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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Isaiah 28

 

 

Verses 1-6

Isaiah 28:1-6

Woe to the crown of pride

Chapter twenty-eight is the first of a great group of representative discourses, chaps.
28-32, all dealing with the relation of Judah to Assyria, and all enforcing the same political principles
. (Prof. Driver, D. D.)

Overcome with wine

Words are scarcely possible with which to express greater sorrow and calamity falling on those who are overcome with wine. God is said to be against them. Their beauty and pride shall fade away. They shall err in judgment; shall have dim vision of truth and duty; shall lose all susceptibility of moral and religious impressions; shall speak with stammering tongue; shall be ensnared with all evil. Their condition shall be heart sickening and hopeless.

I. A TERRIBLE CONTRAST. Ephraim in this passage stands for the kingdom of the ten tribes: the drunkards of Ephraim for its dissipated and dissolute people; the crown of Samaria for its capital city; though there is possibly reference here to the magnificent hill on which the city stood. Its site was a “chosen one,” than which, according to Rawlinson, none could be found, in all Palestine of greater “combined strength, fertility, and beauty,” having in these respects largely the “advantage over Jerusalem.” It was, however, full of drunkards. Intemperance was not only the prevailing iniquity of the place, but a form of sin and shame which was the fruitful source of innumerable afflictions and calamities. The figure is of a people “smitten, beaten, knocked down” with wine, as with a hammer; laid prostrate and helpless on the ground in utter bewilderment, and unconscious as to what would happen to them, their homes, or their nation. This was the doom represented as a Divine judgment upon them; but really the natural and inevitable result of their being overcome with wine. Let all men be warned, especially the young. The loss of everything desirable goes with the loss of control over appetite. But the contrast is as terrible in communities, cities, and nations where drunkenness prevails! In the place of industry, indolence obtains; in the place of intelligence, ignorance abounds; in the place of thrift and comfort, poverty and wretchedness exist; in the place of honour and virtue, dishonour and vice run riot; until life becomes scarcely endurable for one who would keep his “crown of pride” and preserve the “glorious beauty” of true manhood.

II. THE TERRIBLE POWER OF APPETITE. It is absolutely destructive of the whole man! It is a giant bringing his captive into complete subjection. All goes wrong with a man when he is under the influence of strong drink! He cannot walk as a man; cannot work as a man; cannot talk as a man; cannot think as a man; nor is he capable of accurate judgment in matters of small or large concern. He tramples under his feet the most sacred associations and obligations of life; he loses his love as a husband, father, son; he breaks hearts that cling to him more fondly than to aught else in all the world; he finally becomes so bound as to render it practically impossible for him to cast off his chains! All this comes not only to such as may be termed the ignorant and naturally vicious, but to the learned and naturally virtuous. Men of culture and refinement, of education and position, of inheritances and attainments, of rank and station, give way to the same indulgences and fall into the same deeps! Fathers send the consuming currents through the veins of their sons. Mothers give birth to children whose feverish bodies flame with hidden fires.

III. THE DUTY OF EARNEST OPPOSITION AND FEARLESS WARFARE AGAINST INTEMPERANCE. We read here of a “residue of the people,” to whom the Lord of hosts would be for a “crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty,” for a “spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.” The literal meaning of this is that after the pride of the apostate tribes had fallen, they who remained true to God and to themselves should glory and delight in Jehovah as their chief privilege and honour. This was the prophecy, and it was blessedly fulfilled. When Israel was finally ruined, Judah rose to power under Hezekiah. He resisted all enticements, and in every way sought the reformation of his people. Many were held back from being overcome with wine. These were “the residue of the people,” and for their sake God endued the magistrates and counsellors with the spirit of discernment and equity; also gave courage to the captains who led forth their troops from the gate of Jerusalem and forced the war even to the gates of their enemies. The lesson here is one of united and fearless opposition to intemperance, and to whatever exposes the people to its ravages. While all practicable efforts should be made to reform those who are addicted to their cups, special care should be taken of children and youth that they may be kept from forming the drink habit.

1. The home should present no temptation on this line.

2. Each Sunday school should be a temperance society, organised and equipped for work.

3. The physical effects of intemperance should be taught in all our public schools.

4. Pastors, too, have a duty on this line. (Justin E. Twitchell)

Samaria

The beautiful city of Samaria crowning a low hill rising from the valley is like a garland on the brow of the revellers. The crown is already faded. (A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)

Overcome with wine

Literally, “struck down.” Hard drinking is compared to a combat between the toper and his drink, in which the latter is victorious. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)

“Dry drunkenness.”

Men are drunk, but not with wine; sometimes they are drunk with prosperity, with vanity, with evil thoughts, passionate desires. Men may be sober, and yet may be drunk. Men may be total abstainers from wine, and may yet go straight down to hell. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verses 1-29

Verse 6

Isaiah 28:6

For a spirit of Judgment

The spirit of judgment

Next to the enactment of just and wholesome laws, the due administration of them is of the highest importance to a community.
If the distribution of justice in secular kingdoms, and in relation to the affairs of this life, is of so great moment, it must be of still greater importance in that society which is styled “the kingdom of heaven,” and in relation to things connected with the eternal interests of men.

I. THE WARRANTS AND NATURE OF ECCLESIASTICAL JUDICATURE. Religious society has its foundation in the very nature of man considered as a social being. Christ, as King of His Church, hath appointed a government in her, and committed to office bearers, under Him, a power to execute His laws, and pronounce judgment according to them, for the preservation of order and peace, and the promoting of the interests of truth and holiness to His glory. The overlooking of the important ends to be served by the Church as a visible society is a capital error, or at least has been the source of many hurtful mistakes in our own as well as in former times. To ecclesiastical judges belong the interpretation of the laws of Christ, by a judicial declaration of truth in opposition to prevailing error, and of duty in opposition to prevailing sins; and the application of these laws to such cases as occur.

1. Ecclesiastical judgment is spiritual, in distinction from that which is civil or secular.

2. Ecclesiastical judgment is ministerial and executive, not lordly or legislative. Christ is the sole lawgiver in His spiritual kingdom; and the proper business of the office bearers whom He hath appointed is to interpret and carry into execution those laws which He has given forth and enrolled in His statute book.

3. It is public and authoritative. There is a right of private judgment, called by divines the judgment of discretion, which belongs to all the members of the Church, and extends to every thing connected with religion, and among others to the decisions of ecclesiastical judicatories. But there must be also lodged, in every well-ordered society, a power of pronouncing by its proper organs, a public judgment for deciding disputes and controversies which may arise, and for determining the manner in which its affairs shall be conducted.

4. It is to be exercised by select persons set apart for this purpose, and not by the community of the faithful. “In the multitude of counsellors is safety,” in opposition to the danger incurred by him who relies on his own judgment, of the advice of one or two favourites; but counsellors consist of a select number taken from many.

5. It is to be exercised by them jointly, and in parity. The only monarchical power in the Church is exercised by Jesus Christ.

II. THE SPIRIT WHICH IS REQUISITE FOR THE EXERCISE OF ECCLESIASTICAL JUDGMENT, and which is promised in the text. Jesus Christ is not only the exemplar, but also the foundation of all qualifications for ruling in the Church (Isaiah 11:2-4).

1. I begin with the fear of the Lord, or a deep sense of religion. This is the ground into which all the other qualities must be wrought.

2. The spirit of wisdom and understanding. A good heart and upright intentions are not enough here. Knowledge, prudence, and discernment are peculiarly requisite for the management of public affairs. Those who are invested with office in the Church must be men “full of wisdom,” as well as “of the Holy Ghost.”

3. The spirit of disinterestedness and impartiality. This is “the spirit of judgment”--when the individual is sunk in the public functionary--when on crossing the threshold of the sanctuary and ascending the seat of judgment he forgets self and all worldly considerations.

4. A spirit of patience and meekness.

5. The spirit of holy resolution and courage.

6. The spirit of humility and dependence on God.

III. PRACTICAL LESSONS.

1. The great importance of ecclesiastical discipline, and of preserving it in its scriptural purity and primitive vigour. Evangelical and vital religion cannot flourish generally or permanently in any Church where this is neglected.

2. We may see one duty incumbent on those who have devoted themselves to the public service of the Church. To preach the gospel is a principal part of their employment, but it is not the whole of it. It is possible that a person may be able to make a sermon which shall be both acceptable and edifying, and, after all, be but poorly qualified for “taking care of the Church of God.”

3. We may learn what care ought to be exercised in choosing and setting apart those who are to bear office in the Church.

4. We may see the scriptural grounds of subjection to the authority, and obedience to the determinations of church rulers. These are, the Divine institutions of ecclesiastical government, the connection between it and the regal glory of Christ, and the salutary influence which it is calculated to exert upon all other Divine institutions, as well as upon the peace, unity, order, purity, and general prosperity of the Church as a visible and diffusive society.

5. Our subject suggests suitable exercise on occasion of the meeting of ecclesiastical judicatories. It was a custom in the better times of our Church to set apart a day for fasting and prayer before the meeting of a General Assembly, to entreat the Divine countenance to its deliberations. (T. MCrie, D. D.)


Verse 7-8

Isaiah 28:7-8

But they also have erred through wine

“Swallowed up of wine”

This is how all debasement continues, aggravates itself, and brings itself to shameful issue.
No man begins at the point of being swallowed up in any evil: he approaches it almost stealthily, he touches it experimentally, he retains for a certain time his self-control in relation to it,--he will handle it, but easily, so that he can set it down again should it so please him. But at the end there is swallowing up, destruction--death is in the cup, and death must be drunk up by those who put their lips to the forbidden vessel. When Edward IV condemned his own brother, George Duke of Clarence, to be killed, we are told that the duke desired to be drowned in a butt of Malmsey, and the historian well adds, “as became so stout a drunkard.” To this end may men come who never dreamed of coming to it, who meant to show the world how easy it would be to toy with the devil, to touch him, set him back, smile at him, laugh at him, use him as a dog, bind him as a slave; and to all these initial usages will the devil submit himself, knowing that at some fatal unsuspected moment he will lasso the man who supposes he can take him captive, and he will carry him away to the chambers of death
. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Erred through wine

Preaching in London, the Rev. Egerton Young, so long a missionary to the Hudson Bay Indians, said he would like to bring some of his converts to this land, but he dared not until the temperance cause was more advanced. One native preacher had been brought over, but kind friends thought that he required a little stimulant after the fatigue of the meeting, and the poor Indian had gone back with such a taste for spirits that he had to be expelled from his office, and finally died a drunken outcast. (Australian Sunday School Teacher.)

Intemperance a pestilence

No pestilence has ever destroyed so many millions of men, women, and children as intemperance; for a pestilence comes and goes, and often at long intervals, but intemperance is a fixed and permanent plague, always spreading, and always destroying our people, body and soul. (Cardinal Manning.)

Intemperance a peril to national life

On the east coast of our country the sea has been encroaching for centuries. Acre after acre of corn land has tumbled down into the waves, and churches, threatened by every high tide, are pointed out which, at the time of their erection, stood a mile from the sea. And by a similar process of encroachment and destruction fruitful sections of our national life are broken down and churned in the raging flood of this terrible curse, and places are not unknown in which the very church itself threatens to topple into ignominy and ruin. (T. G. Selby.)

Drunkenness degrades

Dr. Louis A. Banks tells how a drunkard in New Orleans was reformed. A friend of his, who was a stenographer, sat down in a corner of the saloon in which he was carousing, and made a full shorthand report of every word he said. The next morning the stenographer copied the whole thing neatly and sent it round to his office. In less than ten minutes he came tearing with his eyes fairly standing out of their sockets. “Great heavens,” he gasped, “what is this?” “It’s a stenographic report of your monologue at the restaurant last evening,” and gave him a brief explanation. “Did I really talk like that?” he asked faintly. “I assure you it is an absolutely verbatim report,” was the reply. He turned pale and walked out. He never drank another drop. (Christian Age.)

The degradation of drunkenness

It is told by Victor Hugo that in the capital of Burgundy the corporation had four silver goblets. When a prince or any distinguished person passed through their city they were offered wine in these silver goblets. The wine of Burgundy is very famous, but the people knew not only its merits, but its dangers. On the first goblet was inscribed a monkey, on the second a lion, on the third a sheep, and on the fourth a swine. This meant to denote the degrees of drunkenness which their wine produced. (G. H. Morrison, M. A.)


Verses 9-13

Isaiah 28:9-13

Whom shall He teach knowledge?
--

The scoffing drunkards

They scoff at the prophet, that intolerable moralist. They are full-grown and free; he need not teach them knowledge Isaiah 11:9), and explain his preaching to them; they know of old what he is driving at. Are they mere weaned babes, who need to be tutored? (F. Delitzsch.)

The occasion

The occasion of this remarkable encounter was probably a feast held to celebrate the renunciation of allegiance to Assyria. Isaiah has surprised the drunkards over their cups, and administered some such rebuke as we read in verses 7, 8. (J. Skinner, D. D.)

The angry false priests and prophets

What really angered these burly scorners was that the prophet treated them as though they were children only lust weaned, and not as masters in Israel, giving them the most elementary instruction in the simplest words--words of one syllable, as they put it. They were weary of hearing him repeat the first rudiments of morality, and apply them to the sins and needs of the time. How dared he tutor them who were themselves teachers! How dared he treat them as babes who were grown men, distinguished men, the foremost men and statesmen of the empire! A pretty figure he made too! No one listened to him, or hardly anyone. It was their advice which was taken, not his; their policy which was followed, not his. And yet he dared come to them, day after day, with the same simple message, the same trite moralities, the same dismal warnings and rebukes! (S. Cox, D. D.)

Isaiah’s righteous indignation

In effect he said to them “You mock at the simple Divine words I have been moved to speak, and lisp out your base and drunken imitations of them,--you, who should be the first to welcome and enforce the word of God. Know, then, that God will punish your sin by a people of lisping lips and an alien tongue. He has taught you, by the words you deride, where you might find rest and freedom, how you might give peace to the people who are weary of war and its calamities; but you would not hearken and do. The word of the Lord has become to you a mere ‘bid and bid, forbid and forbid,’ at which you jest. Know, then, that that word, which might have been a light to your path, shall blaze up into a consuming fire.” (S. Cox, D. D.)

Retribution

The prediction was fulfilled. The fierce Assyrians, when they heard that the Hebrews had allied themselves with Egypt, once more swept through the land. The very men who had lisped their scornful imitations of Isaiah’s words, who had affected to think that he used the broken and imperfect dialect which mothers employ to their babes, were destroyed or taken captive by the Assyrian troops, whose language, while it closely resembled that of the Hebrews, had just those differences which made it sound to them like an imperfect and barbarous dialect. So terrible and so exact was the retribution that fell on their sin. (S. Cox, D. D.)

“With another tongue”

They shall have change of ministry; the Assyrians do not talk piously, whiningly; they do not give precept upon precept; theirs is a terse eloquence, a bullock-like rhetoric; when they come they will make these drunkards sober by the power of terror. This is God’s way in all providence; if we will not hear the gentle voice, the interpreting, persuasive, gospel voice, we shall have to listen to thunder, and feed our souls upon lightning. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee,. . .your house is left unto you desolate.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Divine wisdom

“That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good.” A lamentable instance of this truth is exemplified in the preceding part of the chapter.

I. THE CHARACTER OF THE TEACHER. God, whose wisdom is infinite, is our only teacher; for whatever others we may possess, either in the works of nature, of providence, or of grace, originate entirely from His bounty.

II. THE SUBJECT OF INSTRUCTION. Two things are to be learned, namely, knowledge and doctrine; the one that we may know ourselves, the other that we may know God.

III. THE PERSONS TO BE TAUGHT. “Them that are weaned,” etc. We must be like little children in humility of mind and teachableness of disposition. (J. Wright, B. A.)


Verse 10

Isaiah 28:10

For precept mast be upon precept . . . line upon line

A drunken jibe

The passage is commonly used in a sense the very opposite to that in which it was originally employed.
It is commonly taken as a grave description of the abundance and variety of the means of grace which God has vouchsafed to the Church; whereas it is, really, a drunken sneer at the poverty and simplicity of the means vouchsafed to the Church of Isaiah’s time. No sooner do we turn to the original and study it than the case becomes clear; we see that, beyond a doubt, we not only have here a jibe at Isaiah from the lips of drunken men, but that the verse is so constructed as to imitate their thickened and difficult pronunciation
. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The Divine method of instruction

“Here a little, there a little.” This, though it was said in scorn by the haughty revellers, is really the true, the Divine method of all instruction. What is the difference that distinguishes the musician or the painter from the mere amateur? What is it but the long-continued discipline of hand, of ear, of eye, which has made all the faculties of body and mind subservient to the purposes of the art? (F. Temple, D. D.)

The precept, the line and the little

I. THE LESSON OF THE PRECEPT is in order that we may be right and do right. God tells us the same thing over and over again. A precept is a warning, a command, which says, “Take care,” “Mind,” “Keep in the way.”

II. THE LESSON OF THE LINE. That is, in order that we may be right and do right, we must try over and over again. God helps all honest trying. An old proverb says, “God helps those who help themselves”; and another says, “Practice makes perfect.” “Line upon line,”--that is the way we all learn and have learnt all that we know or are able to do. It is so in learning to write. So it is in learning arithmetic. So in learning to draw.

III. THE LESSON OF THE LITTLE. That is, in order that we may be right and do right we must not be discouraged if we do not make great advances; we must remember that it is “here a little and there a little.” How slowly most great and valuable things grow! The harvest does not spring up in a field in a night. A step at a time mounts the tallest ladder at last, but it must be a step at a time. How long an oak is before it comes to its prime; yet if they could speak they would each say “I am coming on. Here a little and there a little” makes a learned man, a prosperous man, a useful and a good man. “Here a little and there a little” makes the perfect needle woman, and sets the most untidy house to rights at last. How great some ships are! What holds the mighty anchor which holds the ship in a storm? A cable. And what is a cable made of? Why, of ropes coiled over ropes, and every rope made out of little threads. So it is with the habits of life, good or bad; “here a little and there a little,” so trifling as they seemed at first, they become at last such mighty and unconquerable affairs. (Anon.)

Christian education

I. THE TRUE NATURE OF RELIGIOUS TEACHING.

1. As regards Christian doctrine, it will probably be within the recollection of meet of us that it formed the dullest part of our early instruction; and who can be surprised at it who recollects that, in addition to the natural repugnance of the human heart to all Divine things, the instruction was such as neither to enlighten the head, to touch the heart, or to interest the imagination? Let me express my profound conviction that the great human cause of the growth of error among our young people, and the falling off of many into perilous superstition, or no less perilous rationalism, is to be found here. Men have been contented to comprise in their religious knowledge only a few bald, bare truths, which perhaps they have received without personal inquiry from their parents, and have naturally thought it sufficient to hand down the same hereditary belief, the same bald truths, to their children after them. Truth consequently has had no aspect of reality, has been no living thing to them. Meanwhile times have changed, and the mental coldness of other days has given place to the intellectual activity of our own day.

2. Doctrinal truth is only one half, after all, if it be even that, of religious teaching. There remains the practical part of the faith; that by which, on the one side, it touches the conscience, and by which, on the other, it regulates the life.

II. THE EFFECTIVE MEANS OF CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE.

1. The influence of example.

2. The influence of love, and of that confidence which springs from love. (E. Garbett, M. A.)

Precept upon precept

Suppose you were walking from London to Brighton; well, as you go upon your way you meet with many fingerposts, or milestones, at distances not far apart, the fingerposts often at less than a mile apart; and they repeat the same thing--“To Brighton--To Brighton”; and the milestones, they say so many miles to Brighton or from Brighton. You do not feel angry at this; you do not say, “Why ever did they put up so many fingerposts, or so many milestones?” On the contrary, if you were in any doubt about the road, you would feel exceedingly thankful for such guides, and hardly think you could have too many. So God guides and warns. (Anon.)

Here a little and there a little

“Here a little and there a little”

We take this text because it seems to express with extraordinary conciseness a principle in God’s procedure and in His ways towards man.

1. Have you considered the manner of God’s revelation to His people in the olden time? Have you considered with what marvellous patience and consideration it was conducted? The will of God was not flashed, as in a moment, upon the minds of His people, but unfolded by degrees as they were able to receive it. And when through unbelief and disobedience they lost it, it was brought back to them by fresh messengers from God. Is not the Old Testament full of kind and various and gracious repetition? That is because it is the record of the Divine training and instruction of the people who were, alas! stiff-necked and, too often, proved themselves, as the martyr Stephen told them, uncircumcised in heart and ears.

2. Obviously the same principle runs through the New Testament also. Jesus Christ did not deliver His message, or doctrine, once for all, in a studied manner. He spoke to His followers as they were able to receive.

3. I have just said those things in regard to the two testaments and the construction of the Bible, desiring to go on and try, if I can, to show that this is a principle of God all through His works, and all through His training of His people. Shallow minds are apt to think much more of bold and rapid effects; but those who have observed most widely, and reflected most deeply, know this well--that Omnipotence works slowly. It is impotence that is in hurry. Now, what I want to put before you is that, it being so, it should be expected, and it turns out to be true, that the supreme wisdom of God will, on the very same principle, carry on the work of human enlightenment in the truth. Now take a lesson from this earth on which we dwell. The earth was not built up suddenly. In its history, as expressed in the records that science can decipher on its caves and its seashores, there have been some sudden changes, but, far more generally, long, long processes, small in detail, but working out immense effects. Lands, slowly sunk beneath the water, slowly rose again. Ice patiently rounded off our mountains and shaped our valleys. Great strata slowly formed themselves--deposited themselves--grain by grain, during prodigious periods of time. Innumerable plants and trees flourished and died, and, after death, prepared--how deliberately--those vast coal measures that make so much of England’s prosperity. Look at man. Look at that microcosm--that little world of man. How is a man built? Of body, and mind, and heart, and character. Is it not by little and little the frame grows from its first beginning? Take him after birth. See how he grows by repetitions of natural processes--repetitions--constant repetitions. A little sleep, a little food, a little exercise. Over again, a little sleep, a little food, a little exercise. And again, a little sleep, and so on.

Well, so grows his mind--by observation--by comparison of objects--by comparison of objects near him--by asking questions. What a thing it is to teach a child the letters, and to teach a child to read! What a business--little by little--repeating over, and over, and over again! Now, then,raise the subject a little. Take the question of moral culture, and then we will take the subject of spiritual advancement; but no otherwise than on this principle can moral culture or spiritual advancement be attained. There are some moral natures, if I may so speak, much stronger and healthier to start with than others, just as there are physical natures that are stronger; but it is not always the very strong child that grows up the very strongest man, is it? You see some poor delicate child grow fast; and so it is with the moral nature. They gain habits of self-control, and integrity becomes inseparable from their life. There is no real moral strength till that is reached--till integrity is wrought into the character so that it cannot be taken out of it. It is inseparable from the character and life, and thus, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,” are needed to form an honest man, that “noble work of God.” And if it be so with moral progress, is it not also so with what we call spiritual advancement? Real spiritual qualities are given from heaven, but they are given upon the same principle upon which God gives moral strength, and upon which He even gives physical strength to His people. How is a Christian made? I say, by a process to which these words before me, “here a little and there a little,” may be very well applied. Let us just study this a little. Let us develop thin” inquiry,” “for it is full of practical importance. And to be the clearer I will put four questions.

“Here a little, and there a little”

The application of the text is, first of all, to the impressions produced by the Word of God, and the efficacy of constant religious instruction. But it is in this same way, by little and little, that all great and lasting impressions are made, and the mightiest results accomplished. Habit, which is the strongest thing in nature, and which forms a second nature, is thus produced. So it is in the invisible growth of all things, gradual and imperceptible, yet constant and sure. So it is in all the processes of nature.

1. It is by little and little that every man’s character is formed. Most persons’ guilty character is made of little sins. They may be scarcely noticed at the time, but a constant succession of them makes a great weight. Christian character, too, is made up of little things. The Christian spirit must enter into all things, and then all things become great in the light of Heaven. But the Christian character may be almost spoiled by little sins, or what are called such. Almost every important thing depends upon little things often repeated. It seems a very little thing to live near to God one day; it is a very great thing; but still, to do it for one day does not seem so great a task; not so great a thing but that the Christian, by the help of God, may easily accomplish it for one day. But if this little thing were accomplished every day, every one day in the year, then the whole would be infinitely glorious. On the other hand, to a man forgetful of God it seems but a very little evil which is wrought with the character in one day, perhaps none at all, if there be no marked crime. Nevertheless, a certain number of those imperceptible advancements bring him to his destiny, both of character and retribution, for eternity.

2. It is by little and little that in such a world as this we must do the greater part of the good that we ever accomplish. He that is faithful in great things is faithful also in the least; and if he be not faithful in small things, God will not give him the opportunity to be so in large ones. What is surer than God’s great promise in regard to children, that if you train them up faithfully for Him, He will take care of them and bless them and make them

His? But the result of good character and heavenly habit with them depends upon the daily, familiar, minute, but ever-recurring examples set before them, and influences brought to bear upon them. But, I say, God’s providence takes care of single little things also, and oftentimes makes much out of them, or hangs much upon them. Nothing can be lost that is done for God. (G. B. Cheever, D. D.)

Great results from a simple remark

It is said to have been a single remark of Rev. Chas. Simeon in regard to the blessings which had resulted from the labours of Dr. Carey in India that first arrested the attention of Henry Martyn to the cause of missions. His mind began to stir under the new thought, and a perusal of the “Life of Brainerd” fixed him in his resolution to give himself to his Redeemer in the service of preaching the Gospel to the dying heathen. (G. B. Cheever, D. D.)

Little ways and great service

Joseph Dunman kept a small seed shop in Lambeth Walk, in the midst of a crowded population of the poor. He was a faithful witness for Christ. He found many opportunities during business hours of testifying to the truth by word and by distributing tracts. He could not preach, but he felt he could invite others to hear. Every Sunday evening, for about an hour before and at the beginning o, service, he used to walk up and down in front of Christ Church (Revelation Newman Hall’s), and invite strangers to enter, offering them a seat and a hymn book. During the year hundreds have thus been brought under the sound of the Gospel, of whom several have testified that they have yielded their hearts to God through him. At the after prayer meeting he often addressed young men with simple and touching effect. His own conversion illustrated the good results of little efforts. He used to be a toll keeper on Waterloo Bridge. The minister of Surrey Chapel, on crossing the bridge, frequently gave him a little book, and exchanged a few words with him. When the toll was given up, and he was at liberty on Sunday, he went to hear the preacher who had thus become known to him, and so he was led to Christ. He was not fifty years old when, after a few days’ illness, he was called home; yet his life was long if reckoned by usefulness. (The Christian.)


Verse 11

Isaiah 28:11

With stammering lips

Assyrian speech

“By men of strange lips” Jehovah will speak Assyrian to them; and with a more frightful iteration than the prophet used. (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)

A great moral principle

We gather from Isaiah that God speaks twice to men, first in words and then by deeds, but both times very simply and plainly. (G. A. Smith, D. D.)


Verse 12

Isaiah 28:12

This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest

Rest in Christ

That these words are to be interpreted as relating to Jesus Christ is manifest both from the preceding and subsequent context, and from the general tenor of the Word of God.
The doctrine of salvation through the Messiah opens the sources of genuine happiness to believing men. This is eminently the rest,--it is here alone that they can find satisfaction.

I. THE NATURE OF THAT REST WHICH IS ENJOYED IN CHRIST. The term “rest” is here employed to denote spiritual enjoyment: it imports that unspeakable delight and satisfaction with which a believing soul reposes itself in Christ Jesus, as its portion and happiness, its all and in all. This is a rest far more refreshing than the most seasonable relief from bodily labours or temporal troubles--no created good can at all be compared with it. It exclusively deserves the name of “the” rest, as everything else which assumes the appearance of rest is ideal, and this only is real and substantial.

1. What are the sources of spiritual rest? This rest arises from--

2. The effects with which this rest is accompanied.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THE PERSONS FOR WHOM THIS REST IS PROVIDED. “The weary.” Under this description we may include--

1. All unregenerated sinners to whom this rest is offered. They are represented as wearying themselves with very vanity (Habakkuk 2:13), wearying themselves to commit iniquity. (Jeremiah 9:5), and as wearying God (Isaiah 7:13; Isaiah 43:24). To all persons of this description spiritual rest is offered; but it will never be relished till the sinner is united to the Saviour.

2. We are principally to understand by the term “weary,” all the children of God who are heavy laden with their spiritual burdens. They are weary--

Christ the rest-giver

Talleyrand said, “Life is one long fatigue.” Christ wishes to make it one long rest. (Mrs. Skinner.)

Rejecters of the Gospel admonished

Isaiah was one of the most eloquent of preachers, yet he could not win the ears and hearts of those to whom he spoke. It was not the fault of the preacher that Israel rejected his warnings: all the fault lay with that disobedient and gainsaying nation. The people to whom he spoke so earnestly were drunken in a double sense.

I. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE GOSPEL. This Scripture does not allude to the Gospel primarily, but to the message which Isaiah had to deliver, which was in part the command of the law and in part the promise of grace; but the same rule holds good of all the words of the Lord; and, indeed, any excellence which was found in the prophet’s message is found yet more abundantly in the fuller testimony of the Gospel in Christ Jesus.

1. The excellence of that Gospel lies in its object, for--

If the rested on should grow weary again, the Good Shepherd will give him refreshing; if he wanders, the Lord will restore him; if he grows faint He will revive him. Note, that Isaiah did not come to these people to talk about rest in dubious terms. No; he puts his finger right down on the truth, and says, “This is the rest, and this is the refreshing.” So we, when we come with a message from God, come with definite teaching. Nor did he preach a rest of a selfish character. That secret something which your own heart possesses shall enable you to communicate good cheer to many a weary heart, and hope to many a desponding mind.

2. The other excellence of the Gospel lies in its manner.

II. THE OBJECTIONS WHICH ARE TAKEN TO THE GOSPEL.

1. They are most wanton. Men object to that which promises them rest.

2. Wilful. “This is the refreshing, yet they would not hear.”

3. Wicked, because they are rebellion against God, and an insult to His truth and mercy.

4. These people raised objections that were the outgrowth of their pride. They objected to the simplicity of Isaiah’s preaching. They said, “Who is he? You should not go to hear him; he talks to us as if we were children. Besides, it is the same thing over and over again.” Too many wish for a map to Heaven so mysteriously drawn that they may be excused from following it.

III. THE DIVINE REQUITAL OF THESE OBJECTIONS.

1. The Lord threatens them with the loss of that which they despised. In verse 20 he warns them that the shall have no rest henceforth “For thy bed is shorter,” etc.

2. They shall be punished by a gradual hardening of heart (verse 13). A fall backward is the worst kind of fall.

3. This is to be followed by a growing inability to understand (verse 11).

4. Whatever refuge they choose for themselves shall utterly fail them (verse 17). (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 14-22

Isaiah 28:14-22

Hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men

Isaiah’s response

The prophet replies that when the storm does sweep over the land, as it assuredly will, these “refuges of lies” will prove no shelter to their builders; they have been tried by the plummet of honesty and righteousness and found to be so out of line that they must come down: but meanwhile, nay, from of old, Jehovah has Himself founded a really serviceable house for His people, namely, the ancient constitution and polity of which He Himself is the chief cornerstone; and the man who trusts in that foundation, believing that it really is there, will not be urged to any impatient acts of panic, whatever may be the apparent danger.
(
Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

Scornful rulers

It is bad with a people when their thrones of judgment become the seats of the scornful. (M. Henry.)

Incongruous scorning

That the rulers of Jerusalem should be men of such a character is very sad. Who will be mourners in Zion if they are scorners? (M. Henry.)

Scorners

I. HOW THESE SCORNFUL MEN LULLED THEMSELVES ASLEEP in carnal security, and even challenged God Almighty to do His worst (Isaiah 28:15).

II. HOW GOD AWAKENS THEM OUT OF THIS SLEEP, and shows them the folly of their security.

1. He tells them upon what grounds they might be secure. He doth not disturb their false confidences till He hath first showed them a firm bottom on which they may repose themselves (Isaiah 28:16). This foundation is--

2. He tells them that upon these grounds which they now built on they could not be safe, but their confidences would certainly fail them (Isaiah 28:17-21).

III. HERE IS THE USE AND APPLICATION OF ALL THIS (Isaiah 28:22). (M. Henry.)

We have made lies our refuge

Refuges of lies

Let us assemble in classes the excuses of a score or more of people who have told me frankly why they had decided not to become Christians.

1. First of all, is a class who excuse themselves because the Church has stood for bigotry, narrowness, and cruelty. It is said that in all ages the Church has included hypocrites among its members. But can anything be more unfair than these excuses? Granted that Peter cursed and denied with vulgar oaths his Master, what has that to do with the beauty of Christ’s character or the claim of His kingdom upon your life? Confessedly, John Calvin was simply an organised syllogism, an animated argument, bloodless as a stone. Even if he did play the traitor like Peter, and refuse to forgive his enemy and forgot the God who makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, how does his recreancy make right yours? Here is the world of business and commerce. Tomorrow merchants will adulterate their goods, traders will tamper with the weights, clerks will steal money from the bank, assistants will rob their employers. Since you do not care to associate with hypocrites, withdraw tomorrow morning from business. Give up all physicians, because some are quacks. Draw down the shades over your windows, because there are spots on the sun; and give up the summer, because there are stormy days in July; and give up the fruits, because there are blemishes on the apples.

2. There is another class that emphasise the uncertainty and disagreements concerning Christianity. Since it is all so hazy, and at best only a probability, they are unwilling to commit themselves to the Christian life. It is not necessary that we should understand all doctrines and the philosophy of duty, in order to fulfil the moral obligations. Life is governed by probability. There may be a thousand disagreements as to theology, but there is no disagreement as to what it is to be a Christian. We are asked to show the fruits of love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness.

3. Others there are who urge that becoming a Christian puts restraints upon the individual, narrows the range of his enjoyments, shuts up certain highways of happiness. “I want always to feel perfectly free,” exclaims the youth. “I am afraid that I might find myself somewhat cabined and confined by taking upon myself these obligations.” But becoming a Christian is simply to obey the laws of Christ. This objection is based upon a false theory of liberty. Liberty is obedience to law. It is sin that narrows the life. It is disobedience that cabins men and confines them; it is loyalty to God’s laws that breaks down the walls, pushes back the horizons and makes the soul a citizen of the universe. (N. D. Hillis, D. D.)


Verse 16-17

Isaiah 28:16-17

Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone

The stone laid in Zion

The prophet borrows his figure from the huge and costly foundation stones upon which the temple rested (1 Kings 5:17); and the thought which he desires to enforce is that in Zion there is an element of permanency, a constitutional fabric capable of resisting all shocks.
(
Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

Foundation stones

The force of the figure in this verse is much enhanced by the statements of modern travellers in relation to the immense stones still remaining at the foundation of ancient walls. (J. A. Alexander.)

The element of permanency

The element of permanency to which Isaiah here looks is, of course, the theocracy centred at Zion, and represented by the Davidic dynasty, the continuance of which had been promised long since by Nathan to David 2 Samuel 7:13; cf. 2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Kings 11:36). As the people of Israel, in Isaiah’s view, is indestructible, so is the dynasty, which, since it was established, became the centre and pivot of the national life. (Prof. Driver, D. D.)

Is this prophecy Messianic?

The element of security to which the prophet appeals is opposed to the plan of an Egyptian alliance, and hence must be something not pointing entirely to a distant future, but having some reference to present needs. But it is true that a Messianic reference is included in the terms of the prophecy, as it was included similarly in the promise of permanency to David’s dynasty. (Prof. Driver, D. D.)

The tried stone

(Festival of St. Simon and St. Jude):--It is the first chapter out of the six which form the “Book of Woes” (Delitzsch). The Messianic prophecy, though full of consolation, “turns its dark side”--for it has one--to the scoffing magnates of Jerusalem (Isaiah 28:14). The zeal of the prophet, manifested in this lesson, against vice and unbelief, may have led to its selection for this festival of St. Simon and St. Jude. The Church has combined them together--these two apostles--in one commemoration, perhaps, among other reasons, because they shared in an especial degree the same spirit of zeal. St. Simon was called the Zealot, it may be, because the quality of zeal was very marked in his temperament; and St. Jude has the name Thaddaeus, probably for the same reason. At any rate, his Epistle is one of denunciation--a “Book of Woes” against ungodly persons.

I. THE IMAGE.

1. No one person can satisfy the “majestically unique description” but Christ. The Divine purpose is spoken of as if already accomplished. Behold, I “have laid” in Zion. It was eternally decreed. It is the acme and explanation of Israel’s election and history.

2. It was no new figure. Isaiah himself had spoken of Jehovah as “a stone of stumbling” (Isaiah 8:14). We must go back to Jacob’s partingblessing upon his sons to find the same figure in patriarchal days Genesis 49:24). Joseph’s history was a picture of the rejecting of “the stone” and of its final triumph. The Psalmist foretold the same vicissitude Psalms 118:22). Our Lord alluded to “the stone” as signifying Himself Matthew 21:42). St. Peter, when brought before the council, denounced the Jews for setting at nought this “stone” (Acts 4:11). The same apostle quotes the text in his first Epistle (chap. 2:6) with a variance, and St. Paul a portion of it (Romans 9:33).

3. The frequency of its use or reference shows some especial fitness in the designation. At once the ideas of solidity and strength suggest themselves. Other ideas are connected with “the stone” as a figure of our Lord, by Zechariah. It is “a stone of seven eyes,” meaning doubtless that the seven gifts of the Spirit rested upon Him, and setting Him before us as a Being full of light and knowledge.

II. THE QUALITIES OF THE STONE.

1. A “tried” stone. We miss this in the quotation of the text in the New Testament. Both St. Peter and St. Paul cite the LXX, which omits it, and cite it freely, one of them blending it with another prophecy. The word “tried” may be interpreted also “trial stone” or “stone of probation.” Both interpretations are true of Jesus Christ. Christ was tried and “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin,” and through His sufferings was not only proved, but “approved of God” (Acts 2:22). He is also a stone which puts others to the test, like the Lydian stone, which was said to distinguish the genuine metal and to detect the presence of alloy--to separate the true from the false (Luke 2:34). Throughout our Lord’s life we see, as He came in contact with men, this discerning of spirits, but especially during His Passion.

2. A “precious cornerstone.” St. Peter says, “elect, precious”--chosen, that is, of God, and precious both in itself and in relation to the building of which it was the cornerstone. A cornerstone is the stone of junction, where the walls meet. The expression in its highest sense may indicate the union between the Divine and human natures in the One Person of the Word; or, in a less elevated sense, it may refer to the union of Jews and Gentiles in the one Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:15).

3. A “sure foundation.” A foundation stone implies a building--implies here the Church, and the “cornerstone” does the same (Ephesians 2:20, ἀκρογωνιαῖος)--the stone at the extreme corner. The image is somewhat different--the one points to the base, the other to the extreme angle of the building. Christ is “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Revelation 22:13). There is no contradiction between the statement that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles,” and that “no other foundation can be laid” “than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Christ is, St. Augustine explains, “Fundamentum fundamentorum.” We are built upon the apostles, because through the apostles we are built upon Christ. He is a “sure” foundation, so that the gates of hell, though they may war against, yet can they not overcome the Church. The foundation is “most surely laid” by “the Lord God Himself.”

III. LESSONS.

1. As Christ is the foundation stone, so each Christian is a stone built upon Him, and deriving his spiritual life from Him. St. Peter speaks of Christ as a “living stone.” The apostle passes here from the metaphor to the reality. “Dead as a stone” is a common saying; but the stone which the builders rejected came forth from the tomb, not only living, but life giving. Each Christian, “baptized into one body,” and living in fellowship with Christ, is a living stone from contact with Him (1 Peter 2:5). See, then, that we are living in union with Christ.

2. We are not only built upon Christ, but are cemented together with other stones in the walls of the “spiritual house.” We are members of a Divine society, and not isolated Christians. Hence love of the brethren is a duty which devolves upon every Christian--union with them as well as with Christ, as we are cemented together by the Spirit of the Lord.

3. Though living stones differ from ordinary stones in that the latter have no wills or powers of motion, but are simply passive in the hands of the quarryman or mason; yet the living stone depends for its vitality upon the absolute surrender of the will into the hands of God, so that it may be hewn and shaped and polished, by the trials of this life, as the Master. Builder thinks best. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)

The foundation stone of the Church

I. THE CHARACTER OF JESUS CHRIST AS THE SUPPORT AND ORNAMENT OF HIS CHURCH.

1. A stone.

2. “A tried stone.” Completely, adapted to answer all the ends for which it is laid.

3. “A precious cornerstone.” Examine its excellences. What Solomon said of true wisdom is strictly applicable here--“it is more precious than rubles.” “Precious” for the situation which it occupies; because it is the bond which unites the Church of God in all ages. The patriarchal, the Levitical, the Christian Churches are all one in Christ Jesus. All the people of God, however denominated--wherever placed--in whatever age or circumstances--feel the uniting power of this cornerstone. And it binds and unites the Church militant and the Church triumphant.

4. To complete and give greater interest and solidity to the hopes of His people, it is called “a sure foundation.” Observe by whom it is laid. Not by mortal hands, but by the Founder of the universe. “Sure!” How vain have been all the assaults of infidelity.

II. IT IS NECESSARY THAT WE SHOULD ASCERTAIN OUR CHARACTERS, and see by those tests which God has furnished, whether we have built on this foundation. Christians are related to Christ after the analogy of stones to the foundation. And what does this imply?

1. Separation from all other purposes. Those who are thus separated are--

2. Appropriated to the especial purpose for which this stone is laid in Zion, namely, the building of a spiritual house. The manner in which Solomon’s temple was built, was a type of the manner in which this building is to be erected. Each stone was previously squared and polished before it was placed in its permanent situation. It is expressly said of these stones, that they were made ready before they were brought thither; so that no sound of either hammer or axe was heard in the house. This is to teach us that every living stone, to occupy a place in the celestial temple, must be hewn out of nature’s quarry, by the ministration of God’s Word, by Christian communion, etc., and squared and polished before it is placed in the temple.

3. These stones are themselves endued with spiritual life. By their conjunction with Christ, they obtain a spiritual, celestial life. Do you ask, what is the ultimate design of all this? It is that all the stones may be brought together, and form a fit habitation for Deity Himself Ephesians 2:19-22).

III. THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH WE COME TO THIS LIVING STONE, are attached to the building, and become partakers of the privileges. “He that believeth.” What is the believing here spoken of! We must look at the analogy. It is the resting of the soul on the foundation God has laid.

IV. WHAT ADVANTAGES ARE TO RESULT FROM THIS TRUSTING OF THE SOUL TO CHRIST? “He that believeth shall not make haste.” (S. Warren, LL. D.)

Jesus Christ the only foundation

I. THE PROPERTIES OF THIS FOUNDATION.

1. It is a stone; for solidity, stability, and durableness.

2. A tried stone.

3. This is a precious stone.

4. This stone is a sure foundation. “Such (says Mr. Hervey) as no pressure can shake; equal, more than equal to every weight; even to sin, the heaviest load in the world. The Rock of Ages, such as never has failed, never will fail those humble penitents who cast their Burden upon the Lord Redeemer; who roll all their guilt, and fix their whole hopes upon this immovable basis.” The foundation is sure, because it is of Divine appointment.

5. This is a cornerstone. Jesus Christ may be called a cornerstone, to signify His peculiar importance in this spiritual building.

II. THIS STONE IS A FOUNDATION. Jesus Christ must lie at the bottom of all, or the superstructure cannot stand. To join our own righteousness with His in our justification, is to form a foundation of solid stone, and hay, straw, and stubble, blended together.

III. WOULD YOU THEN KNOW WHETHER YOU ARE REALLY BUILT UPON THIS SURE FOUNDATION?

1. Have you ever seen the utter insufficiency of every other foundation? You will never build upon Christ, while you can build anywhere else with hopes of safety.

2. Have you ever been sensible of the preciousness, the excellency, and the stability of this Divine foundation? If you have ever built upon Christ, it has Been at once an act of the last necessity, and of the most free choice.

3. Where is your habitual dependence? Is it upon Jesus Christ alone? Or is it upon something else?

4. Have you been formed into proper stones for this spiritual kingdom? (S. Davies, M. A.)

The sure foundation

I. THE LORD DECLARES THAT HE HAS LAID THIS GREAT FOUNDATION. “Behold, I lay in Zion a foundation.” Here, as in many other parts of Scripture, the great work of the salvation of sinners is traced up to its fountainhead.

II. THE LORD DECLARES THE BLESSED PROPERTIES AND EXCELLENCES OF THIS FOUNDATION.

III. THE LORD SETS FORTH THE BLESSEDNESS OF THOSE WHO BUILD UPON IT. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” (W. Hancock, B. D.)

The ground of a sinner’s hope

In the preceding context the prophet speaks of unsafe refuges. To bring sinners to the apprehension of the Saviour, God announces the declaration of the text.

I. THE IMPORTANCE WHICH GOD ATTACHES TO THE DECLARATION which He was about to make. He introduces it with the solemn asseveration, “Therefore, thus saith the Lord.” This is further apparent from the solemn manner in which He calls the minds of all to it. “Behold, I lay.” He thus summons the attention of men and angels. It can be no trivial matter to which the infinitely wise God thus summons the attention of all. The truth is, He is about to erect a stately temple, unspeakably more glorious than either of the temples that stood once on Mount Moriah. They were only types and obscure shadows of this splendid structure. It is a temple which shall be built up forever. The stones of it are lively stones, being the immortal souls of men. It shall be filled with the glory of the God of the whole earth. Never shall “Ichabod, the glory is departed,” be written upon its walls. But to employ another figure of the same signification, God is about to build a glorious city. But what is meant by the temple and city? They refer to the Church of the living God, which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. The words have also a reference to sinners of mankind. God may be viewed as laying the foundation stone of a gracious plan for redeeming them from sin and hell.

II. IT IS GOD WHO HAS LAID THE FOUNDATION IN ZION. “I lay.” None else had sufficient knowledge to discover a safe and suitable method of acceptance. Besides, He alone had it in His power to lay such a foundation. Here is matter of comfort. Had it been laid by another, how could we have had the same evidence that it was safe? Might it not have been disallowed by God? But since it is the doing of the Lord,. who may prohibit, us from building upon it? and who shall cast any reflection upon its security? Here a question suggests itself, and it is, When was this foundation laid? God speaks of it as if He was laying it at the time when He used these words. But it will be remembered that there is no succession of time with God. It was laid in decree from all eternity. The saints of the former dispensations sought it and relied upon it for safety. But again, this foundation was laid, in the fulness of time, by Christ’s coming into the world, and offering Himself a sacrifice for sin.

III. THIS STONE IS LAID IN ZION,--in the Church. Christ is the foundation upon which it is built. Without His mission and death no Church could have been erected. And from Him proceeded all the ordinances and institutions by which the blessings of redemption are communicated to her members. From Him likewise proceeds all the invisible grace which is necessary to gather, edify, and purify a Church. Again, it is in the ordinances and assemblies of the Church that He is chiefly to be found.

IV. THE STONE LAID FOR A FOUNDATION HAS BEEN TRIED. Though Christ had not been tried, the fact that He was God as well as man would have been sufficient to warrant our strongest confidence in Him. But in what respects was Christ tried and proved?

1. Like Adam, His innocence was tried. His temper was severely tested it was tried by His disciples.

2. Christ’s confidence in the promises made to Him was greatly tried. God had promised that to Him would be the gathering of the people, and that the heathen and the uttermost parts of the earth would be given Him for His possession; but, instead of witnessing the fulfilment of these promises, He was rejected and despised of men; and His retinue often amounted to no more than twelve fishermen; and yet He continued to trust that all would be accomplished in due time.

3. His qualifications to act the part of our Saviour have likewise been proven.

V. CHRIST IS A PRECIOUS CORNERSTONE.

1. It is easy to see some reasons why He is called precious.

2. But why is He also termed a cornerstone? This seems intended to teach us that Christ must be all in all in the work of our salvation.

VI. CHRIST IS A SURE FOUNDATION.

1. God has laid Him for a foundation, and the foundation of the Lord standeth sure.

2. That Christ is a sure foundation is evident from the fact that He stood His trial.

3. It is manifest also, from the many promises and oaths made to Himself, and to His people, through Him.

4. In addition to all other grounds of security, be it remembered, that while our first representative was a creature, the second is the Lord from heaven, the Creator.

VII. HE THAT BELIEVETH ON CHRIST SHALL NOT MAKE HASTE. This mode of expression is evidently borrowed from the idea of a house about to fall--the inmates making haste to get away from under it. When anunexpected inundation has sapped away the sand or earth on which the house was built, then there is a running to and fro: everyone tries to secure his own safety, and to give warning to his relatives. And confusion and haste far greater than this will attend those who now cover themselves with lies and falsehood. There are three seasons of this haste--the season of death, the season of the resurrection, and the season of judgment. These are times of the greatest alarm and confusion to all who stumble upon the stone laid in Zion; but the case is very different with him that trusteth in the Lord. (A. Ross, M. A.)

God’s foundation

I. MAN NEEDS A FOUNDATION ON WHICH TO BUILD HIS HOPES FOR TIME AND FOR ETERNITY. Because of his nature, the nature of sin, the character of God; man’s duties and responsibilities; the faculties and capabilities of his immortal soul.

II. MAN CANNOT LAY A SUFFICIENT FOUNDATION. The history of the world shows that humanity has ever been trying to do this. The various systems of religion. Human reason has been deified. Reliance on God’s abstract mercy. Correct creeds, good works--all fail in the time of man’s necessity.

III. GOD HAS LAID A FOUNDATION. While men and angels would have failed, God gave His Son, foundation for pardon, purity, peace, heaven.

IV. THIS FOUNDATION HAS BEEN TRIED.

1. By persecution--Church and individual.

2. By trust--all classes, all times, under all circumstances, in life and in death.

V. THE ASSURANCE OF THE TEXT. “Shall not make haste.” No guilt too deep for pardon; no trial and temptation too great for consoling grace; nothing beyond the power of Christ. (J. T. Murrish.)

The foundation of God

I. THE FOUNDATION. Christ. In a very deep sense Jesus Christ is the foundation of the whole of the Divine dealings with us; and historically, since the day on which He appeared on earth, He has more and more manifestly and completely been the foundation of the whole of the history of the world. But passing these aspects, let us rather fix upon those which are more immediately in the prophet’s mind. Jesus Christ is the foundation laid for all men’s security against every tempest or assault. We may look at the same thought under somewhat different aspects.

1. He is the foundation for all our thinking and opinions, for all our belief and our knowledge. In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom, and whatsoever of solid fact men can grasp in their thinking in regard of all the most important things with which they come into relation, is to be found in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and in the truths which that reveals. He is the foundation of all our knowledge of God, of all our true knowledge of ourselves, of all our true knowledge of duty, of all our true knowledge of the relations between the present and the future, between man and God. And in His life, in the history of His death and resurrection, is the only foundation for any real knowledge of the awful mysteries that lie beyond the grave. Certitude is in Him.

2. He is the foundation of all restful love.

3. He is the foundation for all noble and pure living. He is the fixed pattern to which it may be conformed. Otherwise man’s notions of what is virtuous and good are much at the mercy of conventional variations of opinion.

4. As the one sufficient motive for holy and beauteous living, He is the foundation. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” They that find the reason and the motive for goodness and purity in Christ’s love to them and their answering love to Christ, will build a far fairer fabric of a life than any others, let them toil at the building as they may.

II. THE TRIED PRECIOUSNESS OF THE FOUNDATION. Because it is a tested stone, it therefore is a precious stone. There are two kinds of testing--the testing from the assaults of enemies, and the testing by the building upon it of friends. And both these methods of proof have been applied, and it has stood the test.

III. THE PROCESS OF BUILDING. The metaphor seems to be abandoned in the last words of our text, but it is only apparently so. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” The act of building is simple faith in Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

God’s foundation for man

This passage represents in a word just very much the contrast between God’s way and man’s way of doing things. Man, according to his natural ideas, is all for doing things by his own efforts. What he has and what he does he must and shall produce from himself. He must invent, he must devise, he must judge, he must plan, he must execute, and God is to be ignored. His science is to be a science from which God is excluded, and His name is not to be mentioned. His social theories are to be social theories rounded off and complete in themselves, and God is not to be allowed to touch them. His moral life is to be built up upon its own foundations, and God is not to be called in for help. God’s way of doing things is the very opposite of this. In His way of doing things men also are called upon to put forth all the efforts they can, but it is in building up on the foundations He has laid for them, not in laying a foundation for themselves. He calls on them to put forth their efforts in doing, what they can do, and not in attempting to do what they never can accomplish. (Prof. J. Orr, D. D.)

The sure foundation

I. If history teaches us anything, it is surely this--that MAN NEEDS GOD TO LAY HIS FOUNDATION FOR HIM, and that he cannot dispense with God’s help.

1. In the matter of thought man is laid under this very peculiar condition--that, on the one hand he needs a foundation of certainty in regard to the great questions and subjects of existence,--those great questions on which men’s minds have tortured and perplexed themselves in all ages--the questions of God, the soul, and the hereafter, on which to build up his life; and, on the other hand, he cannot give himself this certainty. Men need a foundation of assurance on these great questions in order that their individual lives, their institutions, their societies even, may be built upon a strong and stable basis. “I dare say you feel as I do,” says one of the speakers in a conversation with Socrates, “how very hard, or almost impossible, is the attainment of any certainty about questions such as these in the present life. And yet I should deem him a coward who did not prove what is said about them to the uttermost, or whose heart failed him before he had examined them on every side. For he should persevere till he has achieved one of two things, either he should discover or be taught the truth about them; or, if this is impossible, I would have him take the best and most irrefragable of human theories, and let this be the raft upon which he sails through life--not without risk, as I admit, if he cannot find some word of God which will more safely and surely carry him.”

2. It is the same in regard to moral life. Men seek to build up their own moral life and the morality of their societies on a basis which shall be independent of religion; but how little they succeed, how abortive have been their efforts, all history might again be cited to prove. God lays the foundation of the true moral life in that new nature He bestows on us in Christ, in the light and power that are imparted to us through Him, and without this divinely laid foundation the builders build in vain.

3. Is it otherwise with religion, with the relation of man to God, and the state and standing of men before God? Here, too, men have ever been found, and are found still, putting forth painful efforts to secure their own peace; going about, as Paul said, to establish their own righteousness, not knowing that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. Yet how hollow, and temporary, and uncertain is the peace gained by all such efforts; how far removed from the glorious certainty of reconciliation and acceptance with God which the Gospel of Jesus can impart!

II. It is the great central assertion of the Christian faith THAT GOD HAS LAID FOR MANKIND SUCH A FOUNDATION AS IT NEEDS, and that this foundation has been laid in Jesus Christ. With Christ’s coming into the world a new era began in the history of the world, a new direction was given to the thoughts of men, a new revelation of God was made to them, a new gospel of sonship was preached to them, a new light was thrown on human nature, human needs, and human destiny, new hopes and prospects were opened up for humanity. On this foundation the race has gone on building up ever since. But there are those who tell us that this is passing away--that this may have done for the past, but will not do for the future; that this foundation stone is becoming obsolete, and that men must have done with it, and leave it behind. They must, in obedience to truth and the advance in the world’s ideas, part with it. Well, the text itself does not anticipate that this stone laid by God, being planted there, will remain there without being put to test and trial. It is not a stone which God is to lay, and no one dispute the laying of it--which God is to lay, and no one refuse to build upon it--which God is to lay, and no one contest its right to be there.

III. THIS SUBJECT HAS A RELATION TO THE PREACHER. We are told in the text that it is God who is laying, and has laid, this foundation stone on which everything is to be built up. It is the preacher’s function to unite himself with this great purpose of God. His function is to exhibit and commend this foundation stone. It is the preacher’s duty to clear it of the human rubbish which from time to time may have been heaped upon it; to stand upon it himself, and to induce others to stand upon it too, and to rear their life, their work, everything, upon this foundation.

IV. BUT THE TEXT BESIDES HAS A RELATION TO THE HEARER. It is a matter of infinite importance for hearers of the Gospel to recognise the preciousness and importance of this stone which God has laid; for us all that we should ourselves come to this stone and build our lives and hopes upon it. How great the comfort to those in spiritual darkness and perplexity to know that it is not left to them to lay the foundation stone of their spiritual peace; but that God has laid it for them, and that all they have to do is to build on that sure and tried foundation! Jesus Himself has identified Himself with this stone, and has warned us that men cannot come into collision with Him and not suffer grievous spiritual harm. (Prof. J. Orr, D. D.)

God’s foundation for the stability of His Church

1. This foundation was planned in the eternal counsels of Jehovah.

2. It was actually laid in the incarnation and sufferings of Jesus

Christ.

3. It is proclaimed in the preaching of the Gospel (J. Sherman.)

True character

I. CHRIST IS THE FOUNDATION OF A GOOD CHARACTER.

II. BELIEVING IS THE REARING OF A TRUE CHARACTER.

III. GOD IS THE JUDGE OF A TRUE CHARACTER.

1. He measures it by the law of rectitude. He lave “judgment” to the line, etc.

2. He tests it by the dispensation of His government. “Hail shall sweep away,” etc. Truly, “other foundation can no man lay,” etc. (Homilist.)

A tried stone

A stone of proof

“A tried stone,” literally, a stone of proof; and that may be regarded in either of two senses or in both.

1. It is a stone of proof, because it stands every test that can be applied to it. Praise no stone until you have tested it. Laud no doctrine until you have tried it in the marketplace, in the sick chamber, in the valley of the shadow of the deepest distress; then come forward and say what the stone was worth. When you hear the last patented religion praised, pay no heed to the trivial eulogium; it is a patent that has not been put to the proof; it has done nothing for the world; it has no long, noble, dignified history behind it; it glitters, but it has not been proved in life’s long night of pain and restlessness and sorrow. Herein it is true that antiquity signifies experience, uses that can be employed for purposes of inference and solid deduction. In this sense Jesus Christ was a stone of proof: He was tried morning, noon, and night, in the cold and in the heat, in all the variation of life’s changeful scene; and this is the record which is made of Him by those who have followed Him throughout. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever,”--most precious when most needed, strongest when the enemy is most importunate, completest in all attribute, faculty, and grace when hell gathers itself up for final tremendous onslaught upon His dignity and worth. Is it too much to ask that those who have tested Christ and known Him to be s stone of proof should say so publicly, privately, quietly, emphatically, and gratefully?

2. Then, the second sense in which the test would hold good would be that Jesus Christ tries every character. Not only is Jesus Christ Himself tried, but He tries every man. Therefore many have left Him. He tries whether the heart is giving itself in full consecration to His service, or whether it is trifling with the occasion, yielding to the spirit of compromise and concession. In the Church there is but one badge, one symbol, one password; it is not genius, learning, intellectual capacity, profound acquisition in difficult subjects,--it is the Cross. Therefore so few men understand Christianity. He is a Christian who has no self; he has denied himself; he has said “No” to himself. This is a conquest which is only won in solitude; this is a victory of which a man need not speak, because his whole life tells the tale in simplest eloquence. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The tried stone

I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE FOUNDATION STONE OF THAT SYSTEM OF DOCTRINE WHICH GOD HAS REVEALED IN HIS WORD. In every age of the world too many have been found who employ all their time in laying the foundation, without being able to build thereupon with any pleasure to themselves or advantage to others. And the reason is, rather than build on the “Rock of Ages,” they are for associating with the foundation, stones which are only designed for the superstructure. Now, the foundation is to be laid of mere grace, in the atonement of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the chief doctrine of Christianity, and is the basement of all the others. This foundation is impregnable.

II. JESUS CHRIST IS A TRIED FOUNDATION STONE. The word “tried” bears three meanings in Holy Scripture. Sometimes it means to elect or choose, sometimes to prove or put to the test, and sometimes to approve. Answerably to these views, Jesus Christ was, from eternity, “chosen of God” to be the basis of the Christian system, the foundation of individual faith, and the “cornerstone” of His believing people in their collective and corporate character. In these capacities He has been openly, solemnly, severely experimented and put to the test. And the result of the whole has been His complete approval.

1. He has been “tried,” in point of true and faithful attachment to all the great interests which we have mentioned, by the sufferings to which He subjected Himself in support of them.

2. He has been “tried” in reference to the strength and security of the fabric, by the unfailing success of all attempts to build upon it.

3. He has been “tried” by the entire failure of all attempts to undermine the foundation or shake the building. (H. Clare.)

Jesus Christ the tested foundation

This is historically true and verifiable. In science we have a process called verification. A law of nature, however strong the induction by which it is supported may seem to be, is not regarded as scientifically or perfectly established till it is brought to the test of verification--that is, until men by experiment or new experience have put it to the trial, and found that their induction holds the field. And so in a sense we may say it has been with Jesus Christ. This stone has been tested by time, and we have now centuries of verification to fall back upon. In many ways, in nearly all possible ways, this stone has been tested, and it has come victoriously out of them all. It has been tried by the upheavals of society in times of the greatest social and political convulsion. It has been tried by the fires of persecution; for often have the rage and enmity of man done their worst against it. It has been tried by error and corruption--by the faithlessness of the builders themselves, who sought to remove it from its place, and put some other stone in its stead. It has been tried in the fires of controversy, and by the corroding influences of scepticism. All that the intellect or wit of man could do has been employed to destroy it. It has been tested in a negative respect by the failure of men to find an adequate substitute for it. Men have tried from the beginning to remove this stone, and find a substitute for it. They have sought for substitutes in science, in philosophy, in culture, but they have not been able to find them. I could quote the confessions of many of our leaders of modern unbelief who think they see the old foundations going, but who sorrowfully confess that they have nothing adequate to put in the place of Christianity, or to restore to man the hopes of which they have deprived him. Finally, this stone has been tested in the most effectual way of all by men actually coming to it, and trying whether it will bear the weight they need to lean on it. And who that has thus tried the religion of Jesus experimentally has not found that it can do all, or more than all, for them that their highest spiritual life requires? (Prof. J. Orr, D. D.)

The tried foundation

I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE CORNERSTONE.

1. He is the foundation of Christianity as a theological and religious system.

2. He is the foundation of personal confidence and salvation.

3. He is the “cornerstone” of the general Church--of His people in their associated character.

II. JESUS CHRIST IS “A TRIED STONE.” (W. M. Bunting.)

The well-tested Friend of humanity

Man’s destiny depends upon his character. In it are the germs of Paradise and the elements of Tophet. It is our blessedness to know that He who came to give the world a new and holy character is no empirical or charlatanic reformer, but one who has been thoroughly “tried” in the glorious work.

I. HE HAS BEEN “TRIED” BY THE MISSION HE UNDERTOOK. He came here to give such a knowledge of the nature, the love, the relations, and the claims of God as would effect a moral restoration of the world. Salvation consisteth in the knowledge of God. But in His God-revealing mission, how was He tried? His love, the root of all excellence, was tried in its two great branches of piety and philanthropy. In prosecuting His Divine undertaking He became so completely the victim of human and hellish malignity that He seemed to be forsaken of His Father. Was not this trying to His piety?--trying to His loving confidence in the everlasting Father? Yet He bore the test. He was tried in His philanthropy also. What had He to gain for Himself for His amazing self-sacrifice? Nothing but the Cross. And yet these sufferings, instead of cooling the ardour or dimming the lustre of this heavenly fire, made it more intense and more radiant.

II. HE HAS BEEN “TRIED” BY RIGOROUS SCRUTINY OF HIS ENEMIES.

1. The scrutiny of His contemporaneous enemies has done so. He lived His public life under a system of keen-eyed and vigilant espionage. The eye of malignant scrutiny glared on Him at every turn. Every test that could be invented was applied in order to convict Him of wrong. But how triumphantly He passed through the ordeal! Even Pilate, who, overborne by public clamour, pronounced the sentence, confessed belief in His innocence by washing his hands in the open court. The day of Pentecost brought new and resistless testimony to His rectitude.

2. The scrutiny of His succeeding enemies has done so. He has had keen-eyed enemies from Celsus, the Epicurean who wrote his “Logos Alethes,” down to the hostile critics of the present day. Strauss of Germany, and Renan of France, men of signal ability and high attainments, stand prominently amongst those who have submitted Christ to the most crucial of hostile criticism in order to prove Him unworthy of the unbounded faith of man as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. But who that has read the works of Neander, Rothe, Tholuck, Ullmann, Dorner, Lange, Hengstenberg, including not a few able French and English authors who have answered those hostile critics, does not feel that Christ has stood well the severest of these tests?

III. HE HAS BEEN “TRIED” BY THE INFLUENCE HE HAS EXERTED ON HUMANITY. If every tree is to be judged by its fruits, it is natural to ask, what has been the fruit of Christ’s history upon the world? And here we may raise two questions--

1. What has been His influence upon His faithful followers? Ask them if Christ has been to them according to His Word. We fear not the reply. Those of His followers who have studied Him most profoundly, and followed Him most loyally, have ever uttered with the greatest emphasis, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

2. What has been His general influence upon the world? Has His influence been as unique as His personal character revealed in the Evangelists? Undoubtedly, yes. And this wide, ever-growing influence is, on the whole, salutary. It has always been in favour of the highest intelligence, liberty, morality, social order, and true progress. He stands today, in the mind of humanity, more powerful and more glorious than ever! Why this? One reason is, His character answers to the highest ideal of moral excellence that rises to the souls of men.

Another reason is, His spirit gives to man the highest life. Conclusion: The subject suggests--

1. An encouragement to Christians. Our religion is no experiment. We are resting on one for our guidance and happiness who has borne the test of ages.

2. A warning to infidels.

3. An invitation to all. Your character is your spiritual house, your spiritual world, that in which you will spend an existence either of misery or of bliss. The only true foundation of that house is Christ. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

A foundation of rock

When the men of Ely contemplated building their cathedral they distrusted the loose, unstable fen country; and in order to have a foundation they dug deep into the fenny soil, and laid stones and mortar and cement there in great abundance, and upon this foundation they reared their noble cathedral. It stood decade after decade, but of late years it showed signs of settling down, and men tried to remedy its precarious condition without full success. But lately they made a most important discovery, so we have read. They dug deep through the concrete foundation that had been laid of yore, and there, some twenty feet beneath it, they found rock, rock which had always been there, but which the builders had not known or found. And today works are on foot to unite the cathedral with the rock. When this has been done they know the cathedral will stand. (J. A. Davies, B. D.)

Human systems no foundation for the soul

There have been systems offered to men as the basis of life; but time has tested them, and they have been “found wanting.” Men had not gone deep enough. Positivism, secularism, humanitarianism, and such systems fail because they do not go deep enough. They do not reach, nor build upon, the rock. And men have made foundations for themselves other than those that are laid, but find these cannot bear the weight of all the years. Time has told against their foundations; and they must dig down through them, dig deeper, and unite their lives to the “Rock of Ages.” Down through the man-laid, deceptive foundations of self-righteousness, self-will, and self-sufficiency, or of a profession of faith that has no substance in it, or of worldly and intellectual possessions, right down through these they must dig until they reach the rock, and there by faith they must fix and fasten their lives upon Christ. (J. A.Davies, B. D.)

Building on the rock

I would rather have a mere shanty of deal boards, if it was safe on s rock, than I would have the most pretentious building if it only rested on quicksand. (John Wesley.)

The stability of Christian faith and hope

Macaulay once imagined that in some far distant day a “traveller from New Zealand might, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.” Such may happen. Neither London, nor St. Paul s, nor aught that is human on the earth is proof against the mouldering breath of time. How blessed the knowledge, how soul-inspiring the assurance that He on whom we are building our all for eternity will remain “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Christ the one solid foundation

Men who stand on any other foundation than the Rock, Christ Jesus, are like birds who build their nests in trees by the side of rivers. The bird sings in the branches and the river sings below, but all the while the waters are undermining the soil about the roots, till in some unsuspected hour, the tree falls with a crash into the stream, and then the nest is sunk, the home is gone, and the bird is a wanderer. But birds that hide their young in the clefts of the rock are undisturbed, and after every winter coming again, they find their nests awaiting them, and all their life-long brood in the same places, undisturbed by stream or storm. (H. W. Beecher.)

Jesus Christ a stone

Two Jews, one recently converted to Christ, the other strongly opposed to and incensed against his brother because of his renunciation of Judaism, were walking together in warm debate. Being much angered, the opponent of Christ said to his companion, “As for your Jesus of Nazareth, I think no more of Him than of this stone that is in our path.” Grieved, but not disheartened, the disciple of Christ said, as he picked up the stone and held it in his hand, “And I, too, think of Jesus Christ as a stone; but to me He is the Foundation stone laid in Zion, the Elect stone, the Tried stone, the precious Cornerstone. But to you, my brother,” he added in deep sorrow, “Jesus is a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offence, that may fall in judgment upon you, even as I build upon Him in safety and mercy.” (Nyes Anecdotes.)

He that believeth shall not make haste

The equanimity of the believer

If you observe attentively the works of God you will perceive what may be called a leisurely growth. But this ill accords with our natural inclinations. We would fain be at once what we can only become by degrees. Neither is such a remark limited in its application to matters which are wholly terrestrial. It may be said to hold good in a still greater degree when spiritual concerns are brought under review. But God, who precisely knows what is most for our advantage, has determined against any sudden transition. Many of the most brilliant promises of the Bible are made to those who “wait upon the Lord.”

I. THE CHRISTIAN THRIVES BETTER FROM NOT BEING PERMITTED TO MAKE HASTE IN ACQUIREMENTS. The passage is directed against anything of hurry or bustle. It does not so much declare that the believer can never advance rapidly, as that he shall never move with that agitated step which betokens insecurity. It does not denote a sluggish pace to be unavoidable, but simply implies that what is hasty and sudden will not be allowed. And s little reflection will convince you of the advantages which result from such an arrangement. It holds good in almost everything, that what is done hastily is seldom done well. In mental acquirements the more especially, that which is speedy is likely to be showy rather than solid--so that what is gained in time is lost in strength. The case is just the same in regard of religion. Where the Spirit of God actually, and in good earnest, takes a man in hand, it will not allow him to make haste through the preliminaries of righteousness; he shall be brought down to the dust, so as to abhor himself for his countless iniquities; he shall be reduced to the position of one who is thoroughly conscious that, unless God interfere, he must eternally perish. And it will ordinarily be after this process that the Gospel in all its beauty is expanded before him. This is for the advantage of the believer. Take the experience of Christians, and you will find that where progress has been most rapid, the commencement has been most arduous. And neither is it only at the beginning that the Christian thrives better from not being allowed to “make haste.” Take him at any other stage of his course, and you will find that he advances rapidly by walking slowly. Suppose him under affliction, then patience must have its perfect work.

II. EXAMINE CERTAIN OF THE COMFORTS AND ENJOYMENTS WHICH ARE ENSURED TO THE BELIEVER BY THE PROMISE THAT HE “SHALL NOT MAKE HASTE.” We reckon as chief amongst these that he has a Protector always at hand, so that in seasons of emergency he need not run to and fro in search of succour. “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.” The believer has nothing to hasten from, for he is shielded against every assault; he has nothing to hasten to, for he is already enclosed within a rampart of security. It is only by bartering away or forgetting my rights or my duties as a Christian that I can possibly make what is termed a false step. The believer ought to take no step without prayer; and if he ask God’s counsel, he shall not go wrong. Then, in respect of the termination of life, the believer may feel it far better to depart and be with the Lord. He may sometimes be tempted to long for the time when the earthly house shall be taken down, in order to be rebuilt for eternity; but he cannot forget that his times are in God’s hands; that it would not be good for him to die whilst his heavenly Father sees it fit that he should live; and thus he keeps down what is impatient in desire, and makes not haste to be emancipated from the flesh. He longs, moreover, for the final triumph of Christianity, the time “when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and His Christ.” But there will be mixed with this longing no fraction of impatience (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The quieting antidote to haste

Is not this making haste, this restless hurrying, turning, questioning a quite precise picture of too many modern thoughts and lives? How many people are waveringly making haste about doctrine, duty, etc. But our Scripture is the quieting antidote.

I. FAITH’S OBJECT. “He that believeth”; but he must have somewhat or someone as the object of belief. Notice faith’s object as disclosed in our Scripture.

1. An object given of God.

2. An object sure.

3. Tried or tested.

4. Precious, worthy.

II. THE RESULT OF FAITH. “Shall not” worryingly, nervously “make haste.”

1. As to doctrine, Christ is the truth.

2. As to the forgiveness of sins, Christ’s word is pledged.

3. As to the issue of things, the helm is grasped by the pierced hand.

4. As to death, the risen Christ is death’s master. (Wayland Hoyt, D. D.)

The objective ground of faith

1. Two things are necessary to give stability to a man.

2. And now comes the question than which none can be more intensely interesting, at least to the earnest, awakened, thoughtful mind--Where is this objective ground of faith to be found? Here is the answer, and mark from whom it comes, “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone.” Well may it be added, “He that believeth shall not make haste.” His faith will partake of the stability of the foundation on which it rests. So far as his safety is concerned that is secure. And then, so far as his own feeling or persuasion of his safety is concerned, if his faith is simple it will impart stability not merely to his state, but to his mind. It will bring an assured peace to his soul. Here, then, is the foundation. Examine it.

The establishing power of faith

(with Isaiah 7:9):--

I. The first aspect in which these words may be viewed, namely, in reference TO ONE’S FIRST ESTABLISHMENT IN THE PEACE OF THE GOSPEL

II. A second aspect in which they admit of being viewed is IN REFERENCE TO ONE’S CONTINUED ESTABLISHMENT IN THAT PLACE. I do not believe there is anything in the Gospel itself viewed as a system, or any thing in sovereignty viewed as a principle of the Divine procedure, or anything in the believer’s condition in this world viewed as a state of discipline, that renders it impossible for him, on the whole, to retain undiminished the peace in which he was first established; that necessitates his falling away in any measure from that assurance into which his early, simple, affectionate faith introduced him. The secret of anyone’s declension in this respect is afforded us here, “If ye believe not,”--continue not, that is, to believe; for faith is a life, a habit,--“surely ye shall not be established,” continue, that is, to be established. As faith decays, so also will your feeling of stability, of security, be impaired. On the contrary, “He that believeth”--lives habitually in the exercise of faith “shall not make haste,” shall ever maintain a calm, undisturbed repose.

III. There yet remains a third aspect in which these passages may be viewed, namely, IN REFERENCE TO DUTY, OR THE WORK OF SANCTIFICATION GENERALLY. We live in a world of temptation. Do we need some mighty principle of steadfastness? What is that principle? It is faith; faith resting on Christ, and drawing strength and stability from Him; faith realising the love of God, and enjoying it actually in the soul; faith looking beyond this present scene of things, and bringing near to us another and more attractive scene. I must feel that the grasp of the eternal God is upon me. Let us have a faith like this, and under its influence we shall act our part in life, however difficult it may be--

1. With calmness; for we shall do nothing rashly--we shall learn to wait.

2. With dignity; for we shall do all things as in God’s sight, and under His protection; and we shall be raised immeasurably above the petty schemes and the little meannesses of the people of the world.

3. With consistency; for having once entered on what we deem the path of truth and duty, we will follow it out. (A. L. R. Foote.)

The equanimity of faith

The Hebrew word for the “making haste,” means quite as accurately the being ashamed, or, the being confounded. Accordingly, when St. Paul is arguing with the Romans he sets forth Christ as the foundation stone promised by Isaiah, affirming that “whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed”; and when St. Peter is exhorting the strangers, he counsels them to build themselves up “as lively stones” on the redemption provided in the Gospel, quoting the verse from the prophet as if it stood thus,--“He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.” There is wonderful significance in this ambiguity, or, rather, interchangeableness of meaning. This will be our subject--the deliberateness, and, therefore, the solidity of all those who are “God’s building.”

1. It has really passed into a truism, as regards temporal and common affairs, that haste is dangerous, and that slowness, for the most part, is sureness. If there be one attribute in the works of the Creator Himself more universal than any other it is that of doing things by degrees, and never despising in His own government “the day of small things.” Now take the case of the Christian on the highway of the Gospel. No doubt there is one sense in which he travels with the utmost velocity. In the sense of mortality we are all “making haste.” But we limit you to the moral pilgrimage of the soul going towards Heaven, with its perfection, whether of holiness or of happiness, and we are reminded by the very character of a “believer” named in the text that we must avoid hurry, or bustle, or impatience. Faith in its own nature consents to travel slowly, and agrees to the interval between the being “justified” and the being “glorified.” There would remain no one behind to be the “salt of the earth” if every new convert “made haste” from the mercy seat of repentance to the land of the palm and the crown.

2. Now we turn to the “making haste” considered rather as an affliction than as an error, and the “not making haste” rather as a privilege than as a duty. There is quite as much of a promise as there is of a counsel in the words we are considering, more especially if you couple them with the New Testament paraphrase about the being “ashamed” and the being “confounded.” It is not only wrong to be impatient and neglect the duties of the passing moment, it is, moreover, very distressing and very costly. What is the reason why some person of your acquaintance never seems to be at ease in other people’s company, carrying an appearance of perpetual flutter, and the crimson mounting to the face for no reason at all? That is often a symptom of ill-health; but the ill-health is generally the excess of self-consciousness--a morbid suspicion that everyone is observing and pronouncing upon me. It is a great affliction, and very often beyond very much control; but we merely give it you as a sign of self-absorption and a token that there is not enough to depend upon in one’s self when the features and the manners of your friend seem to be always “making haste.” Apply that doctrine higher up, to the moral and spiritual nature, and you will come at the reasons for instability, for fickleness, for sudden panic, and for half the disorders of the Christian life. (H. Christopherson.)

Unhasting

I. THE HASTE SO CONSPICUOUS IN MODERN SOCIETY.

1. In what haste men are to accumulate wealth.

2. How eager to gain public recognition.

3. The same spirit of unwise haste has entered into the Christian Church, and exercises there a baneful influence.

II. The haste so conspicuous in modern society ARISES FROM SEVERAL CAUSES.

1. It may spring from ill-regulated ambition. Men are hurried on by impulse and passion, and reason oft yields to desire.

2. There is the haste of rivalry, due to the strain of competition.

3. There is the haste arising from the fear of poverty and the hardships that poverty brings.

III. THE EVIL RESULTS ARE PALPABLE AND GRAVE.

1. The injurious effects physically are very obvious. The imperfect development, the impaired vitality of men are due in no small degree to the restless haste and the rapid pace of life. It has been said that nervous diseases, so common in our time and country, “scarcely exist among barbarians and semi-civilised people, and that the primary cause is civilisation, with all its recent accompaniments, the telegraph, the railway, and the periodical press, which continue to draw each year most severely on the nerves of all classes, and have intensified in ten thousand ways cerebral activity and worry.” The same writer adds, “Our fathers in medicine of the last century, if they could be brought from their graves, would have to be told what we mean by nervousness.” Doctors would render yet greater service to humanity if they were, at least occasionally, to ascend the pulpit, and taking as their text “Do thyself no harm,” discourse to us from the stores of their experienced observation on the manifold and increasing bodily and mental maladies due to the overstrained activity and feverish haste of society.

2. The intellectual evils of haste are also many and serious. Through the ingenious but misleading theories thrown out in haste, with imperfect knowledge, investigators have been diverted from the right track, and discoveries delayed for many years. “Haste slowly” is wise counsel. In this age of doctrinal unrest, a much-needed counsel is: Be slow to part with the old faiths, be cautious in the acceptance of new doctrines. Close not your eyes to the light, but be ready to receive the truth from whatever quarter it may come. Remember, however, that all is not gold that glitters.

3. The moral evils of haste in the conduct of life also deserve earnest consideration.

In the common rush for the prizes and pleasures of life, the danger is that every man should think only of himself, and be careless of the claims and comfort of others.

Conclusion--

1. Believing in God, you will not tremble for the safety of His ark.

2. You will not be in danger of adopting hastily unspiritual methods of doing Christ’s work. Tempted to unbelieving haste in the conduct of religious work, let the example of Jesus be remembered. (A. Cowe, M. A.)

The characteristic of our times

There is a great diversity of opinion as to the character of the age in which we live. If one set of critics is to be credited, our world is rushing to perdition at an alarming pace. Other observers are sanguine and hopeful Considering that stir and activity are preferable to stagnation and torpor, these persons see much that is really encouraging in the conflict of opinion, and are inclined to expect the birth of a new and brighter era out of the throes of the period through which we are passing. Our day is one in which men emphatically “make haste.” In the passage to which the text belongs, a contrast seems to be drawn between those persons who construct some refuge of their own to protect them from the ills of life, and those others who are willing to avail themselves of that well-built and well-founded house which the Lord God hath provided for them; and then the dismay and disappointment of the one party, when their expectations are found to deceive them, are contrasted with the calm security and confidence of the other. But, we will take up, from the surface of the text, this idea--that if a man believes in God, and trusts in God, and will consent to work on the lines which God has laid down, he will be saved from that restless, worldly agitation of mind which produces so frequently such calamitous results. Let us notice, in one or two particulars, how this desirable state of things will be brought about.

I. AS TO TEMPORAL MATTERS. I have been told, that as business life is constituted now, it is impossible for a man, if he would “hold his own,” to act in entire accordance with the dictates of an enlightened conscience; that competition is so keen and risks so great, and the area of labour so crowded, that a man cannot make his footing good without resorting, at least in some matters, to tricks, and evasions, and subterfuges, and misrepresentations, which shock his moral sense, and which he cannot, without much difficulty, persuade himself at first to practise. Now why do men maintain that it is an impossible thing to obey conscience in matters of business! The root lies here--in the want of full belief in God. If I believed that God went partners with the devil in the management of the world, then it would be quite consistent for me to try to appease Satan by acknowledging his co-ordinate authority, and falling in with his ways. But if I believed that God was the Ruler of the universe,--that He was continually working and continually upholding the right,--I should be saved from these sad and painful deviations from the path of rectitude; because I should be perfectly satisfied, that he who did the right, at whatever cost, and left the matter in God’s hands, would be sure to be borne harmless in the end. Much of the feverish restlessness of the present day arises from a real, but unavowed and perhaps unconscious distrust of the results of honest, conscientious work. The idea is too frequently entertained, that merely to work does not answer; and that work must be supplemented and made successful by something else. This feeling is, in its root, distrust of God.

II. We turn, now, to SPIRITUAL MATTERS. I know that, at a time like this, there must be discussion amongst young men on points affecting the very foundation of our holy religion. But I am not inclined to make the circumstance a subject of unmixed lamentation. “Easily gotten; soon parted with,”--applies to religion as well as to other things. At the same time, I dread that discussion which never seems to get beyond discussion. The purpose for which we are placed in the world is not that we should be forever asking questions, and raising and solving doubts,--but that we should be living a life. But how can that be accomplished, unless we have fixed principles to start from? Do I wish to be a geometrician? I shall make very little progress if I am perpetually employed in discussing and settling, in arranging and rearranging my axioms and definitions. And how am I to be advancing with that life which is to be the seed plot of my eternity, if I go on, month after month, year after year, unable to settle anything? Contrast with this vacillation and incertitude the condition of the man who “believeth.” When a strain comes upon him, he has not to run helplessly hither and thither, seeking for principles to sustain him in the hour of trial. He has got his principles, and they are ready for use. In other words, he believes in the living God, and therefore he does not “make haste.”

III. THE MAN WHO BELIEVES IN A LIVING GOD WILL NOT BE FULL OF NERVOUS APPREHENSIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF CHRISTIANITY. Men may break themselves to pieces against the Rock of Ages, but the Rock itself will never move. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)


Verse 17

Isaiah 28:17

Judgment also will I lay to the line

God’s judgments

I.
The Lord PONDERS, with most exact attention, all the distinctions of characters, times, and circumstances; all the various motives both to lenity and severity.

II. He ACTS in a manner suited to His perfect knowledge. (R. Macculloch.)

Mercy and judgment

Upon the roses of grace grow the thorns of justice. Whenever the Lord bares His arm for mercy towards believers He gives a back stroke to His enemies. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Privilege and responsibility

A great privilege involves a great responsibility. It is a very high favour to see the foundation which God has laid in Zion and to be exhorted to build upon it; but of those who reject that foundation vengeance will be exacted. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Refuges of lies and what will become of them

I. THE LORD JUDGING MAN’S REFUGES. He says, “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet.” Observe that, however carelessly we may judge ourselves, God will not so judge us. His survey is performed with the utmost accuracy. There are three ways by which we may judge whether our confidences are refuges of lies or not.

1. The first is the hope which some men ground upon their own moral goodness. It will not stand trial by the first plummet; it is not based upon the foundation which God has laid. Try the second touch stone as to faith. Your hope is not based on faith in Jesus; you have no faith except in yourself. Moreover, is not this plea of moral goodness a falsehood from top to bottom? Recollect that even if your outward life may have been correct, God regards the heart, and takes account of the inner life.

2. A number of persons make a refuge for themselves out of the notion of fate. This would not endure one of the tests and assuredly not the last, for its tendency is to deny all moral obligation, and hence it is no friend to holiness. It deliberately charges God with the creature’s sin, and makes out the sinner to be the injured person.

3. The third shelter of lies which many fly to is a hope based upon novel doctrines. So far as my observation goes, these modern notions go with looseness of life, with world linens of heart, with decay of prayerfulness, and with backsliding from the living God.

4. We have another brood of men whose refuge is that they make a profession of religion.

5. Let me speak a word concerning certain who have a hope of being saved which does not sanctify them.

6. Some, too, make a refuge of their old experience. A true experience continues and grows day by day.

II. PICTURE THE DESTRUCTION OF THESE REFUGES OF LIES. A man has been very comfortable in one or other of these refuges for a good number of years, but at last he is getting old, and is laid aside to think; infirmities are increasing death is drawing nigh, and he takes a look into the dark future. He finds himself facing an eternal state, and has need of all his confidences and hopes to sustain him. Now, what happens? His spirit undergoes a great storm, and what is the result? Does he dwell in a fortress which defies the hurricane? No, his shelter is so frail, that, according to the text, “the hail” shall sweep away the refuges of lies. A cold, hard truth falls from Heaven like a hailstone, and crashes right through the glass roof of his false confidence. He looks up astonished and, in! another and another forgotten truth descends with like violence and crushes through all opposition till it smites his soul. Down falls all his comfort and peace of mind, as hailstone after hailstone pounds all his hope to pieces. “After all, I never was born again, and the Scripture hath well said, ‘Ye must be born again.’ I never yielded up my selfishness, and I cannot be saved unless Christ is my King. I did not really close in with Christ and cast my naked soul on Him.” Another impressive picture is set before us. “The flood shall overflow his hiding place.” Imagine one who, in the time of Noah’s flood, does not choose to enter into the ark, for he does not care to be tied down to God’s way of deliverance. He wants a more philosophic way. Besides, he does not care to be cooped up with Noah and a handful of narrow-minded people, who shut themselves in and shut everybody else out. He has broader views, and therefore he has found a shelter on the side of the hill, in a great cave where thousands can assemble, and enjoy a liberty denied them within the pale of the ark. It is utterly preposterous to suppose the flood will ever reach so high as this elevated cave. After a day or two Of extraordinary rain the man would look down from his hiding place and see the waters covering all the lower area, and creeping up the valleys foot by foot, and he would remark upon the abundance of rain, but scoff at the idea of a general deluge. He would be easy, hoping that the rain would cease, but as it continued he would begin to think, “I may not be quite so safe after all.” Imagine his horror when the flood at last fills up the ravine, and creeps up the rocky steep. With cruel lip, seeking his destruction, the water threatens the cave wherein he thought to dwell so safely. At last it penetrates his hiding place, it climbs to the very roof, it sweeps over his head, and his false confidence has proved his ruin. Such will be the end of all who hide themselves, but hide not in Christ. I will tell you in what fashion this overthrow will come. First, the mirth of the mind is damped with doubt. The man does not feel so easy as he used to be; he is afraid that God’s Word may be true, and that things will go amiss with him. Soon the doubt has oozed into his refuge, and become a pool of fear: the man is sadly afraid, and the dread saturates and dissolves all his joy. The truth of God’s Word still further comes home to his conscience, and he begins to be more and more alarmed: nor does he continue long in one stay, for he is growingly distressed, the waters are evidently advancing upon him and he cannot escape. He has come to be altogether dismayed, he hardly knows what will become of him; and within a little while, unless God’s mercy shall prevent and enable him to find the true shelter, he win be drenched in despair and washed away in terror. At last he cannot believe that there is any salvation possible for him.

III. THE LESSON ON WARNING. Let us build on God’s foundation. He knows better than we do what is right and safe. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God’s careful tests of character

An ordinary builder who should be sent to examine a house would probably content himself with hastily looking to see whether the walls were perpendicular, and whether the work was of the quantity and quality specified in the contract; he could tell this pretty nearly with his eye, or by measuring with his foot; but if a very careful and scientific survey was wanted, he would then produce his plummet and his line, and try everything by the regular accepted tests of builder’s work: hence our text describes the Lord as laying judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet; that is to say, He makes a deliberate trial of our confidences, compares our hopes with our conduct, our beliefs with the truth, and our expectations with the facts of the case. Oh, that we might have grace to invite such a test at once by praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts.” If the Lord will help us to know ourselves now it will save us from a sad discovery at the last. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies

Refuges of lies

It is very remarkable to what an extent men will deceive themselves on the subject of religion. In connection with this subject, more than any other, we find the most remarkable cases of self-delusion: they are so very remarkable sometimes, as to appear altogether incredible.

I. A false refuge in which many indulge is a SELFISH RELIGION. Selfishness in any form is in exact opposition to religion. It makes no difference as to the type which selfishness puts on. The question is, does a man make his own interest the object of pursuit? If so, such conduct is the exact opposite of that benevolence which Christ manifested, when He laid Himself out for the good of mankind and the glory of God. We should love God for what God is, and we should love our neighbours as ourselves. Where there is true religion it will manifest itself in prayer, praise, and obedience. It will manifest itself with respect to God in efforts to please Him, to honour Him, and to glorify Him, and an earnest desire to secure the love, confidence, and obedience of all men. It is not selfishness for a man to have a proper regard for his own salvation; but it is for him to regard his own salvation only, and care not for the salvation of his neighbour. Further, this is the true way for a man to secure his own salvation; by caring for the salvation of others. “Whosoever will save his life,” said Christ, “shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.”

II. Another refuge of lies to which mankind betake themselves is RELIGIOUS IMPULSE. This is a prevailing form of selfishness. This delusion consists in appealing to the feelings instead of to God’s law as developed in the conscience and reason. Such persons as these think themselves very religious, because they feel deeply upon the subject. Let the circumstances subside which excited their feelings, and you see that they have not the root of the matter within them.

III. Others have a MERE RELIGION OF OPINION, which is just the opposite of a religion of impulse. These opinions do not mould their lives.

IV. Another refuge of lies is the RELIGION OF SECTARIANISM.

V. Another refuge of lies is HAVING REGARD TO WHAT IS OUTWARD, the performance of certain external actions without love to God in the heart. There are a great many men who think themselves very religious because they pay their debts. (C. G. Finney.)

Refuges of lies

It is certain that, from the time of Adam down to the present day, thousands have taken refuge from the threatenings of God’s wrath beneath the lies of the Evil One.

I. You say, “If I am elect I shall be saved, do what I may; but if I am not elect I must be damned, do what I will; and, therefore, there is no use in my trying to do anything.” Election is not iron fate, but unutterable love.

Do you act in this manner about carnal things? A friend invites you to dinner; the table is spread before you. You are asked to sit down. “Stop,” you say, “does not God know everything?” “Yes,” says your friend. “Well,” you say, “God knows whether I shall eat this food or not: so it’s all fixed, and I can’t alter it; and if I am not to eat that dinner, I cannot eat it, even though I were to try to eat it: whereas, if I am to eat it, I must eat it, even though I were to rise and leave the room and try to go without it; and, therefore, I will sit still and do nothing.” Would you reason thus? If not, why say, when God lays the “Bread of Life” before you, “If I am to eat of the Bread of Life, I must, do what I may; if I am not to partake of it, I cannot, do what I will; and, therefore, I will sit still and do nothing”? If Christ does not really offer to save you I have nothing further to say, but you admit He does.

II. “I trust in the mercy of God.” If that is all your trust it is “a refuge of lies” You answer, Is not God merciful? More merciful than you can conceive, but it will not do to trust in the mere mercy of God. God’s mercy will not save you till you are inside the tower of refuge, Christ Jesus.

III. “We do the best we can.” What! You do the best you can? Then you are safe. If you really have done the best you could to this present hour, you are this moment as safe as the angel Gabriel. But will you solemnly declare that you have never sinned? Ah no! The best thing you can do is to look to what another has done for you, even Jesus!

IV. Some are flattering themselves that they believe in Jesus Christ, and are in the road to Heaven, while they are without that faith which alone can save the soul. Let me ask you who say, “I do believe,” what it is you believe that can justify you? You say, “I believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to teach us the way to Heaven.” So did that young man who came to Christ of old. You answer, “I believe in the great judgment to come.” So did Felix, when Paul stood before him “and reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” You answer, “I believe that Jesus was the innocent sufferer for the guilty, and that He is truly the Son of God.” So did Judas. You answer, “I believe that Jesus died that He might save sinners, and rose to glory everlasting.” So did Ananias and Sapphira. Do you ask, at last, what am I to believe, that I may be saved? What did that dying thief believe who went to Heaven? More than either Judas or Satan. Did he not believe that Jesus was his own Saviour, and did he not confidently trust in Him that He would bear him in everlasting remembrance, and did he not call Him “Lord”?

V. “I must wait God’s time.” The solemn truth is, Christ is waiting for you. Did you ever read His own words? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Is not that waiting?

VI. “We know all this is true, and we mean to turn, but there is time enough yet.” Oh, the unreasonableness of your course! Why would you turn by and by?

1. Because Christ beseeches you? And does not He as much beseech you now? And will you not grieve and insult Him by delaying?

2. Because God commands you? And does He not as much command you now? And are you not disobeying and defying Him by delaying?

3. Because danger threatens you? And is not death behind your back even now? (H. Grattan Guinness.)

Refuges of lies

All men know themselves to be sinners against God. They know also that, as sinners, they are in peril. Hence their anxiety to find some refuge for safety. They know they might find this in the way of forsaking sin and turning to the Lord; but they do not choose to forsake their sins. Hence there seems to be no convenient resource but to hide themselves under some refuge. It is obvious that men who resort to lies for a refuge regard those lies not as lies, but as truth. This fact leads us to raise the primary fundamental question, Have we any rule or standard which will show what is truth, and what is falsehood? Men have countless opinions about religion; how can we determine which are true and which not true? We have an infallible test. Salvation, to be real and available, must be salvation from sin. Again, if it does not beget prayer, does not unify us with God, and bring us into fellowship and sympathy with Him, it is a lie. If it does not produce a heavenly mind, and expel a worldly mind, it is a lie. Here I must notice an objection. It is said, The Gospel does not, in fact, do for men all you claim. It does not make professed Christians heavenly minded, dead to the world, full of love, joy, and peace. I reply, Here is medicine which, applied in a given disease, will certainly cure. But it must be fairly applied. So with the Gospel.

I. I will now proceed to NAME SOME THINGS THAT LACK THIS DECISIVE CHARACTERISTIC. They do not save the soul from sin.

1. An unsanctifying hope of Heaven.

2. An old experience, that is all old.

3. There are two forms of self-righteousness--the legal and the Gospel--both of which are refuges of lies. The legal depends on duty doing--evermore trying to work out salvation by deeds of law. The Gospel form sets itself to get grace by works.

4. Universalism.

II. And now TAKE NOTICE OF WHAT GOD SAYS. “The hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” This hail is the symbol of God’s displeasure. It is fit that God should be displeased with these refuges of lies. He loves truth too well to have the least sympathy with lies. He loves the souls of men too deeply to have any patience with agencies so destructive. The waters, He declares, shall overflow the hiding places. Every resort that leaves the soul in sin is a hiding place.

1. All religious affectation is such, and is nothing better.

2. So of all religious formality--going through the forms of worship, being in the Church, being baptized--what avails it all unless their piety be instinct with life and that life be the soul of real holiness

3. A great many people hide in the Church.

4. Others hide under the plea of a sinful nature. They are naturally unable to do anything.

5. Some dodge under professors of religion. (C. G. Finney.)


Verse 20

Isaiah 28:20

For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it

The short bed and the narrow covering

The Jewish beds were only mattresses, laid on the floor; and the cover was s sheet, or carpet, laid over it, in which the person wrapped himself.
In this adage, there is an allusion to the condition of one who, being weary and inclined to rest, goes to bed, that he may get refreshing repose. Having betaken himself to a bed that is too short for him, and having got a covering that is too narrow to wrap himself in, he is disappointed of the comfortable rest that he expected to enjoy; and, instead of getting agreeable warmth and refreshment, he becomes cold, restless, and uneasy. This painful state represents the distressed, disappointed condition of those who hide themselves under falsehood and refuges of lies, in order to obtain either temporal or spiritual deliverance. The truth of this aphorism, thus explained, was exemplified in the Jews, who resorted to other expedients for safety than Divine wisdom had ordained, and found all their expectations frustrated
. (R. Macculloch.)

The growth of religious conception

This proverb of Isaiah about the growth of religious conception has had many applications. Again and again it has happened since Isaiah’s time that the framework of theological theory formed by the intellect has become too narrow for the growing knowledge and spirit of man; and there has followed the discomfort, the strain, the struggle, the stretching or the dissolution of conventional beliefs, and out of them the reconstruction on a larger scale of a theology that somewhat inadequately expresses the actual revelation to man of the Unseen and the Divine. The foundations of religion are ever the same--the elementary force in the heart of man, the sense of weakness, of sin, of fear; the upward reaching of man to the unattainable God, and the blessed shining downwards of God into the heart of man. But the speculations, the imagery, the language of theology have varied with human knowledge, and are varying now before our eyes. (J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

The expansion of the Jewish conception of God

It was in Isaiah’s age that, for the first time, the Jews became pressingly conscious of their own littleness compared with the vast nations that pressed on them from either side. They lay between the vast continental empires of Assyria and Egypt, and in the grasp of these great barbaric, almost inhuman forces, they felt themselves as nothing. There was, for the first time, a painful contrast between the political insignificance of the Jews and their boundless pretensions to the favour of Jehovah, the Lord of hosts. They were stricken with terror. But Isaiah was inspired with heavenly wisdom to see that the agony of the terror sprang rather from the theology of the Jews than from the might of their enemies, for their theology was, in brief, this--that Jehovah was the God of the Jews only, and that the Assyrian was the foe of God. They now saw that he might be the victorious foe. To them the victory of the Assyrian would be the defeat of God and the shattering of their faith, and it seemed inevitable. It was the undivine, the material, relentlessly crushing God that they deemed Divine; it led straight to practical atheism, Now, Isaiah dared to think and to see that God was the God of the Assyrians also, that He wielded their forces in His hand, and that His one supreme aim was righteousness, and not favour to Israel; it was an extension of their theology, beyond what they could bear. It was not only latitudinarian; it was absurd. They ridiculed him and his message, and finally, it is said they put him to death. But, nevertheless, Isaiah had a vision of a truth which the world has now made its own--that God’s providence extends to all mankind, and that no nation and no Church can monopolise God’s blessing and protection, and that God has one moral aim only--the growth of righteousness and the coming of His kingdom on earth. He thus extended his conception of God. (J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

Present day need: a larger conception of God

The terror of our time to those who feel it is the aggregate of the brute unspiritual powers of nature, whether of human passion or material force, in whose ceaseless whirl man seems to be a mere plaything. Our Assyria is materialism. We may learn from Isaiah how to meet it,--not by denying the existence of these forces, or underrating them or their mystery, but by enlarging our conception of God. Perhaps if God would give England an Isaiah now, his message would be the consecration of natural forces, a declaration that all things are working towards spiritual end for the coming of the kingdom of God. (J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

Expansion in theology and religion

We need to expand also our whole conception of theology and of religion, giving it a wider foundation in human nature and in facts, and thus making faith more obviously compatible with intellectual honesty. (J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

The lengthening of the bed

The lengthening of the bed, the widening of the covering, is generally effected without a fracture or a rent. It is altered partly by the infusion of new life and meaning by the spiritual interpretation of what were thought to be physical and scientific statements, partly by the transference of emphasis from worship to life, partly by the ever-varying meaning assigned to old words and old forms. Jehovah did not cease to be Jehovah when the Jews ceased to regard Him as the God of the Jews only. (J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

A word of caution to the enthusiast for an enlarged and scientific theology

A word of caution to the enthusiast for an enlarged and scientific theology and for what might seem to him a rational religion. It cannot be invented prematurely; it must grow as daylight grows, and this is a very slow and gradual process. (J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

The bed and its covering

God has so made men, that there are two things essential for their comfort, if not for their very existence, namely, sleep and clothing. Man’s body is, after all, only a picture of his inner being; just what the body needs materially, that the soul needs spiritually. It requires rest, which is pictured to us in sleep. And it needs covering; the naked soul would be unhappy, noxious to the eye of God, and utterly miserable in itself.

I. MEN TRY TO MAKE BEDS ON WHICH THEIR SOULS MAY REST. One of the most uncomfortable things in the world, I should think, would be a spare bed--a bed so spare that a man should not have room to stretch himself on it. But that is just the condition of all men while they are seeking a rest anywhere else but in the “rest that remaineth for the people of God.”

1. As to the present world, how many beds are there of man’s own invention.

2. Now, think of this bed in the sense of another world. And here we may say of all the sinner’s hope, that it is a bed shorter than that he can stretch himself upon it. Let conscience strain you, let death put you on the rack, and pull you out a little, and the bed is not long enough for you. You are uneasy. There is no man who has a solid peace, a perfect satisfaction in his own mind, but the man who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusts Him entirely for his soul’s salvation, and puts his hopes and his expectations only in the Lord his God.

II. MEN MUST HAVE A COVERING. And here we are told that there are some people who make a covering, but it is narrower than they can wrap themselves in it. There is one garment that never is too narrow, though the sinner be the hugest sinner that ever trod this earth, and that is the perfect righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The short bed and its scanty covering

You can hardly imagine a more unpleasant position for a man to find himself in. A traveller has just come a long journey, weary, footsore, cramped; he longs for “tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep.” On reaching his bed, however, he finds it altogether inadequate for purposes of rest. Man has been so constituted by his Almighty Creator that sleep and clothing are essential to his existence. Angels, for aught we know to the contrary, may be eternal watchers, sleepless workers. “They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” It is otherwise with man. He must sleep or die. Inability to sleep has often been the punishment inflicted by the Almighty Avenger upon the murderer, as foretaste of the pains of hell. Between him and placid sleep a great gulf has been fixed. Pausanias, from the hour Cleonice fell pierced by his sword, is a haunted man. “Sleep no more,” is the dread fiat of Him who maketh inquisition for blood. The spectre of his victim, says the historian, disturbed him every night. Now, as every reader of the Bible knows well, God has seen fit to illustrate and set forth the needs of the soul by referring to the well-known wants and necessities of the body. Therefore, just as man’s corporeal frame needs sleep and clothing, so the seal, the spiritual part of man, needs rest and covering, without which it can be neither happy nor safe. The prophet’s complaint in the context is not that man seeks for these things if haply he may find them, but seeks for them in wrong places, and in wrong ways--fashions for himself beds which are too short to give him comfortable repose, and weaves coverings which are too narrow to conceal his spiritual nakedness. Favour me with your company while I walk forth and watch some of these spiritual bed makers. We have not gone very far before our steps are arrested by the spectacle of a man who is fashioning for himself a golden bed. A very splendid piece of workmanship it is, and we can hardly wonder at the incredulous look and compassionate smile with which the maker turns upon us when we whisper, Too short, you’ll never be able to find soul rest there! Solomon lay in just such a bed as that, and he tossed and rolled from side to side, exclaiming, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Over the front of this bed is written a text out of the Bible: “Money answereth all things.” Wait a moment: the splendid piece of upholstery is just receiving its finishing touch, the owner will lie down on it presently, and we shall hear what he thinks of his work. Hush! what is that you say, sir? No rest, no peace! Sleep is a shy goddess, which all this magnificence cannot woo. Do you really mean to tell us that you slumbered more peacefully and soundly when, a poor apprentice lad, you lay beneath the counter of your master’s shop, ere you had heaped up all these thousands of gold and silver? Ay, ay, he says, it is even so. Oh, replies one of my hearers, I think I should be happy and satisfied if I only had a little more. Keep the wolf of poverty at a respectable distance from my door, give me all the necessaries of life, and a few of its comforts, and I should be as happy as the day is long. I must be rude enough to contradict you; you would not, you do not know yourself. If your affections and desires are of the earth, earthy, you would find your appetite growing with every fresh indulgence. The human heart is like the horse leech, ever crying, Give, give. “Did you not assure me that your ambition would be satisfied with a revenue of one hundred thousand crowns?” said Charles the Ninth, to a lordly abbot who was begging further preferment. Having been already made Bishop of Auxerre, Grand Almoner of France, and holder of numerous rich abbacies, the king thought his greed was inexcusable. How suggestive the reply of the insatiable pluralist: “True, sire, but there are some appetites which grow as you feed them.” Oh, here another dainty looking couch, it belongs to the man of ambition, worldly ambition. This man is an enemy to all greed and avarice. He says public opinion serves the money grubber right, when it fixes on him the stigma of miser, which, being interpreted, is wretch. Thank God, he says, I can give, and spend, and lend. The accursed thirst for gold has not struck its fangs into me. No, this man despises money, but he pants for fame. Oh, he says, that I could become famous. If my name were only handed down to posterity as the great , I should be satisfied. He thirsts for fame as the fever-stricken patient thirsts for the cool refreshing fountain. Well, after a while his wish is granted. The world gladly prepares his bed of honour, and bids her favourite lie down and rest. But, lo! the thorns are there. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” although it be the laurel coronet of honour and worldly fame. Oh, he says, these thorns, they pierce to the very quick--let me return to my original obscurity. I can get no rest here, the bed is too short, the covering is too narrow! Let them pursue the history of Alexander the Great; the life of Napoleon Buonaparte, of whom it was said by a companion in arms, when at the very zenith of his prosperity, “He has gained everything, and yet he is unhappy”; the life of Cardinal Wolsey, whose advice to Cromwell might well have been, as our great poet represents it, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels; how can man then, the image of his Maker, hope to win by it?” and whose dying regret was that he had not served his God as faithfully as he had served the king who had forsaken him, and left him to die unhonoured and unwept. The truth is, the soul cannot live upon the incense of human applause any more than the body can exist upon the fumes of smoking frankincense. But look once more. See this pretty and, one would think, sleep-enticing couch, the bed of worldly pleasure. There are men who despise saving and hoarding, nor do they care to climb the slippery ladder of earthly fame. The cares of popularity are not for them. But they are seeking rest too, and they hope to find it in the pleasures of the world. Let us eat and drink,” is their maxim, “for tomorrow we die.” “A short life and a merry one.” is their motto. Let us have our fill of pleasure. Let the most successful pleasure seekers relate their experience. Suppose we take the evidence of the celebrated Chesterfield. He was no fox crying sour grapes because the fruit was out of his reach. Probably s more fortunate man, so far as this world is concerned, never lived. He was high-born, wealthy, and honoured. In almost everything he undertook he was successful He was one of the most brilliant speakers in the House of Lords, a most accomplished gentleman, and one of the best scholars of the day. He had troops of friends, honours were showered upon him, ribbons, royal approbation, and diplomatic appointments. Prime ministers honoured him as the ablest of their supporters; princesses and peeresses gave him their smiles, and called him the greatest of men. In all history there is no greater instance of worldly success. All that the world could give of pleasure--he had good measure, shaken together, pressed down, and running over--men poured into his bosom. Did he fine] rest on this sumptuous couch? Hear his own testimony. “I have recently read Solomon with a kind of sympathetic feeling. I have been as wicked and vain, though not as wise, as he; but I feel the truth of his reflection, ‘All is vanity and vexation of spirit.’ I have been behind the world’s gaudy scenes, have smelt the tallow candies, and seen all the clumsy machinery by which the raree-show is worked, and the spectators deceived; I have no desire to repeat the nauseous dose.” “I have tried both services, God and the world,” said Captain Hedley Vicars, who perished gallantly leading on his regiment in the war with Russia. “For twenty-four years I lived under the yoke of sin. The retrospect of my past life is now miserable to me, and yet I thought and called it a life of pleasure. The very name, when applied to sin, makes my heart sicken; even then? could never enjoy reviewing the occupations of a single day.” All who have tried this daintily spread couch assure us that soul rest comes not there. Is there a couch in all this wide world whereon man, wearied, deceived, disappointed, can find repose? There is a bed on which the sinner, were he as tall as the pole, and as broad as the earth, could not fail to find rest. Rest and peace are only to be found in God. In that dread yet sweet name is found the answer to man’s sin, man’s sorrow, and man’s yearnings after something better, truer, and holier. Believe me, you will find that rest nowhere else. What a comfort it must be to stretch one’s self upon this bed and to feel that all is well, for time and for eternity. (W. H. Langhorne.)

Delusive expectations

A proverb contains soul of truth for every age and people. The words apply to--

I. THE WORLD’S OFFERS OF SATISFACTION TO MAN’S NATURE.

II. FALSE CONFIDENCES.

1. Self. In the expression “self-help” there is much that is commonly suggestive; but when it comes to religious interests we may soon make mistakes. Sin is too much for a man.

2. Mere formal religion.

3. Comparison with others. “Common sins I shudder at; the self, indulgent, disgraceful life of many I hate. I love culture; am a good husband--wife--sister--brother.” God looks at the heart.

III. SELF-EXCUSES.

1. Temptation was so subtle and my nature weak. Remember, the key of the door is inside. You must consent. Did you pray?

2. I was surrounded by bad examples and influences. But were there no times when conscience corrected and truth attracted? no means by which you may have been fortified?

3. I have no time for piety. If piety consisted in a succession of onerous duties this plea might stand. But it is the spirit of a life, the heart centred in Christ.

4. I have no power for self-renewal. Have you availed your self of impressions; allowed the attractions of Christ on your heart?

IV. VAIN HOPES.

1. After all, it may be otherwise than preachers say. Will a man be so mad as to trust his life to a peradventure?

2. I may feel more inclined as I advance in life. Are you likely to do so in resistance of impressions?

3. I may repent at the last. That is, you will sin no more when you have no more power to sin. May not accident or disease suddenly overtake you? Can anyone who has a spark of generosity or right feeling think such conduct a fit return to Christ? (G. MMichael, B. A.)


Verse 22

Isaiah 28:22

Be ye not mockers

A warning to mockers

Enough is recorded in the chapter before us to justify this serious admonition.

I. A SOLEMN WARNING. “Be ye not mockers.”

1. Are there no mockers in our religious assemblies Let us pursue the inquiry. God has given us His Word; but how is that Word regarded?

2. Who can utter the egregious folly of this? Fools mock, while God frowns. They mock at that which cast angels down from Heaven, which excluded Adam from paradise, and which spread disorder through all the works of creation. They mock at that which is the spring of all the miseries of man--at that which is their own disease and disgrace--at that which procures their own death, which kindles the flames of hell. As many as are guilty of this deepest folly mock at all the sorrows and suffering of the compassionate Redeemer. Can you wonder at this earnest expostulation, this solemn and faithful warning?

II. A POWERFUL ARGUMENT to enforce the warning. It is founded on the danger which evidently attends the indulgence of this evil, and is well adapted to interest and affect the mind. “Be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong.” It implies that mockers are in “bands,” already in a state of bondage. And what is this bondage? They are “tied and bound with the chain of their sins.” Now the danger is, perpetuating this bondage; so securing the cords, and riveting the fetters, as that destruction becomes inevitable. In tracing the fatal progress of this danger, observe--

1. The sin against which you are warned weakens every virtuous restraint.

2. The sin of mocking strengthens vicious propensities. This naturally results from the relaxing of restraints: as the one declines, the ether gains ground.

3. This sin gives great advantage to your worst enemies. Among these are improper companions. Every compliance you grant only emboldens their demands and facilitates their conquest. But there is a worse enemy than these: “the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Resist him, and he will flee from you; but invite his attacks, by parleying with temptation, and you inevitably fall--“your bands are made strong.”

4. It exposes to peculiar marks of the displeasure of God.

5. It terminates in remediless ruin.

III. We attempt an IMPROVEMENT of the subject, by recommending the opposite of what is reproved in the text. (T. Kidd.)

Mocking

Mocking the messengers of the Lord was Jerusalem’s measure-filling sin. (M. Henry.)

Lest your bands be made strong

Growing bands

In the tropical forests of South America, where everything climbs, and everything seeks to overcome everything else, there is a curious class of plants, to which the natives give the name of lianas or bush ropes. They are creeping plants, and twine round large trees in order to be lifted up above the dense mass of vegetation into the pure air and bright sunshine overhead. The lianas do not belong to the same family of plants; often there are great differences between their leaves and flowers; but they have this peculiarity in common, that they all climb round certain trees to reach the full, unbroken sunshine above the billowy top of the forest. When the seed of one of them, say the one known to the natives as the Sipo Matador, or Murderer Liana, is dropped by the wind or by a bird at the foot of a tree that is suitable, it begins to grow at once. At first it sends forth a slender, thread-like stem, that leans upon the tree for support. At this stage it is soft and brittle, and looks like a vein of sap flowing and hardening as it flows, and a child’s finger could snap it across with ease. But as it grows and lengthens it becomes thicker and tougher, and twines itself round the tree like a strongly twisted cable, composed of several strands. Its grasp of the tree becomes tighter the older it grows; and by and by the tree becomes strangled by its thick bands, which it would require an axe to cut. The leaves of the poor victim wither and fall off, the veins cannot circulate the sap through the branches, and thus it slowly dies and becomes a mere mass of dry, rotten wood, still clasped by its cruel enemy, which flourishes, green and vigorous, upon its decay. Ephraim was the noblest of the tribes of Israel But it suffered certain evil habits to grow around it. It indulged in idolatry, and covetousness, and drunkenness. And these evil habits, which might at first have been given up without any great difficulty, became at last so strong that they could not be broken, and completely bound and enslaved the people. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)


Verses 23-29

Isaiah 28:23-29

The ploughman

The parable of the ploughman and the thresher

1.
The general drift of the parable is obvious. The husbandman does not forever vex and wound the tender bosom of the earth with the keen edge of the ploughshare or the sharp teeth of the harrow. He ploughs only that he may sow; he harrows the ground only that he may produce a level and unclodded surface on which to cast his seeds. And when he sows, he gives to every seed its appropriate place and usage. He scatters the dill and strews the cummin broadcast; but the wheat he sets, according to the Oriental fashion, in long rows, and the barley in a place specially marked out for it, so marked as to exclude the borders of the field: and here, along the edges of the field, where it is most likely to be bitten or trampled by passing beasts, he sows the less valuable spelt. And this he does because God has given him discretion. Is God, then, less wise than the husbandman whom He has taught? So, again, when the harvest is gathered in, the wise husbandman still varies and adapts his means to his end. He does not go on threshing “forever”; his single aim is to separate the chaff from the wheat, to save as much of the grain as he can, and to save it in the best condition he can, that it may be gathered into his garner. And he thus varies his modes of treatment, and adapts them to the several kinds of seeds, because God has given him sagacity and wisdom. Will God, then, who gave the husbandman this sagacity, be less observant of time and measure? Will He crush and waste the precious grain of His threshing floor?

2. Nor is the historical application of the parable difficult to recover. Isaiah had to warn and admonish the chosen nation at a period in which they were utterly corrupt, when the judges took bribes and the priests mocked at the Word of the Lord, and the very prophets saw “lying visions,” or pretended to see them, and the people had made a covenant with Death and Hades. He had to threaten them with disaster on disaster. So corrupt were they, however, that they made a jest of him for his fidelity to their King and God. In their drunken carousals the priests and prophets mimicked and burlesqued the simplicity and directness of his speech, and turned his warnings into a theme for laughter and derision. But even in this godless and scoffing age there was a “remnant” faithful among the faithless, who were true to God and to the Word which He sent by the prophet. Were they to be consumed in the fire of the Divine indignation against the popular sins? Or, if they were preserved, were they to stand by and see the elect nation destroyed out of its place? Was there no hope for them? none even for the nation at large! There was hope; and that they might see it and be sustained by it in the cloudy and dark day of judgment, Isaiah discloses to them, in his parable, the secret of the Divine administration, namely, that judgment is mercy, and that it prepares the way for a mercy more open and full than itself. But the prophet has a message to the faithful remnant, as well as to the nation at large. And to them his message is, that even the good grain must be threshed, that even those who are faithful to Jehovah must share in the judgments which are about to fall on the entire nation. They cannot be exempted from the misery of the time; they must suffer, as for their own sins, so also for the sins of their neighbours. But this is their comfort, that the Divine Husbandman measures out His strokes with wisdom and grace. God is but separating that which is good in those whom He loves from that which is evil and imperfect in them; and, even in this process of separation, He will not lay upon them more than they are able to bear.

3. So that, in this parable, the mystery of the Divine providence is laid open, its secret disclosed. All ploughing is for sowing; all threshing is intended for the preservation of the grain. When God chastens us, it is not because He means to destroy us, but because He has set His heart on saving us, because He has appointed us to life and not to death. Nor are the ordinances and chastening of His providence arbitrary and without discrimination. He employs various methods, sends “sorrows of all sorts and sizes,” that He may adapt Himself to every man’s needs, and to all our varieties of place, time, and circumstance. “Cure sin and you cure sorrow,” say the reason and conscience of the world: and the sorrow comes that the sin may be cured, adds the prophet; the very miseries that spring from evil are intended to eradicate the evil from which they spring. It was in the strength of this sublime conception of the ministry of pain and sorrow that the Hebrew prophets met the terrible miseries they were called to endure and behold. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The spiritual power

A knowledge of agriculture is almost essential to the right appreciation of many portions of the Bible.

I. THE PROCESS OF SOWING IMPLIES A SOIL PREPARED FOR THE SEED. The reception of the Gospel implies preceding thought, reflection, and resolution; which may be beautifully and characteristically expressed by the agricultural term, cultivation.

II. THE PROCESS OF SOWING IMPLIES SEED ADAPTED TO THE SOIL. There is a variety of seed mentioned in the text, and modem as well as ancient agriculture verifies the truth of the prophet’s description.

1. Let the seed for the mind be marked as with a seal. As the ancients chose the best of their crops for seed, so let the truths selected for the mind be of the highest and holiest description.

2. Let the seed for the mind be varied. The Word of God, independent of other sources, furnishes a great variety of truths to suit the soul in every conceivable state. And the same truth is set forth in many different ways, and couched under many different figures, to fit all descriptions of minds.

III. THE PROCESS OF SOWING IMPLIES A SUITABLE SEASON. Men do not sow at all times. “There k a time to sow, and a time to reap.” So there is a season for sowing the good seed of the kingdom. Life is that season.

IV. THE SOWING PROCESS IMPLIES SKILL AND FAITH. All are sowers in the moral sense. Some, however, are not skilful sowers; and what an abundance of seed they destroy! They have great privileges, high immunities, transcendently over towering those of their fellow men; and yet it is to be feared they will reap but a poor harvest. But it is delightful to know, that others, with few privileges, and comparatively few opportunities, am sowing in their own minds, and the minds of others, the seeds of truth; and by their skilful sowing will reap a great harvest of future glory. (A. Gray, M. A.)

The discreet ploughman

The drift of these words is to comfort God’s children in afflictions; and, because when one is sorrowful, weak, taken up and over pressed with grief, we are then unfit and incapable of instruction, the anguish of the suffering destroying our attention, He therefore says, doubling it four times, “Give ye ear,” “hear My voice,” “hearken ye,” and “hear My voice”; wherein He insinuates that the matter He is about to deliver requires attention.

1. The only way to quiet one’s heart, and pacify one in all distresses, is to hearken what God says.

2. All God’s children must be ploughed.

3. God will make a sweet and seasonable end of afflicting His children. He doth correct us for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.

4. When the Lord hath made us plain, and hath filled us with hearts to receive good seed, then is the time of rest.

5. When God hath humbled us by His Word, then He will furnish and arm us with His Word, and enable us with strength that way. Many heaths do meet with streams and floods of water, and yet are nothing the better nor more fruitful; but God’s arable, the saints, are ploughed and instructed, as the Psalmist speaks: “Blessed is the man whom Thou correctest, and teachest in Thy law,” etc. To have the one without the other is nothing, and does no good, but when correction and teaching go together, then one sees all the good of affliction, and why God sent it upon him.

6. Skill in husbandry is the gift of God; wisdom must come from Him.

7. All God’s grain needs threshing and ploughing, and as they need it, so they shall have it.

8. The best grain shall have the sorest trial and hardest pressure. The fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, but are beaten with a staff; neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin, but beaten with a rod; but the wheat must have the wheel go on it. The meaning is an allusion unto that manner of the ancient Jews in treading their wheat, as appears by that precept: “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox or the ass that treadeth down thy corn” (Deuteronomy 25:4), for then the oxen, drawing a wheel over the wheat, did so bruise it, but not break it.

9. God Almighty knows best, and He appoints what shall be the means, time, and measure of the trials of His children.

10. God, in the chastisements, trials, and afflictions of His elect, hath wonderful wisdom and power beyond our understanding. He knows not only which is the best way to lead us to Heaven, but also He is excellent in working, to bring His counsel to pass. See it in examples. As in Joseph, appointed to be the greatest, save Pharaoh, in all Egypt. So David, after he was anointed king, in a state of honour and all pomp and pleasure, how was he vexed and ploughed with many crosses!

11. Nothing can stay Him from working, to hinder our comfort and deliverance in due time. Why? Because He is “the Lord of hosts,” and all the creatures must do what He wills. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)

The voice of God in the tillage of the field

The Scriptures are full of the fresh air of the country; it is easy to see that many of the writers of them were country people, or, if not, at least went about the world with their eyes open, and had a keen interest in those matters of the street and the field that make up the life of the people. When Moses described the Land of Promise to the Israelites it was a husbandman’s description that he gave of it. It was “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and honey.” The Psalmists looked out upon the open face of nature, and saw in it a world eloquent of God--the dew and the rain, the valleys and the hills, the lilies and the cedars spake of Him. He made the earth soft with showers, and blessed the springing thereof. One prophet describes the evil case of the people in this way: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” Another calls the same people to repentance: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you” The great Lord Himself, standing in the midst of His worlds, bade men “consider the lilies of the field,” and in His doctrine said, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” And when Isaiah, in the words before us, draws out a detailed account of the operations of husbandry, in order to drive home lessons in Divine things, he was well within a long line of precedents. (E. Medley, B. A.)

God’s processes of moral and spiritual husbandry

I. THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF TIMELINESS IN GOD’S WORKING. Doth the ploughman plough continually to sow? “Doth he continually open and break the clods of his ground?” That is, is the man always at one thing, forever engaged in one line of work? Is there not order, is there not succession, are there not appointed seasons? Men do not plough at midsummer, and reap at Christmas. There is a time, a day, an hour, and the careful husbandman, who would make the most of his opportunity, must submit to this element of timeliness. He must have his spells of hard work, and his days of comparative inaction. And herein he is not exceptional, this tidal system holds good in all spheres. Is it not so very evidently in the general life of man! Is there not there a sowing time, a most blessed spring tide; is there not a period of watching and waiting, and anxious carefulness, and then, by and by, the harvest? Ay; and when the spring time is neglected, then by no effort, and by no tears, can the loss be retrieved. It is so in the fife of the spirit. Looking at the facts as we find them, and they are of God, is there not the element of timeliness there? There are tides of the Spirit; seasons when repentance and faith are easy; seasons when Heaven seems very near to this world, and by a step we find ourselves in the presence of Christ. There are days of the Son of Man, the dew sparkles upon the grass, the sun rises without clouds, and sheds a tender light. God and Christ, indeed, are no more real, no more actual than they always are, but they are more real to us. And then all is different, we come into another world. But what are all these facts of life but so many expressions or the higher fact, that there is an element of timeliness in the working of God Himself? The urgent lesson from this fact is this--let us work while we work, let us catch the opportunity on the wing.

II. THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF VARIETY IN GOD’S WORKING. Through multiplied detail does the prophet enforce this fact. Different sorts of seed are sown in a different fashion. And a like variety obtains when the harvesting comes; one is dealt with after this manner and another after that. And has not the Creator therein given us a visible example of the methods He pursues in that great field wherein He is the husbandman, and we are me husbandry? He has no fear of precedent, He works out His end in every variety of method. The life of Christ, as that stands recorded in the Gospels, supplies the confirming illustration! Run over in your thought His dealings with Nathanael, and Peter, and Thomas, and John. See how He handled Nicodemus and Mary of Bethany. He cast truth into their minds in a different way, and wrought for the spiritual harvest just as variously. From all of which there comes the Divine voice that bids us, above all things, be simple, be natural, not striving after another type and style of experience than that which is our own. If we are true to ourselves and to our God, we shall have our own experience, that which for us is most fitting and the best.

III. GOD’S WORKING IS A PROCESS. Your parable is full of method, of succession, of processes. And every ploughing time, every sowing, and every reaping, are but visible examples of what happens in the higher field of God’s activity in the spirits of men. Conscience grows, character grows; light comes slowly, there is dawn, twilight, the mellow morning, and the golden day. There is no antagonism between nature and grace, between God speaking in nature and God speaking in the life and death of His Son. (E. Medley, B. A.)

Physical husbandry the effect and emblem of Divine teaching

I. THAT PHYSICAL HUSBANDRY IS THE EFFECT OF DIVINE TEACHING. How did man come to know that by depositing a seed in a soil which had been dressed after a certain fashion, that solitary seed would produce thirty, sixty, or a hundred, fold? We are familiar with the operation now, and the wonderfulness does not strike us; but, antecedently, nothing seems to us more marvellous. Whence, then, came this great agricultural truth? It is not innate, nor of necessary discovery. The text gives the most satisfactory answer: “His God doth instruct him.” The point suggested: and which we wish to insist upon, is that all true secular ideas, as well as spiritual, are from God. Christians refer true ideas of worship to God, but not true ideas of commerce, agriculture, navigation, medicine, architecture, and the like. In fact, they do not regard God as having much to do with the practical mind of this working world.

1. Our position is suggested by a priori reasoning. One might justly infer that He who gave us an organisation, which so connects us with the material world as to render a certain course of conduct indispensable to our physical well-being, would give us some ideas to guide us in the matter, and the more so when we remember that the welfare of the soul itself greatly depends upon the condition of the body.

2. Our position is sustained by Scripture. There are specific examples in the Bible, of God’s condescending to teach men secular work, such as the building of the ark and the tabernacle, and the passages are numerous which imply that God acts upon the genera mind of mankind.

3. Our position is implied in the doctrine of providence. How does God interpose on behalf of men now? Not miraculously, but by giving us directing ideas. A good man is brought to a painful crisis in his business. He is filled with anxiety. One step will decide his commercial fate. What will help him? A true directing idea would dispel his darkness and clear his path. Or, a government is brought to a solemn crisis in its history. The fate of nations depends upon the next act. How can providence help it at that moment? By suggesting an idea that will reveal the true and safe path.

Ideas are our guides in all the labyrinth walks of life, and all our true ones come from God. This doctrine should lead us--

II. THAT PHYSICAL HUSBANDRY IS THE EMBLEM OF DIVINE TEACHING. The prophet here describes the operations of the husbandman in order to illustrate God’s method of training humanity. Two thoughts are here implied--

1. That moral fruitfulness is the great end of God’s dealings with man. What is moral fruitfulness? Right heart qualities (Galatians 5:22-23).

2. That to realise this end, God employs a variety of instrumentalities. Does not thin subject impress us with the divinity of life? Man is the organ of Divine thought, and the object of Divine operation. Away with all frivolous ideas of life! Life is solemn and sacred. We are ever in close connection with the Infinite: He besets us “behind and before.” (Homilist.)

Breaking clods

I. THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH GOD DEALS WITH HIS PEOPLE.

1. He ploughs the ground, i.e., He breaks up the hard, natural heart. For this purpose He employs--

2. The second process is harrowing. “Doth He open and break the clods of His ground? When He hath made plain the face thereof,” etc. The object is to bring the ploughed ground into such a condition as will best secure me proper reception of the seed. There are many clods in the human heart, too, which need to be broken.

3. The third process is that or sowing the seed.

4. The threshing. In order that the Christian may become useful as well as fit for Heaven, affliction is necessary.

II. THE SKILL DISPLAYED IN THESE VARIOUS OPERATIONS.

1. The skill is not expressly referred to in connection with the ploughing. But it may nevertheless be seen. Farmers know that there is such a thing as ploughing too deep, and also ploughing too shallow. In the one case the gravel may be reached and turned up to the surface, and so render the seed to be afterwards sown comparatively useless. Or, the too cold soil may be turned up, and thus the seed sown will perish. In the other case, the proper depth of the soil is not reached, and the crop will therefore be but a thin and sickly one. So it is with God in His dealings with His people. Some natures need to be thoroughly aroused, some hearts to be opened up to their very depths, in order that the Word may take root and bring forth fruit. No superficial work will do here And although God’s messengers may and often do err, God Himself never will, for “He is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” Again, other natures need to be dealt with in a different way. They require to be dealt with gently and lovingly, and the wise Husbandman acts accordingly:

2. But the skill of the farmer is referred to in this passage in connection with the sowing of the seed. Different soils require different kinds of seed, if there is to be a good crop. So does God act too. Some souls need doctrine, others history. Some need words of Divine love and pity, others the Divine warnings and threatenings.

3. The skill of the farmer is seen, too, in employing different kinds of threshing instruments for the different kinds of grain. So also does God deal with His people. Some need only a comparatively light affliction, their natures being of such a kind that treatment of a different kind would utterly overwhelm them and drive them to despair. Others need to be put into the furnace seven times heated. And it is to be observed that as the bread corn, or most precious material, gets as it were the roughest treatment, so it is God’s choice ones that are subjected to the greatest trials. (D. Macaulay, M. A.)

Inspiration in common life

Observe--

I. HOW GOD GUIDES THE LOWLIEST OF HIS CHILDREN IN ALL THE AFFAIRS OF THEIR WORLDLY LIFE. Why should we be surprised to read of inspiration in common life!

1. It arises from the fact that we distinguish between intellectual life and vulgar life, and exclude God from the latter. Inspiration is not limited to the world of scholars, scientists, painters, and musicians; God is equally in the so-called vulgar world, giving the lowliest toiler mastery in all that relates to his sphere of life. The vulgar world is vulgar no more. The whole world of human duty is one kingdom, the working out of one Divine purpose.

2. Because of our habit of distinguishing between influential life and insignificant life, and excluding God from the latter. We are not surprised to hear of God inspiring princes; it seems quite in order when God gives to Solomon supernatural enlightenment. But the ploughman seems utterly insignificant, his affairs so few and simple. But is the ploughman so utterly insignificant! The fact is, he is one of the most important characters in the world: if things go wrongly with him, they go wrongly with us all We might do without a king; we could not do without a ploughman.

3. Because of our habit of distinguishing between sacred life and secular life, and excluding God from the latter. We readily think of God inspiring the prophet and the priest. Yet the passage before us makes us feel that the ploughman’s realm is not lees spiritual than that of the prophet.

II. HOW GOD GUIDES THE LOWLIEST OF HIS CHILDREN IN ALL THE AFFAIRS OF THEIR INNER LIFE. There is a great spiritual nature in the lowliest of men. We have heard of the epitaph once put over s peasant: “Only a clod.” I do not know whether that epitaph was written in a pathetic or in a cynical temper, but it was really very full of suggestion. What wonderful things are in a clod! All possibilities of music, colour, light, fragrance, are there, “So you think you know what a clod is, do you?” archly asks Schopenhauer. Indeed, we do not. It will astonish you on the morning of the resurrection to see what God will bring out of that clod. And God is ever ready to guide and save His lowly children. He makes them to know the deepest truths of revelation and spiritual life (Matthew 11:25-26). All through life God continues the same gracious guidance. “The Lord preserveth the simple.” (W. L.Watkinson.)

Agriculture

Agriculture is the most ancient o fall pursuits, for Adam was a gardener, Cain a farmer, Abel a herdsman, and Cain did not go to live in a city or attempt to build one until after he had committed his great crime. It is not only the most ancient, but also the most necessary, and all other pursuits could be more readily spared than this. The most careless observer who walks through an agricultural show must be forcibly struck with the great importance of agriculture. All kinds of inventions, yea, almost all sciences, are consecrated to this pursuit--the products of the mine, the forest, the quarry, the hammer, forge, saw, and engine have been pressed into its service. How many kinds of toilers and artisans have brought their inventions and labour to make tilling the ground profitable? How many sciences wait reverently upon husbandry? For it geology ransacks the bowels of the earth; chemistry proclaims what nutriment certain plants absorb from soil, and what enrichment certain alkalis will give; botany collects her varied grasses to make possible the permanent pasture, on the principle of the survival of the fittest; astronomy smiles on it, and causes the sun to do morn for its prosperity than any king, however gracious, and the clouds more than any landlord, however beneficent. (F. Standfast.)

The value of agricultural labour

How foolish and sinful it is for those who possess wealth acquired by the toil of others, and who are designated independent, to despise or oppress those on whose humble toil they are indeed most dependent. What would be the value of the broad acres, if left without culture? It is the toil of the peasant which makes them productive, and which wrings from the soil those ample revenues that sustain the proprietor in luxurious ease. Of what benefit would be those pieces of silver, gold, or paper which we call cash, without indefatigable industry producing the necessaries and comfort which money brings? Would shillings and sovereigns satisfy the cravings of hunger! No more than molten gold could assuage thirst. The painter must lay down his brush and palette, the poet his pen, the philosopher suspend his experiments, and the voice of the orator be dumb, the jewelled crown become a worthless bauble, the most stately palace become a region of desolation, but for the labour of the agriculturist and fisherman. (F. Standfast.)

Interdependence of the man of leisure and the son of toil

Labour is the foundation on which the mighty fabric of human society rests, and none but the vain, proud, and foolish will overlook their obligation to the toilers. Acknowledged reciprocity of advantage should bind all classes together in one strong common bond of mutual support; for if the man of leisure is dependent on those sons of toll for the very necessity of existence, it is equally certain that to such the toilers are indebted for the social order which preserves liberty and life, for the books which inspire to intellectual elevation, and for the sciences which indefinitely expand the compass of our being. If the arch be indebted to the foundation stone for its very existence, it could not retain its graceful sweep or strength one moment without its keystone. (F. Standfast.)

Doth the ploughman plough all day to sow?--

The ploughman

I. OUR TEXT MAY BE ANSWERED IN THE AFFIRMATIVE. “Yes, the ploughman does plough all day to sow.” When it is ploughing time he keeps on at it till his work is ache; if it requires one day, or two days, or twenty days to finish his fields, he continues at his task while the weather permits.

1. So doth God plough the heart of man, and herein is His patience. The team was in the field in the case of some of us very early in the morning, for our first recollections have to do with conscience and the furrows of pain which it made in our youthful mind. It is a dreadful thing to have remained all unbeliever all these years; but yet the grace of God does not stop short at s certain age.

2. The text teaches perseverance on our part. “Doth the ploughman plough all day?” Yes, he does.

II. THE TEXT MAY BE ANSWERED IN THE NEGATIVE. “Doth the ploughman plough all day to sow?” No, he does not always plough. After he has ploughed he breaks the clods, sows, reaps, and threshes. In the chapter before us you will see that other works of husbandry are mentioned. The ploughman has many other things to do beside ploughing. There is an advance in what he does.

1. On God’s part, there is an advance in what He does. He will not always make furrows by His chiding. He will come and cast in the precious corn of consolation, and water it with the dews of Heaven, and smile upon it with the sunlight of His grace; and there shall soon be in you, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear, and in due season you shall joy as with the joy of harvest. But what if the ploughing should never lead to sowing; what if you should be disturbed in conscience, and should go on to resist it all? Then God will make another advance, but it will be to put up the plough, and to command the clouds that they rain no rain upon the land, and then its end is to be burned.

2. This advance is a lesson to us; for we, too, are to go forward. Don’t be making furrows all day; get to your sowing. Let the ministers of Christ follow the rule of advance. Let us go from preaching the law to preaching the Gospel. You cannot get a harvest if you are afraid of disturbing the soil, nor can you save souls if you never warn them of hell fire. Still, we must not plough all day. The preaching of the law is only preparatory to the preaching of the Gospel.

3. Another lesson to those of you who are as yet hearers and nothing more. I want you to go from ploughing to something better, namely, from hearing and fearing to believing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Spiritual husbandry

1. Never was seed or plant better adapted to the soil than the Word of God is adapted to universal man.

2. Since the Bible is adapted to our moral nature, it is ours to adapt our lives to its great teachings. If we find unseemly pride springing up in the soul, let us go and see the terrible effects of self-confidence by the Red Sea, as Pharaoh and his army sink into its depths; or by the plains of Babylon, as Nebuchadnezzar herds among the beasts. Ii you find any vice growing in rank deformity in your soul, go and look at the Deluge or the Dead Sea. If you find self-sufficiency springing up in the heart, and condemn the shortcomings of others, go and listen to the claims of God. How penetrating! far-reaching! and absolute! If everywhere around you, you see tokens and footprints of the king of terrors, in mourning garbs and joyless faces, in darkened earthly prospects, go listen to the promises of immortality, the doctrine of the resurrection. If you mark manifestation? of the being of an awful Deity, go find a near, visible, and all-beneficent Deity whose presence makes the earth itself a heaven; get proofs of His low by its being shed abroad in your own heart. Ii you see around you all nature in bondage, groaning and waiting for its redemption, go see a new heaven and a new earth, in which shall dwell righteousness. (F. Standfast.)

Beneficent ploughing

When the plough of God’s providence first cuts up a man’s life, what wonder if the man should exclaim a little, yea, if he should give way to one hour’s grief, and say he thought he had escaped all that kind of treatment! But the man may come to himself ere eventide and say, Plough on, Lord; I want my life to be ploughed all over that it may be sown all over, and that in every corner there may be golden grain or beautiful flowers: pity me that I exclaimed when I first felt the ploughshare, Thou knowest my frame, Thou rememberest that I am but dust, but now I recollect, I put things together, I see Thy meaning; so drive on, Thou Ploughman of eternity! (J. Parker, D. D.)

The principal wheat

The principal wheat

I. The prophet mentions it as a matter of wisdom on the part of the husbandman that HE KNOWS WHAT IS THE PRINCIPAL THING TO CULTIVATE, and makes it his principal care. Here let us learn a lesson. Do keep things distinct in your minds. Sort things out, and divide and distinguish between the precious and the vile. The farmer, who finds that wheat ought to be his principal crop, makes it so, and lays himself out with that end in view: learn from this to have a main object, and to give your whole mind to it.

1. This farmer was wise, because he counted that to be principal which was the most needful. His family could do without cummin, which was but a flavouring. They certainly must have wheat, for bread is the staff of life. That which is necessary he regarded as the principal thing. Is not this common sense! A creature cannot be satisfied unless he is answering the end for which he is created; and the end of every intelligent creature is, first, to glorify God, and next, to enjoy God. Other things may he desirable, but this thing is needful Other herbs may take their place in due order, but grace is the principal wheat, and we must cultivate it.

2. This farmer was wise, because he made that to be the principal thing which was the most fit to be so. Of course, barley is useful as food, for nations have lived on barley bread, and lived healthily too; and rye has been the nutriment of millions: neither have they starved on oats and other grains. Still, give me a piece of wheaten bread, for it is the best staff for life’s journey. And what is there that is so fit for the heart, the mind, the soul of man, as to know God and His Christ! Other mental foods, such as the fruits of knowledge, and the dainties of science, excellent though they may be--are inferior nutriment and unsuitable to build up the inner manhood.

3. Moreover, this farmer was wise, because he made that the principal thing which was the most profitable. Our grandfathers to rely upon the wheat stack to pay their rent. The figure holds good with regard to spiritual religion. That is the most profitable thing.

II. The husbandman is a lesson to us because HE GIVES THIS PRINCIPAL THING THE PRINCIPAL PLACE. I find that the Hebrew is rendered by some eminent scholars, “He puts the wheat into the principal place.” That little handful of cummin for the wife to flavour the cakes with he grows in a corner; and the various herbs he places in their proper borders. The barley he sets in its plot, and the rye in its acre; but if there is a good hit of rich soil he appropriates it to the principal wheat. He gives his choicest fields to that which is to be the main means of his living. Hero Is a lesson for you and me. Let us give to true godliness our principal powers and abilities.

1. Let us give to the things of God our best and most intense thought.

2. Be sure, also, to yield to this subject your most earnest love.

3. Towards God and His Christ also turn your most fervent desires.

4. Then, let the Lord have the attentive respect of your life.

5. We should give to this principal wheat our most earnest labours.

6. This should also take possession of us so as to lead to our greatest sacrifices.

III. THE HUSBANDMAN SELECTS THE PRINCIPAL SEED CORN WHEN HE IS SOWING HIS WHEAT. When a farmer is setting aside wheat for sowing, he does not choose the tail corn and the worst of his produce, but if he is a sensible man he likes to sow the best wheat in the world. Let me learn that if I am going to sow to the Lord and to be a Christian, I should sow the best kind of Christianity.

1. I should try to do this by believing the weightiest doctrines. I would believe not this “ism,” nor that, but the unadulterated truth which Jesus taught; for a holy character will only grow by the Spirit of God out of true doctrine.

2. Next to that, we ought to sow the noblest examples.

3. We should sow the best wheat by seeing that we have the purest spirit.

4. And then, we should endeavour to live in closest communion with God. It should be our desire to rise to the highest form of spiritual life.

IV. THE HUSBANDMAN GROWS THE PRINCIPAL WHEAT WITH THE PRINCIPAL CARE. It is said that the large crops in Palestine in olden time were due to the fact that they planted the wheat. They set it in lines, so that it was not checked or suffocated by its being too thick in one place, neither was there any fear of its being too thin in another. The wheat was planted, and then streams of water were turned by the foot to each particular plant. No wonder, therefore, that the land brought forth abundantly. We should give our principal care to the principal thing. Our godliness should be carried out with discretion and care.

V. Do this, because FROM THIS YOU MAY EXPECT YOUR PRINCIPAL CROP. If religion be the principal thing, you may look to religion for your principal reward. The harvest will come to you in various ways. You will make the greatest success in this life if you wholly live to the glory of God. The Eastern farmer’s prosperity hinges on his wheat, and yours upon your devotion to God. In the world to come what a crop, what a harvest will come of serving the Lord! (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 26-29

Isaiah 28:26-29

For his God doth instruct him

Chastising with judgment

More literally and with better significance, “And he chastiseth it with judgment; his God doth instruct him.
” This judgment is shown in two ways.

Tribulation

Though not a parable in form, the passage is intended to be parabolically interpreted by us. The unsown land indicates human nature in its native condition; the fruit of that land after it has been sown indicates human nature taken possession of by the Word and Spirit of God.

I. Just as the corn, after it has grown up from the seed sown, needs the c causing process of threshing, so THE SOUL, AFTER IT HAS APPROPRIATED THE GRACE OF GOD IN SALVATION THROUGH FAITH, NEEDS TO BE DISCIPLINED AND CHASTENED AND PERFECTED BY SUFFERING. It used to be a great puzzle with some of the Old Testament saints why a man of God should be subjected to trial Perhaps their bewilderment arose out of the exceeding dimness which surrounded a future life; but the life and immortality brought to light in the Gospel has made this all clear to us, and the suggestion contained in the figure of the text, whilst it cannot be pressed too strictly, may be taken to remind us that in our first salvation we have not reached our final development. The corn is not grown for itself, it is meant for something beyond; and that beyond can only be attained through bruising. It must be beaten into its future life. Even so our salvation is only a step in the onward, heavenward progress; and into that higher kingdom we must enter through the narrow pass of tribulation. This is Christ’s teaching. “Every branch in Me that beareth fruit, He purgeth it.” This is brought out, too, in the words of John the Baptist regarding Christ. “I,” he says, “baptize you with water, but He will baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire.” When first we are separated from the rock of nature and raked out of the pit of corruption, we are like iron ore, having in us a vast deal of dross which must become slag and refuse, and we need the blast furnace not only that this dross may be removed, but that we may be in a condition to run into the mould, and so take the shape which the Master desires, and be prepared for the utilities unto which He destines us. It often happens, too, that the more noble the elements which exist in a man, the more severe is the process required unto the perfecting of their possibilities. Corn wants heavier threshing than cummin, not because it is less valuable but because its superior value gives it a greater power of resistance and makes it worth while to accept the heavier toil.

II. THE DISCIPLINE EXPERIENCED BY THE PEOPLE OF GOD WILL BE CERTAINLY SUCH AS IS BEST ADAPTED TO SECURE THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE ENDS. It is being administered and superintended by One who, whilst He sets much value upon them, is distinguished by the profoundest wisdom. And we may be sure that His wisdom will be applied to the adaptation of the discipline to the character with which He has to deal; the husbandman does not “thresh fitches with a wain, nor is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.” You look at your children and you discriminate; you say that boy has a sensitive, gentle, yielding nature, and I must be careful that I do not handle him too roughly, lest I brush the bloom off and spoil the possible beauty which, by careful training, may be made to blossom in the kingdom of God. And that lad is made of a coarser grain, which is not readily injured, and with a dash of self-will and obstinacy in it, upon which I must lay a firm and strong hand. And so, it may be, you put your arm around the one, and you have a rod for the other; and yet all the while you mean the same by both. He who is wonderful in counsel is also wonderful in working. (R. H. Robert, B. A.)

The, ploughman taught of God

Let us contemplate the method of the Divine teaching. The ploughman teaches us--

I. A LESSON OF PREPARATION. God prepared much for man before He introduced him into Eden. God would not bring His favourite creature man into a dreary, cheerless world, but into one glowing with beauty, impressive in magnificence, overflowing with goodness.

II. A LESSON OF ACTIVITY. The ploughman has passed the time of deliberation; he has decided, and decision has led to action. There is much truth in Bacon’s complaint, “That some men object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home.” This aphorism applies, alas, to too many alike in the world and the Church. Ulysses could not discover a happier method of making his foes believe in his insanity than by ploughing up the sand by the seashore. How much quick-witted invention degenerates to the same folly! Often within the Church, where heavenly wisdom ought to shine, matters are not much improved. How many are at ease in Zion! How many shirk the ploughing altogether! How many let noxious weeds grow apace! How many miss the time of open-handed sowing, and yet expect to wake up when the song of harvest home fills the air, and to gather their own golden sheaves! There is still a sense in which the children of the world are wiser than the children of light. Many of these count years not wasted to acquire proficiency in mere vanities and trivialities over which angels well may weep.

III. A LESSON OF PRUDENCE. “God giveth him discretion” All toil that is honest, is honourable, but that is the most honourable which employs the greatest variety of our powers. How much of the service offered to pomp, pride vanity, and fashion lacks discretion! This faculty of discretion men are called upon to exercise daily. Prudence or discretion is a good commander-in-chief: it has won battles over the stubbornness of the soil, the inclemency of the climate, the stormy elements. If we thoughtfully and prayerfully take care of our own actions, God will take care of results. We have no right to tempt providence in any part of its wide domains. He who walks in dangerous ways will perish in them, even as Josiah--favourite of God though he was--was wounded unto death, because he pressed further against his enemies than the words of God permitted.

IV. A LESSON OF ORDER. The discreet husbandman ploughs in the proper season in order that the Lord’s plough, the frost may pulverise the soft a thousand times finer than any human implement. And is not order one of the greatest of Heaven’s appointed laws? The Church itself is to be an army with banners, to consist of governors and governed, some to tend, some to serve, some to hear. Evolve your heaven in due order, out of holy desires, pure affection, spiritual principle, full consecration. (F. Standfast.)

The need and measure of afflictive dispensations

I. THE NEED OF TRIAL TO THE CHILDREN OF GOD. To the wicked afflictions may come as present manifestations of Divine displeasure, and most unwelcome earnests of future judgment. And God may cause the very pleasant vices in which they indulged to become whips and scourge them. As for the children of God, however,--the corn, the fitches, and the cummin, it is not so with them. Every providential dealing of their Heavenly Father is linked with the intentions of His grace, and subserves them. The grain is beaten, the corn is bruised, that they may become useful to man, in providing him with food. Even so, afflictions may be for the good of others, as well as for the glory of God.

II. THE WISE AND GRACIOUS MANNER IN WHICH GOD LAYS AFFLICTION ON HIS CHILDREN. The text beautifully exhibits the skilful and tender adaptation of means to their end. (B. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

Threshing

I. WE ALL NEED THRESHING. What is the object of threshing the grain? Is it not to separate it from the straw and the chaff?

1. About the best of men there is still a measure of chaff. There is something superfluous, something which must be removed. Either in spirit, or motive, or lack of zeal, or want of discretion, we are faulty, if before an action we are right, we err in the doing of it, or, if not, we become proud after it is over. If sin be shut out at the front door, it tries the back gate, or climbs in at the window, or comes down the chimney. Those who cannot perceive it in themselves are frequently blinded by its smoke. They are so thoroughly in the water that they do not know that it rains.

2. Threshing is useful in loosening the connection between the good corn and the husk. If it would slip out easily from its husk, the corn would only need to be shaken. But there’s the rub: our soul not only lieth in the dust, but “cleaveth” to it. As the work of threshing is never done till the corn is separated altogether from the husk, so chastening and discipline have never accomplished their design till God’s people give up every form of evil, and abhor all iniquity. Threshing becomes needful for the sake of our usefulness; for the wheat must come out of the husk to be of service. Eminent usefulness usually necessitates eminent affliction.

3. The threshing instrument is a prophecy of our future perfection.

II. GOD’S THRESHING IS DONE WITH GREAT DISCRETION.

1. Reflect that your threshing and mine are in God’s hands. Our chastening is not left to servants, much less to enemies; “we are chastened of the Lord”! How roughly some ministers, some good men and women will go to work with timid, tender souls; yet we need not fear that they will destroy the true-hearted, for, however much they may vex them, the Lord will not leave His chosen in their hands, but will overrule their mistaken severity, and preserve His own from being destroyed thereby. As the Lord has not left us in the power of man, so also He has not left us in the power of the devil. Satan may sift us as wheat, but he shall not thresh us as fitches. He may blow away the chaff from us even with his foul breath, but he shall not have the management of the Lord’s corn. “The Lord preserveth the righteous.”

2. The instruments used for our threshing are chosen also by the great Husbandman. The Eastern farmer has several instruments, and so has our God. No form of threshing is pleasant to the seed which bears it; indeed, each one seems to the sufferer to be peculiarly objectionable.

3. God not only selects the instruments, but He chooses the place. Farmers in the East have large threshing floors upon which they throw the sheaves of corn or barley, and upon these they turn horses and drags; but near the house door I have often noticed in Italy a much smaller circle of hardened clay or cement, and here I have seen the peasants beating out their garden seeds in a more careful manner than would naturally be used towards the greater heaps upon the larger area. Some saints are not afflicted in the common affairs of life, but they have peculiar sorrow in their innermost spirits: they are beaten on the smaller and more private threshing floor; but the process is none the less effectual

4. It is interesting to notice in the text the limit of this threshing. The husbandman is zealous to beat out the seed, but he is careful not to break it in pieces by too severe a process. In the same way the Lord has a measure in all His chastening. The wisdom of the husbandman in limiting his threshing is far exceeded in the wisdom of God by which He sets a limit to our griefs. We see that our God uses discretion in the chastisement of His people; let us use a loving prudence when we have to deal with others in that way. Be gentle as well as firm with your children; and if you have to rebuke your brother do it very tenderly. Do not drive your horses over the tender seed.

III. THE THRESHING WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. The threshing will not last all our days even here. “Bread corn is bruised, but He will not always he threshing it.” Oh, no! “He will not always chide, neither will He keep His anger forever.” “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Threshing is not an operation which the corn requires all the year round; for the most part the flail is idle. Then, we shall soon be gone to another and better world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

How the Lord threshes us

I. IT IS NO COMPLIMENT TO US IF WE ESCAPE GREAT TRIAL.

II. GOD PROPORTIONS OUR TRIALS TO WHAT WE CAN BEAR.

III. GOD KEEPS TRIAL ON US UNTIL WE LET GO. The farmer shouts “whoa!” to his horses as soon as the grain has dropped from the stalk. The farmer comes with his fork and tosses up the straw, and he sees that the straw has let go the grain, and the grain is thoroughly threshed. So God. Smiting rod and turning wheel, but cease as soon as we let go. We hold on to this world with its pleasures, and riches, and emoluments, and our knuckles are so firmly set that it seems as if we could hold on forever. God comes along with some threshing troubles, and beats us loose.

IV. CHRISTIAN SORROW IS GORING TO HAVE A SURE TERMINUS. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)

The wisdom of God in discipline

Some men require very little hard usage. A tap will do, a gentle stroke, a touch that hardly amounts to a blow, a ministry that may be wrought out with the tips of the fingers. Other men require flail, and iron instrument, and harrow, and cart wheel and rough treatment: they are differently organised, they are differently constituted. What would be thought of a man who blew up birds’ nests with gunpowder? Who would not say, There is great want of proportion in that man’s method of looking at things; he is expending far too much energy upon the object? So with regard to the Divine discipline. Some men could be almost brought to fulness or fruition by a smile. Of some men God says, Thou art not far from the kingdom of heaven; one little step would bring thee right home. God whispers some men into heaven. But what thunder He needs for others! God treats character according to the variety of character. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Chastisement not pleasant

There is no pleasing us in the matter of chastisement. When I was at school, with my uncle for master, it often happened that he would send me out to find a cane for him. It was not a very pleasant task, and I noticed that I never once succeeded in selecting a stick which was liked by the boy who had to feel it. Either it was too thin, or too stout; and in consequence I was threatened by the sufferers with condign punishment if I did not do better next time. I learned from that experience never to expect God’s children to like the particular rod with which they are chastened. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Moral threshing

We all go through, some kind of threshing process. The fact that you may be devoting your life to honourable and noble purposes will not win you any escape. Wilberforce, the Christian emancipator, was in his day derisively called “Doctor Cantwell.” Thomas Babington Macaulay, the advocate of all that was good long before he became the most conspicuous historian of his day, was caricatured in one of the Quarterly Reviews as “Babble-tongue Macaulay.” (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)

The higher nature requires the more force

“Bread corn is bruised.” There are more blows given by the sculptor to carve a saint or angel man by the mason to square a paving stone. (F. Standfast.)

Tribulation

Tribulation comes from the word “Tribulum,” and tribulum means a threshing instrument. Whatever the man used who was treating the growth in its latest phases was called a tribulum, and he tribulated the harvest into bread. The seed did not go from the field into the oven; it had to undergo the action of the tribulum. Watch it there: what is that seed now undergoing! Tribulation. This is the bread that came out of much tribulating, tribulation, tearing asunder, shaking, beating. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 29

Isaiah 28:29

The Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel

God’s presidency over all things

Let us consider this point as related to--

I.
THE BIBLE AND ITS CONTENTS. This Book, to the secular world, is a perpetual puzzle. What amazing power it has exerted in the world, and what exalting energy! Yet it is the literature of a people comparatively insignificant, to whom we are not drawn as we have been toward the august grandeur of Roman genius, or to the poetic and philosophic Greek. It is the oldest of books, large, obscure in some things, but bold in its challenges to geologist, astronomer, and men of science; provoking discussion at a thousand points. Think of the mysteries of doctrine--the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the future life--what can we do? A tone of authority over our convictions and judgments is assumed. The thoughts of the Bible are God’s thoughts.

II. THE REDEMPTION OF CHRIST. This is too vast, grand, marvellous to be understood without this illuminating truth.

III. IN THE SPIRITUAL SPHERE, in the soul of man. We act on man’s feelings through his judgment, or upon his judgment through his sensibilities. Yet how feebly! But all these are open to the royal, inspiring Spirit of God.

IV. THE METHOD AND DEVELOPMENT OF PROVIDENCE IN THE WORLD. Gathering up some of the results of this survey, we may see--

1. How Christendom is builded. Coleridge speaks fitly of “the miracle of Christendom,” for the tendency of society, unilluminated by the Gospel, ever has been downward.

2. We should read the future in the same light. If God be behind all the movements of history, there is no room for discouragement. At important crises He will interfere, putting forth silent forces, perhaps, but terrific in energy.

3. There is a city of God for me. His promises, thick as the fragments of the jasper floor, will all be redeemed. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

The wonderfulness of God’s counsel

The context presents to us physical husbandry in two very different aspects.

God’s counsel is wonderful in all His departments of action as Creator, Sovereign, and Redeemer. Our illustration shall be taken from the nature, formation, and propagation of the redemptive system.

I. ITS NATURE IS WONDERFUL. What is it? One word, perhaps, will best describe it. Reconciliation. To see its wonderfulness think of four things.

1. That the reconciliation originates with the offended party.

2. The offended party, who seeks the reconciliation, is infinitely superior to the offender.

3. The offended party, who is infinitely superior, offers reconciliation to the lowest class of His foes. There are two great classes of enemies to God--fallen angels and fallen men; men are the inferior. Yet He passed by the angels and took hold upon the seed of Abraham.

4. The offended party, who is infinitely superior, offers reconciliation to the lowest classes of HIS foes at a most stupendous sacrifice.

II. ITS FORMATION IS WONDERFUL. How is this system of reconciliation formed? There are two things as to the mode which show the wonderfulness of the arrangement.

1. Its gradualness. We, when we have a work to do, to which we attach importance, hurry at it, and are impatient for its accomplishment; but God, to ripen this scheme, took four thousand long years.

2. Its instruments. When we have a work to do, we select the best men we can get. God employed the agency of wicked men in the working out of His great reconciling plan. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” etc.

III. ITS PROPAGATION IS WONDERFUL. Three things show the wonderfulness of its propagation.

1. The character of the persons to whom its propagation was first entrusted. To whom did He commit the ministry of this wonderful scheme! To the magnates, or the literati of His age? No, to a few poor fishermen.

2. The class of persons to whom it was first offered. The greatest sinners on earth; the sinners at Jerusalem, who imbrued their hands in the blood of His only begotten Son.

3. The pressing of it on the attention of those who frequently reject it. (Homilist.)

A feast for faith

I. Let us behold THE VISION OF GOD WHICH IS PRESENTED TO US IN THE TEXT.

1. God does not work without a plan.

2. This plan is wonderful in itself, and is found to be excellent when it is carried out.

II. SOME OF THE LESSONS FROM IT.

1. I have a word to say to those unconverted persons who have some desire after salvation. I would to God that, seeing His counsel is so wondrous, you would agree to it. It is in His counsel that sinners shall be saved by grace through believing in Christ.

2. Another word to you, the people of God. Agree to this in your own particular case. You say, “I cannot understand God’s dealings with me.” As if it were expected that you should! But you also add, “I cannot believe that God has good designs in it.” John said that if a man did not believe

God, he made God a liar, and so you who do not believe in God’s wisdom make Him a fool! Do you not shrink from that?

3. I now desire to speak to my fellow workers. When we are going to work for God do not let us be in such a mighty hurry. Let us have a well-formed plan, and let it be God’s plan.

4. When we know God’s plan we must carry it out.

5. Expect singular assistance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God’s council chamber and workshop

The Lord of hosts is seen by the enlightened eye, first of all in His council chamber, and then in His great workshop. He is “wonderful in counsel”; He is “excellent in working.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The husbandman taught by God

Some may remember the story of a Rugby public school boy, who heard when studying at Oxford of the sudden death of Dr. Arnold, his old headmaster, and lamented it bitterly, as indeed everyone who had known him did, but turned to a companion who sat by, and remarked that, after all, he perhaps owed more personal benefit to a dearly loved school friend, then dead, than to his master’s influence. “You did not know, then,” said his companion, “that Dr. Arnold chose him for you, and gave him to you purposely for your sake?” This was a revelation to the youth which completely overcame him, and after which he was ready to fall down and worship his good headmaster’s memory. A strong feeling often exists in a manly, vigorous farmer and hard working men employed under him to this effect at harvest time: “We raised those good crops, we raised and thatched those fine stacks, and we deserve what we have got.” Yes, you did, replies the text, for Divine providence taught and instructed you. (C. S. Bird, M. A.)

The Almighty the all-methodical

This last word of the chapter is very expressive. It literally means furtherance, help, salvation, and then the true wisdom or insight which ensures these: the wisdom which carries things through. It splendidly sums up Isaiah’s Gospel to the Jews, cowering like dogs before the coming calamity: God is not mere force or vengeance His judgments are not chaos. But “He is wonderful in counsel,” and all His ways have “furtherance” or “salvation” for their end. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

Jehovah wonderful in counsel

In one of the squares of the Public Garden in Boston is a unique granite monument On it are several devices symbolic of its design. On one side are the words, “To commemorate the fact that the inhaling of ether produces insensibility to pain; first proved to the world at the Massachusetts General Hospital in October A.D. 1856.”

On another side is a quotation from Isaiah, “This also cometh from the

Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.”

On another side are the Revelator’s words, “There shall be no more pain.”

The monument is a testimony that relief from suffering is an outcome of the Gospel, and that the means thereto are from the Lord. (Sermon by the Monday Club.)

God wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working

When you see a plan in an architect’s office that is very new and very pretty to look at, you say, “Ah! nothing has been done with it”; but when you see a plan that is smudgy and torn and almost broken through where it has been folded, you know that the man has done something with it. When Dr. Guthrie wanted his ragged schools founded, he called on a certain minister, who said,

“Well, you know, Mr. Guthrie, there is nothing very new in your scheme; I and Mr. So-and-so have been thinking over a similar plan to yours for the last twenty years” “Oh, yes,” said Dr. Guthrie, “I dare say; but you have never carried it out.” So some people are always thinking over some very fine plan of their own; but while the grass grows the steed starves. Now me

God who plans, also works. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 28:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/isaiah-28.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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