Called to Sanctification
The Lord says his salvation is near to come, and his righteousness is near to be revealed. The Lord takes no note of what we call time. We are the victims of that illusion. We talk of time as if it were of some importance in regard to God"s movement; whereas a thousand years in God"s sight are but as yesterday, and as a watch in the night; a thousand years are as one day, and one day is as a thousand years: the meaning being that we are to drop this sophism of time and dates and arithmetical theology, and betake ourselves to the assured delight that God"s salvation is near to come, and God"s righteousness is near to be revealed. God is always near, within the limits which he has imposed upon our probation; what may come after those limits none can tell: but whilst we are living God is near, whilst we breathe we may touch him with our prayers, whilst we have any being in relation to the things now about us, we may lay hold mightily upon God, through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God the Song of Solomon, and receive all the blessing of God"s salvation and righteousness. Herein is that sweet gospel in the Old Testament never excelled by the writers and minstrels of the new covenant: "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." He is near to those who want him, within touch of those that cry to him on account of their pain and necessity and penitence. How much we lose by imagining that God will come at some uncalculated and immeasurable period, and do wonders in the world! He comes now; he arrives with the dawn, morning by morning. There are those who ask when the Lord will come? He comes today: whether he will reign personally and visibly, what matter? He will reign—that is the fact we have to deal with. Why trouble ourselves with accidental circumstances, accessories, transient phases, and possibilities? The question is not, How long will he reign? it Isaiah, Will he reign? and to that question there is but one answer—the answer of a triumphant, grateful affirmative.
We have had the historical coming: first that which is natural, afterwards that which is spiritual. I do not look for Jesus Christ in the flesh, I look for Jesus Christ in the spirit, in thought, in elevation of life, in nobleness of soul, in all that is moral, spiritual, sacred. How much we are the victims of our senses: we have the old Thomas spirit: "Except I see the print of the nails; except I thrust my hand into his side." We do not say that, but we say the counterpart of it; we want to see with the eyes of the body, we want to touch with the fingers of the hand, Do we not hear the sweet voice of the Saviour saying, "Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed"?—that is to say, more blessed; they have a finer faculty, a keener touch, a sensitiveness not of the flesh but of the soul. This body will ruin us if we do not take care. It is a temptation of the devil in many of its aspects and suggestions; it pines for form, organisation, machinery, visibility; whereas the soul is being trained towards insight, sympathy, assurance beyond all words, love for which there is no written ritual, the sacrifice of a grateful, loving, adoring soul. Never listen to those teachers who puzzle and perplex you by calculations as to years and centuries and ages; and to those peculiarly constituted minds, which do not subject themselves to any psychology known to me, that seem to feel the beginning of heaven—at all events an ineffable delight—if they can add up any series of figures into six hundred and sixty-six. I do not want to deprive any soul of its pleasures, but when those pleasures are of a kind that shut out all that is most spiritual, most heavenly, I must lay my hand upon them at least in an arresting attitude. I have nothing to say against six hundred and sixty-six. I am not aware that those figures have ever personally offended me; I do not want the human mind to consider that salvation or growth, true spiritual progress, lies in that kind of calculation; but in more prayer, more love, a loftier, brighter hope, and let the Lord open the door when he pleases, and come in any guise or disguise, in any aspect or Revelation, that may suit his infinite wisdom.
"Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil" ( Isaiah 56:2).
The Lord will have us, as we are now constituted, begin at some point of obedience. We may not be able to keep the whole law as we should like to do, but if we wish to do it, and faithfully attend to any one point in it, God will see that the blessing is not withheld. Many men can begin at the fourth commandment who cannot begin at the first. The first is an awful, grand commandment; eternity is hidden in it; there is nothing in all infinity so far as it is revealed in Scripture that is not included in the true conception and the true worship and service of God. The commandment is ineffably spiritual, transcending all human imagination, yet evermore appealing to the noblest faculties of the mind to awaken and ascend, and realise divine opportunities. The fourth commandment seems to come within the range of childhood; there we are commanded to honour a day: who does not think of a birthday, or some day full of sacred memory in the family? It may be a day of death, the day on which we the good-bye that killed us, for "when some friends part, "tis the survivor dies." Yet there is the fact that days are remembered and honoured; they are days of mourning, or days of sacred melancholy and joy. So the Lord will allow us to begin by honouring a day, not perfunctorily and mechanically, but spiritually, with all the stress and energy of love; so we will call it the Lord"s day, the day of rest, the day that represents all time in its divinest aspect and purpose. There are those who say that all days should be sacred,—a philosophy which we accept, if it is not followed by the immorality which neglects to keep any day. We never find that people are peculiarly observant of the Sabbath day who generalise their love over the whole week; and we never find that people are careless during the intervening time who conscientiously, intelligently, and adoringly receive the Sabbath day as a rich gift from God. There are those who say all money is God"s, and therefore they never set apart a Lord"s account. It is to be feared they may be deluded, and that the Lord may suffer on account of that generality which does not identify itself with peculiar and isolated sacrifice. Let every man examine himself herein. A blessing is pronounced upon those who do God"s commandments—not an external blessing. There is all the difference in the world between a reward that is added to a service and a reward that comes up out of the service itself. In the case of religious devotion the blessing is in the service. To serve is to be blessed.
There are those who tell us that even in other pursuits the joy is in the quest. When the sportsman goes forth on his highly mettled steed to pursue the prey he says the enjoyment is in the pursuit, in the swift ride, in the leap, even in the partial danger We should get a hint from all men, and certainly those who talk thus supply us with the hint that we may be looking for the heaven beyond, instead of expecting the blessing here and now, and yet always preliminary and symbolical. Why do we not look for the blessing instantly? To pray is to be answered; to enter the sanctuary in a right spirit is to touch the threshold of heaven; to read with a broken heart God"s Word is to be in sympathy with the inspiration of God"s Spirit. Do not look beyond black rivers and frowning horizons and rolling storms for the blessing, but expect it here and now, and God will not withhold it. Some men seem to be so constituted that they never have any immediate blessing. There are persons so eager, so desperate in energy, that you cannot show them anything that is here; they are always in an attitude of strain and expectancy, thinking that the blessing is over yonder. We who live in large towns have very little gardens, quite little patches of flower-bed. Some visitors call upon us to whom we want to show the garden: the little garden is just outside the house, but when we take such eager friends to see the patch of flower-bed they are over and away as if the garden were two miles off and were then ten miles long. We stop them and say, "This is the garden;" and then they look at it! With what speed they ride across the little grass plot! We should like the garden to be where they think it Isaiah, and the size they imagine it to be; but as a matter of fact, it is neither, and it is just here, and we can go all round it in three minutes. Herein is a hint that may be turned to spiritual advantage. The Lord promised an immediate blessing. He does not give us mere promissory notes; it is not three months after date that he will make payment, or six months. He pays along with the work. Heaven is in a rightly used earth: eternity is in a deeply sanctified time: the rest eternal begins in the Sabbath well spent. Expect, receive immediate blessing.
"Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people" ( Isaiah 56:3).
You have noticed how full the Bible is of the "stranger." Always the Bible will have a place for the foreigner, the stranger, the visitor, the alien, the heathen; because Jesus Christ is the Son of Prayer of Manasseh, and not a Jew; he shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession: this is the outcome of his divine humanity. No local man could claim such an estate; no Jew could carry that burden of blessing: only the Son of Prayer of Manasseh, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world can extend his sceptre to the uttermost parts of the earth, claiming all outlying province and district as his own. When the Lord cares for the stranger he begins a philosophy that destroys all our little exclusive and idiotic theologies. Election has never meant exclusion: contrariwise, election rightly understood means inclusion:—because you are elected, go out and seek the man who is outside. If you were elected to this blessing, open the door, proceed to Africa, China, India, Polynesia, and tell the stranger that he need not say he is forgotten; because the Lord must begin somewhere. Even the Lord"s ministry has a point of origin; but the point of origin is not the point of termination. There are those dear, precious, anonymous persons who suppose for some inscrutable and probably not wholly explicable reason that the Lord has made favourites of them. Never. Your appearance is against you; your whole soul is a witness against your detestable exclusiveness. When the Lord has called, he has made that call an internal inspiration of love and impulse in the line of evangelisation, missionary work, calling in the heathen, the distant, the outcast, the stranger. Is a soldier elected simply to wear his uniform? When he is made a soldier he ought to be a warrior waiting only for an opportunity to defend his country from assault. When a boy is made a scholar, is it that he may keep his scholarship to himself and enjoy in quiet contemplation all classical wealth, all the treasures of ancient and modern history? Certainly not. He was taught that he might teach; he was instructed that ignorance might not live in his presence; it was that he should break the bread of his knowledge to those who stood in need of information and guiding intelligence; so when a man is called into the Church of Christ, it is that he may bring some other man in, the stranger and the far-away soul.
This prophecy also teaches that deprivation has never meant joylessness. The man referred to is a childless Prayer of Manasseh, yet he is to have his gratification and his particular delight. Some men are moneyless, but they are not therefore poor; some men are friendless within social limitations, but they are not therefore alone. Hear the voice of One who expresses this in pathetic tones: "I am alone, yet not alone, for the Father is with me." Hear another, farther away down the corridors of history, saying, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up, and there shall be a fuller affection in his embrace because of my very orphanage." Always look at the higher and brighter aspect of life. The child has no father, and yet he cannot be deprived of fatherhood if his young heart looks up into heaven to seek for the only Father. He who bears the name of father bears it as a borrower; it is not an original trust, it is not an invention of any man; it is part of God"s appellation, it is a divine signature. When, therefore, you say, "We are without children, we are without money, without friends, without father and mother," you are on the wrong key altogether; there is no religion in that down-going gamut; the religion is in the ascending scale. Consider what we have in reality; never speak of deprivation except as an introduction to the grateful statement that we have more than we deserve, and if God has denied us blessings in one direction, he has multiplied them to abundance in another.
"Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer" ( Isaiah 56:7). The Lord will have a mountain on his landscape. There are those who do not know a mountain when they see it; they think it is something that ought to be there and has always been there, but what it is they do not know; the poorest imbeciles in the world are to be found in Alpine valleys. The Lord will have his saints be mountaineers; when he has a feast it shall be on the top of the mountains; it is characteristic of his majesty, it is typical of his hospitality, it is charged with suggestions of nobleness and grandeur. Have we ever lived the mountain life? Have we ever left the hedgerows and begun really to climb? To climb is to be blessed. The blessing begins long before you get to the top; walking is recreation; exercise is recruital. If we cannot do other than dwell in the valley, the Lord will accommodate himself to us; but he calls us to the mountain: "Come unto the mountain early in the morning, and I will speak to thee." What sublimer picture is there in ancient history than Moses going with a friend or two up the mountain, and then at a certain time saying, Stop here: I must go the rest alone? Watch him as he climbs the great stony steep. What helps that old young man to climb as he is doing? There is youth in his limbs, yet there is old age in his bent shoulders. Why climbs he so high? He has an appointment with his Lord. And why did Jesus Christ go into the mountain? That he might see God. Why did the Saviour, God the Song of Solomon, seek the solitude of midnight? That he might be least alone. When he was most alone he was least alone; for when the toiling, tumultuous, riotous multitude left him the air palpitated, vibrated with the presence of blessed angels. Let us ascend the mountain: it signifies elevation, communion, universality. Have a mountain on your religious landscape.
"The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel" ( Isaiah 56:8). He will not merely gather, he will gather the outcasts; more and more he will gather besides those. He says, I have more to come; "Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him." If there is one man not saved, O ye missionaries, explorers, up! flee!—the man may die before you seize him. Will the Lord receive another outcast? He will. "I," says one, "am the vilest of the men that live: will he receive me?" Yes. "When will he receive me?" Now. Thus we have in the Old Testament the very spirit of the New. Christianity is nothing if it be not a missionary religion. The Cross has no meaning if it were merely a Roman gallows. The Cross is more than wood; above the superscription of Pilate is written with the finger of God, "Herein is love, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." That, O man of God, is your subject. It includes all fields and topics that are good, all benevolence, charity, philanthropy, activity of a reformatory and ameliorative kind. The Cross of Christ is the largest subject that ever appealed to the understanding, the conscience, and the imagination of mankind.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 56". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent