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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Isaiah 5



Verses 3-5



Isaiah 5:3-5. O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.

MERCIES are obligations to obedience, and aggravations of the guilt of disobedience. This is declined under the similitude of an unfruitful vineyard. The parable in the text foretold the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Our Lord applied it in reference to the approaching dissolution of their ecclesiastical and civil polity by the Romans [Note: Matthew 21:33; Matthew 21:41; Matthew 21:45.]. It is applicable also to the Church of God in all ages. In this solemn address of God to his Church and people are contained,

I. His appeal to them—

Many and great are the temporal blessings which we enjoy—

[In our civil capacity, we possess civil and religious liberty. In our social relations, our privileges and comforts are many [Note: If this were the subject of a Commemoration Sermon, the peculiar advantages belonging to the Society should be enumerated.]. In our personal concerns, we may all find abundant cause for gratitude.]

But our spiritual advantages are greater still—

[We have infallible directions respecting the way of salvation [Note: John 10:9; John 14:6. 1 Corinthians 3:11. Acts 4:12.]. We are urged by the strongest motives to walk in it [Note: Not only our hopes and fears, which are the grand springs of human activity and vigour, are excited, Romans 2:6-10, but the love of Christ is set before us as the most irresistible of all motives, 2 Corinthians 5:14.]. Sufficient assistance also is provided for us [Note: Luke 11:13. Every Christian may adopt the apostle’s words, Philippians 4:13.]. We have the religion of Christ established in the land [Note: The Establishment has been “the pillar and ground of the truth” ever since the reformation. Its liturgy is pure and scriptural: its articles and homilies are a barrier against the intrusion of error: and, were its institutions observed as they ought to be, there would be no minister in its communion who was not orthodox in his opinions and holy in his life; none could undertake the office of a teacher, who was not himself taught of God, and “moved by the Holy Ghost.”].]

In the name of God then we call you to judge between God and your own souls [Note: See the verse before the text; which, stripped of the figure, may be considered as comprehending the two questions contained in this bracket.]—

[What obstructions to our fruitfulness has he not removed? What means of promoting it has he not employed [Note: Could superstition obscure the light? its clouds have been dispelled by the revival of literary and religious knowledge. Could prejudice pervert our judgment? a liberality of sentiment prevails beyond the example of former ages. Could guilt dismay our hearts? God has sent his own Son to die for us. Could a sense of our weakness discourage us? God has promised the aid of his Spirit. Could persecution alarm our fears? we “sit every one under his own vine and fig-tree.” Could erroneous teachers misguide us? care has been taken, as far as human foresight could prevail, to exclude them. What, then, has not God done that could be done?]? We appeal to you, and make you judges in your own cause.]

Happy were it for us, if, while we reflect on the advantages God has favoured us with, which are greater far than those which were enjoyed by his people of old, there were not the same reason as formerly for,

II. His expostulation with them—

The fruit which God requires, is suitable to the pains he has bestowed upon us—

[He expects that we follow his directions, and live by faith on his dear Son, and that we feel the influence of the motives he has set before us, and, that we go forth against all the enemies of our souls in a humble dependence on his promised aid.]

But very different is the fruit which the greater part of us have brought forth—

[We have substituted in the place of Christ some self-righteous methods of acceptance with God. We have been actuated chiefly by earthly, carnal, and selfish principles. We have gone on in the strength of our own resolutions, instead of looking up continually for the assistance of the Spirit. Alas! our fruit has been only as “the grapes of Sodom, and clusters of Gomorrha [Note: How great the difference between him that produces good fruit, and him that “brings forth only wild grapes!” The one makes Christ all his salvation and all his desire; the other exalts himself into the place of Christ, and wishes to become, in part at least, his own Saviour: The one regards eternal things us a reality; the other is scarcely more affected by them than if they were a fiction: The one conquers sin and Satan in the strength of Christ; the other is, either openly or secretly, led captive by them both. In a word, the one is a compound of humility, heavenly-mindedness, and zeal; and the other of pride, worldliness, and indifference.

N. B. The notesf, h, andi, are too much compressed, and the subject of them is too remote for a country congregation. To an illiterate auditory, a general and popular statement would be more edifying. ].”]

But that God is displeased with our unprofitableness, will appear from,

III. His menace—

Under the figure of “laying waste” a vineyard [Note: ver. 5, 6.], God warns us what he will do to us if we continue unprofitable servants:

1. He will bestow no more pains upon us—

[He who by “pruning and digging” has laboured incessantly for our good, will abandon us at last to our own hearts’ lusts [Note: Hosea 4:17. Psalms 81:11-12.]. He who has “commanded the clouds to rain down rain upon us,” will cease to guard us by his providence, or assist us by his grace [Note: Genesis 6:3.].]

2. He will withdraw the advantages we now enjoy—

[He will “take away the candlestick” when we exclude or abuse the light [Note: Luke 8:18. Revelation 2:5.]. Or if he cause not “a famine of the word,” he will make his Gospel “a savour of death to us rather than of life [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].”]

3. He will expose us to the heaviest calamities—

[We may easily conceive how the wild boar of the field will desolate a vineyard, when its fences are all removed;” and we know, from the instances of Peter and of Judas, what Satan will effect, if he be suffered to execute his will upon us; yet we can expect nothing but to be “delivered over to Satan for the destruction both of our bodies and souls,” if we “bring forth only wild grapes” after all the culture bestowed upon us [Note: Hebrews 6:7-8. Luke 13:7, and John 15:6.].]


What reason have we all to be ashamed of our unfruitfulness, and to tremble lest God should execute upon us his threatened vengeance!

[No words can more forcibly express his fixed determination to execute it, than the concluding words of our text. Let us be thankful that the execution of it has been so long delayed; let the “forbearance exercised towards us, lead us to repentance [Note: Romans 2:4.];” and let us henceforth seek to resemble the primitive Christians [Note: Romans 6:22.].]

And what reason can be assigned that shall justify our bringing forth only “wild grapes” under such circumstances.?

[Has there been any want of care on the part of the husbandman? Has there been anything defective in the means he has used? Could he, consistently with his plans of government, have done more for us than he has done! Can we at all excuse ourselves, and cast with propriety the blame on him? “Judge ye” whether the fault be not entirely in yourselves?]

Verse 20



Isaiah 5:20. Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.

THAT man in his present state is a corrupt and sinful creature, is too plain to be denied: the whole tenour of his conduct proves it beyond a doubt. But the generality give themselves credit for meaning well at the very time that they are doing ill. In this, however, they are mistaken. There is in all a far greater consciousness of the evil of their conduct than they are willing to allow. But they wish to quiet their own minds, and to approve themselves to the world: and therefore they change the names of things, “calling good evil, and evil good, putting darkness for light, and light for darkness, bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” By these means they succeed in allaying their own fears, and in commending themselves to each other; but their guilt before God is thereby greatly increased: for our Lord says, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” There is in their hearts a rooted aversion to what is good, and a consequent determination to decry it: there is also an inveterate love of evil, and a consequent desire to justify it. Hence arises that conduct which is so justly reprobated in the text; the prevalence and evil of which we shall proceed to lay before you.

We will endeavour to point out,

I. The prevalence of this conduct—

The more we examine the principles and actions of men, the more shall we find that this system obtains among them both in theory and practice.

Inspect their views of religion; and it will appear that they consider it as a superficial thing, consisting in a bare assent to certain notions, and a formal observance of certain rites. If they have been baptized in their infancy; if they have some general views of Christianity, together with a persuasion of its divine authority; if they attend regularly on public worship, and occasionally communicate at the Lord’s supper; and finally, if they are not guilty of any gross and scandalous violations of their duty, they think they have all the religion that they need.

But they substitute the shadow for the substance. Religion is widely different from this: it is a conversion of the soul to God; it is a resurrection from the dead: it is a new creation. Religion, as it exists in the soul, is a heaven-born principle, that pervades all its powers, and operates in all its faculties. It is to the soul what the soul is to the body. It restrains our passions, corrects our appetites, purifies our affections. It enters into all our motives, and subjects every thing to itself. It will endure no rival: it will make a truce with no enemy: it will reign absolute over the whole man. Its avowed object is to bring man to God as a redeemed sinner, and to restore him to a meetness for that inheritance which he has forfeited by his transgressions: in order to accomplish this, it casts down every high and towering imagination, brings its votary to the foot of the cross, constrains him to walk in the steps of his divine Master, and progressively transforms him into the image of his God.

Compare this with the slight and worthless thing which men in general call religion, and it will appear that they use the term without any just apprehension of its true import.

Again; as religion is esteemed a superficial thing, so it is also deemed a melancholy thing. When true religion is described, the generality of men are ready to exclaim against it as incompatible with social happiness: ‘If we must repent of our past sins, and enter on a course of mortification and self-denial; if we must renounce the pleasures of sin, and the society of the ungodly; if we must converse familiarly with death and judgment, and spend our lives in preparation for eternity; what remains for us in this world but gloom and melancholy?’ So they think.

