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THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH 1. 1.
Isaiah declareth the subject of his prophecy.
1 The vision of Isaiah the son in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, of Amoz, which he saw con- Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of cerning Judah and Jerusalem Judah.
Prophecy viewed as manifesting God's foreknowledge.
A prophet means one inspired to speak in behalf of God to man. In this sense, every book in the Bible is a prophecy, and every writer thereof a prophet. But in a more limited sense, prophecy means the foretelling things to come. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." Acts 15. 18. God foreknows all his own dealings both of providence and grace, and all that concerns every thing which He has made. And by means of his servants the prophets, He has from time to time vouchsafed to make these matters in some measure known beforehand to the children of men. When the prophecy is known to have been set forth before the event, when the thing prophesied is beyond the reach of man's conjecture, and when the event answers to the prophetic words, then we have a most convincing proof that the words come from one greater than man, then we have no small help towards forming a right notion of the omniscience of God. To Him nothing is unknown. The past, the present, and the future, all shew themselves at once and always in his presence. The most secret of our thoughts, no less than the most public of our actions, are all open in his sight. Let us thank Him for helping us to conceive this his glorious attribute, by setting down in his word long beforehand events many in number, of deep importance to mankind, and infinitely surpassing man's sagacity to divine.
Prophecies of this kind, revelations of foreknowledge, occur in most parts of Scripture, but they abound chiefly in the Books commonly called prophetical, of which the first in order is "The Book of the Prophet Isaiah." A "vision" he calls it, signifying that the things written in this book were revealed to him, from time to time, in a supernatural manner; the prophet being as one asleep in respect to this world, but awake in respect to the world of spirits. A vision "concerning Judah and Jerusalem," which we may thus interpret, concerning the chosen people of God, both of old time, and at present, both under the Law and under the Gospel. Yes, it is a vision which closely concerns ourselves. Let us therefore give earnest heed to it. Let us endeavour to follow this holy man, who spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost, see 1 Pet. 1. 21, to follow him, by faith, forth from the world of sense, into the presence of God most high. And there bowing before the glory of the Lord, let us magnify the excellency of his wisdom in knowing all things, and the greatness of his goodness in foreshewing unto us all that is meet for us to know.
PART VII. 0. T.
Jehovah reproveth his rebellious people.
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
15 And when ye spread forth. your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Service without devotion is hateful unto God.
The prophets, besides the gift of foretelling the future, had a commission to teach, to admonish, and to reprove. And especially in those of them, who flourished during the decline of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, we find a continued strain of moral doctrine, expressed in the most energetic language, and founded on the most elevated notions of God's attributes, and of man's duties.
And whilst we observe how excellently their teaching was adapted to pave the way for ingrafting the Gospel on the Law, we shall find many a word of exhortation, no less applicable and profitable to ourselves as Christians now, than to the Jews when spoken at the first.
To them, if they had any feeling left, how affecting must have been the solemn words of this opening chapter of Isaiah; a chapter in which we may consider him as describing the alienation of the people from God, and the judgments which they endured in consequence, during the whole period of his ministry; and the readiness on God's part, both then and ever after, to forgive their grievous wickedness, if they would but heartily repent! How likely to move them to compunction must have been this appeal to heaven and earth, as witnesses of the unnatural disobedience, of which this highly favoured people had been guilty towards their Father and their God! Well might He, who made them, cast in their teeth the instinctive attachment of dumb cattle to their owners, as contrasted with their forgetfulness of the Lord. Well might He reproach them with the burden of those sins, which they had wilfully heaped upon their own heads, and with the stripes and wounds, the desolation and destruction, which they had drawn down upon themselves and on their country, by their repeated provocations of his wrath. Their great sin, let us remember, was this, that they had "forsaken the Lord." They had worshipped strange gods, and bowed down before images; instead of serving and worshipping Jehovah only. Let us therefore watchfully keep ourselves from idols. See 1 John 5. 21. If we would not have our church left desolate, let us have no fellowship with idolatry. If we would not have our souls deserted by God's Spirit, let us harbour therein no object of devout regard to interfere with the love of God.
But God's people of old time thought to satisfy the jealous affection of their Maker by the formal offering of the sacrifices appointed in his Law; forgetting, that the very same Law, which bade them offer Him sacrifice, enjoined them to love Him with all their heart. And therefore He now tells them by his prophet, that He loathes their heartless offerings. With a vehement indignation He spurns the very services He had Himself appointed, when rendered by hands that were defiled with the practices which He had denounced. And how then shall we deem that He regards the prayers and praises, oftentimes offered in our Christian churches, by the lips of impenitent offenders? What must be all formal service in a Christian, what must be alms given grudgingly, worship attended reluctantly, and duties done seemingly to God, but in reality out of deference to the world; what but abomination in his sight?
Jehovah offereth to reason with his people.
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
21 How is the faithful city become an harlot ! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
the LORD of hosts, the mighty
26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench
24 Therefore saith the Lord, them.
God at once merciful and terrible.
How wonderfully is the gracious forbearance of the Lord here united with his just abhorrence of iniquity! How free and full is his forgiveness for penitent offenders! How sure and terrible his visitation for obstinate transgressors! Repentance, amendment of life, are these things possible? Can he that has loved sin love holiness? Can he who has been accustomed to do evil learn to do good? Are these things possible? Yes, they are, with the help of God. With man they are impossible; but with
God all things are possible, even to changing the hardest hearts, even to breaking off the most settled habits. And then, oh glad tidings for contrite sinners, then, "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." The good of all the land is ours again; reconciliation unto God, renewal of his favour, reestablishment in faith, and hope, and love, and in the willing obedience of the heart. And to convince us that this is true, to bring home these good tidings, so almost past belief, to the heart of every sinful child of Adam, God vouchsafes to represent Himself as reasoning with man: "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord!" God reasoning with man! What kind consideration for our case! What merciful condescension to our nature! Oh when God vouchsafes to reason, may we be careful to attend, swift to hear, slow to speak, and willing, yea glad, to be convinced!
But God not only thus mercifully reasons, He also knows how to reprove severely, and to threaten terribly. And when the faithful city had become an harlot, when, as the natural consequence of apostasy from God, dishonesty, and oppression, and bloodshedding had taken the place of truth, justice, and mercifulness, when instead of the precious metal of pure religion, there was only the tinsel of hypocrisy, and the dross of iniquity, then He declared, in the most awful terms, that He would do away with the wicked from amongst his people; and that in order to a renewal of their grace and glory, as a righteous and faithful nation, He would thoroughly put them to shame for their idolatry, and would thoroughly consume from amongst them all the doers and abettors of ungodliness. An awful sentence; once signally fulfilled in the carrying away of his people into captivity, and in the return and reestablishment of those only from among them, whose hearts clave unto the God of their fathers. An awful sentence, once more, as we may well believe, to be accomplished, when there shall be "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Pet. 3. 13. For then also will it surely come to pass, that however stoutly the wicked now uphold themselves in sin, "The strong shall be as tow, and his work as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them." (See Margin.) May we all consider, whilst we yet have time, how terrible a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, when He is justly angry with us for our sins! May we all accept thankfully his proffered mercy; humbly acknowledging our sins past, and heartily renouncing them for the time to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord!