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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Isaiah 38

 

 

Verse 1

PREPARATION FOR DEATH

Isa . Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

This announcement was made to Hezekiah when suffering under dangerous illness. In answer to his prayer the sentence was mitigated. Fifteen years were added to his life. It is not wrong to pray for the prolongation of life when important interests are concerned, and when we pray with due submission to Him whose prerogative it is to fix its duration.

The text furnishes a theme for useful meditation. It contains—

I. A SOLEMN ANNOUNCEMENT.

"Thou shalt die." It may be viewed either as the declaration of a familiar truth or as the prediction of an immediate event.

1. As the declaration of a familiar truth. Nothing is more familiar. The universal reign of death over all the generations that have preceded us necessitates the conclusion that, unless we are alive when the Lord comes, we shall follow them. We are reminded of the truth by obituary notices in newspapers, by the spectacle of funerals passing quietly along the streets, by the silent departure of friends. "The sentence of death has passed upon all men." However long life may be protracted in individual instances, it never suggests the question whether they will be exceptions to the general rule. It only suggests the wonder that in any instance life is so far protracted. The only uncertain thing is how much longer or shorter than the average our own life will be. Death may come to us when in fullest health by the unexpected accident, or by the illness which has been caught we know not how, or by the subtle disease which silently undermines the system, eating away the cord that has bound us to life (H. E. I. 1536-1546; P. D. 751, 752).

Nor is this event a mere departure from the present life. To our friends it is chiefly that. It is their deprivation of all that makes us interesting and valuable to them. To ourselves it is very much more. It is the precursor of our appearance before the judgment-seat of the Lord Jesus Christ (2Co ; Rom 14:12; Mat 25:34; Mat 25:41; Rev 20:12). It is to us a much more serious matter than passing into nothingness.

Is it, therefore, a subject to be studiously avoided? Is it not one that should be often before us? Look it in the face; dwell on it. Such thought will not produce indifference to the present It will invest it with a deeper seriousness. Its interests and duties will be contemplated in their connection with the great future. The smallest thing has such a connection. The attitude we assume towards God, Christ, the Divine commands, His kingdom. Our conduct in business, the family, among men. The influence of our words, acts, spirit, character. All these come into this great account. Death closes the account. Does not this attach dignity, solemnity, earnestness to the whole of life? (H. E. I. 1557-1566).

II. A SUITABLE DIRECTION.

"Set thine house in order." This direction is twofold.

1. With regard to your worldly affairs. The king was directed to give command concerning his house. His wishes respecting the succession to the throne. Every business-man should keep his affairs in such order that if he were suddenly called away there would be no difficulty. Every one possessed of property should, in view of the uncertainty of life, make his will. Many leave this duty to the last. If it has been so left and sickness comes, it should be one of the first things done. It will not hasten death. It will save expense. It will secure the rights of all. It will prevent disputes. It will relieve the mind. It will leave it free to attend to the soul.

2. With regard to your eternal interests. Think of the soul's future. Are you prepared for the great journey? Are you ready with your accounts? Recall your obligations to the Almighty. Consider how they have been discharged. Overcome your reluctance to a thorough conviction of sin. Let there be humility, contrition, repentance. Seek mercy. There is a Saviour. Believe in Him. Yield your heart. If already a Christian, survey the position. If near death, all this is obviously necessary. If not near death, or death not apparently near, it is necessary on the ground of your liability to death. It will come some time. The only safety is to close with Jesus now.—J. Rawlinson.

DUTIES OF THE SICK AND DYING

Isa . Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die.

This message sent from God to Hezekiah in his sickness contains a warning applicable to us all. It becomes us all to maintain such order in our worldly and spiritual affairs as that death, whenever He knocks at our door, may find us prepared to obey his summons (H. E. I. 1562-1566). But this is especially the duty of those who are visited, even now, by the forerunners and harbingers of death (H. E. I. 1561).

Most men, when laid aside by sickness, are disposed to turn in their pain and apparent peril to God who hath smitten, and who alone can heal; and to prepare for the great change in which the sickness may terminate. But few when thus called upon know how to set about the work, which they are then ready to allow to be most necessary and urgent. Even those who have lived outwardly blameless lives, are apt to be so distressed and confused by fear of death, that they do not know how to do what will turn the king of terrors into a messenger of peace, rest, and immortality (H. E. I. 1567, 1568, 1570; P. D. 684, 741, 761). Therefore, let those who are now in health receive some hints for their behaviour under sickness.

I. DUTIES TO BE PERFORMED BY THE SICK AND DYING.

2. When our minds are thus sobered and composed, we must consider what means are yet within our reach to interest God's power and mercy in our favour. This may be best accomplished by repentance. To this an examination of our past life is absolutely necessary.

In this examination let us attend to the following cautions:—

(1.) Let it be honest, however much this may humble us.

(2.) Let us not attempt to plead our own good deeds in extenuation of our sins.

(3.) Let us not be too particular or dwell too long in our recapitulation of such sins as are gone by and are irremediable; for these regrets, however natural, are useless, and beyond a certain degree injurious. With such recollections a guilty pleasure may be revived in our souls; our fancy may return with more regret than horror to the scenes of our former enjoyment.

(4.) Let us be more anxious to recollect those sins, if there be any, for which it is in our power to make reparation. In this let us be most searching and honest. Thorough restitution is essential to prove that our repentance is genuine, and so also is sincere forgiveness of our enemies.

3. Thus truly penitent, let us by faith grasp firmly God's promises of forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ (1Jn ).

4. If we have been so unwise as to have left our worldly affairs unsettled, let us not be influenced by any foolish fear of alarming our family, or of appearing alarmed ourselves, from immediately making such a disposition of our property as we shall not fear to give account of in the hour of judgment.

5. Let us make up our mind to renounce the world entirely, and all restless hope of recovery; resigning all our prospects entirely into the hand of God, who is best acquainted with our wants and with the wants of those whom we are about to leave behind; and who is infinitely able to protect and provide for us and them (H. E. I. 157, 158, 4055).

6. That our meditations may become holy and comfortable, our repentance sincere and effectual, our restitution humble and public, our charity pure and edifying, our justice without taint, our resignation without reserve, let us give ourselves diligently to prayer (H. E. I. 177, 178, 3739-3746).

7. In order that we may be assisted in these spiritual duties, let us send promptly for the minister of the Church to which we belong.

II. SINS AGAINST WHICH WE MUST BE ON OUR GUARD.

The sins to which the sick and dying are most exposed are evil and trifling thoughts, unthankfulness, impatience, peevishness, and hypocrisy. To the first two of these men are liable on any remission of pain, or appearance of approaching amendment. There is no other cure for these than an immediate return to prayer and meditation. These remedies will also keep us from murmuring and ill-temper. Hypocrisy may seem a strange vice to impute to a sick or dying person, but it is not uncommon. It is shown in seeking compassion and kindness by counterfeiting the appearance of greater suffering than really belongs to our cases, or in the affectation of more faith, or resignation, or humility, or peace of conscience than either our own hearts or God will sanction. The desire of worldly praise will sometimes linger so late, and cling so closely about the affections of man, that some persons continue to act a part until their voice and senses fail them.

Let the difficulty of the duties which a sick man has to perform, and the number and greatness of the temptations to which he is liable, be an argument with us to leave as little as possible to be done in that state of weakness and alarm (H. E. I. 4251-4258).—Reginald Heber: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 92-111.


Verses 1-19

HEZEKIAH'S PRAYER

Isa

In this narrative there are three points of difficulty and many points of instruction.

I. THREE POINTS OF DIFFICULTY.

1. Why was Hezekiah afraid to die? Answer:

(1.) Even to a Christian man, death is an event of unutterable solemnity, for which he feels it necessary to make the most serious preparation, and which he would not like to have occur to him suddenly.

(2.) Hezekiah had not that clear view of the future which has been granted to us (Isa ; 2Ti 1:10).

(3.) His kingdom was threatened by a powerful enemy, and the important reforms which he had been prosecuting were incomplete; and even good men are apt to forget that God can raise up others to do His work more efficiently than they have done it.

(4.) At that time he had no child, and that he should die childless appeared inconsistent with God's promise to David (1Ki ). Probably it was a recollection of this promise that prompted his reference to his integrity (Isa 38:3). In those words there is no boastfulness; they are an appeal to the Divine faithfulness. On all these accounts a prolongation of his life seemed to Hezekiah desirable, and he sought it from God in prayer.

2. When we compare Isa ; Isa 38:5, do we not find an astonishing reversal of a Divine decree altogether inconsistent with the doctrine of God's unchangeableness? No. "The same decree that says, ‘Nineveh shall be destroyed,' means, ‘If Nineveh repent, it shall not be destroyed.' He that finds good reason to say, ‘Hezekiah shall die,' yet still means, ‘If the quickened devotion of Hezekiah importune Me for life, it shall be protracted.' And the same God that had decreed this addition of fifteen years had decreed to stir up the spirit of Hezekiah to that vehement and weeping importunity which should obtain it" (Bishop Hall).

How was this wonderful result secured? Did God arrest the earth as it revolved on its axis, and wheel it round in the opposite direction? No one who considers what would be the natural result of such a proceeding, and what a stupendous series of miracles would have been needed to have prevented the destruction of all life upon the earth, will think so for a moment, especially when a course much simpler, and equally efficacious, is suggested by the very words of the different narratives. Isaiah indeed says, "So the SUN returned ten degrees" (Isa ). But his record of what seemed to occur must be interpreted by what God had promised to do: "Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward." And in the narrative in the Book of Kings it is the shadow and not the sun that is spoken of throughout. To reverse the shadow in the dial it needed nothing more than a miraculous refraction of the light; and we believe that this is what occurred, not because it was an easier thing for God to do, but because it is in harmony with all that He does to believe that when two courses were open to Him, one exceedingly simple and one exceedingly complex, He would choose the simple course. God never wastes power. The extraordinary results produced by the refraction of light are familiar to all who have given any attention to natural philosophy. The atmosphere refracts the sun's rays so as to bring him in sight, on every clear day, before he rises on the horizon, and to keep him in view for some minutes after he is really below it. Contradictory as it may sound, on almost any summer evening you may see the sun at least five minutes after he is set. It is entirely owing to refraction that we have any morning or evening twilight. That the rays of the sun can be so refracted as to cause him to be seen where he actually is not is thus a matter of daily experience. And there are some extraordinary cases on record. Kepler, the great astronomer, mentions that some "Hollanders, who wintered in Nova Zembla in the year 1596, were surprised to find that, after a continual night of three months, the sun began to rise about seventeen days sooner than he should have done." This can only be accounted for by a miracle, or by an extraordinary refraction of the sun's rays passing through the cold dense air in that climate. In 1703 again, the prior of the monastery at Metz, in Lothringen, and many others, observed that the shadow of a sundial went back an hour and a half. It is thus abundantly plain that the result related could have been secured by a refraction of the light, a common occurrence in Nature, The miracle consisted in its happening at that particular moment; just as in the case of the fish that Peter caught which contained money. Many fish containing money have been caught; but here was the miracle—that this fish was caught at the very time which Christ had indicated. In like manner the miraculous element in the regression of the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz was its occurring just at the very time at which it was needed to verify the prophet's word and strengthen the monarch's faith.

II. MANY POINTS OF INSTRUCTION.

1. Sickness and death are the common lot of mankind. Kings are liable to them as well as beggars (H. E. I. 1536, 1537).

2. In the extremity of suffering, when all human help is vain, the righteous can turn to God. Pitiable would have been Hezekiah's case, monarch though he was, if he could only have "turned his face to the wall."

3. In every extremity, the most powerful of all remedies is prayer (H. E. I. 3720-3724).

4. How promptly God sometimes answers prayer (2Ki ).

5. God answers prayer instrumentally. In this case He did it by suggesting a simple remedy (Isa ), which perhaps the court physicians had thought it beneath their dignity to employ.

6. Those who have been restored from dangerous illness should make public acknowledgment; of God's goodness.

7. How great are our privileges in possessing the Gospel, through which "life and immortality are brought to light," and death stripped of its terror! In the market-place of Mayence stands a statue of Gutenberg, the inventor of printing, on the base of which there is this honourable inscription:—"The knowledge which was once the exclusive possession of princes and philosophers he has put within the reach of the common people." A similar statue might be erected to the honour of our Saviour, who has made those views of the future life which cheered only a few of the noblest saints (such as David in Psa ) the common heritage of the whole Church. No true believer can now be so much afraid of death as Hezekiah was (1Co 15:55-57).


Verse 2-3

DISTRESS IN PROSPECT OF DEATH

Isa . Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, &c.

The causes of Hezekiah's reluctance to die may be gathered from his circumstances. [See Outline: Hezekiah's Prayer, p. 426.] That ungodly men should be terrified at death is what might be expected (P. D. 684); but reluctance to die is not confined to them (H. E. I. 1570).

I. The Christian has naturally a feeling of repugnance at the very thought of the disruption of the union between soul and body. What precedes death, the stroke itself, and its consequences, all excite feelings of dread (P. D. 741, 761).

II. True believers may feel reluctant to die because of the doubts which they entertain with respect to their eternal state. After death is the judgment. Their fears may proceed from various causes. From constitutional temperament, increased by a relaxed state of the nervous system; from the prevalence of unbelief, the imperfection of knowledge and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; from the powerful agency of the god of this world in producing them. A last desperate effort is made to overthrow faith. While these prevail, recovery from bodily distress is felt to be a mercy of no ordinary kind (H. E. I. 323).

III. Religion may be in a declining state in them, and a consciousness of this may render the prospect of death distressing to them. The progress of the Christian is not uniform. If, while in a backward state, he is called to die, conscience is awakened, and he is thrown into alarm (Mat ).

IV. The prospect of death may be distressing, because the believer will then be deprived of all opportunity of honouring God in this world. This was one reason for Hezekiah's unwillingness to die. He was in the prime of life. Believers, at a like time, may pray to live in order to be useful in the Church and world. The prayer proceeds from a right principle—a desire to honour God. It seems hard for the minister of Christ, after a long course of laborious preparation, to be smitten down to die before he has well begun the great work of preaching. The philanthropist, like Howard, feels a bitterness in the stroke. The Christian parent also. In these and like circumstances a rare strength of faith is called for.

V. God may see good to withhold from true believers the comforts of religion under bodily distress and in their dying moments. To what is the difference in the measure of comfort enjoyed on a deathbed to be ascribed? The sovereignty of God must here be admitted. Objection against it here applies equally in other circumstances. The Divine reasons may be inscrutable to man, although assuredly dictated by infinite wisdom. The newly converted may die joyfully; the veteran Christian may have much less comfort. But generally the faithful life will end, at least, in a peaceful death (H. E. I. 1264).

Would you meet death without terror?

1. Improve by faith that righteousness which Christ wrought out in our nature.

2. See to it that your hearts are changed by the Spirit of God.

3. Devote yourselves unreservedly and unweariedly to the cultivation of holiness in heart and life. The longer we are here, we are the more prone to set our hearts upon the world as if it were our rest. It is from this tendency that the aged Christian sometimes feels as great a reluctance to depart as the Christian in the morning of life (Col ).—James Anderson: Scottish Christian Herald, iii. 569.


Verse 10

THE SHORTENING OF HUMAN LIFE

(A Funeral Sermon.)

Isa . I am deprived of the residue of my years.

Briefly narrate the facts of Hezekiah's illness. The words of the text naturally suggest this general observation, that God deprives many of the human race of the residue of their years.

I. WHEN GOD DEPRIVES ANT OF MANKIND OF THE RESIDUE OF THEIR YEARS.

1. When He calls them out of the world before they have reached the limits of life which are to be found in Scripture (Psa ). Hezekiah undoubtedly numbered his years according to this standard when he spoke (at forty years of age) of being deprived of the residue of his years.

2. When He calls them out of the world before they have reached the bounds of life fixed by Providence. Though the Scriptures limit life to seventy or eighty years, yet Providence often extends it to a longer period, even to a century. Many aged persons enjoy a large measure of health, strength, and activity; should any of these be suddenly cut down by disease or accident, they would be deprived of the residue of their years which they had anticipated, according to the course of Divine providence in fixing the limits of life to the aged.

3. Even those who die before they have reached the bounds of life which are imposed by the laws of Nature, may be said to be deprived of the residue of their days. Nature sets bounds to every kind of life in this world, not excepting human life. What the natural limit of human life is we cannot tell, but from the fact that some have survived for over a century and a half, we may infer that God has deprived the vast majority of the human race of the residue of their years, and has not allowed even one in a million to reach the bounds of life which Nature has set.

II. WHY GOD THUS SHORTENS THE LIVES OF MEN AND CUTS OFF THEIR EXPECTED YEARS.

1. Sometimes it is to teach the living that He is not dependent upon them in the least degree. Though He can and does employ them in His service, yet He can lay them aside whenever He pleases, and carry on His designs without their assistance. Let eminent and useful men like Hezekiah remember this, that they may not yield to the temptation of pride (H. E. I. 2218-2219).

2. In order to teach mankind their constant and absolute dependence upon Himself. This they are extremely inclined to forget, and their forgetfulness arises in a great measure from the consideration of the general bounds of life which Scripture, Providence, and Nature have set. To these well-known periods they naturally extend their views, desires, and expectations. But to make them sensible that they still live, move, and have their being in Himself, God continually deprives one and another, and much the largest portion of mankind, of the residue of their years.

3. To teach the living the necessity of being continually prepared for another life (H. E. I. 1543-1546).

4. To teach the living the importance of faithfully improving life as long as they enjoy it. All men are naturally slothful and strongly inclined to postpone present duties to a more convenient season. The best and most industrious of men need the sharp spur of the possibility of sudden death, and of being called away before their work is complete. When God cuts down the active and useful in the midst of their days, He warns us most solemnly (Ecc ; H. E. I. 1562-1566).

5. God sometimes cuts short the days of the wicked to prevent their doing evil in time to come (Psa ; Pro 10:27; Ecc 7:17).

6. God sometimes shortens the lives of His faithful servants to prevent their seeing and suffering public calamities. It seems to have been in mercy to Hezekiah that God added only fifteen years to his life; had fifty years been added (and then at death he would only have been ninety), he would have been involved in the dreadful evils which were coming upon both his family and his kingdom (Isa ).

APPLICATION.—

1. If God does not always deprive men of the residue of their years, there is a propriety in praying for the lives of the aged as well as for the lives of the young. Even the oldest persons living, though labouring under pains, infirmities, and diseases which seem to indicate the near approach of death, may yet pray for the removal or mitigation of their disorders, and for a longer space of life. Life is a blessing, and to pray for its continuance is a duty.

2. If God so often deprives men of the residue of their years, it is extremely unreasonable and dangerous to flatter ourselves with the hope of living a great while in the world. What ground have we to expect that our days will be greatly prolonged; that we shall escape all the dangers and diseases which have proved so fatal to others, and live as long as man can live according to the course of nature? This expectation is as dangerous as it is absurd. It encourages the wicked to continue in sin. It is the strangest and most fatal error that mankind ever embraced (Jas ; Mat 22:44).

3. Since God deprives so many of the residue of their years, we ought to beware of placing too much dependence upon the lives of others, as well as of our own. Others are as liable to leave us as we are to leave them (Psa ).

4. If God so often deprives men of the residue of their years, then long life is a great as well as a distinguishing favour. It is a talent capable of being improved to the highest public and private advantage. We should desire it for the sake of having greater opportunity of getting good, and still more of doing good. Had Hezekiah, Joseph, Joshua, Caleb, and David died in early manhood, how little comparatively they could have done for Israel! Since good men are to be rewarded according to their works, the longer they are permitted to live, the greater opportunity they enjoy of promoting their own future blessedness.

5. If God always has wise and good reasons for depriving men of the residue of their years, then it is as reasonable to submit to His providence in one instance of mortality as another. He knows all the disappointment which a strong man feels in being cut down in the midst of his days, all acute sorrow that is caused by an untimely death, and He sympathises with it all. He never afflicts willingly, nor grieves the children of men; He takes no pleasure in giving anxiety and distress to the dying, nor in desolating the hearts of the living; and when He does either, it is for a reason that is infinitely wise and infinitely kind. It behoves us then to say with Job: (Isa , or Isa 1:21).—Dr. Emmons: Works, vol. iii. pp. 79-92.


Verse 14

A CRY FOR HELP

Isa . O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.

This prayer ascended from a sick-bed. State Hezekiah's circumstances. From many sick-beds it still ascends.

1. From the sick-bed of the Christian who is distressed by thoughts of what may befall his wife and children after his removal from them.

2. From the sick-bed of the Christian who perceives that the world has been gaining much on his heart. Overtaken in the very strength and flower of his days by a sudden and dangerous illness, he sees that in the midst of the bustle and business of an honest calling he has been gradually drawn off from a life of watchfulness and prayer, and that, while keeping the forms of godliness, he has lost much of its power. Death apparently at hand, his soul starts up alarmed.

3. From the sick-bed of the worldly man, who at length perceives his guilt and danger. His awakened conscience fills him with distress and fear (H. E. I. 1334-1339), and the approach of death terrifies him (H. E. I. 1567).

Show how graciously God deals with all these suppliants when they sincerely call upon Him.—Richard Monks: Sermons, pp. 230-249.

A good prayer:—

1. For the young man entering upon the duties of life. Surrounded by the snares of the world, exposed to many temptations, and having in himself no strength or wisdom to deal with them aright.

2. For the young man entering upon his Christian course. Experimentally sensible of the deceitfulness of the heart, and conscious that there is one ever watchful, ever willing to encourage him in evil (H. E. I. 1061).

3. For the Christian perplexed in the path of duty.

4. For the Christian on his dying bed (H. E. I. 1570-1593).—H. Montagu Villiers, M.A.; Sermons, pp. 194-211.

Hezekiah's prayer reminds us of man's need of a Divine Helper. We need some one who can undertake to be our guide through life; to sustain us under the sorrows of life; to strengthen us against the temptations of life; to effect reconciliation between us and a justly offended God; to succour us in death; to welcome us to heaven, and to assign us our place in it.—Horace Monod.

THE SURETYSHIP OF CHRIST

Isa . Undertake for me.

I. That man needs a surety. This is evident from several considerations. Man—

1. Is an insolvent debtor;

2. a captive;

3. a criminal;

4. helpless and mortal.

II. That a surety has been provided (Heb ; Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15; Heb 12:24). Christ was constituted a surety; not for God to us, but for us to God. He undertook to do for us, and in us, what we could not do for ourselves. Is man a debtor? Christ has paid the debt. Is man a captive? Christ came to set the captive free. Is man a criminal? Christ has endured the curse (Isa 53:6; 2Co 5:21). Is man helpless and mortal? Christ has provided everlasting strength (2Co 12:9).

III. That there must be a believing application made to that Surety. We must put in claim for share in the suretyship of Christ—must say in faith, "Lord, undertake for me; be surety for me."

IV. The effects of such application. These are many and most important. In case of Hezekiah several are mentioned. God had sent him an alarming message. He wept and called upon God. His prayer was answered. A sign was given. During his sickness and after his recovery he had great exercises of soul He thought of death (Isa ); was annoyed because he was about to be cut off from the worship of God (Isa 38:11), and that by a premature death (Isa 38:12). But was there not a remedy? Yes. What? A believing application to the Lord as surety. "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me." And what was the consequence? The whole tone of his thoughts was changed. He now recognises God's hand in the dispensation (Isa 38:15); sees these things to be good for his soul (Isa 38:16); believes his recovery certain—realises the forgiveness of sin—is enabled to praise God (Isa 38:19); can now resolve to teach his children about God's truth, and determine with them to bless and magnify God for ever (Isa 38:19-20). Thus the realisation of God as surety, and a believing application to Him for help, proved the turning-point for good in Hezekiah's experience.

APPLICATION.—

1. In the way of warning.

(1.) Not to depend on ourselves for salvation.

(2.) Not to neglect the means of grace.

2. In the way of encouragement.

(1.) Jesus Christ is surety for all who believe in Him.

(2.) All who are oppressed in body or soul may and should, by God's grace, believe in Jesus as their surety.—T. Oliver: The Study and the Pulpit, New Series, 1876, pp. 419-421.


Verses 15-20

HEZEKIAH'S RESOLUTION

(A New-Year Motto.)

Isa . I shall go softly all my years, &c.

This resolution grows out of that singular experience of sickness and recovery recorded in the preceding verses. It furnishes an excellent motto for the year. Our translation is somewhat defective, but if we substitute "on" for "in" the correct sense will be clear. The meaning is that the recovered king would walk through the fifteen years that were added to his life in salutary remembrance of his dangerous illness, and of the goodness of God in prolonging his days on earth. The memory of that trouble and of the mercy that rescued him would put a staff in his hand to make his walk more devoted, circumspect, and consistent. Understood thus, the words are applicable to all. Some of you may be able to trace a close resemblance between your experience and that of Hezekiah. Like him, you may have escaped from a well-nigh fatal illness. But all of us can look back on similar periods—on mercies received and dangers averted—and in recollection of them we may say, "I shall go softly all my years on the bitterness of my soul."

I do not know any better commentary on these words than the opening stanza of Tennyson's In Memoriam:—

"Men may rise on stepping-stones

Of their dead selves to higher things."

A good New Year's motto, which harmonises so sweetly with it. Our past experiences, our dead selves, may be made stepping-stones on which we may climb to a clearer vision and a loftier devotion. What, then, was the nature of that pathway of life which this good king engaged to pursue? What was the prospect which opened up before him?

1. A walk of humble dependence on God. This element in the resolution is distinctly expressed. In Isa , God's Word and acts are viewed as the real supports of life. Looking above all secondary causes and natural agencies, the king acknowledges God as the source and giver of life. This is a great lesson, and one which an experience like that of Hezekiah can teach. It seems to us a natural thing to live on; we count on continued health and long life till some sickness lays us low, and we are brought to feel as we never felt before that our times are in God's hand. But whether we have passed through a dangerous illness or not, the resolution befits us all. Let us remember that God sustains and orders our lives.

It was, indeed, a singular position in which Hezekiah was placed. He knew precisely how long he would live. The duration of our pilgrimage is just as fixed as his was, only we do not know it (P. D. 2252). The thread of our life is in God's hand. Thus was Hezekiah taught to "go softly." His soul had passed through "great bitterness," and he shall bear it in mind, and his rescue from it deepen his dependence on God.

2. A walk of usefulness. It was on this plea that he had prayed for the prolongation of his life (Isa ). He had rendered valuable service and had borne a consistent testimony. The convalescent king saw a prospect of further work for God on earth. He who a short time before this seemed about to leave his kingdom in confusion without an heir to the throne is now able to say, "The father of the children shall make known thy truth." Does it not become us to ask, Why is my life prolonged? Why have I been permitted to enter on a new year? Is it not for this reason, among others, that we may become increasingly serviceable in advancing the cause of truth? Better far that life should terminate than that we should live to no purpose, for every year adds to our responsibilities. Advance, then, into this year resolved that, God sparing you, you will live more useful lives (H. E. I. 3228-3251; P. D. 2269).

3. A walk of thankfulness (Isa ). How thankful this convalescent was for his restoration to health, and all the more so because to him, as to other saints of his age, the grave seemed dark and gloomy (Isa 38:18). It needed the Gospel of Christ's resurrection to dispel the darkness and the gloom. This psalm is itself a proof of Hezekiah's thankful spirit, and perhaps the 118th Psalm is another production of his pen, containing as it does words of hope suitable to this period of his history (Psa 118:17-18). Are we too resolved that our remaining years shall be years of thanksgiving, our lives a psalm of praise?

4. This fifteen years' walk was to be a walk of peace (Isa ). The meaning here is that the affliction was sent with a view to his obtaining a more settled and abiding peace; it teaches us, as nothing else can, the secret of inward peace. What are the sources of dispeace? One of them is found—

(1.) In our earthly strivings and ambitions. "There is no peace to the wicked." He is constantly on the rack of avaricious struggles, unsatisfied longings, sensual desires. Affliction can show us the utter vanity of earthly things. How poor the world looks as seen from within the curtains of a dying bed! The sufferer who has come back from the gates of death is able to estimate earthly things at their right value. He ceases from the low ambitions and carnal desires that once raged within him.

2. Bodily pain and weakness is another cause of unrest. An experience of this bitterness brings peace when the patient is restored to health. We set greater value on a blessing which we have lost and regained. One of our poets describes a convalescent gathering strength, and coming forth after long confinement to look upon the scenes of Nature—

"The common earth and air and skies

To him are opening paradise!"

To have such feelings we must have known affliction. For the enjoyment of this peace we must have tasted "great bitterness."

3. But the greatest source of dispeace is unpardoned sin (Isa ). How complete is the forgiveness of sin as thus expressed! What a peace is enjoyed when guilt is removed and God's love shed abroad in our hearts! (H. E. I. 1893, 1894; P. D. 2675, 2677).

What more do we need to make this year a happy one than to set forward with this resolution? We cannot break away from the past. We are now what it has made us. Our "dead selves" make our living present selves. From our trials and sorrows we may gain supports for nobler endeavour. "I shall go softly," meekly, submissively, prayerfully, "on the bitterness of my soul." Do you wish some spring, some impulse to send you forward thus in life's pathway? Think of some bitterness in your past experience, some Marah which the Lord sweetened for you, some trouble from which He rescued you when you lay on the brink of death, or under the feeling of Divine desertion, or under the accusations of a troubled conscience, and make that "dead self" a support for the path before you."—William Guthrie, M.A.

THE RESTORATION OF BELIEF

Isa . I shall go softly all my years, &c.

In the case of Hezekiah, belief was restored by a great shock which brought him into contact with reality. He had been living, as many of us live, a pleasant, prosperous life, till he had really grown to believe that this world and its interests were the only things worth caring for. His treasures, his art collections, the beauty of his palace, made him love his life and dream that it was not a dream. God appeared to him not as to Adam, in the cool of the day, but as He came to Job, in the whirlwind and the eclipse, and Hezekiah knew that he had been living in a vain show. The answer of his soul was quick and sad, "By these things men live, O Lord;" these are the blows which teach men what life really is.

Many are prosperous, happy, and at ease. It will be wise for these to remember that thoughtless prosperity weakens the fibre of the soul (H. E. I. 3997-4014).

The blow which sobered Hezekiah was a common one. It did nothing more than bring him face to face with death. The process whereby his dependence on God was restored was uncomplicated. But there are far worse shocks than this, and recovery from them into a godlike life is long and dreadful.

1. One of these is the advent of irrecoverable disease—protracted weakness or protracted pain. Then we ask what we have done: we curse our day. But our misfortune brings round us the ministering of human tenderness: slowly the soul becomes alive to love; and through the benign influence of human love the first step towards the restoration of belief has been made, the soil is prepared for the work of the Spirit of God. Then the Gospel story attracts and softens the sufferer's heart. Afterwards he reads that Christ's suffering brought redemption unto man, and begins to realise how he can fill up what is behindhand of the sufferings of Christ. This is not only the restoration of belief—it is the victory of life.

2. More dreadful than protracted disease is that shipwreck which comes of dishonoured love—

"When all desire at last, and all regret,

Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,

What shall assuage the unforgotten pain,

And teach the unforgetful to forget?"

For some there is no remedy but death. Others live on in a devouring memory. And the memory poisons all belief in God. But there are many who recover, and emerge into peace and joy. Can we at all trace how this may be? Lapse of time does part of the work. It does not touch the memory of love. The pain of having a gift thrown aside has passed; the sweetness of having given remains. When we thought ourselves farthest from God, we were unconsciously nearest to Him. And so we are saved, faith is restored. Like Christ, we can say, "Father, forgive them, for they knew not what they did."

3. Many are conscious, in later life, that their early faith has passed away. It was unquestioning, enthusiastic. It depended much on those we loved. Religious feelings which had been without us and not within, slowly and necessarily died away. Becoming more and more liberal, we also became more and more unbelieving, and at last realised that our soul was empty. Are we to settle down into that? It is suicide, not sacrifice, which abjures immortality and prefers annihilation. Our past belief was borrowed too much from others. Resolve to accept of no direction which will free you from the invigorating pain of effort. Free yourself from the cant of infidelity. It boasts of love, it boasts of liberality. Its church is narrower than our strictest sect. Bring yourself into the relation of a child to a father. We need to come to our second self, which is a child—to possess a childhood of feeling in the midst of manhood.—Stopford A. Brooke: Christ in Modern Life, pp. 380-392.

A GREAT DELIVERANCE

Isa . Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.

The text forms part of a king's song on recovering from a severe illness. "When we are raised from deep distress, our God deserves a song." But it points beyond temporal deliverance to salvation from the power and punishment of sin.

I. THE SINNER'S CONDITION.

In "the pit of corruption." This description suggests—

1. Loathsomeness. It is a fit simile of the world in which the unconverted live. It is not a quagmire, but a pit; not a dry pit, but one full of corruption—filth, death, worms. To God, "glorious in holiness," every man in the pit of corruption must be loathsome. He may be educated, loving, philanthropic, and worldly wise, but being dead in trespasses and sins, he is fit only for being buried out of the sight of God and stood men.

2. Helplessness. A man in a pit is helpless, like Joseph. No man ever yet got out of the pit of corruption by his Latin, his logic, or his mother wit. It is not for him to postpone the date of a deliverance once vouchsafed.

3. Increasing danger. Men never mend in the pit.

II. THE SINNER'S HELPER.

"Thou," &c. In vain does the sinner look within himself or to his fellow-men for help, but God gives it. Every saint praises God for his salvation: "Thou," &c. Note,

1. The freeness of God's redeeming love. There is nothing in a man wallowing in a pit of corruption to draw out love. Where it is shown, it is a free gift.

2. The fulness of that love. "Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." Some wink at our sins, others cast them into our teeth on all occasions. God does neither. He abhors sin, but when He forgives the sinner, He forgets the sin (Jer ; Rom 8:33; Psa 32:2; H. E. I. 2322-2337).

III. THE SINNER'S DUTY.

He is not to lie quiet, but to cry for a deliverer. Wishing, hoping, thinking will not do. The crying, to be effectual, must be made now. Now God says, "My arm is not shortened," &c. (Isa ). When once gone, to all your cries His reply will be, "Because called," &c. (Pro 1:24-26).

Why will you die? Bring forth your strong reasons against salvation.—M.: Christian Witness, .

FORGIVENESS OF SIN

Isa . For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.

This is part of the song which Hezekiah wrote when he had recovered from his sickness. He had betaken himself to prayer. The nation, threatened with invasion from the powerful kingdom of Assyria, could ill afford to lose its head. His prayer was heard. The prophet was sent with a new message. The Divine hand was visible, although ordinary means were employed. This the king fully recognised (Isa ). God's mercies should not be forgotten when the occasion has passed.

The king sees the connection of his disease with sin, and the removal of disease with the removal of his sins. From the text we observe that the forgiveness of sin is necessary, possible, complete, knowable.

I. Forgiveness of sin is necessary. Scripture traces suffering to sin. The fact of sin is prominent in the history of mankind. Its universality is the groundwork of the revelation of its remedy. It is written on the conscience. However oblivious of the fact in health and prosperity, men in sickness and disaster usually think of their sins as the remote or immediate cause. It is sometimes God's way of awakening attention (H. E. I. 56-89).

Until sin is forgiven, it is before the face of God (Psa ; Heb 4:13). The accountability of man would be an unmeaning phrase if it did not involve the idea that an account is taken of his actions. They are all noted, good and bad, and tested by the Divine standard. Every man's are before the face of the Supreme Ruler, and Judge for the purpose of being dealt with. This is his case until it is changed by the exercise of forgiveness. It is useless to ignore the need of forgiveness under the impression that we can, in some way, remove the stain. However much good a man may do, the fact of sin remains; and so long as he is under a law which requires unsinning obedience, the good cannot be set against the bad in the hope that the former will wipe the latter away. Forgiveness of the past is the first necessity.

II. Forgiveness of sin is possible. The Gospel builds on the groundwork laid. It provides and makes known a way by which forgiveness may be obtained. It is not by the enactment of a law obedience to which will have this effect. Law brings the sinfulness into clear relief and renders escape impossible. Nor is it by the declaration of a general amnesty, which would virtually neutralise the law and its penalties. Nor is it by an exercise of the Divine sovereignty in the way of mercy to all men, nor even to the penitent, simply as such. God's way of forgiveness provides for the exercise of mercy by the satisfaction of the claims of righteousness. For its manifestation He prepared during long ages of teaching. In due time He sent His Son (Gal ). The interposition of Christ renders forgiveness possible. It includes His taking the sinner's obligations on Himself (Col 1:14). This is the Divinely appointed way of forgiveness. It satisfies all the requirements of the case. It provides an adequate Mediator. It provides forgiveness on honourable terms. It is, so far as the sinner is concerned, a free forgiveness. It imposes no impossible condition. It says to the sinner under the burden of sin and guilt, satisfaction of the law, which is impossible to him, is no longer demanded, because it has been rendered by His great Substitute. It simply calls upon him to believe, repenting of his sins. If you see your sinfulness, if your soul is troubled by it, if you are anxious to obtain mercy, the Gospel bids you come to Jesus, and come at once. It assures a present, immediate, free pardon.

III. Forgiveness of sin is complete. "Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." They were previously before the face of God. They are now taken thence and cast behind His back. You do that with a thing you have done with and intend to see no more. It is a most expressive representation of the Divine forgiveness. It attracts attention to its completeness. "All his sins," without exception or reservation, have been cast out of sight. They will never be produced against him. This is complete forgiveness. We can realise it better by comparison with the forgiveness exercised by men. Man's forgiveness is often very poor. "I can forgive, but I cannot forget." "I forgive, but I shall have no more to do with that man." Many do not even pretend to forgive. But God forgives, completely, fully (H. E. I. 2328-2348).

IV. Forgiveness of sin is knowable. The text is the language of assurance. Hezekiah inferred it from his recovery. We may be certified—

1. By the written Word.

2. By consciousness of the Spirit's work in us—repentance, faith, love, surrender.

3. By the moral effects. Put all these together (H. E. I. 309, 310, 324, &c.)

Do you possess assurance? Your experience—

1. Illustrates the Divine character: "merciful and gracious." Its most attractive light.

2. Produces grateful love. The greatest boon has won the heart.

3. Invites to holy obedience. Appeals to what is best.

4. Suggests evangelic action. Tell others. Seek the salvation of the worst.

Are you not forgiven? Perhaps indifferent. Perhaps desirous, but hesitating. Perhaps procrastinating. Do not trifle. Do not neglect. Do not delay. Be reconciled to God.—J. Rawlinson.

THE SONG OF HEZEKIAH

(Sermon to the Young.)

Isa . For the grave cannot praise Thee, &c.

This is part of Hezekiah's song of praise to God. He was very ill. A good man, yet rather afraid of death; certainly very anxious to live. When we are strong and full of life, it is easy to talk of braving all worldly sorrows; but when the time comes for us to prove our words, many who are now in heaven have said, "Spare me a little before I go hence and be no more seen." In what affecting terms did Hezekiah bewail his sickness! "I said, in the cutting off my days, … I shall not see the Lord," in His holy sanctuary on earth; "I shall behold man no more;" never again behold the human face divine, never meet again the welcoming smile of child or friend.

God heard Hezekiah's prayer, took pity upon him, turned back the sundial of his life fifteen years. The good king rejoiced in this gift of lengthened life: "The grave cannot praise Thee." &c.

Let us follow out this rejoicing of the king, this setting forth the advantages of the living above the dead.

1. The living are in possession of the time which is given to make reconciliation with God and secure an everlasting interest. We are all by nature strangers to God, enemies to Him in our mind and inclination. We are defiled and guilty creatures; this is the hour of cleansing, whilst the fountain stands open in which our sins may be washed away (2Co ). We are by nature utterly unfit for heaven; this is the day of repentance as well as of pardon. At the summons of death we must go, whether prepared or unprepared, holy or unholy, hoping or despairing. While your hearts were unholy, your death, had it happened, must have been dreadful. Let those who have improved this gift of life to make their reconciliation with God highly value it, and magnify its important advantages with all the gratitude and zeal of the king of Judah.

2. Life is a precious and golden gift, because it affords a field for increasing in good works. We are required to be "zealous of good works." Zealous; not to touch a good work as if we were afraid of burning our fingers. Such works "are good and profitable to men." The days and years of life should be numbered by the multitude of good works, as by the revolutions of the earth. Lost and wasted time should not come into the account of life. Ah! if we reckoned thus, what a shrinking and contracting would take place! A Roman emperor, a heathen, used to say, "I have lost a day," if he had not done any good action in it. How many are there who live to no purpose at all, whom the world will not miss when they are gone! How many live to wicked purposes, and the world is glad to get rid of them! Some are mere cumberers of the ground; they bear the Christian name, but how different from Christ! "The night cometh," said He, "in which no man can work." "Ye are the light of the world," said Christ to His disciples, and how dark would this earth be were there no disciples of Christ upon it! "Ye are," said He, "the salt of the earth;" if the salt were gone, what corruption of manners, what filthy communications, what odious practices would overspread and defile society! One child of God in a family is like the ark in the house of Obed-Edom, of which we read, "The Lord hath blessed the house of Obed-Edom," &c.; or like Joseph in Potiphar's house, of whom we read, "The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake," &c. We may follow up this idea, and say if one child of God is so great a blessing in a family, many may bless and save whole cities and nations. We find this to have actually been the case from what is said of Noah, Daniel, and Job. God said three thousand years ago, "Righteousness exalteth a nation," and it is equally certain that wickedness overthroweth it. In all the Old Testament history, we see how He ascribes prosperity to the keeping of His commandments, and ruin to the breaking of them. We cannot suppose that it is in any way different now; that the Ruler of the Universe is in slumber, or, being awake, has altered the rules of His government. Life, and especially youthful life, is the time for good works and good actions; not one can be done in the grave.

CONCLUSION.—Let young persons value life. It has been said that we "take no note of time save from its loss;" let not this be said of you. It is the gift of time that alone places you in a position to profit by all other gifts. Make good use of life; of this its pleasant morning: be obedient, be diligent, love each other, avoid quarrelling and evil words. Live so that the end will conduct you to a world where, though time will be no longer, life will continue for ever.—George Clark, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 239-246.

PRAISE FOR PRESERVATION

(Last Sunday of the Year.)

Isa . The living, the living, he shall praise Thee, as I do this day.

Such was Hezekiah's burst of thankfulness when God heard his prayer, and gave him fifteen years more of life. While the danger lasted, he was surprised into more of alarm than became his place and character; but now, marvellously spared, he calls upon the living everywhere to praise God for His goodness. His case, he feels, was theirs too. All men alike live upon God's bounty, and are debtors to His patience. He guards them from evil,—sends them good things, without which life must be presently extinguished,—renews their being, and makes it over to them by a fresh grant, not only when the closing year reminds us of the gift, but at each day's working time. Therefore Hezekiah is not satisfied with a solitary strain of thanksgiving. He looks round upon a world teeming with animated, intelligent beings, and in every brother whom God hath made and kept alive he finds one who should bring in his tribute of praise. He wants a chorus of rejoicing worshippers.

1. This season naturally makes us thoughtful. We think of what life has been to us lately, and. what it might have been. We have nearly passed another stage on our journey to the grave, and we miss some who began it with us. We stand, like unwounded soldiers on the battlefield with the dead and the dying all round them. This is all God's doing. He who gives life sustains it. If to have lived on be deemed a blessing, and praise for the boon be due anywhere, it can only be to Him whose providential government of the world is like an hourly repetition of the creative power which called it out of nothing.

2. But is life worth having? Is prolonged life a blessing, and may we fairly require men to be grateful for it? This is assumed by Hezekiah. Life and praise may go well together, because to so great a degree life and happiness go together. Not always. Some are so unhappy that they cry out under their burden, and almost wish, for a moment, for deliverance at any cost. But the settled feeling of men's minds is the other way. To almost all of them life is the hoarded treasure which they will guard at any price. They will put up with the worst they have to bear before they will accept release on the terms of being banished straightway to the unknown world. The reason is, that by the side of this harvest of woe, of which they reap a few ears now and then, there groweth a harvest of blessing, of which they are constant reapers (P. D. 2282, 2256).

3. Remember the "common mercies" of which through another year we have been partakers. Our very senses are so many curious inlets by which pleasures, more or less vivid, come thronging in from the wide world around us. Continued health. Senses and faculties marvellously kept from injury. The happiness of our homes; specially to be remembered at this season. When we call upon the living to praise God, we have much more to show for the demand than the bare fact that God lets them live. He lets most of them live happily. He causes their cup to run over with blessings. He does all this, in spite of forgetfulness and disobedience on their part that would wear out any other love but His (H. E. I. 2307-2309). Praise God for the "common mercies" of another year.

4. While we live we are on mercy ground. That is the special mercy beyond all our common mercies. Life, while it lasts, connects us with all that is blessed and glorious in the scheme of salvation. While we are here, "there is but a step between us and death;" but while we are here, too, the door stands wide open through which we may pass into the presence-chamber of our King. While you are here, if you will make Christ your friend, sin may be cast out, and the blessed Spirit of truth become your daily Teacher, and your future years be all rich in blessing and bright with hope. Praise God for the prolongation to you of this great opportunity, and embrace it now! Let the new year find you serving Christ.

5. Living saints, as well as spared sinners, should praise God for His preserving mercy. They have had fresh opportunities for serving God and for growth in grace. They have no right eousness of their own wherein to stand before God, and never will have; but talents improved and laid out for God will bring a blessing. He is too bountiful a Master to let any of His servants work for nought. Heaven itself is not alike to all, though it shall be satisfying to the meanest child in God's family. The disciple whom Jesus specially loved leant on His bosom at the Last Supper; and at the marriage-supper, when all the guests shall be assembled from many lands, they who have attained to the goodliest stature in their days of conflict shall sit nearest to the King, and wear the brightest crowns (H. E. I. 2751-2753, 3288; P. D. 412, 1752). Every year is a fresh sowing time for a more abundant harvest.

6. Some among you have special reasons for saying with Hezekiah, "The living," &c.

(1.) This strain belongs to the aged man or woman, who has already lived beyond the allotted term of human life. In your feebleness, God has carried you through another stage. Beyond your expectation, perhaps, you have seen another Christmas. Many are the mercies of one year, but when they come to be multiplied by near fourscore, what an array we have then! Praise the Lord!

(2.) Some before me, while the year was running out, thought they should never see the end of it. Like Hezekiah, you prayed for life when death seemed to be close upon you. God restored your life to you. What have you done since to show yourself grateful for that mercy? Have a care that your mercies do not make your case worse. If they do not melt, they harden.

7. If the living should praise God, how largely is He defrauded of His due! We are surrounded with living men. Each one of these has a fresh grant of life with each day's sun-rising. What a tide of praise should be going up unceasingly to His throne! Do we find the world so full of praise? Alas! no; if praise be the sign of life, we seem to be walking among the tombs. God is forgotten in His own world. While common friends are thanked for trifling favours, the Giver of mercies, repeated with every breath, is to many of us an unheeded stranger.—John Hampden Gurney, M.A.: Sermons, chiefly on Old Testament Histories, pp. 297-312.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 38:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-38.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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