But is this the light in which the Scriptures speak of religion? or are these notions justified by experience? We allow the premises to be correct; but is the conclusion just? Suppose for a moment that the whole life of a person who appeared religious, were a scene of melancholy: must that melancholy be imputed to religion? Must it not rather be imputed to his former wickedness, and to his present want of more religion? If pain arise to the body during the cure of an inveterate disorder, is that pain to be imputed to the medicine, or the disease? to the disease, no doubt: to that therefore must be ascribed all the pain of sorrow and contrition, even supposing it to be ever so great, and ever so long continued. As for religion itself, we need only ascertain what it is, and we shall immediately see the absurdity of calling it a source of misery. What; is it melancholy to walk with God, to enjoy God, to glorify God? Was our Lord melancholy? Were his Apostles melancholy? Are the angels in heaven melancholy? Then shall we be melancholy in proportion as we resemble them! But if “the ways of religion be ways of pleasantness and peace,” and they who believe in Christ be privileged to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified,” then are they perverse who deem religion melancholy; “they call evil good, and good evil, they put darkness for light, and light for darkness, they put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”

To complete their perverseness, men go farther still, and actually represent religion as contemptible. What is there under the sun more despised than this? With what opprobrium has it not been stigmatized? We appeal to all, whether terms of reproach are not universally assigned to religious characters, and whether the name given them do not universally convey the idea of a weak contemptible enthusiast? Is not their very profession considered as a just bar to their preferment? Yea, are they not so odious in the eyes of the world, that none but those infected with their mania will venture to associate with them, or to acknowledge them as their friends? The drunkard, the whoremonger, the sabbath-breaker, the infidel, shall find a more favourable reception than they; and solely on account of their religion.

But does religion deserve this character? What is there in it that is so contemptible? What is there in it that to an impartial judge would not appear lovely, great, and venerable? Is the subjugation of the passions a contemptible attainment? Is a superiority to all the pleasures of sense, and the interests of the world, a worthless acquisition! Is there any thing mean in love to God, and benevolence to man? Is the aspiring after heaven a low and pitiful ambition? Viewing at a distance the conduct of the Apostles, we call it magnanimity: but when we see it exhibited before our eyes, we call it preciseness, enthusiasm, hypocrisy. Ah! when will men “cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord,” and to brand that with infamy, which he prescribes and approves?

Hitherto we have noticed only men’s conduct in respect of theory; let us now behold it as it is manifest in their practice.

1. In the first place they magnify beyond all reasonable bounds the pursuits of time

From our earliest infancy we hear of little but getting forward in the world. To be rich, to be great, to be honourable, this is the chief good of man. All are aspiring after a higher place than they possess, and conceive that they shall catch the phantom of happiness when they have reached a certain point. Moreover, all are applauded in proportion us they succeed in this race; and no period but that of their departure from the body is thought a fit season for prosecuting their eternal interests.

But are the concerns of time really of such importance? When we have got forward in the world, what have we more than food and raiment, which we might have possessed with half the trouble! We do not mean to discourage industry; that is truly becoming in every person, and highly advantageous in every state. But if all our time and labour be occupied about this world, and the concerns of the soul be subordinated to those of the body, then is our conduct precisely such as is reprobated in the text.

2. In the next place, men extenuate sin as venial

There are some crimes which degrade human nature, or greatly disturb the happiness of society, which are therefore very generally reprobated and abhorred. But a forgetfulness of God, a neglect of Christ, a resistance of the Holy Ghost, an indifference about the soul, with ten thousand other sins of omission or of commission, are considered as light and venial, and as affording no ground for sorrow and contrition. If the outward conduct have been decent, it is no matter what has been harboured within, or how much God has been disregarded and despised.

But is this the light in which the Scriptures teach us to regard sin? What was it that cast angels out of heaven? the sin of pride. What drove our first parents from Paradise, and brought a curse on all their posterity? one single transgression; and that a breach, not so much of a moral precept, as of a positive institution. Whom is it that according to God’s declaration he will cast into hell? “the wicked, and all the nations that forget God.” Does sin appear a light matter when we are told, that nothing but the sacrifice of the Son of God could make atonement for it? Or will it appear a light matter to ourselves, when we are suffering the vengeance due to it in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone? Surely, they are “fools who make a mock at sin,” and blind, who doubt of its malignity.

3. To adduce only one instance more, they persuade themselves that their eternal state is safe

Men living in a direct violation of God’s commandments, and in a perfect contrast with the example of Christ, imagine that they have nothing to fear: “they have done no harm; and God is very merciful; and if they were to perish, what must become of all the world?” These, and such like arguments, are considered as sufficient to invalidate every word that God has spoken, and to justify their hopes of eternal happiness.

But darkness and light are not more opposite than these sentiments are to the declarations of God. Where will they find one single passage that will warrant such expectations as these? They must indeed make “evil good, and good evil, and must change bitter to sweet, and sweet to bitter,” before they can have the smallest ground of hope in such a state as theirs.

We might easily prosecute this subject in a great variety of views: but enough has been spoken to elucidate the words before us: and we trust that no doubt can remain upon your minds, but that all who consider religion as superficial, melancholy, or contemptible, together with all who magnify the pursuits of time, and extenuate sin as venial, and at the same time persuade themselves that their eternal state is safe, are indeed obnoxious to the censure in the text.

We shall pass on therefore to shew,

II. The evil of this conduct—

But where shall we find words sufficient to declare its great enormity?

1. It is in the first place, a contemptuous rejection of God’s truth

God has clearly marked the difference between good and evil in his word: and if the eyes of our understanding be not blinded by prejudice or passion, we may discern it as easily as we can discern by our bodily senses, light from darkness, or sweet from bitter. But when an appeal is made to the sacred records, their testimony is considered as of no account. Who has not seen the contempt with which God’s word is treated, when it is brought forward to oppose some fashionable practice, some favourite lust? One would suppose that its import should be candidly examined, and carefully ascertained. One might expect that they who heard it, should act like mariners sailing by the compass; that they would endeavour to proceed, us much as possible, in the right direction; that they would deliberate, if at any time they had reason to think that they were out of their proper course; that they would be thankful for any information that might tend to rectify their mistakes: above all, they would not madly steer in direct opposition to the compass, and at the same time discard all doubts about their safe arrival at the place of their destination: that were a folly of which no man in his senses is capable. Yet this is the very manner in which men act with respect to the Scriptures. There is no other directory than that; and yet they will not only not follow it, but will go on in wilful opposition to it, and still affirm that they are in the way to heaven. Do we speak too harshly of this conduct if we call it a contempt of God’s truth? It is the very expression used by our Lord himself: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” Indeed, the inspired writers speak in yet severer terms: they do not hesitate to affirm, that whosoever acts thus, makes God a liar; “he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar.” What horrible iniquity is this! If an avowed infidel disregard the admonitions of the Scriptures, he acts consistently, because he does not acknowledge them to be of divine-authority. But if we despise them, we who profess to regard them as inspired of God, we who expect to be judged according to them in the last day, what can be said in extenuation of our guilt? Even “Sodom and Gomorrha may well rise up in judgment against us.”

2. In the next place their conduct is a wilful deluding of those around them

Every man, whether he design it or not, has a considerable influence on his friends and neighbours. The rich and learned in particular, and more especially they who minister in holy things, are looked up to as examples; and their conduct is pleaded both as a precedent, and as a justification of those who follow it. ‘Can such learned men be deceived? Can they who have entered into the service of the sanctuary, and solemnly undertaken to guide us in the way of peace, can they be wrong? Can they be “blind, who are leaders of the blind?” If then they, who from their education, their office and profession, ought to understand the Scriptures better than we, if they do not approve, either in theory or practice, the things which appear to be enjoined in the Bible, doubtless they have good reasons for their conduct: they would not proceed in a way which they knew to be wrong; we therefore may safely follow them.

By this mode of arguing, all persons lull themselves asleep in their evil ways. Every one upholds his neighbour in the sentiments he has embraced, and in the path he has marked out for himself: and all, instead of condemning themselves for not obeying the divine commands, unite in condemning the obedient as needlessly singular and precise.’

Now we cannot but know that, though an individual has not this extensive influence, the collective body of individuals has; and that every member of society contributes his share according to the conspicuousness of his station, and the sanctity of his profession. Yet we persist in calling good evil, notwithstanding we know that, by so doing, we encourage others to do the same. And is this no aggravation of our guilt? Are we not responsible to God for stirring up, according to our ability, an universal rebellion against him: and for contributing thus to the eternal condemnation, not of those only with whom we associate, but of thousands also whom we have not known!

Doubtless Jeroboam contracted peculiar guilt in “establishing iniquity by a law:” but did not exceeding great guilt attach also to those, who “willingly ran after his commandment!” Did not every one of them countenance idolatry, and render an adherence to the true God more difficult! They however might plead obedience to an established law: but there is no law, except the imperious law of fashion, to mislead us; and that we establish, whilst we follow it: we bind others, while we ourselves yield obedience to it. Would to God that men could consider their conduct in this view, as discouraging, and perhaps turning aside, the weak; as rendering odious the godly; and as hardening the wicked! Surely they would not then say, What harm have I done? but would be ready to confess themselves the very chief of sinners.

III. Lastly, the confounding of good and evil is an awful trifling with our eternal state

We profess to believe that there is “a day appointed of God, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained:” and that “every one of us shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ to receive according to the things done in the body, whether they have been good or evil.” Now in that day we shall not be judged by the opinions of men, but by the word of God. It will be no excuse to any one that such or such maxims were generally received, or that such practices were sanctioned by custom: there will be one standard to which every principle and every action will be referred. The sacred volume will be open before the Judge: and every erroneous sentiment be confronted with the dictates of inspiration. The Judge himself will know no other rule of judgment: every thing that accorded with the Scriptures will be approved; and every thing that contradicted them will be condemned. To what end then is it to impose specious names on things, when they will so soon appear in their true light? Will God call evil good, and good evil, because we have done so? Can we convince him that light was darkness, and darkness light, because we persuaded ourselves and others that it was so? What infatuation is it so to trifle with our eternal state! If our error could be pleaded before God in extenuation of our fault, then indeed we might have some reason for persisting in it: but how can we excuse ourselves before him, when we had the means of information in our hands, and followed our own surmises in preference to his commands?

Let us then remember that we are acting now for eternity; and that in a little time every thing will appear, not as we wish it, but as it really is. And, if we think it of any importance what our condition shall be in the invisible world, let us desist from our self-deception, which, however pleasant or fashionable it may be, will most unquestionably issue in our eternal ruin.

Before I conclude, suffer me to address a word of exhortation both to those who are deceiving their own souls, and to those who desire to regulate their conduct according to truth.

To the former I beg leave to propose one solemn question: God has said, Woe unto them that call evil good, &c. Can you change that woe into a blessing! Can you prevail on God to retract his word? Can you make void that sentence, when God shall come to execute it upon you in the last day? Yea, will you not then curse your folly, for using such pains to deceive yourselves and others, and for involving yourselves in everlasting misery, when, if you had not so “rebelled against the light,” you might have been heirs of everlasting glory? Permit me then to address you in the words of the Apostle, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Begin to weigh both sentiments and actions in the balance of the sanctuary. Begin to “judge righteous judgment.” Begin to view things, as you will surely view them when you shall stand at the tribunal of Christ. Bear in mind, that in your present state God has denounced a woe against you. Remember too, that it will be small consolation to you to have others involved in the same misery with yourselves: it will rather be a source of more intense misery to all, by reason of their mutual execrations, for having so greatly contributed to each other’s ruin. If the word of God be intended for “a light to our feet, and a lantern to our paths,” then make use of it; study it, as it were, upon your knees: meditate upon it day and night: and beg of God “to open your understandings that you may understand it,” and to sanctify your hearts that you may obey it.

To those who are of a better mind I would say, Be strong, and dare to stem the torrent of iniquity, that would bear down all before it. Be not ashamed to call good and evil by their proper names; and to shew by the whole tenour of your lives, that you know how to distinguish them. Let not too great weight be given to the opinions of men. Bow not to the authority of fashion and custom; but “prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” Bring your advisers to “the law and to the testimony: for if they speak not according to that, there is no light in them.” In matters of duty or of discipline indeed you cannot be too diffident, you cannot be too submissive. In those things obedience is your highest honour. But when men presume to think for you in the concerns of your souls, it is high time to inquire, whether they will also perish for you? If you perish, you must perish for yourselves; and therefore it behoves you to think for yourselves, and to act for yourselves. The self-deceiving world cannot remove the woe from their own souls; much less can they from yours. “Walk not then according to the course of this world:” “follow not a multitude to do evil.” Look not at your neighbours, but at Christ and his holy Apostles. Let the Scriptures regulate your every sentiment, your every act. And, without concerning yourselves about the misrepresentations which blind and ungodly men will give of your conduct, “be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 5:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

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