Isaiah 57
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Our attention is called to -

I. A PICTURE OF HUMAN GOODNESS. A good man is represented as "the righteous," as "the merciful," as one who "walketh in uprightness." These characterizations include:

1. The fear of God - reverence for his Name, the worship of his Divine Spirit, the recognition of his righteous claims, a supreme regard for his holy will.

2. The love of man - a practical acknowledgment of his claims on our sympathy and our succour, a hearty and practical desire to promote his well-being.

3. The regulation of daily life, in all stations and spheres, by the laws of truth, purity, honesty, sobriety. A righteous, merciful, and upright man is one who will be making an honest and earnest endeavour to realize all this in his character and his career. Nothing less will satisfy his aspiration.

II. A PICTURE OF HUMAN THOUGHTLESSNESS. "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart." When a community - nation or Church - has not been living and walking in the light of the Lord, it becomes dull of apprehension, spiritually blind, incapable of estimating the true character of events.

1. It fails to appreciate the worth of one good man's life. What an incalculable blessing a single true, pure, and holy life may be, and indeed must be! and what a fountain of good is dried up when one who leads such a life is taken away! It is a bad time, indicative of evil and prophetic of decline and death, when human worth is disregarded.

2. It fails to feel the injury and wrong done by arbitrary violence; it ought to resent it with keenest indignation, and to take vigorous steps to arrest and remove it.

3. It fails to recognize a valuable mitigation: "None considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come." It is natural enough for men to wish to go on into the future, that they may see what is coming, and that they may help to shape the event; but the wise and thoughtful will consider that there may be a future impending from which they would earnestly pray God to save them. It was not a threat, but a promise, sent to Josiah, "I will gather thee to thy fathers... neither shall thine eyes see all the evil which I will bring upon this place" (2 Kings 22:20). Many are they who have outlived the period of prosperity and peace, to whom an earlier death would have been a happier lot. We cannot be sure that a sudden and even (what we call)a premature death may not be a most merciful removal from intolerable pain, or from overwhelming temptation, or from grievous burdens and sorrows. We sing, "Our times are in thy hand," and we do well to continue, "O God, we wish them there."

III. A PICTURE OF HUMAN REPOSE. "He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds." From the tumult and the strain, from the battle and the burden of life, even the rest of the grave is welcome. But how much more welcome to the weary spirit is that rest which Jesus Christ has revealed, and which remaineth for the people of God! - rest in the home, in the likeness, in the glory, in the untiring service of the ascended Saviour. - C.

Possibly the good king -Josiah is here prophetically referred to. His untimely death seems a strange dispensation of Providence even to us now. Josiah's case may be taken as illustrating the general truth which is thus stated by Bishop Wordsworth: "Good and merciful men, who are taken away in the midst of their efforts to do good in their generation, and whose endeavours appear to be disowned by God, and to be blighted and withered by him, may perhaps seem to men to be cut off by a violent stroke of Divine indignation, and may be mourned by some as having died an untimely death; but the truth is - which these Scriptures reveal - they are gently gathered by God in love, and are in peace. The terms used have precise significations. The righteous" means "those who walk straight, and stand upright." An honoured pastor lay upon his dying bed, and a member of his congregation stood beside it, whose business ways were known to be somewhat shifty. Beckoning him to bend down close to him, the pastor solemnly said these few, but searching, words, "William, go straight! Merciful men" are men of kindness; gracious men, who, having themselves felt the loving-kindness of God, deal kindly with their fellow-men.

I. MERCY IS SHOWN IN SPARING THE RIGHTEOUS FROM COMING CALAMITIES. We have often to notice how graciously the death of our friends is timed. At first we wonder why they were taken just then, but the lapse of a few months satisfies us that they were taken "from the evil to come." The widow is removed before her little estate is wrecked by some inefficient or unfaithful trustee. The honorable business man is gathered in before some wrong-doer brings disgrace on his firm which would have broken his heart. Methuselah died the year before the Flood; Augustine a little before the sacking of Hippo. Pareus just before the taking of Heidelberg; Luther a little before the wars broke out in Germany. We have known beloved ones who all their life long prayed that they might not be spared to become troublesome to anybody, and mercy called them away almost suddenly, ere bodily powers began to decay. Most graciously the time, the place, the manner, of our exit from earth are divinely arranged; and in this matter too we may perfectly trust.

II. WRATH IS SHOWN IN REMOVING THE BARRIERS TO ONCOMING JUDGMENTS. This is one point which the prophet would enforce. The death of good men should be regarded as a sign that calamity is at hand. Righteousness can held back judgment, as is seen in Abraham's pleading for Sodom. Prayers and intercessions can hold back judgment. Then the removal of the righteous men and the intercessors removes barriers and lets free the flood. - R.T.

The idolaters are summoned to hear the judgment upon them. They are characterized as "sons of a sorceress, seed of an adulterer." The source of all idolatry is unfaithfulness to God regarded as the Husband of his people (Ezekiel 16:44, 45). Yet, in their pride, these idolaters make sport of and scoff at the true servants of God.

I. THE RITES OF IDOLATRY. There were enthusiastic orgies in the sacred groves of oak and in the gardens (Isaiah 1:29; Ezekiel 6:13; Hosea 4:13). There were sacrifices of children to Moloch. There were fetish-stones, which were anointed with oil, and these continued to be devoted to heathen uses. And Israel, having by covenant a "portion," or property, so to speak, in God, has exchanged this for the senseless stones; and to these food-offerings are made. The pictures of Phoenician, Israelitish, and Greek superstitions are in this respect much the same. Jehovah, in that jealousy which is the expression of a holy love, is deeply grieved by these things.

II. THE PROFLIGACY OF IDOLATRY. On the high hills shrines were erected, and tombs are still seen upon them, overshadowed by the tree on which votive offerings hang. Saints or prophets have replaced the old gods. Here idolatrous symbols were set up. And idolatry polluting politics, the people negotiated and coquetted with heathen powers, and humbled themselves to the lowest servility. And yet these negotiations and journeys had been in vain. For all that, the attempts had been renewed. "It is a striking illustration of men seeking happiness away from God. They wander from object to object; become weary in the pursuit, yet do not renounce it; still cling to hope, though often repulsed; though the world gives them no permanent comfort, though wealth, ambition, and gaiety, all fail of imparting happiness, - yet they do not give up the pursuit in despair. The world is still pursued with just as little success, with continually augmenting evidence that it cannot satisfy the desires of the immortal soul, with just as much reluctance to seek permanent bliss in God."

III. DIVINE REMONSTRANCE. The tone is one of gentleness and softness. "Who is there so strong and so terrible as to justify thee in thy infidelity to Jehovah? None." Yet there may be some excuse for them in his long silence. Passed over again and again, it might seem that God had forgotten to be gracious - that they were hidden from him. But now he will draw near again: "The speech of mingled mercy and judgment shall work more effectually on the heart" (cf Isaiah 46:13; Psalm 22:31; Psalm 98:2). Or the words may be taken ironically - it depends on whether we read "my righteousness" or "thy righteousness." In the coming trial, no help but Jehovah's will avail thee. "Her medley of gods" will not deliver her - the Pantheon of various divinations set up by her (cf. Micah 1:7). The wind shall carry them off like all dwellings and defences of merely human structure (cf. Matthew 7:26, 27).

IV. ETERNAL ASSURANCE. "To take refuge in Jehovah," in the Eternal, is the only safety, the only guarantee of stability and possession, amidst the flux and change of things. To say that they shall "possess the land" is to say, according to the manner of the Hebrew, everything that denotes favour for this life (Isaiah 49:8; Psalm 37:11, 29; cf. Matthew 5:5; Psalm 69:35, 36). And to "inherit the holy mountain" is to enter upon all spiritual privileges and joys - "as great as if they had possession of a portion of the mount on which the temple was built, and were permitted to dwell there." And then mysterious voices are heard, hinting that all obstacles shall be removed from the path of those who trust in God. The language is suitable to the return from exile, as if persons should go before them, crying, "Cast up!" So before a pacha the labourers go and remove stones out of the way, with the cry," Cast up the way; remove the stones!" (cf. Isaiah 26:7; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 40:3, 4; Isaiah 62:10). He who places obstacles in the path (Jeremiah 6:21) is he who gives command in his own time for their removal. War and peace, welfare and hindrances to welfare, are from the same hand. - J.

The righteous dies, and is at rest; but ye, what will ye make at last of your derision of the righteous, and of the follies and idolatries wherein ye trust? Nothing. Matthew Henry says, "Mocking the messengers of the Lord was Jerusalem's measure-filling sin; for what was done to them God took as done to himself. When they were reproved for their sins, and threatened with the judgments of God, they ridiculed the Word of God with the rudest and most indecent gestures and expressions of disdain. They sported themselves and made themselves merry with that which should have made them serious, and under which they should have humbled themselves. They made wry mouths at the prophets, and drew out the tongue, contrary to all the laws of good breeding; nor did they treat God's servants with the common civility with which they would have treated a gentleman's servant that had been sent to them on an errand." Illustrations may be found in the treatment of Isaiah (see Isaiah 28:7-15); of Jeremiah; and, above all, by the insults offered to the Lord Jesus by the men of Jerusalem. The "wide mouth" and the "drawn-out tongue," are the natural symbols of derision (see Psalm 35:21). We may note some of the conditions under which the messengers of God are likely to be insulted and misunderstood.

I. WHEN THEY DO NOT COME IN THE REGULAR AND RECOGNIZED ORDER. God has his order of ministrants in every age, and his ordinary messages to men may be expected to come through them: patriarchs in one age, priests in another, prophets in yet another, clergy in still another. And all due honour should be put on the Divine order for the particular time. But God has always held the right of sending messengers outside the order, as he sends comets into our solar system, and there is as real a law for the sending of seemingly erratic messengers as of the seemingly erratic comets. But there is always the disposition in those who belong to the order, and the attaches of the order, to reject the outside man. Compare our Lord's disciples saying to the Master," We found one teaching in thy Name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us." The questions concerning any apparent messenger from God, which we ought to ask, are these - Will his work bear the test of God's revealed Word? And does God seal his work with his Divine benediction? To reject any man's work which can stand this dual test is to insult God, whose messenger he certainly is.

II. WHEN THERE ARE ODDITIES IN THE MAN HIMSELF OR IN THE MANNER OF DELIVERING HIS MESSAGE. Just as we have established the notion that there must be an "order" through whom Divine messages alone can come, so we have convinced ourselves that there are particular styles and methods in which alone Divine messages do come. So if a message is not to pattern, we think we are right in rejecting it. The personal peculiarities of a messenger may touch the humorous faculty, and so close men's minds and hearts against the reception of the message. But this is to insult the messenger, and in him the God who chose him and sent him with the message. We have not to ask what a man is; but we have to ask - Is he of God? If he is, we must hear him.

III. WHEN THE MESSENGER MAKES SEVERE DEMANDS. Illustrate from Jonah at Nineveh. No doubt there were many who scorned him on this ground. Also see the demand of Savonarola which led to the great burning in the market-place of Florence. Many of the wilder spirits of Florence did jeer at him. Men in every age have preferred the prophets who prophesied smooth and soft things; and they have always been disposed to reject the prophets who had to do the nobler and more necessary work of prophesying rough things and hard things. Exactly what our over-civilized generation needs is some prophet of God, who will tell us strongly, plainly, sternly, what God would have us do. But of this we may be quite sure, even in this enlightened nineteenth century, such a prophet and teacher would have a hard time of it.

IV. WHEN THE MESSAGE GOES AGAINST THE FASHION OF THE AGE. For there are fashions in thinking and religion, as well as in manners and dress. And none of us like to be out of the thinking or religious fashion. But Fashions may become slavery to us, and degrade us as slavery always does. Let a man of God come and show us the evils into which fashions - mental and religious - have brought us, and we hate the man; we cry out against him, we are all alarm, because we have deluded ourselves with the notion that fashion is synonymous with truth. Urge that we are bound to test every public witness, and decide for ourselves whether he is of God. If he is, then to neglect his message is to sin against God, and to insult him is to insult God. - R.T.

In the smooth stones of the valley is thy portion... even to them hast thou poured out drink offerings. A good deal of information is at command on this subject, Illustrative matter will be found in Kitto's 'Daily Bible Illustrations,' vol. 'Isaiah,' p. 209. Matthew Arnold sums up the matter in the following note: "The worship of stones is a very early form of idolatry, and originated, probably, in the veneration paid to meteoric stones - stones which, as the people said, 'fell down from heaven.' But the worship extended to other stones also. Traces of this worship occur in Genesis, in Jacob's consecration of the stones in his passage by Bethel (Genesis 28:18). The Greeks, too, had this stone-worship. 'In the earlier times,' says the Greek traveller Pausanias, 'all the Greeks worshipped, in place of images of the gods, undressed stones.' We find the name Baetylia given to these stones, and it has even been conjectured that this name comes from Bethel." Smooth stones (named salagrams), chiefly from the river Gandaki, are treated as sacred objects by the Vaishnavas all over North India. Dr. Turner writes, "I have several' smooth stones of the stream' from the New Hebrides, which were used as idols, and have heard of precisely similar stones being used in other parts of the Pacific." At Inniskea, off the coast of Mayo, a stone, carefully kept wrapped up in flannel, used to be brought out at certain periods to be adored; and when a storm arises, this god is supplicated to send a wreck on their coast! It is narrated that there is a stone set up to the south of St. Columba's Church, in the island of Eriska, about eight feet high and two feet broad. It is called by the natives the bowing-stone; for when the inhabitants had the first sight of the church, they set up this stone, and then bowed, and said the Lord's Prayer. Three points may be illustrated.

I. GOD IS OFFENDED WHEN THINGS ARE PUT IN PLACE OF HIM. This is the coarser form of idolatry. Material things are superstitiously invested with powers, and become actual idols.

II. GOD IS OFFENDED WHEN THINGS ARE USED TO REPRESENT HIM. This is the refined form of idolatry which some thinking and educated persons approve. The thing - stone or figure - becomes for them a material representation of the invisible God. This is offensive because of the limitations it puts on men's conceptions of the Divine Being.

III. GOD IS OFFENDED WHEN THINGS ARE MADE THE MEDIUM FOR GETTING TO HIM. This is one phase of modern idolatry. It is an offence because the essence of the last, the Christian, revelation is that each individual soul can have direct and immediate access to God. There is no place for idol-mediators. - R.T.

Thou art wearied. What do we mean by "weariness"? Look at the word. It means "to wear;" not to wear out, but to wear away, to exhaust the nervous sensibilities, the tissues of brain and heart. So we use the word in relation to mind. We become worn and weary. St. Paul felt this. It is not lassitude which comes from indifference, but the exhaustion felt by the earnest and. the faithful soul. Let us thank God for restorative power. In nature how blessed this is! The weary traveller, unable to drag his tired limbs one step further through the leaden air and under the copper sky of the East, laves his limbs in the limpid stream, and lies down to rest. When the sun fills the east with rosy light he is up and. off again - the birds sing, the air is full of vitality; freshened and cheered, he is young once morel So with grace. God has provided refreshment for us all. We need. not despair of reaching the goal. "They shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their head." We have the ever-open fountain of a Saviour's precious blood, to which we can come for cleansing and renewal; the Holy Ghost to quicken and inspire; and the Word of God, which is spirit and life -

"Come, let us anew our journey pursue."

I. WEARINESS COMES WITH TEMPORARY DISAPPOINTMENT AND DEFEAT. I say "temporary," because God himself has promised to perfect that which concerneth us. The top-stone shall be put on the temple of character with shoutings of "Grace, grace unto it." The way of perfection is just the way which wearies us. The building for immortality cannot be completed in a day. Moreover, the stones are living stones. We are disappointed that the building does not progress quickly and easily. And we are human as well as Divine. We have citizenship and home to deal with. We are related to friends and to children. Think of Rebekah! She said, "I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth - such as these?" The motherly anxiety was at work. She knew how slight her power was in such a sphere as that of her boy's love; and she knew what life-issues depended on that. As we get older we feel "limitations" of power. We can counsel and pray, but we cannot command. The mind looks with sorrow on the feeble sceptre of the will! We stand outside events, and all we can do is so little. Disappointment is a school wherein we learn humility and trust in God. Disappointment is a cloud, and we wait till the heavens are clear and the all-revealing light comes again. But we are defeated, too, in ourselves; in others. "Depart from me," Peter said; "for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord."

"Oppressed with sin and woe
A burdened heart I bear."
But first defeat has made many a true general, has quickened many inventors, like Watt, Stephenson, and Brunel, and the vanquished one has become the victor in after-hours. Still, weariness comes - to student, explorer, scientist, and missionary, to philanthropist saddened with ingratitude, and to disciple following the Lord. But this is not the weariness of sin; that not only exhausts, but destroys.

II. WEARINESS COMES WITH SELF-DISCOVERY. We become more revealed to ourselves. The volcano tells what is in the earth. The lightning reveals the latent electricity in the air. Passions and lusts reveal terrible possibilities in good men. David said, "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim;" and again, "I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God." Conflict with sin in all its forms is weary, weary work.

1. The roots are so hidden. Like some garden weeds, they have roots that never seem uprooted, long white threads that interlace the earth and strangle other plants.

2. The battle is so varied. Like Stanley's passage of the falls, enemies on both banks and on the island mid-stream - cannibals who cry, "Meat, meat!" Scripture speaks of enemies who devour our souls. "Their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall."

3. The avengements are so real. There is no escaping the voice! "Thou art the man!" And the soul cannot pretend not to hear. It turns pale. Scepticism says, "It is not a real voice!" How does scepticism know? The induction, is so wide and comprehensive. All men feel it after sin. Take Divine advice. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also real)." Weariness, you say, then, is to be expected. Yes; think of the cry of St. Paul. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The answer is, "Christ - Christ alone." "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us." More than conquerors! Yes, because we do not leave a desolate province. The gospel is a creator as well as a conqueror. "The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."

III. WEARINESS COAXES WITH UNBELIEF. It was so in the old world, and so it will be in the new. The Greeks had an underlying sadness in their outwardly beautiful life, as Luthardt so well shows in his volume on the Christian evidences. It is faith which gives life and zest. Thomas Carlyle says in his essay on Diderot, "All epochs, wherein unbelief, under whatever form soever, maintains its sorry victory, should they ever for a moment glitter with a sham splendour, vanish from the eyes of posterity; because no one chooses to burden himself with study of the unfruitful." So he shows us how French philosophism vanished into non-entity. Yes, that is it; there is non-entity, no-being in unbelief. What a glorious creed is the Christian creed - meeting all deepest necessities of sin, and want, and sorrow, and immortal instinct,. by its doctrines of Divine atonement, fatherhood, sympathetic brotherhood, and eternal life! Who can be weary when he believes in One who is himself the revelation of the Father? Bringing life and immortality to light, Christ has made this world more beautiful. There is a deeper life even in human love. As Esther Lyon says, in 'Felix Holt,' "One likes a beyond everywhere." Men must be weary who have lost faith.

1. Round of same duties without a goal.

2. Growth a mockery merging into weakness.

3. Health into pain.

Vision into dimness. Thought into blank! If this age becomes an unbelieving age, its joy-bells will all be muffled, its fruit will all wither. It is faith that foresees, foretastes, and forestores.

IV. WEARINESS COMES FROM SOLITUDE. The regiment is thinning, thinning, in which you started. You have seen many arms of the soldiers "dip below the downs" into the valley. You are beginning in a human sense to feel solitary. Yes; it is not enough to give help even to the poor; you must visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions. Show them a face. An old woman was once speaking to me of a young visitor who was timid and shy, and could not pray with her! "What did she do then?" I said. "Oh, she looked at me, and it did me good!" Yes; the face is a revelation. The Master was weary in solitude: "What! could ye not watch with me one hour?" So was St. Paul: "At Athens alone." We cannot take the poet's recipe -

"Bury our dead joys,
And live above them with a loving world." No; it is ignoble to forget them. But the Christian is never alone. The Saviour is near. "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." God grant that all our solitude may be lightened by his presence, all our weariness refreshed by his love. Into green pastures he will lead us, by still waters he will talk to us. And all the weary and heavy-laden may find rest in him. - W.M.S.

Whether the guilty error of Israel consisted in its departure into idolatry, or in its having recourse to the arm of flesh instead of to the power of its Divine Redeemer, we reach the same conclusion, viz. -

I. THAT SIN GOES TO TEDIOUS LENGTHS IN ITS WANDERING FROM GOD. It is "wearied in the greatness of its way." Whatever may be the particular course which iniquity may take - whether it moves in the direction of disbelief, or of covetousness, or of any one of the vices, or of worldliness - it goes far enough to find that the path of sinful error is a long and tedious road, that it is one in which the soul finds no lasting satisfaction, that there continually recurs a sense of want and spiritual craving, a hungering of the heart for that which is not supplied. Their name is legion who find their own chosen course of sin a weary round, an unsatisfying pursuit.

II. THAT, SPITE OF ITS OWN WEARINESS, ST PERSISTS IN' ITS UNHALLOWED PATH. It is weary enough, yet it "says not, There is no hope." It finds just enough to maintain some kind of existence - "the life of thine hand" - to go on without being altogether changed and restored. Are there not multitudes of men who are dragging on a weary life, profoundly dissatisfied with what they are in themselves and what they are accomplishing, and yet allowing themselves to continue in their guilty course? The path of sin is a very pitiable one; it is no wonder -

III. THAT IT CALLS DOWN A STRONG DIVINE REPROACH. (Ver. 11.) God reproaches his erring children:

1. That they have given themselves up to that which is utterly unworthy of their devotion: "Whom hast thou feared?"

2. That they have neglected the strong claims he has on their worship and service - he who has laid them under such deep obligations and has held out to them such glorious prospects; "Hast not remembered me." Nor must it be forgotten -

IV. THAT GOD'S SILENCE, AS WELL AS HIS SPEECH, IS AN ARGUMENT FOR RETURN. "Have not 1 held my peace... and thou fearest me not?"

1. God's silence is strangely and grievously misinterpreted (Psalm 50:21).

2. Instead of making it an encouragement to sin, it ought to be employed as an opportunity for repentance. It is a Divine pause, in order that, while it lasts, the guilty may reconsider and return.

3. God's silence is temporary; it is imposed on himself by a strong and merciful restraint. But it cannot be very long continued; the interests of righteousness demand that it shall be broken. Let not the impenitent presume -

"For tho' mercy be kind and its patience endure,
To the path of repentance it seeks to allure,
And they who are deaf to its voice may be sure
That God will not always be silent.

Oh, Time brings the hour - we shall soon all be there -
When the Judge on his judgment-throne shall appear,
And his sentence of mercy or wrath shall declare,
And then win no longer be silent." ? C.

Cheyne thinks the first reference of this verse is to the ceaseless quest of the nation, in this its troublous time, for help and protection, including, of course, embassies to foreign kings, and also every other specimen of untheocratic policy. "Nothing could convince these idolatrous Jews of the folly of their misplaced trust and vain confidence." Barnes given the following suggestive note on the general application of the passage: "This is a striking illustration of the conduct of men in seeking happiness away from God. They wander from object to object; they become weary in the pursuit, yet they do not abandon it; they still cling to hope though often repulsed, and though the world gives them no permanent comfort, though wealth, ambition, gaiety, and vice all fail in imparting the happiness which they sought, yet they do not give it up in despair. They still feel that it is to be found in some other way than by the disagreeable necessity of returning to God, and they wander from object to object, and from land to land, and become exhausted in the pursuit, and still are not ready to say, ' There is no hope; we give it up in despair, and we will now seek happiness in God.'" Matthew Henry keenly, if somewhat quaintly, says, "Prosperity in sin is a great bar to conversion from sin." Henderson puts in a good sentence the immediate and local association of the verse: "The idolatrous Jews wearied themselves with their unhallowed practices; but finding that they had not entirely exhausted their strength, they would not give up their pursuits as hopeless, but rather emboldened themselves in wickedness."

I. IT IS A FACT - SINFUL WAYS DO WEARY US. Illustrate the pursuit of pleasure by means of self-indulgence. Or the "quest of the chief good" on purely human lines (illustrate this from the Book of Ecclesiastes). Or the mastery of evil by effort of serf-will. Or the effort to get eternal life by our own doings and strivings. In every case we are soon left wearied out and sick at heart.

II. THIS FACT MEN ARE SLOW TO RECOGNIZE. They will not say, "There is no hope." By all kinds of delusions men persuade themselves to try once again. The last thing men will give up is hope in themselves and their own self-schemes.

III. MAN'S CHANCE COMES ONLY WHEN HE IS HUMBLE ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE THIS FACT. He must he willing to say, "Myself I cannot save." Then, turning to God, he will say, "Thou canst save, and thou alone." - R.T.

God pleads, saying, "Who filled thee with dread, or of whom wast thou afraid, when thou provedst false, and didst not remember me?" Some mental creation of God, or some false teaching concerning God, occupied the thought and the heart, and kept the men of Israel from feeling all those persuasions to repentance which come from the full and the worthy knowledge of him. Compare the expressions, "Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance;" "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Some think that the allusion is to the helpless idols in whose aid the people vainly trusted. Matthew Arnold paraphrases thus: "How could thy calamities, and the fear of thy Babylonian tyrant, make thee so superstitious and forgetful?" Illustrating the earlier method of interpreting the verse, it may be shown how wrong and imperfect thoughts of God are still the great hindrances in men's way. These wrong thoughts come either as -

I. CREATIONS OF MEN'S OWN FEARS. God too often is not to men what he really is, but what he seems to be when seen through their fears and conscience of sin. So a revelation was needed which could assure men of God's pitying mercy and forgiving love. When men, conscious of transgression and fearing judgment, try to paint God, we cannot wonder that their picture should be untrue and unworthy The thing of which it is so difficult to persuade sinners is that there is forgiveness with God, and that he delighteth in mercy.

II. MISCONCEPTIONS OF THEOLOGICAL TEACHINGS. There is always the danger to be guarded against that the exigencies of a system make us fashion a suitable God, rather than try to recognize in all simplicity the God who has been revealed. Therefore, in our day, so many resist the teachings that are known as Calvinistic. The hard, legal Deity of that system is felt to represent most imperfectly and unworthily the Father of Jesus, and Saviour of the world. But we must understand that the false representations are more often found in the statements of those who attempt to expound a system than in the system itself.

III. AS ONE-SIDED VISIONS OF TRUTH WHICH NEEDS TO BE SEEN AS A WHOLE. This mistake is often pointed out in connection with the two attributes of "mercy" and "justice." The modern tendency to dwell on the milder features of the Divine nature, and to exclude the sterner ones, is perilously keeping men from that repentance which is the only open highway to the eternal life. - R.T.

The Divine One whom Israel has so grievously wronged (vers. 4-9) intimates (ver. 12) that he will make known to his people the results of their apostasy from him; he will tell them "how unprofitable are their works," how suicidal is their policy; he will tell them also how great is the reward of the wise - of those who abide in his service.

I. THE BITTER FATE OF THE UNGODLY. Departing from God, they have no resort but that which they find in their own poor divinities, in those "heaps of idols" whose power is blown away with the first breath of adversity; they may cry to these wretched images, but they will meet with no response. This will prove the portion of the ungodly. in every age: the powers to which, in God's absence, they have recourse will fail them utterly in their time of need; they may be numerous, they may be "companies," they may be highly esteemed, but they will certainly tail when the hour of trial arrives. Worldly wealth, a great reputation, troops of friends, high social position, varied attainments, strength of bodily constitution, - any one or all of these, or other resources besides these, may be possessed, but they will ignominiously fail in the hour of supreme necessity; they will not, for they cannot, deliver a human soul in its deepest troubles, in its darkest hours; they will be as impotent as "the chaff which the wind driveth away." "Vain things for safety" are they all. The soul of man has wants which strike deeper and which rise higher than any of them can reach.

II. THE BLESSED HERITAGE OF THE GODLY. "He that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land." To him may come, will come, hours of darkness, of loss, of trial; but he has a stay and a resource in God his Father, in Jesus Christ his unfailing Friend, which will make him blessed at every point of his pilgrimage, in every stage of his career. For him will be:

1. The rest of heart which comes with a consciousness of spiritual integrity.

2. Growth in all that is good and wise.

3. The happiness of heart which is found in the worship of God: "He shall inherit my holy mountain."

4. The joy of sacred service, of rendering succour, of imparting strength to the weak and comfort to the sad, of rescuing and reinstating the fallen and despairing.

5. The hope of the heavenly inheritance. - C.

I. HIS EXALTATION. "High and holy:" high because holy, exalted far above the meanness of human thoughts and the impurity of human ways. Far above creatures of all species and all ranks, it is needless further to designate him. He is the Incomparable One. He dwells in eternity (cf. Isaiah 9:6). His Name is "the Holy One" (Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 30:11; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:3, 8; Isaiah 47:4); his place the high and holy place, or temple (Isaiah 6:1).

II. HIS CONDESCENSION "Wherever the Scripture bears witness to the Divine mightiness, it brings out side by side with it the Divine humbleness (Deuteronomy 10:17, 18; Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 68:4, 5). It is not an Epicurean view of God (Acts 17:18), nor the Gnostic view that God had left the world to the management of inferior beings, by himself created. Though illimitable and unapproachable, he delights to make his abode with men. "He cannot direct the affairs of his people from without. He desires to be enthroned in their hearts." He is with them that are of a contrite, or crushed, spirit - souls bowed down with a sense of sin and unworthiness (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 138:6), to make alive their spirit, to impart strength and comfort, even as genial rains and dews fall upon the drooping plant. Such a lowly state of mind can only have been produced by affliction (Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 65:14; 66:2; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:2, 3).

III. HIS FAITHFULNESS AND LOVE. He will not be angry with his people for ever (Psalm 103:9). The soul could not hold out in a prolonged contention with its Maker. Its power must fail; it must sink into destruction. "If we are God's children, we are safe. We may suffer much and long. We may suffer so much, it may seem scarce possible we should endure more. But he knows how much we can bear, and will lighten the burden and remove the load" (Psalm 128:38, 39). Why has he smitten them at all? It is because of their sin. Unjust gain is put for sin in general (cf. Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 5:1; Ezekiel 33:31; Psalm 119:36), even, as in other places, the shedding of blood, He has seen their ways, both of sin and aberration, of suffering and amendment. Having hidden himself, he will now interpose to heal their wounds, and to guide them by a clearer path (Isaiah 58:11). (For sin as disease, and pardon as healing, cf. Jeremiah 33:6; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 41:4; Jeremiah 3:22; Jeremiah 17:4; 53:14:4.) And as the result of all this, he creates the "fruit of the lips" (cf. Hosea 14:2), i.e. praise and thanksgiving; of which the subject would be peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14-17) to the near and remote, Jew and Gentile, or with reference to the holy city; no degree of remoteness was to disqualify true Israelites from the enjoyment of the promise.

IV. THE CONTRAST. The impure and the unpardoned alone shall know no peace. Those who are in a state of alienation from Jehovah shall be, on the contrary, like the restless, ever-shifting sea (Jude 1:13; cf. Ovid, 'Tristia,' 1:10. 33). They have no fixed happiness, no substantial peace; a rage of passion ever ferments within them; past guilt casts up its mire in memory; feat's of the future torment. How different from the scene where "the good man meets his fate, quite in the verge of heaven"!

So fades a summer cloud away;
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er;
So gently shuts the eye of day;
So dies a wave along the shore. ? J.

The prophet presents us with a most noble contrast as he draws for us the surpassing greatness of the infinite God, and then pictures him to us as resident in a humble human soul -

I. THE EXCEEDING GREATNESS OF GOD. And this whether we have regard to

(1) the duration of his existence, - the fact that he "inhabits eternity," that he is "from everlasting to everlasting;" or to

(2) his position in the universe, - he is the "high and lofty One," King of kings, Lord of lords, immeasurably removed in his majesty and authority above the highest and mightiest of his creatures; or to

(3) his character, - "his Name is Holy." This name of holiness is indicative of all moral excellence, and reminds us that God is he in whom all goodness of every kind whatsoever has its residence and its source. So surpassingly great, in all respects, is he whom we worship, with whom we have everything to do.

II. THE HOPE OF THE HUMBLE IN REGARD TO HIM. We naturally ask - What hope is there that finite and guilty men can ever be brought into a close relationship with this infinite and holy God? what chance is there of anything like happy fellowship with him? Our text provides the answer.

1. The conclusion to which our philosophy and our experience point us - this is to a hopeless separation from him. Our human thought (see Isaiah 55:8) would lead, has continually led, to the conclusion that God would dwell apart from man in some remote, select region of illimitable space, not concerning himself with creatures so small and insignificant as we are. Our experience of guilt would lead us to the conclusion that we are hopelessly barred from his presence, and that those who have grieved and wronged him, as we have done, must be content to be banished for ever from his royal presence. But against this reasoning and this instinctive dread we have to place:

2. The fact which Divine revelation establishes; "with him also [does God dwell] who is of a contrite and humble spirit." It is a well-established fact, built on sure premises, on words which are stronger than the hills and the skies (Matthew 24:35), that God abides with all penitent souls, manifesting himself to them as their Father and their Friend, inviting their trust, their love, their joy in himself and in his near presence (see text; Isaiah 66:2; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 51:17; Psalm 138:6; Matthew 5:3; Matthew 18:4; 1 Peter 5:5).

3. The explanation of this fact lies in two Divine attributes:

(1) His mercy. The merciful Father desires to restore and "to revive" the heart that has been crushed under a weight of sin. He wounds, but it is in order that he may heal. He desires to see, and he promotes both by word and action, the contrition of spirit which appropriately follows a sinful deed or a guilty course; then the gracious and pitiful Lord extends his Divine mercy, and he heals the broken heart, restoring to it "the joy of his salvation," the blessedness of "the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered."

(2) His considerateness. "I will not contend for ever... for the spirit should fail before me," etc. We have to do with a considerate Father, who "knows our frame, and who remembers that we are dust;" with a considerate Saviour, who remembers that the spirit is willing though the flesh be weak; with One who has a gracious forbearance in his chiding, lest too severe a sentence should crush the spirit he only means to bend and bless. We can hardly take too humble a view of ourselves, of the heinousness of our guilt and of the imperfection of our service; but our hope is this - we have to deal with a merciful and considerate Lord, and his friendliness toward us may be measured by the lowliness of the view we are taking of ourselves. Well may the proud of heart be afraid, for the heaviest penalties impend above their head; but let the humble-hearted be full of hope, for God is with them, and he will dwell in them, making their hearts his home. - C.

I dwell... also in him that is contrite, and of a lowly spirit. The earlier test of religion had been formal, and precise obedience to all the claims and conditions of the Jehovah-covenant; the exact keeping of every ritual, social, and national requirement. St. Paul states the old test thus: "The man that doeth them shall live in them." It was the work of the prophets to introduce the new moral test, and prepare the way for the higher spiritual test of Christianity. The later prophets even venture to be severe on mere ritual obedience, as if, in the sight of God, it had become quite worthless. They intimate that God searches hearts, looks for right motives, asks not for what a man has, save as the man can, through his gifts, give himself to God. The "broken and contrite heart" are especially presented because this stands in most severe contrast with the self-satisfaction and self-will of unregenerate man. If a man is humble, sensible of sin and sorrow for sin, God knows he is such a man as can be made a monument of Divine grace. (Another treatment of this theme will be found under Isaiah 66:2.) It has been said, "God has three sorts of dwellings: first, in the highest; second, in the sanctuary; third, in humble hearts. The first dwelling is the universalis praesentia, the universal presence, by which he fills all (Ver. 23:24); but there he is too high and incomprehensible for us. The second is gratiosa, the gracious presence, by which he lets himself be found in the Word and sacraments, and also comes finally to us, and makes his dwelling in our hearts." And the test is whether our hearts are such as he can make his dwelling in. The three tests are -

I. DOES A MAN STRICTLY OBEY AND KEEP ALL RITUAL AND SOCIAL INJUNCTIONS? That test may suffice for children, and child-ages of the world; for we must begin moral education by requiring obedience to formal commands.

II. IS A MAN IN A RIGHT STATE OF MIND AND HEART? Such a state must include reverence before a God so great; thankfulness to a God so kind; humbleness through a sense of shortcoming before a God who makes such claims; and penitence through conviction of sin against a God so holy.

III. DOES A MAN ACCEPT GOD'S GIFT OF PARDON AND LIFE IN HIS SON CHRIST JESUS? "He that believeth on the Son hath life: he that believeth not on the Son of God hath not life." We cannot be tested only by the two first tests; the third searches, and perhaps condemns us. - R.T.

These words of Isaiah indicate the course which the human spirit often takes in its downward and upward path. We have -

I. THE ESSENCE OF INIQUITY - THIS IS SELFISHNESS. "The iniquity of his selfishness," as it may be rendered. Whether it takes the specific form of rapacity, of unholy ambition, of self-indulgence or of any other special sin, you may trace iniquity home to the evil spirit of selfishness - the withholding from God, for self, of that which is due to him. Those who are transgressing none of the ten commandments in the letter, but are yet living to themselves, are living in iniquity.

II. DIVINE DISPLEASURE AND REBUKE. "I was wroth and smote him: I hid me." Our wilful departure from God and refusal of our hearts and lives excite his profound displeasure, his sacred grief - call forth his parental wrath and displeasure. In a very solemn sense "God is angry with the wicked;" they abide under his "wrath." He is compelled to withhold from them the light of his countenance; he rebukes them; he sends the penalty which is due to sin, and Which is appropriate to the particular sin which is being committed. He hides his face; he withdraws his blessing; he causes pain, disappointment, sorrow, to visit the doer, to afflict the heart.

III. HUMAN RESENTMENT AND INCREASED REBELLIOUSNESS OF SPIRIT. "He went on frowardly in the way of his heart." That which is intended to draw near, sometimes drives away. Godly sorrow works repentance; but sorrow, taken ill and treated wrongly, works death. If the heat does not melt, it hardens.

IV. THE VICTORY OF DIVINE LOVE. Still, in spite of a growing waywardness, the pity of God pursues the wandering soul. And though deceived and led astray, man travels far and wanders long, God "sees his ways;" he stretches forth the hand of power and grace, and he "heals him;" he leads him home and comforts him with the priceless blessings which are under the Father's roof. These blessings are:

1. Reconciliation: the being spiritually healed, being restored to God after the saddest of all separations - spiritual distance from God.

2. Peace: peace offered and granted to those who were more distant and also to those less far removed from truth and righteousness and purity - the peace of conscious acceptance.

3. Praise: "the fruit of the lips," joyful ascription unto him that redeemed and restored; the daily song of gratitude that wells up from a heart filled with gratitude and love.

V. A POWERFUL INCENTIVE TO RETURN. Perhaps it may be taken as one "fruit of the lips" that the healed and restored soul now speaks for God to men; now becomes his spokesman; now teaches transgressors his way (Psalm 51:12, 13). And one convincing and impressive truth which a home-brought wanderer can enforce better than an unfallen angel is the hardness of the transgressor's road, the weariness of the way to him who is leaving God for the far country, the restlessness of a heart that is separated from its Divine Source and Friend; the truth that the mirth of unhallowed enjoyment is very shallow and short-lived, that fast on the heels of guilty pleasure come pursuing pain of body and misery of soul; the fact that there is no peace to the wicked, no lasting joy to any one who has abandoned the fountain of living waters for the broken cisterns of earth and time. The plaintive cry which comes from the aching hearts and troubled lives of guilt is answered by one voice alone - by that of him who stands before all generations of men, and says, in the accents of sweet and sovereign pity "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - C.

But the wicked are like the sea that is tossed up, for it cannot rest, and its waters toss up mire and mud (Cheyne). Comp. Jude 1:13 for the figure. It is curious to note the marked contrast between our ideas and sentiments concerning the sea, and those of ancient times and Eastern lands. To us it is the beautiful shining sea, and many of us feel that we must see it at least once a year. To us it is the most soothing and calming of Nature's influences, and we. sympathize with Bonar as he sings -

"Summer ocean, how I'll miss thee,
Miss the thunder of thy roar,
Miss the music of thy ripple,
Miss thy sorrow-soothing shore.
Summer ocean, how I'll miss thee,
When 'the sea shall be no more'!" But to Eastern people generally in ancient times, and to Israelites in particular, the sea was a great dread. It was the separator, the engulpher of life, the restless storm-darkened, storm-tossed, wailing sea; suggestive only of foulness, unrest, and peril. So it was a type of the wicked man in ways, and with applications, which we find it most difficult to realize. But the unresting character of the sea does impress us. There is no peace to the heaving, swirling, wind-driven, tide-drawn sea.

I. THERE IS NO PEACE TO THE WICKED BECAUSE, IN HIS WAY, HE CAN NEVER GET IT. His way is breaking up the Divine order: rest can never come that way. His way is striving with everything that makes fair promises, apart from God: rest can never come that way. His way is to seek for rest in things that he can possess, not in the character which he can be: rest can never come that way. God's world was made for good men, and it will yield its best treasures to, and satisfy, nobody but the good.

II. THERE IS NO PEACE TO THE WICKED BECAUSE, ON HIS CONDITIONS, GOD WILL NEVER GIVE IT. And peace for man is the gift of God. So, speaking for God, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." The wicked want to buy it. God does not sell it. The wicked would consume it on their lusts if they obtained it. God will never allow his gifts to be abused. The wicked are not prepared to ear that peace which God calls peace; so he will wait until they come to a right mind. Show, in contrast, that we have "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" - a heart-peace that works itself out into all sacred testings of life and relationship. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Isaiah 56
Top of Page
Top of Page