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GLORIOUS PROSPECTS OF THE GOSPEL CHURCH
Isaiah 35:1-2. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose; it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God,
AS the planting of the Jews in Canaan was accompanied with the slaughter of the Canaanites, so in every age the establishment of God’s Church on earth is represented as immediately connected with, and in a measure consequent upon, the judgments inflicted on her enemies. This appears, as in many other places, so especially from the words of our text; which are a continuation of the prophecy contained in the preceding chapter, or rather, a transition from one part of the subject to another part of the same subject. In the foregoing chapter, the destruction of the Edomites was predicted, as introductory to the enlargement of the Redeemer’s kingdom. But the devastation of their country by Nebuchadnezzar did not by any means correspond with the strong expressions used to describe it; nor did the reformation under Hezekiah at all answer to the exalted terms in which the prosperity of Zion is set forth. The true sense of the passage must be found in events yet future. Edom is here considered as a type of all the Church’s enemies, which at some future period will be fearfully destroyed; and then will the Church be enlarged and prosper, in a way that has never yet been seen upon earth. “For them,” that is, for those judgments before spoken of, “will the wilderness and the solitary place be glad,” because they will open a way for the accomplishment of God’s gracious designs towards his Church and people.
The words, as thus explained, lead us naturally to contemplate,
The state of persons and places unenlightened by the Gospel—
Whatever advantages any place may possess, it is, if destitute of the Gospel, a dreary wilderness—
[Let us suppose a place in point of beauty and fertility like Paradise itself; let it be the seat of arts and sciences, the emporium of commerce, the centre of civilized and polished society; let it abound with every thing that can amuse the mind, or gratify the taste; still, What is it without the Gospel? What does it afford that can nourish an immortal soul? No heavenly manna is found there: no wells of salvation are open to the thirsty traveller; none are at hand to point out the way to life: its only produce is thorns and briers, which entangle, and impede, and wound us, every step we take; and on every side are snares and temptations, which, like noxious animals, lie in wait for us, ever ready to accomplish our eternal ruin. The cities of Athens and of Rome must in this respect be viewed on a level with the most desolate spots upon the globe: for, whatever they might furnish for the edification or comfort of the carnal mind, they would afford no nutriment to him who was perishing for lack of spiritual food.]
The same observations we must make in relation to the souls of men—
[Whatever strength of intellect a man may possess, or however deeply he may be versed in every branch of human learning; whatever amiable qualities he may have to distinquish him from others; yea, whatever actual enjoyment he may receive from the riches, the honours, the pleasures of the world; yet is his soul “a wilderness,” “a solitude,” “a desert:” God is not there: the fruits of the Spirit are not found there: no heavenly consolations are ever tasted by him: he is without a track, with a guide, without a shelter in the day of trouble, and without any other prospect than that of falling a prey to enemies, or perishing with hunger. The unenlightened soul is compared by Jeremiah, not to a desert merely, but to “a heath in a desert, where no good ever comes [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-6.].” O that those who fancy themselves “rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing, were made sensible, how wretched they are, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked [Note: Revelation 3:17.]!”]
Let us turn from this humiliating contemplation, to consider,
The state to which they are brought by the Gospel—
Beautiful is the description given by the prophet of the change that is wrought by the Gospel of Christ. The souls of men assume altogether a new aspect. In them is found,
The beauty of the rose—
[Where there was but lately no appearance of life, now there arise a holy desire after God, a delight in heavenly exercises, a love to all the people of the Lord, and an ambition to resemble God in righteousness and true holiness. First, but a blossom appears; but gradually the rising foliage bursts from its confinement, and expands itself to the eyes of all, diffusing fragrance all around it. The believer, blessed in himself, makes the very place of his residence a blessing; according to that description given of him by the Prophet Ezekiel; “I will make them, and the places round about my hill, a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessings [Note: Ezekiel 34:26.].” Thus by the power of his Gospel “the Lord comforts Zion! he comforts all her waste places; he makes her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord: joy and gladness are found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody [Note: Isaiah 51:3.].”]
The stability of the cedar—
[The woods of Lebanon were proverbially grand: its cedars and its pines grew up to heaven, and defied all the storms with which they could be assailed. This was “the glory of Lebanon:” and this glory shall be given to all who are “rooted and grounded in the Lord.” Weak as the beginnings of grace are in the believer’s soul, he shall “shoot forth his roots as Lebanon,” and become “a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that HE may be glorified [Note: Isaiah 61:3.].” Storms and tempests will beat upon him; but they shall only cause him to take deeper root, and to evince more clearly, in the sight of all men, that “God’s strength is perfected in his people’s weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].” In like manner shall the Church at large be kept;, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”]
The fruitfulness of the richest pastures—
[Carmel and Sharon were famous for their pasturage and flocks: such excellency shall be seen wherever the Gospel is preached with life and power, How precious are the ordinances made! What pastures are laid open in the word of God! How strengthening and refreshing does that feast become, which the Lord Jesus Christ has prepared for us at his table! The souls, thus richly fed, “grow up as calves of the stall:” the trees, thus watered by “the river of God,” abound in all manner of fruits, even in “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God.” Contemplate every “fruit of the Spirit [Note: Galatians 5:22-23.];” and that is what is produced by “every plant which God’s right hand hath planted.”]
Unutterable joy as the result of all—
[The expressions in our text fitly characterize the state of those who are brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel: they “are glad, and rejoice, and blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.” Let any one who has ever beheld a desert brought by cultivation to a fruitful field, and seen it “standing so thick with corn as to laugh and sing;” let him contemplate it awhile; and he will have a faint image, though a very faint one, of “a wilderness” place or person that is “made to blossom as the rose.” O that we might behold the picture realised in this place, and that every one amongst us might have the image of it in his own soul!]
But it is necessary that we should draw your attention to,
That particular view of the Gospel by which these effects are wrought—
It is not by a mutilated and perverted Gospel that these effects are produced, but by a simple exhibition of Christ crucified, and of the perfections of God as united and harmonizing in the work of Redemption.
To this it is uniformly ascribed in the word of God—
[Look at the prophets, and you will find it is “the glory of the Lord” that they speak of, as revealed to men by the Gospel, and as seen by men in order to their conversion [Note: Psalms 102:16. Isaiah 60:1-2; Isa 40:5 and Psalms 97:6. Habakkuk 2:14.] — — — Look at the Apostles, and the same truth is attested by them all; insomuch that they all “determined to know nothing in their ministrations, but Jesus Christ and him crucified:” the one object which they sought by all possible means to attain, was, so to preach, that “God might shine into his people’s hearts, to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]:” and till they saw “Christ formed in them,” they were satisfied with no change however great, no profession however confident [Note: Galatians 4:19.]. The commission given to them all, was to “say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God [Note: Isaiah 40:9.]!” and this they all fulfilled, saying to their people from time to time, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world [Note: John 1:29.]!”]
To this also must the effect be traced in the experience of all—
[Who that hears a perverted Gospel, is ever brought effectually to God by it? We may represent the Gospel as a kind of remedial law, that supersedes the necessity of perfect obedience, and requires only sincere obedience in its stead; or we may represent the Gospel as proposing a salvation partly by Christ’s righteousness, and partly by our own; but we shall never see such effects produced as are described in our text. Let this matter be scrutinized; and the more it is scrutinized, the more the truth of it will be confirmed. It is notorious, that in some persons, and some places, a great change is wrought: and it will be found to be owing to this one thing, that “Christ is preached,” and he is received into the heart as “All in all [Note: Colossians 3:11.].” The people are made to “see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God;” and therefore do they rejoice, and consecrate themselves to the service of their God and Saviour. Hence also is their stability; for they would rather die a thousand deaths, than renounce their hope in Him; and hence also their fertility, for they think they can never do enough for him, who has done and suffered such things for them. And this is expressly declared by the Apostle: “We, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
What encouragement is here for those who minister in holy things—
[Ministers, especially when invited to labour among un-enlightened heathens, are apt to draw back, under an idea that they can never hope to reap a crop in such a soil. But if God has promised that “the wilderness shall rejoice and blossom as the rose,” why should we despond? Is not his word as quick and powerful as ever? and can he not, by whomsoever, or to whomsoever it is delivered, make it “sharper than any two-edged sword,” so that it shall be “the power of God to the salvation of men?” Only let “his Spirit be poured out from on high, and the wilderness shall be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest [Note: Isaiah 32:15.].” Though the corn be but an handful, and cast on the summit of a barren mountain, its produce shall be great, and your harvest sure [Note: Psalms 72:16. Here would be the place to enlarge, if it were a Mission or a Visitation Sermon.].]
What encouragement also for those who are dejected on account of the state of their own souls—
[When all your grounds of dejection are stated, they amount to no more than this, that your hearts are a very “desert.” But “God’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, nor is his ear heavy that he cannot hear.” Possibly you may feel additional ground of despondency, because you have backslidden from the Lord, and therefore fear that he will give you up to final impenitence. If so, then plead with him that promise which is made to persons in your very condition; and rest assured, that he will fulfil it to you, if you trust in him [Note: Hosea 14:4-7.]. You may wait long, as the husbandman does, for the fruit of your labour; but you shall not wait in vain [Note: James 5:7-8.].]
ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE WEAK
Isaiah 35:3-4. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.
OUR blessed Lord, as the great Shepherd of the sheep, has set an example to all inferior pastors, how to watch over their flock [Note: Ezekiel 34:11-16. Isaiah 40:11.]. And in the words before us he gives them special direction how to treat the weak and the diseased.
Consider the characters here described—
Among the people of God, all of whom are weak as sheep, there are many that, from their peculiar weakness and infirmities, are characterized rather as “lambs, or as sheep that are big with young.” These are described in the text,
As feeling their weakness—
[The “hands and feet” being those members of the body that are fitted for labour, they not improperly represent the active powers of the soul: and the feebleness which they experience through excessive fatigue, gives us a just idea of a soul weary with its labours, and heavy laden with its spiritual burthens. Many there are that are precisely in this state: they have been maintaining a conflict with sin and Satan; they have been enduring the pressure of many trials; and they scareely know how to support their difficulties any longer: their “hands are so weak and their knees so feeble,” that they are ready to give up in utter despair [Note: This may be illustrated by David’s case, Psalms 38:2-8; Psalms 38:17.] — — —]
As discouraged by reason of it—
[Many are the misgiving thoughts that arise in the minds of God’s tempted people. When they find their insufficiency to support their burthens, and to overcome their spiritual enemies, they have “great searchings of heart:” they begin to doubt whether they have not altogether deceived their own souls; and whether they may not as well cease from those contests which they have hitherto found so ineffectual. They fear that God has cast them off; that all their professions are mere hypocrisy; and that their renewed exertions will only issue in their greater disappointment [Note: Psalms 77:2-9.] — — ]
If there be any present, whose experience accords with this description, we proceed to,
Deliver to them a message from the most high God—
God would not that his ministers should ever “break a bruised reed,” or “despise the day of small things:” on the contrary, he says, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” “Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.” But, because we should be at a loss to know what to say, and all that we could say would be to no purpose, if it were the mere offspring of our own imaginations, God himself has put words into our mouths; which therefore we may safely, and confidently, deliver.
[Let the drooping and disconsolate now listen as to the voice of God himself; for it is God, and not man, that thus audibly speaks unto them.
“Be strong, fear not.” This may appear a strange address to those who feel within themselves such reason for despondency: but it is God’s message to them; and therefore in God’s name we deliver it.
But in the text the grounds of this encouragement are stated: and, if duly applied to the soul, they are sufficient to comfort the most distressed, and to invigorate the weakest. “Behold then, your God will come:” yes, that God who, notwithstanding all your fears, is, and will be, your God. Think what is implied in this relation, and then say, whether you have not in this word alone an inexhaustible fund of consolation.
He will come “with vengeance” to your enemies, and “with a recompence” to you. He sees with indignation those evil spirits that assault you, and those ungodly men that despise and persecute you, and all those indwelling lusts that harass and defile you: and he has doomed them all to destruction; your lusts, by the operation of his grace, and your enemies, whether men or devils, by his avenging arm. But with respect to yourselves, there is not a tear, which he has not treasured up in his vial [Note: Psalms 56:8.]; nor a sigh, a groan [Note: Psalms 38:8-9.], a purpose [Note: 1 Kings 8:18.], a wish [Note: 1 Kings 14:13.], a thought [Note: Malachi 3:16.], which he has not noted in the book of his remembrance, in order to recompense it at the resurrection of the just.
In short, “he will come and save you.” He is interested in your welfare; and suffers you to be thus tried, and tempted, only for your good [Note: 1 Peter 1:6.]. He knows “when your strength is gone,” and will make your extremity the season of his effectual interposition [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.].
Notice the repetitions in this message; for they surely were not inserted thus for nought. It is “God, even God,” that will come for your relief: it is not a man, or an angel, but Jehovah himself, to whom all things are alike possible, and alike easy. Moreover, it is said, “He will come, he will come;” you need not doubt it, for it is as certain as that he himself exists. He may tarry long: but wait his leisure; and he will come at last [Note: Habakkuk 2:3. with 2 Chronicles 15:7.].]
How anxious is God for the comfort of his people!
[He charges all his servants to exert themselves for the relief of his people’s minds: and expressly sends them a message of love and mercy under their multiplied afflictions. And, lest they should put away from them the word, as not applicable to themselves, he describes them, not by their attainments, but by their defects; not by their hopes, but by their fears, He describes them by the very terms which they themselves make use of to describe their own state. What marvellous condescension is this! Moreover, he sends them exactly such a message as they themselves would desire, if they were commissioned to declare beforehand what they would consider as an adequate ground of consolation. Can any thing exceed this kindness?
Let us then entertain worthy conceptions of our gracious God; and learn never to doubt his love, or to distrust his care. And, instead of distressing ourselves with fears on account of our own weakness, let us look unto our Almighty Saviour to “perfect his own strength by means of it [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].”]
How differently must ministers conduct themselves towards the different objects of their care!
[That same divine Shepherd who says, “I will strengthen that which was sick,” adds, “But I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment [Note: Ezekiel 34:16. before cited.].” Now there are many who perhaps will bless themselves, that they are strangers to the faintings and fears which are so distressing to others. What message then have we from God to them? Shall we endeavour to “confirm and strengthen” them? They need not our assistance; they would despise our proffered help. Shall we say to them, “Be strong, fear not?” Alas! how “shall they be strong in the day that God shall deal with them [Note: Eze 22:14 and Isaiah 10:3.]?” They rather need to fear and tremble for the judgments that are coming upon them. “God is coming;” but he is not their God; for they have never chosen him for their God, nor given themselves up to him as his people. He is coming with awful “vengeance,” and with a just “recompence” for all their neglect of him. He is coming not to “save,” but to destroy them. Let them then hear the message of God to them [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.], and tremble. They must be sick in order to know the value of a physician; and must feel themselves lost, if ever they would be interested in the salvation of Christ [Note: Mark 2:17. Luke 18:13-14.].]
STREAMS IN THE DESERT
Isaiah 35:5-7. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the fame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
THOUGH the truths which we have to proclaim lie in a very small compass, yet do they admit of an endless diversity of illustration; so that, though old and well known, they appear ever new. The figure under which the Gospel is here set forth is indeed frequently used in the Holy Scriptures: and well it may be, since it is peculiarly adapted to bring home to our very senses, as it were, the nature and operation of the Gospel, and to display its energy visibly before our eyes. We can conceive of a desert converted into a fertile garden; and we can form some idea of the multitudes who were healed of all manner of diseases by our blessed Lord. And under these images is the Gospel here exhibited to our view. In the words before us, we are led to contemplate,
Its miraculous establishment—
A desert is but too just a picture of the world at large—
[In this country we have a very faint notion of a desert. In some parts of the world there are large tracts of country perfectly sterile, consisting only of burning sands, in which nothing will grow; and these are infested with all manner of noxious animals. Now certainly this appears, at first sight, to be a very exaggerated representation of human nature: and doubtless it would be so, if we took into the account only man’s conduct towards his fellow-man. For it must be confessed, and we bless God for it, that man is not so fallen, but that there yet remain within him many traits of his original worth and excellency. Benevolence, integrity, a sense of honour, a feeling of compassion, are by no means eradicated from every breast; though, through the violence of temptation, they do not operate so extensively or so uniformly as they ought; and in many persons, through habits of wickedness, they are almost wholly effaced. But towards God there remains in us nothing that is truly and properly good. We are in this respect all upon a level: we all, without exception, are alike alienated from the life of God, without one spiritual affection towards him. To please him, to serve him, to honour him, we have no purpose, no desire whatever. Self has altogether usurped his throne, and is the only object of our solicitude: and if only self may be advanced and gratified, we are content to forget God, and to live “without him in the world.” Thus, considering a desert to be a place destitute of all good, and full of all evil, we may, so far as our state before God is concerned, consider it as a just picture of our fallen condition.]
But by the Gospel a wonderful change is effected in us—
[Conceive of such a desert, as has been described, being, by the almighty power of God, filled at once with springs and rivers, and verdant hills and valleys: conceive of it as freed from all its venomous inhabitants, and covered with flocks and herds for the use of man: and then you will have some idea of what is wrought by the Gospel, wherever it is established. Let the day of Pentecost serve as a specimen. Certainly, if ever there were incarnate fiends, such were the great mass of those who put our blessed Lord to death. But see the change wrought on thousands of them in one hour! It would be deemed incredible, if we did not know that such was really the fact: “the Holy Spirit then poured out,” in confirmation of the Apostle’s word, “turned at once the wilderness into a fruitful field, so that the fruitful field might be counted for a forest [Note: Isaiah 32:15.].” What takes place at this day, upon a smaller scale, is not so visible, or so well authenticated, as that to which we have referred; but it is altogether of the same character: for when once “the waters break out in the wilderness, and the streams in the desert, the parched ground becomes a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; and in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, there is grass with reeds and rushes;” vegetation and beauty supplying the place of sterile deformity.
It is scarcely necessary to observe, that this must be the work of God. It far exceeds the power of man. It was the work of Omnipotence in the apostolic age: and, as such, it is here promised to be extended over the face of the whole earth. Jerusalem was indeed the primary seat of this glorious change: but it is to be extended, as the Lord hath said: “Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God [Note: Isaiah 52:9-10.].”]
In accordance with this change, will be found,
Its characteristic benefits—
At the introduction of Christianity, many glorious miracles were wrought by our blessed Lord, in confirmation of his word. These were predicted in the passage before us; and to these did our blessed Lord appeal, in proof of his divine mission. “John sent two of his disciples to him, to inquire, Art thou He that should come; or do we look for another? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Go, and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them [Note: Matthew 11:2-5.].” But it is in a spiritual sense, chiefly, that these blessed effects are to be wrought. In a general, view these have been already described: but now we must notice them under a different image, and with a more minute attention to circumstances.
In all our faculties, and in all our powers, we are fallen—
[It is worthy of observation, that, for the elucidation of this point, St. Paul collects a number of unconnected passages from the Old Testament, and strings them, as it were, all together, in order that, by their accumulated weight, they may bear down all opposition to his argument; which is, to prove that “men are all gone out of the way, and that there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” “Their mouth,” says he, “is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood [Note: Romans 3:12-15.].” Thus, in my text, it is intimated, that men’s eyes are by nature shut against the light of divine truth; that their ears are deaf to the voice of God in his word; that their feet never move in the service of their God; and that their tongues are never employed in his praise. A very little acquaintance with what is passing in the world around us, or in our own hearts, will suffice to confirm this melancholy description: so true is it, that all of us, even every child of man, are “gone back; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one [Note: Psalms 53:3.].”]
But in all these respects, through the Gospel of Christ, we are renewed—
[By the preached Gospel, when accompanied with the Spirit of God, “the eyes of the blind are opened;” so that, with different measures of clearness, they “see the things that are invisible” to mortal eyes, even the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, and “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” By it, too, “the ears of the deaf are unstopped; so that they hear “the small still voice” of God to them, whispering peace to their souls, and “saying unto them, This is the way; walk ye in it.” By it, also, “the feet of the lame man are made to leap as an hart;” so that they not only walk, but “run in the way of God’s commandments with enlarged hearts.” Lastly, by it is “the tongue of the dumb made to sing the praises of Jehovah,” and to anticipate, amidst all the troubles of this earthly state, the felicity of heaven.
Now this is not a poetic fiction, but a plain and undeniable reality. This is the state of men wherever the Gospel of Christ produces its proper and legitimate effects. It is not among the rich only or the poor, the old or the young, that it operates in this way, but in persons of every age and every class. Wherever it is preached, “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven,” there it is “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” and becomes to multitudes the power of God to the salvation of their souls. The miracles wrought by our blessed Lord were but a shadow of what is wrought, and shall be wrought, by the preached Gospel: and, I thank God, there are millions this day upon earth who can bear witness to this blessed truth, that, in their own actual experience, they are become altogether “new creatures; old things having passed away, and all things being become new.”]
Observe then, from hence,
What little reason any person has to despond—
[Can any one conceive himself to be in a worse state than that of a desert, destitute of all good, and filled with every thing that is of the most malignant quality? Or, if he take humanity for his standard, can he conceive of himself as in a more deplorable condition than one blind, and deaf, and lame, and dumb? Yet these are the maladies which the Gospel is sent especially to relieve. It does not merely suffice for these things; but it is the prescribed remedy, which never did, nor ever can, fail. Instead therefore of being discouraged by any sense that we have of our own extreme want and wretchedness, we should take occasion, from our very necessities, to glorify God, and to enlarge our expectations of relief from him; assured, that “his strength shall be made perfect in our weakness,” and his grace be magnified in our unworthiness.]
What glorious prospects are before us—
[We believe that these wonderful changes shall take place in God’s appointed time, and that “all the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ.” The change from the dreary barrenness of winter to the verdure and fertility of spring, is pleasing to the sight: but, oh! what is it to see a place, where Christ was neither known nor thought of, filled with persons displaying in their souls all the wonderful operations of his grace! And what must it be, to behold those scenes spreading from city to city, from kingdom to kingdom, till “the whole earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea!” Well, certain it is, that this blessed period is fast approaching; and that “God will comfort, not Zion only, but all the waste places of the earth; making her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; so that in every place shall joy and gladness be found, and nothing be heard but thanksgiving and the voice of melody [Note: Isaiah 51:3.].” Let us look forward to this time; yea, let us help it forward to the utmost of our power: and if, but in a single instance, the blind, or deaf, or lame, or dumb, receive the relief which they stand in need of, we shall have no reason to complain that we have run in vain, or laboured in vain [Note: If this were a Mission Sermon, it would be proper to open this part more fully.].]
What ground for gratitude has every believing soul—
[Who is it that has made you to differ from others? Who is it that has healed the maladies of your souls, or that has made “your wilderness soul to blossom as the rose?” This, as we have before said, is the work of God, and of God alone: “He that hath wrought us to the self-same thing, is God.” And is this no call for gratitude? Look at heathen lauds, and see their people bowing down to stocks and stones. Or look nearer home, and see the multitudes around you as unaffected with the Gospel as if it had never visited this highly-favoured country. Perhaps your nearest and dearest relatives are at this moment, in respect of spiritual things, as barren as the most dreary desert, and as destitute of perception as if they had never possessed the organs of sight and hearing. Learn to pity and to pray for them, whilst your souls are transported with joy and gratitude for the mercies vouchsafed to you. And now shew, by your fruits, what a change has been wrought within you, and, by the devotion of all your faculties to God, the healing virtue which you have received.]
THE WAY TO ZION
Isaiah 35:8-10. 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: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and coma to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
IN the volume of inspiration, the progress of the Gospel in the apostolic and millennial periods is often set forth as a counterpart of the redemption of Israel from the land of Egypt. The power effecting the conversion of men, and all the blessings attending it, are described in terms precisely similar to those which, in their literal sense, are applicable only to the deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian bondage. The power exerted for its accomplishment is the same, as are also the blessings attendant on it. The Prophet Isaiah speaking of that day, when Christ, “the root of Jesse, shall stand for an ensign, to which the Gentiles shall seek,” says, “the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry-shod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt [Note: Isaiah 11:10; Isa 11:15-16 and Micah 7:15.].” It is of the same periods, and the same events, that he speaks in the chapter before us, and especially in the words of our test; wherein he describes,
The way which is prepared for the redeemed to walk in—
Strange as it may appear, the text itself, if not taken in connexion with other passages, may give us an erroneous notion respecting the way of life and salvation. The way is called, and justly called, “The way of holiness:” but we are not therefore to suppose that there is nothing necessary for our salvation but the performance of some good works: for the same prophet, who in our text calls the way to Zion “The way of holiness,” tells us more fully, in another place, that it is the way of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Isaiah 62:10-12.]. To mark this, and to bear it ever in mind, is of great importance and indispensable necessity; since our Lord Jesus Christ himself assures us, that “He is the way, the truth, and the life; and that no man cometh to the Father but by him [Note: John 14:6.].”
Bearing this then in mind, that the way to heaven is solely by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Ephesians 2:8-9.], we observe respecting it, that it is,
A high and holy way—
[As, in forming a highway, the stones are cast up, and the road is made above the level of the adjacent ground, so is this way far above the low and grovelling paths which are trodden by the world around us: and they who walk in it are walking comparatively “in the high places of the earth.” Raised above the miry clay of sin, it is a holy path: the faith itself is a “most holy faith [Note: Jude, ver. 20.];” and they who are brought to it, are “called with a holy calling [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.],” and are themselves “a holy nation [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.],” “a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” Persons who are ignorant of the Gospel, are ready to suppose that the doctrine of salvation by faith only must be injurious to the interests of morality; but the very reverse of this is true: for they, and they only, who look to Christ for salvation, have either will or power to fulfil the high demands of the Gospel: they, and they only, desire to be “sanctified throughout, in body, soul, and spirit [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.]:” and that is the holiness, which alone is acceptable in the sight of God [Note: Hebrews 12:14.]. No latitude is allowed to any man: there is the same law for all: and every statute, every ordinance, every injunction in the whole Gospel has the same tendency to make us holy: the more the laws and regulations of Christ’s family are scrutinized, the more it will appear, that “This is the law of the house; behold, this is the law of the house [Note: Ezekiel 43:12.].”]
A strait and narrow way—
[It is “not for the unclean, but for the redeemed alone.” Not that there is any prohibition to any man to walk in it; but the ungodly have no inclination to walk in it: the work of mortification and self-denial is to them distasteful; nor have they any root in themselves from whence the fruits of the Spirit can proceed. But to the redeemed the whole work of holiness is delightful: it is the very element they delight to move in: so far from wishing to be left at liberty to commit any sin, they would gladly “have every thought of their heart brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:5.].” They consider holiness as the very end of their now creation [Note: Ephesians 2:10.], yea, the very end also for which they were elected [Note: Ephesians 1:4.], and to which they were predestinated, from all eternity [Note: Romans 8:29.]: and, if they could have the desire of their hearts, they would “be holy, as God himself is holy [Note: 1 Peter 1:15-16.],” and “pure, as God himself is pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.].” Justly therefore is it said by our Lord, that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it [Note: Matthew 7:13-14.].”]
A plain and obvious way—
[To those who have no experience of its power, the Gospel, both in its doctrines and precepts, is altogether foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]: but it is so only because they are ignorant of its real nature: they are blinded by Satan and their own lusts [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.]; and, like the Syrian host, fancy that they are journeying to the heavenly city, when in truth they are going into the heart of an enemy’s country, even to the regions of darkness and despair [Note: 2 Kings 6:19.]. But “what God has hid from the wise and prudent, he has revealed unto babes [Note: Matthew 11:25.]:” and to those whose eyes he has opened, the way is clear as the light itself. “The knowledge of it is easy to him that understandeth [Note: Proverbs 14:6.]:” for a light shines upon it; and “the Angel of the Covenant goes before them in the way, to lead them to the city prepared for them [Note: Exodus 23:20.].” Thus “darkness is made light before them, and crooked things straight [Note: Isaiah 42:16.]:” and if at any time they are perplexed with any important doubts, they need only look up to God, and they hear a word behind them, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it;” by which they are kept from “turning either to the right hand or to the left [Note: Isaiah 30:21.].” Nor is this the privilege of the learned only, but of all, even the meanest and the least, seeing “they have an unction of the Holy One that teacheth them all things [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.]:” and so direct is their way made, “that the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.” Of course, we must not be understood to say, that any person is infallible: but this we do and must affirm, that none, however weak, shall be left to mistake the path to heaven, since God has pledged himself to us, that “the meek ho will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way [Note: Psalms 25:8-9.].”]
A safe and secure way—
[It is probable that the strong expressions in our text may refer more particularly to the millennial state: for they exactly agree with what the Prophet Ezekiel has manifestly spoken with an immediate reference to that day [Note: Ezekiel 34:24-25.]. But they are true to a certain extent in every age: for though there are lions, and, above all, that “roaring lion, the devil, seeking to devour us,” they are all either chained, that they cannot reach us, or restrained, that they cannot hurt us [Note: Daniel 6:22. with Psalms 76:10.]. Though therefore “the redeemed” appear an easy prey to their enemies, they walk at large without any anxious fear. By faith “they see horses of fire and chariots of fire round about them [Note: 2 Kings 6:15-17.];” and they know that “they could have legions of angels sent them [Note: Matthew 26:53.]” at their request, if they stood in need of their protection. They are sensible indeed of the number, the power, and the malice of their enemies i but as persons travelling through places infested by wild beasts make a fire round them and are secure, so they feel themselves secure, because “God himself is a wall of fire round about them, and their glory in the midst of them [Note: Zechariah 2:5.].”]
Such is the way to Zion: and O that God by his Holy Spirit may draw us, whilst we declare,
The happiness of those who journey in it!
“Happy indeed art thou, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord [Note: Deuteronomy 33:29.]:” thrice happy they who walk in his ways! Inexpressibly happy are they,
Throughout all their journey—
[Did Israel, when redeemed from Egypt, sing praises to their God [Note: Exodus 15:1.]? Much more do they who are redeemed from death and hell: as soon as ever they are “brought out of the horrible pit, and have set their feet upon the King’s highway, there is a new song put into their mouth, even praise unto our God [Note: Psalms 40:2-3.].” It is true they are represented by the prophet, even “the whole company of them, the blind and the lame, the women with child, and she that travaileth with child together, as coming with weeping and with supplication [Note: Jeremiah 31:8-9.];” but this is so far from destroying their joy, that it is the very root from which it springs, the seed from which the harvest of joy proceeds [Note: Psalms 126:5-6.]. There is in the weeping of a real penitent a holy tenderness, which is no less grateful to his soul than the livelier ebullitions of joy itself: yea, so deeply does he feel his own unworthiness, that he would not wish to “rejoice, but with trembling: nor, if he were transported to heaven itself, would he so exult, as to forget to cast his crown before the Saviour’s feet [Note: Revelation 4:10.].” Indeed this very mixture of ingenuous shame with triumphant exultation is intimated by the Prophet Jeremiah, who, immediately after representing the saints as “weeping,” proceeds to paint their happiness as most sublime, not only on account of the deliverance they have experienced, but on account of the continued communications of all spiritual blessings to their souls [Note: Jeremiah 31:11-14. See also 33:11.] — — — And well may we expect them to “return with singing,” when they consider from what paths they have been brought, and to what a glorious state they are “coming;” and, above all, by what a price they have been ransomed, even by the blood of God’s only dear Son. Had they been “redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,” they could not but rejoice; but having been ransomed “by the? precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot [Note: 1 Peter 1:18-19.],” they are filled with wonder; and are ready almost to account it all a dream [Note: Psalms 126:1-2.]; like Peter, who, when delivered from prison, could scarcely credit his deliverance, but “thought ho saw a vision [Note: Acts 12:9.].” Doubtless this joyous frame does not exist in all alike, nor in any equally at all times: their remaining infirmities are sometimes called forth to the wounding of their consciences, and the clouding of their souls. Even Paul himself sometimes cried, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” But still, by renewed applications of the blood of Christ to their souls, their consciences are purged from guilt, and their joy in the Lord is revived. Thus, whilst they go through the valley of Baca, they find wells of salvation, from which they draw water with joy, and are refreshed; and thus they go on from strength to strength, till they appear before God in Zion [Note: Psalms 84:6-7.].]
At their journey’s end—
[It has been just observed, that “sighing and sorrow” occasionally interrupt the Believer’s joy; and indeed they follow him at a greater or less distance all his journey through: but when once he arrives at the gate of heaven, those blest inhabitants, “joy and gladness,” come forth to meet him; and “sorrow and sighing flee away.” Then is his joy uninterrupted and unmixt; for he is introduced into “the presence of his God, where there is fulness of joy, and pleasure for evermore.” Could we but get a glimpse of him in those sacred mansions, could we behold the raptures with which he tunes his harp to the praises of his God and Saviour, truly, we should proclaim him blessed beyond all expression or conception. Let us then look into heaven; (for so it is permitted us;) and let us listen to his voice. Methinks we hear the full chorus of the redeemed, singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing [Note: Revelation 5:9-13.]!” — — — And, if we inquire concerning them, “Who they are? and Whence they came?” we shall be informed distinctly, not that they were innocent in themselves, or had done to many good works, but, that “they had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: therefore are they before the throne of God.” And that which constitutes no small measure of their happiness is, an inward consciousness that it shall continue for ever without any mixture, intermission, or end: “They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat: for the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes [Note: Revelation 7:9-17.].” What an amazing change is this, even from the best state that can be enjoyed here below I Well may it be said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord;” for, whilst every thing painful has for ever passed away [Note: Revelation 14:13. with 21:4.], they are unceasingly occupied in the immediate vision and complete fruition of their God.]
[Permit me now to address myself to every individual amongst you. And what terms can we und move apposite, than those wherein Moses addressed his father-in-law? “We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you. Come with us, and we will do thee good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel [Note: Numbers 10:29. See also Micah 4:2.].” Consider, what a blessed way it is: it is “the good old way [Note: Jeremiah 6:16.], wherein the Prophets and Apostles walked; yea, and wherein our blessed Lord himself walked, “leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21. 1 John 2:6.].” What way can the world point out that is comparable to this? Think too of the end to which it leads: shall not this thought engage you to come with us; and not only to begin with zeal, but also to “run with patience, the race that is set before you?” — — — As for you who have commenced your journey heavenward, lift up your hearts to God, that he would enable you to “hold on your way [Note: Job 17:9.],” and “so to run that you may obtain the prize [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:9.].” Pray that you may never be weary, never halt, never turn back; but that your course may be uniformly holy i or rather, that “your light may shine more and more unto the perfect day [Note: Proverbs 4:18.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 35". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany