Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us,
We may notice three things in the text: —
I. A DECLARATION OF A MOST BLESSED FACT — "The daypring from on high hath visited us."
II. THE SOURCE AND ORIGIN OF THAT BLESSED FACT "Through the tender mercy of our God."
III. ITS DIVINE FRUITS AND CONSEQUENCES." TO give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace."
I. In looking at these three points connected with, and springing out of the text, I shall rather invert their order; and consider, first, the original spring and source of the blessings mentioned in the text. This is set forth in the words, "Through the tender mercy of our God." Mercy is the source and fountain of all our spiritual blessings. But what is mercy? It embraces several particulars.
1. It embraces a feeling of pity and compassion. But pity and compassion do not fill up the whole idea of mercy; for we read, that God's "tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:9). Thus the Lord, in sparing Nineveh, "remembered even the cattle (Jonah 4:11). And when He caused the waters of the deluge to assuage it was because he " remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark" (Genesis 8:1). There is in the bosom of their Creator mercy and pity even for the brute creation. As full of mercy, He also "relieveth the fatherless and widow" (Psalm 146:9); and "loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment" (Deuteronomy 10:18).
2. We must, therefore, add to the idea of pity and compassion, another mark, that of pardon, in order to show what mercy is as extended to the family of God. For the Lord's people are sinners; and as such, being transgressors of God's holy law, need pardon and forgiveness.
3. But in order to complete the full description of mercy, we must ever view it as flowing through the blood and obedience of Immanuel. Mercy, was not, like creation, a mere display of an attribute of Jehovah. If I may use the expression, it cost the Godhead a price: "Ye are bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20). But there is an expression in the text that heightens, and casts a sweet light upon this mercy. It is there called tender mercy; literally, as it is in the margin, "bowels of mercy." Not mere mercy; but "tender mercy." Not cold and naked mercy; but mercy flowing forth out of the bowels of Divine compassion. Now nothing but " tender mercy" could ever look down with compassion upon the sons of men, or pluck out of the depths of the fall such ruined wretches. But to view mercy in its real character, we must go to Calvary.
II. But we pass on to consider that solemn declaration, that blessed fact contained in the words — " Whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us." There is a connection, you will observe, betwixt the "tender mercy of God," and the visiting of "the dayspring from on high." The "tender mercy of God" is the fountain, and the "visiting of the dayspring from on high" is the stream. Let us then endeavour, if God enable us, to unfold the mind of the Spirit in the words. First. What is meant by the expression "dayspring?" By "dayspring" is meant the day-dawn, the herald of the rising sun, the change from darkness to light, the first approach of morn; in one word, the spring of the day. But what is this "dayspring" spiritually? It is the intimation of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. It is not the same thing as the Sun of Righteousness; but it is the herald of His approach; the beams which the rising sun casts upon the benighted world, announcing the coming of Jesus, "the King in His beauty." This expression was singularly applicable in the mouth of Zacharias. The Lord of life and glory had not then appeared; He was still in the womb of the Virgin Mary. But His forerunner, John, had appeared as the precursor, the herald of His approach, and was sent to announce that the Sun of Righteousness was about to arise. But there is another, an experimental meaning, connected with the words. "The dayspring from on high" is not to be confined to the approach of the Son of God in the flesh; but it may be extended to signify the appearance of the Son of God in the heart. Now, "the dayspring from on high" visits the soul with the very first Divine intimation dropped into the conscience respecting the Person, work, love, and blood of the Son of God. Until this day-dawn beams upon the soul, it is for the most part ignorant of the way by which a sinner is to be saved. But the first "dayspring from on high" which usually visits the soul is from a view by precious faith of the glorious person of Immanuel. Until we see by the eye of faith the glorious Person of "Immanuel, God with us," there is no day-dawn in the heart. But, in looking at the glorious Person of the Son of God, we catch a faith's view of His atoning blood, and see it to be of infinite dignity. So also with respect to the glorious righteousness of Immanuel. But what a sweetness there is in the expression, "visited us!" What is conveyed by it One idea contained in it is, that it is the act of a friend. If I have a friend, and I visit him, my visit is a mark of my friendship and affection. But another idea connected with the word " visit," is that of unexpectedness. Is it not so sometimes naturally? We have an unexpected visit. We may have been looking for our friend to call; but the time passes away, and no well-known rap is heard at our door. We wonder why our friend delays his coming so long. But perhaps, when we are least expecting it, the form of our friend appears. So spiritually. We may be longing and languishing, hoping, and expecting the visit of the day-spring from on high;" but it does not appear; the Lord delayeth His coming; there is no intimation of His appearing, no putting in of His hand by the hole of the door, no looking in through the lattice, no glimpse nor glance of His lovely countenance, But perhaps, when least expected, and least anticipated; when the mind is so deeply sunk as scarcely to dare to hope, so shut up in unbelief as hardly able to vent forth a sigh, "the dayspring from on high" will visit the soul, and be all the more precious for coming so suddenly and unexpectedly.
III. But this "day-spring from on high" visits the soul to produce certain effects. Two of them are specified in the text. "To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death;" that is one: "to guide our feet in the way of peace;" that is the other.
1. "To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death." Is this what "the dayspring from on high" visiting us is to do? Must we not then know something of the experience here described to be blest with the visit? But let us look at the words a little more closely. "To such as sit in darkness." What is the darkness here spoken of? Is it merely what I may call moral darkness? Natural darkness? No; it is not the darkness of unregeneracy; it is not the darkness of sin and profanity; nor is it the darkness of a mere empty profession. These things are indeed darkness, gross darkness; but those who are thus blinded by the god of this world never sit experimentally in darkness. They are like the Jews of old, who said, "We see; therefore their sin remaineth." "We dark? we ignorant? we scorn the idea." Such is the language of empty profession. Bat the Lord's own quickened, tender-hearted family often painfully know what it is to sit in darkness. But whence does this darkness arise. Strange to say, it arises from light. Darkness as darkness is never seen. Darkness as darkness is never felt. Light is needed to see darkness; life is required to feel darkness. There are children in Hungary born and bred at the bottom of a mine. Do these children ever know what darkness is, like one who comes down there out of the broad light of day? Were they not told there was a sun above — did not some tidings of the light of day reach their ears, they might live and die ignorant that there was a sun in the heavens. So spiritually. Man, born and bred in the depths of nature's mine, does not know that he is dark; but when Divine light enters into his soul, that discovers to him his darkness; for it is the light which makes manifest all things; as the apostle says, "But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light; for whatsoever doth make manifest is light" (Ephesians 5:13). Thus, it is the light of God's teaching in a man's conscience that makes him know his darkness; and Divine life in his soul makes it felt. But what does darkness imply? The absence of everything that brings light and peace into the heart. But there is one word in the text which conveys to my mind much, that is, "sitting in darkness." They are not represented as standing; that might imply a mere momentary transition from light to darkness. They are not represented as running; that might imply they would soon get out of the darkness. They are not represented as lying down; that might lead to suppose they were satisfied with their darkness. But they are represented as sitting in darkness. Then surely they are not dead. Nor do they sit at ease and at rest; but are in that posture, because they can neither move backward or forward, nor turn either to the right hand or to the left. In ancient medals that were struck when Jerusalem was led captive by the Romans, she is represented as sitting on the ground. The same thing is intimated in Psalm 137:1, 2. "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof." Sitting was with the ancients the posture of mourning. Job "sat down among the ashes;" (Job 2:8); and his friends " sat down with him upon the ground" (verse 13). "Her gates," says Isaiah (Isaiah 3:26), "shall lament and mourn; and she, being desolate, shall sit on the ground." Sitting implies also a continuance in the state; a waiting, a watching, a desiring, a looking out for the light to come. But again. There is another word added, which throws light upon the character of those who are visited from time to time with "the dayspring from on high." They sit not only in darkness, but in the shadow of death. How expressive this word is — "the shadow of death!" There are several ideas, in my mind, connected with the word. We will look, first, at the idea contained in the expression "death." Death with respect to the family of God wears two aspects. There is death experimental in their hearts, that is, deadness in their frames; and there is death temporal — the separation of soul from the body. Each of these kinds of death casts at times a gloomy shadow over the souls of God's people. The word is very expressive. They are not sitting in death: were they sitting there, they would be dead altogether; but they are sitting in the shadow of death. Observe, death has lost its reality to them; it now can only cast a shadow, often a gloomy shadow, over their souls; but there is no substance. The quickening of the Spirit of God in them has destroyed the substance of death spiritually; and the death and resurrection of Jesus has destroyed the substance of death naturally. Yet, though the gloomy monster, deadness of soul, and that ghastly king of terrors, the death of the body, have been disarmed and destroyed by "Immanuel, God with us;" yet each of them casts at times a gloomy, darkling shadow over the souls of those that fear God. Is not your soul, poor child of God, exercised from time to time with this inward death? Deadness in prayer, deadness in reading the word, deadness in hearing the truth, deadness in desires after the Lord, deadness to everything, holy, spiritual, heavenly, and divine? Do you not feel a torpidity, a numbness, a carnality, a worldliness, that seem at times to freeze up every desire of your soul? I do. O how this cold, clammy monster death seems to wrap its benumbing arms around a man's soul! I have read of a voyager, who, whilst looking for shells on a desert rock, was suddenly caught in the arms of a huge polypus, a sea monster. The sickening sensation produced by this cold and clammy monster clasping him with his huge suckers, and drawing him to his jaws to devour him, he describes as being unutterable, and he was only rescued by the captain's coming to his aid with a knife. I may compare, perhaps, our frequent deadness of soul clasping its arms around every desire of our heart, to the clasping of this poor man in the clammy arms of the sea monster. How it benumbs and paralyzes every breathing of our soul Godward! How all prayer, all panting desire, all languishing affection, all spirituality and heavenly-mindedness, all solid worship, all filial confidence, all the fruits and graces of the Spirit are blighted and withered by the deathliness that we so continually feel!
2. But there is another word added, another result of the visiting of "the dayspring from on high" — "to guide our feet into the way of peace." The way of peace? Does not that comprehend all? Do those that fear God want anything but peace? What do we want? The way of war, of enmity, of rebellion, of restlessness? No. We want the way of peace. But what is implied in the expression? Peace implies two things. It implies, first, reconciliation from a state of enmity; and secondly, the felt enjoyment of this reconciliation in the heart. But we want guiding in the way. And when "the dayspring from on high" visits the soul, it guides the feet into the way. There is something very sweet in the expression. It does not drive, does not force, but opens a door, and enables the soul to enter in; discovers the way, and gives the soul faith to walk in it.
(J. C. Philpot.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
WEB: because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dawn from on high will visit us,