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The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them
The blessings of the Gospel
The thirty-fourth and the thirty-fifth chapters of Isaiah are by the best scholars supposed to constitute one entire and complete prophecy, not connected specially, or at least organically, with what goes before or follows.
It is a masterpiece of poetry. A single poem divided into two parts; in the first part, the prophet sets forth in lurid colours the universal judgments of God upon all the nations of the earth which have arrayed themselves against Him and oppressed His people. As an instance of what shall come upon all, he selects a single nation, that of the Edomites, and shows forth in them what shall come upon all. This awful storm of wrath passes away; and we see in the “clear shining after rain” the beautiful prospect which is opened up to both earth and man, when God’s enemies cease from troubling and His people are gathered unto Himself. The almost universal habit of spiritualising this, and all like prophecies, and allegorising them into an exclusive application to present Gospel blessings, has served to hide the chief significance of the passage from the eyes of the ordinary reader. The promise of this glorious chapter is without doubt primarily and chiefly to the Jews, referring to their final restoration to their own land in the last days. That it has a preliminary reference to the return from the Babylonian captivity is possible, but it looks far beyond that time to the return from the dispersion which the Jews are now suffering. Even the joy of that first return did not fulfil the glorious promises of this vision. God’s day of vengeance, and the year of His redeemed, are thus set side by side. (Compare with 61:2; and 63:4, with Matthew 24:27-31; Luke 21:25-28.)
I. THE REJOICING CREATION. It is almost impossible not to associate the magnificent opening words of this chapter with the hope held out to the “whole creation which groaneth and travalleth in pain together until now, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God, when it shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-23). “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them.” This is a beautiful picture of the sympathy of the earth with man. Not only do the beautiful parts of the earth rejoice with the home-coming of man from his wanderings from God, but the very wilderness and solitary places rejoice and are glad for them, because also in man’s redemption the creation which was cursed for man’s sake is set free from that curse. The gladness which is here ascribed to the inanimate creation corresponds with the songs and everlasting joy which crown the redeemed of the Lord on their return. The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto them and the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. Two other things are ascribed to the creation. They are represented as consciously participating in the great goodness of God to man. They rejoice even with joy and singing; and they see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God. It is the habit of our prophet thus to invest nature with consciousness and intelligence. It is the habit of-all scriptural writers to put man and nature into close sympathy with each other, declaring that God is the maker of both. There is a great spiritual as well as poetic truth in this. How powerfully are we affected by plastic nature! How responsive the soil, the fruits of earth, and trees of the forest to the loving touch and sympathy of man! Who does not know how wonderfully different all nature seemed to us when we were first converted to God. What a world of beauty this will be when the curse is removed and man and nature, so manifestly made for each other, shall rejoice and be glad together!
II. THE BLESSINGS OF SALVATION. The outline of blessing which the prophet sets before us is not complete, but simply consists of a few bold strokes, serving to fill us with the hope of perfect and complete recovery to God.
1. Men shall see God. The vision of God has already been ascribed in a metaphorical sense to the inanimate creation. It is certainly true that, among the chiefest blessings of salvation, is the vision of God When Jesus came into the world, we are told that in Him we beheld the glory of God, full of grace and truth We are also told that the first effect of the new birth is the ability of the sinner to see God. The purification of the heart which comes with the new life of God in the soul, carries with it the promise of seeing God (John 1:14; John 3:3; Matthew 5:8; 2 Corinthians 3:18). But there is manifestly something more than this meant. “They shall see the glory of Jehovah and the excellency of our God.” This can refer to nothing else than that beatific vision of God spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12; by John in the Revelation 22:4. Yet again, if we are to include the saints of the Church in this prophecy, then we shall also have to look for a more literal fulfilment still. When the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven in power and great glory (Matthew 26:64; Daniel 7:13; Joh 1:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 1:7), then the scattered Jews shall see their long-rejected Lord, as Saul of Tarsus saw Him on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3), and be instantly converted, and start on their homeward way, greeted by all the smiling and rejoicing flowers and trees and pools and newly fertilised wildernesses and waste places of the earth. During all these dark centuries the veil has been over the eyes of the Jews, but in this time the veil shall be taken away and they shall see the face, the glory, the excellency of Jehovah-God.
2. They shall strengthen and encourage each other. This is most probably a retrospective exhortation. In view of this promise and the certain coming of Jehovah and their restoration, they are exhorted to strengthen and encourage each other. There are those whose hands are weak, whose knees are feeble. They cannot fight the good fight of faith with courage, they cannot run with patience the race that is set before them. The long delays and afflictions experienced during the time of waiting has taken not only the courage out of many, but has filled them with despair. Therefore they were to say to those of a fearful heart or of a hasty tendency to unbelief:
“Be strong, fear not; behold your God will come with vengeance; even God with a recompense; He will come and save you. Thus the prophet calls upon the strong to impart theft strength to the weak and their faith and courage to the faint-hearted. The new Testament writers transfer the spirit, and in part, the very words of this exhortation to the saints of the Church of God. “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” Romans 15:1).
3. Infirmities shall be removed. Not only shall the earth be restored to primitive beauty, clothed with redemption glory, and tided with an almost conscious sympathy and joy, but all the infirmities which sin has entailed on our poor sinful human nature shall be removed. In view of this entire deliverance from all the consequences of sin, along with the people of Jehovah, the sore spots of earth shad be healed too. Waters in the wilderness, streams in the desert, pools covering the parched sand, and springs bursting out of thirsty lands; no longer a mirage thrown up from a few turfs of dried herbage, but veritable grass with reeds and rushes shall greet the returning and healed pilgrims. The beginning of this marvel of redemption came when Jesus was first here, opening blind eyes, healing lame limbs, unlocking deaf ears, and loosing silent tongues. Surely, if we have the will to do the will of God, we shall know of this doctrine whether it be of God.
III. THE WAY HOME. Now follows a wondrous picture of the way of the return for the long absent wanderer. The way of the transgressor is hard, and the world away from God is a barren and thirsty land; but so soon as the face is set toward God and heaven, heaven’s God makes the way of return easy and sure. The dispersion of the Jews was a way of misery. In the return of the Jews to God and their own land we behold the truth of the spiritual way which God has prepared for every sinner to return to Him, and by Him to heaven.
1. It is a highway. “An highway shall be there.” A broad and open way, cast up and distinguished from all ether roads and tracks. It has both breadth and narrowness. Broad enough for all the world to travel over,--and He will have all men to be saved,--and yet m the highway there is a “narrow way,” in which every man must walk for himself, alone and yet not alone--alone in that he must believe for himself; not alone, in that others are walking with him on the same terms and surrounded by the same conditions.
2. It is a way of holiness. That is, it is a way clean in itself, and only for the clean to traverse. “The unclean shall not pass over it.” Drunkards, liars, adulterers, fornicators, covetous, idolaters, and extortioners may not walk in that way. For none of these sins shall see or enter into the kingdom of heaven. When the scoffer points to such characters in the “visible” Church, the sufficient answer is that the Church is not the way, but Jesus Himself is the Way, and all that are in Christ Jesus are new creatures, old things having passed away and all things having become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
3. God is with them in the way. For such is the meaning of the expression. “It shall be for those.” God’s children have in a sense to walk alone, and entering this way, they have to break with many who in the days of their flesh were their companions, but the presence and companionship of God with them in the way will more than compensate. No man who knows the fellowship of God and the saints ever misses the company of the world.
4. It is a way of perfect plainness. No one need fear getting lost in this way. It is so simple and straightforward, so guarded and marked, that the simple and unlearned need not err therein. “He that followeth Me,” said Jesus, “shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Besides, God has promised to hold us by our right hand, and to keep us from falling Isaiah 41:13; Jude 1:24).
5. It is a safe way. No lion or any ravenous beast shall be there, nor be permitted to go up thereon. God has cleared the way of enemies, so far as their ability to harm us is concerned. It was only when” Christian” turned out of the way that he met the devil and had to fight him, and even when the lions fiercely growled at him, he discovered that, by keeping in the middle of the path, they could not approach him, being chained.
IV. SAFE AT HOME. What a picture is here presented to the poor outcasts of Israel! There had been a dispersion and a home-coming from Babylon. There was to be yet another far wider and more prolonged dispersion, and then at last a final homecoming. In view of this the prophet bursts out with a triumphant exclamation of victory, in which he sets all the redeemed singing for joy. He sees the wanderers and outcasts gathering from every quarter of the earth (Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 51:3). They come with songs of everlasting joy on their lips, bursting from their glad and happy hearts. It has been a long night to them, but joy has at last come with this thriceblessed morning. Is not this a blessed picture, too, of the triumphant entrance into the presence of God of those who have fought a good fight, kept the faith, and finished their course? (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
The prophecy before us is one of those in which the so-called secondary meaning is, in truth, the primary. The spiritual takes precedence of the natural.
I. THE SAD CONDITION OF THE LOCALITIES ON WHICH THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS INTENDED TO OPERATE. Let us gather into one cluster all that is said of them. “A wilderness,” “a solitary place,” “parched ground,” “thirsty laud,” “a habitation of dragons.” With the exception of the last-mentioned, all the desolation seems to turn upon the absence of one element--water. What simile could so vividly depict the moral barrenness and desolation, whether of the individual, or of the world at large, apart from the glorious Gospel of the blessed God? What a wilderness the heart is, that has not God dwelling in it! The idea of “solitariness” may seem to disappear when this word “habitation” comes into view. But what a habitation it is! “A habitation of dragons.” That, and that only, was wanting to complete the picture--the foul serpent brood, with their huge encircling folds, prepared to crush the life out of every creature that may cross their dreaded path. To a heart which has within it that “well of water springing up into everlasting life,” there is no sadder scene than the unutterable desolateness of these moral wastes presented by hearts that are unchanged. What is true of the individual is equally true of the aspect presented by the world at large. It may, perhaps, be imagined that the one element which is wanting to turn all this desolation into smiling fertility is Civilisation. That has been already weighed in the balances and found wanting. What the wilderness, and the solitary place, and the desert, and the parched ground, and the thirsty land require is--the Water of Life, gushing from the smitten rock, Christ Jesus.
II. THE EFFECTS PRODUCED BY THE KINGDOM OF JESUS. Even to us, in a country where water is plentiful, the beauty and appropriateness of the image are at once apparent. What a charm it adds to the landscape, whether in the form of the great ocean, bearing on its bosom the treasures of the world, or of the river winding through the pleasant meadows, which drink in fertility and beauty from the living stream! The like with its mirror-like surface basking in the sun, suggests, too, the theme of the prophet’s song. But it was with an appreciation more intense that the inhabitants of these Eastern lands regarded this emblem of the life that is in Jesus Christ. Water spoke to them of deliverance from death. Hence, wherever this glad Gospel is spoken of, we find this emblem employed to bring before the mind the joy-giving results of the kingdom of Christ. Note the results as these are brought before us in our text.
1. Gladness. It requires no great effort of imagination to realise the glad aspect of nature refreshed by copious rains, after a heat that has scorched the grass, and dwarfed the corn. Fitting emblem, this, of the great joy which the Gospel of Jesus brings with it to human hearts.
2. Fertility. “It shall blossom abundantly.” This fertility not only stands connected with life, it is the outcome of its existence. The desert is always barren. But the mighty power of the Gospel of Jesus converts this moral wilderness into a fruit-bearing garden of the Lord.
3. Beauty. “It shall blossom as the rose.” One has only to picture to himself a part of this earth’s surface, parched, desert, and barren, and to think of the marvellous change which would be produced upon it were he, on revisiting the scene, to find it covered with the fairest flowers that our gardens know. The first and most striking impression made upon the mind would be that of surpassing beauty. Even so is it with the marvellous moral transformation which the prophecy before us contemplates. The glorious annals of missionary effort render it unnecessary to draw on the imagination. What a beauty is unfolded in a Christ-like life!
4. Glory and majesty. “The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel.” To live under the power of Jesus is the true secret of a noble life. Whatever the sphere of life which the man occupies, he is in closest alliance with the majesty of heaven, and in virtue of that alliance is raised to regal dignity.
5. A vision that extends into the Holy of holies. “They shall see the glory of Jehovah, and the excellency of our God. (J. Kay.)
The transformative field and force of the Gospel
I. THE SPHERE IN WINCH THE GOSPEL OPERATES.
1. The condition of depraved humanity is that of solitude. It is in a state of awful isolation. It is away from God and from fellowship with all holy spirits. Between corrupt souls there is no true fellowship, and there cannot be.
2. The condition of depraved humanity is that of wildness. It is a wilderness. Depraved souls are productive, but it is the productiveness of the wilderness.
II. THE TRANSFORMATION WHICH THE GOSPEL EFFECTS.
1. The Gospel makes the sphere joyous. “The wilderness shall be glad,” &c. What gladness the Gospel brings into the soul when received in full faith, the gladness of gratitude, love, hope, communion with infinite goodness.
2. The Gospel makes this sphere beautiful. “It shall blossom as the rose.” The Gospel imparts to the soul beauty of the highest kind--moral beauty, the beauty of the Lord.
3. The Gospel makes the sphere grand. “The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it.” As Carmel and Lebanon tower above the plains of Palestine, so the soul into which the Gospel enters is raised above its unconverted contemporaries. Christliness makes man great in moral strength, elevation, and majesty.
4. The Gospel makes the sphere glorious. “They shall see the glory of the Lord.” (Homilist.)
Christianity finally triumphant
I. THE CERTAINTY THAT THE NEEDED DIFFUSION OF TRUE RELIGION WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED. Man is always animated to the performance of duty by the hope of success; and in the onerous duties to which Christians are summoned, we must be animated by the assurance, proceeding from the highest authority, that our efforts shall be crowned with success. Before stating the grounds upon which the certainty as to the diffusion of our religion is founded, we shall notice some matters which have appeared to render it equivocal, but which do not really interfere with it.
1. The certainty of this diffusion is not interfered with by the obstacles against which religion in its advancing progress has to contend. The obstacles are numerous and formidable; arising from the long-indulged defects of its own disciples; the varieties existing amongst men, of language, of national character, and of social habits; the public jealousies and antipathies which so often bar intercourse, and which have sometimes been kindled into desolating wars; the inveterate depravity of the human heart, nursed into rancorous maturity by the impostures, whether barbarous or refined, which have so long prevailed, and by the malignant influence of the god of this world. To many agencies such obstacles as these would be undoubtedly fatal. But our religion possesses resources which elevate it far above and beyond them.
2. The certainty of which we speak is not interfered with by the differences existing in the professing Church as to the mode in which the anticipated diffusion shall come. Some aver that the diffusion is to take place in consequence of the personal appearance of the Saviour upon the earth; others hold that it is to come by the ordinary instrumentalities already existing in the Christian system, rendered effectual by the abundant outpouring of the Spirit. How can the ignorance of a private soldier in an immense army, as to the plan of the great chieftain, argue against the fact that that plan when developed and carried out shall secure a final and glorious victory?
3. The certainty is not interfered with by obscurity as to the time at which the anticipated diffusion shall be effected. Obscurity resting over the time when the desires of the Church shall be fulfilled and when the wants of the world shall be supplied, is a direct appointment of God, not to be the object of curiosity on the one hand, nor the source of scepticism on the other.
II. THE GROUNDS OR EVIDENCE UPON WHICH WE MUST CONSIDER THAT CERTAINTY AS RESTING. It is to be deduced--
1. From general principles as to the character and government of God. Let it be admitted that God exists, that He is the moral Governor and Sovereign of the universe, that He is supremely concerned for the maintenance of His own honour, and that while powerful, and just, and holy, He is also kind and benevolent, desiring and resolved upon the well-being of His creatures, and then the conclusion which we now advocate appears to us reasonable and unavoidable. If our religion be the instrument by which He will act upon the hearts of men, so as to turn them “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” then, that religion will advance and proceed until every purpose of the Divine majesty and love shall have been conducted to delightful accomplishment.
2. From the constitution and progress of our religion itself. The religion of the Gospel is formed with capacities for, and with a direct view to, universal diffusion. It does not admit of any ceremonial restrictions; it takes no note of national preferences or peculiarities; it owns no distinction of rank, clime, or co]our; it addresses men on grand, comprehensive principles, dealing with them in the common wants and properties of their nature; it is founded on a redeeming provision of boundless sufficiency--a propitiation for the sins of the world; and its commission is universal as mankind. If, from the constitution of our religion you pass to its history, you find that history always bearing us onward to precisely the same conclusion. There is no class of obstacles over which it has not achieved triumphs, no order of beings among whom it has not acquired converts.
3. From the expressed testimony of the Sacred Volume.
III. THE RESULTS WHICH FROM THE NEEDED DIFFUSION OF OUR RELIGION WILL ARISE.
1. Happiness in the world. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them,” &c. By the disciples of scepticism Christianity has often been slandered as the cause of sorrow. But the true spiritual religion of the Gospel can produce nothing but what is accordant with its sublime and munificent nature. Christianity never spake a word but to utter a promise, never took a step but to bring a boon, never struck a blow but to emancipate a captive, never exerted an agency but to elevate and redeem a soul. As Christianity advances, there will be the full development of results, of which now we have instances. There will be happiness to individuals, to families, and to communities or nations. Yet, what is this to the happiness of the life which is to come?
2. Supreme honour to God. “They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.” In connection with the diffusion of our religion God will display and magnify the majestic attributes of His nature. In connection with the display and magnifying of the Divine perfections, God will receive the homage and the highest praise of all created beings. The happiness is the happiness of gratitude. Earth, with ten thousand times ten thousand voices, will celebrate His praise; the angels of heaven and “the spirits of the just made perfect” will join in the long and loud acclaim, and redemption will constitute the noble theme of their noblest songs. (J. Parsons.)
I. THE WORLD WITHOUT THE GOSPEL IS A WILDERNESS, a “desert,” a “solitary place.” What though the bright promise of the spring, the warm glow of summer, the rich maturity of autumn, the quiet rest of winter, are full of beauty! What though Nature’s broad plains are watered by noble rivers, though her mountains rise with majesty and grandeur, though her valleys “stand so thick with corn that they laugh and sing,” and though a teeming population give animation to every habitable spot; yet, to the spiritual eye and apart from the Gospel, all is but a desert and a solitary place! And if it be so in our own fair land, which is the glory of all lands, what of the heathen nations? Men have broken loose from God. Sin has overspread the world. There is nothing to sustain the Divine life, nothing to insure spiritual health, nothing to promote the soul’s eternal welfare.
II. WHAT, THEN, IS THE CHANGE WHICH THE GOSPEL PRODUCES? It is the same in one and all when it comes with “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” All things become new. The “fruits of the Spirit” spring up, the solitary place is made glad, the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose. Conclusion--
1. Has my heart been made glad by the Gospel?
2. What am I doing to make the hearts of others glad? These are questions which demand prompt answers, because--
3. The time is short. (Josiah Batsman, M. A.)
The wilderness made glad
I. A DESERT MAY BE CONSIDERED AS BARREN AND UNCIVILISED. So, in general, are heathen countries. But, instead of unfruitfulness and barbarism, Christianity would introduce culture, civilisation, and everything which, in connection with these, tends to promote the substantial comforts of life. The Bible and the plough go together.
II. A WILDERNESS MAY BE CONSIDERED AS A PLACE OF DREARY SOLITUDE. But the Gospel would introduce the endearments of society; or, at all events, sweeten solitude itself. Among even the more numerous tribes of savages, social enjoyment is but small. They have, indeed, their feasts; but these are seasons of diabolical, rather than of human mirth. Their habitual character, undoubtedly, is retiredness, melancholy, and taciturnity. On the other hand, true religion gives birth to those feelings which prompt man with confidence to seek man; while, at the same time, it enlarges the mind, and furnishes many rational and enlivening topics on which men delight to speak out of the abundance of the heart.
III. A WILDERNESS MAY BE CONSIDERED AS A PLACE OF INHUMANITY AND CRUELTY. And such are heathen countries (Psalms 74:20).
IV. When we hear of a wilderness we think of A PLACE OF COMFORTLESS SORROW. The heathen world contains not within itself the means of soothing the sad distress with which it is filled. But such a wilderness would be gladdened by the Gospel, which would bring home to the afflicted and dying “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”
V. LIKE A WILDERNESS, THE HEATHEN WORLD IS A PLACE OF AWFUL DANGER. “I was in perils,” said the apostle Paul, “in the wilderness” (2 Corinthians 11:26). “Where there, is no vision the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18). Improvement--
1. Let us improve the subject as furnishing ourselves with ground of gratitude and admonition. How thankful ought we to be when we contrast our own happy situation with the state of those who “sit in darkness, and in the region and shadow of death”!
2. It becomes us to consider whether we have personally embraced the Gospel.
3. Let us improve the subject in reference to the heathen.
4. According to God’s wise determination human instruments are necessary (Romans 10:14-15).
5. The means of support must be furnished.
6. Already, He who is to be crowned Lord of all has gained some of His most signal triumphs in modern times, through this instrumentality. (James Foote, M. A.)
Here are three things to be considered.
I. THE WILDERNESS ITSELF. The world before the appearance of the Gospel was dry as a wilderness, being destitute of God’s holy Spirit, which is the water of life, and the immediate cause of all righteousness. The heathen were without the good Spirit, they were exposed to the assaults of evil spirits, whose employment it is to go “to and fro in the earth” as wild beasts in a wilderness, seeking whom they may devour. And it has ever been the way of wicked men, agitated by those furious passions implanted in their nature, to become beasts of prey to one another, biting and devouring one another. But the beast which is noxious and cursed above all others is the serpent, in which we have the most perfect representation of the devil himself, and of all his children, who are called the seed of the serpent. In a place infested with such inhabitants there could be no real comfort; but on the contrary vexation, misery, disappointment, and despair. The evil that prevails among men who live without God renders this world a miserable place.
II. THE CHANGE THAT WAS TO BE WROUGHT UPON IT. The knowledge of Christ engrafted in the hearts of men, soon made them green and fruitful in righteousness, and they abounded in good works, even to the astonishment of their enemies.
III. THE CAUSE OF THIS BLESSED CHANGE. “They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.” The glory of the natural world is the sun, whose presence it is that makes the day so superior to the night. But above all, the change of the winter into the spring, shows the power and excellency of this marvellous instrument. Therefore Christ, who performs the same things in the kingdom of grace as the sun doth in nature, is all respects the Sun of Righteousness. (W. Jones, M. A.)
The desert blossoming
The desert shall blossom when Christ is in it, as the narcissus, the meadow-saffron, the rose.
1. There is a desert of separation from ordinary means of grace. I may be deprived, in God’s providence, of my Christian surroundings. I may have to travel far from the homeland and the sound of the Sabbath bells. But Jesus may dwell in my heart by faith. And then the wilderness will be a garden.
2. There is a desert of trial. Perhaps I lose my substance. Perhaps I lose my health. Perhaps I lose my friend, the half of my own soul. How desolating the affliction is! But Jesus can bless me through it. He makes the sweetening tree grow beside Marsh.
3. There is a desert of apparent disaster to the cause of God. The Church has its periods of adversity when all things seem to be against it. But Jesus teaches it to be more serious then, more patient, more devout, stronger in faith, richer in feeling, purer in aim.
4. There is a desert of death. To go out from the world which I know so well into the world which is mysterious and strange--how my heart shrinks from it v But Jesus shows me by His Word and His Spirit and His own experience, that death is the road to glory and the path to fruitfulness and the gate into life. The solitary place shall be glad. (A. Smellie, M. A.)
According to the old versions and many commentators “the narcissus” or the autumn crocus is the plant intended. (W. Houghton, M. A.)
The name points to a bulbous plant. (P. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Life out of death
The valley of Chambra, in India, is rich in its fertility and beauty. The cause of all this fertility is a wonderful spring of water which flows from a hillside, and furnishes water for the irrigation of the whole valley, and for the use of the people who live there. Once, says the legend, the valley was without water, and there was desolation everywhere. The plants and trees were all withering, and the people were dying of thirst. The princess of the place took the sorrows of her subjects much to heart. She consulted the oracle to learn how the constant curse of drought could be removed. The oracle said that if the princess of the land would die for the people, abundant water would be given. She hastened to give her life. Her grave was made, and she was buried alive. Then forth from her tomb came a river which flowed down into the valley, restoring all languishing life in field and garden, and sending water to every door for the famishing people to drink. Ever since, the streams have continued to flow from the wonderful spring, carrying their precious benediction to every home. This old heathen legend beautifully illustrates what Christ did. The world was perishing for want of the water of life; Jesus died and was buried, and from His Cross and broken grave poured out the river of the water of life for the quenching of the world s thirst. Its streams run everywhere, and wherever they flow the wilderness has been made to blossom like a garden of roses. Beauty blooms wherever they run. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
Weak hands and feeble knees
I. I shall attempt to show THE IMPORTANCE OF HANDS AND KNEES IN GOING TO HEAVEN. The hands and knees are those parts of the body in which the effects of fear are the most easily seen. Of course, the root of despondency and fear must lie in the heart; it is that which is first moved with terror. But afterwards these extremities, these limbs of action begin to feel the weakness also. Just so the prophet means that wherever the Christian displays most his timidity and his dismay there we must be careful to apply the remedy of comfort.
1. The hands and knees are of the first importance because they represent active duty and supplication. Hence, if the knees be weak and the hands be weak, it is little that we can do.
2. We may readily see what the prophet means by hands and knees if we observe that a Christian, although his hopes are in heaven, stands upon the earth. It is with the hand of faith that the Christian lays hold upon that which is not seen, and endeavours to climb upwards to the skies; it is with his foot that he spurns the earth and all that it calls good or great. Let the Christian’s foot be weak, and he cannot then despise the things that are seen: but he will be fixing his affection on things on earth and not on things above. Let his hand of faith grow weak, and he cannot lay hold of the things that are in heaven.
3. But you will remember also that there are certain parts of the spiritual pilgrimage where hands and knees are absolutely required. John Bunyan represents Christian as coming to the foot of the hill Difficulty, and he says. “I looked then after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and knees, because of the steepness of the place.” Every Christian who knows much about Divine experience will understand what this means.
II. THE ILL EFFECT OF WEAK HANDS AND KNEES.
1. We have already hinted that one ill fruit of a Christian having weak hands and knees is this, that he will not himself be able to make much progress in the Divine life. When I sit down and read the biographies of saints who have gone to heaven, I am astonished at myself, and I can only weep to think how far I am behind these men, and then how much further I must be behind my Divine Master. Surely the examples of eminent saints should spur us onward. But weak hands and feeble knees are the reasons why so few Christians attain to any eminence in the ways and works of God.
2. Weak hands and feeble knees have another ill effect. They prevent our doing any great wonder for the good of the world
3. Again, weak hands and feeble knees very much dishonour Christ. Suppose you have a friend, and you say to him, “My friend, I have such confidence in you, that I will trust you with the title-deeds of my estate, and with all I have. Nay, more; I will trust you with my health, with my life. Do what you will with me; I have such faith in your goodness and your wisdom that I am sure you will not be unkind, and will not err. I trust you “There is something honourable in faith to the object in whom it is reposed.” Now, if you are able, with the strong hand of faith, to bring all you have and give it entire unto God, then He is glorified; but if your hand is weak, and you are hiding away some choice thing that you cannot give up to Him, if you do not stand fully to the surrender, but keep back something from Him, then that weak hand brings dishonour upon God. So also does the feeble knee. When the believer goes to his closet and bows there with his feeble knee, and asks God to bless him, and does not half believe that He will, he dishonours God. But, when a man falls on his knees, and cries, “Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that such a thing is necessary to me; there is Thy promise; do as Thou hast said, Lord; I know Thou wilt give it me:” and when he rises from his knees, goes down and says to his friends, “The blessing will come; I have asked for it, and God will hear me;” why, such a man honours God.
III. THE CAUSES OF WEAK HANDS AND FEEBLE KNEES.
1. Some Christians have weak hands and feeble knees because they are only infants. God’s family is like every other family; we do not expect the new-born convert to run alone at first. God will not overdrive His lambs. He does not expect long marches from feeble feet. As you are but weak, you shall have lighter duties.
2. A more frequent cause of weak hands and feeble knees is starvation.
3. But, again, fear is the great weakness of men’s knees; doubt and distrust are the great relaxers of the strength of men’s hands.
4. Sloth may make a man weak in his hands and in his feet. Arms become strong by using them. The blacksmith gets a brawny hand by constantly using his hammer. He who climbs the mountain or walks many a mile a day, becomes strong in his feet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Earthly life should be a spiritual race or pilgrimage to Mount Zion. We need strong knees to climb with ease steep and rugged hills; and as our spiritual journey may be likened to climbing hills, we need spiritual strength to enable us to do it with comfort to ourselves. If we have weak knees, our journey will be a series of groans, and, perhaps, a succession of grumbles; but when our weak knees are strengthened and our lungs expanded by the delicious atmosphere of the hills, the journey can be done comfortably with sacred songs and continual joy.
I. Weak knees are often caused by MENTAL DEPRESSION. In these mental depressions, human aid is not of much account; we need the presence and comfort of God. Prayer is the best medicine; and if, at the same time, we can get away from the town to the sweet, pure air of the country, and climb a hill, we shall return home with a buoyant heart and an elastic tread.
1. God may allow depression to visit us to subdue our pride. It acts like a “scotch” on a wheel, or a “brake,” which prevents the horses dragging the carriage so swiftly downhill as to overbalance themselves. At such times, we are taught that, after all, we must keep pace with our weak brethren.
2. Such times of spiritual depression give us a nature to sympathise with the troubled. As the proverb says, “They are of a tender nature who have been skinned themselves.”
3. Heaviness of spirit is also needed to give us time for meditation and review of mercies. When you are climbing, you see nothing more than the hill before you; but when you are weary and resting, you can see the glorious landscape for miles. Ah, when weak knees are caused by toiling upwards to get nearer to God, it is a sacred token, which shall result in everlasting strength. When compelled to slacken speed, we see the goodness of God and learn to trust His direction.
II. Our knees are sometimes weakened by MANY AFFLICTIONS. But though we have afflictions which make our knees bend in weakness, yet God has undertaken to give us strength according to our day. If we bear our afflictions with patience, our knees shall be strengthened to do great things for God.
III. Weakness of spiritual knees may be caused by THE WEIGHT OF UNBELIEF. (W. Birch.)
Solicitude for the sorrowful
It as the duty of all men to be careful of the sons of sorrow. There be some who from their very birth are marked by melancholy as her own. The silent shades of sorrow are their congenial haunts; the glades of the forest of grief are the only places where their leaf can flourish. Others there are who through some crushing misfortune are brought so low that they never hold up their heads again, but go from that time forth mourning to their graves. Some there be, again, who, disappointed in their early youth, either in some fond object of their affections, or else in some project of their young ambition, never can dare to face the world, but shrink from contact with their fellows, even as the sensitive plant curls up its tendrils at the touch. In all flocks there must be lambs, and weak and wounded sheep; and among the flock of men, it seems that there must necessarily be some who should more than others prove the truth of Job’s declaration, “man is born to trouble even as the sparks fly upwards.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not
Comfort for the fearful
Presumption and fear are the Scylla and Charybdis of the Christian life, and it requires Divine guidance, together with all our own watchfulness, to steer safely between them.
My object is, to suit the case of those who are well entitled to hope for the Divine mercy through Christ Jesus, but are disquieting themselves, or are disquieted by the enemy with needless fears.
1. “I cannot indulge the hope that I am a Christian,” one will say, “because I have never passed through the same religious exercises and experiences that others profess to have felt and enjoyed; have known no such deep convictions; have no such clear assurance of my acceptance with God.” God has brought many sons to glory, but I do not suppose that any two of them have been led thither in precisely the same way, or have been exercised with precisely the same feelings. If in the main, our experiences correspond with the Word of God, in the great points of faith and love, it need not disquiet us though we never heard of another case exactly like our own.
2. But another desponding one says, “If I were truly a child of God, sin would not prevail against me as I find it does.” So long as there is determined war against sin, there is ground for hope.
3. Still one may be ready to reply, “I find that sin not only prevails against me, but I seem to be worse than when I first strove against it; my heart appears to grow more wicked; my corruptions, stronger, and my strength to resist to be less.” To perceive more of our sin than usual, does not always prove that we are more sinful, but often the reverse; just as when one cleanses a room, though the air is filled with dust floating in the sunbeams, there is no more of it actually there than before, and there will soon be less of it as the operation goes on. We do not know the strength of our evil passions until we begin to oppose them. When one is making a special effort to lead a Christian life, then he is especially tempted and hindered.
4. Another class of disquieted ones affirm that they cannot hope they are true Christians, because they seem to love everything else more than God; If this were really true, we should have no encouragement to offer, for if God be not loved supremely we cannot be His children. But, in estimating our love to God, compared with our love to earthly things, we are not to conclude that we love that most which most excites our affections. It has well been remarked, “that a man may be more moved when he sees a friend that has long been absent, and seem to regard him more for the moment than he does his own wife and children, and yet none would think that the friend was loved the most”; so neither must we conclude, because when we are abroad in the world we find our affections vehemently stirred towards its various objects, that therefore they are supreme in our hearts. We should judge of our comparative affection by asking ourselves soberly, which of the two objects we should prefer to part withy
5. Again, it is urged by some that there is great danger of self-deception; that a person may, in appearance, be like a Christian, and yet be really destitute of any true piety, and they fear lest they should fall into the same error. The fear is usually the best remedy against the thing feared, and none are farther from the danger of making a false profession than those who are most afraid of it.
6. Some, again, have fears that they are not true Christians, because they come so far short of the attainments of some eminent Christians of their acquaintance. We reply, that the worst part of the character of those exalted saints may not be known to us, or they may not have our hindrances, or they may have been long in growing up to that state, while we are only babes in Christ.
7. Another class may say, that they cannot think any real Christian ever was so tempted and distressed with evil thoughts as they are. We reply, Job was tempted to curse God, and Christ Himself to worship Satan. We may have very wicked thoughts entering our minds, but if we do not delight in them, if we strive against them, and they are painful to us, they are no evidence against us. The very fact that they grieve us and we resist them, is in our favour.
8. Another class of the discouraged and fearful say, that they have doctrinal difficulties, that certain things in the Bible do not appear clear to them, and they fear to make any public confession of Christ till these are made plain. The best way to solve doctrinal difficulties is to engage in practical duties. But it would be endless to recount all the ways in which doubts and fears assail us. Their name is Legion, and our prayer should be that Christ would command them to come out of the man who is troubled with them, and to enter no more into him. Many seem to think that they show a commendable spirit by cherishing such fears. But there is no humility in doubting God’s promises. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
The ministry of consolation
Let us consider the text--
I. AS A DISSUASIVE AGAINST OUR SECRET FEARS. “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Fear not.” The language is not uncommon as addressed to God’s children. “Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thine exceeding great reward.” “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, fear not.” “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” The language seems to intimate that those who are truly seeking Christ are yet liable to be oppressed by many fears. But the Lord says, you are not to be thus afraid.
1. Fear not on account of the greatness of your sins. Fathomless as are the depths of your iniquity,” there is one depth,, which is deeper still. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
2. Fear not on account of remaining infirmities and indwelling tendencies to evil. How many are deterred from taking any decisive step in religion because they have not attained to a certain point of spiritual advancement; forgetting that the act of taking the step is to be one of the means for attaining to this point.
3. Be not of a fearful heart through anything adverse or disquieting in your spiritual experience. Many form rash conclusions on this subject from unsound and unworthy premises, and from only partial views of Scripture.
II. AS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO LAY HOLD UPON THE STRENGTH OF GOD. “Be strong.” The advice is of frequent occurrence in Scripture. But what are we to be strong in?. Why., strong in the Lord, strong in His strength, safe through His holding up. Again, by the exhortation, Be strong, we must understand an injunction to seek and pray for the strengthening aids of God the Holy Spirit.
1. There is the strength of preventing grace in the hour of temptation, when not permitted to come upon us; when some power we know not of keeps us out of harm’s way; when the dominion of our besetting sin appears for the time to be got under, and without a struggle or a blow we conquer in the might of God.
2. Then, there is the strength of supporting grace when the struggle does come, when we have to do battle with hard thoughts in adversity, or rebellious thoughts in disappointment, with sinful thoughts in solitude, with proud and envious thoughts in the world, with unbelief and impatience, and a little willingness for prayer, and we cannot shake off these things.
3. And then there is the strength of enlightening and sanctifying grace. We grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at the same time; and all this is through the imparted strength of the Comforter.
4. But I must not omit to notice the chief thing we are to be strong in, that which gave the prayer of Jacob power to prevail with God, namely, that we be as Jacob was, strong in faith, giving glory to God. Guard against all confused and imperfect notions of the offering of the Gospel plan, or of the power and willingness of Christ to save. Remember there is virtue enough in His blood, power enough in His arm, and grace enough at His disposal to sanctify and save a whole world of sinners. Apply to Him by faith and prayer. Place no limits where God has placed none. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,” and if from all, why not yours? (D. Moore, M. A.)
An old malady and an old remedy
I. A COMMON TROUBLE. “A fearful heart.” Think of some of the causes.
1. Life itself is a cause. A little child does not fear. But the little child has not yet reached into the consciousness of its own personality--has not been awed by the mystery of its own existence. Wrapped in such consciousness there is always a certain fear.
2. Sin is another source of a fearful heart. The ideal relation between God and the soul is that of utmost intimacy, but sin breaks this relation.
3. The sad things emerging in life are causes of a fearful heart.
4. The difficulties of duty.
5. The monotony of duty. Sometimes when dreary stretches of duty, the same thing day in, day out, fill the vision, a real fear comes lest one fail in duty because of its uninteresting routine.
6. The revelation of man’s own nature under some great surprise or disappointment is a cause of a fearful heart. The strength one fancied himself to have, turns out under some great strain to be but weakness after all. The heart in Scripture stands for the whole man--intellect, affection, will. The thing needed is that a man see clearly, love wisely, will strongly; but when fear wraps one about with mists, this is the outcome; a weak heart--no strength for doing; feeble knees--no power of purpose.
II. THE OLD AND YET NEW REMEDY for this common trouble.
1. A personal God. “Behold your God.”
2. A God appropriated--your God.
3. A God active. “He will come.” God is not an inert passiveness, having no hand in things. Our Scripture is prophecy; God has come in the Incarnation.
4. A God for your help. “He will come and save you.”
5. A rewarding God. “He will come with recompense.” Think more of God than of the causes of your fearfulness, and also appropriate God. (Homiletic Review.)
1. These words brings before us very delightful thoughts concerning God’s nature and purposes. We gather from them His compassion He graciously sends the message unsolicited. His mercy. He does not desire His people to suffer needless trouble or anxiety. His power and care, for He is able to save them from danger and so guarantee the needlessness of their fear.
2. But they remind us of a very painful condition of man, which is his tendency to fear amid the discouragements of life. These consist in many things.
I. FEARS WITH RELATION TO EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. Men dread that which is greater or more powerful than themselves. Hence they fear the material forces of nature, the mighty convulsions of creation, the strength of their fellow-man, and the power of God.
2. Men dread that which to them is mysterious and unknown. Thus there is an innate fear of darkness, of death, of the future.
3. Men dread that which is more evil than themselves. Evil men, evil combinations of men, evil spirits, and the machinations of Satan.
4. Men dread those circumstances which can adversely affect their interests. That which can bring them material loss, that which checks their external advancement, that which spoils their amusement or gratification.
II. FEARS WITH REGARD TO INTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. There is our relationship to God. As an all seeing observer, as a just Judge, as an avenging King. We stand before Him as an Almighty Jehovah, who knows our thoughts, sins, and desires.
2. There is our future state of existence. Guilt makes cowards of us all.
3. There are our domestic relationships. The broken cord of affection, the ruptured friendship, and the lost treasures.
4. There is the mental, moral, and bodily anguish and suffering. Great and terrible do they appear as they enshroud our existence and threaten our future.
Now, as these things brood over the soul, and darken the horizon of life, there is heard speaking to the soul of the faithful, earnest believer in Christ the trumpet word of our text--“Fear not.” There are many reasons why we should not fear.
1. There is the fact of our Father’s love. He does not willingly afflict the children of men.
2. There is the fact of our Father’s power. He is able to support and to overrule all adverse circumstances.
3. There is the fact of our Father’s presence. He is always near. The true antidote to fear is faith. (Homilist.)
He will come and save you
It is no abstract salvation that we hope and wait for, but a Saviour--a Saviour before whom no enemy can stand. His coming will be the deliverance. Danger, bondage, weakness, and sorrow shall be done away, and in the consciousness of the grand release, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened,” &c. (W. Hubbard.)
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened
Good hope for the afflicted
This joyful prediction was literally fulfilled in the MIRACULOUS CURES WHICH OUR LORD PERFORMED IN THE DAYS OF HIS FLESH.
II. The cheering prediction is spiritually fulfilled, in THE EXPERIENCE OF SINNERS, IN THE DAY OF CONVERSION.
III. This pleasing prediction is also accomplished, in a spiritual sense, in THE EXPERIENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN, IN THE DAY OF GRACIOUS REVIVAL, AFTER A SEASON OF DECLENSION.
IV. The delightful prediction is gloriously fulfilled in THE DAY OF THE CHRISTIAN’S DEATH, AND AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST. (D. Fraser, D. D.)
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart
A threefold promise
2. Accentuation of speechless tongue.
3. Irrigated Sahara. (T. De Wilt Talmage, D. D.)
And the tongue of the dumb sing
I. NOTE THE PERSONS WHOM GOD HAS CHOSEN TO SING HIS SONGS FOR EVER. “The tongue of the dumb shall sing.” Their singing does not come naturally from themselves; they were not born songsters. No, they were dumb. How this ought to give you encouragement in seeking to do good to others! If you have neighbours who are profaners of the Sabbath, haters of God, unwilling to come to the house of God, despising Christ; if you find them as far gone as you can find them, recollect He maketh the dumb sing, and therefore He can make them live.
II. Now I am to enter into some rather more lucid DESCRIPTION OF THESE DUMB PEOPLE. Who are they? Sometimes I get a good thought out of Cruden’s Concordance. As I opened it at this passage, I found Master Cruden describing different kinds of dumb people. He says there are four or five different sorts, but I shall name only four of them.
1. Those who cannot speak--that is the usual acceptation of the word dumb--the others are, of course, only figurative applications of the term. Now, spiritually, the man who is still in his trespasses and sins is dumb. He is dead, and there is none so dumb as a dead man. “Shall the dead arise and praise Thee? Shall Thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave, or Thy faithfulness in destruction?” As “no man can call Jesus Lord, except by the Holy Ghost,” these people cannot do so truly. But, all hail sovereign grace! They are dumb by nature, but He will not leave them so; they cannot now sing His praises, but they shall do it; they will not now confess their sins, but He will bring them on their knees yet, and make them pour out their hearts before Him.
2. But there is a sort of dumb people that will not speak. They are mentioned by Isaiah. He said of preachers in his day, they were “dumb dogs that would not bark.”
3. I will now introduce you to a third sort of dumb people. They are dumb because they dare not speak; and they are good people. Here is one of them: “I was dumb with silence; I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.” And it is so blessed to be dumb in that fashion. The Lord’s servant will often have to be dumb under trials and troubles. You are, it may be, in the deepest trouble now, and obliged to be silent; well, you shall sing yet for all that. If you cannot cheer the darkness with “songs in the night,” yet He shall “compass you about with songs of deliverance.” We are not always to be silent with affliction. The saints have known joy, unspeakably great, in the midst of trial intolerably hot. Their murmuring has been silenced, and their thanks-giving has become vocal. An old Puritan said, “God’s people are like birds; they sing best in cages.”
4. We have one more kind of dumb people--those who have nothing to say. I will give you an instance; Solomon says in the Proverbs--“Open thy mouth for the dumb”; and he means those who in the court of judgment have nothing to plead for themselves, and have to stand dumb before the bar. Like that man of old, who, when the king came in to see the guests, had not on a wedding garment; and when the king said, “Friend, how earnest thou in hither?” he stood speechless; speechless, not because he could not speak, but because he had nothing to say. Have not you and I been dumb, and are we not now, when we attempt to stand on law terms with God, when we forget that Jesus Christ and His blood and righteousness are our full acquittal? We can now sing this anthem: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Not God, for “He hath justified.” “Who is he that condemneth?” Not Christ, “He hath died, yea rather, hath risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, and maketh intercession for us.”
III. THE OCCASIONS WHEN THE TONGUE OF THESE DUMB PEOPLE SINGS THE BEST. I think it sings always, little or much. If it is once set at liberty, it will never leave off staging. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In the wilderness shall waters break out
The figure of the wilderness
The lovely poetry of this passage is almost thrown away upon us who have had no actual experience of the wilderness. Our imagination has been largely helped by the vivid and pathetic descriptions from travellers who have been through it; but the most powerful imagination cannot enable us to feel its awful reality. The interminable expanse, the distressing sameness, the horizon for leagues on leagues unbroken by a solitary tree or shrub. The burning sand blinding our eyes and scorching our feet. The very pathway, confused and often obliterated by the blast of the burning wind, is strewn with the bleached bones of the poor creatures who have fallen victims to the heat and drought. Not a bird flying over our heads, nor a harmless animal to be seen browsing a scanty pasture. The night is made terrible and the gloom is deepened by the roarings of the lion and the howlings of the jackal and the hyaena. Not a scrap of food of fruit or root to be obtained, and, worst of all, not a drop of water to quench the fiery thirst. Our parched lips can scarcely close. And this dreadful place is so interminable that it takes days and weeks to traverse; only here and there at long intervals does the exhausted and almost demented traveller come upon the green oasis and the priceless well of water. In the Old Testament the horrors of the desert are often used to figure the miserable aspect of life, and the privations of the human soul. “My soul is athirst for Thee, in a barren and dry land where no water is.” “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God.” “My soul is athirst for God, yea even for the living” God; when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?” “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.” And here Isaiah, wishing to show the glory and beauty of a true vision of God, compares the change out of the darkness and misery or soul to the transformation of the wilderness into a garden. (C. Voysey, M. A.)
The wilderness of existence
The heart of man is the real wilderness, where dearth and drought and quenchless thirst torment and destroy him until he get the vision of the glory of God, which is His love. When man sees that, the waters break forth m the wilderness of his soul, and streams in the desert. His heart shall blossom as the rose and blossom abundantly; and not only flowers but fruit shall he bear for the healing of the nations. When man learns how God loves us all, then shall he find joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. That is the essence of the poem. But it teaches yet a great deal more. When man’s heart is turned from a wilderness into a garden by the knowledge of God’s love, he is not only happy in himself, but he is a fountain and stream of happiness to others. “Then the eye of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then doth the lame man leap as an hart and the tongue of the dumb can sing.” His love for others is kindled and set aglow by the sight of the love of God. So we get three distinct ideas out of the poetry before us. The knowledge of the love of God as the source of all blessedness--first, to bring joy and gladness into individual souls, and then to make them fruitful in bringing joy and gladness into the hearts of their fellow-men. (C. Voysey, M. A.)
God alone the satisfaction of humanity
If we would only believe it, we should see that in proportion as we regard our surroundings as a desert, we are giving proof that we belong to a higher order of existence than those who can be satisfied with the common pleasures, the bread and water of merely animal life. If we belong to that higher order, if our true realm is not of this world, we shall not be able to satisfy ourselves with all that this world can possibly furnish. Our thirst will only be inflamed and not quenched by every effort to allay it with earthly gratification. And I do not think it unreasonable to ask you to take the next step--which is more like a leap than a step--and to admit that God never intended us to be perfectly happy here on earth, in and through only the satisfaction of our earthly desires. He has so made us that the world and human life, lovely and delicious as these are, shall yet be to us a very wilderness full of weariness and hunger and thirst, until we have found our true satisfaction in Him and His love. (C. Voysey, M. A.)
The joys of the godly
The whole secret of our happiness lies in this knowledge of the love of God.
1. It adds enormously to every lawful pleasure and indulgence. We take our joys in company with God. In our recreation, in our games, in our mirth and laughter, we revel all the more freely and heartily because we never forget that He is there, never forget that it is from Him that have come our varied powers of enjoyment and the numberless resources which minister to it. We set God always before us, and therefore in all the so-called blessings and comforts of life we are free from sin in the using. We will not enjoy any pleasure for which we cannot give Him thanks. And it is amazing what a large extra number of pleasures we is in consequence.
2. A still greater wealth is poured upon us by the sight of the love of God. It turns all our pains and sorrows into joy. It gives us perfect contentment with our lot. We know it could not have come against His will. We know it has come, then, to do us good. If we will only be patient and bear it like a man, we shall soon see the blessing which God had wrapped up in it; when our God comes to us in the wilderness of our woe, the water breaks forth and we are satisfied and refreshed. He is our living fountain of peace and hope and joy unspeakable; His love touches the strong rock of our heart’s rebellion, and lo! the streams of gladness flow forth and we are like a well-watered garden. Then our poor blind eyes are opened to see only good, where we thought there was only evil. Then our deaf ears are unstopped, and we listen joyfully and thankfully to His soothing and cheering whisper of peace. Then our palsied limbs leap up at His call and we do the duty that lies nearest to us; we begin to make the best of our altered conditions and tread cheerfully the path of thorns in which His hand is leading us. And the tongue of the dumb shall sing. Our stubborn lips fast closed in anger and resentment, our tongue cleaving to the roof of our mouth in distress and despair, shall now move in harmony with the gladness awakened by the sight of His love. We shall glorify Him in the fires of tribulation; we shall sing of His great salvation. (C. Voysey, M. A.)
The desire to bless others
And yet more and more comes out of that inexhaustible fountain of goodness and joy. The sight of the love of God not only transfigures the life of each individual, but makes us do our best to convert the wilderness around us into a garden. Atheists have confessed to me how barren of any practical good atheism is, how absolutely deficient in any inspiring motive for kindly endeavour to help others. But we know, by our own experience, that the sight of God’s love which has turned our own wilderness into a garden, has likewise stirred us up into an enthusiasm of brotherly love and has borne fruit in practical endeavours to bring streams into the desert of lives not our own. (C. Voysey, M. A.)
Streams in the desert
The streams are spiritual, and refer to the diffusion of the Gospel and the manifold blessings of salvation over the world.
I. A FEW OF THE BLESSINGS WHICH THESE STREAMS IMPART. They are a source of--
1. Spiritual fertility. No other streams are possessed of the same fertilising power. Modern writers show a tendency to ascribe to the influence of civilisation and knowledge all our social, moral, and religious blessings. But how do they reconcile their theories with the comparatively barren effects of Egyptian science and civilisation, Greek philosophy and art, and Roman law and discipline? Be the influence of these latter what they might, they wrought no radical change on man’s moral and spiritual character.
2. Spiritual beauty. Wherever streams flow in such lands as Judaea, there luxuriance waves, but in an endless variety of appearance. Not less diversified is the influence of Divine grace on the character. Religion does not obliterate nature, but works in harmony with it, preserving all its innocent idiosyncrasies, so that as in the natural world are to be seen the cedar, the palm; the fir, and the rose, so in the Church, along the streams of Divine grace, are to be seen a John and a Peter, a Martha and a Mary.
3. Spiritual joy. Every one has experienced the refreshing influence of water. This is an image of the deep satisfaction and joy which true religion is fitted to impart. No other streams convey the same joy.
II. SOME OF THE DISTINGUISHING EXCELLENCES BY WHICH THE STREAMS ARE CHARACTERISED.
1. They are full and abundant.
2. They are free to all. Men have tried to fence round these streams, and to reduce them to the limits of their own selfish hearts and narrow creed; but God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as ours. While this is cheering, it is also a solemnising, thought, laying the responsibility of our own ruin on ourselves.
3. They are near and accessible. If a visit to such rivers as the Ganges or the Nile were requisite to our salvation, how many would be unable to comply with the condition. But these streams flow wherever the Gospel comes.
4. They are ever spreading in their influence. What is the garden of the Lord compared with the desert of this world? It is seen blooming in little oases here and’ there. But these streams are destined to spread and multiply, and to cover the whole earth with spiritual verdure and beauty.
1. These streams are at present accessible, but may not be so long. Come to them now.
2. Remember that Jesus is the only channel through which they can reach us. (W. Johnston.)
And the parched ground shall become a pool
The mirage of the desert
We must understand these words as they would be understood in the East.
The parched ground is rich in what is known as mirage--the image of water, a sheen that cheats the eye, and so successfully cheats it that the thirsty traveller says, I see rivers! It is the mirage--(from mirari, to wonder at)--a beautiful thing: water on every hand: presently we shall drink and be glad. The traveller moves, the mirage recedes; the traveller would seize the blessing, but the blessing was only in clouds: an optical delusion; the eye has deceived the appetite. In the reign of Jesus Christ the parched ground shall become a pool of real water, and the thirsty land springs, fountains: the period of mirage has vanished, the period of reality has set in. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The mirage and the pool
The mirage--what is that! In place of an enticing lake, the traveller finds only ground “dry as a bone,” as my Arab guide expressed it. So the mirage stands as the emblem of the sham, the pretence. And the pool--what is that? It is the patch of real water found in the desert; an oasis, around which may be found palms, shade, and refreshment. The pool is the real thing; it offers refreshment and contentment. To an Oriental the mirage becoming a pool meant a transformation from illusion to reality. The entire picture is a permanent mirror of human life.
I. Let us look at THE MIRAGE. It appeals to a need of our nature. To the thirsty traveller the mirage offers water and fruit. Our nature is full of needs. We are not self-contained; we must continually receive help from without. Our senses, our minds, and our hearts cry out for their food, and their cry is natural In reply to their cry, both the real food of our nature and the mirage present themselves. The real and the sham are before us, and we have to choose between them. Alas! too many follow the mirage. In vain old travellers warn the younger ones.
II. Let us look at THE POOL. No one would go after the mirage if they knew it was the mirage. Men want reality, and they think they seek it until a humiliation reveals the fact that they have been chasing an illusion all the time. Now, the message of the Gospel is a message of reality. The Gospel offers to transform our illusions into realities, by offering to transform us. Bring God into life, and the traveller sees reality everywhere. The reality touches every part of his nature.
1. His senses. He is neither ascetic nor libertine, but remembers ever that his body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Because God’s temple he will seek, by proper exercise, to preserve its beauty. The senses, being the transitory and lower part of our nature, will never be allowed to occupy the dominant place in life.
2. His mind. He to whom God is the supreme reality will take care that he never allows a partial knowledge of any subject to interpose itself as a thick veil between his soul and God.
3. His heart. When a man finds God he finds Him who is love, and when he rests in that love he experiences no shock of disappointment. And the other loves that are permitted to us, when exercised within the circle of the larger love, are harmonious with it, and so bring us peace and joy without ahoy. (F. C.Spurr.)
The mirage a reality
The real translation of these words is not “The parched ground shall become a pool,” but “The mirage shall become, a pool.” The thing that you believed, would be the satisfaction of your life, the sight of which had brought new vigour to your limbs and strengthened your mind for the onward journey of the pilgrimage, that, says the prophet, shall become true. The mirage, the illusion of your life, shall become a reality. What has been the mirage that humanity has seen in its journey? The prophet enters into certain details that we might glance at for our profit. The first thing that such men would want would be the slaking of their thirst, the satisfaction of some desire. Might we not go back to the beginning of the history of man, and see that it has been a series of efforts succeeded by failure to gain satisfaction? We have all of us, as humanity at large, been struggling from the beginning to be satisfied. And the soul has said to itself, If I can once lay hold upon that particular thing, then I shall be satisfied. It may be wealth, it may be honour, it may be physical strength, it may be popularity. And we have reached it, but we were not satisfied. We found that the same want began all over again; year after year, men have seen a mirage, and said to themselves, If I could reach that, my soul would be satisfied. Many a man, grown old and weary with repeated failure, has said to his soul, in the secret communion of his own heart, “What is it that thou dost desire, O my soul? I have made a home. I have gathered about me those I love. I have increased knowledge. I have widened the circle of my friendships. But I am not satisfied. Still there is something that does not slake the thirst of my soul.” And while these men so long ago thought as we do now, one man stood up in the midst of them all, and shouted aloud, as if it were a great discovery, “My soul is athirst for God.” That is the trouble with humanity. It is athirst for God, and it has supposed that it could satisfy its longings with the things that are touched and seen. And the prophet, knowing the long struggle and the repeated failure, looked in the faces of these men, and said, “The mirage shall become a pool,” your satisfaction shall be met. But such a prophecy as that called men’s minds away from themselves to the thought of others. Individual salvation, if it could be brought to any one of us here to-day, would not be enough. The woman who knows that she stands in the light of the love of God, but that her husband is in the outer darkness, the man who knows that he has led an upright and true life, but that his son is turning away to wickedness, cannot be satisfied. We are bound one to another. Hear the word of the prophet: “And a highway shall be there, and a way, and the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.” There shall come, says the prophet, a day when in the desert a highway shall be built, and men shall know that they are not wandering in this trackless waste, with no knowledge of the home from which they have come, and no understanding of the end and object of the pilgrimage. But their feet shall stand on the way that others have travelled before them, and they shall hear the voice of the past saying to them, This is the way, walk ye in it. And walking in that path, united with the great company of pilgrims who have been through the same experiences, known the same sorrows, been beckoned on by the same mirage, they shall have strength and hope and comfort in the consciousness of this great companionship of the redeemed who walk on the highway of their God. Again, we look back over the long history of the race, and we find that something else is needed. If we could see to-day the camp in which the earliest forms of civilisation were gathered, before cities were built, or roads were laid, or empires dreamed of, we should find that the camp encircled itself at night with fire, while without were the beasts roaring for their prey, causing the little children to nestle close to the father who could protect them, causing the women to shudder, and even strong men to ask themselves, May the fiery barrier be broken down, and the beasts that are outside the camp invade us and destroy what we love? Oh the illusion, the mirage, as it must have seemed to them, of stately cities and strong walls, and beasts for ever banished from the land! But the prophet said, “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.” The day will come when the people shall know that they are protected, when fear shall be taken away from them. The fear of what? Of beasts? Not that alone, for when the beasts were banished from the land, there was man to be afraid of. And the children said, Who will protect us from the enemy? And the father said, I will. And then the father came to die. And he rolled despairing eyes and cried, Ay, but who will protect me now? I must go into the unseen land, and face the shadows that I now behold. Who will protect me now? Who will protect me,--not from the beast, not from men, not from the spirits that may haunt me, not from hell, but from sin? Who will keep me from the corruption of sin,--worse than any evil that the world has ever seen or dreamed of? The prophet said, The mirage shall become a pool. That which seems impossible shall surely come to pass. Once more. On the journey much was lost, much was suffered, much endured. And the pilgrim who stepped out so blithely at the beginning of the march was found at the end to be an old man with the hope deferred that maketh the heart sick, the disappointment and weariness and sorrow, the hatred of those whom he had tried to help along the journey, the fear in his own heart that it was all an illusion. So at the last there was something more needed for these weary men. Was all that had been dropped on the journey to be gathered up again? Was all that had been suffered to have its reward? The prophet said, The mirage shall become a pool. What you have dreamed of joy and peace and glory shall be your portion. For “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.” The mirage, the illusion, shall become a reality. These words were spoken thousands of years ago. What I would like to ask you is, How shall we read them to-day? Is it true that the thirsty soul has been satisfied? Is it true that there is a highway in the desert, and that the wayfaring man need not err therein? Is it true that no lion is there, nor any ravenous beast, but that in the consciousness of safety men are making their journey? Is it true that the redeemed do return and come to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads,, and that sorrow, and sighing flee away? Are these things true? Why, look into your own experiences, and think for a moment, not of your sorrows nor trials nor temptations, not of the weariness and disappointment of life, but of its glory, and see if what the prophet said be not true. See if it is not true that things that in that day seemed an illusion are to-day the realities of life. Why, multitudes of men and women know what it is to have the satisfaction of the soul, God with us; the knowledge that our sins have been pardoned, that they shall never rise up in judgment to meet us; the assurance of God’s undying love; the knowledge of the sympathy of Him who was crucified for us; the consciousness that God is about us and by us and in us,--is the pool at which our thirsty souls do drink. And the way. Have we not that way? There are men and women who are lost, men and women who are wandering through this world, not knowing where they came from nor whither they are going. But is it true of those who have been drawn to the company of Jesus Christ? Are their feet not upon the way that leads to eternal life? Who would give it up? Those who do not know it think that it is a mirage. You know that your feet are on the highway, and though you may be a fool in many things, yet you shall not err from the way of salvation. It is the way that comes from God and leads to God, the way of Jesus Christ the Saviour. And protection. It is hard for us to picture to ourselves what it must have been for the camp to hear the roar of the beasts. We are not afraid of death, for Jesus died. We are not afraid of hell, for He descended into hell. We are not afraid of God nor of God’s judgment, for it is the judgment of a father. We are not afraid of anything but sin, and says the apostle, “Sin shall not have dominion over you. You are not under the law; you are under grace.” Christ is personally helping every one of us. Nothing shall separate us from His love. We have no cause for fear. “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast, but the redeemed shall walk there.” The promise and prophecy of joy,--have we not known it? It is not true that sorrow and sighing have left the world, but has not the sorrow and has not the sighing fled away from you, as you have entered into the communion of your God? Have you not come to Zion with everlasting joy upon your head, as you have remembered, not the special things for which you ought to be thankful, but as it has been borne in upon you that you belong to God and God to you, and that the glory and beauty of life is not in doing God’s will as a hard law, but in doing God’s will because you have come to love God’s will? The prophecy is not to come true; the prophecy has come true. What the prophet said was that these things should come,--the satisfaction of human want, the consciousness that the feet were on the everlasting way, the protection from all evil, and the everlasting joy of Zion in the days of the Messiah. And now if you ask me whether this prophecy rests upon any principle, and whether its fulfilment has got anything back of it but the individual hope that may be true, I answer you, Yes, it has. It has the revelation of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ that man and God are one. And because man and God are one, therefore the mirage that humanity has beheld is the reflection of the refracted rays of the will of God passing through the medium of human life. And every man who has purified himself is, in his own day and according to his capacity, some sort of revelation, not of his own will, but of God’s will revealed through him. “The mirage shall become a pool.” The satisfaction of your soul you shall know, because you are God’s and God is yours. Is not that what St. John meant, when he wrote, in that wonderful fifth chapter of his First Epistle, “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him”? Because your will, your prayer, purified from selfishness, is no longer your will or your prayer. “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities,” and “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The prophecy has come true, and yet it is as nothing compared with that which shall be in the day when we know Him more than we know Him now. What should be our attitude? One of unbounded thankfulness that He has seen fit to reveal Himself to us as our Father, and ourselves as His sons. One of unflinching courage, one of undying hope; for every glorious vision that humanity has had upon its pilgrimage of personal joy, of larger truth, of nobler civilisation, of human glory, shall, in God’s good time, be fulfilled, because it is not the will of man, it is the will of God. (Leighton Parks.)
And an highway shall be there
Highways are among the characteristic features of civilisation in a country, since they are the means of regular and easy communication between the opposite parts, and especially of all with the capital; but in times of foreign invasion they fall first into the power of the enemy, and are most completely deserted by the inhabitants (Judges 5:6); and in Judaea, or any other country where wild beasts still exist, these keep aloof from the roads as long as they are kept open by traffic, but reappear in them if unfrequented, as in the story of the old prophet who met the lion on the way from Bethel.
And this highroad shall not only be so well marked and made that the most ignorant and inexperienced shall keep his way there without difficulty, but neither shall it be appropriated by the unclean heathens, nor stopped by any roaring lion,--any Sennacherib, or spiritual archetype of Sennacherib. It shall be called, for it shall really be, “the holy way,” the road set apart for the use of Jehovah’s own chosen and consecrated people, whom He has redeemed and brought back from bondage; it shall be entirely for those. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
The way to heaven
In describing the happiness of the Christian pilgrim, the prophet looks to the natural inconveniences of a wilderness, which are chiefly three--the want of water, the want of proper roads, and exposure to danger, particularly from beasts of prey; and he meets these with corresponding promises of abundance of water, an excellent highway, and complete protection.
I. THE NATURE AND PROPERTIES OF THIS WAY PREPARED FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD, in their journey heavenward.
1. It is a way of Divine appointment, being like the king’s highway, established by authority.
2. Like a highway, this path is designed for general use.
3. This way is denominated, “The way of holiness,” or, the separated way. “Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate,” &c. The path of Christians is not merely a new path, among the many with which the broad way is filled. They have not changed one mode of sinning for another--they have chosen the way of holiness.
4. The prophet says, further, of the way to Zion, “the unclean shall not pass over it.” When the Israelites left Egypt, a mixed multitude went with them Exodus 12:38). This mixed multitude a great snare to Israel.
5. This is a way remarkable for its plainness, and there is also the privilege of a guide (verse 8, marg.)
II. THE REFRESHMENT AND COMFORTS PROVIDED FOR CHRISTIANS BY THE WAY. “And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water,” &c. Give a thirsty man what you may, if you do not give him what will assuage his thirst, you have not relieved him. There must be a suitableness in the object to his state, else it cannot profit him.
III. THE COMPLETE PROTECTION AFFORDED THEM. Is not the pilgrimage of Christians a journey of danger? But though the highway to Zion is through the habitation of the most ferocious of animals, yet those beasts of prey, though on the right hand and on the left, shall not enter on this highway. While the redeemed keep this way, they are safe: it is only when they leave it, that they are in danger. We have no example in Scripture of the Lord forsaking His people while they kept this way. The history of the people of Israel furnishes an illustration of this subject. Their males were required to go up to Jerusalem three times a year, to observe the great festivals of the law. Now, on such occasions, they had to leave their frontiers, their wives and children, and all their property, exposed to surrounding enemies. But God gave them a promise, that no man should desire their land, when they went up to appear before Him thrice in the year (Exodus 34:24). Accordingly, though they were surrounded by the most hostile nations, not a man of them felt the least inclination to touch a thing that belonged to Israel, so long as the law of God was observed. But when Israel forsook the law of their God, and had recourse to the help of idols and of men for their security, then the restraint which had been put upon their enemies was removed, and their land became the prey of invaders. (David Russell.)
The road to the city
I. This road of the text is THE KING’S HIGHWAY. In the diligence you dash on over the Bernard Pass of the Alps, mile after mile, and there is not so much as a pebble to jar the wheels. You go over bridges which cross chasms that make you hold your breath; under projecting rock; along by dangerous precipices; through tunnels adrip with the meltings of the glaciers, and, perhaps for the first time, learn the majesty of a road built and supported by governmental authority. Well, my Lord the King decided to build a highway from earth to heaven. It should span all the chasms of human wretchedness; it should tunnel all the mountains of earthly difficulty; it should be wide enough and strong enough to hold fifty thousand millions of the human race, if so many of them should ever be born. It should be blasted out of the “Rock of Ages,” and cemented with the blood of the Cross, and be lifted amid the shouting of angels and the execration of devils. The King sent His Son to build that road. He put head and hand and heart to it, and after the road was completed, waved His blistered hand over the way, crying, It is finished.
II. This road spoken of is A CLEAN ROAD. Many a fine road has become miry and foul because it has not been properly cared for; but the unclean shall not walk on this one.
III. The road spoken of is A PLAIN ROAD. “The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” That is, if a man is three-fourths an idiot, he can find this road just as well as if he were a philosopher. The pardon is plain. The peace is plain. Everything is plain.
IV. The road to heaven is A SAFE ROAD. “No lion shall be there.”
V. The road spoken of is A PLEASANT ROAD. God gives a bond of indemnity against all evil to every man that treads it. “All things work together for good to those who love God.” No weapon formed against them can prosper.
VI. THIS WAY ENDS IN GLORY. I do not care how fine a road you may put me on, I want to know where it comes out. “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion,” &c. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The way to heaven
I. THE WAY ITSELF. There is only one way that leads to heaven.
1. Jesus Christ is the way.
2. It is by faith that we enter into, and make progress in this way.
II. THE EXCELLENCY OF THIS WAY. Christ is divinely, infinitely excellent.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO ARE WALKING IN THIS WAY.
1. They are all, by nature, in the same circumstances with the rest of mankind.
2. From this situation they are redeemed by the obedience and death of the Son of God.
3. They are all holy persons.
4. They are constant, regular, and progressive in the way of holiness--they walk there.
5. They are all happy persons. They “come to Zion with songs,” &c. (W. S. Smart.)
The King’s highway
I. THE FEATURES OF THE WAY.
1. An open way though narrow.
2. A holy way though gladsome.
3. A safe way though simple.
II. ITS TRAVELLERS.
1. The Lord of the way Himself (see margin).
2. His ransomed ones. Good company, sympathetic, pilgrim songs and converse.
3. Angel-escort. Jacob. “He shall give His angels charge . . . to keep thee in all thy ways.”
III. ITS TERMINATION. Path of just brighter to “completion of day.” Heavenly Jerusalem Zion’s templed hill. Farewell to pilgrim’s staff and worn sandals. Welcome endless rest, wide open gates, greetings of the glorified, the bosom of God, and coronation of joy. (Homiletic Review.)
The way to Zion
Viewed as a description of the way of salvation through Christ, this prophecy calls upon us to consider--
I. THE TRAVELLERS of whom it speaks.
1. They were once journeying along a very different path. They are called “the redeemed,” and the term implies that they were once in bondage. This is the natural condition of us all.
2. But these travellers have been delivered from this state of bondage.
3. There are three ways of redeeming a captive--by exchange, by a forcible rescue, or by ransom. It is by the last of these that the people of God are here said to have been liberated.
II. THE WAY along which they are journeying.
III. THE HOME to which it is leading them. To return to Zion implies, in the first instance, to be admitted into the visible Church of God, and to a full participation of all its privileges. But it implies also much more. It directs our eyes upward to that holy hill on which the heavenly Jerusalem is built, the city of the living God.’ Of this unseen residence of the just, the earthly Zion was a type; and we may find it a profitable subject of meditation to trace--
(1) The resemblance;
(2) the contrast between them.
1. The hill of Zion was the peculiar residence of God. There His temple was erected, and there the mercy-seat, the visible symbol of His presence, stood. In heaven also Jehovah has a temple, and “the way of holiness” leads to it.
2. The Jews were taught to regard their sacred mountain as the source of all their blessings. When salvation was promised them, it was to come “out of Zion”; when they were to be strengthened and blessed, “the Lord out of
Zion” was to strengthen and bless them. Hence we find Daniel turning towards Jerusalem when he prayed in Babylon, and Jonah looked towards the holy temple of his God when he cried amidst the waves for deliverance. And what real happiness is there, which comes not from above?
3. Zion also was the place in which the people of the Lord assembled. And who can describe the blessedness which will flow from the fellowship of heaven?
4. The earthly Jerusalem was a splendid city; “beautiful for situation, and the joy of the whole earth, was mount Zion”; but even in the height of her greatness, when the glory of the Lord rested on her tabernacle, she afforded but a poor emblem of the heavenly city. At the time, however, to which the words of the prophet primarily relate, the contrast was peculiarly striking. The Zion to which the liberated Jews so joyfully returned, was “a wilderness, and Jerusalem a desolation.” And where is Jerusalem now? Where is its temple? The heavenly Zion, however, knows no destruction and fears no change. It is “a city which hath foundations”; an abiding city. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The King’s highway
I. THE KING’S HIGHWAY IS A PLAINLY MARKED ROAD. In the Bible we have an accurate map of the country and all its roads. From first page to last, one name is conspicuous--Jesus Christ.
1. There is the great Patriarchal road; travelled by Adam; in bad repair in Noah’s time; a broad way of promises to Abram, who travelled along it out of Ur; broader still to his children.
2. Then there is the great Mosaic road. Great pains taken to make it a good road; scores of workmen, called laws, upon it; hedges of immense height to keep people from the dangerous jungles of heathendom. Sign-posts everywhere. Most people murmured at it as rough or steep. But some, like Moses and Aaron, and Caleb and Joshua, saw “Christ” written up all along the way; upon their sacred buildings and altars; upon their religious teachers; even upon the garments of the people.
3. By and by the road widened into the great Prophetical road. David and Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and others, repaired the road. But after their time the road was sadly neglected. Few were found upon it. The fences were broken, and the people wandered in by-paths, until things became so bad that it seemed as though the road would be shut up altogether.
4. But “suddenly” (Malachi 3:1) the King sent and put it into a thorough state of repair, so that it was like a new road, and it was called “the new and living way”; and though very rugged and narrow at times, it has always,, been kept open until this day.
II. THIS HIGHWAY IS “THE WAY OF HOLINESS.” It leads to God. They who travel along it bear His image. Dwelt in, and led by the Holy Ghost, they exercise themselves to have always a conscience void of offence, so that men can see that they walk holily, justly, and unblameably.
III. THIS HIGHWAY IS A SAFE WAY. “The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”
IV. THIS HIGHWAY IS A WAY OF JOY. “The ransomed of the Lord shall return,” &c. The captives of Babylon, concerning whom this was primarily written, rejoiced because they had passed through the wilderness, and had survived the dangers of that journey; because they were re-instated in their former home, and the smile of God once more rested upon them. And we,--delivered from wrath, cleansed from sin, returned from banishment,restored to our proper home in the heart of God, dwelling in peace and safety as members of His household, the church,--have not we abundant cause for rejoicing? (W. J. Chapman, M. A.)
Holiness, under the old dispensation and under the new
We can hardly make a greater mistake in our theology than to suppose that the gospel dispensation has been designed by God in order to bring down the standard of the divine claims to the level of human infirmity: So far from this being the case the gospel dispensation has been inaugurated and designed specially in order that human infirmity may be raised to the level of the divine claims. The prophet was looking forward, as it would seem, to the glories of the Christian dispensation, and this was the characteristic of this new era that he contemplated with the most complete satisfaction: “An highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness.” But it may occur to some to ask, “Had there been no knowledge of the ‘way of holiness’ under previous dispensations? Does holiness of life belong only to the gospel age?” I reply, Undoubtedly there were holy and humble men of heart before the Incarnation--men who lived in advance of their age. These were the bold pioneers of spiritual progress, who made their way through the pathless forest and the trackless wastes ere the King’s great highway was opened for our feet. It was with them as with the pioneers of civilisation in our own days. Hardy travellers have made their way right across the continent of Central Africa, exploring in almost all directions the vast and unknown region; but there is no highway across the continent of Africa: and those, therefore, who have crossed it, or attempted to do so, have had to face great and untold difficulties, and endure a vast amount of hardship and privation. By and by, if the world lasts long enough, and civilisation progresses, there may be a grand trunk road right across that continent, and by and by perhaps railways may be laid, and easy communication established, with that remote and barbarous region. It is even so with regard to the highway of holiness. Before the Christian dispensation earnest and devoted men attained to various degrees of holiness, but the King’s highway to holiness was not yet open. It was not yet revealed to the world what true and perfect holiness was, nor how we are to rise to it. “Righteousness” rather than holiness was set forth in the law. It needed the Incarnation of the Son of God to reveal it to man. And not until the Word of the Father was clothed in human form, and lived among His fellow-men in fashion as a man, did human eyes contemplate the true ideal of holiness, the standard and type of absolute perfection. In the life and conduct of Christ that standard was embodied and revealed; by the death and resurrection of Christ the spiritual power was secured to us by which it becomes possible for us to rise to the level of conduct so indicated. The highway of holiness was thus opened; and it now becomes possible for “the wayfaring men, though fools,” to walk therein. There are two thoughts, then, specially suggested to our minds in this connection.
1. In order to open the high way of holiness it was necessary that a perfect example should be given to mankind, so that men could understand what perfect holiness means; and that has been presented to us in the human life of Jesus.
2. Christ also imparts to us the secret of all true spiritual power by bringing us into close and blessed connection with God. The same power which rendered it possible for Jesus Christ as a man to be perfectly holy is thus brought within our reach by the Incarnation, and death and resurrection, of Jesus Christ. Thus we may say, not only have we the map and the chart of the highway of holiness placed in our hands, but also the highway itself opened up to us by the communication of a spiritual ability to tread therein. But if those advantages are real, they carry with them enhanced responsibilities. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The highway of holiness
Let us consider some of the characteristics of the life of holiness to which the prophet here calls our attention, and the conditions which are attached to the right of way.
I. It is the WAY OF THE PURIFIED. “The unclean shall not pass over it.” Until we are cleansed from our “old sins” we are not in a position to pass over the King’s highway of holiness. Some people who desire to live holy lives are no better than legalists. They cannot love much, because they have not had much forgiven them; thus they lose the true motive of a Christian life, while they are crippled in their efforts to attain to the proper standard of holiness, both by the weight of unforgiven sin and by absence of that spiritual power which flows to us through reconciliation. We must pass through the gate before we can pass along the way, and that gate is the Cross, where the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. Nor is it difficult to find a mason for this necessity. Indeed, this passage gives us a sufficient reason if we are to accept the marginal rendering--“For He shall be with them.” It is quite true that Jesus Christ was the Friend of publicans and sinners; but He was their Friend because He saved them from their sins. And it is so now; those only who hate their sins, and who come to Christ to be delivered from their sins, can walk along the highway of holiness, because He is sojourning with those who sojourn there, and He cannot walk with the unclean. But having called attention to this statement as a reason for the necessity of cleansing, let us now dwell upon it as a characteristic of the way of holiness, and of the experience of those who pass along it.
II. The highway of holiness is THE PATH OF FELLOWSHIP WITH THE DIVINE. When Christ was here on earth He ever moved along this way, and He is still to be found there by those who pass along it. Indeed, so closely is His presence and our fellowship with Him connected with true spiritual holiness, that we can scarcely say whether the holiness is the fruit of the fellowship, or the fellowship the effect of the holiness. It is only while we walk in the light, as He is in the light, that we have fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. These two elements in our experience act and react upon each other.
III. It is THE WAY OF RIGHT DIRECTION. “Wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” Here is a promise that may well comfort us in the perplexities of life. The reason why we make such great mistakes as we sometimes do is surely that we get off the King’s highway of holiness. We begin to pursue our own pleasure, or to gratify our ambition, or, we seek to please other people, and to avoid the cross. But when the wayfaring man is on the highway of holiness this promise will be fulfilled. He may seem to make mistakes, but God will overrule what appears to be a blunder to His own glory. There is yet another thought suggested by this clause which may serve to explain some of our errors. The prophet here speaks of those who are fools as being assured of right doctrines. May not one cause of mistakes sometimes be that we are not content to take the place of fools? We feel too much confidence in our own sound judgment and commonsense, and so we scarcely regard it necessary to inquire of the Lord. I do not mean to say that we ought not to use our natural faculties. They are a trust from God, and we are bound to use them. But we are warned not to lean to our own understanding, and he who gives us this advice would have been a much happier man and made much fewer practical mistakes if he had only taken it himself. But there is yet another reason why we sometimes err, suggested to us by this clause. And this other reason brings before our minds the fourth characteristic of the way of holiness.
IV. It is only THE WAY OF RIGHT DIRECTION TO THOSE WHO ARE WAYFARING MEN. Do we not sometimes err because we have so little of the wayfaring man about us? Living as we do in a luxurious age, how many of us surround ourselves with luxury, and lay ourselves out for self-indulgence! We are called to use the world as not abusing it; surely it is the abuse of the world when we allow it to take the place of heaven. There is a quaint old Latin proverb which tells us, “The penniless travellers shall sing before the robbers.” No wonder; for what can the robbers take from them? And many a Christian might sing defiance of all enemies--even of the great robber himself, if only we made over our all to its proper Owner, and regarded it as a sacred trust to be used for Him.
V. It is THE WAY OF SAFETY. “No lion shall be there,” &c. Is Satan, then, really to lose his power to do us harm? He may come to the hedge which fences in the highway from the rest of the world; he may growl and roar, and do his best to terrify you, but so long as your eye is single, and you are moving on the King’s great highway of holiness, the lion cannot lay a paw upon you or inflict a single wound.
VI. It is THE WAY OF JOY. VII. It is THE WAY THAT LEADS HOME. (W. HayAitken, M. A.)
The highway of the King of kings
I. Isaiah proclaims that this way shall be A HIGHWAY. Not a way confined, as the Old Testament way was, to one particular people. Not a way confined to any particular class of persons, rich in preference to poor, learned in preference to unlearned. Not a way confined to any particular sect, or any particular communion of persons. But a way open and public to all Then, woe to the man who presumes to set up a turnpike upon this highway. And yet this is what is done. Some would even have us believe that we cannot set our feet upon this way except through the help and invocation of saints and angels. Others tell us that we must have a priest at our elbow. Others say that we must belong to some particular sect of Christians. And others say that we must belong to some particular class of persons, such for instance as the learned. Such are the turnpikes, such are the barriers, which men presume to set up upon the highway of the King of kings.
II. Though it is clear that this way is accessible to all sects, classes, and conditions of men, yet THERE IS ONE EXCEPTION, and that one exception is not due to God, but to man himself. “It shall be called the way of holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those,” viz., for the holy.
III. Here is A SPECIAL INVITATION TO THE WAYFARING MEN--men who have not the advantage of learning, education, and accomplishments. It is the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, without which even the best acquirements are nothing, which makes up to wayfaring men for the absence of all the advantages of learning, education, station, and leisure, which are the privileges of those who occupy the higher grades of life.
IV. On this Christmas Day WE CELEBRATE THE OPENING OF THAT WAY which Isaiah describes.
V. AT THE VERY END OF THIS GREAT VIADUCT IS HEAVEN. (E. Girdlestone, M. A.)
Simplicity of the religion of Jesus
It is impossible to transport ourselves back to a time when the New Testament was not, and when the civilisation which has come forth from the New Testament had not even been hinted at.
1. In that old time the choicest wisdom of the world did little else than puzzle itself over problems which are now known in their solution to the children in our schools. Whether man was anything more than an animal; whether with the death of his body a man did not cease to be, was an undecided question. But the mystery touching fife was almost as great as the mystery touching death. The best impulses of men to do that which was wise and good had no direction. A hundred teachers taught a hundred different ways of living. The interrogation of ages was: What is truth? Men sought it with a patience that would appal a modem disciple; sought it until they died, and died with the infinite sadness of knowing that all their seeking had been in vain--that they were no wiser than they were when they started their career of investigation.
2. The duty of all men that teach or can teach is to make things plain, simple, easily discerned by the popular perception, readily felt by the popular conscience, and easily appropriated by the popular emotion. It was largely because the language of Jesus was easily understood, and hence sympathetic, that the common people heard Him so gladly.
3. Well, the old prophet, looking along the fine of his craving, in which he represented the craving of humanity, the craving for light as to what death meant and of instruction in human duties, saw a happy day ahead. He saw a day when ignorance should give place to understanding, and the fear born of it, and the torment born of the fear, should harass men no more. He saw a day when the way of holiness should be so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, should not err therein; that is, when not only the wise should find it readily, but when those whose intellects were unassisted by education, and whose abilities to discern between right and wrong were not extraordinary, should easily distinguish between good and evil. When Christ was born, the sun arose; when Christ came up from the grave and brought life and immortality to light in His resurrection, the clock of ages struck the hour of mid-day, and the Sun of Righteousness stood full-orbed, armed on all sides with beams, in the spiritual zenith of the world.
4. If you desire to see the fulfilment of the old prophet’s prediction, look at your own age, and you behold it. In the fact that the Bible lies waiting perusal in your own homes, see and recognise that the day has come in which all that any man can long for in the way of knowledge as to his duty of life, in the way of the destiny of his soul after death, is realised.
5. The way to judge a system of instruction is not by listening to what men say about it, but by studying what the author of it said and did. If you wish to know what the system of salvation is, as included in the coming of the Christ, go to your New Testament record and ascertain from His own lips what it is.
6. Do not go expecting that His system is mysterious, for we often fail to see the simplicity of a thing, by having a previous impression that it is profoundly complex. This is the old blunder which both Jew and Greek made centuries ago. The ritualists of our day match the Jew, and the man of supreme culture types the aesthetic Greek. If you will go to the Master Himself, and not to His disciples, past or present, you will be struck as much by what is not in His system, as by what is in it.
7. One of the proofs of the fine wisdom of the Saviour is seen in His studiously keeping out of sight whatever would lead the minds of His followers in speculative directions. All questions of casuistry, such as the scribes and lawyers were continually tempting Him to discuss, He brushed aside as incompatible with the object of His mission. He came simply to establish divine connections with men, to teach the race virtues, and implant in their souls the germ of simple piety. (W. H. H. Murray.)
The holy road
I. THE WAY to the heavenly Zion, the dwelling-place of God. Zion of old was the place of the one altar of sacrifice and the one mercy-seat, where the Lord in manifest glory communed with His covenant people. Pilgrimage to the holy place was an important part of Israel’s religious fife. During the invasions of the land, and especially during the captivity, the solemn festivals were neglected, and there seemed to be no way up to the house of God. Then godly men sighed for the tabernacles of God. How much they longed for a highway by which they could march to Zion! We speak of another Jerusalem which is above.
1. There is a way to God and heaven. It is noteworthy that this road is one, a highway and a way. Many roads lead to ruin, but only one to salvation. Years at the University of Utrecht, several Christian students met together from various nations, and on one occasion it was agreed that four persons, representing Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, should describe the work of grace upon their hearts. The earnest brother from New England, and the friend from the Cape of Good Hope, and the missionary student from India, all found that their stories agreed with that of a young nobleman of Holland. Scenes and circumstances widely differed, but the joys and sorrows, the struggles and the victories of each, were the same, and one hope filled every heart. We differ in the pace with which we traverse the way, but the way itself is one. Jesus saith, “I am the way.” He is not only way, but end to all who put their trust in Him. This way is made through the wilderness: “a highway shall be there”--where the sand is always shifting, where if the traveller once loses his bearings he is doomed to certain death, with the vulture’s maw as his only sepulchre. A way is made for us through the deserts of sin, and the wildernesses of sorrow, over hills of doubt and mountains of fear. That way runs close at thy feet, poor wanderer! This way was cast up at great expense; for road-making over a long and rugged country is a costly business. Who could make a way over the mountains of our iniquities but Almighty God? It cost the great God the Jewel of heaven. This road has lasted now these thousands of years; it is still in good travelling condition, nor will it ever be closed till all the chosen wayfarers shall have reached the many mansions of the Father’s house. This way, being made by Divine power, is appointed by Divine authority to be the King’s highway. Whosoever travels by this road is under the protection of the King of kings. This highway has conducted already to God. It is said to be “a highway and a way”: it is not only a highway by appointment, but it is a way by use and traffic.
2. The name of this way. The way of faith is not contrary to holiness, but it is “the way of holiness.” If you are ever in a doubt about which is the right path, remember those words of the Saviour: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, and few there be that find it.” Prefer strictness to laxity. God’s way is the way of holiness, for He has founded it upon holy truth. He is not unholy in the saving of any sinner. Those who follow that road do so by a holy trust. We must not believe that Christ will save us in our sins--that would be unholy faith; but we must look to Him to save us from our sins; for that is holy faith. It is also the way of holy living.
3. This way is a select way. “The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for those.” Literally this may mean, “The uncircumcised and the unclean.” These were excluded from the house of the Lord, and here they are excluded from the sacred way of Israel: of this the spiritual meaning is that unless we are washed in the blood of Christ, and renewed in the spirit of our minds by the Holy Spirit, we are not in the way of God. It is a select way, for it is reserved for a select people “it shall be for those.” Who are they? Look backward, and you will read of memo who make the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad: of some whoso blind eyes were opened, whose deaf ears were unstopped. You read of the lame men who were made to leap as an hart, and of dumb men who began to sing.
This highway is reserved for those upon whom a miracle of grace has been performed. This way is for the ransomed. “The redeemed of the Lord shall walk there.” Another fact makes it very select. “He shall be with them” (marg.).
4. It is a plain way. The true Gospel is as plain as a pikestaff.
5. It is a safe way. “No lion shall be there.” There is one lion which those who make Jesus their way need never be afraid of: that is, the lion of unpardoned sin. Another lion also roars upon us, but cannot devour us, namely, temptation: you shall not be tempted above what you are able to bear. As for that grim lion of death of which some speak, it does not exist.
II. OUR DUTY IN CONNECTION WITH THIS WAY OF HOLINESS.
1. The first thing is carefully to discriminate between road and road. When you see a road which looks broad, smooth, pleasant, and well-bordered with flowers, say to yourself, “There are many ways, but since only one of them leads to eternal life, I must be careful. I will pray, ‘Lord, be my guide, even unto death.’” Do not believe that sincerity is enough; you need truth as well.
2. When you know the road, you should scrupulously keep in it, for many ways branch from it.
3. Are we in the way? Then let us be very earnest in telling other people of it. Travelling the other day by a country road the traveller wished to know the way to a certain spot. He inquired of one who sat by the roadside, but all the answer he got from him was a vacant stare, and a shake of the head. A little time after he found that the poor man was deaf and dumb. I am afraid there are many such Christians nowadays: they are spiritually deaf to the woes of others, and dumb as to giving them either instruction or encouragement. All they seem to do is to shake their wise heads, as if they knew a great deal more than they meant to tell. I asked a person, the other day, the road to a certain place, and in the politest possible manner he answered, “I beg your pardon, but I am quite a stranger in these parts.” That was a very sufficient reason for not directing me. He could not tell what he did not know. If any of you do not know the way, and are strangers in these parts, do not tell anybody; bat let this mournful reflection go home to your consciences: “I cannot tell another the way to heaven because I am a stranger in these parts.” God grant that we may never stretch the arm of our testimony beyond the sleeve of our experience!
4. If you are not in the road, may the Lord help you to get into it this morning. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Appian Way and the highway to heaven
You have heard of the Appian Way. It was three hundred and fifty miles long. It was twenty-four feet wide, and on either side the road was apath for foot passengers. It was made out of rocks cut in hexagonal shape and fitted together. What a road it must have been! Made of smooth, hard rock, three hundred and fifty miles long. No wonder that in the construction of it the treasures of a whole empire were exhausted. Because of invaders, and the elements, and Time--the old conqueror who tears up a road as he goes over it there is nothing left of that structure excepting a ruin. But I have to tell you of a road built before the Appian Way and yet it is as good as when first constructed. Millions of souls have gone over it. Millions more will come. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)
The pilgrim and his destination
Dean Alford’s grave is shaded by an old yew tree in St. Martin s churchyard, and these words are recorded on the headstone: “The Inn of a traveller on his way to Jerusalem.” (J. N. Norton.)
The way of salvation plain
I remember the story of s Swedish king in years gone by who, when he was ill, was greatly concerned about his eternal state. There chanced to come to the palace an old farmer, known to his majesty for his piety; the king called him to his bedside, and said, “Tell me, what is the faith that saves the soul?” The peasant explained it out of his heart in plain language, much to the king’s comfort. The king remained ill for months, and again fell into doubt and fear. Those about him urged him to send for the Archbishop of Upsala, as a learned prelate who could allay his fears. The bishop came to the royal couch, and gave his majesty a logical and theological definition of faith in most proper terms. When he was gone the king said, “It was very learned, no doubt, and very ingenious, but there was no comfort in it for me; the peasant’s faith is the faith that can save my soul.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Holiness can be understood by the unlettered
A minister was speaking to a disciple of Jesus, not much versed in the terminology of the schools, on the subject of entire holiness. At last she turned to him and said, “I don’t know what you mean in the way in which you speak of it, but if you mean constant readiness for heaven, I’ve got that.” She was a Christian woman, who habitually rested on Jesus for full salvation, and into whose heart there was poured the comfort of conscious readiness to do or suffer God’s will, as He might direct. (W. G. Pascoe.)
The highway of holiness
The highway of holiness is along the commonest road of life--along your very way. In wind and rain, no matter how it beats--it is only going hand in hand with Him. (M. G. Pearse.)
No lion shall be there
MAY NATURALLY POSSESSES SOMETHING OF THE ANIMAL NATURE. That man by nature has animal desires and passions is no fault of his own, nor is it a misfortune to the possessor if these are inherited in harmonious proportion with the mental and spiritual propensities. They are all from the Divine Creator. They are all essential to man’s enjoyment, and symmetrical development. The Creator wastes no material. As the watch contains no unnecessary spring, wheel, cog, or screw, so every passion, emotion, affection, from the lowest to the highest, as coming from God, is of account.
II. When the animal nature is fed and strengthened to the neglect and at the expense of the other and higher faculties and tendencies of the human make-up, then the animal appears in a great variety of forms.
III. MAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS TREATMENT OF HIS ANIMAL NATURE. It is not to be crucified, or wholly exterminated, but kept in subordination, subject to the ruling of the mental and spiritual. Some by nature have a great deal more to contend with on this line than others. The first nature, the animal, can be transformed into the “second nature,” the man; and if made “a new creature in Christ Jesus,” such must necessarily be the result. (W. G. Thrall.)
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
Marching to music
My object will be to give the text its highest practical appropriation as setting forth in glowing language the return of God’s spiritual Israel, His ransomed ones, from every land.
I. WHO THEY ARE.
1. “The ransomed of the Lord.” To ransom signifies to redeem or free from captivity or punishment by paying down an equivalent, to rescue from danger and death, to deliver from the possession of an enemy either by/exploits of warfare or purchase by gold. The Lord’s ransomed people are, therefore, those who have been spiritually rescued, emancipated, delivered. They are the purchased property of God by the precious blood of Christ.
2. The ransomed of the Lord are the regenerate of the Holy Ghost. They have been quickened into new life as well as redeemed.
3. The ransomed of the Lord are the adopted into the family of God. What a unique and beautiful sequence we have here. Life purchased, life begotten, life ennobled.
II. WHITHER ARE THEY JOURNEYING? “To Zion.” The old-time Zion was typical of the “city which hath foundations, whose maker and builder is God.” Let us glance at the parallelism.
1. Zion of old was the seat and scene of worship. The ransomed of the Lord in returning are going to Zion above, to join the immortal worshippers in the “temple not made with hands.” We shall worship, but we shall also serve in multifold ministries of good.
2. Zion of old was the seat of royalty. “There were set,” we are told, “thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.” Jerusalem was the metropolis of the nation--the centre of monarchy, authority, power, and splendour. Heaven is the city of the Great King. On its sapphire throne, belted as with a rainbow of mercy and grace, sits the Mediator-King of the New Covenant, crowned with many crowns, holding the sceptre of righteousness. To His ransomed ones He says, “Verily, I say unto you, that ye which follow Me in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye shall also sit upon, thrones.” “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My, throne. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
3. Zion of old was the seat of rest. It was the terminus of the pilgrim-worshippers’ journey. With the ransomed of the Lord it is now the pilgrimage; but daily they pitch their moving tents a day’s march nearer home, heaven, rest. What a magic word is “rest.” What volumes of meaning it holds! Rest from conflict, rest from sorrow, rest from suffering, rest from self and sin, rest from all the ills of the time-life! Rest in the Lord in holy contemplation, holy worship, holy service, holy visions, holy companionships, holy pleasures for evermore!
III. WHAT IS THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THEY JOURNEY? “With songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.” They march to music made in the sanctuary of the soul. Undoubtedly the allusion is to the Songs of Degrees or of the Ascents, which the rejoicing tribes sung on their way to the great festive celebrations at Jerusalem, or to the paeans of deliverance the emancipated exiles rang out as onward they pressed to the laud of their fathers and God. Thus the homeward-bound hosts of God on the highway of holiness are urging their way. They are like soldiers returning from the scene and spoils of a great victory, with heart and step keeping time to jubilant melody. But the ransomed not only sing on the way home, they also “Come to Zion with songs.” It is a jubilant arrival.
IV. WHAT DO THE RANSOMED OF THE LORD REALISE ON THEIR ARRIVAL HOME? “Joy and gladness”--i.e outward and inward joy. The joy of holy retrospect; the gladness of present possession of glory; the joy of fulfilled hope, perfected manhood, satisfied life, prospective progression, intellectually and morally, for ever and ever. It is the “joy and gladness”--
1. Of heavenly reunions.
2. Of perfected knowledge.
3. Of the beatific vision.
This “joy and gladness” will mean the exclusion of “sorrow and sighing.” As light expels darkness, and day excludes the night, so the rapture of joy prevents the sighings of sorrow. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
Deliverance from the burdens of life
1. What are the real sources of that deep power of sorrow which broods so heavily over life? There is, first, over our bodily life and the world of nature which subserves it, the continual blight of pain and suffering. In nature’s highest beauty, even to our power of imagination, there is always some imperfection. But it is no mere pious imagination to declare that its burden is absolutely as nothing in comparison with the burden of the spiritual evil, the blindness, the weakness, and the sin of man. These are the two great burdens which are so heavy upon our human life, and they are worst in this--that they seem to separate us from our Father in heaven, alike by themist of doubt and by the gloom of fear.
2. Need I remind you how the Gospel meets both these things and scatters them to the winds? That law of suffering and of death it hallows doubly by the revelation of the Cross, because, it overrules it to our own good, because it makes it a condition of our saving others. The Gospel deals still more decisively with the burden of sin. In it lies the very essence of redemption. But you will ask me, “Is that promise realised after all?” Remember, that by the very nature of the case the kingdom of Christ here is seen only in the first stages of its conflict against the power of evil. What it can offer us is only a true but an imperfect earnest of a perfect future. Has it given us, and does it give us now, that which it thus professes to give? I answer unhesitatingly, Yes. These things are no dream. They are a present and blessed reality, and we feel sometimes as if they were the only reality in a very fleeting and unsubstantial world. But the reality is yet imperfect. Joy and gladness may be ours, but sorrow and sighing have not yet fled away. There is a heaven hereafter in which alone all these promises shall be quite fulfilled. (A. Barry, D. D.)
“Everlasting joy upon their heads”
This expression may allude to the ancient custom of wearing crowns in seasons of mirth and festivity, which were considered as marks of honour and dignity; or, it may refer to the practice of anointing the head on joyous, festive occasions, which probably gave rise to the phrase used by the royal poet of “the oil of gladness” Psalms 45:7). (R. Macculloch.)
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away
The flight of sorrow
I. WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THE STATEMENT that sorrow and sighing shall flee away? The susceptibility of sorrow and the power of expressing sorrow will not be destroyed; but there shall be no appeal to the susceptibility, and no use for the power of sorrowful expression.
1. The sorrow of bodily disease shall pass away with the pain, the languor, the weakness which disease imposes, the nervous excitement which it often sets up, and the debility which it so frequently creates. Disease shall pass away, with all its interruptions of domestic and social intercourse, with all its power to mar our enjoyment, and to interfere with our work. It will flee before a new constitution, before the health and vigour and young rich life of a body, raised in incorruption--raised in glory--raised in power--raised in Christ-like spirituality.
2. The sorrow of dying will pass away. The fear of death--the pains of death--the separations of death--the material consequences of death--the abasement of death.
3. The sorrow of bereavement will pass away. And with it widowhood, orphanage, the loss of wife and children, and every painful farewell which death so often and so rigorously exacts.
4. The sorrow of poverty will flee away, with its hunger and thirst, its nakedness and cold, its homelessness and wretchedness, and all the neglect and contempt, the painful dependence, the degradation and dishonour, which it too often brings.
5. The sorrows caused by the sins of others will flee away. The wicked, whatever now may be their power, through relationship or through position, shall cease to trouble. Slavery, oppression, and persecution will utterly cease. The sorrows caused by the hell-fired tongue, by the fist of wickedness, by the feet swift in running to do mischief, shall flee away. Nothing shall enter the sorrowless world that defileth, that worketh abomination or maketh a lie.
6. The sorrows produced by the fear of evil, by dark imaginations, and by blighted hopes, shall flee away. The flat, “Peace, be still,” shall be spoken to every soul.
7. The sorrows of this life’s illusions and delusions shall pass away. Everything shall, by and by, far exceed your hopes.
8. The sorrows of sin will pass away. The smart of the conscience, remorse, dread, discord between the passions and the sanctified will, chastisement, even temporary Divine desertion.
9. Every “heart knoweth its own bitterness.” The own bitterness of the heart shall flee away. Secret sorrow--sorrow that you hardly admit to yourselves--sorrow upon which you have never put the raiment of speech--the sorrow that you have never groaned out to the nearest friend you have--nameless sorrow, “my sorrow”--sorrow in all its roots, in all its branches, sorrow in all its blossomings and fruits, in all its depths, and in all its manifestations, shall flee away. And this fleeing away of sorrow will leave the channels of the emotions open only to the streams of enjoyment. What a mighty effect this will have upon the character and the entire life! The flight of sorrow will enlarge the love of the heart: for suffering often makes us self-enclosed and self-engrossed; it will help, moreover, to secure uninterrupted intercourse and unbroken activity; it will be the departure of correction no longer needed--the withdrawment of discipline not further required--it will be like the fleeing away of winter when the time of the singing of birds has come.
II. WHEN SHALL THIS BE? The text points to Hezekiah’s reign--to that portion of his reign through which God blessed the people whom he governed with remarkable prosperity. But does this exhaust the text? We think not. I you think it does, there are other words from the mouth of God on this subject (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17). When shall this be? It shall be to the individual saint when his earthly career terminates. To the saints as a body, this will be realised at the times of restitution of all things.
III. BY WHAT SIGNS MAY WE BE ASSURED THAT OUR SORROWS WILL FLEE AWAY? There are five sure signs.
1. Personal faith--not in King Hezekiah, but in King Jesus.
2. Acknowledged and avowed citizenship in the kingdom of the Saviour. We lay stress upon avowal, because where there is no avowal there must always be reason for doubting and suspicion.
3. The fleeing away of sin--the being cleansed from sin.
4. The present effect of sorrow. If sorrow bends the will and subdues the affections, then it is sanctified, and herein is a sign that sorrow will flee away.
5. A living hope--hope born of faith--hope the child of God’s promises--the hope which is the anchor of the soul. Write on your hearts this onesentence concerning your sorrows and sighs, they shall flee away. The love of God, like the sun upon the snow-drift, which melts the snow, raises it in vapour and then disperses it, shall make sorrow flee away. The power of God, like the north wind, which driveth away the rain, shall constrain sorrow to flee away. (S. Martin.)
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away
There is consolation in this very form of expression--“flee away.” It shows an instability as characterising sorrow in the case we contemplate. Sorrow to the redeemed man is not the sea which is found in its appointed bed in summer and in winter; but it is the crested wave which is here to-day and gone to-morrow. It is not the mountain which stands in its place year after year, and century after century; but it is the clouds which rise rein the valley, and travel up the sides of the mountain, and sometimes cap and completely hide it, but which from their very nature must flee away. The sorrows of the saints are sorrows which from their very character must pass away. (S. Martin.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 35". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany