Isaiah 30:21

When ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. This is an evident recognition of the infirmities and wanderings of those who do, of set purpose of heart, mean to serve God. The verse is a gracious assurance that, in such times of frailty, God's people shall have due warning and correction. We may take as types of the two kinds of sin - sins of will and sins of frailty - the two persons who were present to the mind of Christ when he spoke as in John 12:10; and these two persons will illustrate the classes who were in the mind of Isaiah when he gave the warning of the text - the boldly willful who persisted in the policy of seeking aid from Egypt, and the frail' ones whose faith faltered under the pressure of the anxiety of the times and the delay of the Divine intervention. They were swayed to this side or to that, but, nevertheless, tried hard to keep steadily, Piglet on.

I. JUDAS, TYPE OF THOSE WHO ARE HEART-WRONG, INSINCERE, RULED BY CONSIDERATIONS OF SELF-INTEREST. There are no minute details given of the process of Judas's apostasy. There was, indeed, nothing unusual about it. The covetous spirit made him connect himself with Christ chiefly for personal ends. The essential thing in any one who unites with Christ is surrender of self and self-will, and this surrender Judas never made. The point, however, to be specially dwelt on here is that his great sin was a matter of will, plan, resolve, determination. He did not drift into it; he was not enticed into it; he was not taken at unawares: he schemed it; he willed it; the guilt of it fully rested on him. Whenever men sin with their wills and openly, they must come under the crushings of Divine judgment. Sins of will are rebellions that must be mastered. The distinction between sins of will and. sins of frailty may be further shown in King Saul and King David.

II. PETER, TYPE OF THE SINCERE BUT FAULTY AND FRAIL. Compare David. Peter was hasty, impulsive, uncertain, sometimes even weak. "The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak." lie swayed now to this side, and now to that, and needed just such warnings as are provided in the above text. The Apostle John urges on those who are sincere Christians, that if they "say they have no sin, they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them." And these, which at first are "goings aside," "frailties," will soon grow to become" willfulnesses, "if they are not checked and corrected. Therefore may we rejoice in God, and assure our hearts in his promise that the voice shall call us back when our feet incline to wander to the right or the left. - R.T.

And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee.
The voice is evidently that of a faithful guide and monitor; according to the Rabbins the Bath kol or mysterious echo which conducts and warns the righteous.

(J. A. Alexander.)

The direction of the voice "from behind" is commonly explained by saying that the image is borrowed from the practice of shepherds going behind their flocks, or nurses behind children, to observe their motions. A much more natural solution is the one proposed by Henderson, to wit, that their guides were to be before them, but that when they declined from the right way their backs would be turned to them, consequently the warning voice would be heard behind them.

(J. A. Alexander.)

This world is full of ways, as it is of men; and one way only is right. One only is the straight way of God's commandments, that leadeth to eternal life. The rest are the ways of men, that lead to destruction; and the most deceitful of them all are those which branch off from this one, going, some of them more, some of them less in its direction, and then by a sudden turn forsaking it. So that amid the multitude of ways many travellers through life never find the right one at all. And too many, after they have been graciously set upon it, forsake it for the many byways of sin. But the promises of God are found on His one way only; there alone their light guides amid darkness, on that alone will men meet their Saviour.

(R. W. Evans, B. D.)

We should never forget our true position in this mortal life. We have to pick our way in it. The best known road in the world may be missed by such want of proper attention.

(R. W. Evans, B. D.)

What words do we hear behind us? what company is following us? If it be not good company, can we be on the right road? If a person going (as he thought) towards London, heard persons behind him talking as if they were going towards Manchester, would he not be alarmed, suspecting that he had missed his way? How then can he be on the right road to Heaven, who hears the company that treads on his steps, talk of very different places, of very different ends of their journey?

(R. W. Evans, B. D.)

I. THE SINNER'S ATTITUDE BEFORE GOD IS UNSEEMLY AND DANGEROUS. "A word behind thee." A man who hears a word behind him has his back to the speaker. He is, for some reason, not in a friendly attitude.

1. The fact is implied, in the context, that the sinner has not only his back turned to God, but is actually going away from Him. And that the going away is not an inadvertency or oversight, but the result of a set purpose.

2. That he is self-willed, stubborn, and persistent in his efforts; he continues his course of separation, in spite of the constant overtures and entreaties of love.

II. GOD'S WARNINGS AND OVERTURES ARE SIMPLE AND EASILY UNDERSTOOD. "A word behind thee." Not a confusing, rapidly uttered discourse — not a cold philosophical, or logical treatise; not a metaphysical disquisition, couched in scientific phrase — bewildering and vague, but, "a word." Not a mysterious echo from the hilltops, or an unknown voice speaking from afar, but, "a word behind thee." "Thine ears shall hear." God is not unreason. able in His demands. When He calls, man possesses the God-given capacity to hear and obey.

III. A KNOWLEDGE OF HIS DUTY IS NOT OPTIONAL WITH THE SINNER. "Thine ears shall hear." A man's knowledge of his duty is not conditioned by his conduct, as are the blessings of religion. God never gives any man up until he becomes so wedded to his sins that he indignantly spurns all efforts for his salvation, both human and Divine.

IV. GOD'S WARNINGS AND INSTRUCTIONS ARE ADEQUATE AND AMPLE, THEREFORE THE SINNER IS WITHOUT EXCUSE. "This is the way, walk ye in it." In His teachings, Jesus Christ always presents duties as well as doctrines, — practice as well as principles.

1. Here we have doctrine. "This is the way." Not one of a number of ways, or an improvement on the old. No; it has neither duplicate nor substitute.

2. We have also the practical. "Walk ye in it."

V. THE LIFE OF THE SINNER IS NOT NECESSARILY FIXED AND MONOTONOUS. "When ye turn to the right hand, or to the left" The tremendous prerogative of free agency leaves it with every man to formulate and determine his own activities.

1. Notice the broad sphere open to the sinner, and from which he is to select the pathway of his activities.(1) He may go straight ahead. This may involve very little that is specially good or bad.(2) He may "turn to the right hand." There is such a thing as right-hand sins. "Popular, paying iniquities," which evoke but little human condemnation.(3) He may also turn to the left. There is such a thing as "left-hand" sins, awkward, unseemly, embarrassing. Conduct that destroys reputation, health, character, destiny. The forger, the liar, the thief, the drunkard, the sensualist, all come in here. Everything sacred, noble, manly, valuable, is sacrificed to the absorbing demand of the present.

2. Notice the grandest possibility within reach of the sinner. Right about face. This grand movement at once brings to an end both his conduct and character as a sinner.

(Thomas Kelly.)

Man is a traveller. He has lost his way. He needs a guide, both to bring him back to, and keep him in, the right path to the end of the journey. Where is that guide to be found? It is referred to in the text. "A word behind thee." The following remarks are suggested concerning this guiding word.

I. It comes to man from WITHOUT. There are inner guides placed there by our Maker in our constitution. Reason. Conscience. But both these have failed us. They themselves are lost in the haze of depravity. Hence the need of a guide from without; such a guide as "the word." It comes from God to man —

1. Through nature.

2. Through Christ.

II. It comes to man in EXPLICITNESS. "This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." There is no indefiniteness here, no vagueness, and no uncertainty; no suggesting a choice between different ways. The word reveals the right and only way, and that way is Christ. "I am the way" — "Follow Me."

III. It comes to man from MYSTERY. "Behind thee." Thou dost not see the speaker. The voice breaks out from the dark past. It comes from "behind." Behind all that is seen and heard, behind all the phenomena of nature, behind the universe, from God Himself, the Mysterious One.

IV. It comes to man, BUT HE MUST LISTEN. "Thou shalt hear." This hearing is the want. Men's spiritual ears are deaf. The guiding word is everywhere. "There is no speech nor language where His voice is not heard." Open thine ear: listen and thou shalt catch the guiding directions.


Essex Congregational Remembrancer.
The text may be applied to the abundant means of grace, and the plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit, under the Gospel dispensation — to the privileges which we enjoy, and the assistance promised to us.

I. THE WAY, referred to in the text, may be applied —

1. To God's method of saving sinful men, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was said of the apostles, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show unto us the way of salvation." We must walk in it, actually choosing Him to be our Redeemer and Advocate, committing ourselves entirely to Him, and earnestly seeking the continual supplies of His Spirit, that we may be saved from sin.

2. The text may be applied to the way in which the sanctification of the believer is, through Divine grace, effected. We are not only to receive Christ Jesus the Lord, but also to walk in Him; and to prove that we live in the Spirit, by walking in the Spirit. It is by daily prayer, and the daily improvement of Scripture, of Divine ordinances, and providential occurrences, and a steadfast adherence to the will of God, that we must expect to grow in grace, and go from strength to strength.

3. It may be applied to that particular course of service to which each Christian is called, by the circumstances in which he b placed, the talents committed to him, or the relations he bears to others. Knowing that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps — how liable he is to mistake the path of duty on various occasions, he will pray, "Teach me Thy way, O God" (Psalm 27:11, 119:33-37).

II. THE PROMISE meets all the cases which have been mentioned.

1. It is a promise of the direction which God will afford to all who really seek it.

2. It is a promise of Divine grace to incline us to walk in God's way. "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee," etc.

3. It is a promise that He will quicken us in the path of duty.

4. It is a promise that the Lord will preserve His people, and enable them to endure unto the end.

(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)




(H. Varley, B. A.)

I. THE MONITOR in these words. "Thine ears shall hear a word," etc.

II. THE ADMONITION ITSELF. "This is the way," etc.

III. THE OCCASION. "When ye turn to the right hand," etc.

(T. Horton.)

It is a promise —

1. Of ministerial opportunities.

2. Of the continuance of spiritual suggestions.

(T. Horton.)

1. It is a pursuing and overtaking word; a word that follows us and comes at our heels.

2. A revoking and recalling word. A word of restraint.

3. An impulsive and provoking word. A word that puts thee forward, that furthers thee and promotes thee in thy way.

(T. Horton.)

"This is the way, walk ye in it."

1. A word of correction and reformation in case of miscarriage. It is very fitly said to those who wander and are out of the way, to bring them again into it.

2. A word of direction and instruction in case of ignorance.

3. A word of strengthening and confirmation in case of unsettledness. It is very suitably said to those who are doubtful and wavering and uncertain in themselves whether they be right in the way or no, to encourage them to persevere and go on in those good ways which they have made entrance upon.

(T. Horton.)

The expression plainly intimates that there are dangerous bypaths on both hands, into which the people of God are apt to turn aside.

I. ON THE RIGHT HAND, there are erroneous principles and practices which are mistaken for that truth and holiness whereof they are really destitute. Such are —

1. Professed confidence in God's pardoning mercy, disjoined from the acknowledged necessity of His sanctifying grace.

2. High pretensions to faith which are not verified by solicitude to maintain good works.

3. Flaming profession of piety toward God, unaccompanied with the exercises of justice, mercy, and charity toward men.

4. Great pretended zeal against public vices, attended with indifference as to secret personal transgressions.

5. Loud approbation of discourses that expose infidelity, hypocrisy, and iniquity, whilst these sins are indulged in heart and life.

II. ON THE LEFT HAND there are also pernicious principles and dangerous practices into which men are prone to deviate. Such are —

1. The confession that holiness is indispensably requisite to the enjoyment of God, whilst the necessity of atonement for sin is denied or overlooked.

2. Strenuous assertions of the importance of good works, separate from a proper regard to faith, the active principle from which they proceed.

3. High respect for the duties of justice, mercy, and charity, joined with criminal indifference and neglect of the exercises of piety and devotion.

4. Partiality to their own favourite sins and unaffectedness with the transgressions of other people, whereby God is offended, His law transgressed, and His truth dishonoured.

(R. Macculloch.)

lies in the middle, between two extremes, which are equally to be avoided.

(R. Macculloch.)

I. THE POSITION OF THE WANDERER to whom this special blessing comes. How does God find men when He declares that they shall hear a word behind them?

1. With their backs turned to Him. The wanderer seeks not God, but God seeks him. Man turns from the God of love, but the love of God turns not away from him.

2. They were going further and further away from Him. Of course, when you have once turned your back upon the right, the further you travel the more wrong you become.

3. They were pursuing their course in spite of warning. Read the twentieth verse: "Thine eyes shall see thy teachers": there they stood, good men, right in the way, entreating their hearers to cease from provoking their God and destroying their own souls.

4. They had many ways in which to wander. Sometimes they roamed to the right hand, at other times they wandered to the left, but they never turned face about. Some men have right-hand sins, respectable iniquities which challenge little censure from their fellows. Others have left-hand sins; they plunge into the sins of the flesh; no vice is too black for them.


1. It is a call that is altogether undesired, and comes unsought to the man who has gone astray.

2. "A word behind thee": it is the voice of an unseen Caller whose existence has been almost forgotten. It is not the teachers that speak in this powerful way. The teachers you have seen with your eyes, and they have done you no good; but some One calls whom you never saw, and never will see, till He sits on the throne of judgment at the last great day; but still He utters a word which cannot be kept out of your ears. It will come to you mysteriously at all sorts of hours crying, "Return, return, return."

3. This voice pursues and overtakes the sinner.

4. That voice when it comes to sinners is generally most opportune, for they are to hear this voice behind them when they turn to the right hand or to the left.

5. It is absolutely necessary that the potent word should be spoken, and should be heard. For the man had seen his teachers, but they had not wrought him any good.

III. WHAT WAS THE WORD OF THAT CALL? It is stated at full length. "This is the way, walk ye in it."

1. It contains within itself specific instruction. "This is the way." There is a kind of preaching which has nothing specific, definite, and positive in it: it is a bit of cloud land, and you may make what you like out of it.

2. This definite instruction may also be said to be a special correction. It as good as says the opposite path is not the way.

3. It is also a word of sure confirmation. "This is the way."

4. This is followed up by a word of personal direction. Do not merely hear about it, but "walk ye in it."

5. This takes the form of encouraging permission. "This is the way." Do not sit looking at it: "walk ye in it." "But I am so big a sinner." "Christ is the way; walk ye in it." There is room enough for big sinners in Jesus. "But I have been so long coming." Never mind: this is the way, "walk ye in it." "But I am afraid my feet are so polluted that I shall stare the way." "This is the way, walk ye in it."

IV. THE SUCCESS OF THE WORD. "Thine ears shall hear." God not only gives us something to hear, but He gives us ears to hear with. This is effectual grace.

1. This means that the message of Divine love shall come to the man's mind so as to create uneasiness in it.

2. After awhile there gets to be a desire in his heart.

3. As that voice continues to sound, it pulls him up and leads to resolve.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

This is the way, walk ye in it.
is possessed of every qualification and advantage that you can possibly desire.

1. It is a highway, open to persons of every description.

2. It is the way of holiness, wherein the unclean shall not walk.

3. It is a patent way, wherein the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err.

4. It is a safe way, wherein you shall be protected from the hostile attacks of your enemies.

5. It is a pleasant way, wherein you shall enjoy sacred peace.

6. It is an infallible way to arrive at fulness of joys, and rivers of pleasures for evermore.

(R. Macculloch.)

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