Isaiah 28:10


Line upon line. It is not difficult to set forth the practical applications of this passage; but we cannot be quite sure that we know the exact original bearing of the words. Three suggestions have been made.

1. Ver. 9 may refer to God's favor to the Jews; then ver. 10 describes the abundant revelation made to them, with rules and duties related to all the conditions and emergencies of life.

2. Ver. 9 may refer to the incapacity of the leaders and religious teachers of the Jews; then ver. 10 describes their puerile methods of instruction.

3. Ver. 9 may refer to the incapacity of the people for high attainment in spiritual knowledge; then ver. 10 describes the elementary methods of instruction which are found necessary for them. This may be regarded as the most probable explanation. The prophet is describing the effect of drunkenness, which was moral and intellectual weakening. Sin is represented as an enfeebling drunkenness. It is quite in Isaiah's method to complain of the incapacity of the people for the reception of truth: Isaiah 53:1, "Who hath believed our report," etc.? Isaiah 6:9, "Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not;" Isaiah 43:8, "Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears;" Isaiah 43:17, "O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?" Out of this relation of the text comes the thought for present consideration. It is this - Religious truths, claims, and duties need to be constantly reiterated. The work of the Christian teacher can be put into two words - "simplify" and "repeat." Both observation and experience prove the necessity for such constant repetition. We inquire -

I. THE REASONS FOR THIS ARRANGEMENT. As a fact, it has been found an essential of effective teaching in every age. One generation only passes in a very limited degree into possession of the thought and knowledge of the previous generation. No one individual can make advances from the platform of attainment reached by another. Each one must reach the knowledge of truth, and the sense of duty, for himself. This makes the Bible and Christian teaching such ever-new things. Solomon tells us that there is no new thing under the sun; but he might with equal truth have said that there is no old thing. We can see that there must be reiteration:

1. Because moral completeness is never reached on this side the grave, and so there is always a sphere for the teacher, and a demand for the old truths. We are constantly asking for the renewal of the same good influences, and as we grow in experience we even care more for the simpler first principles.

2. Because the power of spiritual motives is always liable to weaken and fade. Christian teaching proposes no mere fashioning of life; it would nourish, revive, requicken the very springs of motive and feeling, ever seeking to make and to keep the heart and the will right. The physician not only removes suffering, he purifies the blood, and seeks to quicken the vitality. Just as the fountains and the streams, so our spiritual natures, tend to lose their volume, and even run dry; there must be the constant reiteration of the showers for their replenishing.

3. Because truth and duty-claims can only enter in as they find souls prepared for them; and therefore truth and duty must be always standing before men's doors, waiting their opportunity. The human heart is closed to religion, and, when opened, its tendency is ever to close again. It is like a spring-door, and sin and self-love have put the spring on. When providences and sanctified influences open the door, the old, old truth, and the old, old gospel, must be waiting, ready to enter in.

II. SOME THINGS CONNECTED WITH US IN WHICH THIS REITERATION IS EVIDENTLY NECESSARY. What a joy it would be to Christian pastors and teachers if none of their people needed! -

1. To be urged to accept the offers of Divine mercy. But many a door is shut yet; so the message must be spoken again and again.

2. To be reminded of the duty of attending public worship, and the means of grace.

3. To be persuaded concerning the cultivation of Christian unity; the expression of a Christly forgiveness, forbearance, and charity in relations one with another.

4. To have enforced upon them the duty of watchfulness against the encroachments of the worldly spirit, and the loss of Christian zeal, fervour, and first love. What a joy it would be to Christian teachers if they could safely "leave these first principles, and go on unto perfection!" if they might lay down the minister's commission, as it is now understood, because they could say, "Lord, thy people no longer need precept upon precept, and line upon line!" Plead, in conclusion, thus: "You often say of the ministry, 'It is the same old story; there is nothing new.' But the question is - Have you accepted the message? Have you obeyed the command? It can never be old until you have, and then it will be so loved and so precious that you will never think it old; it will be ever fresh and ever new." - R.T.









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

"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.)

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.)

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.)

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.
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.(1) How does a Christian receive the truth through the faith of which he is purified? And I answer, not by one lesson but by many lessons. He sees his sin. The Spirit of the Lord shows you the way of pardon and peace through the blood of Jesus crucified for our sin. By and by you see that more clearly. You get a glimpse; you get another glimpse; you get a longer look; you get a steadier vision of Christ crucified.(2) How does a Christian get rid of indwelling sin? And my answer to that again is, by little and little.(3) How is it that a Christian learns practical wisdom and sobriety of mind, so much needed in this intoxicating world? Not at a bound. It is not a miraculous infusion into him of another mind than his own. It is his own mind that must be made wise; and a man can never be made wise, I think, but by repeated exposures of his folly.(4) How does a Christian gain likeness to Jesus Christ? By little and little. Have you seen a painter at work — a portrait painter, we will say? After the great outlines of the picture are placed upon the canvas, have you noticed how gradually and how minutely he produces the required likeness? A touch of the brush here, and then a pause. Then he looks at it, and looks at it; and then another touch, and then another touch.

(D. Fraser, D. D.)

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.)

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.)

The Christian.
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.)

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