Christianity an Essential Element in True Civilisation
Isaiah 40:4-5
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight…

I. THE WORLD IS STILL FULL OF THINGS NEEDING TO BE SET STRAIGHT. So far as the economy of our earth is concerned a period of confusion has immediately preceded the establishment of Divine order. Chaos preceded Paradise. Egyptian bondage was the precursor of the exodus, which was the beginning of a national life Divinely ruled. Judaism was at its worst and Paganism in its most corrupt condition when the voice of the preacher of righteousness was heard, preparing the way of the Lord. Isaiah here compares the social and religious condition of a people awaiting a revelation of Divine glory to the condition of a country, barren as a desert, and impassable by reason of mountains and valleys; and the preparation of a highway amongst these physical obstacles represents the exaltation of what is base and the abasement of some things that are high in human life before the coming revelation of God. Around us here in England, as well as in those foreign countries to which missionary enterprise addresses itself, is a wilderness, in which what is good cannot and does not grow. The bodily and moral degradation of some of our own people, if it were revealed in all its nakedness, would startle the Church from its stately propriety. A "wilderness" is a fit emblem of a large section of our own population. Yet in this land we have had the Gospel for centuries. How much more, then, do the heathen want and deserve your sympathy! Another phrase in our text, which speaks of "valleys," may remind us further of depths in our social life in which corruption hides. Meanwhile pride covers us, as with a garment. We talk of "the progress of the age," we boast ourselves of our achievements and discoveries. There are "mountains" of pride to be brought down, as well as valleys of degradation to be exalted. And how many "crooked" things are yet to be made straight! What distortions of truth are yet to be found in England, as well as elsewhere! The orderliness of Divine progress in the natural world is a truth so contorted that some argue from it that all things seen were originally made of things that do appear, and chat there was no Divine Creator in whom they found their origin. The mercifulness of God is used as an argument against the possibility of punishment for sin.

II. THE WORLD IS NOT ESSENTIALLY THE BETTER FOR THE HUMAN INVENTIONS OF WHICH THE NINETEENTH CENTURY IS SO BOASTFUL. Much of the misery of modern life is due to the fact that moral and religious advance has not kept pace with mechanical advance, and our danger is lest developed mechanism should be to our age what a complicated and resistless machine would be in the hands of a child who knows not the ends for which it is designed. Trains and steamers carry us over land and sea with a swiftness which, to our grandfathers, would have seemed incredible. Our daily bread is often the product of labour done in the far-off fertile fields of California. There has been a literal fulfilment of these words, which speak of conquering mountains and valleys, and overleaping all obstacles, such as Isaiah never dreamed of. But the question is fairly asked, Are we the better for all this? Are we wiser, are we happier, are we nobler, are we more Christ-like, than our fathers were? We have greater appliances than our fathers, but it may be fairly doubted whether we surpass them either in capacity or in enjoyment. When you go for a holiday you can rush up the Rhine, through Switzerland, and back across France in a fortnight, but probably, in a dozen journeys of that sort you see far less than poor Oliver Goldsmith did when, with a fife as his companion, he trudged along the highways of Europe. Scientific instruments are marvellous in power and in accuracy, but scientific men have not advanced in genius beyond Newton or Herschel. Music is heard on every hand; but it is not better than the music of Handel, or of Bach, or of Haydn. In short, we have not a higher life because we have higher material appliances, and you and I are not one whit the nobler men because we can read all the news of the world in a penny paper, and transact our business with the other ends of the earth in a few hours. What do we all gain if, in covering our land with factories and steam engines, we are covering it also with want and wretchedness? In spite of all scientific discoveries and mechanical appliances, it is evident that the world wants something more than these can give. It wants freedom from its sins, and a Redeemer who can set it free. It wants love amidst its cruelties, and rest amid its weariness.

III. THE WORLD REQUIRES MOST OF ALL A REVELATION OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Many say, "Let our trade and our railways and all our conveniences first find entrance to a heathen land, and then the people there will be prepared for the Gospel." A grosser delusion could hardly be promulgated. Our own social condition might show its fallacy, and experiment in heathen lands has confirmed it. When this so-called "civilisation" has preceded Christianity, idolaters have become atheists, and their last state worse than their first. The great object we Christians are to keep in view, in all our achievements, is that "the glory of God" may be revealed — not the glory of man, nor of a society, nor of a sect, but the glory of God. As a king, a man finds his glory in the contentment of his people; as a father, a man finds his glory in the well-being of his children; and so the great King and Father of us all finds His "glory" in our contentment and well-being. And how can that be brought about? It is by the work and words of those who speak "comfortably" to the sinners, who proclaim a reconciled God revealed in Jesus Christ.

IV. GOD IS LOOKING TO THE CHURCH TO BRING ABOUT THIS CHANGE. He is addressing His people here, and, instead of saying "I will comfort," He says "Comfort ye." No angel messengers now wing their flight from heaven to announce the glad tidings of great joy. The message has been entrusted to us. Let us have patience, though the results of our work at home and abroad seem sparse and small. The upraising of valleys and the levelling of mountains is no child's play, even in the physical world, and it is harder still in the spiritual realm. When we remember the cost at which some modern discoveries were won, and see the patience and skill and risk which accompany the driving of tunnels through mountains, or under the sea, we are ashamed of the ease with which Christians give way to disheartenment. In preparing the highway here spoken of we must work on the plan the Norwegians adopt for keeping up their roads. Each occupier of land, in proportion to his acreage, has his own allotted portion of road to maintain, and for that he is responsible. So, in proportion to your capacities and opportunities, you have your work to do — in your home, in your class, in your sphere of thought or activity, and from that responsibility none can release you.

(A. Rowland, B. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

WEB: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain.

Vox Clamantis
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