child waxed warm.' So, dear brethren, all
our practical duty is summed up in that one word, the measure of our
obedience to which is the measure of all our strength-'Abide in Me, and
I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in
the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.'

Again, this summons calls us to the faithful use of the power which, on
condition of that communion, we have.

There is no doubt a temptation, in all times like the present, to look
for some new and extraordinary forms of blessing, and to substitute
such expectation for present work with our present strength. There is
nothing new to look for. There is no need to wait for anything more
than we possess. Remember the homely old proverb, 'You never know what
you can do till you try,' and though we are conscious of much
unfitness, and would sometimes gladly wait till our limbs are stronger,
let us brace ourselves for the work, assured that in it strength will
be given to us that equals our desire. There is a wonderful power in
honest work to develop latent energies and reveal a man to himself. I
suppose, in most cases, no one is half so much surprised at a great
man's greatest deeds as he is himself. They say that there is dormant
electric energy enough in a few raindrops to make a thunderstorm, and
there is dormant spiritual force enough in the weakest of us to flash
into beneficent light, and peal notes of awaking into many a deaf ear.
The effort to serve your Lord will reveal to you strength that you know
not. And it will increase the strength which it brings into play, as
the used muscles grow like whipcord, and the practised fingers become
deft at their task, and every faculty employed is increased, and every
gift wrapped in a napkin melts like ice folded in a cloth, according to
that solemn law, 'To him that hath shall be given, and from him that
hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.'

Then be sure that to its last particle you are using the strength you
have, ere you complain of not having enough for your tasks. Take heed
of the vagrant expectations that wait for they know not what, and the
apparent prayers that are really substitutes for possible service. 'Why
liest thou on thy face? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go
forward.'

The Church's resources are sufficient for the Church's work, if the
resources are used. We are tempted to doubt it, by reason of our
experience of failure and our consciousness of weakness. We are more
than ever tempted to doubt it to-day, when so many wise men are telling
us that our Christ is a phantom, our God a stream of tendency, our
Gospel a decaying error, our hope for the world a dream, and our work
in the world done. We stand before our Master with doubtful hearts,
and, as we look along the ranks sitting there on the green grass, and
then at the poor provisions which make all our store, we are sometimes
tempted almost to think that He errs when He says with that strange
calmness of His, 'They need not depart, give ye them to eat.' But go
out among the crowds and give confidently what you have, and you will
find that you have enough and to spare. If ever our stores seem
inadequate, it is because they are reckoned up by sense, which takes
cognizance of the visible, instead of by faith which beholds the real.
Certainly five loaves and two small fishes are not enough, but are not
five loaves and two small fishes and a miracle-working hand behind
them, enough? It is poor calculation that leaves out Christ from the
estimate of our forces. The weakest man and Jesus to back him are more
than all antagonism, more than sufficient for all duty. Be not seduced
into doubt of your power, or of your success, by others' sneers, or by
your own faint-heartedness. The confidence of ability is ability.
'Screw your courage to the sticking place,' and you will _not_
fail--and see to it that you use the resources you have, as good
stewards of the manifold grace of God. 'Put on _thy_ strength, O Zion.'

So, dear brethren, to gather all up in a sentence, let us confidently
look for times of blessing, penitently acknowledge that our own
faithlessness has hindered the arm of the Lord, earnestly beseech Him
to come in His rejoicing strength, and, drawing ever fresh power from
constant communion with our dear Lord, use it to its last drop for Him.
Then, like the mortal leader of Israel, as he pondered doubtingly with
sunken eyes on the hard task before his untrained host, we shall look
up and be aware of the presence of the sworded angel, the immortal
Captain of the host of the Lord, standing ready to save, 'putting on
righteousness as a breastplate, an helmet of salvation on His head, and
clad with zeal as a cloak.' From His lips, which give what they
command, comes the call, 'Take unto you the whole armour of God, that
ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to
stand.' Hearkening to His voice, the city of the strong ones shall be
made an heap before our wondering ranks, and the land shall lie open to
our conquering march.

Wheresoever _we_ lift up the cry, 'Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm
of the Lord,' there follows, swift as the thunderclap on the lightning
flash, the rousing summons, 'Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion;
put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem!' Wheresoever it is obeyed
there will follow in due time the joyful chorus, as in this context,
'Sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; the Lord hath made bare
His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the
earth have seen the salvation of our God.'



A PARADOX OF SELLING AND BUYING

'Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without
money.'--ISAIAH iii. 3.


THE first reference of these words is of course to the Captivity. They
come in the midst of a grand prophecy of freedom, all full of leaping
gladness and buoyant hope. The Seer speaks to the captives; they had
'sold themselves for nought.' What had they gained by their departure
from God?--bondage. What had they won in exchange for their
freedom?--only the hard service of Babylon. As Deuteronomy puts it:
'Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness... by
reason of the abundance of all things, therefore shalt thou serve thine
enemies...in want of all things.' A wise exchange! a good market they
had brought their goods to! In striking ironical parallel the prophet
goes on to say that so should they be redeemed. They had got nothing by
bondage, they should give nothing for liberty. This text has its
highest application in regard to our captivity and our redemption.

I. The reality of the captivity.

The true idea of bondage is that of coercion of will and conscience,
the dominance and tyranny of what has no right to rule. So men are
really in bondage when they think themselves most free. The only real
slavery is that in which we are tied and bound by our own passions and
lusts. 'He that committeth sin is the slave of sin.' He thinks himself
master of himself and his actions, and boasts that he has broken away
from the restraints of obedience, but really he has only exchanged
masters. What a Master to reject--and what a master to prefer!

II. The voluntariness of the captivity.

'Ye have sold _yourselves_,' and become authors of your own bondage. No
sin is forced upon any man, and no one is to blame for it but himself.
The many excuses which people make to themselves are hollow. Now-a-days
we hear a great deal of heredity, how a man is what his ancestors have
made him, and of organisation, how a man is what his body makes him,
and of environment, how a man is what his surroundings make him. There
is much truth in all that, and men's guilt is much diminished by
circumstances, training, and temperament. The amount of responsibility
is not for us to settle, in regard to others, or even in regard to
ourselves. But all that does not touch the fact that we ourselves have
sold ourselves. No false brethren have sold us as they did Joseph.

The strong tendency of human nature is always to throw the blame on
some one else; God or the devil, the flesh or the world, it does not
matter which. But it remains true that every man sinning is 'drawn away
of _his own_ lust and enticed.'

After all, conscience witnesses to the truth, and by that mysterious
sense of guilt and gnawing of remorse which is quite different from the
sense of mistake, tears to tatters the sophistries. Nothing is more
truly my own than my sin.

III. The profitlessness of the captivity.

'For nought'; that is a picturesque way of putting the truth that all
sinful life fails to satisfy a man. The meaning of one of the Hebrew
words for sin is 'missing the mark.' It is a blunder as well as a
crime. It is trying to draw water from broken cisterns. It is 'as when
a hungry man dreameth and behold he eateth, but he awaketh and his soul
is empty.' Sin buys men with fairy money, which looks like gold, but in
the morning is found to be but a handful of yellow and faded leaves.
'Why do ye spend your money for that which is not bread?' It cannot but
be so, for only God can satisfy a man, and only in doing His will are
we sure of sowing seed which will yield us bread enough and to spare,
and nothing but bread. In all other harvests, tares mingle and they
yield poisoned flour. We never get what we aim at when we do wrong, for
what we aim at is not the mere physical or other satisfaction which the
temptation offers us, but rest of soul--and that we do _not_ get. And
we are sure to get something that we did not aim at or look for--a
wounded conscience, a worsened nature, often hurts to health or
reputation, and other consequent ills, that were carefully kept out of
sight, while we were being seduced by the siren voice. The old story of
the traitress, who bargained to let the enemies into the city, if they
would give her 'what they wore on their left arms,' meaning bracelets,
and was crushed to death under their shields heaped on her, is repeated
in the experience of every man who listens to the 'juggling fiends, who
keep the word of promise to the ear, but break it to the hope.' The
truth of this is attested by a cloud of witnesses. Conscience and
experience answer the question, 'What fruit had ye then in those things
whereof ye are now ashamed?' Wasted lives answer; tyrannous evil habits
answer; diseased bodies, blighted reputations, bitter memories answer.

IV. The unbought freedom.

'Ye shall be redeemed without money.' You gained nothing by your
bondage; you need give nothing for your emancipation. The original
reference is, of course, to the great act of divine power which set
these literal captives free, not for price nor reward. As in the Exodus
from Egypt, so in that from Babylon, no ransom was paid, but a nation
of bondsmen was set at liberty without war or compensation. That was a
strange thing in history. The paradox of buying back without buying is
a symbol of the Christian redemption.

(1) A price has been paid.

'Ye were redeemed not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but
with the precious blood of Christ.' The New Testament idea of
redemption, no doubt, has its roots in the Old Testament provisions for
the Goel or kinsman redeemer, who was to procure the freedom of a
kinsman. But whatever figurative elements may enter into it, its core
is the ethical truth that Christ's death is the means by which the
bonds of sin are broken. There is much in the many-sided applications
and powers of that Death which we do not know, but this is clear, that
by it the power of sin is destroyed and the guilt of sin taken away.

(2) That price has been paid for all.

We have therefore nothing to pay. A slave cannot redeem himself, for
all that he has is his master's already. So, no efforts of ours can set
ourselves free from the 'cords of our sins.' Men try to bring something
of their own. 'I do my best and God will have mercy.' We will bring our
own penitence, efforts, good works, or rely on Church ordinances, or
anything rather than sue _in forma pauperis_. How hard it is to get men
to see that 'It is finished,' and to come and rest only on the mere
mercy of God.

How do we ally ourselves with that completed work? By simple faith, of
which an essential is the recognition that we have nothing and can do
nothing.

Suppose an Israelite in Babylon who did not choose to avail himself of
the offered freedom; he must die in bondage. So must we if we refuse to
have eternal life as the gift of God. The prophet's paradoxical
invitation, 'He that hath no money, come ye, buy...without money,' is
easily solved. The price is to give up ourselves and forsake all
self-willed striving after self-purchased freedom which is but subtler
bondage. 'If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed.' If not,
then are ye slaves indeed, having 'sold yourselves for nought,' and
declined to be 'redeemed without money.'



CLEAN CARRIERS

'Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.'--ISAIAH lii. 11.


The context points to a great deliverance. It is a good example of the
prophetical habit of casting prophecies of the future into the mould of
the past. The features of the Exodus are repeated, but some of them are
set aside. This deliverance, whatever it be, is to be after the pattern
of that old story, but with very significant differences. Then, the
departing Israelites had spoiled the Egyptians and come out, laden with
silver and gold which had been poured into their hands; now there is to
be no bringing out of anything which was tainted with the foulness of
the land of captivity. Then the priests had borne the sacred vessels
for sacrifice, now they are to exercise the same holy function, and for
its discharge purity is demanded. Then, they had gone out in haste;
now, there is to be no precipitate flight, but calmly, as those who are
guided by God for their leader, and shielded from all pursuit by God as
their rearward, the men of this new Exodus are to take their march from
the new Egypt.

No doubt the nearest fulfilment is to be found in the Return from
Babylon, and the narrative in Ezra may be taken as a remarkable
parallel to the prophecy here. But the restriction to Babylon must seem
impossible to any reader who interprets aright the significance of the
context, and observes that our text follows the grand words of verse
10, and precedes the Messianic prophecy of verse 13 and of ch. liii. To
such a reader the principle will not be doubtful according to which
Egypt and Babylon are transparencies through which mightier forms
shine, and a more wonderful and world-wide making bare of the arm of
the Lord is seen. Christ's great redemption is the highest
interpretation of these words; and the trumpet-call of our text is
addressed to all who have become partakers of it.

So Paul quotes the text in 2 Cor. vi. 17, blending with it other words
which are gathered from more than one passage of Scripture. We may then
take the whole as giving the laws of the new Exodus, and also as
shadowing certain great peculiarities connected with it, by which it
surpasses all the former deliverances.

I. The Pilgrims of this new Exodus.

A true Christian is a pilgrim, not only because he, like all men, is
passing through a life which is transient, but because he is
consciously detached from the Visible and Present, as a consequence of
his conscious attachment to the Unseen and Eternal. What is said in
Hebrews of Abraham is true of all inheritors of his faith: 'dwelling in
tabernacles, for he looked for the city.'

II. The priests.

Priests and Levites bore the sacred vessels. All Christians are
priests. The only true priesthood is Christ's, ours is derived from
Him. In that universal priesthood of believers are included the
privileges and obligations of

a. Access to God--Communion.

b. Offering spiritual sacrifices. Service and self-surrender.

c. Mediation with men.

Proclamation. Intercession. Thus follows

d. Bearing the holy vessels. A sacred deposit is entrusted to them--the
honour and name of God; the treasure of the Gospel.

III. The separation that becomes pilgrims.

'Come out and be ye separate.' The very meaning of our Christian
profession is separation. There is ludicrous inconsistency in saying
that we are Christians and not being pilgrims. Of course, the
separation is not to be worked out by mere external asceticism or
withdrawal from the world. That has been so thoroughly preached and
practised of late years that we much need the other side to be put.
There should be some plain difference between the life of Christians
and that of men whose portion is in this life. They should differ in
the aspect under which all outward things are regarded.

To a Christian they are to be means to an end, and ever to be felt to
be evanescent. They should differ in the motive for action, which
should, for a Christian, ever be the love of God. They should differ in
that a Christian abstains from much which non-Christians feel free to
do, and often has to say, 'So did not I, because of the fear of the
Lord.' He who marches light marches quickly and marches far; to bring
the treasures of Egypt along with us, is apt to retard our steps.

IV. The purity that becomes priests.

The Levites would cleanse themselves before taking up the holy vessels.
And for us, clean hands and a pure heart are essential. There is no
communion with God without these; a small speck of dust in the eye
blinds us. There is no sacrificial service without them. No efficient
work among men can be done without them. One main cause of the weakness
of our Christian testimony is the imperfection of character in the
witnesses, which is more powerful than all talk and often neutralises
much effort. Keen eyes are watching us.

The consciousness of our own impurity should send us to Jesus, with the
prayer and the confidence, 'Cleanse me and I shall be clean.' 'The
blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' 'He hath loosed us from
our sins and made us kings and priests to God.'



MARCHING ORDERS

'Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing;
go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of
the Lord. 12. For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for
the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your
reward.'--ISAIAH iii. 11, 12.


These ringing notes are parts of a highly poetic picture of that great
deliverance which inspired this prophet's most exalted strains. It is
described with constant allusion to the first Exodus, but also with
significant differences. Now no doubt the actual historical return of
the Jews from the Babylonish captivity is the object that fills the
foreground of this vision, but it by no means exhausts its
significance. The restriction of the prophecy to that more immediate
fulfilment may well seem impossible when we note that my text follows
the grand promise that 'all the ends of the earth shall see the
salvation of our God,' and immediately precedes the Messianic prophecy
of the fifty-third chapter. Egypt was transparent, and through it shone
Babylon; Babylon was transparent, and through it shone Christ's
redemption. That was the real and highest fulfilment of the prophet's
anticipations, and the trumpet-calls of my text are addressed to all
who have a share in it. We have, then, here, under highly metaphorical
forms, the grand ideal of the Christian life; and I desire to note
briefly its various features.

I. First, then, we have it set forth as a march of warrior priests.

Note that phrase--'Ye that bear the vessels of the Lord.' The returning
exiles as a whole are so addressed, but the significance of the
expression, and the precise metaphor which it is meant to convey, may
be questionable. The word rendered 'vessel' is a wide expression,
meaning any kind of equipment, and in other places of the Old Testament
the whole phrase rendered here, 'ye that bear the vessels,' is
translated 'armour-bearers.' Such an image would be quite congruous
with the context here, in which warlike figures abound. And if so, the
picture would be that of an army on the march, each man carrying some
of the weapons of the great Captain and Leader. But perhaps the other
explanation is more likely, which regards 'the vessels of the Lord' as
being an allusion to the sacrificial and other implements of worship,
which, in the first Exodus, the Levites carried on the march. And if
that be the meaning, as seems more congruous with the command of purity
which is deduced from the function of bearing the vessels, then the
figure here, of course, is that of a company of priests. I venture to
throw the two ideas together, and to say that we may here find an ideal
of the Christian community as being a great company of warrior-priests
on the march, guarding a sacred deposit which has been committed to
their charge.

Look, then, at that combination in the true Christian character of the
two apparently opposite ideas of warrior and priest. It suggests that
all the life is to be conflict, and that all the conflict is to be
worship; that everywhere, in the thick of the fight, we may still bear
the remembrance of the 'secret place of the most High.' It suggests,
too, that the warfare is worship, that the offices of the priest and of
the warrior are one and the same thing, and both consist in their
mediating between man and God, bringing God in His Gospel to men, and
bringing men through their faith to God. The combination suggests,
likewise, how, in the true Christian character, there ought ever to be
blended, in strange harmony, the virtues of the soldier and the
qualities of the priest; compassion for the ignorant and them that are
out of the way, with courage; meekness with strength; a quiet, placable
heart hating strife, joined to a spirit that cheerily fronts every
danger and is eager for the conflict in which evil is the foe and God
the helper. The old Crusaders went to battle with the Cross on their
hearts, and on their shoulders, and on the hilts of their swords; and
we, too, in all our warfare, have to remember that its weapons are not
carnal but spiritual, and that only then do we fight as the Captain of
our salvation fought, when our arms are meekness and pity, and our
warfare is waged in gentleness and love.

Note, further, that in this phrase we have the old, old metaphor of
life as a march, but so modified as to lose all its melancholy and
weariness and to become an elevating hope. The idea which runs through
all poetry, of life as a journey, suggests effort, monotonous change, a
uniform law of variety and transiency, struggle and weariness, but the
Christian thought of life, while preserving the idea of change,
modifies it into the blessed thought of progress. Life, if it is as
Christ meant it to be, is a journey in the sense that it is a
continuous effort, not unsuccessful, toward a clearly discerned goal,
our eternal home. The Christian march is a march from slavery to
freedom, and from a foreign land to our native soil.

Again, this metaphor suggests that this company of marching priests
have in charge a sacred deposit. Paul speaks of the 'glorious Gospel
which was committed to my trust.' 'That good thing which was committed
unto thee by the Holy Ghost, keep.' The history of the return from
Babylon in the Book of Ezra presents a remarkable parallel to the
language of my text, for there we are told how, in the preparation for
the march, the leader entrusted the sacred vessels of the temple, which
the liberality of the heathen king had returned to him, to a group of
Levites and priests, weighing them at the beginning, and bidding them
keep them safe until they were weighed again in the courts of the
Lord's house in Jerusalem.

And, in like manner, to us Christians is given the charge of God's
great weapons of warfare, with which He contends with the wickedness of
the world--viz. that great message of salvation through, and in, the
Cross of Jesus Christ. And there are committed to us, further, to guard
sedulously, and to keep bright and untarnished and undiminished in
weight and worth, the precious treasures of the Christian life of
communion with Him. And we may give another application to the figure
and think of the solemn trust which is put into our hands, in the gift
of our own selves, which we ourselves can either waste, and stain, and
lose, or can guard and polish into vessels 'meet for the Master's use.'

Gathering, then, these ideas together, we take this as the ideal of the
Christian community--a company of priests on the march, with a sacred
deposit committed to their trust. If we reflected more on such a
conception of the Christian life, we should more earnestly hearken to,
and more sedulously discharge, the commands that are built thereon. To
these commands I now turn.

II. Note the separation that befits the marching company.

'Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing,
go ye out of the midst of her.' In the historical fulfilment of my
text, separation from Babylon was the preliminary of the march. Our
task is not so simple; our separation from Babylon must be the constant
accompaniment of our march. And day by day it has to be repeated, if we
would lift a foot in advance upon the road. There is still a Babylon.
The order in the midst of which we live is not organised on the
fundamental laws of Christ's Kingdom. And wherever there are men who
seek to order their lives as Christ would have them to be ordered, the
first necessity for them is, 'Come out from amongst them, and be ye
separate, saith the Lord.' There is no need in this day to warn
Christian people against an exaggerated interpretation of these
commandments. I almost wish there were more need. We have been told so
often, in late years, of how Christian men ought to mingle with all the
affairs of life, and count nothing that is human foreign to themselves,
that it seems to me there is vast need for a little emphasis being put
on the other side of the truth, and for separation being insisted upon.
Wherever there is a real grasp of Jesus Christ for a man's own personal
Saviour, and a true submission to Him as the Pattern and Guide of life,
a broad line of demarcation between that man and the irreligious life
round him will draw itself. If the heart have its tendrils twined round
the Cross, it will have detached them from the world around. Separation
by reason of an entirely different conception of life, separation
because the present does not look to you as it looks to the men who see
only it, separation because you and they have not only a different
ideal and theory of life, but are living from different motives and for
different ends and by different powers, will be the inevitable result
of any real union with Jesus Christ. If I am joined to Him I am
separated from the world; and detachment from it is the simple and
necessary result of any real attachment to Him. There will always be a
gulf in feeling, in purpose, in view, and therefore there will often
have to be separation outward things. 'So did not I because of the fear
of the Lord' will have to be said over and over again by any real and
honest follower of the Master.

This separation will not only be the result of union with Jesus Christ,
but it is the condition of all progress in our union with Him. We must
be unmoored before we can advance. Many a caravan has broken down in
African exploration for no other reason than because it was too well
provided with equipments, and so collapsed of its own weight.
Therefore, our prophet in the context says, 'Touch no unclean thing.'
_There_ is one of the differences between the new Exodus and the old.
When Israel came out of Egypt they spoiled the Egyptians, and came away
laden with gold and jewels; but it is dangerous work bringing anything
away from Babylon with us. Its treasure has to be left if we would
march close behind our Lord and Master. We must touch 'no unclean
thing,' because our hands are to be filled with the 'vessels of the
Lord.' I am preaching no impossible asceticism, no misanthropical
withdrawal from the duties of life, and the obligations that we owe to
society. God's world is a good one; man's world is a bad one. It is
man's world that we have to leave, but the lofties, sanctity requires
no abstention from anything that God has ordained.

Now, dear friends, I venture to think that this message is one that we
all dreadfully need to-day. There are a great many Christians,
so-called, in this generation, who seem to think that the main object
they should have in view is to obliterate the distinction between
themselves and the world of ungodly men, and in occupation and
amusements to be as like people that have no religion as they possibly
can manage. So they get credit for being 'liberal' Christians, and
praise from quarters whose praise is censure, and whose approval ought
to make a Christian man very uncomfortable. Better by far the narrowest
Puritanism--I was going to say better by far monkish austerities--than
a Christianity which knows no self-denial, which is perfectly at home
in an irreligious atmosphere, and which resents the exhortation to
separation, because it would fain keep the things that it is bidden to
drop. God's reiteration of the text through Paul to the Church in
luxurious, corrupt, wealthy Corinth is a gospel for this day for
English Christians, 'Come out from among them, and I will receive you.'

III. Further, note the purity which becomes the bearers of the vessels
of the Lord.

'Be ye clean.' The priest's hands must be pure, which figure, being
translated, is that transparent purity of conduct and character is
demanded from all Christian men who profess to bear God's sacred
deposit. You cannot carry it unless your hands are clean, for all the
gifts that God gives us glide from our grasp if our hands be stained.
Monkish legends tell of sacred pictures and vessels which, when an
impure touch was laid upon them, refused to be lifted from their place,
and grew there, as rooted, in spite of all efforts to move them.
Whoever seeks to hold the gifts of God in His Gospel in dirty hands
will fail miserably in the attempt; and all the joy and peace of
communion, the assurance of God's love, and the calm hope of immortal
life will vanish as a soap bubble, grasped by a child, turns into a
drop of foul water on its palm, if we try to hold them in foul hands.
Be clean, or you cannot bear the vessels of the Lord.

And further, remember that no priestly service nor any successful
warfare for Jesus Christ is possible, except on the same condition. One
sin, as well as one sinner, destroys much good, and a little
inconsistency on the part of us professing Christians neutralises all
the efforts that we may ever try to put forth for Him. Logic requires
that God's vessels should be carried with clean hands. God requires it,
men require it, and have a right to require it. The mightiest witness
for Him is the witness of a pure life, and if we go about the world
professing to be His messengers, and carrying His epistle in our dirty
fingers, the soiled thumb-mark upon it will prevent men from caring for
the message; and the Word will be despised because of the unworthiness
of its bearers. 'Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.'

IV. Lastly, notice the leisurely confidence which should mark the march
that is guarded by God. 'Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by
flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be
your reward.'

This is partly an analogy and partly a contrast with the story of the
first Exodus. The unusual word translated 'with haste' is employed in
the Pentateuch to describe the hurry and bustle, not altogether due to
the urgency of the Egyptians, but partly also to the terror of Israel,
with which that first flight was conducted. And, says my text, in this
new coming out of bondage there shall be no need for tremor or
perturbation, lending wings to any man's feet; but, with quiet
deliberation, like that with which Peter was brought out of his
dungeon, because God knew that He could bring him out safely, the new
Exodus shall be carried on.

'He that believeth shall not make haste.' Why should he? There is no
need for a Christian man ever to be flurried, or to lose his
self-command, or ever to be in an undignified and unheroic hurry. His
march should be unceasing, swift, but calm and equable, as the motions
of the planets, unhasting and unresting.

There is a very good reason why we need not be in any haste due to
alarm. For, as in the first Exodus, the guiding pillar led the march,
and sometimes, when there were foes behind, as at the Red Sea, shifted
its place to the rear, so 'the Lord will go before you, and the God of
Israel will be your rereward.' He besets us behind and before, going in
front to be our Guide, and in the rear for our protection, gathering up
the stragglers, so that there shall not be 'a hoof left behind,' and
putting a wall of iron between us and the swarms of hovering enemies
that hang on our march. Thus encircled by God, we shall be safe. Christ
fulfils what the prophet pledged God to do; for He goes before us, the
Pattern, the Captain of our salvation, the Forerunner, 'the Breaker is
gone up before them '; and He comes behind us to guard us from evil;
for He is 'the _Alpha_ and _Omega_, the beginning and the ending, the
Almighty.'

Dear brethren, life for us all must be a weary pilgrimage. We cannot
alter that. It is the lot of every son of man. But we have the power of
either making it a dreary, solitary tramp over an undefended desert, to
end in the great darkness, or else of making it a march in which the
twin sisters Joy and Peace shall lead us forth, and go out with us, and
the other pair of angel-forms, 'Goodness and Mercy,' shall follow us
all the days of our lives. We may make it a journey with Jesus for
Guide and Companion, to Jesus as our Home. 'The ransomed of the Lord
shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon
their heads.'



THE ARM OF THE LORD

'To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?'---ISAIAH liii 1.


In the second Isaiah there are numerous references to 'the arm of the
Lord.' It is a natural symbol of the active energy of Jehovah, and is
analogous to the other symbol of 'the Face of Jehovah,' which is also
found in this book, in so far as it emphasises the notion of power in
manifestation, though 'the Face' has a wider range and may be explained
as equivalent to that part of the divine Nature which is turned to men.
The latter symbol will then be substantially parallel with 'the Name.'
But there are traces of a tendency to conceive of 'the arm of the Lord'
as personified, for instance, where we read (ch. lxiii. 12) that
Jehovah 'caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses.'
Moses was not the true leader, but was himself led and sustained by the
divine Power, dimly conceived as a person, ever by his side to sustain
and direct. There seems to be a similar imperfect consciousness of
personification in the words of the text, especially when taken in
their close connection with the immediately following prophecy of the
suffering servant. It would be doing violence to the gradual
development of Revelation, like tearing asunder the just-opening petals
of a rose, to read into this question of the sad prophet full-blown
Christian truth, but it would be missing a clear anticipation of that
truth to fail to recognise the forecasting of it that _is_ here.

I. We have here a prophetic forecast that the arm of the Lord is a
person.

The strict monotheism of the Old Testament does not preclude some very
remarkable phenomena in its modes of conception and speech as to the
divine Nature. We hear of the 'angel of His face,' and again of 'the
angel in whom is His Name.' We hear of 'the angel' to whom divine
worship is addressed and who speaks, as we may say, in a divine dialect
and does divine acts. We meet, too, with the personification of Wisdom
in the Book of Proverbs, to which are ascribed characteristics and are
attributed acts scarcely distinguishable from divine, and eminently
associated in the creative work. Our text points in the same direction
as these representations. They all tend in the direction of preparing
for the full Christian truth of the personal 'Power of God.' What was
shown by glimpses 'at sundry times and in divers manners,' with many
gaps in the showing and much left all unshown, is perfectly revealed in
the Son. The New Testament, by its teaching as to 'the Eternal Word,'
endorses, clears, and expands all these earlier dimmer adumbrations.
That Word is the agent of the divine energy, and the conception of
power as being exercised by the Word is even loftier than that of it as
put forth by 'the arm,' by as much as intelligent and intelligible
utterance is more spiritual and higher than force of muscle. The
apostolic designation of Jesus as 'the power of God and the wisdom of
God' blends the two ideas of these two symbols. The conception of Jesus
Christ as the arm of the Lord, when united with that of the Eternal
Word, points to a threefold sphere and manner of His operations, as the
personal manifestation of the active power of God. In the beginning,
the arm of the Lord stretched out the heavens as a tent to dwell in,
and without Him 'was not anything made that was made.' In His
Incarnation, He carried into execution all God's purposes and fulfilled
His whole will. From His throne He wields divine power, and rules the
universe. 'The help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself,'
and He works in the midst of humanity that redeeming work which none
but He can effect.

II. We have here a prophetic paradox that the mightiest revelation of
the arm of the Lord is in weakness.

The words of the text stand in closest connection with the great
picture of the Suffering Servant which follows, and the pathetic figure
portrayed there is the revealing of the arm of the Lord. The close
bringing together of the ideas of majesty and power and of humiliation,
suffering, and weakness, would be a paradox to the first hearers of the
prophecy. Its solution lies in the historical manifestation of Jesus.
Looking on Him, we see that the growing up of that root out of a dry
ground was the revelation of the great power of God. In Jesus' lowly
humanity God's power is made perfect in man's weakness, in another and
not less true sense than that in which the apostle spoke. There we see
divine power in its noblest form, in its grandest operation, in its
widest sweep, in its loftiest purpose. That humble man, lowly and poor,
despised and rejected in life, hanging faint and pallid on the Roman
cross, and dying in the dark, seems a strange manifestation of the
'glory' of God, but the Cross is indeed His throne, and sublime as are
the other forms in which Omnipotence clothes itself, this is, to human
eyes and hearts, the highest of them all. In Jesus the arm of the Lord
is revealed in its grandest operation. Creation and the continual
sustaining of a universe are great, but redemption is greater. It is
infinitely more to say, 'He giveth power to the faint,' than to say,
'For that He is strong in might, not one faileth,' and to
principalities and powers in heavenly places who have gazed on the
grand operations of divine power for ages, new lessons of what it can
effect are taught by the redemption of sinful men. The divine power
that is enshrined in Jesus' weakness is power in its widest sweep, for
it is to every one that believeth, and in its loftiest purpose, for it
is 'unto salvation.'

III. We have here a prophetic lament that the power revealed to all is
unseen by many.

The text is a wail over darkened eyes, blind at noonday. The prophet's
radiant anticipations of the Servant's exaltation, and of God's holy
arm being made bare in the eyes of all nations, are clouded over by the
thought of the incredulity of the multitude to 'our report.' Jehovah
had indeed 'made bare His arm,' as a warrior throws back his loose
robe, when he would strike. But what was the use of that, if dull eyes
would not look? The 'report' had been loudly proclaimed, but what was
the use of that, if ears were obstinately stopped? Alas, alas! nothing
that God can do secures that men shall see what He shows, or listen to
what He speaks. The mystery of mysteries is that men can, the tragedy
of tragedies is that they will, make any possible revelation of none
effect, so far as they are concerned.

The Arm is revealed, but only by those who have 'believed our report'
does the prophet deem it to be actually beheld. Faith is the individual
condition on which the perfected revelation becomes a revelation to me.
The 'salvation of our God' is shown in splendour to 'all the ends of
the earth,' but only they who exercise faith in Jesus, who is the power
of God, will see that far-shining light. If we are not of those who
'believe the report,' we shall, notwithstanding that 'He hath made bare
His holy arm,' be of those who grope at noonday as in the dark.



THE SUFFERING SERVANT-I

'For He grew up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a
dry ground He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there
is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3. He was despised, and
rejected of men, a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as
one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we esteemed Him
not.'--ISAIAH liii, 2, 3.


To hold fast the fulfilment of this prophecy of the Suffering Servant
in Jesus it is not necessary to deny its reference to Israel. Just as
offices, institutions, and persons in it were prophetic, and by their
failures to realise to the full their own _role_, no less than by their
partial presentation of it, pointed onwards to Him, in whom their idea
would finally take form and substance, so this great picture of God's
Servant, which was but imperfectly reproduced even by the Israel within
Israel, stood on the prophet's page a fair though sad dream, with
nothing corresponding to it in the region of reality and history, till
He came and lived and suffered.

If we venture to make it the theme of a short series of sermons, our
object is simply to endeavour to bring out clearly the features of the
wonderful portrait. If they are fully apprehended, it seems to us that
the question of who is the original of the picture answers itself. We
must note that the whole is introduced by a 'For,' that is to say, that
it is all explanatory of the unbelief and blindness to the revealed arm
of the Lord, which the prophet has just been lamenting. This close
connection with the preceding words accounts for the striking way in
which the description of the person of the Servant is here blended
with, or interrupted by, that of the manner in which he was treated.

I. The Servant's lowly origin and growth.

'He _grew_,'--not '_shall_ grow.' The whole is cast into the form of
history, and to begin the description with a future tense is not only
an error in grammar but gratuitously introduces an incongruity. The
word rendered 'tender plant' means a sucker, and 'root' probably would
more properly be taken as a shoot from a root, the tree having been
felled, and nothing left but the stump. There is here, then, at the
outset, an unmistakable reference to the prophecy in ch. xi. 1, which
is Messianic prophecy, and therefore there is a presumption that this
too has a Messianic reference. In the original passage the stump or
'stock' is explained as being the humiliated house of David, and it is
only following the indications supplied by the fact of the second
Isaiah's quotation of the first, if we take the implication in his
words to be the same. Royal descent, but from a royal house fallen on
evil days, is the plain meaning here.

And the eclipse of its glory is further brought out in that not only
does the shoot spring from a tree, all whose leafy honours have long
been lopped away, but which is 'in a dry ground.' Surely we do not
force a profounder meaning than is legitimate into this feature of the
picture when we think of the Carpenter's Son 'of the house and lineage
of David,' of the Son of God 'who was found in fashion as a man,' of
Him who was born in a stable, and grew up in a tiny village hidden away
among the hills of Galilee, who, as it were, stole into the world 'not
with observation,' and opened out, as He grew, the wondrous blossom of
a perfect humanity such as had never before been evolved from any root,
nor grown on the most sedulously cultured plant. Is this part of the
prophet's ideal realised in any of the other suggested realisations of
it?

But there is still another point in regard to the origin and growth of
the lowly shoot from the felled stump--it is 'before Him.' Then the
unnoticed growth is noticed by Jehovah, and, though cared for by no
others, is cared for, tended, and guarded, by Him.

II. The Servant's unattractive form.

Naturally a shoot springing in a dry ground would show but little
beauty of foliage or flower. It would be starved and colourless beside
the gaudy growths in fertile, well-watered gardens. But that
unattractiveness is not absolute or real; it is only 'that _we_ should
desire Him.' We are but poor judges of true 'form or comeliness,' and
what is lustrous with perfect beauty in God's eyes may be, and
generally is, plain and dowdy in men's. Our tastes are debased.
Flaunting vulgarities and self-assertive ugliness captivate vulgar
eyes, to which the serene beauties of mere goodness seem insipid.
Cockatoos charm savages to whom the iridescent neck of a dove has no
charms. Surely this part of the description fits Jesus as it does no
other. The entire absence of outward show, or of all that pleases the
spoiled tastes of sinful men, need not be dwelt on. No doubt the world
has slowly come to recognise in Him the moral ideal, a perfect man, but
He has been educating it for nineteen hundred years to get it up to
that point, and the educational process is very far from complete. The
real desire of most men is for something much more pungent and dashing
than Jesus' meek wisdom and stainless purity, which breed in them ennui
rather than longing. 'Not this man but Barabbas,' was the approximate
realisation of the Jewish ideal then; not this man but--some type or
other of a less oppressive perfection, and that calls for less effort
to imitate it, is the world's real cry still. Pilate's scornfully
wondering question: Art _Thou_--such a poor-looking creature--the King
of the Jews? is very much of a piece with the world's question still:
Art Thou the perfect instance of manhood? Art Thou the highest
revelation of God?

III. The Servant's reception by men.

The two preceding characteristics naturally result in this third. For
lowliness of condition and lack of qualities appealing to men's false
ideals will certainly lead to being 'despised and rejected.' The latter
expression is probably better taken, as in the margin of the Rev. Ver.
as 'forsaken.' But whichever meaning is adopted, what an Iliad of woes
is condensed into these two words! 'The spurns that patient merit of
the unworthy takes,' the loneliness of one who, in all the crowd
descries none to trust--these are the wages that the world ever gives
to its noblest, who live but to help it and be misunderstood by it, and
as these are the wages of all who with self-devotion would serve God by
serving the world for its good, they were paid in largest measure to
'_the_ Servant of the Lord.' His claims were ridiculed, His words of
wisdom thrown back on Himself; none were so poor but could afford to
despise Him as lower than they, His love was repulsed, surely He drank
the bitterest cup of contempt. All His life He walked in the solitude
of uncomprehended aims, and at His hour of extremest need appealed in
vain for a little solace of companionship, and was deserted by those
whom He trusted most. His was a lifelong martyrdom inflicted by men.
His was a lifelong solitude which was most utter at the last. And He
brought it all on Himself because He _would_ be God's Servant in being
men's Saviour.

IV. The Servant's sorrow of heart.

The remarkable expression 'acquainted with grief' seems to carry an
allusion to the previous clause, in which men are spoken of as
despising and rejecting the Servant. They left Him alone, and His only
companion was 'grief'--a grim associate to walk at a man's side all his
days! It is to be noted that the word rendered 'grief' is literally
sickness. That description of mental or spiritual sorrows under the
imagery of bodily sicknesses is intensified in the subsequent terrible
picture of Him as one from whom men hide their faces with disgust at
His hideous appearance, caused by disease. Possibly the meaning may
rather be that He hides His face, as lepers had to do.

Now probably the 'sorrows' touched on at this point are to be
distinguished from those which subsequently are spoken of in terms of
such poignancy as laid on the Servant by God. Here the prophet is
thinking rather of those which fell on Him by reason of men's rejection
and desertion. We shall not rightly estimate the sorrowfulness of
Christ's sorrows, unless we bring to our meditations on them the other
thought of His joys. How great these were we can judge, when we
remember that He told the disciples that by His joy remaining in them
their joy would be full. As much joy then as human nature was capable
of from perfect purity, filial obedience, trust, and unbroken communion
with God, so much was Jesus' permanent experience. The golden cup of
His pure nature was ever full to the brim with the richest wine of joy.
And that constant experience of gladness in the Father and in Himself
made more painful the sorrows which He encountered, like a biting wind
shrieking round Him, whenever He passed out from fellowship with God in
the stillness of His soul into the contemptuous and hostile world. His
spirit carrying with it the still atmosphere of the Holy Place, would
feel more keenly than any other would have done the jarring tumult of
the crowds, and would know a sharper pain when met with greetings in
which was no kindness. Jesus was sinless, His sympathy with all sorrow
was thereby rendered abnormally keen, and He made others' griefs His
own with an identification born of a sympathy which the most
compassionate cannot attain. The greater the love, the greater the
sorrow of the loving heart when its love is spurned. The intenser the
yearning for companionship, the sharper the pang when it is repulsed.
The more one longs to bless, the more one suffers when his blessings
are flung off. Jesus was the most sensitive, the most sympathetic, the
most loving soul that ever dwelt in flesh. He saw, as none other has
ever seen, man's miseries. He experienced, as none else has ever
experienced, man's ingratitude, and, therefore, though God, even His
God, 'anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows,' He was
'a Man of Sorrows,' and grief was His companion during all His life's
course.



THE SUFFERING SERVANT-II

'Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did
esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5. But He was
wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the
chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are
healed. 6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one
to his own way; and the Lord hath laid (made to light) on Him the
iniquity of us all.'--ISAIAH liii. 4-6.


The note struck lightly in the close of the preceding paragraph becomes
dominant here. One notes the accumulation of expressions for suffering,
crowded into these verses--griefs, sorrows, wounded, bruised, smitten,
chastisement, stripes. One notes that the cause of all this multiform
infliction is given with like emphasis of reiteration--our griefs, our
sorrows, and that these afflictions are invested with a still more
tragic and mysterious aspect, by being traced to our transgressions,
our iniquities. Finally, the deepest word of all is spoken when the
whole mystery of the servant's sufferings is referred to Jehovah's
making the universal iniquity to lie, like a crushing burden, on Him.

I. The Burdened Servant.

It is to be kept in view that the 'griefs' which the servant is here
described as bearing are literally 'sicknesses,' and that, similarly,
the 'sorrows' may be diseases. Matthew in his quotation of the verse
(viii. 17) takes the words to refer to bodily ailments, and finds their
'fulfilment' in Christ's miracles of healing. And that interpretation
is part of the whole truth, for Hebrew thought drew no such sharp line
of distinction between diseases of the body and those of the soul as we
are accustomed to draw. All sickness was taken to be the consequence of
sin, and the intimate connection between the two was, as it were, set
forth for all forms of bodily disease by the elaborate treatment
prescribed for leprosy, as pre-eminently fitted to stand as type of the
whole. But the fulfilment through the miracles is but a parable of the
deeper fulfilment in regard to the more virulent and deadly diseases of
the soul. Sin is the sickness, as it is also the grief, which most
afflicts humanity. Of the two words expressing the Servant's taking
their burden on His shoulders, the former implies not only the taking
of it but the bearing of it away, and the latter emphasises the weight
of the load.

Following Matthew's lead, we may regard Christ's miracles of healing as
one form of His fulfilment of the prophecy, in which the principles
that shape all the forms are at work, and which, therefore, may stand
as a kind of pictorial illustration of the way in which He bears and
bears away the heavier burden of sin. And one point which comes out
clearly is that, in these acts of healing, He felt the weight of the
affliction that He took away. Even in that region, the condition of
ability to remove it, was identifying Himself with the sorrow. Did He
not 'sigh and look up' in silent appeal to heaven before He could say,
Ephphatha? Did He not groan in Himself before He sent the voice into
the tomb which the dead heard? His miracles were not easy, though He
had all power, for He felt all that the sufferers felt, by the
identifying power of the unparalleled sympathy of a pure nature. In
that region His pain on account of the sufferers stood in vital
relation with His power to end their sufferings. The load must gall His
shoulders, ere He could bear it away from theirs.

But the same principles as apply to these deeds of mercy done on
diseases apply to all His deeds of deliverance from sorrow and from
sin. In Him is set forth in highest fashion the condition of all
brotherly help and alleviation. Whoever would lighten a brother's load
must stoop his own shoulders to carry it. And whilst there is an
element in our Lord's sufferings, as the text passes on to say, which
is not explained by the analogy with what is required from all human
succourers and healers, the extent to which the lower experience of
such corresponds with His unique work should always be made prominent
in our devout meditations.

II. The Servant's sufferings in their reason, their intensity, and
their issue.

The same measure that was meted out to Job by his so-called friends was
measured to the servant, and at the Impulse of the same heartless
doctrinal prepossession. He must have been had to suffer so much; that
is the rough and ready verdict of the self-righteous. With crashing
emphasis, that complacent explanation of the Servant's sufferings and
their own prosperity is shivered to atoms, by the statement of the true
reason for both the one and the other. You thought that He was
afflicted because He was bad and you were spared because you were
good--no, He was afflicted because _you_ were bad, and you were spared
because He was afflicted.

The reason for the Servant's sufferings was 'our transgressions.' More
is suggested now than sympathetic identification with others' sorrows.
This is an actual bearing of the consequences of sins which He had not
committed, and that not merely as an innocent man may be overwhelmed by
the flood of evil which has been let loose by others' sins to sweep
over the earth. The blow that wounds Him is struck directly and solely
at Him. He is not entangled in a widespread calamity, but is the only
victim. It is pre-supposed that all transgression leads to wounds and
bruises; but the transgressions are done by us, and the wounds and
bruises fall on Him. Can the idea of vicarious suffering be more
plainly set forth?

The intensity of the Servant's sufferings is brought home to our hearts
by the accumulation of epithets, to which reference has already been
made. He was 'wounded' as one who is pierced by a sharp sword;
'bruised' as one who is stoned to death; beaten and with livid weales
on His flesh. A background of unnamed persecutors is dimly seen. The
description moves altogether in the region of physical violence, and
that violence is more than symbol.

It is no mere coincidence that the story of the Passion reproduces so
many of the details of the prophecy, for, although the fulfilment of
the latter does not depend on such coincidences, they are not to be
passed by as of no importance. Former generations made too much of the
physical sufferings of Jesus; is not this generation in danger of
making too little of them?

The issue of the Servant's sufferings is presented in a startling
paradox. His bruises and weales are the causes of our being healed. His
chastisement brings our peace. Surely it is very hard work, and needs
much forcing of words and much determination not to see what is set
forth in as plain light as can be conceived, to strike the idea of
atonement out of this prophecy. It says as emphatically as words can
say, that we have by our sins deserved stripes, that the Servant bears
the stripes which we have deserved, and that therefore we do not bear
them.

III. The deepest ground of the Servant's sufferings.

The sad picture of humanity painted in that simile of a scattered flock
lays stress on the universality of transgression, on its divisive
effect, on the solitude of sin, and on its essential characteristic as
being self-willed rejection of control. But the isolation caused by
transgression is blessedly counteracted by the concentration of the sin
of all on the Servant. Men fighting for their own hand, and living at
their own pleasure, are working to the disruption of all sweet bonds of
fellowship. But God, in knitting together all the black burdens into
one, and loading the Servant with that tremendous weight, is preparing
for the establishment of a more blessed unity, in experience of the
healing brought about by His sufferings.

Can one man's 'iniquity,' as distinguished from the consequences of
iniquity, be made to press upon any other? It is a familiar and not
very profound objection to the Christian Atonement that guilt cannot be
transferred. True, but in the first place, Christ's nature stands in
vital relations to every man, of such intimacy that what is impossible
between two of us is not impossible between Christ and any one of us;
and, secondly, much in His life, and still more in His passion, is
unintelligible unless the black mass of the world's sin was heaped upon
Him, to His own consciousness. In that dread cry, wrung from Him as He
hung there in the dark, the consciousnesses of possessing God and of
having lost Him are blended inextricably and inexplicably. The only
approach to an explanation of it is that then the world's sin was felt
by Him, in all its terrible mass and blackness, coming between Him and
God, even as our own sins come, separating us from God. That grim
burden not only came on Him, but was _laid_ on Him by God. The same
idea is expressed by the prophet in that awful representation and by
Jesus in that as awful cry, 'Why hast Thou _forsaken_ Me?'

The prophet constructs no theory of Atonement. But no language could be
chosen that would more plainly set forth the fact of Atonement. And it
is to be observed that, so far as this prophecy is concerned, the
Servant's sole form of service is to suffer. He is not a teacher, an
example, or a benefactor, in any of the other ways in which men need
help. His work is to bear our griefs and be bruised for our healing.

'He was oppressed, yet He humbled Himself and opened not His mouth; as
a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her
shearers is dumb; yea, He opened not His mouth. 8. By oppression and
judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who among them
considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living? for the
transgression of my people was He stricken. 9. And they made His grave
with the wicked, and with the rich in His death; although He had done
no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth'--ISAIAH liii, 7-9. R.
V.

In this section of the prophecy we pass from contemplating the
sufferings inflicted on the Servant to the attitude of Himself and of
His contemporaries towards these, His patience and their blindness. To
these is added a remarkable reference to His burial, which strikes one
at first sight as interrupting the continuity of the prophecy, but on
fuller consideration assumes great significance.

I. The unresisting endurance of the Servant.

The Revised Version's rendering of the first clause is preferable to
that of the Authorised Version. 'Afflicted' would be little better than
tautology, but 'humbled Himself' strikes the keynote of the verse,
which dwells not on the Servant's afflictions, but on His bearing under
them. Similarly, the pathetic imagery of the lamb led and the sheep
dumb gives the same double representation, first of the indignities,
and next of His demeanour in enduring them, as is conveyed in 'He was
oppressed, yet He humbled Himself.' Unremonstrating, unresisting
endurance, then, is the point emphasised in the lovely metaphor.

We recall the fact that this emphatically reduplicated phrase 'opened
not His mouth' was verbally fulfilled in our Lord's silence before each
of the three authorities to whom He was presented, before the Jewish
rulers, before Pilate, and before Herod. Only when adjured by the
living God and when silence would have been tantamount to withdrawal of
His claims, did He speak before the Sanhedrin. Only when silence would
have been taken as disowning His Kingship, did He speak before Pilate.
And Herod, who had no right to question Him, received no answer at all.
Jesus' lips were opened in witness but never in complaint or
remonstrance. No doubt, the prophecy would have been as really
fulfilled though there had been no such majestic silences, for its
substance is patient endurance, not mere abstinence from speech. Still,
as with other events in His life, the verbal correspondence with
prophetic details may help, and be meant to help, to bring out more
clearly, for purblind eyes, the true fulfilment. So we may meditate on
the wonder and the beauty of that picture which the evangelists draw,
and which the world has recognised, with whatever differences as to its
interpretation, as the most perfect, pathetic, and majestic picture of
meek endurance that has ever been painted.

But we gather only the most superficial of its lessons, if that is all
that we find to say about it. For the main point for us to lay to heart
is not merely the fact of that silent submission, but the motive which
led to it. He opened not His mouth, because He willingly embraced the
Cross, and He willingly embraced the Cross because He loved the Father
and would do His will, because He loved the world and would be its
Saviour,

That touching imagery of the dumb lamb has manifold felicities and
significances beyond serving to figure meekness. And we are not forcing
unintended meanings into a mere piece of poetic imagination when we
note how remarkably the metaphor links on to that of strayed sheep in
the preceding verse, or when we venture to recall John Baptist's first
proclamation of the Lamb of God, and Peter's quotation of this very
prophecy, and the continual recurrence in the Apocalypse of the name of
The Lamb as _the_ title of honour of 'Him who sitteth on the throne.' A
kind of nimbus or aureole shines round the humble figure as drawn by
the prophet.

II. The misunderstood end of the Servant's life.

The difficult expressions of verse 8 are rendered in the Revised
Version with clearness and so as to yield a profound meaning. We may
note that here, for the first time, is spoken out that end to which all
the preceding description of sufferings has been leading up, and yet it
is spoken with a kind of solemn reticence, very impressive. The Servant
is 'taken away,' 'cut off,' 'stricken.' Not yet is the grim word
'death' plainly uttered; that comes in the next verse, only after the
Servant's death is supposed to be past. The three words suggest, at all
events, though in half-veiled language, violence and suddenness in the
Servant's fate. Who were the agents who took Him, cut Him off and
struck Him, is left in impressive obscurity. But the fact that His
death was a judicial murder is set in clear light. Whether we read 'By'
or 'From--oppression and judgment He was taken away,' the forms of law
are represented as wrested to bring about flagrant injustice. And, if
it were my object now to defend the Messianic interpretation, one might
ask where any facts corresponding to this element in the picture are to
be found in regard to either the national Israel, or the Israel within
the nation.

That unjust death by illegal violence under the mask of law was,
further, wholly misunderstood by 'His generation.' We need not do more
than remark in a sentence how that feature corresponds with the facts
in regard to Jesus, and ask whether it does so on any other theory of
'fulfilment.' Neither friends nor foes had even the faintest conception
of what the death of Jesus was or was to effect. And it is worth while
to dwell for a moment on this, because we are often told that there is
no trace of the doctrine of an atoning sacrifice in the Gospels, and
the inference is drawn that it was an afterthought of the apostles, and
therefore to be set aside as an excrescence on Christianity according
to Christ. The silence of Jesus on that subject is exaggerated; but
certainly no thought of His being the Sacrifice for the sins of the
world was in the minds of the sad watchers by the Cross, nor for many a
day thereafter. Is it not worth noting that precisely such a blindness
to the meaning of His death had been prophesied eight hundred years
before?

But the reason why this feature is introduced seems mainly to be to
underscore the lesson, that those who exercised the violence which
hurried the Servant from the land of the living were blind instruments
of a higher power. And may we not also see in it a suggestion of the
great solitude of sorrow in which the Servant was to die, even as He
had lived in it? Misapprehended and despised He lived, misapprehended
He died. Jesus was the loneliest man that ever breathed human breath.
He gave up His breath in a more awful solitude than ever isolated any
other dying man. Utterly solitary, He died that none of us need ever
face death alone.

III. The Servant's Grave.

Following on the mystery of the uncomprehended death comes the enigma
of the burial. The words are an enigma, but they seem meaningless on
any hypothesis but the Messianic one. As they stand, they assert that
unnamed persons gave Him a grave with the wicked, as they would do by
putting Him to death under strained forms of law, and that then,
somehow, the criminal destined to be buried with other criminals in a
dishonoured grave was laid in a tomb with the rich. It seems a
singularly minute trait to find place in such a prophecy. The remarks
already made as to similar minute correspondences in details of the
prophecy with purely external facts in Christ's life need not be
repeated now. One does not see that it is a self-evident axiom needing
only to be enunciated in order to be accepted, that such minute
prophecies are beneath the dignity of revelation. It might rather seem
that, as one element in prophecy, they are eminently valuable. The
smaller the detail, the more remarkable the prevision and the more
striking the fulfilment. For a keen-sighted man may forecast tendencies
and go far to anticipate events on the large scale, but only God can
foresee trifles. The difficulty in which this prediction of the
Servant's grave being 'with the rich' places those who reject the
Messianic reference of the prophecy to our Lord may be measured by the
desperate attempts to evade it by suggesting other readings, or by
making 'rich' to be synonymous with 'wicked.' The words as they stand
have a clear and worthy meaning on one interpretation, and we even
venture to say, on one interpretation only, namely, that they refer to
the reverent laying of the body of the Lord in the new tomb belonging
to 'a certain rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph.'

If in the latter clause of verse 9 we render 'Because' rather than
'Although,' we get the thought that the burial was a sign that the
Servant, slain as a criminal, yet was not a criminal. The criminals
were either left unburied or disgraced by promiscuous interment in an
unclean place. But that body reverently bedewed with tears, wrapped in
fine linen clean and white, softly laid down by loving hands, watched
by love stronger than death, lay in fitting repose as the corpse of a
King till He came forth as a Conqueror. So once more the dominant note
is struck, and this part of the prophecy closes with the emphatic
repetition of the sinlessness of the Suffering Servant, which makes His
sufferings a deep and bewildering mystery, unless they were endured
because of 'our transgressions.'



THE SUFFERING SERVANT--IV

'It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou
shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He
shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in
His hand.'--ISAIAH liii. 10.


We have seen a distinct progress of thought in the preceding verses.
There was first the outline of the sorrows and rejection of the
Servant; second, the profound explanation of these as being for us;
third, the sufferings, death and burial of the Servant.

We have followed Him to the grave. What more can there be to be said?
Whether the Servant of the Lord be an individual or a collective or an
ideal, surely all fitness of metaphor, all reality of fact would
require that His work should be represented as ending with His life,
and that what might follow His burial should be the influence of His
memory, the continued operation of the principles He had set agoing and
so on, but nothing more.

Now observe that, however we may explain the fact, this is the fact to
be explained, that there is a whole section, this closing one, devoted
to the celebration of His work after His death and burial, and, still
more remarkable, that the prophecy says nothing about His activity on
the world till _after_ death. In all the former portion there is not a
syllable about His doing anything, only about His suffering; and then
when He is dead He begins to work. That is the subject of these last
three verses, and it would be proper to take them all for our
consideration now, but fur two reasons, one, because of their great
fulness and importance, and one because, as you will observe, the two
latter verses are a direct address of God's concerning the Servant. The
prophetic words, spoken as in his own person, end with verse 10, and,
catching up their representations, expanding, defining, glorifying
them, comes the solemn thunder of the voice of God. I now deal only
with the prophet's vision of the work of the Servant of the Lord.

One other preliminary remark is that the work of the Servant after
death is described in these verses with constant and very emphatic
reference to His previous sufferings. The closeness of connection
between these two is thus thrown into great prominence.

I. The mystery of God's treatment of the sinless Servant.

The first clause is to be read in immediate connection with the
preceding verse. The Servant was of absolute sinlessness, and yet the
Divine Hand crushed and bruised Him. Certainly, if we think of the
vehemence of prophetic rebukes, and of the standing doctrine of the Old
Testament that Israel was punished for its sin, we shall be slow to
believe that this picture of the Sinless One, smitten for the sins of
others, can have reference to the nation in any of its parts, or to any
one man. However other poetry may lament over innocent sufferers, the
Old Testament always takes the ground: 'Our iniquities, like the wind,
have carried us away.' But mark that here, however understood, the
prophet paints a figure so sinless that God's bruising Him is an
outstanding wonder and riddle, only to be solved by regarding these
bruises as the stripes by which our sins were healed, and by noting
that 'the pleasure of the Lord' is carried on through Him, after and
through His death. What conceivable application have such
representations except to Jesus? We note, then, here:--

1. The solemn truth that His sufferings were divinely inflicted. That
is a truth complementary to the other views in the prophecy, according
to which these sufferings are variously regarded as either inflicted by
men ('By oppression and judgment He was taken away') or drawn on Him by
His own sacrificial act ('His soul shall make an offering for sin'). It
was the divine counsel that used men as its instruments, though they
were none the less guilty. The hands that 'crucified and slew' were no
less 'the hands of lawless men,' because it was 'the determinate
counsel and foreknowledge of God' that 'delivered Him up.'

But a still deeper thought is in these words. For we can scarcely avoid
seeing in them a glimpse into that dim region of eclipse and agony of
soul from which, as from a cave of darkness, issued that last cry:
'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?' The bruises inflicted by the God, who
made to meet on Him the iniquities of us all, were infinitely more
severe than the weales of the soldiers' rods, or the wounds of the
nails that pierced His hands and feet.

2. The staggering mystery of His sinlessness and sufferings.

The world has been full from of old of stories of goodness tortured and
evil exalted, which have drawn tears and softened hearts, but which
have also bewildered men who would fain believe in a righteous Governor
and loving Father. But none of these have cast so black a shadow of
suspicion on the government of the world by a good God as does the fate
of Jesus, unless it is read in the light of this prophecy. Standing at
the cross, faith in God's goodness and providence can scarcely survive,
unless it rises to be faith in the atoning sacrifice of Him who was
wounded there for our transgressions.

II. The Servant's work in His sufferings.

The margin of the Revised Version gives the best rendering--'His soul
shall make an offering for sin.' The word employed for 'offering' means
a trespass offering, and carries us at once back to the sacrificial
system. The trespass offering was distinguished from other offerings.
The central idea of it seems to have been to represent sin or guilt as
_debt_, and the sacrifice as making compensation. We must keep in view
the variety of ideas embodied in His sacrifice, and how all correspond
to realities in our wants and spiritual experience.

Now there are three points here:--

a. The representation that Christ's death is a sacrifice. Clearly
connecting with whole Mosaic system--and that in the sense of a
trespass offering. Christ seems to quote this verse in John x. 15, when
He speaks of laying down His life, and when He declares that He came to
'give His life a _ransom_ for many.' At any rate here is the great
word, sacrifice, proclaimed for the first time in connection with
Messiah. Here the prophet interprets the meaning of all the types and
shadows of the law.

That sacrificial system bore witness to deep wants of men's souls, and
prophesied of One in whom these were all met and satisfied.

b. His voluntary surrender.

He is sacrifice, but He is Priest also. His soul makes the offering,
and His soul is the offering and offers itself in concurrence with the
Divine Will. It is difficult and necessary to keep that double aspect
in view, and never to think of Jesus as an unwilling Victim, nor of God
as angry and needing to be appeased by blood.

c. The thought that the true meaning of His sufferings is only reached
when we contemplate the effects that have flowed from them. The
pleasure of the Lord in bruising Him is a mystery until we see how
pleasure of the Lord prospers in the hand of the Crucified.

III. The work of the Servant after death.

Surely this paradox, so baldly stated, is meant to be an enigma to
startle and to rouse curiosity. This dead Servant is to see of the
travail of His soul, and to prolong His days. All the interpretations
of this chapter which refuse to see Jesus in it shiver on this rock.
What a contrast there is between platitudes about the spirit of the
nation rising transformed from its grave of captivity (which was only
very partially the case), and the historical fulfilment in Jesus
Christ! Here, at any rate, hundreds of years before His Resurrection,
is a word that seems to point to such a fact, and to me it appears that
all fair interpretation is on the side of the Messianic reference.

Note the singularity of special points.

a. Having died, the Servant sees His offspring.

The sacrifice of Christ is the great power which draws men to Him, and
moves to repentance, faith, love. His death was the communication of
life. Nowhere else in the world's history is the teacher's death the
beginning of His gathering of pupils, and not only has the dead Servant
children, but He _sees_ them. That representation is expressive of the
mutual intercourse, strange and deep, whereby we feel that He is truly
with us, 'Jesus Christ, whom having not seen we love.'

b. Having died, the Servant prolongs His days.

He lives a continuous life, without an end, for ever. The best
commentary is the word which John heard, as he felt the hand of the
Christ laid on his prostrate form: 'I became dead, and lo, I am alive
for evermore.'

c. Having died, the Servant carries into effect the divine purposes.

'Prosper' implies progressive advancement. Christ's Sacrifice carried
out the divine pleasure, and by His Sacrifice the divine pleasure is
further carried out.

If Christ is the means of carrying out the divine purpose, consider
what this implies of divinity in His nature, of correspondence between
His will and the divine.

But Jesus not only carries into effect the divine purpose as a
consequence of a past act, but by His present energy this dead man is a
living power in the world today. Is He not?

The sole explanation of the vitality of Christianity, and the sole
reason which makes its message a gospel to any soul, is Christ's death
for the world and present life in the world.



THE SUFFERING SERVANT--V

'He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by
His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many; and He shall
bear their iniquities'--ISAIAH liii. 11.


These are all but the closing words of this great prophecy, and are the
fitting crown of all that has gone before. We have been listening to
the voice of a member of the race to whom the Servant of the Lord
belonged, whether we limit that to the Jewish people or include in it
all humanity. That voice has been confessing for the speaker and his
brethren their common misapprehensions of the Servant, their blindness
to the meaning of His sufferings and the mystery of His death. It has
been proclaiming the true significance of these as now he had learned
them, and has in verse 10 touched the mystery of the reward and triumph
of the Servant.

That note of His glory and coronation is caught up in the two closing
verses, which, in substance, are the continuation of the idea of verse
10. But this identity of substance makes the variety of form the more
emphatic. Observe the '_My_ Servant' of verse 11, and the '_I_ will
divide' of verse 12. These oblige us to take this as the voice of God.
The confession and belief of earth is hushed, that the recognition and
the reward of the Servant may be declared from heaven. An added
solemnity is thus given to the words, and the prophecy comes round
again to the keynote on which it started in chapter lii, 13, '_My_
Servant.' Notice, too, how the same characteristic is here as in verse
10--that the recapitulation of the sufferings is almost equally
prominent with the description of the reward. The two are so woven
together that no power can part them. We may take these two verses as
setting forth mainly two things--the divine promise that the Servant
shall give righteousness to many, and the divine promise that the
Servant shall conquer many for Himself.

As to the exposition, 'of' here is probably casual, not partitive, as
the Authorised Version has it; 'travail' is not to be understood in the
sense of childbirth, but of toil and suffering; 'soul' is equivalent to
_life_. This fruit of His soul's travail is further defined in the
words which follow. The great result which will be beheld by Him and
will fill and content His heart is that 'by His knowledge He shall
justify many.' 'By _His_ knowledge' certainly means, by the knowledge
of Him on the part of others. The phrase might be taken either
objectively or subjectively, but it seems to me that only the former
yields an adequate sense. 'My righteous servant' is scarcely emphatic
enough. The words in the original stand in an unusual order, which
might be represented by 'the righteous one, My servant,' and is
intended to put emphasis on the Servant's righteousness, as well as to
suggest the connection between His righteousness and His 'justifying,'
in virtue of His being righteous. 'Justify' is an unusual form, and
means to procure for, or impart righteousness to. '_The_ many' has
stress on the article, and is the antithesis not to _all_, but to
_few_. We might render it 'the masses,' an indefinite expression, which
if not declaring universality, approaches very near to it, as in Romans
v. 19 and Matthew xxvi. 28. 'He shall bear,' a future referring to the
Servant in a state of exaltation, and pointing to His continuous work
after death. This bearing is the root of our righteousness.

We may put the thoughts here in a definite order.

I. The great work which the Servant carries on.

It consists in giving or imparting righteousness. It seems to me that
it is out of place to be too narrow here in interpreting so as to draw
distinctions between righteousness imparted and righteousness bestowed.
We should rather take the general idea of _making righteous_, making,
in fact, like Himself. Note that this is the work which is Christ's
characteristic one. All thoughts of His blessings to the world which
omit that are imperfect.

II. The preparation for that making of us righteous.

The roots of our being made righteous by the righteous Servant are
found in His bearing our sins. His sin-bearing work is basis of our
righteousness. Christ justifies men by giving to them His own
righteousness, and taking in turn their sins on Himself that He may
expiate them.

Not only 'did He bear our sins in His own body on the tree,' but He
_will_ bear them in His exaltation to the Throne, and only because He
continuously and eternally does so are we justified on earth and shall
we be sanctified in heaven.

III. The condition on which He imparts righteousness.

'His knowledge,' which is to be taken in the profound Biblical sense as
including not only understanding but experience also.

Parallels are found in 'This is life eternal to know Thee' (John xvii.
3), and in 'That I may know Him' (Phil. iii. 10). So this prophecy
comes very near to the New Testament proclamation of righteousness by
faith.

IV. The grand sweep of the Servant's work.

'The many' is indefinite, and its very indefiniteness approximates it
to universality. A shadowy vision of a great multitude that no man can
number stretches out, as to the horizon, before the prophet. How many
they are he knows not. He knows that they are numerous enough to
'satisfy' the Servant for all His sufferings. He knows, too, that there
is no limit to the happy crowd except that which is set by the
necessary condition of joining the bands of 'the justified'--namely,
'the knowledge of Him.' They who receive the benefits which the Servant
has died and will live to bring cannot be few; they may be all. If any
are shut out, they are self-excluded.

V. The Servant's satisfaction.

It may be that the word employed means 'full,' rather than 'content,'
but the latter idea can scarcely be altogether absent from it. We have,
then, the great hope that the Servant, gazing on the results of His
sufferings, will be content, content to have borne them, content with
what they have effected.

'The glory dies not and the grief is past.'

And the 'grief' has had for fruit not only 'glory' gathering round the
thorn-pierced head, but reflected glory shining on the brows of 'the
many,' whom He has justified and sanctified by their experience of Him
and His power. The creative week ended with the 'rest' of the Creator,
not because His energy was tired and needed repose, but because He had
fully carried out His purpose, and saw the perfected idea embodied in a
creation that was 'very good.' The redemptive work ends with the
Servant's satisfied contemplation of the many whom He has made like
Himself, His better creation.



THE SUFFERING SERVANT--VI

'Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall
divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul
unto death: and was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the
sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.'--ISAIAH
liii. 12.


The first clause of this verse is somewhat difficult. There are two
ways of understanding it. One is that adopted in A. V., according to
which the suffering Servant is represented as equal to the greatest
conquerors. He is to be as gloriously successful in His victory as they
have been in theirs. But there are two very strong objections to this
rendering-first, that it takes 'the many' in the sense of _mighty_,
thus obscuring the identity of the expression here and in the previous
verse and in the end of this verse; and secondly, that it gives a very
feeble and frigid ending to the prophecy. It does not seem a worthy
close simply to say that the Servant is to be like a Cyrus or a
Nebuchadnezzar in His conquests.

The other rendering, though there are some difficulties, is to be
preferred. According to it 'the many' and 'the strong' are themselves
the prey or spoil. The words might be read, 'I will apportion to Him
the many, and He shall apportion to Himself the strong ones.'

This retains the same meaning of 'many' for the same expression
throughout the context, and is a worthy ending to the prophecy. The
force of the clause is then to represent the suffering Servant as a
conqueror, leading back from His conquests a long train of captives, a
rich booty.

Notice some points about this closing metaphor.

Mark its singular contrast to the tone of the rest of the prophecy.
Note the lowliness, the suffering, the minor key of it all, and then,
all at once, the leap up to rapture and triumph. The special form of
the metaphor strikes one as singular. Nothing in the preceding context
even remotely suggests it. Even the previous clause about 'making the
many righteous' does not do much to prepare the way for it. Whatever be
our explanation of the words, it must be one that does full justice to
this metaphor, and presents some conquering power or person, whose
victories are brilliant and real enough to be worthy to stand at the
close of such a prophecy. We must keep in mind, too, what has been
remarked on the two previous verses, that this victorious campaign and
growing conquest is achieved after the Servant is dead. That is a
paradox. And note that the strength of language representing His
activity can scarcely be reconciled with the idea that it is only the
post-mortem influence of His life which is meant.

Note, too, the singular blending of God's power and the Servant's own
activity in the winning of this extended sovereignty. Side by side the
two are put. The same verb is used in order to emphasise the intended
parallel. 'I will divide,' 'He shall divide.' I will give Him--He shall
conquer for Himself. Remember the intense vehemence with which the Old
Testament guards the absolute supremacy of divine power, and how
strongly it always puts the thought that God is everything and man
nothing. Look at the contrast of the tone when a human conqueror, whose
conquests are the result of God's providence, is addressed (xlv. 1-3).
There is an entire suppression of his personality, not a word about his
bravery, his military genius, or anything in him. It is all _I, I, I_.
Remember how, in chapter x., one of the sins for which the Assyrian is
to be destroyed is precisely that he thought of his victories as due to
his own strength and wisdom. So he is indignantly reminded that he is
only 'a staff in Mine hand,' the axe with which God hewed the nations,
whereas here the voice of God Himself speaks, and gives a strange place
beside Himself to the will and power of this Conqueror. This feature of
the prophecy should be accounted for in any satisfactory interpretation.

Note, too, the wide sweep of the Servant's dominion, which carries us
back to the beginning of this prophecy in chapter lii. 15, where we
hear of the Servant as 'sprinkling' (or startling') many nations, and
the 'kings' is parallel with the 'strong' in this verse. No bounds are
assigned to the Servant's conquests, which are, if not declared to be
universal, at least indefinitely extended and striding on to world-wide
empire.

These points are plainly here. I do not dilate upon them. But I ask
whether any of the interpretations of these words, except one, gives
adequate force to them? Is there anything in the history of the
restored exiles which corresponds to this picture? Even if you admit
the violent hypothesis that there was a better part of the nation, so
good that the national sorrows had no chastisement for them, and the
other violent hypothesis that the devoutest among the exiles suffered
most, and the other that the death and burial and resurrection of the
Servant only mean the reformation wrought on Israel by captivity. What
is there in the history of Israel which can be pointed at as the
conquest of the world? Was the nation that bore the yokes of a Ptolemy,
an Antiochus, a Herod, a Caesar, the fulfiller of this dream of
world-conquest? There is only one thing which can be called the Jew
conquering the world. It is that which, as I believe, is meant here,
viz. Christ's conquest. Apart from that, I know of nothing which would
not be ludicrously disproportionate if it were alleged as fulfilment of
this glowing prophecy.

This prophetic picture is at least four hundred years before Christ, by
the admission of those who bring it lowest down, in their eagerness to
get rid of prophecy. The life of Christ does correspond to it, in such
a way that, clause by clause, it reads as if it were quite as much a
history of Jesus as a prophecy of the Servant. This certainly is an
extraordinary coincidence if it be not a prophecy. And there is really
no argument against the Messianic interpretation, except dogmatic
prejudice--'there cannot be prophecy.'

No straining is needed in order to fit this great prophetic picture of
the world-Conqueror to Jesus. Even that, at first sight incongruous,
picture of a victor leading long lines of captives, such as we see on
Assyrian slabs and Egyptian paintings, is historically true of Him who
'leads captivity captive,' and is, through the ages, winning ever fresh
victories, and leading His enemies, turned into lovers, in His
triumphal progress. He, and He only, really owns men. His slaves have
made real self-surrenders to Him. Other conquerors may imprison or load
with irons or deport to other lands, but they are only lords of bodies.
Jesus' chains are silken, and bind hearts that are proud of their
bonds. He carries off His free prisoners 'from the power of darkness'
into His kingdom of light. His slaves rejoice to say, 'I am not my
own,' and he only truly possesses himself who has given himself away to
the Conquering Christ. For all these centuries He has been conquering
hearts, enthralling and thereby liberating wills, making Himself the
life of lives. There is nothing else the least like the bond between
Jesus and millions who never saw him. Who among all the leaders of
thought or religious teachers has been able to impress his personality
on others and to dominate them in the fashion that Jesus has done and
is doing to-day? How has He done this thing, which no other man has
been able in the least to do? What is His charm, the secret of His
power? The prophet has no doubt what it is, and unfolds it to us with a
significant 'For.' We turn, then, to the prophetic explanation of that
worldwide empire and note--

II. The foundation of the Servant's dominion.

That explanation is given in four clauses which fall into two pairs.
They remarkably revert to the thought of the Servant's sufferings, but
in how different a tone these are now spoken of, when they are no
longer regarded as the results of man's blind failure to see His
beauty, or as inflicted by the mysterious 'pleasure of Jehovah,' but as
the causes of His triumph! Echoes of both the two first clauses are
heard from the lips of Jesus. As He passed beneath the tremulous shadow
of the olives of Gethsemane, He appealed for the companionship of the
three, by an all but solitary revelation of His weakness and sorrow,
'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; abide ye here and
watch with Me.' And even more distinctly did He lay His hand on this
prophecy when He ended all His words in the upper room with 'This which
is written must be fulfilled in Me, And He was reckoned with
"transgressors."' May we not claim Jesus as endorsing the Messianic
interpretation of this prophecy? He gazed on the portrait painted ages
before that night of sorrow, and saw in it His own likeness, and said,
That is meant for Me. Some of us feel that, _kenosis_ or no _kenosis_,
He is the best judge of who is the original of the prophet's portrait.

The two final clauses are separated from the preceding by the emphatic
introduction of the pronominal nominative, and cohere closely as
gathering up for the last time all the description of the Servant, and
as laying broad and firm the basis of His dominion, in the two great
facts which sum up His office and between them stretch over the past
and the future. 'He bare the sin of many, and maketh intercession for
the transgressors.' The former of these two clauses brings up the
pathetic picture of the scapegoat who 'bore upon him all their
iniquities into a solitary land.' The Servant conquers hearts because
He bears upon Him the grim burden which a mightier hand than Aaron's
has made to meet on His head, and because He bears it away. The ancient
ceremony, and the prophet's transference of the words describing it to
his picture of the Servant who was to be King, floated before John the
Baptist, when he pointed his brown, thin finger at Jesus and cried:
'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' The
goat had borne the sins of one nation; the prophet had extended the
Servant's ministry indefinitely, so as to include unnumbered 'many';
John spoke the universal word, 'the world.' So the circles widened.

But it is not enough to bear away sins. We need continuous help in the
present. Our daily struggles, our ever-felt weakness, all the ills that
flesh is heir to, cry aloud for a mightier than we to be at our sides.
So on the Servant's bearing the sins of the many there follows a
continuous act of priestly intercession, in which, not merely by
prayer, but by meritorious and prevailing intervention, He makes His
own the cause of the many whose sins He has borne.

On these two acts His dominion rests. Sacrifice and Intercession are
the foundations of His throne.

The empire of men's hearts falls to Him because of what He has done and
is doing for them. He who is to possess us absolutely must give Himself
to us utterly. The empire falls to Him who supplies men's deepest need.
He who can take away men's sins rules. He who can effectually undertake
men's cause will be their King.

If Jesus is or does anything less or else, He will not rule men for
ever. If He is but a Teacher and a Guide, oblivion, which shrouds all,
will sooner or later wrap Him in its misty folds. That His name should
so long have resisted its influence is due altogether to men having
believed Him to be something else. He will exercise an everlasting
dominion only if He have brought in an everlasting righteousness. He
will sit King for ever, if and only if He is a priest for ever. All
other rule is transient.

A remarkable characteristic of this entire prophecy is the frequent
repetition of expressions conveying the idea of sufferings borne for
others. In one form or another that thought occurs, as we reckon,
eleven times, and it is especially frequent in the last verses of the
chapter. Why this perpetual harking back to that one aspect? It is to
be further noticed that throughout there is no hint of any other kind
of work which this Servant had to do. He fulfils His service to God and
man by being bruised for men's iniquities. He came not to be ministered
unto but to minister, and the chief form of His ministry was that He
gave His life a ransom for the many. He came not to preach a gospel,
but to die that there might be a gospel to preach. The Cross is the
centre of His work, and by it He becomes the Centre of the world.

Look once more at the sorrowful, august figure that rose before the
prophet's eye--with its strange blending of sinlessness and sorrow,
God's approval and God's chastisement, rejection and rule, death and
life, abject humiliation and absolute dominion. Listen to the last
echoes of the prophet's voice as it dies on our ear--'He bore the sins
of the many.' And then hearken how eight hundred years after another
voice takes up the echoes--but instead of pointing away down the
centuries, points to One at his side, and cries, 'Behold the Lamb of
God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' Look at that life, that
death, that grave, that resurrection, that growing dominion, that
inexhaustible intercession--and say, 'Of whom speaketh the prophet
this?'

May we all be able to answer with clear confidence, 'These things saith
Esaias when he saw _His_ glory and spake of _Him_.' May we all take up
the ancient confession: 'Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried
our sorrows.... He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised
for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and
with His stripes we are healed.'



THE PASSING AND THE PERMANENT

'For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My
kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My
peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.'--ISAIAH liv,
10.--


There is something of music in the very sound of these words. The
stately march of the grand English translation lends itself with
wonderful beauty to the melody of Isaiah's words. But the thought that
lies below them, sweeping as it does through the whole creation, and
parting all things into the transient and eternal, the mortal and
immortal, is still greater than the music of the words. These are
removed; this abides. And the thing in God which abides is all-gentle
tenderness, that strange love mightier than all the powers of Deity
beside, permanent with the permanence of His changeless heart. The
mountains shall depart, the emblems of eternity shall crumble and
change and pass, and the hills be removed; but this immortal,
impalpable, and, in some men's minds, fantastic and unreal something,
'My loving kindness and the covenant of My peace,' shall outlast them
all. And this great promise is stamped with the sign manual of Heaven,
being spoken by the Lord that hath mercy on thee.'

So then, dear friends, I think I shall most reverentially deal with
these words if I handle them in the simplest possible way, and think,
first of all, of that great antithesis that is set before us here--what
passes and what abides; and, secondly, draw two or three plain, homely
lessons and applications from the thoughts thus suggested.

I. First, then, we have to deal with the contrast between the
apparently enduring which passes, and that which truly abides.

'The mountains depart, the hills remove, My loving-kindness shall not
depart, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed.' Let me then
say a word or two about that first thought--'the mountains shall
depart.' There they tower over the plains, looking down upon the flat
valley beneath as they did when the prophet spoke. The eternal
buttresses of the hills stand to the eyes of the fleeting generations
as emblems of permanence, and yet winter storms and summer heats, and
the slow processes of decay which we call the gnawing of time, are ever
working upon them, and changing their forms, and at last they shall
pass. Modern science, whilst it has all but incalculably enlarged our
conceptions of the duration of the material universe, emphasises, as
faith alone never could, the thought of the ultimate perishing of this
material world. For geology tells us that 'where rears the cliff there
rolled the sea,' that through the cycles of the shifting history of the
world there have been elevations and depressions so that the ancient
hills in many places are the newest of all things, and the world's form
has changed many and many a time since first it circled as a planet.
And researches into the ultimate constitution of matter have taught us
to think of solids and liquids and gases, as being an infinite
multitude of atoms all in rapid motion with inconceivable velocity, and
have shown us the very atoms in the act of breaking up. So that the old
guess of the infancy of physical science which divined that 'all things
are in a state of flux' is confirmed by its last utterances. Science
prophesies too, and bids us expect that the earth shall one day become,
like some of the stars, a burnt out mass of uniform temperature,
incapable of change or of sustaining life, and shall end by falling
into the diminished sun, and so the old word will be fulfilled that
'the earth and the works that are therein shall be burnt up.' None
should be able to utter the words of my text, 'The mountains shall
depart and the hills be removed,' with such emphasis of certitude as
the present students of physical science.

But our text does not stop there. It brings into view the transiency of
the transient, in order to throw into greater relief and prominence the
perpetuity of the abiding. If we had nothing abiding beyond this
perishable material universe, it would indeed be misery to exist. Life
would be not only insignificant but wretched, and a ghastly irony, a
meaningless, aimless ripple on the surface of that silent, shoreless
sea. The great 'But' of this text lifts the oppression from humanity
with which the one-sided truth of the passing of all the Visible loads
it.

And so turn for a moment to the other side of this great text. There
stands out above all that is mortal, which, although it counts its
existence by millenniums, is but for an instant, visible to the eye of
faith, the Great Spirit who moves all the material universe, Himself
unmoved, and lives undiminished by creation, and undiminished if
creation were swept out of existence. Let that which may pass, pass;
let that which can perish, perish; let the mountains crumble and the
hills melt away; beyond the smoke and conflagration, and rising high
above destruction and chaos, stands the calm throne of God, with a
loving Heart upon it, with a council of peace and purpose of mercy for
you and for me, the creatures of a day indeed, but who are to live when
the days shall cease to be. 'My kindness!' What a wonderful word that
is, so far above all the cold delusion of so-called theism! 'My
kindness!' the tender-heartedness of an infinite love, the abounding
favour of the Father of my spirit, His gentle goodness bending down to
me, His tenderness round about me, eternal love that never can die; the
thing that lasts in the universe is His kindness, which continues from
everlasting to everlasting. What a revelation of God! Oh, dear friends,
if only our hearts could open to the full acceptance of that thought,
sorrow and care and anxiety, and every other form of trouble, would
fade away and we should be at rest. The infinite, undying, imperishable
love of God is mine. Older than the mountains, deeper than their roots,
wider than the heavens, and stronger than all my sin, is the love that
grasps me and keeps me and will not let me go, and lavishes its
tenderness upon me, and beseeches me, and pleads with me, and woos me,
and rebukes me, and corrects me when I need, and sent His Son to die
for me. 'My kindness shall not depart from thee.'

But even that great conception does not exhaust the encouragement which
the prophet has to give to souls weighed upon with the transiency of
the material. He speaks of 'the covenant of My peace.' We are to think
of this great, tender, changeless love of God, which underlies all
things and towers above all things, which overlaps them all and fills
eternity, as being placed, so to speak, under the guarantee of a solemn
obligation. God's covenant is a great thought of Scripture which we far
too little apprehend in the depth and power of its meaning. His
covenant with you and me, poor creatures, is this, 'I promise that My
love shall never leave thee.' He makes Himself a constitutional
monarch, so to speak, giving us a plighted word to which we can appeal
and go to Him and say, 'There, that is the charter given by Thyself,
given irrevocably for ever, and I hold Thee to it. Fulfil it, O Thou
God of Truth.'

'My covenant of peace.' Dear friends, the prophet spoke a deeper thing
than he knew when he uttered these words. Let me remind you of the
large meaning which the New Testament puts into them. 'Now the God of
Peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great
Shepherd of the Sheep, through the blood of the everlasting Covenant,
make us perfect in every good work, to do His will.' God has bound
Himself by His promise to give you and me the peace that belongs to His
own nature, and that covenant is sealed to us in the blood of Jesus
Christ upon the Cross, and so we sinful men, with all the burden of our
evil upon us, with all our sins known to us, with all our manifest
failings and infirmities, can turn to Him and say, 'Thou hast pledged
Thyself to forgive and accept, and that covenant is made sure to me
because Thy Son hath died, and I come and ask Thee to fulfil it.' And
be sure of this, that no poor creature upon earth, however lame his
hand, who puts out that hand to grasp that peaceful covenant--that new
covenant in the blood of Christ--can plead in vain.

My brother, have you done that? Have you entered into this covenant of
peace with God--peace in believing, peace by the blood of Christ, peace
that fills a new heart, peace that rules amidst all the perturbations
and disappointments of life? Then you may be sure that that covenant
will stand for evermore, though the mountains depart and the hills be
removed.

II. Now turn with me to a few practical lessons which we may gather
from these great contrasts here, between the perishable mortal and the
immortal divine love.

Surely the first plain one is a warning against fastening our love, our
hope, or our trust on these transient things.

What folly it is for a man to risk his peace and the strength and the
joy of his life upon things that crumble and change, when all the while
there is lying before him open for his entrance, and wooing him to come
into the eternal home of his spirit, this covenant! Here are we, from
day to day, plunged into these passing vanities, and always tempted to
think that they are the true abiding things, and it needs great
discipline and watchfulness to live the better life. There is nothing
that will help us to do it like a firm grasp of the love of God in
Jesus Christ. Then we can hold these mortal joys with a loose hand,
knowing that they are only for a little time, and feeling that they are
passing whilst we look at them, and are changing like the scenery in
the sky on a summer's night, with its cliffs and hills in the clouds,
even while we gaze. Where there was a mountain a moment ago up there,
there is now a depression, and the world and everything in it lasts
very little longer than these. It is only a film on the surface of the
great sea of eternity--there is no reality about it. It is but a
dream--a vision, slipping, slipping, slipping away, and you and I
slipping along with it. How foolishly, how obstinately, we all cling to
it, though even the very grasp of our hands tends to make it pass away,
as the children coming in from the fields with their store of
buttercups and daisies in their hot hands, which by their very clutch
hasten the withering. And that is just our position. We have them for a
brief moment, and they all perish in the using. Oh, brother, have you
set your heart on that which is not, when all the while there, longing
to bless and love us, stands the Eternal God, with His unchanging love
and faithful covenant of His perpetual peace? Surely it were
wiser--wiser, to put it on the lowest ground--to seek the things that
are above, and, knowing as we do that the mountains shall depart and
the hills be removed, so make our portion the kindness which shall not
depart, and seek our share in the peace that shall not pass away.

But there is another lesson to be put in the same simple fashion.
Surely we ought to use thoughts like these of my text in order to stay
the soul in seasons which come to every one sometimes, when we are made
painfully conscious of the transiency of this Present. Meditative hours
come to us all--moments when perhaps some strain of music gives us back
childhood's days; when perhaps some perfume of a flower reminds us of
long-vanished gardens and hands that have crumbled into dust; when some
touch of a sunset sky, or some word of a book, or some providence of
our lives, comes upon the heart and mind, reminding us how everything
is passing. You have all had these thoughts. Some of us stifle
them--they are not pleasant to many of us; some of us brood over them
unwholesomely, and that is not wise; but the best use of them is to
bear us onward into the peaceful region where we clasp to our troubled
hearts that which cannot go. If any of us are making experience to-day
of earthly change, if any of us have hearts heavy with earthly losses,
if any of us are bending under the weight of that awful law, that
everything becomes part and parcel of that dreadful past, if any of us
are looking at our empty hands and saying, 'They have taken away my god
and what have I more?' let us listen to the better voice that says, 'My
kindness shall not depart from thee, and so, whatever goes, thou canst
not be desolate if thou hast Me.'

And then, still further, let me remind you that this same thought may
avail to give to us hopes of years as immortal as itself. We do not
belong to the mountains and hills that shall depart, or to the order of
things to which they belong. There is coming a very solemn day, I
believe, not by any mere processes of natural decay as I take it, but
by the action of God Himself, the Judge that 'day of the Lord that
shall come as a thief in the night'--when the mountains shall depart,
and the hills be removed, and the throne of judgment shall be set, and
you and I will be there. My brother, lay your hand on that covenant of
peace which is made for us all in Christ Jesus the Lord, and then 'calm
as the summer's ocean we shall be, and all the wreck of nature' cannot
disturb us, for we shall abide unshaken as the throne of God. The
mountains may pass, the hills be removed, but herein is our love made
perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of 'judgment,' for that
kindness shall not depart from us, and God's gentle tenderness is
eternal as Himself. Then we shall not depart from it either, and we are
immortal as the tenderness that encloses us. God's endless love must
have undying creatures on whom to pour itself out, and if to-day I
possess--as we all may possess in however feeble a measure--some sips
and prelibations of that great flood of love that is in God, I can look
unblanched right into the eyes of death and say, 'Thou hast no power at
all over me, I am eternal because the God that loves me is so, and
since He hath loved me with an everlasting love, His loving-kindness
shall not depart from me. Therefore, seeing that all these things shall
be dissolved, I know that I have a building of God, a house not made
with hands, eternal in the heavens, and because He lives I shall live
also.' The hope that is built upon the eternal love of God in Christ is
the true guarantee to me of immortal existence, and this hope is ours
if, and only if, we come into the covenant--the covenant of peace. God
says, 'I will love thee, I will bless thee, I will keep thee, I will
pardon thee, I will save thee, I will glorify thee, and there is My
bond on that Cross, the new covenant in His blood.' Close with the
covenant that God is ready to make with you, and then 'life and death,
principalities and powers, things present and things to come, height
and depth, and every other creature shall be impotent to separate you
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath
no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without
money and without price. 2. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which
is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken
diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul
delight itself in fatness. 3. Incline your ear, and come unto Me, hear,
and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with
you, even the sure mercies of David. 4. Behold, I have given him for a
witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. 5. Behold,
thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew
not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the
Holy One of Israel; for He hath glorified thee. 6. Seek ye the Lord
while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: 7. Let the
wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let
him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our
God, for He will abundantly pardon. 8. For My thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. 9. For as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your
ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. 10. For as the rain cometh
down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth
the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to
the sower, and bread to the eater: 11. So shall My word be that goeth
forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall
accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing
whereto I sent it. 12. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth
with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you
into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the
brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a
name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.'--ISAIAH lv.
1-13.

The call to partake of the blessings of the Messianic salvation
worthily follows the great prophecy of the suffering Servant. No doubt
the immediate application of this chapter is to the exiled nation, who
in it are summoned from their vain attempts to find satisfaction in the
material prosperity realised in exile, and to make the only true
blessedness their own by obedience to God's voice. But if ever the
prophet spoke to the world he does so here. It is no unwarranted
spiritualising of his invitation which hears in it the voice which
invites all mankind to share the blessings of the gospel feast.

The glorious words need little exposition. What we have to do is to see
that they do not fall on our ears in vain. They may be roughly divided
into two sections--the invitation to the feast, with the promises to
the obedient Israel (verses 1-5), and the summons to the necessary
preparation for the feast, namely, repentance, with the reason for its
necessity, and the encouragements to it in the might of God's faithful
promises (verses 6-13).

I. Whose voice sounds so beseechingly and welcoming in this great call,
which rings out to all thirsty souls? If we note the 'Me' and 'I' which
follow, we shall hear God Himself thus taking the office of summoner to
His own feast. By whatever media the gospel call reaches us, it is in
reality God's own voice to our hearts, and that makes the
responsibility of hearing more tremendous, and the folly of refusing
more inexcusable.

Who are invited? There are but two conditions expressed in verse 1, and
these are fulfilled in every soul. All are summoned who are thirsty and
penniless. If we have in our souls desires that all the broken cisterns
of earth can never slake-and we all have these-and if we have nothing
by which we can procure what will still the gnawing hunger and burning
thirst of our souls--and none of us has--then we are included in the
call. Universal as are the craving for blessedness and the
powerlessness to satisfy it, are the adaptation and destination of the
gospel.

What is offered? Water, wine, milk--all the beverages of a simple
civilisation, differing in their operation, but all precious to a
thirsty palate. Water revives, wine gladdens and inspirits, milk
nourishes. All that any man needs or desires is to be found in Christ.
We shall not understand the nature of the feast unless we remember that
He Himself is the 'gift of God.' What these three draughts mean is best
perceived when we listen to Him saying, in a plain quotation of this
call, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.' Nothing
short of Himself can satisfy the thirst of one soul, much less of all
the thirsty. Like the flow from the magic fountain of the legend, Jesus
becomes to each what each most desires.

How does He become ours? The paradox of buying with what is not money
is meant, by its very appearance of contradiction, to put in strongest
fashion that the possession of Him depends on nothing in us but the
sense of need and the willingness to accept. We buy Christ when we part
with self, which is all that we have, in order to win Him. We must be
full of conscious emptiness and desire, if we are to be filled with His
fulness. Jesus interpreted the meaning of 'come to the waters' when He
said, 'He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth
on Me shall never thirst.' Faith is coming, faith is drinking, faith is
buying.

The universal call, with is clear setting forth of blessing and
conditions of possessing, is followed by a pleading remonstrance as to
the folly of lavishing effort and money on what is not bread. It is
strange that men will cheerfully take more pains to continue thirsty
than to accept the satisfaction which God provides. They toil and
continue unsatisfied. Experience does not teach them, and all the while
the one real good is waiting to be theirs for nothing.

  ''Tis heaven alone that is given away;
  'Tis only God may be had for the asking.'

Christ goes a-begging, and we spend our strength in vain toil to
acquire what we turn away from when it is offered us in Him. When the
great Father offers bread for nothing, we will not have it, but we are
ready to give any price for a stone. It is not the wickedness, but the
folly, of unbelief, which is the marvel.

The contrast between the heavy price at which men buy hunger, and the
easy rate at which they may have full satisfaction, is further set
forth by the call to 'incline the ear,' which is all that is needed in
order that life and nourishment which delights the soul may be ours.
'Hearken, and eat' is equivalent to 'Hearken, and ye shall eat.' The
real 'good' for man is only to be found in listening to and obeying the
divine voice, whether it sound in invitation, promise, or command. The
true life of the soul lies in that listening receptiveness which takes
for one's own God's great gift of Christ, and yields glad obedience to
His every word.

The exiled Israel was promised an 'everlasting covenant' as the result
of their acceptance of the invitation; and we know whose blood it is
that has sealed the new covenant, which abides as long as Christ's
fulness and men's need shall last. That covenant, of which we seldom
hear in Isaiah, but which fills a prominent place in Jeremiah and
Ezekiel, is further explained as being 'the sure mercies of David.'
This phrase and its context are difficult, but the general meaning is
clear. The great promises of God's unfailing mercy, made to the
historical founder of the royal house, shall be transferred and
continued, with inviolable faithfulness, to those who drink of the gift
of God.

This parallel between the great King and the whole mass of the true
Israel is further set forth in verses 4 and 5. Each begins with
'Behold,' and the similar form indicates similarity in contents. The
son of Jesse was in some degree God's witness to the heathen nations,
as is expressed in several psalms; and, what he was imperfectly, the
ransomed Israel would be to the world. The office of the Christian
Church is to draw nations that it knew not, to follow in the blessed
path, in which it has found satisfaction and the dawnings of a more
than natural glory transfiguring it. They who have themselves drunk of
the unfailing fountain in Christ are thereby fitted and called to cry
to others, 'Come ye to the waters.' Experience of Christ's
preciousness, and of the rest of soul which comes from partaking of His
salvation, impels and obliges to call others to share the bliss.

II. The second part of the chapter begins with an urgent call to
repentance, based upon the difference between God's ways and man's, and
on the certainty that the divine promises will be fulfilled. The
summons in verses 6 and 7 is first couched in most general terms, which
are then more closely defined. To 'seek the Lord' is to direct conduct
and heart to obtain possession of God as one's own. Of that seeking,
the chief element is calling upon Him; since such is His desire to be
found of us that it only needs our asking in order to receive. As
surely as the mother hears her child's cry, so surely does He catch the
faintest voice addressed to Him. But, men being what they are, a change
of ways and of their root in thoughts is indispensable. Seeking which
is not accompanied by forsaking self and an evil past is no genuine
seeking, and will end in no finding. But this forsaking is only one
side of true repentance; the other is return to God, as is expressed in
the New Testament word for it, which implies a change of mind, purpose,
and conduct. The faces which were turned earthward and averted from God
are to be turned God-ward and diverted from earth. Whosoever thus seeks
may be confident of finding and of abundant pardon. The belief in God's
loving forgivingness is the strongest motive to repentance, and the
most melting argument to listen to the call to seek Him. But there is
another motive of a more awful kind; namely, the consideration that the
period of mercy is limited, and that a time may come, and that soon,
when God no longer 'may be found' nor 'is near.'

The need for such a radical change in conduct and mind is further
enforced, in verses 8 and 9, by the emphatic statement of present
discord between the exiled Israel and God. Mark that the deepest seat
of the discord is first dealt with, and then the manifestation of it in
active life. Mark also that the order of comparison is inverted in the
two successive clauses in verse 8. God's thoughts have not entered into
Israel's mind and become theirs. The 'thinkings' not being regulated
according to God's truth, nor the desires and sentiments brought into
accord with His will and mind, a contrariety of 'ways' must follow, and
the paths which men choose for themselves cannot run parallel with
God's, nor be pleasing to Him. Therefore the stringent urgency of the
call to forsake 'the crooked, wandering ways in which we live,' and to
come back to the path of righteousness which is traced by God for our
feet.

But divergence which necessitates repentance is not the only relation
between our ways and God's. There is elevation, transcendency, like
that of the eternal heavens, high, boundless, the home of light, the
storehouse of beneficent influences which fertilise. If we think of the
dreary, flat plains where the exiles were, and the magnificent sweep of
the sky over them, we shall feel the beauty of the figure. If 'My
thoughts are not your thoughts' was all that was to be said, repentance
would be of little use, and there would be little to encourage to it;
but if God's thoughts of love and ways of blessing arch themselves
above our low lives as the sky bends, pitying and bestowing, above
squalor, barrenness, and darkness, then penitence is not in vain, and
the low earth may be visited with gifts from the highest heaven.

The certainty that such gifts will be bestowed is the last thought of
this magnificent summons. The prophet dilates on that assurance to the
end of the chapter. He seems to catch fire, as it were, from the
introduction of that grand figure of the lofty heavens domed above the
flat earth. In effect, what he says is: They are high and inaccessible,
but think what pours down from them, and how all fertility depends on
their gifts of rain and snow, and how the moisture which they drop is
turned into 'seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.' Thinking of
that continuous benefaction and miracle, we should see in it a symbol
of the better gifts from the higher heavens. So does God's word come
down from His throne. So does it turn barrenness into nodding harvest.
So does it quicken undreamed of powers of fruitfulness in human nature
and among the forces of the world. So does it supply nourishment for
hungry souls, and germs which shall bear fruit in coming years. No
complicated machinery nor the most careful culture can work what the
gentle dropping rain effects. There is mightier force in it than in
many thunder-clouds. The gospel does with ease and in silence what
nothing else can do. It makes barren souls fruitful in all good works,
and in all happiness worthy of men. Therefore the summons to drink of
the springing fountain and to turn from evil ways and thoughts is
recommended by the assurance that God's word is faithful, and all His
promises firm.

The final verses (verses 12, 13) give the glowing picture of the return
from exile amid the jubilation of a transformed world, as the strongest
motive to the obedient hearkening to God's voice, to which the chapter
has summoned, and as the great instance of God's keeping His word.

The flight from Egypt was 'in haste' (Deut. xvi. 3); but this shall be
a triumphal exodus, without conflict or alarms. All nature shall
participate in the joy. Mountains and hills shall raise the shrill note
of rejoicing, and the trees wave their branches, as if clapping hands
in delight. This is more than mere poetic rhetoric. A redeemed humanity
implies a glorified world. Nature has been involved in the consequences
of sin, and will share in the results of redemption, and have some
humble reflected light from 'the liberty of the glory of the sons of
God.'

The fulfilment of this final promise is not yet. All earlier returns of
the exiled Israel from the Babylon of their bondage to God and the city
of God, such as the historical one which the prophet foretold, and the
spiritual one which is repeated age by age in the history of the
Christian Church and of single penitent souls, point on to that last
triumphant day when 'the ransomed of the Lord shall return,' and the
world be transfigured to match the glory that they inherit. That fair
world without poison or offence, and the nations of the saved who
inhabit its peaceful spaces, shall be, in the fullest stretch of the
words, 'to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall
not be cut off.' The redemption of man and his establishing amid the
felicities of a state correspondent to His God-given glory shall be to
all eternity and to all possible creations the highest evidence of what
God is, and His token to all beings.



THE GREAT PROCLAMATION

'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath
no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without
money and without price.'--ISAIAH lv.1.


The meaning of the word _preach_ is 'proclaim like a herald'; or, what
is perhaps more familiar to most of us, like a town-crier; with a loud
voice, clearly and plainly delivering the message. Now, there are other
notions of a sermon than that; and there is other work which ministers
have to do, of an educational kind. But my business now is to preach.
We have ventured to ask others than the members of our own congregation
to join us in this service; and I should be ashamed of myself, and have
good reason to be so, if I had asked you to come to hear me talk, or to
entertain you with more or less eloquent and thoughtful discourses.
There is a time for everything; and what this is the time for is to
ring out like a bellman the message which I believe God has given me
for you. It cannot but suffer in passing through human lips; but I pray
that my poor words may not be all unworthy of its stringency, and of
the greatness of its blessing. My text is God's proclamation, and all
that the best of us can do is but to reiterate that, more feebly alas,
but still earnestly.

Suppose there was an advertisement in to-morrow morning's papers that
any one that liked to go to a certain place might get a fortune for
going, what a _queue_ of waiting suppliants there would be at the door!
Here is God's greatest gift going a-begging; and there are no doubt
some among you who listen to my text with only the thought, 'Oh, the
old threadbare story is what we have been asked to come and hear!'
Brethren, have you taken the offer? If not, it needs to be pressed upon
you once more. So my purpose in this sermon is a very simple one. I
wish, as a brother to a brother, to put before you these three things:
to whom this offer is made; what it consists of; and how it may be ours.

I. To whom this offer is made.

It is to every one thirsty and penniless. That is a melancholy
combination, to be needing something infinitely, and to have not a
farthing to get it with. But that is the condition in which we all
stand, in regard to the highest and best things. This invitation of my
text is as universal as if it had stopped with its third word. 'Ho,
every one' would have been no broader than is the offer as it stands.
For the characteristics named are those which belong, necessarily and
universally, to human experience. If my text had said, 'Ho, every one
that breathes human breath,' it would not have more completely covered
the whole race, and enfolded thee and me, and all our brethren, in the
amplitude of its promise, than it does when it sets up as the sole
qualifications thirst and penury--that we infinitely need, and that we
are absolutely unable to acquire, the blessings that it offers.

'Every one that thirsteth'--that means desire. Yes; but it means need
also. And what is every man but a great bundle of yearnings and
necessities? None of us carry within ourselves that which suffices for
ourselves. We are all dependent upon external things for being and for
wellbeing.

There are thirsts which infallibly point to their true objects. If a
man is hungry he knows that it is food that he wants. And just as the
necessities of the animal life are incapable of being misunderstood,
and the objects which will satisfy them incapable of being confused or
mistaken, so there are other nobler thirsts, which, in like manner,
work automatically, and point to the thing that they need. We have
social instincts; we need love; we need friendship; we need somebody to
lean upon; we thirst for some heart to rest our heads upon, for hands
to clasp ours; and we know where the creatures and the objects are that
will satisfy these desires. And there are the higher thirsts of the
spirit, that 'follows knowledge, like a sinking star, beyond the
furthest bounds of human thought'; and a man knows where and how to
gratify the impulse that drives him to seek after the many forms of
knowledge and wisdom.

But besides all these, besides sense, besides affection, besides
emotions, besides the intellectual spur of which we are all more or
less conscious, there come in a whole set of other thirsts that do not
in themselves carry the intimation of the place where they can be
slaked. And so you get men restless, as some of you are; always
dissatisfied, as some of you are; feeling that there is something
wanting, yet not knowing what, as some of you are. You remember the old
story in the _Arabian Nights_, of the man who had a grand palace, and
lived in it quite contentedly, until some one told him that it needed a
roc's egg hanging from the roof to make it complete, and he did not
know where to get that, and was miserable accordingly. We build our
houses, we fancy that we are satisfied; and then there comes the
stinging thought that it is not all complete yet, and we go groping,
groping in the dark, to find out where the lacking thing is.
Shipwrecked sailors sometimes, in their desperation, drink salt water,
and that makes them thirstier than ever, and brings on madness and
death. Some publicans drug the vile liquors which they sell, so that
they increase thirst. We may make no mistake about how to satisfy the
desires of sense or of earthly affections; we may be quite certain that
'money answereth all things,' and that it is good to get on in business
in Manchester; or may have found a pure and enduring satisfaction in
study and in books--yet we have thirsts that some of us know not where
to satisfy; and so we have parched lips and swollen tongues, and raging
desire that earth can give nothing to fill.

My brother, do you know what it is that you want?

It is God. Nothing else, nothing less. 'My soul thirsteth for God, for
the living God.' The man that knows what it is of which he is in such
sore need, is blessed. The man who only feels dimly that he needs
something, and does not know that it is God whom he does need, is
condemned to wander in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, and
where his heart gapes, parched and cracked like the soil upon which he
treads. Understand your thirst. Interpret your desires aright. Open
your eyes to your need; and be sure of this, that mountains of money
and the clearest insight into intellectual problems, and fame, and
love, and wife, and children, and a happy home, and abundance of all
things that you can desire, will leave a central aching emptiness that
nothing and no person but God can ever fill. Oh, that we all knew what
these yearnings of our hearts mean!

Aye! but there are _dormant_ thirsts too. It is no proof of superiority
that a savage has fewer wants than you and I have, for the want is the
open mouth into which supply comes. And it is no proof that you have
not, deep in your nature, desires which, unless they are satisfied,
will prevent your being blessed, that these desires are all unconscious
to yourselves. The business of us preachers is, very largely, to get
the people who will listen to us, to recognise the fact that they do
want things which they do not wish; and that, for the perfection of
their natures, the cherishing of noble longings and thirstings is
needful, and that to be without this sense of need is to be without one
of the loftiest prerogatives of humanity.

Some of you do not wish forgiveness. Many of you would much rather not
have holiness. You do not want to have God. The promises of the Gospel
go clean over your heads, and are as impotent to influence you as the
wind whistling through a keyhole, because you have never been aware of
the wants to which these promises correspond, and do not understand
what it is that you truly require.

And yet there is no desire--that is to say, consciousness of
necessities--so dormant but that its being un-gratified makes a man
restless. You do not wish forgiveness, but you will never be happy till
you get it. You do not wish to be good and true and holy men, but you
will never be blessed till you are. You do not want to have God, some
of you, but you will be restless till you find Him. You fancy you wish
heaven when you are dead; you do not want it while you are living. But
until your earthly life is like the life of Jesus Christ in heaven,
though in an inferior degree, whilst it is on earth, you will never be
at rest. You are thirsty enough after these things to be ill at ease
without them, when you bethink yourselves and pass out of the region of
mere mechanical and habitual existence; but until you get these things
that you do not desire, be sure of this: that you will be tortured with
vain unrest, and will find that the satisfactions which you do seek
turn to ashes in your mouth. 'Bread of deceit,' says the Book, 'is
sweet to a man.' The writer meant by that that there were people to
whom it was pleasant to tell profitable lies. But we might widen the
meaning, and say that all these lower satisfactions, apart from the
loftier ones of forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation with God, the
conscious possession of Him, a well-grounded hope of immortality, the
power to live a noble life and to look forward to a glorious heaven,
are 'bread of deceit,' which promises nourishment and does not give it,
but breaks the teeth that try to masticate it; 'it turneth to gravel.'

'Ho, every one that thirsteth.' That designation includes us all. 'And
he that hath no money.' Who has any? Notice that the persons
represented in our text as penniless are, in the next verse,
remonstrated with for spending 'money.' So then the penniless man had
some pence away in some corner of his pocket which he could spend. He
had the money that would buy shams, 'that which is not bread' but a
stone though it looks like a loaf, but he had no money for the true
food. Which being translated out of parable into fact, is simply this,
that our efforts may and do win for us the lower satisfactions which
meet our transitory and superficial necessities, but that no effort of
ours can secure for us the loftier blessings which slake the diviner
thirsts of immortal souls. A man lands in a far country with English
shillings in his pocket, but he finds that no coins go there but
thalers, or francs, or dollars, or the like; and his money is only
current in his own land, and he must have it changed before he can make
his purchases. So though he has a pocketful of it he may as well be
penniless.

And, in like fashion, you and I, with all our strenuous efforts, which
we are bound to make, and which there is joy in making, after these
lower good things that correspond to our efforts, find that we have no
coinage that will buy the good things of the kingdom of heaven, without
which we faint and die. For them our efforts are useless. Can a man by
his penitence, by his tears, by his amendment, make it possible for the
consequences of his past to be obliterated, or all changed in their
character into fatherly chastisement? No! A thousand times, no! The
superficial notions of Christianity, which are only too common amongst
both educated and uneducated, may say to a man, 'You need no divine
intervention, if only you will get up from the dust, and do your best
to keep up when you are up.' But those who realise more deeply what the
significance of sin is, and what the eternal operation of its
consequences upon the soul is, and what the awful majesty of a divine
righteousness is, learn that the man who has sinned can, by nothing
that he can do, obliterate that awful fact, or reduce it to
insignificance, in regard to the divine relations to him. It is only
God who can do that. We have no money.

So we stand thirsty and penniless--a desperate condition! Ay! brother,
it _is_ desperate, and it is the condition of every one of us. I wish I
could turn the generalities of my text into the individuality of a
personal address. I wish I could bring its wide-flowing beneficence to
a sharp point that might touch your conscience, heart, and will. I
cannot do that; you must do it for yourself.

'Ho, every one that thirsteth.' Will you pause for a moment, and say to
yourself, 'That is I'? 'And he that hath no money'--that is I. 'Come ye
to the waters'--that is I. The proclamation is for thine ear and for
thy heart; and the gift is for thy hand and thy lips.

II. In what this offer consists.

They tell an old story about the rejoicings at the coronation of some
great king, when there was set up in the market-place a triple
fountain, from each of whose three lips flowed a different kind of rare
liquor which any man who chose to bring a pitcher might fill it with,
at his choice. Notice my text, 'come ye to the _waters_' ... 'buy
_wine_ and _milk_.' The great fountain is set up in the market-place of
the world, and every man may come; and whichever of this glorious triad
of effluents he needs most, there his lip may glue itself and there it
may drink, be it 'water' that refreshes, or 'wine' that gladdens, or
'milk' that nourishes. They are all contained in this one great gift
that flows out from the deep heart of God to the thirsty lips of
parched humanity.

And what is that gift? Well, we may say, salvation; or we may use many
other words to define the nature of the gifts. I venture to take a
shorter one, and say, it means Christ. He, and not merely some truth
about Him and His work; He Himself, in the fulness of His being, in the
all-sufficiency of His love, in the reality of His presence, in the
power of His sacrifice, in the daily derivation, into the heart that
waits upon Him, of His life and His spirit, He is the all-sufficient
supply of every thirst of every human soul. Do we want happiness?
Christ gives us His joy, abiding and full, and not as the world gives.
Do we want love? He gathers us to His heart, in which 'there is no
variableness, neither shadow cast by turning,' and binds us to Himself
by bonds that death, the separator, vainly attempts to untie, and which
no unworthiness, ingratitude or coldness of ours will ever be able to
unloose. Do we want wisdom? He will dwell with us as our light. Do our
hearts yearn for companionship? With Him we shall never be solitary. Do
we long for a bright hope which shall light up the dark future, and
spread a rainbow span over the great gorge and gulf of death? Jesus
Christ spans the void, and gives us unfailing and undeceiving hope. For
everything that you and I need here or yonder, in heart, in will, in
practical life, Jesus Christ Himself is the all-sufficient supply.

'My life in death, my all in all.' What is offered in Him may be
described by all the glorious and blessed names which men have invented
to designate the various aspects of the Good. These are the goodly
pearls that men seek, but there is one of great price which is worth
them all, and gathers into itself all their clouded and fragmentary
splendours. Christ is all, and the soul that has Him shall never thirst.

  'Thou of life the fountain art,
  Freely let me take of Thee.'

III. Lastly, how do we obtain the offered gifts?

The paradox of my text needs little explanation, 'Buy without money and
without price.' The contradiction on the surface is but intended to
make emphatic this blessed truth, which I pray may reach your memories
and hearts, that the only conditions are a sense of need, and a
willingness to take--nothing less and nothing more. We must recognise
our penury and must abandon self, and put away all ideas of having a
finger in our own salvation, and be willing--which, strangely and sadly
enough, many of us are not-to be under obligations to God's unhelped
and undeserved love for all.

Cheap things are seldom valued. Ask a high price and people think that
the commodity is precious. A man goes into a fair, for a wager, and he
carries with him a try full of gold watches and offers to sell them for
a farthing apiece, and nobody will buy them. It does not, I hope,
degrade the subject, if I say Jesus Christ comes into the market-place
of the world with His hands full of the gifts which His pierced hands
have bought, that He may give them away. He says, 'Will you take them?'
And you, and you, and you, pass by on the other side, and go away to
another merchant, and buy dearly things that are not worth the having.

'My father, my father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing,
wouldst thou not have done it?' Would you not? Swing at the end of a
pole, with hooks in your back; measure all the way from Cape Comorin to
the Himalayas, lying down on your face and rising at each length; do a
hundred things which heathens and Roman Catholics and unspiritual
Protestants think to be the way to get salvation; deny yourselves
things that you would like to do; do things that you do not want to do;
give money that you would like to keep; avoid habits that are very
sweet, go to church or chapel when you have no heart for worship; and
so try to balance the account. If the prophet had bid thee do some
great thing, thou wouldst have done it. How much rather when he says,
'Wash, and be clean.' 'Nothing in my heart I bring.' You do _not_ bring
anything. 'Simply to Thy Cross I cling.' Do you? Do you? Jesus Christ
catches up the 'comes' of my text, and He says, 'Come unto Me, all ye
that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' 'If any man
thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.' Brethren, I lay it on your
hearts and consciences to answer Him--never mind about me--to answer
_Him_: 'Sir, give me this water that I thirst not.'



GOD'S WAYS AND MAN'S

'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,
saith the Lord. 9. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are
My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your
thoughts.'--ISAIAH lv. 8, 9.


Scripture gives us no revelations concerning God merely in order that
we may know about Him. These words are grand poetry and noble theology,
but they are meant practically and in fiery earnestness. The 'for' at
the beginning of each clause points us back to the previous statement,
and both of the verses of our text are in different ways its
foundation. And what has preceded is this: 'Let the wicked forsake his
way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the
Lord, for He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will
abundantly pardon.' That is why the prophet dilates upon the difference
between the 'thoughts' and the 'ways' of God and of men.

If we look at these two verses a little more closely we shall perceive
that they by no means cover the same ground nor suggest the same idea
as to the relationship between God's 'ways' and 'thoughts' and ours.
The former of them speaks of unlikeness and opposition, the latter of
elevation and superiority; the former of them is the basis of an
indictment and an exhortation, the latter is the basis of an
encouragement and a promise. The former of them is the reason why 'the
wicked' and 'unrighteous man' ought to and must 'turn' from 'his ways'
and 'thoughts,' the latter of them is the reason why, 'turning,' he may
be sure that the Lord 'will abundantly pardon.'

And so we have here two things to consider in reference to the relation
between the divine purposes and acts and man's purposes and acts.
First, the antagonism, and the indictment and exhortation that are
based upon that; second, the analogy but superiority, and the
exhortation and hope that are built upon that. Let me deal, then, with
these separately.

I. We have here an unlikeness declared, and upon that is rested an
appeal.

Notice the remarkable order and alternation of pronouns in the first
verse. '_My_ thoughts are not _your_ thoughts,' saith the Lord. The
things that God thinks and purposes are not the things that man thinks
and purposes, and therefore, because the thoughts are different, the
outcomes of them in deeds are divergent. God's 'ways' are His acts, the
manner and course of His working considered as a path on which He
moves, and on which, in some sense, we can also journey. Our
'ways'--our manner of life--are not parallel with His, as they should
be.

But that opposition is expressed with a remarkable variation. Observe
the change of pronouns in the two clauses. First, '_My_ thoughts are
not your thoughts'--you have not taken My truth into your minds, nor My
purposes into your wills; you do riot think God's thoughts.
Therefore--'_your_ ways (instead of 'My,' as we should have expected,
to keep the regularity of the parallelism) are not My ways'--I
repudiate and abjure your conduct and condemn it utterly.

Now, of course, in this charge of man's unlikeness to God, there is no
contradiction of, nor reference to, man's natural constitution, in
which there are, at one and the same time, the likeness of the child
with the parent and the unlikeness between the creature and the
Creator. If our thoughts were not in a measure like God's thoughts, we
should know nothing about Him. If our thoughts were not like God's
thoughts, we should have no standard for life or thinking.
Righteousness and beauty and truth and goodness are the same things in
heaven and earth, and alike in God and man. We are made after His
image, poor creatures though we be; and though there must ever be a
gulf of unlikeness, which we cannot bridge, between the thoughts of Him
whose knowledge has no growth nor uncertainty, whose wisdom is infinite
and all whose nature is boundless light, and our knowledge, and must
ever be a gulf between the workings and ways of Him who works without
effort, and knows neither weariness nor limitation, and our work, so
often foiled, so always toilsome, yet in all the unlikeness there is
(and no man can denude himself of it) a likeness to the Father. For the
image in which God made man at the beginning is not an image that it is
in the power of men to cast away, and in the worst of his corruptions
and the widest of his departures he still bears upon him the signs of
likeness 'to Him that created him.' The coin is rusty, battered,
defaced; but still legible are the head and the writing. 'Whose image
and superscription hath it?' Render unto God the things that are
declared to be God's, because they bear His likeness and are stamped
with His signature.

But that very necessary and natural likeness between God and man makes
more solemnly sinful the voluntary unlikeness which we have brought
upon ourselves. If there were no analogy, there could be no contrast.
If God and man were utterly unlike, then there would be no evil in our
unlikeness and no need for our repentance.

The true state for each of us is that we should, as the great
astronomer said he had done in regard to his own science, 'think God's
thoughts after Him,' and have our minds filled with His truth and our
wills all harmonised with His purposes, and that we should thus make
our ways to run parallel with the ways of God. The blessedness, the
peace, the true manhood of a man, are that his ways and thoughts should
be like God's. And so my text comes with its indictment--You who by
nature were formed in His image, you to whom it is open to sympathise
with His designs, to harmonise your wills with His will, and to bring
all the dark and crooked ways in which you walk into full parallelism
with His way--you have departed into darkness of unlikeness, and in
thought and in ways are the opposites of God.

Mark how wonderfully, in the simple language of my text, deep truths
about this sin of ours are conveyed. Notice its growth and order. It
begins with a heart and mind that do not take in God's thoughts,
truths, purposes, desires, and then the alienated will and the darkened
understanding and the conscience which has closed itself against His
imperative voice issue afterwards in conduct which He cannot accept as
in any way corresponding with His. First comes the thought unreceptive
of God's thought, and then follow ways contrary to God's ways.

Notice the profound truth here in regard to the essential and deepest
evil of all our evil. '_Your_ thoughts'; '_your_
ways,'--self-dependence and self-confidence are the master-evils of
humanity. And every sin is at bottom the result of saying--'I will not
conform myself to God, but I am going to please myself, and take my own
way.' My own way is never God's way; my own way is always the devil's
way. And the root of all sin lies in these two strong, simple words,
'_Your_ thoughts not Mine; _your_ ways not Mine.'

Notice, too, how there are suggested the misery and retribution of this
unlikeness. 'If you will not make My thoughts your thoughts, I shall
not take your ways as My ways. I will leave you to them.' 'You will be
filled with the fruit of your own devices. I shall not incorporate your
actions into My great scheme and purpose.' Men

                     'Would not know His ways,
                      And He has left them to their own.'

So here we have the solemn indictment brought by God's own voice
against us all. The criminality of our unlikeness to Him rests upon our
original likeness.

The unlikeness roots itself in thought, and blossoms in the poisonous
flower of God-displeasing acts. It brings down upon our heads the
solemn retribution of separation from Him, and being filled with the
fruit of our own devices. Such is the indictment brought against every
soul of man upon the earth, and there is built upon it the call to
repentance and change,' let the wicked forsake his _way_, and the
unrighteous man his _thoughts_.' The question rises in many a heart,
'How am I to forsake these paths on which my feet have so longed
walked?' And if I do, what about all the years behind me, full of wild
wanderings and thoughts in all of which God was not?

II. The second verse of our text meets that despairing question. It
proclaims the elevation of God's ways and thoughts above ours, and
thereon bases the assurance of pardon.

The relation is not only one of unlikeness and opposition, but it is
also one of analogy and superiority. The former clause began with
thoughts which are the parents of ways, and, as befits the all-seeing
Judge, laid bare first the hidden discord of man's heart and will, ere
it pointed to the manifest antagonism of his doings. This clause begins
with God's ways, from which alone men can reach the knowledge of His
thoughts. The first follows the order of God's knowledge of man; the
second, that of man's knowledge of God.

It is a wonderful and beautiful turn which the prophet here gives to
the thought of the transcendent elevation of God. The heavens are the
very type of the unattainable; and to say that they are 'higher than
the earth' seems, at first sight, to be but to say, 'No man hath
ascended into the heavens,' and you sinful men must grovel here down
upon your plain, whilst they are far above, out of your reach. But the
heavens bend. They are an arch, and not a straight line. They touch the
horizon; and there come from them the sweet influences of sunshine and
of rain, of dew and of blessing, which bring fertility. So they are not
only far and unattainable, but friendly and beneficent, and
communicative of good. Like them, in true analogy but yet infinite
superiority to the best and noblest in man, is the boundless mercy of
our pardoning God:

                'The glorious sky, embracing all,
                   Is like its Maker's love,
                 Wherewith encompassed, great and small
                   In peace and order move.'

'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than
your ways.' _The_ special 'thought' and 'way' which is meant here is
God's thought and way about sin. There are three points here on which I
would touch for a moment. First, God's way of dealing with sin is
lifted up above all human example. There is such a thing as pardoning
mercy amongst men. It is a faint analogy of, as it is an offshoot from,
the divine pardon, but all the forgivingness of the most placable and
long-suffering and gladly pardoning of men is but as earth to heaven
compared with the greatness of His. Our forgiveness has its
limitations. We sometimes cannot pardon as freely as we thought,
because there blends with our indignation against evil a passionate
personal sense of wrong done to us which we cannot get rid of, and that
disturbs the freeness and the joyfulness of many a human pardon. But
God's pardon is undisturbed and hindered by any sense of personal
resentment, though sin is an offense against Him, and in its freeness,
its fulness, its frequency, and its sovereign power to melt away that
which it forgives, it towers above the loftiest of earth's beauties of
forgiveness, as the starry heavens do above the flat plain.

God's pardon is above all human example, even though, having once been
received by us, it ought to become for us the pattern by which we shape
and regulate our own lives. Nothing of which we have any experience in
ourselves or in others is more than as a drop to the ocean compared
with the absolute fulness and perfect freeness and unwearied frequency
of His forgiveness. 'He will abundantly pardon.' He will multiply
pardon. 'With Him there is plenteous redemption.' We think we have
stretched the elasticity of long suffering and forgiveness further than
we might have been reasonably expected to do if seven times we forgive
the erring brother, but God's measure of pardon is seventy times seven,
two perfectnesses multiplied into themselves perfectly; for the measure
of His forgiveness is boundless, and there is no searching of the
depths of His pardoning mercy. You cannot weary Him out, you cannot
exhaust it. It is full at the end as at the beginning; and after all
its gifts still it remains true, 'With Him is the multiplying of
redemption.'

Again, God's way of dealing with sin surpasses all our thought. All
religion has been pressed with this problem, how to harmonise the
perfect rectitude of the divine nature and the solemn claims of law
with forgiveness. All religions have borne witness to the fact that men
are dimly aware of the discord and dissonance between themselves and
the divine thoughts and ways; and a thousand altars proclaim to us how
they have felt that something must be done in order that forgiveness
might be possible to an all-righteous and Sovereign Judge. The Jew knew
that God was a pardoning God, but to him that fact stood as needing
much explanation and much light to be thrown upon its relations with
the solemn law under which he lived. We have Jesus Christ. The mystery
of forgiveness is solved, in so far as it is capable of solution, in
Him and in Him alone. His death somewhat explains how God is just and
the Justifier of him that believeth. High above man's thoughts this
great central mystery of the Gospel rises, that with God there is
forgiveness and with God there is perfect righteousness. The Cross as
the basis of pardon is the central mystery of revelation; and it is not
to be expected that our theories shall be able to sound the depths of
that great act of the divine love. Perhaps our plummets do not go to
the bottom of the bottomless after all; but is it needful that we
should have gone to the rim of the heavens, and round about it on the
outside, before we rejoice in the sunshine? Is it needful that we
should have traversed the abysses of the heavens, and passed from star
to star and told their numbers, before we can say that they are bright,
or before we can walk in their light? We do not need to understand the
'how' in order to be sure of the fact that Christ's death is our
forgiveness. Do not be in such a hurry as some people are nowadays, to
declare that the doctrine of the Cross is contrary to man's
conceptions. It _surpasses_ them, and the very fact that it surpasses
ought to stop us from pronouncing that it _contradicts_. 'As the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are My thoughts higher than your
thoughts.'

Lastly, we are taught here that God's way of dealing with sin is the
very highest point of His self-revelation. There are many glories of
the divine nature set forth in all His ways, but the loftiest of them
all is this, that He can neutralise and destroy the fact of man's
transgressing, wiping it out by pardon; and in the very act of pardon
reconstituting in purity, and with a heart for all holiness, the sinful
men whom He forgives. This is the shining apex of all that He has done,
rising above creation and every other 'way' of His, as high as the
loftiest heavens are above the earth.

Therefore, have a care of all forms of Christianity which do not put
God's pardoning mercy in the foreground. They are maimed, and in them
mist and cloud have covered with a roof of doleful grey the low-lying
earth, and separated it from the highest heavens. The true glory of the
revelation of God gathers round that central Cross; and there, in that
Man dying upon it in the dark--the sacrifice for a world's sin--is the
loftiest, most heavenly revelation of the all-revealing God. Strike out
the Cross from Christianity, or weaken its aspect as a message of
forgiveness and redemption, and you have quenched its brightest light,
and dragged it down to be but a little higher, if any, than many
another scheme of other moralists, philosophers, poets, and religious
teachers. The distinctive glory of Christianity is this--it tells us
how God sweeps away sin.

And so my last thought is that, if we desire to see up on the highest
heavens of God's character, we must go down into the depths of the
consciousness of our own sin, and learn first, how unlike our ways and
thoughts are to God, ere we can understand how high above us, and yet
beneficently arching over us, are His ways and thoughts to us. We lie
beneath the heavens like some foul bog full of black ooze, rotten earth
and putrid water, where there is nothing green or fair. But the promise
of the bending heavens, with their sweet influences, declares the
possibility of reclaiming even that waste, and making it rejoice and
blossom as the rose. Spread yourselves out, dear friends, in lowly
submission and penitent acknowledgment beneath the all-vivifying mercy
of that shining heaven of God's pardon; and then the old promise will
be fulfilled in you: 'Truth shall spring out of the earth, and
righteousness shall look down from heaven; yea, the Lord shall give
that which is good, and our land'--barren and poisoned as it has
been--responding to the skyey influences, 'shall yield her increase.'



WE SURE OF TO-MORROW? A NEW YEAR'S SERMON

'To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.'--ISAIAH lvi.
12.


These words, as they stand, are the call of boon companions to new
revelry. They are part of the prophet's picture of a corrupt age when
the men of influence and position had thrown away their sense of duty,
and had given themselves over, as aristocracies and plutocracies are
ever tempted to do, to mere luxury and good living. They are summoning
one another to their coarse orgies. The roystering speaker says, 'Do
not be afraid to drink; the cellar will hold out. To-day's carouse will
not empty it; there will be enough for to-morrow.' He forgets
to-morrow's headaches; he forgets that on some tomorrow the wine will
be finished; he forgets that the fingers of a hand may write the doom
of the rioters on the very walls of the banqueting chamber.

What have such words, the very motto of insolent presumption and
short-sighted animalism, to do with New Year's thoughts? Only this,
that base and foolish as they are on such lips, it is possible to lift
them from the mud, and take them as the utterance of a lofty and calm
hope which will not be disappointed, and of a firm and lowly resolve
which may ennoble life. Like a great many other sayings, they may fit
the mouth either of a sot or of a saint. All depends on what the things
are which we are thinking about when we use them. There are things
about which it is absurd and worse than absurd to say this, and there
are things about which it is the soberest truth to say it. So looking
forward into the merciful darkness of another year, we may regard these
words as either the expressions of hopes which it is folly to cherish,
or of hopes that it is reasonable to entertain.

I. This expectation, if directed to any outward things, is an illusion
and a dream.

These coarse revellers into whose lips our text is put only meant by it
to brave the future and defy to-morrow in the riot of their
drunkenness. They show us the vulgarest, lowest form which the
expectation can take, a form which I need say nothing about now.

But I may just note in passing that to look forward principally as
anticipating pleasure or enjoyment is a very poor and unworthy thing.
We weaken and lower every day, if we use our faculty of hope mainly to
paint the future as a scene of delights and satisfactions. We spoil
to-day by thinking how we can turn it to the account of pleasure. We
spoil to-morrow before it comes, and hurt ourselves, if we are more
engaged with fancying how it will minister to our joy, than how we can
make it minister to our duty. It is base and foolish to be forecasting
our pleasures; the true temper is to be forecasting our work.

But, leaving that consideration, let us notice how useless such
anticipation, and how mad such confidence, as that expressed in the
text is, if directed to anything short of God.

We are so constituted as that we grow into a persuasion that what has
been will be, and yet we can give no sufficient reason to ourselves of
why we expect it. 'The uniformity of the course of nature is the
corner-stone, not only of physical science, but, in a more homely form,
of the wisdom which grows with experience, We all believe that the sun
will rise to-morrow because it rose to-day, and on all the yesterdays.
But there was a today which had no yesterday, and there will be a
to-day which will have no to-morrow. The sun will rise for the last
time. The uniformity had a beginning and will have an end.

So, even as an axiom of thought, the anticipation that things will
continue as they have been because they have been, seems to rest on an
insufficient basis. How much more so, as to our own little lives and
their surroundings! There the only thing which we may be quite sure of
about to-morrow is that it will not be 'as this day.' Even for those of
us who may have reached, for example, the level plateau of middle life,
where our position and tasks are pretty well fixed, and we have little
more to expect than the monotonous repetition of the same duties
recurring at the same hour every day--even for such each day has its
own distinctive character. Like a flock of sheep they seem all alike,
but each, on closer inspection, reveals a physiognomy of its own. There
will be so many small changes that even the same duties or enjoyments
will not be quite the same, and even if the outward things remained
absolutely unaltered, we who meet them are not the same. Little
variations in mood and tone, diminished zest here, weakened power
there, other thoughts breaking in, and over and above all the slow,
silent change wrought on us by growing years, make the perfect
reproduction of any past impossible. So, however familiar may be the
road which we have to traverse, however uneventfully the same our days
may sometimes for long spaces in our lives seem to be, though to
ourselves often our day's work may appear as a mill-horse round, yet in
deepest truth, if we take into account the whole sum of the minute
changes in it and in us, it may be said of each step of our journey,
'Ye have not passed this way heretofore.'

But, besides all this, we know that these breathing-times when 'we have
no changes,' are but pauses in the storm, landing-places in the ascent,
the interspaces between the shocks. However hope may tempt us to dream
that the future is like the present, a deeper wisdom lies in all our
souls which says 'No.' Drunken bravery may front that darkness with
such words as these of our text, but the least serious spirit, in its
most joyous moods, never quite succeeds in forgetting the solemn
probabilities, possibilities, and certainties which lodge in the
unknown future. So to a wise man it is ever a sobering exercise to look
forward, and we shall be nearest the truth if we take due account, as
we do today, of the undoubted fact that the only thing certain about
to-morrow is that it will not be as this day.

There are the great changes which come to some one every day, which may
come to any of us any day, which will come to all of us some day. Some
of us will die this year; on a day in our new diaries some of us will
make no entry, for we shall be gone. Some of us will be smitten down by
illness; some of us will lose our dearest; some of us will lose
fortune. Which of us it is to be, and where within these twelve months
the blow is to fall, are mercifully hidden. The only thing that we
certainly know is that these arrows will fly. The thing we do not know
is whose heart they will pierce. This makes the gaze into the darkness
grave and solemn. There is ever something of dread in Hope's blue eyes.

True, the ministry of change is blessed and helpful; true, the darkness
which hides the future is merciful and needful, if the present is not
to be marred. But helpful and merciful as they are, they invest the
unknown to-morrow with a solemn power which it is good, though
sobering, for us to feel, and they silence on every lip but that of
riot and foolhardy debauchery the presumptuous words, 'To-morrow shall
be as this day, and much more abundant.'

II. But yet there is a possibility of so using the words as to make
them the utterance of a sober certainty which will not be put to shame.

So long as our hope and anticipations creep along the low levels of
earth, and are concerned with external and creatural good, their
language can never rise beyond, 'To-morrow _may_ be as this day.'
Oftenest they reach only to the height of the wistful wish, 'May it be
as this day!' But there is no need for our being tortured with such
slippery possibilities. We may send out our hope like Noah's dove, not
to hover restlessly over a heaving ocean of change, but to light on
firm, solid certainty, and fold its wearied wings there. Forecasting is
ever close by foreboding. Hope is interwoven with fear, the golden
threads of the weft crossing the dark ones of the warp, and the whole
texture gleaming bright or glooming black according to the angle at
which it is seen. So is it always until we turn our hope away from
earth to God, and fill the future with the light of His presence and
the certainty of His truth. Then the mists and doubts roll away; we get
above the region of 'perhaps' into that of 'surely'; the future is as
certain as the past, hope as assured of its facts as memory, prophecy
as veracious as history.

Looking forward, then, let us not occupy ourselves with visions which
we know may or may not come true. Let us not feed ourselves with
illusions which may make the reality, when it comes to shatter them,
yet harder to bear. But let us make God in Christ our hope, and pass
from peradventures to certitudes; from 'To-morrow may be as this
day--would that it might,' to 'It shall be, it shall be, for God is my
expectation and my hope.' We have an unchanging and an inexhaustible
God, and He is the true guarantee of the future for us. The more we
accustom ourselves to think of Him as shaping all that is contingent
and changeful in the nearest and in the remotest to-morrow, and as
being Himself the immutable portion of our souls, the calmer will be
our outlook into the darkness, and the more bright will be the clear
light of certainty which burns for us in it.

To-day's wealth may be to-morrow's poverty, to-day's health to-morrow's
sickness, to-day's happy companionship of love to-morrow's aching
solitude of heart, but to-day's God will be to-morrow's God, to-day's
Christ will be to-morrow's Christ. Other fountains may dry up in heat
or freeze in winter, but this knows no change, 'in summer and winter it
shall be.' Other fountains may sink low in their basins after much
drawing, but this is ever full, and after a thousand generations have
drawn from it, its stream is broad and deep as ever. Other springs may
be left behind on the march, and the wells and palm-trees of each Elim
on our road may be succeeded by a dry and thirsty land where no water
is, but this spring follows us all through the wilderness, and makes
music and spreads freshness ever by our path. We can forecast nothing
beside; we can be sure of this, that God will be with us in all the
days that lie before us. What may be round the next headland we know
not; but this we know, that the same sunshine will make a broadening
path across the waters right to where we rock on the unknown sea, and
the same unmoving mighty star will burn for our guidance. So we may let
the waves and currents roll as they list--or rather as He wills, and be
little concerned about the incidents or the companions of our voyage,
since He is with us. We can front the unknown to-morrow, even when we
most keenly feel how solemn and sad are the things it may bring.

  'It can bring with it nothing
     But He will bear us through.'

If only our hearts be fixed on God and we are feeding our minds and
wills on Him, His truth and His will, then we may be quite certain
that, whatever goes, our truest riches will abide, and whoever leaves
our little company of loved ones, our best Friend will not go away.
Therefore, lifting our hopes beyond the low levels of earth, and making
our anticipations of the future the reflection of the brightness of God
thrown on that else blank curtain, we may turn into the worthy
utterance of sober and saintly faith, the folly of the riotous
sensualist when he said, 'To-morrow shall be as this day.'

The past is the mirror of the future for the Christian; we look back on
all the great deeds of old by which God has redeemed and helped souls
that cried to Him, and we find in them the eternal laws of His working.
They are all true for to-day as they were at first; they remain true
forever. The whole history of the past belongs to us, and avails for
our present and for our future. 'As we have heard, so have we seen in
the city of our God.'

To-day's experience runs on the same lines as the stories of the 'years
of old,' which are 'the years of the right hand of the Most High.'
Experience is ever the parent of hope, and the latter can only build
with the bricks which the former gives. So the Christian has to lay
hold on all that God's mercy has done in the ages that are gone by, and
because He is a 'faithful Creator' to transmute history into prophecy,
and triumph in that 'the God of Jacob is our refuge.'

Nor only does the record of what He has been to others come in to bring
material for our forecast of the future, but also the remembrance of
what He has been to ourselves. Has He been with us in six troubles? We
may be sure He will not abandon us at the seventh. He is not in the way
of beginning to build and leaving His work unfinished. Remember what He
has been to you, and rejoice that there has been one thing in your
lives which, you may be sure, will always be there. Feed your certain
hopes for to-morrow on thankful remembrances of many a yesterday.
'Forget not the works of God,' that you may 'set your hopes on God.'
Let our anticipations base themselves on memory, and utter themselves
in the prayer, 'Thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake
me, O God of my salvation.' Then the assurance that He whom we know to
be good and wise and strong will shape the future, and Himself be the
Future for us, will take all the fear out of that forward gaze, will
condense our light and unsubstantial hopes into solid realities, and
set before us an endless line of days, in each of which we may gain
more of Him whose face has brightened the past and will brighten the
future, till days shall end and time open into eternity.

III. Looked at in another aspect, these words may be taken as the vow
of a firm and lowly resolve.

There is a future which we can but very slightly influence, and the
less we look at that the better every way. But there is also a future
which we can mould as we wish--the future of our own characters, the
only future which is really ours at all--and the more clearly we set it
before ourselves and make up our minds as to whither we wish it to be
tending, the better. In that region, it is eminently true that
'to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.' The law of
continuity shapes our moral and spiritual characters. What I am to-day,
I shall increasingly be to-morrow. The awful power of habit solidifies
actions into customs, and prolongs the reverberation of every note once
sounded, along the vaulted roof of the chamber where we live. To-day is
the child of yesterday and the parent of to-morrow.

That solemn certainty of the continuance and increase of moral and
spiritual characteristics works in both good and bad, but with a
difference. To secure its full blessing in the gradual development of
the germs of good, there must be constant effort and tenacious
resolution. So many foes beset the springing of the good seed in our
hearts--what with the flying flocks of light-winged fugitive thoughts
ever ready to swoop down as soon as the sower's back is turned and
snatch it away, what with the hardness of the rock which the roots soon
encounter, what with the thick-sown and quick-springing thorns--that if
we trust to the natural laws of growth and neglect careful husbandry,
we may sow much but we shall gather little. But to inherit the full
consequences of that same law working in the growth and development of
the evil in us, nothing is needed but carelessness.

Leave it alone for a year or two and the 'fruitful field will be a
forest,' a jungle of matted weeds, with a straggling blossom where
cultivation had once been.

But if humbly we resolve and earnestly toil, looking for His help, we
may venture to hope that our characters will grow in goodness and in
likeness to our dear Lord, that we shall not cast away our confidence
nor make shipwreck of our faith, that each new day shall find in us a
deeper love, a perfecter consecration, a more joyful service, and that
so, in all the beauties of the Christian soul and in all the blessings
of the Christian life, 'to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more
abundant.' 'To him that hath shall be given.' 'The path of the just is
as the shining light, that shineth more and more until the noontide of
the day.'

So we may look forward undismayed, and while we recognise the darkness
that wraps to-morrow in regard to all mundane affairs, may feed our
fortitude and fasten our confidence on the double certainties that we
shall have God and more of God for our treasure, that we shall have
likeness to Him and more of likeness in our characters. Fleeting
moments may come and go. The uncertain days may exercise their various
ministry of giving and taking away, but whether they plant or root up
our earthly props, whether they build or destroy our earthly houses,
they will increase our riches in the heavens, and give us fuller
possession of deeper draughts from the inexhaustible fountain of living
waters.

How dreadfully that same law of the continuity and development of
character works in some men there is no need now to dwell upon. By
slow, imperceptible, certain degrees the evil gains upon them.
Yesterday's sin smooths the path for to-day's. The temptation once
yielded to gains power. The crack in the embankment which lets a drop
or two ooze through is soon a great hole which lets in a flood. It is
easier to find a man who has never done a wrong thing than to find a
man who has done it only once. Peter denied his Lord thrice, and each
time more easily than the previous time. So, before we know it, the
thin gossamer threads of single actions are twisted into a rope of
habit, and we are 'tied with the cords of our sins.' Let no man say,
'Just for once I may venture on evil; so far I will go and no farther.'
Nay, 'to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.'

How important, then, the smallest acts become when we think of them as
thus influencing character! The microscopic creatures, thousands of
which will go into a square inch, make the great white cliffs that
beetle over the wildest sea and front the storm. So, permanent and
solid character is built up out of trivial actions, and this is the
solemn aspect of our passing days, that they are making _us_.

We might well tremble before such a thought, which would be dreadful to
the best of us, if it were not for pardoning mercy and renewing grace.
The law of reaping what we have sown, or of continuing as we have
begun, may be modified as far as our sins and failures are concerned.
The entail may be cut off, and to-morrow need not inherit to-day's
guilt, nor to-day's habits. The past may be all blotted out through the
mercy of God in Christ. No debt need be carried forward to another page
of the book of our lives, for Christ has given Himself for us, and He
speaks to us all--'Thy sins be forgiven thee.' No evil habit need
continue its dominion over us, nor are we obliged to carry on the bad
tradition of wrongdoing into a future day, for Christ lives, and 'if
any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away,
all things are become new.'

So then, brethren, let us humbly take the confidence which these words
may be used to express, and as we stand on the threshold of a new year
and wait for the curtain to be drawn, let us print deep on our hearts
the uncertainty of our hold of all things here, nor seek to build nor
anchor on these, but lift our thoughts to Him, who will bless the
future as He has blessed the past, and will even enlarge the gifts of
His love and the help of His right hand. Let us hope for ourselves not
the continuance or increase of outward good, but the growth of our
souls in all things lovely and of good report, the daily advance in the
love and likeness of our Lord.

So each day, each succeeding wave of the ocean of time shall cast up
treasures for us as it breaks at our feet. As we grow in years, we
shall grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ, until the day comes when we shall exchange earth for heaven.
That will be the sublimest application of this text, when, dying, we
can calmly be sure that though to-day be on this side and to-morrow on
the other bank of the black river, there will be no break in the
continuity, but only an infinite growth in our life, and heaven's
to-morrow shall be as earth's to-day, and much more abundant.



FLIMSY GARMENTS

'Their webs shall not become garments.'--ISAIAH lix. 6.

'I counsel thee to buy of me ... white raiment, that thou mayest be
clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.'--REV. iii.
18.


The force of these words of the prophet is very obvious. He has been
pouring out swift, indignant denunciation on the evil-doers in Israel;
and, says he, 'they hatch cockatrice's eggs and spin spiders' webs,'
pointing, as I suppose, to the patient perseverance, worthy of a better
cause, which bad men will exercise in working out their plans. Then
with a flash of bitter irony, led on by his imagination to say more
than he had meant, he adds this scathing parenthesis, as if he said,
'Yes, they spin spiders' webs, elaborate toil and creeping contrivance,
and what comes of it all! The flimsy foul thing is swept away by God's
besom sooner or later. A web indeed! but they will never make a garment
out of it. It looks like cloth, but it is useless.' That is the old
lesson that all sin is profitless and comes to nothing.

I venture to connect with that strongly figurative declaration of the
essential futility of godless living, our second text, in which Jesus
uses a similar figure to express one aspect of His gifts to the
believing soul. He is ready to clothe it, so that 'being clothed, it
will not be found naked.'

I. Sin clothes no man even here.

Notice in passing what a hint there is of the toil and trouble that men
are so willing to take in a wrong course. Hatching and spinning both
suggest protracted, sedulous labour. And then the issue of it all
is--_nothing_.

Take the plainest illustrations of this truth first--the breach of
common laws of morality, the indulgence, for instance, in dissipation.
A man gets a certain coarse delight out of it, but what does he get
besides? A weakened body, a tyrannous craving, ruined prospects,
oftenest poverty and shame, the loss of self-respect and love; of moral
excellences, of tastes for what is better. He is not a beast, and he
cannot live for pure animalism without injuring himself.

Then take actual breaches of human laws. How seldom these 'pay,' even
in the lowest sense. Thieves are always poor. The same experience of
futility dogs all coarse and palpable breaches of morality. It is
always true that 'He that breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.'

The reasons are not far to seek. This is, on the whole, God's world, a
world of retribution. Things are, on the whole, on the side of
goodness. God is in the world, and that is an element not to be left
out in the calculation. Society is on the side of goodness to a large
extent. The constitution of a man's own soul, which God made, works in
the same direction. Young men who are trembling on the verge of
youthful yieldings to passion, are tempted to fancy that they can sow
sin and not reap suffering or harm. Would that they settled it in their
thoughts that he who fires a fuse must expect an explosion!

But the same rule applies to every godless form of life. Take our
Manchester temptation, money or success in business. Take ambition.
Take culture, literary fame. Take love and friendship. What do they all
come to, if godless? I do not point to the many failures, but suppose
success: would that make you a happy man? If you won what you wanted,
would it be enough? What 'garments' for your conscience, for your sense
of sin, for your infinite longings would success in any godless course
provide? You would have what you wanted, and what would it bring with
it? Cares and troubles and swift satiety, and not seldom incapacity to
enjoy what you had won with so much toil. If you gained the prize, you
would find clinging to it something that you did not bargain for, and
that took most of the dazzle away from it.

II. The rags are all stripped off some day.

Death is a becoming naked as to the body, and as to all the occupations
that terminate with bodily life. It necessarily involves the loss of
possessions, the cessation of activities, the stripping off of
self-deceptions, and exposure to the gaze of the Judge, without
defence. The godless soul will 'be found naked' and ashamed. All 'works
of darkness,' laden with rich blossom or juicy fruit though they have
seemed to be, will then be seen to be in tragic truth 'fruitless.' A
life's spinning and weaving, and not a rag to cover the toiler after
all! Is that 'productive labour'?

III. Christ will clothe you.

'White raiment.' Pure character. Covering before the Judge. Festal robe
of Victory.

'Buy'--how? By giving up self.



THE SUNLIT CHURCH

'Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is
risen upon thee. 2. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and
His glory shall be seen upon thee. 3. And the Gentiles shall come to
thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.'--ISAIAH lx. 1-3.


The personation of Israel as a woman runs through the whole of this
second portion of Isaiah's prophecy. We see her thrown on the earth a
mourning mother, a shackled captive. We hear her summoned once and
again to awake, to arise, to shake herself from the dust, to loose the
bands of her neck. These summonses are prophecies of the impending
Messianic deliverance. The same circle of truths, in a somewhat
different aspect, is presented in the verses before us. The prophet
sees the earth wrapped in a funeral pall of darkness, and a beam of
more than natural light falling on one prostrate form. The old story is
repeated, Zion stands in the light, while Egypt cowers in gloom. The
light which shines upon her is 'the Glory of the Lord,' the ancient
brightness that dwelt between the cherubim within the veil in the
secret place of the Most High, and is now come out into the open world
to envelop the desolate captive. Thus touched by the light she becomes
light, and in her turn is bidden to shine. There is a very remarkable
correspondence reiterated in my text between the illuminating God and
the illuminated Zion. The word for shine is connected with the word for
light, and might fairly be rendered 'lighten,' or 'be light.' Twice the
phrase 'thy light' is employed; once to mean the light which is thine
because it shines on thee; once to mean the light which is thine
because it shines from thee. The other word, three times repeated, for
_rising_, is the technical word which expresses the sunrise, and it is
applied both to the flashing glory that falls upon Zion and to the
light that gleams from her. Touched by the sun, she becomes a sun, and
blazes in her heaven in a splendour that draws men's hearts. So, then,
if that be the fair analysis of the words before us, they present to us
some thoughts bearing on the Missionary work of the Church, and I
gather them all up in three--the fact, the ringing summons, and the
confident promise.

I. Now, as to the fact.

Beneath the poetry of my text there lie very definite conceptions of a
very solemn and grave character, and these conceptions are the
foundation of the ringing summons that follows, and which reposes upon
a double basis--viz. '_for_ thy light is come,' and '_for_ darkness
covers the earth.' There is a double element in the representation. We
have a darkened earth, and a sunlit and a sunlike church; and unless we
hold these two convictions--both of them-in firm grasp, and that not
merely as convictions that influence our understanding, but as ever
present forces acting on our emotions, our consciences, our wills, we
shall not do the work which God has set us to do in the world. I need
not dwell long on the former of these, or speak of that funeral pall
that wraps the whole earth. Only remember that it is no darkness that
came from His hand who forms the light and creates darkness, but is
like the smoke that lies over our great cities--the work of many an
earth-born fire, whose half-consumed foulness hides the sun from us. If
we take the sulphureous and smoky pall that wraps the earth, and
analyse its contents, they are these: the darkness of ignorance, the
darkness of sorrow, the darkness of sin. Of ignorance; for throughout
the wide regions that lie beneath that covering spread over all nations
is there any certitude about God, about man, about morals, about
responsibilities, about eternity? Peradventures, guesses, dreams,
precious fragments of truth, twisted in with the worst of lies, noble
aspirations side by side with bestial representations--these are the
things on which our brethren repose, or try to repose. We do not forget
that light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.

We do not forget, of course, that everywhere there are feelings after
Him, and everywhere there are gleams and glimpses of a vanishing light,
else life were impossible; but oh, dear brethren, let us not forget
either that the people sit in darkness of ignorance, which is the
saddest darkness that can afflict men.

And it is a darkness of sorrow, for all the ills that flesh is heir to
press, unalleviated and unsustained by any known helper in the heavens,
upon millions of our fellows. They stand, as the great German poet
describes himself as standing, in one of the most pathetic of his
lyrics, before the marble image of the fair goddess, who has pity on
her face and beauty raying from her limbs, but she has no arms. So
tears fall undried. The light-hearted savage is a fiction. What a heavy
gloom lies upon his past and his present, which darkens into an
impenetrable mist that wraps and hides the future!

And the darkness is a darkness of sin as well as of sorrow and of
ignorance. On that point I need not dwell. We all believe that all have
'sinned and come short of the glory of God,' and we all believe that
idolatry, as we see it, and as it is wrought out, is an ally of
impurity and of sin. The process is this: men make gods in their own
image, and the gods make devils of the men. 'They that make them are
like unto them, so is every one that trusteth in them.' We need no
other principle than that to account for the degradation of heathenism
and for the obscenities and foul transgression within the very courts
of the temple.

Now, dear friends, that I may not dwell too long upon the A B C of our
belief, let me urge you in one sentence to be on your guard against
present-day tendencies which weaken the force of this solemn, tragical
conviction as to the realities of heathendom. The new science of
comparative religion has done much for us. I am not saying one word
against this pursuit, or the conclusions which are drawn from it. But I
pray you to remember that the underlying truths buried beneath the
system that any men hold as their religion are one thing, and the
practical working of that system, as we see it in daily life, is
altogether another. The actual character of heathenism is not to be
learned from the sacred books of all nations and the precious gleams of
wisdom and feeling after the Divine which we recognise in man. As a
simple matter of fact, all over the world the religion of heathen
nations is a mass of obscenity, intertwined so closely with nobler
thoughts that the two seem to be inseparable. Unalleviated sorrows,
hideous foulnesses, a gross ignorance covering all the most important
realities for men--these are the facts with which we have to grapple.
Do not let us forget them.

And on the other side, remember the contrasted picture here of the
sunlit and sunny church. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the
fulfilment of my text. 'We behold His glory, the glory as of the only
begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.' If you and I are
Christians, we are bound to believe in Him as the exclusive source of
certainty. We hear from Him no peradventure, but His word is, 'Verily,
verily, I say unto you,' and on that word we rest all our knowledge of
God, of duty, of man, and of the future. Instead of fears, doubt,
perhapses, we have a living Christ and His rock-word. And in Him is all
joy, and in Him is the cleansing from all sin. And this threefold
radiance, into which the one pure light may be analysed, falls upon us.
It falls all over the world as well; but they into whose hearts it has
come, they whose faces are turned to it, they receive it in a sense in
which the unreceptive and unresponsive darkness of the world does not.
The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness will have none of
it, and so it is darkness yet. The light shineth upon us, and if by His
mercy we have opened our hearts to it, then, according to the profound
teaching of this context, we are not only a sun-lighted but a sunlike
Church, and to us the commandment comes, 'Arise, shine, for thy light
is come,' and has turned thy poor darkness into a sun too.

If we have the light we shall be light. That is but putting in a
picturesque form the very central truth of Christianity. The last word
of the gospel is transformation. We become like Him if we live near
Him, and the end for which the Master became like unto us in His
incarnation and passion was that we might become like to Him by the
reception of His very own life unto our souls. Light makes many a
surface on which it falls flash, but in the optics of earth it is the
rays which are not absorbed that are reflected; but in this loftier
region the illumination is not superficial but inward, and it is the
light which is swallowed up within us that then comes forth from us.
Christ will dwell in our hearts, and we shall be like some poor little
diamond-shaped pane of glass in a cottage window which, when the sun
smites it, is visible over miles of the plain. If that sun falls upon
us, its image will be mirrored in our hearts and flashing in our lives.
The clouds that lie over the sunset, though in themselves they be but
poor, grey, and moist vapour, when smitten by its beneficent radiance,
become not unworthy ministers and attendants upon its glory. So, my
brethren, it may be with us, for Christ comes to be our light, Because
He is in us and with us we are changed into His likeness, and the names
that are most appropriate to Him He shares with us. Is He the
'Son'?--we are sons. Is He 'the Light of the world'? His own lips tell
us, 'Ye are the light of the world.' Is He the Christ? The Psalm says:
'Touch not my Christs, and do My prophets no harm.' Critics have
quarrelled over these last chapters of the Book of Isaiah, as to whom
the servant of the Lord is; whether he is the personal or collective
Israel, whether he is Christ or His Church. Let us take the lesson that
He and we are so united that His office that made the union possible,
wherein He was sacrificed on the Cross for us all--belongs by
derivation to His servants, and that He, the Sun of Righteousness,
moves in the heavens circled by many another sun.

So, dear friends, these two convictions of these two facts, the dark
earth, the sunlit, sunlike church, lie at the basis of all our
missionary work. If once we begin to doubt about them, if once we begin
to think that men have got a good deal of light already, and can do
very well without much more, or if we at all are hesitant about our
possession of the light, and the certitudes and the joys that are in
it, then good-bye to our missionary zeal. We shall soon begin to ask
the question, 'To what purpose is this waste?'--though the lips that
first asked it, by the bye, did not much recommend it--and shall
consider that money and resources and precious lives are too precious
to be thrown away thus. But if we rightly appreciate the force of these
twin principles, then we shall be ready to listen to the ringing
summons.

II. We have here, in the second place, based upon these two facts, the
summons to the Church. 'Shine, for thy light is come.' If we _have_
light, we _are_ light. If we are light, we shall shine; but the shining
is not altogether spontaneous and effortless. Stars do not need to be
bidden to shine nor candles either; but _we_ need the exhortation,
because there are many things that dim the brilliance of our light and
interfere with its streaming forth. True, the property of light is to
shine, but we can rob the inward light of its beams. The silent witness
of a Christian life transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ is,
perhaps, the best contribution that any of us can make to the spread of
His kingdom. It is with us as it is with the great lights in the
heavens. 'There is no speech nor language; their voice is not heart,'
yet, 'their line has gone through all the earth, and their words to the
end of the world.' So we may quietly ray out the light in us and
witness the transforming power of our Master by the transparent purity
of our lives. But the command suggests likewise effort, and that effort
must be in the direction of the specific vocal proclamation of His name.

I take both these methods of fulfilling the command into my view, in
the further remarks that I make, and I put that which I have to say
upon this into three sentences: if we are light, we shall be able to
shine; if we are light, we are bound to shine; if we are light, we
shall wish to shine. We shall be able to shine. And man can manifest
what he is unless he is a coward. Any man can talk about the things
that are interesting to him if only they are interesting to him. Any
man that has Jesus Christ can say so; and perhaps the utterance of the
simple personal conviction is the best method of proclaiming His name.
All other things are surplusage. They are good when they come, they may
be done without. Learning, eloquence, and the like of these, are the
adornments of the lamp, but it does not matter whether the lamp be a
gorgeous affair of gilt and crystal, or whether it be a poor piece of
block tin; the main question is: are there wick and oil in it? The
pitcher may be gold and silver, or costly china, or it may be a poor
potsherd. Never mind. If there is water in it, it will be precious to a
thirsty lip. And so, dear brethren, I press this upon you: every
Christian man has the power, if he is a Christian, to proclaim his
Master, and if he has the Light he will be able to show it. I pause for
a moment to say that this suggests for us the condition of all faithful
and effectual witness for Jesus Christ. Cultivate understanding and all
other faculties as much as you like: but oh! you Christian ministers,
as well as others in less official and public positions, remember this:
the fitness to impart is to possess, and that being taken for granted,
the main thing is secured. As long as the electric light is in contact
with the battery, so long does it burn. Electricians have been trying
during the past few years to make accumulators, things in which they
can store the influence and put it away in a corner and use it so that
the light need not be in connection with the battery; and they have not
succeeded--at least it is only a very partial success. You and I cannot
start accumulators. Let us remember that personal contact with Jesus is
power, and only that personal contact is so. Arise, shine! but if thou
hast gone out of the light, thou wilt shine no more.

But again, if we are light we are bound to shine. That is an obvious
principle. The capacity to shine is the obligation to shine, for we are
all knit together by such mystical cords in this strange brotherhood of
humanity that every one of us holds his possession as trust property
for the use and behoof of others, and in the present case that which we
have received, and the price at which we have received it, give an edge
to the keenness of the obligation, and add a new grip to the stringency
of the command. It is because Christ has given Himself thus to us that
the possession of Him binds us to the imitation of His example, and the
impartation of Him to all our brethren. The obligation lies at our
doors, and cannot be delegated or devolved.

If we have light, we shall wish to shine. What shall we say about the
Christian people who never really had such a wish? God forbid that I
should say they have no light; but this I will say, it burns very
dimly. Dear brethren, there is no better test of the depth and the
purity of our personal attachment to, and possession of, our Master
than the impulse that will spring from them to communicate Him to
others. 'Necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is me if I preach not.'
That should be the word of every one of us, and it will be so in the
measure in which we ourselves have thoroughly laid hold of Jesus
Christ. 'This is a day of good tidings, and we cannot hold our peace,'
said the handful of lepers in the camp. 'If we are silent some mischief
will come to us.' 'Thy word, when I shut it up in my bones and said, I
will speak no more in Thy name, was like a fire, and was weary of
forbearing and could not stay.' Brother, do you know anything of the
divine necessity to share your blessing with the men around you? Did
you ever feel what it was to carry a burden of the Lord that drove you
to speech, and left you no rest until you had done what it impelled you
to do? If not, I beseech you to ask yourselves whether you cannot get
nearer to the sun than away out there on the very edge of its system,
receiving so few of its beams, and these so impotent that they can
scarcely do more than melt the surface of the thick-ribbed ice that
warps your spirit. If we are light we shall be enabled, we shall be
bound, we shall wish, to shine. Christian men and women, is this true
of you?

III. Lastly, notice here the confident promise.

'The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of
thy rising.' If we have the light we shall be light; if we are light we
shall shine, and if we shine we shall attract. Certainly men and women
with the light of Christ in them will draw others to them, just as many
an eye that cannot look undazzled upon the sun can look upon it
mirrored upon some polished surface. A painter will fling upon his
canvas a scene that you and I, with our purblind eyes, have looked at
hundreds of times, and seen no beauty; but when we gaze on the picture,
then we know how fair it is. There is an attractive power in the light
of Christ shining from the face of a man. Of course, we have to
moderate our expectations. We have to remember that whilst it is true
that some men will come to the light, it is also true that some men
'love the darkness, and will not come to the light because their deeds
are evil'; and we have to remember that we have no right to anticipate
rapid results. 'An inheritance may be begotten hastily at the
beginning, but the end thereof shall not be blessed,' said the wise
man; and the history of the Christian Church in many of its missionary
operations is a sad commentary upon the saying. We must remember that
we cannot estimate how long the preparation for a change, which will be
developed swiftly, may be. The sun on autumn mornings shines upon the
fog; and the people below, because there is a fog, do not know that it
is shining; but it is doing its work on the upper layer all the while,
and at length eats its way through the fleecy obstruction, which then
swiftly disappears. That must be a very, very long day of which the
morning twilight has been nineteen hundred years. Therefore, although
the vision tarries, we may fall back with unswerving confidence on
these words of my text--'The Gentiles shall come to the brightness of
thy rising.'

But after all this has been said, are you satisfied with the rate of
progress, are you satisfied with the swiftness of the fulfilment of
such hopes? Whose fault is it that the rate of progress is what it is?
Yours and mine and our predecessors'. There is such a thing as 'hasting
the day of the Lord,' and there is such a thing as protracting the time
of waiting. Dear brethren, the secret of our slow growth at home and
abroad lies in my text. Fulfil the conditions and you will get the
result; but if you are not shining by a light which is Christ's light,
who promised that _it_ would have attraction or draw men to it? A great
deal of the work of the Christian Church--but do not let us hide
ourselves in the generality of that word--a great deal of _our_ work is
artificial light, brewed out of retorts, and smelling sulphureous; and
a great deal more of it is the phosphorescence that glimmers above
decay. If the Christian Church has ceased in any measure, or in any of
its members, to be able to attract by the exhibition of its light, let
the Christian Church sit down and bethink itself of the sort of light
it gives, and perhaps it will find a reason for its failure. It is
Christ, the holy Christ, the loving Christ, the Christ in us making us
wise and gentle, it is the Christ manifested by word and by work, who
will draw the nations to Him.

So, men and brethren, do you keep near your Master and live close by
His side till you are drenched and saturated with His glory, and all
your cold vapours turned into visible divinity and manifested Jesus.
Keep near to Him. As long as a bit of scrap-iron touches a magnet, _it_
is a magnet: as soon as the contact is broken it ceases to attract. If
you live in the full sunshine of Christ and have Him, not merely
playing upon the surface of your mind, but sinking deep down into it
and transforming your whole being, then some men will, as they look at
you, be filled with strange longings, and will say: 'Come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord.' So may you and I live, like the morning
star, which, from its serene altitudes, touched into radiance by the
sun unseen from the darkened plains, prophesies its rising to a
sleeping world, and is content to be lost in the lustre of that
unsetting Light!



WALLS AND GATES

'Thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise'--ISAIAH lx.
18.


The prophet reaches the height of eloquence in his magnificent picture
of the restored Jerusalem, 'the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy
One of Israel.' To him the city stands for the embodiment of the
nation, and his vision of the future is moulded by his knowledge of the
past. Israel and Jerusalem were to him the embodiments of the divine
idea of God's dwelling with men, and of a society founded on the
presence of God in its midst. We are not forcing meanings on his words
which they will not bear, when we see in the society of men redeemed by
Christ the perfect embodiment of his vision. Nor is the prophet of the
New Testament doing so when he casts his vision of the future which is
to follow Resurrection and Judgment into a like form, and shows us the
new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.

The end of the world's history is to be, not a garden but a city, a
visible community, bound together because God dwells in it, and yet not
having lost the blessed characteristics of the Garden from which man
set out on his long and devious march.

The Christian form of the prophet's vision is the Christian Society,
and in that society, each individual member possesses his own portion
of the common blessings, so that the great words of this text have a
personal as well as a general application. We shall best bring out
their rich contents by simply taking them as they stand, and
considering what is promised by the two eloquent metaphors, which liken
salvation to the walls and praise to the gates of the City of God.

I. Salvation is to be the city's wall.

Another prophet foretold that the returning exiles would dwell in a
Jerusalem that had no walls, 'for I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a
wall of fire round about'; and Isaiah sang, 'We have a strong city;
salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.' There is no need
for material defences for the community or the individual whom God
defends. Would that the Church had lived up to the height of that great
thought! Would that we each believed it true in regard to our own
lives! There are three ways in which this promise may be viewed. We may
think of 'salvation' as meaning God's purpose to save. And then the
comfort and sense of security will be derived from the thought that
what He intends He performs, and that nothing can traverse that purpose
except our own rebellions self-will. They whom God designs to keep are
kept; they whom God wills to save are saved, unless they oppose His
will, which opposition is in itself to be lost, and leads to ultimate
and irreparable loss.

We may think of salvation as an actually begun work. Then the comfort
and sense of security will be derived from that great work by which
salvation has begun to be ours. The work of Christ keeps us from all
danger, and no foes can make a breach in that wall, nor reach those who
stand safe behind its strong towers.

We may think of salvation as a personal experience, and then the
comfort and sense of security will be derived from that blessed
consciousness of possessing in some measure at least the spirit, not of
bondage, but of a son. The consciousness of having 'salvation' is our
best defence against spiritual foes and our best shield against
temporal calamities.

It is good for us to live by faith, to be thrown back on our unseen
protector, to feel with the psalmist, 'Thou, Lord, makest me to dwell
in safety, though alone,' and to see the wall great and high that is
drawn round our defenceless tent pitched on the sands of the flat
desert.

II. Praise is to be the city's gate.

As to the Church, this prophecy anticipates the Apostle's teaching that
the whole divine work of Redemption, from its fore-ordination before
the foundation of the world, to its application to each sinful soul, is
'to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory' or, as he
elsewhere expands and enriches the expression, 'to the praise of the
glory of His grace.'

We are 'secretaries of His praise.' A gate is that by which the safe
inhabitants go out into the region beyond, and the outgoings of the
active life of every Christian should be such as to make manifest the
blessings that he enjoys within the shelter of the city's walls. Only
if our hidden life is blessed with a begun salvation will our outward
life be vocal with the music of praise. The gate will be praise if, and
only if, the wall is salvation.

And praise is the gate by which we should go out into the world, even
when the world into which we go is dark and the ways rough and hard. If
we have the warm glow of a realised salvation in our hearts, sorrows
that are but for a moment will not silence the voice of praise, though
they may cast it into a minor key. The praise that rises from a sad
heart is yet more melodious in God's ear than that which carols when
all things go well. The bird that sings in a darkened cage makes music
to its owner. 'Songs in the night' have a singular pathos and thrill
the listeners. When we 'take the cup of salvation' and call on the name
of the Lord, we shall offer to Him the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
though He may recall some of the precious gifts that He gave. For He
never takes away the wall of salvation which He has built around us,
and as long as that wall stands, its gates will be praise. Submission,
recognition of His will, and even 'silence because Thou didst it,' are
praise to His ear.



THE JOY-BRINGER

'To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for
ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the
spirit of heaviness.'--ISAIAH lxi. 3.


In the little synagogue of Nazareth Jesus began His ministry by laying
His hand upon this great prophecy and saying, 'It is Mine! I have
fulfilled it.' The prophet had been painting the ideal Messianic
Deliverer, with special reference to the return from the Babylonian
captivity. That was 'the liberty to the captives, and the opening of
the prison to them that are bound,' and about which he was thinking.
But no external deliverance of that sort could meet the needs, nor
satisfy the aspirations, of a soul that knows itself and its
circumstances. Isaiah, or the man who goes by his name, spoke greater
things than he knew. I am not going to enter upon questions of
interpretation; but I may say, that no conception of Jewish prophecy
can hold its ground which is not framed in the light of that great
saying in the synagogue of Nazareth. So, then, we have here the 'Man of
Sorrows,' as this very prophet calls Him in another place, presenting
Himself as the Transformer of sorrow and the Bringer of joy, in regard
to infinitely deeper griefs than those which sprang in the heart of the
nation because of the historical captivity.

There is another beautiful thing in our text, which comes out more
distinctly if we follow the Revised Version, and read 'to give unto
them a _garland_ for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of
praise for the spirit of heaviness.' There we have two contrasted
pictures suggested: one of a mourner with grey ashes strewed upon his
dishevelled locks, and his spirit clothed in gloom like a black robe;
and to him there comes One who, with gentle hand, smoothes the ashes
out of his hair, trains a garland round his brow, anoints his head with
oil, and, stripping off the trappings of woe, casts about him a bright
robe fit for a guest at a festival. That is the miracle that Jesus
Christ can do for every one, and is ready to do for us, if we will let
Him. Let us look at this wonderful transformation, and at the way by
which it is effected.

The first point I would make is that--

I. Jesus Christ is the Joy-bringer to men because He is the Redeemer of
men.

Remember that in the original application of my text to the deliverance
from captivity, this gift of joy and change of sorrow into gladness was
no independent and second bestowment, but was simply the issue of the
one that preceded it, viz., the gift of liberty to the captives, and
the opening of the prison to them that were bound. The gladness was a
gladness that welled up in the heart of the captives set free, and
coming out from the gloom of the Babylonian dungeon into the sunshine
of God's favour, with their faces set towards Zion 'with songs and
everlasting joy upon their heads.'

Now you have only to keep firm hold of this connection between these
two thoughts to come to the crown and centre-point of this great
prophecy, as far as it applies to us, and that is that it is Christ as
the Emancipator, Christ as the Deliverer, Christ as He who brings us
out of the prison of bondage of the tyranny of sin, who is the great
Joy-Giver. For there is no real, deep, fundamental and impregnable
gladness possible to a man until his relations to God have been
rectified, and until, with these rectified relations, with the
consciousness of forgiveness and the divine love nestling warm at his
heart, he has turned himself away from his dread and his sin, and has
recognised in his Father God 'the gladness of his joy.'

Of course, there are many of us who feel that life is sufficiently
comfortable and moderately happy, or at least quite tolerable, without
any kind of reference to God at all. And in this day of growing
materialism, and growing consequent indifference to the deepest needs
of the spirit and the claims of religion, more and more men are
finding, or fancying that they find, that they can rub along somehow,
and have a fair share of gladness and satisfaction, without any need
for a redeeming gospel and a forgiving Christ. But about all that kind
of surface-joy the old words are true, 'even in laughter the heart is
sorrowful,' and hosts of us are satisfied with joys which Jesus has no
part in bringing, simply because our truest self has never once
awakened. When it does-and perhaps it will do so with some of you, like
the sleeping giant that is fabled to lie beneath the volcano whose
sunny slopes are smiling with flowers--then you will find out that no
one can bring real joy who does not take away guilt and sin.

Jesus Christ is the Joy-bringer, because Jesus Christ is the
Emancipator. And true gladness is the gladness that springs from the
conscious possession of liberty from the captivity which holds men
slaves to evil and to their worst selves. Brethren, let us not fancy
that these surface-joys are the joys adequate to a human spirit. They
are ignoble, and they are infinitely foolish, because a touch of an
awakened conscience, a stirring of one's deeper self, can scatter them
all to pieces. So then, that is my first thought.

Let us suggest a second, that--

II. Jesus Christ transforms sorrow because He transforms the mourner.

In my text, all that this Joy-bringer and Transmuter of grief into its
opposite is represented as doing is on the man who feels the sorrow.
And although, as I have said, the text, in its original position, is
simply a deduction from the previous great prophecy which did point to
a change of circumstances, and although Jesus does bring the 'joy of
salvation' by a great change in a man's relations, yet in regard to the
ordinary sorrows of life, He affects these not so much by an operation
upon our circumstances as by an operation upon ourselves, and
transforms sorrow and brings gladness, because He transforms the man
who endures it. The landscape remains the same, the difference is in
the colour of the glass through which we look at it. Instead of having
it presented through some black and smoked medium, we see it through
what the painter calls a 'Claude Lorraine' glass, tinged golden, and
which throws its own lovely light upon all that it shows us. It is
possible--the eye that looks being purged and cleansed, so as to see
more clearly-that the facts remaining identical, their whole aspect and
bearing may be altered, and that which was felt, and rightly felt, to
be painful and provocative of sadness and gloom, may change its
character and beget a solemn joy. It would be but a small thing to
transform the conditions; it is far better and higher to transform us.
We all need, and some of us, I have no doubt, do especially need, to
remember that the Lord who brings this sudden transformation for us,
does so by His operation within us, and, therefore, to that operation
we should willingly yield ourselves.

How does He do this? One answer to that question is--by giving to the
man with ashes on his head and gloom wrapped about his spirit, sources
of joy, if he will use them, altogether independent of external
circumstances.' Though the fig-tree shall not blossom, and there be no
fruit in the vine ... yet will I rejoice in the Lord.' And every
Christian man, especially when days are dark and clouds are gathering,
has it open to him, and is bound to use the possibility, to turn away
his mind from the external occasions of sadness, and fix it on the
changeless reason for deep and unchanging joy--the sweet presence, the
strong love, the sustaining hand, the infinite wisdom, of his Father
God.

Brethren, "the paradox of the Christian life" is, 'as sorrowful, yet
always rejoicing.' Christ calls for no hypocritical insensibility to
'the ills that flesh is heir to.' He has sanctioned by His example the
tears that flow when death hurts loving hearts. He commanded the women
of Jerusalem to 'weep for themselves and for their children.' He means
that we should feel the full bitterness and pain of sorrows which will
not be medicinal unless they are bitter, and will not be curative
unless they cut deep. But He also means that whilst thus we suffer as
men, in the depths of our own hearts we should, at the same time, be
turning away from the sufferings and their cause, and fixing our
hearts, quiet even then amidst the distractions, upon God Himself. Ah!
it is hard to do, and because we do not do it, the promise that He will
turn the sorrow into joy often seems to be a vain word for us.

It is not ours to rejoice as the world does, nor is it ours to sorrow
as those who have no hope, or as those who have no God with them. But
the two opposite emotions may, to a large extent, be harmonised and
co-existent in a Christian heart, and, since they can be, they should
be. The Christian in sorrow should be as an island set in some stormy
sea, with wild waves breaking against its black, rocky coast, and the
wind howling around it, but in the centre of it there is a deep and
shady dell 'that heareth not the loud winds when they call,' and where
not a leaf is moved by the tempest. In a like depth of calm and central
tranquillity it is possible for us to live, even while the storm
hurtles its loudest on the outermost coasts of our being; 'as
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,' because the Joy-bringer has opened
for us sources of gladness independent of externals.

And then there is another way by which, for us, if we will use our
privileges, the sorrows of life may be transmuted, because we,
contemplating them, have come to a changed understanding of their
meaning. That is, after all, the secret charm to be commended to us at
all times, but to be commended to us most when our hearts are heavy and
the days are dark around us. We shall never understand life if we class
its diverse events simply under the two opposite categories of
good--evil; prosperity--adversity; gains--losses; fulfilled
expectations--disappointed hopes, Put them all together under one
class--discipline and education; means for growth; means for
Christlikeness. When we have found out, what it takes a long while for
us to learn, that the lancet and the bandage are for the same purpose,
and that opposite weathers conspire to the same end, that of the
harvest, the sting is out of the sorrow, the poison is wiped off the
arrow. We can have, if not a solemn joy, at least a patient
acquiescence, in the diversities of operation, when we learn that the
same hand is working in all for the same end, and that all that
contributes to that end is good.

Here we may suggest a third way by which a transformation wrought upon
ourselves transforms the aspect of our sorrows, and that is, that
possessing independent sources of joy, and having come to learn the
educational aspect of all adversity, we hereby are brought by Jesus
Christ Himself to the position of submission. And that is the most
potent talisman to transform mourning into praise. An accepted grief is
a conquered grief; a conquered grief will very soon be a comforted
grief; and a comforted grief is a joy. By all these means Jesus Christ,
here and now, is transmuting the lead and iron of our griefs into the
gold of a not ignoble nor transient gladness.

And may I say one last word? My text suggests not only these two points
to which I have already referred--viz. that Jesus Christ is the
Joy-bringer because He is the Emancipator, and that He transforms
sorrow by transforming the mourner--but, lastly, that

III. Jesus gives joy after sorrow.

'Nevertheless, afterward' is a great word of glowing encouragement for
all sad hearts. 'Fools and children,' says the old proverb, 'should not
see half-done work '; at least, they should not judge it. When the
ploughshare goes deep into the brown, frosty ground, the work is only
begun. The earth may seem to be scarped and hurt, and, if one might
say, to bleed, but in six months' time 'you scarce can see' the soil
for waving corn. Yes; and sorrow, as some of us could witness, is the
forecast of purest joy. I have no doubt that there are men and women
here who could say, 'I never knew the power of God, and the blessedness
of Christ as a Saviour, until I was in deep affliction, and when
everything else went dark, then in His light I saw light.' Do not some
of you know the experience? and might we not all know it? and why do we
not know it?

Jesus Christ, even here and now, gives these blessed results of our
sorrows, if they are taken to the right place, and borne in right
fashion. For it is they 'that mourn in Zion' that He thus blesses.
There are some of us, I fear, whose only resource in trouble is to
fling ourselves into some work, or some dissipation. There are people
who try to work away their griefs, as well as people who try feverishly
to drink them away. And there are some of us whose only resource for
deliverance from our sorrows is that, after the wound has bled all it
can, it stops bleeding, and the grief simply dies by lapse of time and
for want of fuel. An affliction wasted is the worst of all waste. But
if we carry our grief into the sanctuary, then, here and now, it will
change its aspect and become a solemn joy.

I say nothing about the ultimate result where every sorrow rightly
borne shall be represented in the future life by some stage in grace or
glory, where every tear shall be crystallised, if I might say so, into
a flashing diamond, which flings off the reflection of the divine
light, where 'there shall be no sorrow nor sighing, nor any more pain,
for the former things are passed away.' When the lesson has been
learned, God burns the rod.

But, brethren, there is another sadder transformation. I have been
speaking about the transformation of sorrow into joy. There is also the
transformation of joy into sorrow. I spoke a little while ago about the
'laughter' in which the heart is 'sorrowful,' and the writer from whom
I quoted the words goes on to say, 'The end of that mirth is
heaviness.' 'Thereof cometh in the end despondency and madness.' I saw,
on a hilltop, a black circle among the grass and heather. There had
been a bonfire there on Coronation Night, and it had all died down, and
that was the end--a hideous ring of scorched barrenness amidst the
verdure. Take care that your gladnesses do not die down like that, but
that they are pure, and being pure are undying. Union with Jesus Christ
makes sorrow light, and secures that it shall merge at last into 'joy
unspeakable and full of joy.' I believe that separation from Christ
makes joy shallow, and makes it certain that at last, instead of a
garland, shall be ashes on the head, and that, instead of a festal
robe, the spirit shall be wrapped in a garment of heaviness.



THE HEAVENLY WORKERS AND THE EARTHLY WATCHERS

'For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I
will not rest ... I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem,
which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention
of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest'--ISAIAH lxii. 1,
6, 7.


Two remarks of an expository nature will prepare the way for the
consideration of these words. The first is that the speaker is the
personal Messiah. The second half of Isaiah's prophecies forms one
great whole, which might be called The Book of the Servant of the Lord.
One majestic figure stands forth on its pages with ever-growing
clearness of outline and form. The language in which He is described
fluctuates at first between the collective Israel and the one Person
who is to be all that the nation had failed to attain. But even near
the beginning of the prophecy we read of 'My servant whom I uphold,'
whose voice is to be low and soft, and whose meek persistence is not to
fail till He have 'set judgment in the earth.' And as we advance the
reference to the nation becomes less and less possible, and the
recognition of the person more and more imperative. At first the music
of the prophetic song seems to move uncertainly amid sweet sounds, from
which the true theme by degrees emerges, and thenceforward recurs over
and over again with deeper, louder harmonies clustering about it, till
it swells into the grandeur of the choral close.

In the chapter before our text we read, 'The Spirit of the Lord God is
upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto
the meek.' Throughout the remainder of the prophecy, with the exception
of one section which contains the prayer of the desolate Israel, this
same person continues to speak; and who he is was taught in the
synagogue of Nazareth. Whilst the preceding chapter, then, brings in
Christ as proclaiming the great work of deliverance for which He is
anointed of God, the following chapter presents Him as 'treading the
wine-press alone,' which is a symbol of the future judgment by the
glorified Saviour. Between these two prophecies of the earthly life and
of the still future judicial energy, this chapter of our text lies,
referring, as I take it, to the period between these two--that is, to
all the ages of the Church's development on earth. For these Christ
here promises His continual activity, and His continual bestowment of
grace to His servants who watch the walls of His Jerusalem.

The second point to be noticed is the remarkable parallelism in the
expressions selected as the text: 'I will not hold _My_ peace'; the
watchmen 'shall never hold _their peace_.' And His command to them is
literally, 'Ye that remind Jehovah--no _rest_ (or silence) to you, and
give not _rest_ to Him.'

So we have here Christ, the Church, and God all represented as
unceasingly occupied in the one great work of establishing 'Zion' as
the centre of light, salvation, and righteousness for the whole world.
The consideration of these three perpetual activities may open for us
some great truths and stimulating lessons.

I. First, then, The glorified Christ is constantly working for His
Church.

We are too apt to regard our Lord's real work as all lying in the past,
and, from the very greatness of our estimate of what He has done, to
forget the true importance of what He evermore does. 'Christ that died'
is the central object of trust and contemplation for devout souls--and
that often to the partial hiding of Christ that is 'risen again, who is
even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.'
But Scripture sets forth the present glorious life of our ascended Lord
under two contrasted and harmonious aspects--as being rest, and as
being continuous activity in the midst of rest. He was 'received up
into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.' In that session on the
throne manifold and mighty truths are expressed. It proclaims the full
accomplishment of all the purposes of His earthly ministry; it
emphasises the triumphant completion of His redeeming work by His
death; it proclaims the majesty of His nature, which returns to the
'glory which He had with the Father before the world was'; it shows to
the world, as on some coronation day, its King on His throne, girded
with power and holding the far-reaching sceptre of the universe; it
prophesies for men, in spite of all present sin and degradation, a
share in the dominion which manhood has in Christ attained, for though
we see not yet all things put under Him, we see Jesus crowned with
glory and honour. It prophesies, too, His final victory over all that
sets itself in unavailing antagonism to His love. It points us backward
to an historical fact as the basis of all our hopes for ourselves and
for our fellows, giving us the assurance that the world's deliverance
will come from the slow operation of the forces already lodged in its
history by Christ's finished work. It points us forwards to a future as
the goal of all these hopes, giving us that confidence of victory which
He has who, having kindled the fire on earth, henceforward sits at
God's right hand, waiting in the calm and sublime patience of conscious
omnipotence and clear foreknowledge 'until His enemies become His
footstool.'

But whilst on the one side Christ rests as from a perfected work which
needs no addition nor repetition, on the other He 'rests not day nor
night.' And this aspect of His present state is as distinctly set forth
in Scripture as that is. Indeed the words already quoted as embodying
the former phase contain the latter also. For is not 'the right hand of
God' the operative energy of the divine nature? And is not 'sitting at
the right hand of God' equivalent to possessing and wielding that
unwearied, measureless power? Are there not blended together in this
pregnant phrase the ideas of profoundest calm and of intensest action,
that being expressed by the attitude, and this by the locality?
Therefore does the evangelist who uses the expression expand it into
words which wonderfully close his gospel, with the same representation
of Christ's swift and constant activity as he had been all along
pointing out as characterising His life on earth. 'They went forth,'
says he, 'and preached everywhere'--so far the contrast between the
Lord seated in the heavens and His wandering servants fighting on earth
is sharp and almost harsh. But the next words tone it down, and weave
the two apparently discordant halves of the picture into a whole: 'the
Lord _working_ with them.' Yes! in all His rest He is full of work, in
all their toils He shares, in all their journeys His presence goes
beside them. Whatever they do is His deed, and the help that is done
upon the earth He doeth it all Himself.

Is not this blessed conviction of Christ's continuous operation in and
for His Church that which underlies, as has often been pointed out, the
language of the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, where mention
is made of the former treatise that told 'all which Jesus began both to
do and teach'? The gospel records the beginning, the Book of the Acts
the continuance; it is one biography in two volumes. Being yet present
with them He spoke and acted. Being exalted He 'speaketh from heaven,'
and from the throne carries on the endless series of His works of power
and healing. The whole history is shaped by the same conviction.
Everywhere 'the Lord' is the true actor, the source of all the life
which is in the Church, the arranger of all the providences which
affect its progress. The Lord adds to the Church daily. His name works
miracles. To the Lord believers are added. His angel, His Spirit, bring
messages to His servants. He appears to Paul, and speaks to Ananias.
The Gentiles turn to the Lord because the hand of the Lord is with the
preachers. The Lord calls Paul to carry the gospel to Macedonia. The
Lord opens the heart of Lydia, and so throughout. Not 'the Acts of the
Apostles,' but 'the Acts of the Lord in and by His servants,' is the
accurate title of this book. The vision which flashed angel radiance on
the face, and beamed with divine comfort into the heart, of Stephen,
was a momentary revelation of an abiding reality, and completes the
representation of the Saviour throned beside Almighty power. He beheld
his Lord, not seated, as if careless or resting, while His servant's
need was so sore, but as if risen with intent to help, and ready to
defend--'_standing_ on the right hand of God.'

And when once again the heavens opened to the rapt eyes of John in
Patmos, the Lord whom he beheld was not only revealed as glorified in
the lustre of the inaccessible light, but as actively sustaining and
guiding the human reflectors of it. He 'holdeth the seven stars in His
right hand,' and '_walketh_ in the midst of the seven golden
candlesticks.'

Not otherwise does my text represent the present relation of Christ to
His Church. It speaks of a continuous forth-putting of power, which it
is, perhaps, not over-fanciful to regard as dimly set forth here in a
twofold form--namely, work and word. At all events, that division
stands out clearly on the pages of the New Testament, which ever holds
forth the double truth of our Lord's constant action on, in, through,
and for His Zion, and of our High Priest's constant intercession.

'I will not rest.' Through all the ages His power is in exercise. He
inspires in good men all their wisdom, and every grace of life and
character. He uses them as His weapons in the contest of His love with
the world's hatred; but the hand that forged, and tempered, and
sharpened the blade is that which smites with it; and the axe must not
boast itself against him that heweth. He, the Lord of lords, orders
providences, and shapes the course of the world for that Church which
is His witness: 'Yea, He reproved kings for their sake, saying, Touch
not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.' The ancient legend
which told how, on many a well-fought field, the ranks of Rome
discerned through the battle-dust the gleaming weapons and white steeds
of the Great Twin Brethren far in front of the solid legions, is true
in loftier sense in our Holy War. We may still see the vision which the
leader of Israel saw of old, the man with the drawn sword in his hand,
and hear the majestic word, 'As Captain of the Lord's host am I now
come.' The Word of God, with vesture dipped in blood, with eyes alit
with His flaming love, with the many crowns of unlimited sovereignty
upon His head, rides at the head of the armies of heaven; 'and in
righteousness doth He judge and make war.' For the single soul
struggling with daily tasks and petty cares, His help is near and real,
as for the widest work of the collective whole. He sends none of us
tasks in which He has no share. The word of this Master is never 'Go,'
but 'Come.' He unites Himself with all our sorrows, with all our
efforts. 'The Lord also working with them' is a description of all the
labours of Christian men, be they great or small.

Nor is this all. There still remains the wonderful truth of His
continuous intercession for us. In its widest meaning that word
expresses the whole of the manifold ways by which Christ undertakes and
maintains our cause. But the narrower signification of prayer on our
behalf is applicable, and is in Scripture applied, to our Lord. As on
earth, the climax of all His intercourse with His disciples was that
deep yet simple prayer which forms the Holy of Holies of John's Gospel,
so in heaven His loftiest office for us is set forth under the figure
of His intercession. Before the Throne stands the slain Lamb, and
therefore do the elders in the outer circle bring acceptable praises.
Within the veil stands the Priest, with the names of the tribes blazing
on the breastplate and on the shoulders of His robes, near the seat of
love, near the arm of power. And whatever difficulty may surround that
idea of Christ's priestly intercession, this at all events is implied
in it, that the mighty work which He accomplished on earth is ever
present to the divine mind as the ground of our acceptance and the
channel of our blessings; and this further, that the utterance of
Christ's will is ever in harmony with the divine purpose. Therefore His
prayer has in it a strange tone of majesty, and, if we may so say, of
command, as of one who knows that He is ever heard: '_I will_ that they
whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.'

The instinct of the Church has, from of old, laid hold of an event in
His earthly life to shadow forth this great truth, and has bid us see a
pledge and a symbol of it in that scene on the Lake of Galilee: the
disciples toiling in the sudden storm, the poor little barque tossing
on the waters tinged by the wan moon, the spray dashing over the
wearied rowers. They seem alone, but up yonder, in some hidden cleft of
the hills, their Master looks down on all the weltering storm, and
lifts His voice in prayer. Then when the need is sorest, and the hope
least, He comes across the waves, making their surges His pavement, and
using all opposition as the means of His approach, and His presence
brings calmness, and immediately they are at the land.

So we have not only to look back to the Cross, but up to the Throne.
From the Cross we hear a voice, 'It is finished.' From the Throne a
voice, 'For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's
sake I will not rest.'

II. Secondly, Christ's servants on earth derive from Him a like
perpetual activity for the same object.

The Lord, who in the former portion of these verses declares His own
purpose of unwearied action for Zion, associates with Himself in the
latter portion the watchmen, whom He appoints and endows for functions
in some measure resembling His own, and exercised with constancy
derived from Him. 'I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem,
which shall never hold their peace day nor night.' On the promise
follows, as ever, a command (for all divine gifts involve the
responsibility of their use, and it is not His wont either to bestow
without requiring, or to require before bestowing), 'Ye that remind
Jehovah, keep not silence.'

There is distinctly traceable before a reference to a two-fold form of
occupation devolving on these Christ-sent servants. They are watchmen,
and they are also God's remembrancers. In the one capacity as in the
other, their voices are to be always heard. The former metaphor is
common in the Old Testament, as a designation of the prophetic office,
but, in the accordance with the genius of the New Testament, as
expressed on Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the lowly as
well as on the high, on the young as on the old, and all prophesied, it
may be fairly extended to designated not to some selected few, but the
whole mass of Christian people. The watchman's office falls to be done
by all who see the coming peril, and have a tongue to echo it forth.
The remembrancer's priestly office belongs to every member of Christ's
priestly kingdom, the lowest and least of whom has the privilege of
unrestrained entry into God's presence-chamber, and the power of
blessing the world by faithful prayer. What should we think of a
citizen in a beleaguered city, who saw enemy mounting the very
ramparts, and gave no alarm because that was the sentry's business? In
such extremity every man is a soldier, and women and children can at
least keep watch and raise shrill cries of warning. The gifts, then,
here promised, and the duties that flow from them, are not the
prerogatives or the tasks of any class or order, but the heritage and
the burden of the Lord to every member of His Church.

Our voices should ever be heard on earth. A solemn message is committed
to us, by the very fact of our belief in Jesus Christ and His work.
With that faith come responsibilities of which no Christian can denude
himself. To warn the wicked man to turn from His wickedness; to blow
the trumpet when we see the sword coming; to catch ever gleaming on the
horizon, like the spears of an army through the dust of the march, the
outriders and advance-guard of the coming of Him whose coming is life
or death to all, and to lift up our voices with strength and say,
'Behold your God'; to peal into the ears of men, sunken in earthliness
and dreaming of safety, the cry which may startle and save; to ring out
in glad tones to all who wearily ask, 'Watchman, what of the night?
will the night soon pass?' the answer which the slow dawning east has
breathed into our else stony lips, 'The morning cometh'; to proclaim
Christ, who came once to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, who
comes ever, through the ages, to bless and uphold the righteousness
which He loves and to destroy the iniquity which He hates, who will
come at the last to judge the world--this is the never-ending task of
the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem. The New Testament calls it
'preaching,' proclaiming as a herald does. And both metaphors carry one
common lesson of the manner in which the work should be done. With
clear loud voice, with earnestness and decision, with faithfulness and
self-oblivion, forgetting himself in his message, must the herald sound
out the will of his King, the largess of his Lord. And the watchman who
stands on his watch-tower whole nights, and sees foemen creeping
through the gloom, or fire bursting out among the straw-roofed cottages
within the walls, shouts with all his might the short, sharp alarm,
that wakes the sleepers to whom slumber were death. Let us ponder the
pattern.

Our voices should ever be heard in heaven. They who trust God remind
Him of His promises by their very faith; it is a mute appeal to His
faithful love, which He cannot but answer. And, beyond that, their
prayers come up for a memorial before God, and have as real an effect
in furthering Christ's kingdom on earth as is exercised by their
entreaties and proclamations to men.

How distinctly these words of our text define the region within which
our prayers should ever move, and the limits which bound their
efficacy! They _remind_ God. Then the truest prayer is that which bases
itself on God's uttered will, and the desires which are born of our own
fancies or heated enthusiasms have no power with Him. The prayer that
prevails is a reflected promise. Our office in prayer is but to receive
on our hearts the bright rays of His word, and to flash them back from
the polished surface to the heaven from whence they came.

These two forms of action ought to be inseparable. Each, if genuine,
will drive us to the other, for who could fling himself into the
watchman's work, with all its solemn consequences, knowing how weak his
voice was, and how deaf the ears that should hear, unless he could
bring God's might to his help? and who could honestly remind God of His
promises and forget his own responsibilities? Prayerless work will soon
slacken, and never bear fruit; idle prayer is worse than idle. You
cannot part them if you would. How much of the busy occupation which is
called 'Christian work' is detected to be spurious by this simple test!
How much so-called prayer is reduced by it to mere noise, no better
than the blaring trumpet or the hollow drum!

The power for both is derived from Christ. He sets the watchmen; He
commands the remembrancers. From Him flows the power, from His good
Spirit comes the desire, to proclaim the message. That message is the
story of His life and death. But for what He does and is we should have
nothing to say; but for His gift we should have no power to say it; but
for His influence we should have no will to say it. He commands and
fits us to be intercessors, for His mighty work brings us near to God;
He opens for us access with confidence to God. He inspires our prayers.
He 'hath made us priests to God.'

And, as the Christian power of discharging these twofold duties is
drawn from Christ, so our pattern is His manner of discharging them,
and the condition of receiving the power is to abide in Him. He
proposes Himself as our Example. He calls us to no labours which He has
not Himself shared, nor to any earnestness or continuance in prayer
which He has not Himself shown forth. This Master works in front of His
men. The farmer that goes first among all the sowers, and heads the
line of reapers in the yellowing harvest-field, may well have diligent
servants. Our Master 'went forth, weeping, bearing precious seed,' and
has left it in our hands to sow in all furrows. Our Master is the Lord
of the harvest, and has borne the heat of the day before His servants.
Look at the amount of work, actual hard work, compressed into these
three short years of His ministry. Take the records of the words He
spake on that last day of His public teaching, and see what unwearied
toil they represent. Ponder upon that life till you catch the spirit
which breathed through it all, and, like Him, embrace gladly the
welcome necessity of labour for God, under the sense of a vocation
conferred upon you, and of the short space within which your service
must be condensed. 'I must work the work of Him that sent me, while it
is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.'

Christ asks no romantic impossibilities from us, but He does ask a
continuous, systematic discharge of the duties which depend on our
relation to the world, and on our relation to Him. Let it be our life's
work to show forth His praise; let the very atmosphere in which we move
and have our being be prayer. Let two great currents set ever through
our days, which two, like the great movements in the ocean of the air,
are but the upper and under halves of the one movement--that beneath
with constant energy of desire rushing in from the cold poles to be
warmed and expanded at the tropics, where the all-moving sun pours his
directest rays; that above charged with rich gifts from the Lord of
light, glowing with heat drawn from Him, and made diffusive by His
touch, spreading itself out beneficent and life-bringing into all
colder lands, swathing the world in soft, warm folds, and turning the
polar ice into sweet waters.

In the tabernacle of Israel stood two great emblems of the functions of
God's people, which embodied these two sides of the Christian life. Day
by day, there ascended from the altar of incense the sweet odour, which
symbolised the fragrance of prayer as it wreathes itself upwards to the
heavens. Night by night, as darkness fell on the desert and the camp,
there shone through the gloom the hospitable light of the great golden
candlestick with its seven lamps, whose steady rays outburned the stars
that paled with the morning. Side by side they proclaimed to Israel its
destiny to be the light of the world, to be a kingdom of priests.

The offices and the honour have passed over to us, and we shall fall
beneath our obligations unless we let our light shine constantly before
men, and let our voice rise like a fountain night and day' before
God--even as He did who, when every man went to his own house, went
alone to the Mount of Olives, and in the morning, when every man
returned to his daily task, went into the Temple and taught. By His
example, by His gifts, by the motive of His love, our resting, working
Lord says to each of us, 'Ye that remind God, keep not silence.' Let us
answer, 'For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's
sake I will not rest.'

III. Finally, The constant activity of the servants of Christ will
secure the constant operation of God's power.

'_Give_ Him no rest': let there be no cessation to Him. These are bold
words, which many people would not have been slow to rebuke if they had
been anywhere else than in the Bible. Those who remind God are not to
suffer Him to be still. The prophet believes that they can regulate the
flow of divine energy, can stir up the strength of the Lord.

It is easy to puzzle ourselves with insoluble questions about the
co-operation of God's power and man's; but practically, is it not true
that God reaches His end, of the establishment of Zion, through the
Church? He has not barely willed that the world should be saved, nor
barely that it should be saved through Christ, nor barely that it
should be saved through the knowledge of Christ; but His will is that
the world shall be saved, by faith in the person and work of Christ,
proclaimed as a gospel by men who believe it. And, as a matter of fact,
is it not true that the energy with which God's power in the gospel
manifests itself depends on the zeal and activity and prayerfulness of
the Church? The great reservoir is always full--full to the brim;
however much may be drawn from it, the water sinks not a hairsbreadth;
but the bore of the pipe and the power of the pumping-engine determine
the rate at which the stream flows from it. 'He could there do no
mighty works because of their unbelief.' The obstruction of
indifference dammed back the water of life. The city perishes for
thirst if the long line of aqueduct that strides across the plain
towards the home of the mountain torrents be ruinous, broken down,
choked with rubbish.

God is always the same--equally near, equally strong, equally gracious.
But our possession of His grace, and the impartation of His grace
through us to others, vary, because our faith, our earnestness, our
desires, vary. True, these no doubt are also His gifts and His working,
and nothing that we say now touches in the least on the great truth
that God is the sole originator of all good in man; but while believing
that, as no less sure in itself than blessed in its message of
confidence and consolation to us, we also have to remember, 'If any man
open the door, I will come in to him.' We may have as much of God as we
want, as much as we can hold, far more than we deserve. And if ever the
victorious power of His Church seems to be almost paling to defeat, and
His servants to be working no deliverance upon the earth, the cause is
not to be found in Him who is 'without variableness,' nor in His gifts,
which are 'without repentance,' but solely in us, who let go our hold
of the Eternal Might. No ebb withdraws the waters of that great ocean;
and if sometimes there be sand and ooze where once the flashing flood
brought life and motion, it is because careless warders have shut the
sea-gates.

An awful responsibility lies on us. We can resist and refuse, or we can
open our hearts and draw into ourselves His strength. We can bring into
operation those energies which act through faithful men faithfully
proclaiming the faithful saying; or we can limit the Holy One of
Israel. 'Why could not we cast him out?' 'Because of your unbelief.'

With what grand confidence, then, may the weakest of us go to his task.
We have a right to feel that in all our labour God works with us; that,
in all our words for Him, it is not we that speak, but the Spirit of
our Father that speaks in us; that if humbly and prayerfully, with
self-distrust and resolute effort to crucify our own intrusive
individuality, we wait for Him to enshrine Himself within us, strength
will come to us, drawn from the deep fountains of God, and we too shall
be able to say, 'Not I, but the grace of God in me.'

How this sublime confidence should tell on our characters, destroying
all self-confidence, repressing all pride, calming all impatience,
brightening all despondency, and ever stirring us anew to deeds worthy
of the 'exceeding greatness of the power which worketh in us'--I can
only suggest.

On all sides motives for strenuous toil press in upon us--chiefly those
great examples which we have now been contemplating. But, besides
these, there are other forms of activity which may point the same
lesson. Look at the energy _around_ us. We live in a busy time. Life
goes swiftly in all regions. Men seem to be burning away faster than
ever before, in an atmosphere of pure oxygen. Do we work as hard for
God as the world does for itself? Look at the energy _beneath_ us: how
evil in every form is active; how lies and half-truths propagate
themselves quick as the blight on a rose-tree; how profligacy, and
crime, and all the devil's angels are busy on his errands. If _we_ are
sitting drowsy by our camp-fires, the enemy is on the alert. You can
hear the tramp of their legions and the rumble of their artillery
through the night as they march to their posts on the field. It is no
time for God's sentinels to nod. If they sleep, the adversary does not,
but glides in the congenial darkness, sowing his baleful tares. Do we
work as hard for God as the emissaries of evil do for their master?
Look at the energy _above_ us. On the throne of the universe is the
immortal Power who slumbereth not nor sleepeth. Before the altar of the
heavens is the Priest of the world, the Lord of His Church, 'who ever
liveth to make intercession for us.' Round Him stand perfected spirits,
the watchmen on the walls of the New Jerusalem, who 'rest not day and
night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.' From His presence
come, filling the air with the rustle of their swift wings and the
light of their flame-faces, the ministering spirits who evermore 'do
His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word.' And we,
Christian brethren, where are we in all this magnificent concurrence of
activity, for purposes which ought to be dear to our hearts as they are
to the heart of God? Do we work for Him as He and all that are with Him
do? Is His will done by us on earth, as it is heaven?

Alas! alas! have we not all been like those three apostles whose eyes
were heavy with sleep even while the Lord was wrestling with the
tempter under the gnarled olives in the pale moonlight of Gethsemane?
Let us arouse ourselves from our sloth. Let us lift up our cry to God:
'Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord, as in the ancient
days in the generations of old'; and the answer shall sound from the
heavens to us as it did to the prophet, an echo of his prayer turned
into a command, 'Awake, awake, put on _thy_ strength, O Zion.'



MIGHTY TO SAVE

'Mighty to save.'--ISAIAH lxiii. 1.


We have here a singularly vivid and dramatic prophecy, thrown into the
form of a dialogue between the prophet and a stranger whom he sees from
afar striding along from the mountains of Edom, with elastic step, and
dyed garments. The prophet does not recognise him, and asks who he is.
The Unknown answers, 'I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.'
Another question follows, seeking explanation of the splashed crimson
garments of the stranger, and its answer tells of a tremendous act of
retributive destruction which he has recently launched at the nations
hostile to 'My redeemed.'

Now we note that this prophecy follows, both in the order of the book
and in the evolution of events, on those in chapter lxi., which
referred to our Lord's work on earth, and in chapter lxii, which has
for part of its theme His intercession in heaven. And we are entitled
to take the view that the place as well as the substance of this
prophecy referred to the solemn act of final Judgment in which the
returning Lord will manifest Himself. Very significant is it that the
prophet does not recognise in this Conqueror, with blood-bespattered
robes, the meek sufferer of chapter liii., or Him who in chapter lxi.
came to bind up the broken-hearted. And very instructive is it that the
title in our text comes from the stranger's own lips, as relevant to
the tremendous act of judgment from which He is seen returning. The
title might seem rather to look back to the former manifestation of Him
as bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. It does indeed, thank
God, look back to that never-to-be-forgotten miracle of mercy and
power, but it also brings within the sweep of His saving might the
judgment still to come.

I. The mighty Saviour as made known in the past and present.

We think much of the meek and gentle side of Christ's character.
Perhaps we do not think enough of the strength of it. We trace His
great sacrifice to His love, and we can never sufficiently adore that
incomparable manifestation of a love deeper than our plummets can
fathom. But probably we do not sufficiently realise what gigantic
strength went to the completion of that sacrifice. We know the solemn
imagining of a great artist who has painted a colossal Death
overbearing the weak resistance of a puny Love; but here love is the
giant, and his sovereign command brings Death obedient to it, to do his
work. Yes, that weak man hanging on the Cross is therein revealed as
'the power of God.' Strange clothing of weakness which yet cannot hide
the mighty limbs that wear it!

And if we think of our Lord's life we see the same combination of
gentleness and power. His very name rings with memories of the captain
whose one commanded duty was to 'be strong and of a good courage.'

In Him was all strength of manhood--inflexible, iron will, unchanging
purpose, strength from consecration, strength from righteousness. In
Him was the heroism of prophets and martyrs in supreme degree.

In Him was the strength of indwelling Divinity. He fought and conquered
all man's enemies, routed sin, and triumphed over Death.

In the Cross we see divine power in operation in its noblest form, in
its intensest energy, in its widest sweep, in its most magnificent
result. He is able to save, to save all, to save any.

He is mighty to save, and is able to save unto the uttermost, because
He lives for ever, and His power is eternal as Himself.

II. The mighty Saviour as to be manifested in the future.

Clearly the imagery of the context describes a tremendous act of
judgment. And as clearly the Apocalyptic Seer understood this prophecy
as not only pointing to Christ, but as to be fulfilled in the final act
of judgment. He quotes its words when he paints his magnificent vision
of the Conqueror riding forth on his white horse, with garments
sprinkled with blood and treading the 'winepress of the fierceness and
wrath of Almighty God.' And the vision is interpreted unmistakably when
we read that, though this Conqueror had a name unknown to any but
Himself, 'His name is called the Word of God.' So the unity of person
in the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, full of grace and of this
Mighty One girt for battle, is taught.

Keeping fast hold of this clue, the contrast between the
characteristics of the historical Jesus and of the rider on the white
horse becomes solemn and full of warning. And the contrast between the
errand of the historical Jesus and that of the Conqueror bids us ponder
on the possibilities that may sleep in perfect love. We have to widen
our conceptions, if we have thought of our Jesus only as love, and have
thought of love as shallow, as most men do. We are sometimes told that
these two pictures, that of the Christ of the Gospels and that of the
Christ of the Apocalypse, are incapable of being fused together in one
original. But they can be stereoscoped, if we may say so. And they must
be, if we are ever to understand the greatness of His love or the
terribleness of His judgments. 'The wrath of the Lamb' sounds an
impossibility, but if we ponder it, we shall find depths of
graciousness as well as of awe in it.

Let us learn that the righteous Judge is logically and chronologically
the completion of the picture of the merciful Saviour. In this age
there is a tendency to treat sin with too much pity and too little
condemnation. And there is not a sufficiently firm grasp of the truth
that divine love must be in irreconcilable antagonism with human sin,
and can do nothing but chastise and smite it.

III. The saving purpose of even that destructive might.

Through the whole Old Testament runs the longing that God would 'awake'
to smite evil.

The tragedy of the drowned hosts in the Red Sea, and Miriam and her
maidens standing with their timbrels and shrill song of triumph on the
bank, is a prophecy of what shall be. 'Ye shall have a song as in the
night a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goeth
with a pipe to come unto the mountain of the Lord.' And at the thought
of that solemn act of judgment they who love the Judge, and have long
known Him, 'may lift up their heads' in the confidence that 'their
redemption draweth nigh.' That is the last, and in some sense the
mightiest, greatest act by which He shows Himself 'mighty to save His
redeemed.'

So we may, like the prophet, see that swift form striding nearer and
nearer, but, unlike the prophet, we need not to ask, 'Who is this that
cometh?' for we have known Him from of old, and we remember the voice
that said, 'This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have
seen Him go into heaven.' 'Herein is our love made perfect, that we may
have boldness before Him in the day of judgment.'



THE WINEPRESS AND ITS TREADER

'Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him
that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress
alone.'--ISAIAH lxiii. 2, 3.


The structure of these closing chapters is chronological, and this is
the final scene. What follows is epilogue. The reference of this
magnificent imagery to the sufferings of Jesus is a complete
misapprehension. These sufferings were dealt with once for all in
chapter liii., and it is Messiah triumphant who has filled the
prophet's vision since then.

I. The treading of the winepress.

The nations are flung into the press, as ripe grapes. The picture is
plainly a figure of some tremendous judgment in which the powers that
oppose the majestic march of the triumphant Messiah will be crushed and
trampled to ruin. They are trodden 'in Mine anger, and their life-blood
is sprinkled on My garments.' It is He who crushes, not He who is
crushed. The winepress which He treads is the 'winepress of the wrath
of Almighty God,' and His treading of it is His executing of God's
judgments on those whose antagonism to Him and to His 'redeemed' has
brought them within their sweep. The prophetic imagination kindles and
casts its thought into that terrible picture, which some fastidious
people would think coarse, of a peasant standing up to his knees in a
vat heaped with purple clusters, and fiercely trampling them down,
while the red juice splashes upon his girt-up clothes.

The prophet does not date his vision. It has been realised many a time,
and will be many a time still. Wherever opposition to Christ and His
kingdom has reached ripeness, wherever antagonistic tendencies have
borne fruit which has matured, the winepress is set up and the treading
begins. 'Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered
together.' 'Immediately he putteth in the sickle because the harvest is
done.' The judgments tarry long, and Christ's servants, oppressed or
hard pressed, get impatient, and cry 'How long, O Lord, dost Thou not
judge? It is time for Thee to work.' But long patience precedes the
divine awaking, for it is not God's way nor Christ's to cut down even a
cumbering tree, until the possibility of its bearing fruit is plainly
ended, and the last use that He makes of anything is to burn it. The
repeated settings up of Christ's winepress have all been one in
principle, and they all point onwards to a final one. There have been
many 'days of the Lord,' and if men were wise and 'observed these
things,'--which most of them are not,--they would see that these lesser
'days' made a 'final great and terrible day of the Lord' supremely
probable, and in perfect analogy with all that experience and history
have testified as to the method of the divine government.

Surely it is strange that the groundless expectation of the unbroken
continuance of the present order should be so strong that many should
utterly ignore the truth taught by such teachers as these, and
reiterated by science, which declares that the physical universe had a
beginning and will have an end, and confirmed by Jesus Himself. There
will come a to-morrow when the sun will _not_ rise. There will come a
to-morrow which will be '_the_ day of the Lord,' of which all these
earlier and partial epochs of judgment were but precursors and prophets.

II. The Treader of the Winepress.

The context clearly shows that, in the prophet's view, the suffering
Messiah in His exalted royalty is the agent of this, as of all divine
acts. He is clothed with majesty, and it is 'in His hand,' or through
His agency, that all 'the pleasure of the Lord' is brought to pass. The
contrast with the figure in chap. liii. is ever to be kept in view. The
lowliness, the weales and bruises, the form without comeliness are
gone, and for these we see a conqueror, glorious in apparel and
striding onwards in conscious strength.

But the access of majesty does not imply the putting off of lowliness
and meekness. There is much that is severe and terrible in the figure
that rises here before the prophet's vision, but both aspects equally
belong to the glorified Christ, and that duality in His character makes
each element more impressive. His long-suffering mercy and more than
human tenderness do not hamper His arm when it is bared to smite; His
judicial severity does not dam up the flow of His mercy and tenderness.
When He was on earth, He wept over Jerusalem, but His tears did not
hinder His pronouncing woe on the city. His love leads Him to warn
before He smites, but it does not contradict His threatenings, nor
augur our impunity. Nay rather, love compels Him to smite. And, more
terrible still, it is His very love that smites most severely hearts
that have rejected it and learn their folly and sin too late.

III. Why the winepress is trodden.

The context tells us. The triumphant figure, seen by the prophet
striding onwards from Edom, answers the question as to His identity
with, 'I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.' Then the
treading of the winepress, from which He is represented as coming, is
regarded as an exemplification of both these characteristics. It is a
great act of righteousness. It is a great act of salvation. Similarly,
He is represented as having been moved to that destructive judgment by
the 'vengeance' that burned in His heart, and by His seeing that there
were none to help His 'redeemed.'

So, then, the destructive act is a manifestation of Righteousness,
which in such a connection means retributive justice. Awe-inspiring as
it may be, the thunderstorm brings relief to a world sweltering in a
stagnant atmosphere, and each blinding flash freshens the air. 'When
the wicked perish, there is shouting.' The destruction of some hoary
evil that has long afflicted humanity and blocked the progress of the
kingdom which is 'righteousness and peace and joy,' is a good. Christ's
'terrible things' are all 'in righteousness,' and meant to set Him
forth as 'the confidence of all the ends of the earth.' To clear His
character and government from all suspicion of moral indifference, to
demonstrate by facts which the blindest can see, that it is not all the
same to Him whether men are good or bad, to write in great letters
which, like the capitals on a map, stretch across a whole land, 'The
Judge of all the earth shall do right'--surely these are worthy ends to
move even the loving Christ to tread the winepress.

Further, His destructive judgments, however terrible, will always be
accurately measured by righteousness. They are not outbursts of
feeling; they are in exact correspondence with the evils that bring
them down. The lava flows according to its own density and the lie of
the land which it covers. These judgments are deformed by no undue
severity; no base elements of temper, no errors as to the degree of
criminality mar them. They are calm and absolutely accurate judgments
of Him who is not only just but Justice.

But the context further teaches us that the true point of view from
which to regard Christ's treading of the winepress is to think of it as
redemptive and contributory to the salvation of 'My redeemed.'
Therefore there follows immediately on this picture of the conqueror
treading the peoples in His fury and pouring their life-blood on the
earth, the song of the delivered. Up through the troubled air, heavy
with thunder-clouds, soars their praise, as a lark might rise and pour
its strains above a volcano in eruption--'I will mention the loving
kindness of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all
that the Lord hath bestowed on us and the great goodness toward the
house of Israel which He hath bestowed on them, according to His
mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving kindnesses.'
Pharaoh is drowned in the Red Sea; Miriam and her maidens on the bank
clash their cymbals, and lift shrill voices in their triumphant hymn.
Babylon sinks like a millstone in the great waters--'and I heard as it
were a great voice of a great multitude in heaven saying, Hallelujah;
salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and righteous
are His judgments.' The innermost impulse of judgment is love.



THE SYMPATHY OF GOD

'In all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the angel of His
presence saved them'--ISAIAH lxiii. 9.


I. The wonderful glimpse opened here into the heart of God.

It is not necessary to touch upon the difference between the text and
margin of the Revised Version, or to enter on the reason for preferring
the former. And what a deep and wonderful thought that is, of divine
sympathy with human sorrow! We feel that this transcends the prevalent
tone of the Old Testament. It is made the more striking by reason of
the other sides of the divine nature which the Old Testament gives so
strongly; as, for instance, the unapproachable elevation and absolute
sovereignty of God, and the retributive righteousness of God.

Affliction is His chastisement, and is ever righteously inflicted. But
here is something more, tender and strange. Sympathy is a necessary
part of love. There is no true affection which does not put itself in
the place and share the sorrows of its objects. And His sympathy is
none the less because He inflicts the sorrow. These afflictions wherein
He too was afflicted, were sent by Him. Like an earthly father who
suffers more than the child whom he chastises, the Heavenly Father
feels the strokes that He inflicts.

That sympathy is consistent with the blessedness of God. Even in the
pain of our human sympathy there is a kind of joy, and we may be sure
that in His nature there is nothing else.

Contrast with other thoughts about God.

The vague agnosticism of the present day, which knows only a dim
Something of which we can predicate nothing.

The God of the philosophers--whom we are bidden to think of as
passionless and unemotional. No wave of feeling ever ripples that
tideless sea. The attribute of infinitude or sovereign completeness is
dwelt on with such emphasis as to obscure all the rest.

The gods of men's own creation are careless in their happiness, and
cruel in their vengeance. But here is a God for all the weary and the
sorrowful. What a thought for us in our own burdened days!

II. The mystery of the divine salvation.

Of course the salvation here spoken of is the deliverance from Egyptian
bondage. This is a summary of the Exodus. But we must mark well that
significant expression, 'the angel of His face' or 'presence.' We can
only attempt a partial and bald enumeration of some of the very
remarkable references to that mysterious person, 'the angel of the Lord
'or 'of the presence.' The dying Jacob ascribed his being 'redeemed
from all evil' to 'the Angel,' and invoked his blessing on 'the lads.'
'_The_ angel of the Lord' appeared to Moses out of the midst of the
burning bush. On Sinai, Jehovah promised to send an 'angel' in whom was
His own name, before the people. The promise was renewed after Israel's
sin and repentance, and was then given in the form, '_My_ presence
shall go with thee.' Joshua saw a man with a drawn sword in his hand,
who declared himself to be the Captain of the Lord's host. 'The angel
of the Lord' appeared to Manoah and his wife, withheld his name from
them because it was 'wonderful' or 'secret,' accepted their sacrifice,
and went up to heaven in its flame. Wherefore Manoah said, 'We have
seen God.' Long after these early visions, a psalmist knows himself
safe because 'the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that
fear Him.' Hosea, looking back on the story of Jacob's wrestling at
Peniel, says, first, that 'he had power with _God_, yea, he had power
over the _angel_,' and then goes on to say that 'there He spake with
us, even _Jehovah_.' And Malachi, on the last verge of Old Testament
prophecy, goes furthest of all in seeming to run together the
conceptions of Jehovah and the Angel of Jehovah, for he says, 'The Lord
whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple; and the angel of the
covenant ... behold, _he_ cometh.' From this imperfect _resume_, we see
that there appears in the earliest as in the latest books of the Old
Testament, a person distinguished from the hosts of angels, identified
in a very remarkable manner with Jehovah, by alternation of names, in
attributes and offices, and in receiving worship, and being the organ
of His revelation. That special relation to the divine revelation is
expressed by both the representation that 'Jehovah's name is in him,'
and by the designation in our text, 'the angel of His presence,' or
literally, 'of His face.' For 'name' and 'face' are in so far
synonymous that they mean the side of the divine nature which is turned
to the world.

For the present I go no further than this. It is clear, then, that our
text is at all events remarkable, in that it ascribes to this 'angel of
His presence' the praise of Jehovah's saving work. The loving heart,
afflicted in all their afflictions, sends forth the messenger of His
face, and by Him is salvation wrought. The whole sum of the deliverance
of Israel in the past is attributed to Him. Surely this must have been
felt by a devout Jew to conceal some great mystery.

III. The crowning revelation both of the heart of God and of His saving
power.

(a) Jesus Christ is the true 'angel of the face.'

I do not need to enter on the question of whether in the Old Testament
the angel of the Covenant was indeed a pre-manifestation of the eternal
Son. I am disposed to answer it in the affirmative. But be that as it
may, all that was spoken of the angel is true of Him. God's name is in
Him, and that not in fragments or half-syllables but complete. The face
of God looks lovingly on men in Him, so that Jesus could declare, 'He
that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.' His presence brings God's
presence, and He can venture to say, '_We_ will come and make our abode
with Him.' He is the agent of the divine salvation.

The identity and the difference are here in their highest form.

(b) The mystery of God's sharing our sorrows is explained in Him.

We may find a difficulty in the thought of a suffering and sympathising
God. But if we believe that 'My name is in Him,' then the sympathy and
gentleness of Jesus is the compassion of God. This is a true
revelation. So tears at the grave sighs in healing, and all the sorrows
which He bore are an unveiling of the heart of God.

That sharing our sorrows is the very heart of His work. We might almost
say that He became man in order to increase His power of sympathy, as a
prince might temporarily become a pauper. But certainly He became man
that He might bear our burdens. 'Himself took our infirmities.'
'Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He himself
also likewise took part of the same.'

The atoning death is the climax of Christ's being afflicted with our
afflictions. His priestly sympathy flows out now and for ever to us all.

So complete is His unity with God, that He works the salvation which is
God's, and that God's name is in Him. So complete is His union with us,
that our sorrows touch Him and His life becomes ours. 'Ye have done it
unto Me.' 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?'

For us in all our troubles there are no darker rooms than Christ has
been in before us. We are like prisoners put in the same cell as some
great martyr. He drank the cup, and we can put the rim to our lips at
the place that His lips have touched. But not only may we have our
sufferings lightened by the thought that He has borne the same, and
that we know the 'fellowship of Christ's sufferings,' but we have the
further alleviation of being sure that He makes our afflictions His by
perfect sympathy, and, still more wonderful and blessed, that there is
such unity of life and sensation between the Head and the members that
our afflictions _are_ His, and are not merely made so.

               'Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
                And thy Saviour is not by;
                Think not thou canst shed a tear
                And thy Saviour is not near.'

Do not front the world alone. _In_ all our afflictions He is with us;
_out_ of them all He saves.



HOW TO MEET GOD

'Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that
remember Thee in Thy ways.'--ISAIAH lxiv. 5.


The prophet here shows us how there is a great staircase which we
ourselves build, which leads straight from earth to heaven, and how we
can secure that we shall meet with God and God with us. 'Isaiah' is
often called the evangelical prophet. He is so, not only because of his
predictions of the suffering Servant of Jehovah which are 'fulfilled'
in Christ, but because his conceptions of the religious life tremble on
the very verge of the full-orbed teaching of the New Testament. In
these ancient words of my text, in very different phraseology indeed,
we see a strikingly accurate and full anticipation of the very central
teaching of Paul and his brother apostles, as to the way by which God
and man come into union with one another. 'Thou meetest him that
rejoiceth'; that joy is to be manifested by 'working righteousness,'
but the joy which is the parent of righteousness is the child of
something else--'those that remember Thee in Thy ways.' If we ponder
these words, and carefully mark their relation to each other, we may
discern, as it were, a great staircase with three flights in it, and at
the top God's face.

We have to begin with the last clause of our text--'Thou meetest him
... that remembers Thee in Thy ways.'

The first stage on the road which will bring any man into, and keep any
man in, contact with God, and loving fellowship with Him, is the
contemplation of His character as it is made known to us by His acts.
God, like man, is known by His 'fruits.' You cannot get at a clear
conception of God by speculation, or by thinking about Him or about
what He is in Himself. Lay hold of the clue of His acts, and it leads
you straight into His heart. But the act of acts, in which the whole
Godhead concurs, in which all its depths and preciousness are
concentrated, like wine in a golden cup, is the incarnation and life
and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. There, and not in the thoughts of
our own hearts nor the tremors of our own consciences, nor in the
enigmatical witness of Providence--which is enigmatical until it is
interpreted in the light of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion--there
we see most clearly the 'ways' of God, the beaten, trodden path by
which He is wont to come forth out of the thick darkness into which no
speculation can peer an inch, and walk amongst men. The cross of
Christ, and, subordinately, His other dealings with us, as interpreted
thereby, is the 'way of the Lord,' from everlasting to everlasting. And
it is by a loving gaze upon that 'way' that we learn to know Him for
what He is. It is there, and there only, that the thick darkness passes
into glorious light. It is at that point alone that the closed circle
of the Infinite nature of Deity opens so as that a man can press into
the very centre of the glory, and feel himself at home in the blaze. It
is 'those that remember Thee in Thy ways,' and especially in that way
of righteousness and peace, the way of the cross--it is they who have
built the first flight of the solemn staircase that leads up from the
lownesses and darknesses of earth into the loftinesses and lights of
heaven.

But note that word 'Remember,' for it suggests the warning that such
contemplation of the ways of the Lord will not be realised by us
without effort. We shall forget, assuredly, unless we earnestly try to
'remember.' There are so many things within us to draw us away, the
duties, and the joys, and the sorrows of life so insist upon having a
place in our hearts and thoughts, that assuredly, unless by resolute
effort, frequently repeated, we clear a space in this crowded and
chattering market-place, where we can stand and gaze on the white
summits far beyond the bustling crowd, we shall never see them, though
they are visible from every place. Unless you try to remember, you will
certainly forget.

Many voices preach to-day many duties for Christians. Let me plead for
times of quiet, for times of 'doing' nothing, for fruitful times of
growth, for times when we turn all the rout and rabble of earthly
things, and even the solemn company of pressing duties, out of our
hearts and thoughts, and shut up ourselves alone with God. Be sure you
will never build even the first step of the staircase unless you know
what it is to go into the secret place of the Most High, and, alone
with God, to summon to 'the sessions of sweet, silent thought' His
ways, and especially Him who is 'the Way,' both of God to us, and of us
to God.

Now, the second flight of this great staircase is pointed out in the
first clause of my text: 'Thou meetest him that rejoiceth.'

That meditative remembrance of the ways of God will be the parent of
holy joy which will bring God near to our heart. Alas! it is too often
the very opposite of true that men's joys are such as to bring God to
them. The excitement, and often the impure elements, that mingle with
what the world calls 'joy,' are such as to shut Him out from us. But
there is a gladness which comes from the contemplation of Him as He is,
and as He is known by His 'ways' to be, which brings us very near to
God, and God very near to us. It is that joy which was spoken of in an
earlier part of this context: 'I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My
soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the
garments of salvation.' Here, then, is the second stage--gladness,
deep, pure, based upon the contemplation of God's character as
manifested in His work. I do not think that the ordinary type of modern
Christianity is half joyful enough. And I think that we have largely
lost the very thought that gladness is a plain Christian _duty_, to be
striven after in the appropriate manner which my text suggests, and
certainly to be secured if we seek it in the right way. We all know how
outward cares, and petty annoyances, and crushing sorrows, and daily
anxieties, and the tear and wear of work, and our own restlessness and
ungovernableness, and the faults that still haunt our lives, and
sometimes make us feel as if our Christianity was all a sham--how all
these things are at enmity with joy in God. But in face of them all, I
would echo the old grand words of the epistle of gladness written by
the apostle in prison, and within hail of his death: 'Rejoice in the
Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.' Recognise it as your duty to be
glad, and if it is hard to be so, ask yourselves whether you are doing
what will make you so, remembering 'Thee in Thy ways.' That is the
second flight of the staircase.

The third stage is working righteousness because of such joy. 'Thou
meetest him that rejoiceth, and '--because he does--'worketh
righteousness.' Every master knows how much more work can be got out of
a servant who works with a cheery heart than out of one that is driven
reluctantly to his task. You remember our Lord's parable where He
traces idleness to fear: 'I knew thee that thou wast an austere man,
gathering where thou didst not strew, and I was afraid, and I went and
hid thy talent.' No work was got out of that servant because there was
no joy in him. The opposite state of mind--diligence in righteous work,
inspired by gladness which in its turn is inspired by the remembrance
of God's ways--is the mark of a true servant of God. The prophet's
words have the germ of the full New Testament doctrine that the first
step to all practical obedience and righteous living is the recognition
of the great truth of Christ's death for us on the Cross; that the
second step is the acceptance of that great work, and the gladness that
comes from the assurance of forgiveness and acceptance with God, and
that the issue of both these things, the preached gospel and the faith
that grasps it and the love by which the faith is followed, is
obedience, instinct with willingness and buoyant with joyfulness, and
therefore tending to be perfect in degree and in kind. The work that is
worth doing, the work which God regards as 'righteous,' comes, and
comes only, from the motives of 'remembering Thee in Thy ways,' and
rejoicing because we do remember.

And the gladness which is wholesome and blessed, and is 'joy in the
Lord,' will manifest itself by efflorescing into all holiness and all
loftiness and largeness of obedience. You may try to frighten men into
righteousness, you will never succeed. You may try to coerce their
wills, and your strongest bands will be broken as the iron chains were
by the demoniac. But put upon them the silken leash of love, and you
may lead them where you will. You cannot grow grapes on an iceberg, and
you cannot get works of righteousness out of a man that has a dread of
God at the back of his heart, killing all its joy. But let the spring
sunshine come, and then all the frost-bound earth opens and softens,
and the tender green spikelets push themselves up through the brown
soil, and in due time come 'the blade, and the ear, and the full corn
in the ear.' Isaiah anticipated Paul when he said, 'Thou meetest him
that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness.'

Lastly, we have the landing-place to which the stair leads. God comes
to such a man. He meets him indeed at all the stages, for there is a
blessed communion with God, that springs immediately from remembering
Him in His ways, and a still more blessed one that springs from
rejoicing in His felt friendship and Fatherhood, and a yet more blessed
one that comes from practical righteousness. For if there is anything
that breaks our communion with God, it is that there linger in our
lives evils which make it impossible for God and us to come close
together. The thinnest film of a non-conductor will stop the flow of
the strongest electric current, and an almost imperceptible film of
self-will and evil, dropped between oneself and God, will make a
barrier impermeable except by that divine Spirit who worketh upon a
man's heart and who may thin away the film through his repentance, and
then the Father and the prodigal embrace. 'Thou meetest him,' not only
'that worketh righteousness,' but that hates his sin.

Only remember, if there is the practice of evil, there cannot be the
sunshine of the Presence of God. But remember, too, that the commonest,
homeliest, smallest, most secular tasks may become the very highest
steps of the staircase that brings us into His Presence. If we go about
our daily work, however wearisome and vulgar and commonplace it often
seems to us, and make it a work of righteousness resting on the joy of
salvation, and that reposing on the contemplation of God as He is
revealed in Jesus Christ, our daily work may bring us as close to God
as if we dwelt in the secret place of the Most High, and the market and
the shop may be a temple where we meet with Him.

Dear brethren, there are two kinds of meeting God: 'Thou meetest him
that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness,' and that is blessed, as when
Christ met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. There is another
kind of meeting with God. 'Who, making war, sitteth not down first, and
consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh
against him with twenty thousand?'



'THE GOD OF THE AMEN'

'He who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of
truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of
truth.'--ISAIAH lxv. 16.


The full beauty and significance of these remarkable words are only
reached when we attend to the literal rendering of a part of them which
is obscured in our version. As they stand in the original they have, in
both cases, instead of the vague expression, 'The God of truth,' the
singularly picturesque one, 'The God of the Amen.'

I. Note the meaning of the name. Now, _Amen_ is an adjective, which
means literally firm, true, reliable, or the like. And, as we know, its
liturgical use is that, in the olden time, and to some extent in the
present time, it was the habit of the listening people to utter it at
the close of prayer or praise. But besides this use at the end of some
one else's statement, which the sayer of the 'Amen' confirms by its
utterance, we also find it used at the beginning of a statement, by the
speaker, in order to confirm his own utterance by it.

And these two uses of the expression reposing on its plain meaning, in
the first instance signifying, 'I tell you that it is so'; and in the
second instance signifying, 'So may it be!' or, 'So we believe it is,'
underlie this grand title which God takes to Himself here, 'the God of
the Amen,' both His Amen and ours. So that the thought opens up very
beautifully and simply into these two, His truth and our faith.

First, it emphasises the absolute truthfulness of every word that comes
from His lips. There is implied in the title that He really _has_
spoken, and declared to man something of His will, something of His
nature, something of His purposes, something of our destiny. And now He
puts, as it were, the broad seal upon the charter and says, 'Amen!
Verily it is so, and My word of Revelation is no man's imagination, and
My word of command is the absolute unveiling of human duty and human
perfectness, and My word of promise is that upon which a man may rest
all his weight and be safe for ever.' God's word is 'Amen!' man's word
is 'perhaps.' For in regard to the foundation truths of man's belief
and experience and need, no human tongue can venture to utter its own
asseverations with nothing behind them but itself, and expect men to
accept them; but that is exactly what God does, and alone has the right
to do. His word absolutely, and through and through, in every fibre of
it, is reliable and true.

Now do not forget that there was one who came to us and said, 'Amen!
Amen! I say unto you.' Jesus Christ, in all His deep and wonderful
utterances, arrogated to Himself the right which God here declares to
be exclusively His, and He said, 'I too have, and I too exercise, the
right and the authority to lay My utterances down before you, and
expect you to take them because of nothing else than because I say
them.' God is the God of the Amen! The last book of Scripture, when it
draws back the curtain from the mysteries of the glorified session of
Jesus Christ at the right hand of God, makes Him say to us, 'These
things saith the Amen!' And if you want to know what that means, its
explanation follows in the next clause, 'the faithful and true witness.'

But then, on the other hand, necessarily involved in this title, though
capable of being separately considered, is not only the absolute
truthfulness of the divine word, but also the thorough-going reliance,
on our parts, which that word expects and demands. God's 'Amen,' and
'Verily,' of confirmation, should ever cause the 'Amen' of acceptance
and assent to leap from our lips. If He begins with that mighty word,
so soon as the solemn voice has ceased its echo should rise from our
hearts. The city that cares for the charter which its King has given it
will prepare a fitting, golden receptacle in which to treasure it. And
the men who believe that God in very deed has spoken laws that
illuminate, and commandments that guide, and promises that calm and
strengthen and fulfil themselves, will surely prepare in their hearts
an appropriate receptacle for those precious and infallible words.
God's truth has corresponding to it our trust. God's faithfulness
demands, and is only adequately met by, our faith. If He gives us the
sure foundation to build upon, it will be a shame for us to bring wood,
hay, stubble, and build these upon the Rock of Ages. The building
should correspond with its foundation, and the faith which grasps the
sure word should have in it something of the unchangeableness and
certainty and absoluteness of that word which it grasps. If His
revelation of Himself is certain, you and I ought to be certain of His
revelation of Himself. Our certitude should correspond to its certainty.

Ah! my friend, what a miserable contrast there is between the firm,
unshaken, solid security of the divine word upon which we say that we
trust, and the poor, feeble, broken trust which we build upon it. 'Let
not that man think that He shall receive anything of the Lord'; but let
us expect, as well as 'ask, in faith, nothing wavering'; and let our
'Amen!' ring out in answer to God's.

The Apostle Paul has a striking echo of the words of my text in the
second Epistle to the Corinthians: 'All the promises of God in Him are
yea! and through Him also is the Amen!' The assent, full, swift,
frank--the assent of the believing heart to the great word of God comes
through the same channel, and reaches God by the same way, as God's
word on which it builds comes to us. The 'God of the Amen,' in both
senses of the word, is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
is the seal as well as the substance of the divine promises, and whose
voice in us is the answer to, and the grasp of, the promises of which
He is the substance and soul.

II. Now notice, next, how this God of the Amen is, by reason of that
very characteristic, the source of all blessing.

'He who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of
Truth.' That phrase of _blessing oneself in_, which is a frequent Old
Testament expression, is roughly equivalent to invoking, and therefore
receiving, blessing from. You find it, for instance, in the
seventy-second Psalm, in that grand burst which closes one of the books
of the Psalter and hails the coming of the Messianic times, of which my
text also is a prediction. 'Men shall be blessed in Him,' or rather,
'shall bless themselves in Him,' which is a declaration, that all
needful benediction shall come down upon humanity through the coming
Messias, as well as that men shall recognise in that Messias the source
of all their blessing and good. So the text declares that, in those
days that are yet to come, the whole earth shall be filled with men
whose eyes have been purged from ignorance and sin, and from the
illusions of sense and the fascinations of folly, and who have learned
that only in the God of the Amen is the blessing of their life to be
found.

Of course it is so. For only on Him can I lean all my weight and be
sure that the stay will not give. All other bridges across the great
abysses which we have to traverse or be lost in them, are like those
snow-cornices upon some Alp, which may break when the climber is on the
very middle of them, and let him down into blackness out of which he
will never struggle. There is only one path clear across the deepest
gulf, which we poor pilgrims can tread with absolute safety that it
will never yield beneath our feet. My brother! there is one support
that is safe, and one stay upon which a man can lean his whole weight
and be sure that the staff will never either break or pierce his palm,
and that is the faithful God, in whose realm are no disappointments,
amongst whose trusters are no heart-broken and deceived men, but who
gives bountifully, and over and above all that we are able to ask or
think. They who have made experience, as we have all made experience,
of the insufficiency of earthly utterances, of the doubtfulness of the
clearest words of men, of the possible incapacity of the most loving,
to be what they pledge themselves to be, and of the certainty that even
if they are so for a while they cannot be so always--have surely
learned one half, at least, of the lesson that life is meant to teach
us; and it is our own fault if we have not bettered it with the better
half, having uncoiled the tendrils of our hearts from the rotten props
round which they have been too apt to twine themselves, and wreathed
them about the pillars of the eternal throne, which can never shake nor
fail. 'He that blesseth himself in the earth shall bless
himself'--unless he is a fool--'in the God of the Amen!' and not in the
_man_ of the 'peradventure.'

III. Lastly, note how the God of the Amen should be the pattern of His
servants.

'He that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth,' or,
'of the Amen.' The prophet deduces from the name the solemn thought
that those who truly feel its significance will shape _their_ words
accordingly, and act and speak so that they shall not fear to call His
pure eyes to witness that there are neither, hypocrisy, nor
insincerity, nor vacillation, nor the 'hidden things of dishonesty' nor
any of the skulking meannesses of craft and self-seeking in them. 'I
swear by the God of the Amen, and call Thy faithfulness to witness that
I am trying to be like Thee,' that is what we ought to do if we call
ourselves Christians. If we have any hold at all of Him, and of His
love, and of the greatness and majesty of His faithfulness, we shall
try to make our poor little lives, in such measure as the dewdrops may
be like the sun, radiant like His, and of the same shape as His, for
the dewdrop and the sun are both of them spheres. That is exactly what
the apostle does, in that same chapter in 2 Cor., to which I already
referred. He takes these very thoughts of my text, and in their double
aspect too, and says, 'Just because God is faithful, do you Corinthians
think that, when I told you that I was coming to see you, I did not
mean it?' He brings the greatest thought that He can find about God and
God's truth, down to the settlement of this very little matter, the
vindication of Himself from the charge, on the one hand, of facile and
inconsiderate vacillation, and, on the other hand, of insincerity. So,
we may say, the greatest thoughts should regulate the smallest acts.
Though our maps be but a quarter of an inch to a hundred miles, let us
see that they are drawn to scale. Let us see that He is our Pattern;
and that the truthfulness, the simplicity, and faithfulness, which we
rest upon as the very foundation of our intellectual as well as our
moral and religious being, are, in our measure, copied in ourselves.
'As God is faithful,' said Paul, 'our word to you was not yea! and
nay!' And they who are trusting to the God of the Amen! will live in
all simplicity and godly sincerity; their yea will be yea, and their
nay, nay.



THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH


GOD'S LAWSUIT


'Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your
children's children will I plead.'--JER. ii. 9.

Point out that 'plead' is a forensic term. There is a great lawsuit in
which God is plaintiff and men defendants. The word is frequent in
Isaiah.

I. The reason for God's pleading.

The cause--'wherefore.' Our transgression does not make Him turn away
from us. It does profoundly modify the whole relation between us. It
does give an aspect of antagonism to His dealings.

II. The manner.

The whole history of the world and of each individual. All outward
providences. All the voice of Conscience. Christ. Spirit, who convinces
the world of Sin.

III. The purpose.

Wholly our being drawn from our evil. The purely reformatory character
of all punishment here. The sole object to win us back to Himself. He
conquers in this lawsuit when we come to love Him.

IV. The patience.

That merciful pleading--'I will _yet_'--runs on through all sin, and is
only made more earnest by deepening hostility. After rejections still
lingers. Extends over a thousand generations. Is exercised even where
He foresees failure.



STIFF-NECKED IDOLATERS AND PLIABLE CHRISTIANS

'Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but My people
have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.'--JER. ii. 11.


The obstinacy of the adherents of idolatry is in striking contrast with
Israel's continual tendency to forsake Jehovah. It reads a scarcely
less forcible lesson to many nominal and even to some real Christians.

I. That contrast carries with it a disclosure of the respective origins
of the two kinds of Religion.

The strangeness of the contrasted conduct is intensified when we take
into account the tremendous contrast between the two Objects of
worship. Israel's God was Israel's 'Glory'; the idol-worshipper bowed
down before 'that which doth not profit,' and yet no experience of God
could bind His fickle worshippers to Him, and no experience of the
impotence of the idol could shake its votaries' devotion. They cried
and were not heard. They toiled and had no results. They broke their
teeth on 'that which is not bread,' and filled their mouths with gritty
ashes that mocked them with a semblance of nourishment and left them
with empty stomachs and excoriated gums, yet by some strange
hallucination they clung to 'vanities,' while Israel was always
hankering after opportunity to desert Jehovah. The stage of
civilisation partly accounts for the strange fascination of idolatry
over the Israelites. But the deeper solution lies in the fact that the
one religion rises from the hearts of men, corresponds to their moral
condition, and is largely moulded by their lower nature; while the
other is from above, corresponds, indeed, with the best and deepest
longings and needs of souls, but contravenes many of their most clamant
wishes, and necessarily sets before them a standard high and difficult
to reach. Men make their gods in their own image, and are conscious of
no rebuke nor stimulus to loftier living when they gaze on them. The
God of Revelation bids men remake themselves in His image, and that
command requires endless effort. The average man has to put a strain on
his intellect in order to rise to the apprehension of God, and a still
more unwelcome strain on his moral nature to rise to the imitation of
God. No wonder, then, if the dwellers on the low levels should cleave
to them, and the pilgrims to the heights should often weary of their
toil and be distressed with the difficulty of breathing the thin air up
there, and should give up climbing and drop down to the flats once more.

II. That contrast carries with it a rebuke.

Many voices echo the prophet's contrast nowadays. Our travelling
countrymen, especially those of them who have no great love for earnest
religion, are in the habit of drawing disparaging contrasts between
Buddhists, Brahmins, Mohammedans, any worshippers of other gods and
Christians. One may not uncharitably suspect that a more earnest
Christianity would not please these critics much better than does the
tepid sort, and that the pictures they draw both of heathenism and of
Christianity are coloured by their likes and dislikes. But it is well
to learn from an enemy, and caricatures may often be useful in calling
attention to features which would escape notice but for exaggeration.
So we may profit by even the ill-natured and distorted likenesses of
ourselves as contrasted with the adherents of other religions which so
many 'liberal-minded' writers of travels delight to supply.

Think, then, of the rebuke which the obstinate adherence of idolaters
to their idols gives to the slack hold which so many professing
Christians have on their religion.

Think of the way in which these lower religions pervade the whole life
of their worshippers, and of how partial is the sway over a little
territory of life and conduct which Christianity has in many of its
adherents. The absorption in worship shown by Mohammedans, who will
spread their prayer carpets anywhere and perform their drill of prayers
without embarrassment or distraction in the sight of a crowd, or the
rapt 'devotion' of fakirs, are held up as a rebuke to us 'Christians'
who are ashamed to be caught praying. One may observe, in mitigation,
that the worship which is of the heart is naturally more sensitive to
surrounding distractions than that which is a matter of posturing and
repetition by rote. But there still remains substance enough in the
contrast to point a sharp arrow of rebuke.

And there is no denying that in these 'heathen' religions, religion is
intertwined with every act of life in a fashion which may well put to
shame many of us. Remember how Paul had to deal at length with the duty
of the Corinthians in view of the way in which every meal was a
sacrifice to some god, and how the same permeation of life with
religion is found in all these 'false faiths.' The octopus has coiled
its tentacles round the whole body of its victim. Bad and sad and mad
as idolatry is, it reads a rebuke to many of us, who keep life and
religion quite apart, and lock up our Christianity in our pews with our
prayer-books and hymnaries.

Think of the material sacrifices made by idolaters, in costly
offerings, in painful self-tortures, and in many other ways, and the
niggardliness and self-indulgence of so many so-called Christians.

III. The contrast suggests the greatness of the power which can
overcome even such obstinate adherence to idols.

There is one, and only one, solvent for that rock-like obstinacy--the
Gospel. The other religions have seldom attempted to encroach on each
other's territory, and where they have, their instrument of conversion
has generally been the sword. The Gospel has met and mastered them all.
It, and it only, has had power to draw men to itself out of every
faith. The ancient gods who bewitched Israel, the gods of Greece, the
gods of our own ancestors, the gods of the islands of the South Seas,
lie huddled together, in undistinguished heaps, like corpses on a
battlefield, and the deities of India and the East are wounded and
slowly bleeding out their lives. 'Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, the
idols are upon the beasts,' all packed up, as it were, and ready to be
carried off.

The rate of progress in dethroning them varies with the varying
national conditions. It is easier to cut a tunnel through chalk than
through quartz.

IV. That contrast carries with it a call for Christian effort to spread
the conquering Gospel.


FOUNTAIN AND CISTERNS

'They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them
out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water'--JER. ii. 13.


The proclivity of the Jews to idolatry is an outstanding fact all
through their history. That persistent national tendency surely compels
us to recognise a divine inspiration as the source of the prophetic
teaching and of the lofty spiritual theology of the Old Testament,
which were in sharpest unlikeness and opposition to the whole trend of
the people's thoughts.

It is this apostasy which is referred to here. The false gods made by
men are the broken cisterns. But the text embodies a general truth.

I. The irksomeness of a godless life.

The contrast is between the springing fountain, there in the desert,
with the lush green herbage round about, where a man has only to stoop
and drink, and the painful hewing of cisterns.

This emblem of the fountain beautifully suggests the great thought of
God's own loving will as the self-originated impulse by which He pours
out all good. Apart from all our efforts, the precious gift is provided
for us. Our relation is only that of receivers.

We have the contrast with this in the laborious toils to which they
condemn themselves who seek for created sources of good. 'Hewn out
cisterns'--think of a man who, with a fountain springing in his
courtyard, should leave it and go to dig in the arid desert, or to hew
the live rock in hopes to gain water. It was already springing and
sparkling before him. The conduct of men, when they leave God and seek
for other delights, is like digging a canal alongside a navigable
river. They condemn themselves to a laborious and quite superfluous
task. The true way to get is to take.

Illustrations in religion. Think of the toil and pains spent in
idolatry and in corrupt forms of Christianity.

Illustrations in common life. Your toils--aye, and even your
pleasures--how much of them is laboriously digging for the water which
all the while is flowing at your side.

II. The hopelessness of a godless life.

The contrast further is between living waters and broken cisterns. God
is the fountain of living waters; in other words, in fellowship with
God there is full satisfaction for all the capacities and desires of
the soul; heart--conscience--will--understanding--hope and fear.

The contrast of the empty cisterns. What a deep thought that with all
their work men only make 'cisterns,' _i.e._ they only provide
circumstances which _could hold_ delights, but cannot secure that water
should be in them! The men-made cisterns must be God-filled, if filled
at all. The true joys from earthly things belong to him who has made
God his portion.

Further, they are 'broken cisterns,' and all have in them some flaw or
crack out of which the water runs. That is a vivid metaphor for the
fragmentary satisfaction which all earthly good gives, leaving a deep
yearning unstilled. And it is temporary as well as partial. 'He that
drinketh of this water shall thirst again'--nay, even as with those who
indulge in intoxicating drinks, the appetite increases while the power
of the draught to satisfy it diminishes. But the crack in the cistern
points further to the uncertain tenure of all earthly goods and the
certain leaving of them all.

All godless life is a grand mistake.

III. The crime of a godless life.

It is right to seek for happiness. It is sin to go away from God. You
are thereby not merely flinging away your chances, but are
transgressing against your sacredest obligations. Our text is not only
a remonstrance on the grounds of prudence, showing God-neglecting men
that they are foolish, but it is an appeal to conscience, convincing
them that they are sinful. God loves us and cares for us. We are bound
to Him by ties which do not depend on our own volition. And so there is
punishment for the sin, and the evils experienced in a godless life are
penal as well as natural.

We recall the New Testament modification of this metaphor, 'The water
that I shall give him shall be _in_ him a fountain of water.' Arabs in
desert round dried--up springs. Hagar. Shipwrecked sailors on a reef.
Christ opens 'rivers in the wilderness and streams in the desert.'



FORSAKING JEHOVAH

'Know therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that
thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that My fear is not in thee,
saith the Lord God of hosts.'--JER. ii. 19.


Of course the original reference is to national apostasy, which was
aggravated by the national covenant, and avenged by national disasters,
which are interpreted and urged by the prophet as God's merciful
pleading with men. But the text is true in reference to individuals.

I. The universal indictment.

This is not so much a charge of isolated overt acts, as of departure
from God. That departure, itself a sin, is the fountain of all other
sins. Every act which is morally wrong is religiously a departure from
God; it could not be done, unless heart and will had moved away from
their allegiance to Him. So the solemn mystery of right and wrong
becomes yet more solemn, when our personal relation to the personal God
is brought in.

Then--consider what this forsaking is-at bottom aversion of will, or
rather of the whole nature, from Him.

How strange and awful is that power which a creature possesses of
closing his heart against God, and setting up a quasi-independence!

How universal it is-appeal to each man's own consciousness.

II. The special aggravation.

'_Thy God_ '---the original reference is to Israel, whom God had taken
for His and to whom He had given Himself as theirs, by His choice from
of old, by redemption from Egypt, by covenant, and by centuries of
blessings. But the designation is true in regard to God and each of us.
It points to the personal relation which we each sustain to Him, and so
is a pathetic appeal to affection and gratitude.

III. The bitter fruit.

6 Evil' may express rather the moral character of forsaking God, while
'bitter' expresses rather the consequences of it, which are sorrows.

So the prophet appeals to experience. As the Psalmist confidently
invites to 'taste and see that God is good,' so Jeremiah boldly bids
the apostates know and see that departing is bitter.

It is so, for it leaves the soul unsatisfied.

It leads to remorse.

It drags after it manifold bitter fruits. 'The wages of sin is death.'

Sin without consequent sorrow is an impossibility if there is a God.

IV. The loving appeal.

The text is not denunciation, but tender, though indignant, pleading,
in hope of winning back the wanderers. The prophet has just been
pointing to the sorrowful results which necessarily follow on the
nation's apostasy, and tells Israel that its own wickedness shall
correct it, and then, in the text, he beseeches them not to be blind to
the meaning of their miseries, but to let these teach them how sinful
and how sorrowful their apostasy is. Men's sorrows are a mystery, but
that sinners should not have sorrows were a sadder mystery still. And
God pleads with us all not to lose the good of our experiences of the
bitterness of sin by our levity or our blindness to their meaning. By
His providences, by His Spirit working on us, by the plain teachings
and loving pleadings of His word, He is ever striving to open our eyes
that we may see Good and Evil, and recognise that all Good is bound up
for us with cleaving to God, and all Evil with departing from Him. When
we turn our backs on Him we are full front with the deformed figure of
Evil; when we turn away from it, we are face to face with Him, and in
Him, with all Good.



A COLLOQUY BETWEEN A PENITENT AND GOD

'A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of
the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they
have forgotten the Lord their God. Return, ye backsliding children, and
I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art
the Lord our God.'---JER. iii. 21, 22.


We have here a brief dramatic dialogue. First is heard a voice from the
bare heights, the sobs and cries of penitence, produced by the
prophet's earnest remonstrance. The penitent soul is absorbed in the
thought of its own evil. Its sin stands clear before it. Israel sees
its sin in its two forms. 'They have perverted their way,' or have led
a wrong outward life of action, and the reason is that 'they have
forgotten God,' or have been guilty of inward alienation and departure
from Him. Here is the consciousness of sin in its essential character,
and that produces godly sorrow. The distinction between mere remorse
and repentance is here already, in the 'weeping and supplication.'

I. So we have here a consciousness of sin in its true nature, as
embracing both deeds and heart, as originating in departure from God,
and manifested in perverted conduct.

Further, we have here sorrow. There may be consciousness of sin in its
true nature without any sorrow of heart. It is fatal when a man looks
upon his evil, gets a more or less clear sight of it, and is not sorry
and penitent. It is conceivable that there should be perfect knowledge
of sin and perfect insensibility in regard to it.

A sinful man's true mood should be sorrow--not flinging the blame on
others, or on fate, or circumstances; not regarding his sin as
misfortune or as inevitable or as disease.

Conscience is meant to produce that consciousness and that sorrow: but
conscience may be dulled or silenced. It cannot be anyhow induced to
call evil good, but it may be mistaken in what is evil. The gnomon is
true, but a veil of cloud may be drawn over the sky.

Further, we have here supplication. These two former may both be
experienced, without this third. There may be consciousness of sin and
sorrow which lead to no blessing. 'My bones waxed old through my
roaring.' Sorrow after a godly sort may be hindered by false notions of
God's great love, or by false notions of what a man ought to do when he
finds he has gone wrong. It may be hindered by cleaving, subtle love of
sin, or by self-trust. But where all these have been overcome there is
true repentance.

II. The loving divine answer.

Another ear than the prophet's has heard the plaint from the bare
heights. Many a frenzied shriek had gone up from these shrines of
idolatrous worship, and as with Baal's prophets, it had brought no
answer, nor had there been any that regarded. But this weeping reaches
the ear that is never closed. Contrast with verse 23: 'Truly in vain is
the help that is looked for from the hills, the shouting (of
idol-worshippers) on the mountains.'

The instantaneousness of God's answer is very beautiful. It is like the
action of the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who saw his
repentant boy afar off and ran and kissed him.

There seems to be, in both the invitation to return and in the promise
to hear the backslidings, a quotation from Hosea xiv. (1-4). We see
here how God meets the penitent with a love that recognises all his sin
and yet is