It sounds as if God had said it. There is something in voice, The music seems to come a long way, and to have lost nothing in its descent. We know music when we hear it. The heart knows what music it wants, what it needs, and where it can have it; and when it comes a glow of tender love testifies that God has spoken with the soul as man might speak with Prayer of Manasseh, face to face. "Saith your God." It was well to put in that word, though almost needless. We knew where the judgments came from which we have studied from time to time. They were not noises of the earth, winds that were born in the dust, but great tempests from heaven, solemn judgments upon men, and upon cities, and upon nations, and it was time that something was said in another tone. The uproar has been infinite. The still small voice is the more precious. Yet we should not have valued the still small voice but for the tearing wind and the fire and all the artillery. It is because these things were so terrible in their mightiness, and so near in their crushing weight, that we listened to the still small voice with such eager interest and thankful appreciation. We know this in our own little life. We know how blue the sky is when the great frowning clouds have been driven away. It would not do to live always under summer skies, for even they would become commonplaces. Miracles may degenerate into platitudes. It is well to have change, variety, shock, trial; then when the morning breaks in silver, and all the hills are crowned with light, and all the birds say, It is Sabbath, let us sing to the praise of God, the heart knows that this is the very gift of divine love, and is its own witness, despising critic and scorning sceptic. This is none other than the visitation of the Father, God.
Yet having said all this, it is that we may make room for this instructive and limiting, yet enlarging, observation—namely, that comfort does not mean only soothing, caressing, embracing. A very singular word is the word "comfort" all through the Bible. It is a kind of double word. We speak of a man being "a son of consolation," and then we suppose him to be so quiet, to have only the eloquence of whispering, only the touch of soothing. He had all that, and more. The son of consolation is a man who can stimulate, awaken, rouse the sleeper; make a man conscious of his latent energy, and stir up the man that is within the Prayer of Manasseh, so that he shall have boldness, distinctiveness of personality, consciousness of strength. So there be many sons of consolation who have not the name. You are consoled when you are strengthened; you are comforted when any spirit comes to you and finds for you the piece which you had lost, the energy which had fallen into desuetude, the faith that had lapsed, and bringing this lost piece to you says, Use it, and in the use of it recover your manhood. What comfort is there in soothing, caressing, embracing, quieting, mesmerising? That is really not comfort of an enduring or substantial kind. It was precious at the time, but it did not terminate in itself; if it put us to sleep it was that in sleep we might revive our energy, recruit our nerves, and bring up out of the forgetfulness of the night power and hope to serve the living God. Be thankful, therefore, to those men whom you have looked upon as being rather energetic than comforting, stimulating than soothing, and remember that Barnabas never would have been what he was if he could not prick, goad, stimulate, blister you into a larger consciousness. We shall find that we need all this view presently.
For here we have a comfort which is based on logic; and no other comfort is worth having. Let us not cry Peace, peace, when there is no peace; let us have no untempered mortar in building God"s wall—that wall of security and protection, that sanctuary wall, every inch of which is written over with "Holiness unto the Lord." This poet becomes logical. Believe no word that is not rooted or founded upon a rock. You cannot live upon foam. You cannot dine healthily upon perfume. The flower is a decoration, not a substitution for what you need, and of what you really enjoy.
"Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem." ( Isaiah 40:2)
Literally, speak to her heart. And having so spoken what shall the speech be?
"Cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord"s hand double for all her sins." ( Isaiah 40:2)
To whom does God speak? To "my people." In another part of the prophecies we read of a people who were not his people; they once were, but afterwards they were not; now they are again "my people." That indicates a process. A whole history is involved in that one word "my:" it means, recovery, adoption, recognition, assurance, almost coronation; it indicates a new and tender relation, or the renewal of a relation ineffably tender and precious. It is not enough to be people, individuals, societies, nations, mere arithmetical hosts; we want the connecting word which binds us to the Great Heart. Not only am I a Prayer of Manasseh, I am thy child, thou living God, take care of me, night and day, evermore. I could have the form and image of a man without that prayer, but not the joy of manhood, not the sense of dignity derived from him, who is the Son of man. Until we become religious we cannot be truly and deeply comforted; being religious we can never be truly and deeply discomforted: the wind plays upon the surface, but away down deep, and deeper still, is the spirit of joy and peace. Great peace have they that love thy law. So then this comfort is not a sentiment, it is the expression of a pardon, and it is the acknowledgment of a properly received and utilised punishment: "She hath received of the Lord"s hand double for all her sins," and she has acknowledged it to be the Lord"s hand. Then the punishment ceased. The moment we see God, and say, "It is the Lord," and kiss the hand and the rod that is in it, the punishment is over. Punishment never goes beyond submission or acceptance in the right spirit. It goes beyond questioning, and difficulty, and scepticism, and obstinacy; it keeps on, blow after blow, scourge upon scourge; but no sooner does the sufferer say, "It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth good in his sight; I deserve it all; if thou canst pity me thou wilt," than punishment has ceased, and heaven has descended into the heart.
Have we been punished for our sins? If not, there can be no comfort We cannot have any half work in this matter; the great negative work must first be done before the positive and constructive can be initiated. Believe this, and do not attempt to reverse divine processes, and to walk backwards into the kingdom of heaven. Why should we attempt impossibilities, when God comes to us in all sweetness and grace and tenderness and tells us the way of life, and offers us the blessing of his love? It is instructive and comforting to know that every consolation which God really gives comes after a process of discipline, a process of pardon, a process of punishment rightly received. We are all punished, we are all tried; the difference is in the way in which we receive the divine punishment. If we receive it as for sins it shall be well with us; then might God take away all we have. We have sinned against him with every finger; as for our feet they have been swift in the way of evil; our eyes have hunted creation for objects on which to feast their evil desires; our whole heart has been turned into a living lie; and now all other prayers must stand back until we use the only availing prayer—God be merciful to me a sinner! That prayer having cleansed the heart and cleansed the mouth, all other prayers may come, and they shall be uttered in the prevailing name with infinite success. You cannot begin your prayer at the other end; you cannot begin with the benediction; that comes last, it is the purple eventide of the religious day; you must begin with the cry for mercy, the acknowledgment of transgression and unworthiness, and, God"s word for it, after that there will come ineffable peace, abounding, yea, with eternal joy.
Was the whole tragedy over, then? Is this a full stop to which we have come? No. God is loth to use the period. Has God any full stop in the literature of his reign and purpose and administration? The full stop is a human invention. There is no full stop with thee, thou Eternal One. The grave is not a full stop, it is an intermediate point, black enough, but quite momentary in its significance. So then, we have scarcely received the comfort, so rational and so profound, than there is a sound of trumpets, the cry as of a herald, the blast as of an instrument held and used by one who has news to tell.
"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" ( Isaiah 40:3).
Yes, truth lives in the future, as well as in the past. It is the coming eternity, as well as the eternity gone—if we may so use words for purposes of accommodation—that should be filled and glorified by the spirit of truth. There is always a better day to dawn. We have seen nothing yet, except that which is symbolic and initial, prophetic and assuring. Jesus Christ himself used the word "hereafter" more than once—"Hereafter ye shall see." We may, therefore, expect the Lord every day, not in some literal and measurable sense (in which we could not receive him), but in the deep, profound, universal, spiritual sense, which says: Thus thy kingdom come, thus thy will be done! In some lower mood, quite cold and straitened in itself, I want to see Christ in the flesh, but it is soon felt to be a vain hope and a foolish expectation. Christ must come in truth, in spirit, in salvation, in that sense of nearness which is the true association, in that consciousness of blessing which is better than mere proximity. What a wonderful word is this—"Prepare"! It is a word that involves labour, and labour of a most difficult kind. What is to be done? The programme is set down here in plain figures—make straight the highway, work in the desert, fill up the valleys, bring down the mountains, make the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. Have we to be engaged in this kind of work? Yes. It is hard—very. It is negative—undoubtedly. What will happen when it is done? This: Hear it, and be comforted in the sense of being inspired:—
"And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" ( Isaiah 40:5).
Almighty God, we bless thee that thou hast spoken well of the days that are to come, for the days that are gone are full of weariness and sadness. We bless thee for gospel times, for millennial sunshine, for descending heaven. We thank thee for that word of thy Song of Solomon, our Saviour, Hereafter shall ye see. Thou hast promised a great feast to the eyes of men; they are to behold new heavens, and a new earth in which dwelleth righteousness, and as for the ears of men they shall be filled with music. We thank thee that we have these prophecies in Christ Jesus, sealed by his name, glorified by his Amen, and made possible to us by the immediate peace which those who trust in him enjoy. Thou hast given us an earnest of the things that are to come; we do not live wholly in the future, but now what joy we have! Occasionally it is ecstasy, great passion of soul, infinite rapture of delight, so that we know not whether we are in the body or out of it, or In what heaven of thine, third or seventh, our souls are singing. Preserve us in the love of truth, and in the comfort of peace; and whilst we are filled with the spirit of anticipation may we be blessed with the grace of usefulness, so that even now we may turn our delight into service, our anticipation into sacrifice, and be found as faithful servants, honest stewards of God, each doing his duty faithfully, calmly, resolutely, independent of all fear or favour, giving himself wholly and lovingly to Christ. Comfort us in all our distresses, dry the tears which no hand but thine may touch, and when we have suffered awhile, and been perfected through suffering, bring us by right of the Cross, through the mystery of blood, to the land where there is no winter, where there is no night. Amen.
Preparation for Progress
That voice is always crying. The note of all times that are progressive is a note of urgency, preparation, advance. The king is always coming; as to the form and method of his coming, who can tell? We had better refrain from speculation that must be useless, and cultivate the spirit of expectancy, hope, sacred joyous confidence. It was a very little wilderness that was primarily meant by this reference, the wilderness between the Euphrates and Judah; but the moral reference is to a wilderness infinite. But even that boundless desert can be traversed by light, quickest of all travellers, coming suddenly, flashing abroad in time that cannot be measured, so brief is it; before we are well aware that it has come, it will have banished all the darkness, and the blue heaven will be shining above us cloudlessly, like a blessing. It is in this spirit we must do our work. Without this spirit we cannot work. The history of the world is full of dreariness, backwardness, enormous difficulty; yet even that history has been making advances, almost imperceptible in their individuality; but surely growing, extending, consolidating, until it would be impossible to roll back the history of the world. Sometimes there is nothing to instruct us but a "voice." We hear it, but cannot trace it. It is called the spirit of the times, the voice of the day, the genius of the hour. Sometimes it is personated in one Prayer of Manasseh, one policy; at other times, it is a diffused voice, coming, apparently to the ear, from all the points of the compass at once, but with singular unanimity, emphasis, truthfulness. It is never a voice of despair, or a tone that would cast the soul into dejection, but always like a clarion, or a chiming bell, or a father"s call, or a soldier"s resounding peal. Blessed are they who have ears to hear, and who respond to the call of the times with promptitude and diligence and loyalest love: only such shall be blessed with all heavenly treasure and rest.
There are many anonymous speakers in the Book of God. In fact, we cannot get rid of the anonymous element in the Bible: "A voice said unto me;" "A voice shall be behind thee, saying;" "An angel wrestled with me;" "My Spirit shall go before thee;" "A man clothed in white raiment"—a figure rather than a man in the ordinary sense of the term, an outline, an all but impalpable glowing vision, yet gleaming, approaching, receding, and wondrously acting upon the imagination, and all the while sounding a note of advance—Prepare; make ready; at such an hour as ye think not. Blessed is that servant who shall be found waiting, watching. We may judge of the reality (and need we shrink from saying, the divinity?) of voices by the message which they deliver. When the voice says "Go back" we may be sure it does not come from heaven. Heaven is a growing kingdom. When God"s kingdom rests it is that it may come up again in larger, greener springs, in fuller and more glowing summers and autumns. When the preacher says, "You have done enough: there is nothing more to be learned," he has lost his ordination; the unction from the Holy One, if it ever touched him, has evaporated or passed to some larger man. Hear a voice that says, "You know nothing yet in comparison with what has to be revealed; what little light you have seen struggling on the horizon is as nothing compared to the great glory that shall flood the infinite heaven," when a voice so sounding, so charged, is heard, we may be sure that God has somewhat to do with its inspiration. Our law must be growth, development, progress, advance, every day, every year, so that we shall be always casting off our old selves, and passing forward into new identities—richer, more useful, manful.
What is to happen? This is to occur—
"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." ( Isaiah 40:4)
"And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" ( Isaiah 40:5).
Here we want trumpets and organs, thundering voices, and all the great solemn winds that ever careered round the earth, yea, an ocean"s mighty plash and roar, to express the glorious thought. Even here we shall have the co-operation of nature in the expression of thankfulness. What is it that makes all things musical but the miracle-working sun? For a time he is baffled in his best ministry by the cruel east wind; but he will presently melt it, or make it ashamed of its abortive attempts, and send it into some other quarter; and it shall come to us with penitential voice, and humiliation, and amendment, and restitution, from the south-west, and will pray to be taken into co-operation with the music-making sun. All things sing when the sun shines; even croaking suspends its fretfulness, old age looks round for its staff that it may toddle a yard or two under the genial rays; childhood begins to sing and dance because the light fills its young heart, and all nature is joyous with a spirit of jubilee because the sun is in his happiest mood. These are symbolical, dim emblems, faint dawning hints of a grander reality. When men feel the "glory of the Lord" they cannot be silenced. True religious feelings must have musical expression. Sometimes the expression may be loud, incoherent, almost violent, so that men passing by shall say, "What are these mad men uttering?" There is a sane madness, a madness with method, a tempest of the soul in which dwells the spirit of sovereignty and peace. Again and again we have claimed that enthusiasm must return to the church, not by mechanical stipulation, but by an inspiration not of Prayer of Manasseh, a mighty action of the Triune God. "All flesh shall see it together." The Old Testament is not a universal book in many lines; it is the Jews" book; it leads a certain people, cares for them, makes them rich with a thousand promises, and strong with inviolable and redundant securities; but now and again it flashes out into the greater humanity, the larger love; the redeeming yearning spirit, that would not that any should be in darkness whilst it has light to offer. We should, however, do the Bible injustice if we thought of its caring for any one people, for that one people exclusively; it is making for itself a point of origin, a point from which its action can proceed, with the larger completeness and with the higher force. Wherever God has cared for any one he has by implication cared for all men. Even God must begin somewhere. The Lord Christ began where he could. He accommodated himself to the moods and needs of the people; he himself might have begun at many a point not within the range of human imagination, but he was content to sit down with men, and to say to them, in effect, "Where can we begin? What wilt thou?" and when the thing was uttered, he said, "Believest thou that I am able to do this?" and when the answer was, "Yea, Lord," the word was hardly spoken before the miracle was completed. Here we have an escape from locality and limitation of every kind, and the prophecy culminates in a benefaction to "all flesh."
This is the Gospel in Isaiah; this is the evangelical dawn; this is the commission of evangelisation in its earliest utterances. We shall find other words which occur for the first time. It is infinitely interesting to be present at the birth of words, or at their new uses, or inauguration for larger purposes. "All flesh:" the Jew is there and the Gentile, the bond and the free, the mighty man and his slave, old men and little children, young men and maidens,—"all flesh shall see it together;" it shall be a coming blessing, a universal donation, an impartial revelation of the divine glory. What is the divine glory but the divine holiness? We must not detach the attributes of God from his moral majesty. Who cares for omnipotence, except as a momentary wonder, something to be looked at, estimated, gazed upon with more or less of open-mouthed wonder? There is nothing in it, taken by itself, but fear, danger, a sense of overwhelming stress, and that is painful; and when we speak of the divine glory, what is it? If it be only so much light it would overpower human capacity, our receptivity would be distressed; we should say, "Lord, withhold the light, for our eyes are tormented with glory." God"s power must be another term for God"s goodness, God"s glory another word for God"s holiness. All the terms must admit of moral transfer or translation; and this correlation of forces must be a passage from the abstract, the intolerable, the infinite in mere power and splendour, into moral temper, spirit, purpose; and then when we read of Wisdom of Solomon, holiness, mercy, compassion, and when at last a man arises to say it all in words of one syllable—"God is love"—it is noonday with civilisation, high noon with manhood, consummation below the heavens.
When the herald was charged to deliver another message it was in reality not another.
"The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever" ( Isaiah 40:6-8).
Now we come to the second word which is used for the first time.
"O Zion, that bringest good tidings" ( Isaiah 40:9).
That is the first use of the term in this relation. This is Gospel—good-spell, God"s spell, good news. The primary meaning of the Hebrew word is to make smooth; hence the balance of the sentences between the ninth verse and the fourth verse. All things shall be smoothed, and from smooth the word passes easily to brighten, and from brighten to gladden, and today in the German it is glatten. So do we here and now, in Isaiah 40:9, make our acquaintance with the sweet music-word Gospel, evangelisation. Is the evangelist born here? Is history dating itself with a new term from this juncture? O Zion, that bringest gospels. good news, get thee up into the high mountain—no mountain high enough—and let the world hear that the day of the Lord has come! "O Zion... O Jerusalem:" the appeal is the same; Zion, for the purposes of this appeal, is Jerusalem, Jerusalem is Zion. O Zion, O Jerusalem, to the mountain, and publish the jubilee of the world!
So would Christ have us do every day. The gospel was never given to be kept as a secret. Nowhere do we hear it said, If you have any bread, keep it to yourselves, no matter who is hungry. Nowhere is it said to the Christian Church, "You are in a time of reserve and self-consideration, and you must make your own souls guests at the Lord"s table, without regarding the innumerable vacancies at the banqueting board; eat and drink, O beloved, and do so abundantly, and care nothing for those for whom nothing is prepared." That is not the voice of Christianity; that is not the purpose of the Gospel; that is not the mission of the Church. Is it possible that men can have good news and keep it to themselves? Here is a man face to face with a sufferer; he observes the sufferer"s emaciated condition, he notes his languid eye, his sunken cheeks, his bloodless lips, his gait of helplessness, his deepening infirmity, and all the time he knows precisely what would meet the case, and never speaks the secret. What is that man if the sufferer should die? He is a murderer! Can he in charity be called by any other name? He knew what would cure the man and never told him, and the man died. What does the Lord say? He says, His blood will I require at the traitor"s hand. "If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain: if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?" These are the questions: what are the replies?
God"s Power the Comfort of His People
These words are addressed to the despondent, and at the first sound of them it would appear as if those who were cast down were spoken to in a voice of thunder. It would appear also as if a softer tone were better adapted to the condition of the persons referred to in the context, viz, those who were mourning God"s absence, and sighing over the unwelcome lot which has come upon them. But this great interrogation seems as if the very thunder had taken in charge God"s defence and man"s elevation. "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?" Sometimes the voice of consolation seems to come to us out of the depths of God"s heart; sometimes it is as if comfort were spoken to us in a whisper. Oftentimes God says he will not address us by the earthquake, and the stormy wind, and the rending fire, but he will come to us in an undertone, and find us out by the persuasive, gentle, penetrating pleading of his love; but here it is as if the Comforter stood above all created heights and thundered down from them upon the weary, and the desponding, and the faint-hearted. The terms by which God is described are not what may be termed the gracious designations which are often employed to describe him, it is not the Father, the Redeemer, the Gentle One; it is the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, as if divine comfort were not a sentiment only, as if divine comfort did not come only out of the divine emotions, but poured itself down upon us from all that is majestic, dominant, mighty, immeasurable, royal, and grand in the divine nature.
Then if he fainteth not, neither is weary, why should he rest? God rested, and set up in the midst of time a Sabbath day. How so? The word must not be interpreted to the disparagement of the great text that is now before us. There are two conditions on either of which man may rest, on one of which only does God retire from his work. The first condition is completeness, the second is weariness. God finished his work and rested. He rested because the work was finished; we rest because our poor little strength is wasted, and we sigh for the lengthening shadow, and need to be recruited by sleep. God finishes his work, and then he rests, not as one who is weary, but as one who has completed his design. We shall rest one day in that higher sense; in the meantime we have left our column unfinished, we have left our book incomplete, we have hurried away from our engagements, and they are waiting for our return; we rest because of an exhaustion of our strength, but he who is yonder in the heavens, throned above all heights, rests because his word is completeness—his efforts are perfection.
"Hast thou not known?"—this is not a new revelation. It is well to observe that, lest we find here an excuse for despondency, and a sufficient explanation of the plaintive and mournful tone to which life is often set. "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard?"—it is an appeal to memory, and that is a strong point in all the divine pleading. We do not read here for the first time that God fainteth not, neither is weary. It is a mark of interrogation that is beautifully made a challenge of recollection. Our memory is to be as the prophet of the Lord in our life. Recollection is to be inspiration; the forty years gone are a pledge of the forty years to come. "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard?" Let a man be faithful to his own recollections, and it is impossible he can long be despondent, weary, and slow of heart to lay hold of the great work and discipline of life. There is no heart that has not its own peculiar memories of the divine strength and of divine interposition, of divine interpretations of knotty questions in life, and of divine help in the hour of extremity, when sorrow was agony and when agony was despair. And it is the preacher"s strength that he has to speak directly into people"s hearts. He has not to argue something that is altogether outside of them, and that has no counterpart in their own life and spirit. He has to speak truths that are to be answered by the echoes of the heart, and every man is to say to him as he proceeds from point to point in his high argument and winning persuasion, "Master, thou hast said the truth." Let us gather ourselves around God"s all-mightiness and God"s all-knowingness, that we may be comforted, and stimulated, and enriched.
Is God all-mighty? Then do not fear for the stability of his works. We have no occasion to be afraid lest the sun should miss his way. What guarantee have we that the stars shall glitter in their places? Is it because we appoint our watchmen that they come to smile and shine upon us, pouring light into our dark hearts, and speaking hope into our despairing and gloomy souls? What guarantee have we that the seasons will continue? God"s word. "Seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." What guarantee have we? We have little pieces of paper on which we write our I O U, and we have bonds and covenants, and our strong rooms, in which we secretly and silently lock up our pieces of precious paper. We say about any disputed covenant, It is in the bond, it is so nominated in the bond. The bond is all we have to rely upon. But we look for the continuance of these things, the keeping up of God"s great temple, because God"s word has been given, because God"s sufficiency underlies, and encompasses, and gives stability to all his works. And in this view of the case it is very humiliating to meddlesome men—an exceedingly annoying thing—that there are parts of creation, parts of our own creation, out of which we are shut. How nice a thing it would be for some men of leisure, if they were called upon to improve the stars a little, and to call up the seasons one by one, and to say when it should rain, and when it should not rain, and when the east wind should blow, and when the south-west wind should pour its blessing on the rejoicing landscape! God does not want us there at all He seems to be able to do quite without us there, and it is wonderful how small a cage it is within which the vastest mind is enclosed, and what very little pieces of work God asks any man to do in the creation that is around him. He can dig a little, and plough a little, and he can throw in his seed; but he has no power to tell the sun when to rise and when to set, and in what degree of heat to shine upon his little garden or his paltry field. But we work because God is. We have no fear of the stability of his works, and therefore we proceed from day to day in procuring our daily bread, and setting in operation all the forces that are needful for the cultivation alike of our bodily and mental life. This is very humbling in one of its aspects, because we have nothing whatever to do with all that is highest and grandest in creation. We are to do the servant"s work. But do not some persons advertise that they object to menial employment? Menial employment! There is nothing but menial employment if we really knew it, and yet no employment is menial if it be accepted from God"s hand, and wrought out according to the measure of his commandment and the inspiration of his call.
Is God all-mighty? Then have no fear about the realisation of his promises. Oftentimes it is difficult to see how certain promises are to be realised. We have nothing to do with that whatever. God keeps our hands off his promises quite as surely as he keeps them off his stars, and if he will not let us intermeddle with his planets, and do our little scrubbing and burnishing upon those great lights, he will not ask us to have anything to do with the outworking and realisation of his promises. He asks that their fulfilment be left to him, and afterwards he will challenge our own life as the witness, and answer, and confirmation of all that is gracious and all that is sure in the outworking of his words of promise. You do not make so very much of it with all your bonds, and guarantees, and assurances, and oaths. If you live in the paper and parchment region altogether, you live a poor, shallow life. The greatest promises are moral promises, and it matters not how much paper a man may sign; if his heart is wrong, he will swear away his own signature. If he has not signed with his heart, it is of poor account that he has signed with his hand. He can look at his signature and say it is his, and then work as if he had never written one single letter of it. It is God"s heart that comes down with his signature. He has never dealt with us only by his hand. His hand has been the servant of his heart; because of his moral attributes all that he has promised shall be fulfilled to the letter. No, no, not fulfilled to the letter. What letter can hold God? The letter is only as the little river bank, the great waters of his love will overflow all the limitations of the most ambitious letter. God cannot be known by letters. They are but as the hem of his garment, they lie a long way from his heart.
Is God all-mighty? Then do not imagine you can escape his judgments. His lightnings find us out. His sharp spear penetrates our secrecy. You have evaded him now fifty years, and you think you can do so for many more. You cannot. Has the ox that has been driven into the fat pasture escaped the knife? Look at the noble animal. Look at the rich grass or clover, and see the sunshine falling upon the scene, and the ox says, "I am at rest, I have escaped the knife of the slayer," not knowing that the pasture is on the way to the slaughter-house, and that next to its death stands the rich blessing of its life. There are many oxen that are being prepared for the slaughter when they little think it.
Is God all-mighty? Then be assured that the throne of right shall stand upon the ruins of all wrong: but here God is apparently at a disadvantage, because you cannot kill evil with the sword. The abolition of evil is a work of time, requiring the combination, the conspiring of innumerable moral influences and educational forces: but that conspiring is going on. The Lord is not slack concerning his promises, as some men count slackness. The kings of the earth—those decorated playthings, when not true men and kings in heart as well as in hand—the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying—this is their bond—"Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." That is one side of the picture. What is the answer? He that sitteth in the heavens sitteth without agitation, discomposure, or momentary apprehension: he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. What, laugh? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together; they get up their little plot, and they are going now to bring things their own way, and the great, quiet Sovereign of all shall—what?—shake himself, call his thunder, take down his spear? No!—shall laugh! Laugh—and no man survives the laughter of God"s derision! A terrible thing it is to be laughed at by God! Strike us, reason us down, send angels to bind us, and in these humiliations we shall find some little tribute to our greatness; but, O God! do not laugh at us. When God sets the universe laughing at a Prayer of Manasseh, where can the man find rest? There is a poor outlook for those who are going to fight God!
God is not only powerful, he is also all-wise. There is no searching of his understanding. Infinite strength would terrify us, but infinite strength under the dominion of infinite mind recovers us from the tremendous shock which comes of abstract, immeasurable, unwasting strength. The forces of nature are not lawless. Storms are more than storms, as they appear to us. Behind them all is God"s mind, God"s controlling, directing intelligence. The lightning does not come out at its own bidding to smite the tree, and the tower, and the temple, and to blight the prospects of man. The lightning always comes and strikes, or passes on, at God"s bidding, and under God"s control. The east wind is not sent to us by some spiteful power that takes delight in withering up our strength; it comes because the Lord hath need of it in some sense or way.
Is God all-wise? Then the darkest providences have meaning. We will set ourselves as God"s interpreters, and because we cannot make straight lines out of our crooked lot we think that God has turned our life into inextricable confusion. The darkest hours in our life have some intent, and it is really not needful that we should know all at once what that intent is. Let us keep within our own little sphere, and live a day at a time, and breathe a breath at a time, and be content with one pulsation at a time, and interpretation will come when God pleases, and as he pleases.
Is God all-wise? Then his plan of salvation is complete and final, and we shall waste our strength and show how great is our folly, by all attempts to improve the method of redemption and recovery of the world. What is there of God"s we can improve? Find any little plant and improve it Try it. You can surely make something more out of a primrose than God has made. You could amend the buttercup and the daisy. Try it Is there a blade of grass in all the meadows of the earth we can improve, looking at it as God constructed it, not as it has been withered and destroyed in any degree, but as God made it? Can you improve any one thing that God has made? Then why seek to improve the method of salvation which he has set up according to the revelation of his Holy Book, in the person and through the ministry of his Son? We will not even stop to argue whether this is God"s Book or not; we will take the method of salvation as it is here declared, and rest the whole argument upon it. That will call us back from wandering into any collateral questions as to whether this is God"s Book or not. Improve what is laid down here, that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Song of Solomon, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Improve it! We will not argue whether these words are what is called inspired or not; we will take them merely as words, take them as an idea, take them as if the poorest wretch in the world had spoken them, and I ask you to improve those words if you can. Love, divine love, divine love giving, divine love giving its only begotten Song of Solomon, that whosoever believeth—not payeth, not worketh, not putteth out some external strength, but believeth—should not perish, but have everlasting life. It is a marvel that any heart can hear these words without saying instantly, "These words shall lie at the very root of my life; I will live upon them, and I will defy death in their strength."
Is God all-wise? Then our individual life is all understood by him. That life is but dimly known to ourselves. We catch glimpses of it here and there, but its scope and meaning are still unrevealed to us. We are often in shadow. There are scattered rays of light, but no steady shining of the sun which protects us from the mystery of much darkness. It is enough that God knows our life, and that his wisdom is pledged as our defence. Tomorrow is coming upon us, and we know not with what messages and Revelation, with what joys and troubles; but God is coming with it, and in his path is the brightness of all-sufficient wisdom. We are quickened by the very mysteries of our life: view them atheistically, and they become terrors and distresses before which the most daring courage quails; but regard them as under the control of beneficent power, and an eye of glory opens in the very centre of the gloom.
Is God all-wise? Then we have a guarantee of endless variety in our future studies and services. God is ever extending our knowledge of his works, in reward of the endeavours we are making to acquaint ourselves with the wonders by which we are enclosed. We have found nothing of mere repetition in his plans. Each star has its own glory, each flower has a bloom and a figure peculiarly its own; the very stones are known by distinctive impress. We have eternity before us—in itself a terrible consideration, only tolerable when thought of in connection with God"s infinite wisdom: men grow weary when doomed to continuous pursuit of one object; monotony depresses and enfeebles the mind; to think, therefore, of having to live eternally is in itself a punishment, apart from the fact that no hour of the endless duration shall be unblessed by the hallowed excitement occasioned by increasing intelligence and deepening love. God will ever have something new to communicate to the mind of his servants: secret after secret will be given up to their possession; realm after realm will be thrown open to their investigation; and when unnumbered ages have expired, the infinite riches of divine wisdom will be undiminished.
The subject raises the solemn enquiry—What is our relation to this Dread Being, whose power is infinite, and whose wisdom is past finding out? We must sustain some relation to him. We are the loyal subjects of his crown, or rebels in his empire. Pause, and determine the answer! Everything depends upon our relation to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Have we repented of sin—have we poured out our hearts in rivers of contrition—have we yielded our hearts in reply to the all-entreating and overwhelming argument of the Cross? You reverence God—that is not enough; you are lost in admiration of his marvellous power as shown in the courses of nature—that is not enough; you see proofs of his existence and government in every leaf of the forest—that is not enough; these things have no relation to sin, they do not recover our lost sonship, they leave untouched the blackest and saddest facts of our life! Nature itself, brilliant and tuneful, is but a mocking mystery apart from the Cross—it is a lustrous grave, a prison under the name of a palace, a land of captivity and sorrow.
Souls are not saved by studying the works of nature. Astronomy and geology, botany and chemistry, have no redeeming message for hearts burdened with a sense of sin and guilt; we must go further and go deeper, a cry must be sent up to the dwelling-place of the Most High. O God, save us! O God, be merciful unto us! O God, redeem us from the slavery and torment of sin! And whilst we are yet speaking, a voice addresses the anxious heart—"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." That is what we want! That is sweet as morning light to men who have long sat in great darkness, and precious as the voice of the Deliverer to bondsmen who have desired to die. And is there not a word of encouragement for those who are rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins? We are saved from fear. We have the freedom of the City of God. In moments of exhaustion we look unto the hills whence cometh our help—in times of embarrassment we take counsel with divine wisdom. Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. What time I am afraid, I will trust in God. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? We are called unto trust. We are entitled to exult in the goodness and majesty of God. Ours is to be no depressing religion, but a religion of boundless joy. Our springs are not in ourselves: we hew no broken cisterns to ourselves; we undertake not our own affairs; we dwell in the security of God"s power, and as for Wisdom of Solomon, we ask and receive. This message is to troubled men—to troubled hearts—to desponding souls; and how gracious is the reviving word! Let us arise from our hiding-places, and serve the Lord with renewed power; he waits to gather us into his infinite strength and to make us wise with perfect understanding.
The Divine Helper
IT were, perhaps, impossible to indicate any number of words into which more significance and sublimity are condensed. The entire sentence is vital with meaning. We know not whether more to admire the power which they reveal, or praise the sympathy which they express. Let us analyse the language: "He giveth;" how suggestive of opulence—how indicative of benevolence! The terms are applicable to God in all relations to every grade of intelligent being: there is no moment in the history of life, in all regions, in which God ceases from giving; he is the one Giver: "Every good gift, and every perfect gift, cometh down from the Father of lights." In proportion, therefore, as man gives, does he become God-like; it is impossible for the finite more closely to approach the infinite than in the act of imparting blessing. "He giveth power;" how suggestive of might! Giving does not diminish his strength; he is as powerful now as when he projected the worlds into the fields of space; he is as able now to take up the isles as a very little thing as when Isaiah sung the wonders of his arm. "He giveth power"—this is the language of the sunbeam, as it pierces the intercepting cloud and gladdens the earth with its smile—this is the language of the flower, as it opens its mild eye in the morning of spring, this is the language of the moral Lazaruses, as they rise from their tombs and lay aside their cerements, and this is the language of the angelic hosts, as they spread their pinions to pursue their appointed mission! In short, this is the language of the universe; we can touch no atom which is destitute of the inscription, "He giveth power." "He giveth power to the faint;"—who cares for the faint? If a man cannot succeed in business, he is often left to perish without a tear of sympathy or an offer of aid. So long as men can support themselves they may find supporters, but when they faint by the way, few are sympathetic enough to bend in brotherly kindness and help in their restoration! God, however, whose thoughts and ways infinitely transcend the thoughts and ways of Prayer of Manasseh, stoops in paternal benevolence to revive the weary and invigorate the faint. Thus is every word pregnant with meaning, and the bare enunciation of the language should awake the thankfulness of every spirit!
Our spiritual condition is intimately known to the divine Father. He knows the strong and the faint alike. As a wise Shepherd he is acquainted with the state of his entire flock. Some he leads with gentleness, and others are carried in his bosom. It Isaiah, indeed, in no wise strange that man should be morally faint, if we consider his nature, and the agencies by which it is influenced.
(1) There is our inherent antagonism to evangelical truth. Man is prone to self-leaning. Every hour witnesses to the difficulty of renouncing self, and casting the soul with strong confidence on the finished work of the only Saviour. Man will ever and anon deport himself as though by his own might he could remove mountains and encounter embattled hosts, and God permits him to try his skill, and returns not until the cry is heard, "Lord, save me, or I perish." We are strong in proportion to our trust. As we are enabled to look beyond ourselves we can reiterate the apostolic paradox, "when I am weak then am I strong." When we leave the Cross we faint—while we glory in its Sufferer we are armed with irresistible might!
(2) There is the seductive influence of worldly association. Could we evermore remain on the mount of transfiguration, we might be strong, rejoicing in the Lord; but as we descend from its holy and resplendent heights, and Revelation -unite ourselves with the world, our fervour becomes chilled and our strength paralysed. Individual experience confirms these assertions. There have been blissful periods in which our souls have been thrilled with delight, in which our exultation has been second only to the raptures of heaven. Descent is less difficult than ascent; while it requires the might of God to secure our elevation, the breath of man may be effectual to our downfall! We have often entered the world with a determination to resist its charms and avoid its snares, but in an evil hour have relaxed our moral grasp on the Great Helper, and have thus been wearied and prostrated by the stormy and enervating influence of the world.
(3) There is the fierce battle for daily bread. In these times of fierce competition it is sometimes difficult for virtue to cope with the ingenuity of vice. Vice respects no boundaries, and laughs scornfully at the true standard and the just weight. No device is too mean for unprincipled men. Intellect is bribed to invest rottenness with charms, and conscience is lulled to sleep that she may cease from hurling the thunderbolt or taking up a lamentation for the mournful fate of rectitude. I sympathise most tenderly with the Christian merchant who is exposed to the subtle and powerful temptation to meet men on their own ground, and smite them with their own weapons. Let me entreat you, however, to abide by truth and purity, remembering the gracious assurance, "No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly."
(4) There is our ever-recurring unbelief. The spirit of ancient Israel unhappily still prevails. Though we have beheld a succession of wonders displayed on our behalf—though morning and night have alike been eloquent with the praise of God, yet we have no sooner been delivered out of one difficulty than we have dreaded another! Instead of reasoning from the lion and the bear to the uncircumcised Philistine, we have forgotten our deliverances, and mourned as though Omnipotence had never bared its arm in our defence! We have forgotten the seven loaves and the twelve baskets of fragments, and have hung our heads as though we Bad never used a sickle or enjoyed a feast! "How is it that ye have no faith?" is the oft-repeated inquiry which God institutes in his own family. As faith fails, man faints—and on the ground which he should have occupied as a conqueror, he lies panting as a victim.
Seeing that such is our nature, and such are the influences which affect it; we are called upon to rejoice that God treats us as men. "He knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust." Did his expectations exceed our capabilities, the love of the Father would be lost in the rigour of the tyrant. He knoweth every blast which we encounter, and not a foe can find an ambush whose secrecy evades the vigilance of his love. God will not suffer his people to be tried above that they are able to bear—he will not allow faintness to be followed by death, for "he giveth power to the faint."
Moral faintness does not invalidate Christian character. Were all the "faint" to be excluded, how many of you would remain as children of God? Does the parent cast off the crippled child? Does the parent make physical weakness the reason for disinheritance? In one loud No you answer. Neither does God neglect or despise the weakest believer who confides in his Son. Let us guard this assurance with two explanations:—
(1) It contains no encouragement to moral indolence. You are not to exonerate yourselves from the stern duties of life, on the plea that you are "faint." Imagine not that as moral invalids you are entitled to a life of ease; your business is to "renew your strength," by waiting upon God. Indolence will increase your weakness. The toiler grows strong. Exercise develops muscle. In proportion as you labour will the power of labouring augment. You are to resemble Gideon and his three hundred true-hearted allies, who, in searching for the kings of Midian, are described as "faint, yet pursuing;" and though the princes of Succoth refused them bread, they ceased not until Zebah and Zalmunna fell beneath their sword. Do you affirm, then, that you are "faint"? I reply, you may still be "pursuing," and though not with the rapidity of the robust, yet with all the strength which a willing mind can command.
(2) It affords no palliation for inconsistency. We are never allowed to plead weakness as a reason for sin. Because Gideon"s soldiers were "faint" they did not turn their swords upon each other, or prove treacherous to the mission which they had under taken. They might have pleaded their faintness as a reason for returning home, but with soldier-like courage they pursued the difficult way, until their weary heads were honoured with the crown of victory. Let not their example be lost upon us: though weak, let our faces be Zion-ward, and though many may outstrip us in the race, let us be found laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, "looking unto Jesus" for the smile which can cheer the most rugged path, and the strength which can vanquish the most potent foe!
In God"s great family there are diversities of moral development. There are alike the babe of days and the sire crowned with grey hairs—the tremulous spirit easily deterred, and the valorous heart that exults in the prospect of difficulty! There Isaiah, however, but one Father, and his tender mercies are over all. "One star differeth from another star in glory," but all stars bear the impress of a common origin. So in the moral world—the triumphant apostle who asks death to show his sting, and the trembling publican that dare ask for nothing but mercy, are alike the offspring and choice of Infinite Power and Unsearchable Wisdom. The question, therefore, relates not to the degree of power with which you may be blessed, but to your moral position: Are you in the family? I ask not whether a hemisphere may be radiant with your splendour, or whether yours is a struggling and fitful ray, but I ask, Are you in the firmament? There is no honour so lofty, no privilege so sweet, as that of being a moral child, even though so weak as to be carried in the Saviour"s arms.
Infinite power is accessible to the morally feeble. "He giveth power to the faint."
(1) God never communicates surplus power. "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass, and as thy day so shall thy strength be." God promises no strength beyond the day in which it is required.
(2) God"s method of communicating power teaches the dependence of humanity. God gives power as daily bread is given. Not a single energy is ever displayed by your body or mind, that is not bestowed or sustained by the Supreme. Our duty, then, is to remember that in ourselves we are helplessly weak, but that in Christ we are armed with power irresistible. Hence, saith the apostle, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;"—even Paul"s was a derived power. God"s alone is original; but it is enough for man if he can shine with radiance borrowed from the Fount of uncreated light.
(3) God"s willingness to communicate power greatly increases the responsibility of the Church. What power we might have! "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." It is not enough to satisfy the severity of reason that men should merely walk according to the light they have, they are bound to walk according to the light which they might have. The same remark applies to moral power; Infinite might is placed at our disposal—God says, "Ask, and it shall be given," so that if we faint, we faint in despite of the divine offer—if we perish with hunger, it is in the presence of a table spread with the viands of heaven.
Let me call you to the Rock as your standing place. "The conies are a feeble folk, but they make their houses in the rock." God"s invitation to you is to make your dwelling in. the Rock of Ages—in order to assist you he has caused that Rock to be cleft on your behalf, and all who find a refuge there are preserved alike from the heat of the sun, the fury of the wind, and the rage of the swelling billow.
Though we might pause here, and thank God for the goodness which he has manifested to the Church, the festival is by no means exhausted: there are truths yet to be elicited from this text which will be as meat and drink to those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Let us consider the declaration in the following aspect:—
(1) As the sublimest encouragement to the Church. "He giveth power to the faint." Who is this Being represented in the pronoun? Who will supply the substantive? Isaiah himself shall answer: "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." This All-glorious Being deigns to comfort the Church with assurances of aid: "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding." Did ever pronoun represent a substantive equal to the majesty and excellence here implied?
(2) As the tenderest assurance to the penitent. "The bruised reed he will not break, the smoking flax he will not quench." Can you crawl, as it were, to the throne of the heavenly grace? He will give you power! The Infinite will receive the weak and the powerless with compassion, and those who struggle feebly to his feet will be so strengthened as to walk and leap and praise the Lord! "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." Are any fearing that God will spurn their approach? They need fear no longer! "He giveth power to the faint." Your meekness will excite his pity, and will be turned into might by the impartation of his energy. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
(3) As the highest tribute to the work of Christ. Had there been no Saviour, there could have been no "faint" ones. Even faintness implies life; but whence came this life? Men, by nature, are dead in trespasses and sin—earth is a vast cemetery. Who has blown the trumpet of resurrection? Christ has visited the cemetery, and wept amid its terrible desolation; and, as he gazed on the ruins of a noble race, he said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Then is Christ man"s life-giver! The weakest child in the great family is a tribute to the mighty energy and unparalleled tenderness of Christ. He disarms the tyrant, and leads all who believe in him to the region of happiest freedom!
(4) As a glorious pledge of God"s interest in humanity. He did not turn from the sinner as from a mass of loathsome corruption, and betake himself to recesses where the voice of the moral leper could not be heard. But when iniquity abounded, love much more abounded—true, the race was smitten with foulest leprosy, blasphemy was thunder-tongued, and vice was rampant, yet the divine Spirit was moved with pity, and divine compassion was embodied in sacrifice. There is peculiar solemnity in the reflection that God is interested in man—this thought invests every individual with singular dignity, and charges human life with most oppressive responsibilities. To the believer, in particular, is the thought affecting and blissful: he is compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses—his steps are ordered by the Lord—his very hairs are numbered—and his song Isaiah, "though I fall I shall not be utterly cast down, for God giveth power to the faint." We cannot realise God"s marvellous condescension, in helping the helpless, without being deeply affected by the conviction that he is intensely interested in all that appertains the purity, freedom, and happiness of the human race.
(5) As a presumptive proof of man"s immortality. But how so? What of immortality breathes here? Can they who faint be immortal? Observe that I claim to find merely a presumptive proof of our endless duration, and am persuaded that you will justify my reasoning when acquainted with the basis on which it rests. Why all this feeding like a shepherd? Why this gentle tending—this inspiration of life—this sustaining of vigour—this communication of power? Is the mysterious process undertaken when God has determined that all shall end in dust? Does the divine Being sustain merely that earthly life shall be prolonged? Reason revolts at the supposition. With reverence we declare our conviction that such a process, terminating in such an issue, is utterly unworthy the power, the Wisdom of Solomon, the tenderness of the everlasting God. Why should Jehovah stoop to impart power to the faint, when he knows that in a few brief years the faint one will have crumbled to dust? Assuming man"s mere mortality, you argue that the education, the discipline, the capacities with which God has endowed the race, are all to be conquered and destroyed by death! Be it ours, to feel in every reviving breeze breathed over our fainting spirits a pledge of life that shall survive death—a life coeval with the duration of Godhead. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." "What advantageth it us, it the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." While, therefore, impressed with the solemn conviction of our immortality, I charge you to institute an immediate and exhaustive examination into the grounds on which you rest your hopes of happiness in the march of endless ages!
In addition to the great principles which we have thus enunciated, we might supply almost interminable illustration of the text from the records of individual life. See Elijah, for example, hidden in the cave and desiring to die; he is faint well nigh unto death, yet the "still small voice" revives his drooping energies, and as he passes from the hiding-place of his weariness and sorrow, he practically repeats the text—" He giveth power to the faint." Behold Jonah also; as the sun is beating on his head he faints and wishes in himself to die, saying it is better for me to die than to live, but he is Revelation -inspired by the Power which will not break the bruised reed. Turn to the history of David, and illustration without end will be furnished; in all the storms of his eventful life he tested the life-sustaining grace of God: so truly is this evident, that in his most mournful strains there are notes of hope which he could learn nowhere but at the gate of heaven. Hear the joyous melody which gushed from his grateful and mighty spirit: "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident... in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me upon a rock... I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord:" as though he had overheard Isaiah assuring despondent Israel that "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." But why should we cull illustrations from the ancient record? It is not necessary that we should escape from modern days and appeal to the library of Judaism for historic proofs that God giveth power to the faint. We are living witnesses of the glorious fact. We can say with all the gratitude of the apostle, "though the outward man perisheth, the inward man is renewed day by day." Faint and weary we have been met by the sympathetic Saviour, and have received of his fulness grace upon grace! We rejoice, indeed, that the song which celebrates renewing power was awakened in the morning of the world, and we would prolong its swelling strains until the mantle of night shall assert the termination of earthly scenes. One generation has cried after another, "Thy tender mercies have been ever of old;" and the testimony shall increase in force until all nations shall call the Restorer blessed! Our hearts burn within us as we muse on the loving-kindness which stoops to revive the faint. Are any travel-worn and cast down by reason of the difficulties of the way? whose mournful language Isaiah, "Oh, that it were with us as in times gone, when we ran with footmen and horsemen, and so outstripped them that we even longed for a contest with the swellings of Jordan; but now is our strength failed and our bones are melted "? Then, O dejected ones, in the language of the prophet, "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?" You are waiting at the broken cistern of your own righteousness for a supply of power, instead of turning to the Omnipotent and pleading his promises of aid. Rise, and return to the God of Jacob, for if he has smitten he will heal, and if he has torn he will bind up!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 40". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent