Expositions of Holy Scripture
RPM, Volume 17, Number 47, November 15 to November 21, 2015

Expositions of Holy Scripture:
Isaiah and Jeremiah

VOLUME I: ISAIAH AND JEREMIAH

By Alexander Maclaren, D. D., Litt. D.

(1826-1910)
Public Domain

CONTENTS

THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH versus JUDAH (Isaiah i. 1-9; 16-20)

THE STUPIDITY OF GODLESSNESS (Isaiah i. 3)

WHAT SIN DOES TO MEN (Isaiah i. 30-31)

THE PERPETUAL PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE (Isaiah iv. 5)

A PROPHET'S WOES (Isaiah v. 8-30)

VISION AND SERVICE (Isaiah vi. 1-13)

THE EMPTY THRONE FILLED (Isaiah vi. 1)

A SERAPH'S WINGS (Isaiah vi. 2)

THE MAKING OF A PROPHET (Isaiah vi. 5)

SHILOAH AND EUPHRATES (Isaiah viii. 6, 7)

THE KINGDOM AND THE KING (Isaiah ix. 2-7)

LIGHT OR FIRE? (Isaiah x. 17)

THE SUCKER FROM THE FELLED OAK (Isaiah xi. 1-10)

THE WELL-SPRING OF SALVATION (Isaiah xii. 3)

THE HARVEST OF A GODLESS LIFE (Isaiah xvii. 10, 11)

IN THIS MOUNTAIN' (Isaiah xxv. 6-8)

THE FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE (Isaiah xxv. 6)

THE VEIL OVER ALL NATIONS (Isaiah xxv. 7)

THE SONG OF TWO CITIES (Isaiah xxvi. 1-10)

OUR STRONG CITY (Isaiah xxvi. 1-2)

THE INHABITANT OF THE ROCK (Isaiah xxvi. 3-4)

THE GRASP THAT BRINGS PEACE (Isaiah xxvii. 5)

THE JUDGMENT OF DRUNKARDS AND MOCKERS (Isaiah xxviii. 1-13)

A CROWN OF PRIDE OR A CROWN OF GLORY (Isaiah xxviii 3-5)

MAN'S CROWN AND GOD'S (Isaiah lxii 3)

THE FOUNDATION OF GOD (Isaiah xxviii. 16)

GOD'S STRANGE WORK (Isaiah xxviii. 21)

THE HUSBANDMAN AND HIS OPERATIONS (Isaiah xxviii. 23-29)

QUIETNESS AND CONFIDENCE' (Isaiah xxx. 15)

GOD'S WAITING AND MAN'S (Isaiah xxx. 18)

THREE PICTURES OF ONE REALITY (Isaiah xxxi. 5)

THE LORD'S FURNACE (Isaiah xxxi. 9)

THE HIDING-PLACE (Isaiah xxxii. 2)

HOW TO DWELL IN THE FIRE OF GOD (Isaiah xxxiii. 14, 15; I John iv. 16)

THE FORTRESS OF THE FAITHFUL (Isaiah xxxiii. 16)

THE RIVERS OF GOD (Isaiah xxxiii. 21)

JUDGE, LAWGIVER, KING (Isaiah xxxiii. 22)

MIRACLES OF HEALING (Isaiah xxxv. 5-6)

MIRAGE OR LAKE (Isaiah xxxv. 6-7)

THE KING'S HIGHWAY (Isaiah xxxv. 8-9)

WHAT LIFE'S JOURNEY MAY BE (Isaiah xxxv. 9-10)

THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH (Isaiah xxxvii 14-21; 33-38)

WHERE TO CARRY TROUBLES (Isaiah xxxvii. 14)

GREAT VOICES FROM HEAVEN (Isaiah xl. 1-10)

O THOU THAT BRINGEST GOOD TIDINGS (Isaiah xl. 9)

HAVE YE NOT? HAST THOU NOT' (Isaiah xl. 2; 28)

UNFAILING STARS AND FAINTING MEN (Isaiah xl. 26; 29)

THE SECRET OF IMMORTAL YOUTH (Isaiah xl. 30, 31)

CHRIST THE ARRESTER OF INCIPIENT EVIL AND THE NOURISHER OF INCIPIENT GOOD (Isaiah xlii. 3, 4)

THE BLIND MAN'S GUIDE (Isaiah xlii. 16)

THY NAME: MY NAME (Isaiah xliii, 1; 7)

JACOB--ISRAEL--JESHURUN (Isaiah xliv. 1, 2)

FEEDING ON ASHES (Isaiah xliv. 20)

WRITING BLOTTED OUT AND MIST MELTED (Isaiah xliv. 22)

HIDDEN AND REVEALED (Isaiah xlv. 15, 19)

A RIGHTEOUSNESS NEAR AND A SWIFT SALVATION (Isaiah xlv. 12, 13)

A RIVER OF PEACE AND WAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (Isaiah xlviii. 18)

THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH VERSUS JUDAH

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. I 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. . . . 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.'--ISAIAH i. 1-9; 16-20.

The first bars of the great overture to Isaiah's great oratorio are here sounded. These first chapters give out the themes which run through all the rest of his prophecies. Like most introductions, they were probably written last, when the prophet collected and arranged his life's labours. The text deals with the three great thoughts, the leit-motifs that are sounded over and over again in the prophet's message.

First comes the great indictment (vs. 2-4). A true prophet's words are of universal application, even when they are most specially addressed to a particular audience. Just because this indictment was so true of Judah, is it true of all men, for it is not concerned with details peculiar to a long-past period and state of society, but with the broad generalities common to us all. As another great teacher in Old Testament times said, I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, to have been continually before me.' Isaiah has nothing to say about ritual or ceremonial omissions, which to him were but surface matters after all, but he sets in blazing light the foundation facts of Judah's (and every man's) distorted relation to God. And how lovingly, as well as sternly, God speaks through him! That divine lament which heralds the searching indictment is not unworthy to be the very words of the Almighty Lover of all men, sorrowing over His prodigal and fugitive sons. Nor is its deep truth less than its tenderness. For is not man's sin blackest when seen against the bright background of God's fatherly love? True, the fatherhood that Isaiah knew referred to God's relation to the nation rather than to the individual, but the great truth which is perfectly revealed by the Perfect Son was in part shown to the prophet. The east was bright with the unrisen sun, and the tinted clouds that hovered above the place of its rising seemed as if yearning to open and let him through. Man's neglect of God's benefits puts him below the animals that know' the hand that feeds and governs them. Some men think it a token of superior culture' and advanced views to throw off allegiance to God. It is a token that they have less intelligence than their dog.

There is something very beautiful and pathetic in the fact that Judah is not directly addressed, but that verses 2-4 are a divine soliloquy. They might rather be called a father's lament than an indictment. The forsaken father is, as it were, sadly brooding over his erring child's sins, which are his father's sorrows and his own miseries. In verse 4 the black catalogue of the prodigal's doings begins on the surface with what we call moral' delinquencies, and then digs deeper to disclose the root of these in what we call religious' relations perverted. The two are inseparably united, for no man who is wrong with God can be right with duty or with men. Notice, too, how one word flashes into clearness the sad truth of universal experience--that iniquity,' however it may delude us into fancying that by it we throw off the burden of conscience and duty, piles heavier weights on our backs. The doer of iniquity is laden with iniquity.' Notice, too, how the awful entail of evil from parents to children is adduced--shall we say as aggravating, or as lessening, the guilt of each generation? Isaiah's contemporaries are a seed of evil-doers,' spring from such, and in their turn are children that are corrupters.' The fatal bias becomes stronger as it passes down. Heredity is a fact, whether you call it original sin or not.

But the bitter fountain of all evil lies in distorted relations to God. They have forsaken the Lord' that is why they do corruptly.' They have despised the Holy One of Israel' that is why they are laden with iniquity.' Alienated hearts separate from Him. To forsake Him is to despise Him. To go from Him is to go away backward.' Whatever may have been our inheritance of evil, we each go further from Him. And this fatherly lament over Judah is indeed a wail over every child of man. Does it not echo in the pearl of parables,' and may we not suppose that it suggested that supreme revelation of man's misery and God's love?

After the indictment comes the sentence (vs. 5-8). Perhaps sentence' is not altogether accurate, for these verses do not so much decree a future as describe a present, and the deep tone of pitying wonder sounds through them as they tell of the bitter harvest sown by sin. The penetrating question, Why will ye be still stricken, that ye revolt more and more?' brings out the solemn truth that all which men gain by rebellion against God is chastisement. The ox that kicks against the pricks' only makes its own hocks bleed. We aim at some imagined good, and we get--blows. No rational answer to that stern Why?' is possible. Every sin is an act of unreason, essentially an absurdity. The consequences of Judah's sin are first darkly drawn under the metaphor of a man desperately wounded in some fight, and far away from physicians or nurses, and then the metaphor is interpreted by the plain facts of hostile invasion, flaming cities, devastated fields. It destroys the coherence of the verses to take the gruesome picture of the wounded man as a description of men's sins; it is plainly a description of the consequences of their sins. In accordance with the Old Testament point of view, Isaiah deals with national calamities as the punishment of national sins. He does not touch on the far worse results of individual sins on individual character. But while we are not to ignore his doctrine that nations are individual entities, and that righteousness exalteth a nation' in our days as well as in his, the Christian form of his teaching is that men lay waste their own lives and wound their own souls by every sin. The fugitive son comes down to be a swine-herd, and cannot get enough even of the swine's food to stay his hunger.

The note of pity sounds very clearly in the pathetic description of the deserted daughter of Zion.' Jerusalem stands forlorn and defenceless, like a frail booth in a vineyard, hastily run up with boughs, and open to fierce sunshine or howling winds. Once beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, . . . the city of the great King'--and now!

Verse 9 breaks the solemn flow of the divine Voice, but breaks it as it desires to be broken. For in it hearts made soft and penitent by the Voice, breathe out lowly acknowledgment of widespread sin, and see God's mercy in the continuance of a very small remnant' of still faithful ones. There is a little island not yet submerged by the sea of iniquity, and it is to Him, not to themselves, that the holy seed' owe their being kept from following the multitude to do evil. What a smiting comparison for the national pride that is--as Sodom,' like unto Gomorrah'!

After the sentence comes pardon. Verses 16 and 17 properly belong to the paragraph omitted from the text, and close the stern special word to the rulers' which, in its severe tone, contrasts so strongly with the wounded love and grieved pity of the preceding verses. Moral amendment is demanded of these high-placed sinners and false guides. It is John the Baptist's message in an earlier form, and it clears the way for the evangelical message. Repentance and cleansing of life come first.

But these stern requirements, if taken alone, kindle despair. Wash you, make you clean'--easy to say, plainly necessary, and as plainly hopelessly above my reach. If that is all that a prophet has to say to me, he may as well say nothing. For what is the use of saying Arise and walk' to the man who has been lame from his mother's womb? How can a foul body be washed clean by filthy hands? Ancient or modern preachers of a self-wrought-out morality exhort to impossibilities, and unless they follow their preaching of an unattainable ideal as Isaiah followed his, they are doomed to waste their words. He cried, Make you clean,' but he immediately went on to point to One who could make clean, could turn scarlet into snowy white, crimson into the lustrous purity of the unstained fleeces of sheep in green pastures. The assurance of God's forgiveness which deals with guilt, and of God's cleansing which deals with inclination and habit, must be the foundation of our cleansing ourselves from filthiness of flesh and spirit. The call to repentance needs the promise of pardon and divine help to purifying in order to become a gospel. And the call to repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,' is what we all, who are laden with iniquity,' and have forsaken the Lord, need, if ever we are to cease to do evil and learn to do well.

As with one thunder-clap the prophecy closes, pealing forth the eternal alternative set before every soul of man. Willing obedience to our Father God secures all good, the full satisfaction of our else hungry and ravenous desires. To refuse and rebel is to condemn ourselves to destruction. And no man can avert that consequence, or break the necessary connection between goodness and blessedness, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,' and what He speaks stands fast for ever and ever.

THE STUPIDITY OF GODLESSNESS

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.'--ISAIAH i. 3.

This is primarily an indictment against Israel, but it touches us all. Doth not know' i.e. has no familiar acquaintance with; doth not consider,' i.e. frivolously ignores, never meditates on.

I. This is a common attitude of mind towards God.

Blank indifference towards Him is far more frequent than conscious hostility. Take a hundred men at random as they hurry through the streets, and how many of them would have to acknowledge that no thought of God had crossed their minds for days or months? So far as they are concerned, either in regard to their thoughts or actions, He is a superfluous hypothesis.' Most men are not conscious of rebellion against Him, and to charge them with it does not rouse conscience, but they cannot but plead guilty to this indictment, God is not in all their thoughts.'

II. This attitude is strange and unnatural.

That a man should be able to forget God, and live as if there were no such Being, is strange. It is one instance of that awful power of ignoring the most important subjects, of which every life affords so many and tragic instances. It seems as if we had above us an opium sky which rains down soporifics, go that we are fast asleep to all that it most concerns us to wake to. But still stranger is it that, having that power of attending or not attending to subjects, we should so commonly exercise it on this subject. For, as the ox that knows the hand that feeds him, and the ass that makes for his master's crib' where he is sure of fodder and straw, might teach us, the stupidest brute has sense enough to recognise who is kind to him, or has authority over him, and where he can find what he needs. The godless man descends below the animals' level. And to ignore Him is intensely stupid. But it is worse than foolish, for III. This attitude is voluntary and criminal.

Though there is not conscious hostility in it, the root of it is a subconscious sense of discordance with God and of antagonism between His will and the man's When we are quite sure that we love another, and that hearts beat in accord and wills go out towards the same things, we do not need to make efforts to think of that other, but our minds turn towards him or her as to a home, whenever released from the holding-back force of necessary occupations. If we love God, and have our will set to do His will, our thoughts will fly to Him, as doves to their windows.'

It is fed by preoccupation of thought with other things. We have but a certain limited amount of energy of thought or attention, and if we waste it, as much as most of us do, on things seen and temporal,' there is none left for the unseen realities and the God who is eternal, invisible.' It is often reinforced by theoretical uncertainty, sometimes real, often largely unreal. But after all, the true basis of it is, what Paul gives as its cause, they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.'

The criminality of this indifference! It is heartlessly ungrateful. Dogs lick the hand that feeds them; ox and ass in their dull way recognise something almost like obligation arising from benefits and care. No ingratitude is meaner and baser than that of which we are guilty, if we do not requite Him in whose hands our breath is, and whose are all our ways,' by even one thankful heart-throb or one word shaped out of the breath that He gives.

IV. This attitude is fatal.

It separates us from God, and separation from Him is the very definition of Death. A God of whom we never think is all the same to us as a God who does not exist. Strike God out of a life, and you strike the sun out of the system, and wrap all in darkness and weltering chaos. This is life eternal, to know Thee' but if Israel doth not know,' Israel has slain itself.

WHAT SIN DOES TO MEN

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 His work as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.'--ISAIAH i. 30-31.

The original reference of these words is to the threatened retribution for national idolatry, of which oaks' and gardens' were both seats. The nation was, as it were, dried up and made inflammable; the idol was as the spark' or the occasion for destruction. But a wider application, which comes home to us all, is to the fatal results of sin. These need to be very plainly stated, because of the deceitfulness of sin, which goes on slaying men by thousands in silence.

That grim wolf with privy paw Daily devours apace.'

I. Sin withers.

We see the picture of a blasted tree in the woods, while all around are in full leaf, with tiny leaves half developed and all brown at the edges. The prophet draws another picture, that of a garden not irrigated, and therefore, in the burning East, given over to barrenness.

Sin makes men fruitless and withered.

It involves separation from God, the source of all fruitfulness (Ps. i.).

Think of how many pure desires and innocent susceptibilities die out of a sinful soul. Think of how many capacities for good disappear. Think of how dry and seared the heart becomes. Think of how conscience is stifled.

All sin--any sin--does this.

Not only gross, open transgressions, but any piece of godless living will do it.

Whatever a man does against his conscience--neglect of duty, habitual unveracity, idleness--in a word, his besetting sin withers him up.

And all the while the evil thing that is drawing his life-blood is growing like a poisonous, blotched fungus in a wine-cask.

II. Sin makes men inflammable.

As tow' or tinder.

A subsidiary reference may be intended to the sinful man as easily catching fire at temptation. But the main thought is that sin makes a man ready for destruction, whose end is to be burned.'

The materials for retribution are laid up in a man's nature by wrong-doing. The conspirators store the dynamite in a dark cellar. Conscience and memory are charged with explosives.

If tendencies, habits, and desires become tyrannous by long indulgence and cannot be indulged, what a fierce fire would rage then!

We have only to suppose a man made to know what is the real moral character of his actions, and to be unable to give them up, to have hell.

All this is confirmed by occasional glimpses which men get of themselves. Our own characters are the true Medusa-head which turns a man into stone when he sees it.

What, then, are we really doing by our sins? Piling together fuel for burning.

III. Sin burns up.

Work as a spark.' The evil deeds brought into contact with the doer work destruction. That is, if, in a future life or at any time, a man is brought face to face with his acts, then retribution begins. We shake off the burden of our actions by want of remembrance. But that power of ignoring the past may be broken down at any time. Suppose it happens that in another world it can no longer be exercised, what then?

Evil deeds are the occasion of the divine retribution. They are a spark.' It is they who light the pyre, not God. The prophet here protests in God's name against the notion that He is to be blamed for punishing. Men are their own self-tormentors. The sinful man immolates himself. Like Isaac, he carries the wood and lays the pile for his own burning.

Christ severs the connection between us and our evil. He restores beauty and freshness to the blighted tree, planting it as by the river of water,' so that it bringeth forth its fruit in its season,' and its leaf also doth not wither.'

THE PERPETUAL PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE

And the Lord will create over the whole habitation of Mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night.'--ISAIAH iv. 5.

The pillar of cloud and fire in the Exodus was one: there are to be as many pillars as there are assemblies' in the new era. Is it straining the language too much to find significance in that difference? Instead of the formal unity of the Old Covenant, there is a variety which yet is a more vital unity. Is there not a hint here of the same lesson that is taught by the change of the one golden lamp-stand into the seven, which are a better unity because Jesus Christ walks among them?

The heart of this promise, thus cast into the form of ancient experiences, but with significant variations, is that of true communion with God.

That communion makes those who have it glorious.

That communion supplies unfailing guidance.

A man in close fellowship with God will have wonderful flashes of sagacity, even about small practical matters. The gleam of the pillar will illumine conscience, and shine on many difficult, dark places. The simplicity' of a saintly soul will often see deeper into puzzling contingencies than the vulpine craftiness of the prudent.' The darker the night, the brighter the guidance.

That communion gives a defence.

The pillar came between Egypt and Israel, and kept the foe off the timid crowd of slaves. Whatever forms our enemies take, fellowship with God will invest us with a defence as protean as our perils. The same cloud is represented in the context as being a pavilion for a shadow in the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain.'

A PROPHET'S WOES

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may he placed alone in the midst of the earth! 9. In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall he desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant. 10. Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah. 11. Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! 12. And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands. 13. Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. 14. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. 15. And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled: 16. But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness. 17. Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat. 18. Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope: 19. That say, Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it! 20. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21. Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! 22. Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: 23. Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! 24. Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against His people, and He hath stretched forth His hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. 26. And He will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly: 17. None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: 28. Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind: 29. Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it. 30. And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.'--ISAIAH v. 8-30.

Drunkenness is, in this text, one of a ring of plague-spots on the body politic of Judah. The prophet six times proclaims woe' as the inevitable end of these; such sickness' is unto death' unless repentance and another course of conduct bring healing. But drunkenness appears twice in this grim catalogue, and the longest paragraph of denunciation (vv. 11-17) is devoted to it. Its connection with the other vices attacked is loose, but it is worth noting that all these have an inner kinship, and tend to appear together. They are all in a string,' and where a community is cursed with one, the others will not be far away. They are a knot of serpents intertwined. We touch but slightly on the other vices denounced by the prophet's burning words, but we must premise the general observation that the same uncompromising plainness and boldness in speaking out as to social sins ought to characterise Christian teachers to-day. The prophet's office is not extinct in the church.

The first plague-spot is the accumulation of wealth in few hands, and the selfish withdrawal of its possessors from the life of the community. In an agricultural society like that of Judah, that clotting of wealth took the shape of land-grabbing,' and of evicting the small proprietors. We see it in more virulent forms in our great commercial centres, where the big men often become big by crushing out the little ones, and denude themselves of responsibility to the community in proportion as they clothe themselves with wealth. Wherever wealth is thus congested, and its obligations ignored by selfish indulgence, the seeds are sown which will spring up one day in anarchism.' A man need not be a prophet to have it whispered in his ear, as Isaiah had, that the end of selfish capitalism is a convulsion in which many houses shall be desolate,' and many fields barren. England needs the warning as much as Isaiah's Judah did.

Such selfish wealth leads, among other curses, to indolence and drunkenness, as the next woe shows. The people described make drinking the business of their lives, beginning early and sitting late. They have a varnish of art over their swinishness, and must have music as well as wine. So, in many a drink-shop in England, a piano or a band adds to the attractions, and gives a false air of aestheticism to pure animalism. Isaiah feels the incongruity that music should be so prostituted, and expresses it by adding to his list of musical instruments and wine' as if he would underscore the degradation of the great art to be the cupbearer of sots. Such revellers are blind to the manifest tokens of God's working, and the operation of His hands' excites only the tipsy gaze which sees nothing. That is one of the curses which dog the drunkard--that he takes no warning from the plain results of his vice as seen in others. He knows that it means shattered health, ruined prospects, broken hearts, but nothing rouses him from his fancy of impunity. High, serious thoughts of God and His government of the world and of each life are strange to him. His sin compels him to be godless, if he is not to go mad. But sometimes he wakes to a moment's sight of realities, and then he is miserable till his next bout buys fatal forgetfulness.

The prophet forces the end of a drunken nation on the unwilling attention of the roisterers, in verses 13-17, which throb with vehemence of warning and gloomy eloquence. What can such a people come to but destruction? Knowledge must languish, hunger and thirst must follow. Like some monster's gaping mouth, the pit yawns for them; and, drawn as by irresistible attraction, the pomp and the wicked, senseless jollity elide down into it. In the universal catastrophe, one thing alone stands upright, and is lifted higher, because all else has sunk so far,--the righteous judgment of the forgotten God. The grim picture is as true for individuals and their deaths as for a nation and its decay. And modern nations cannot afford to have this ulcer of drunkenness draining away their strength any more than Judah could. By the soul only are the nations great and free,' and a people can be neither where the drink fiend has his way.

Three woes follow which are closely connected. That pronounced on daring evil-doers, who not only let sin draw them to itself, but go more than halfway to meet it, needing no temptation, but drawing it to them eagerly, and scoffing at the merciful warnings of fatal consequences, comes first. Next is a woe on those who play fast and loose with plain morality, sophisticating conscience, and sapping the foundations of law. Such juggling follows sensual indulgence such as drunkenness, when it becomes habitual and audacious, as in the preceding woe. Loose or perverted codes of morality generally spring from bad living, seeking to shelter itself. Vicious principles are an afterthought to screen vicious practices. The last subject of the triple woes is self-conceit and pretence to superior illumination. Such very superior persons are emancipated from the rules which bind the common herd. They are so very clever that they have far outgrown the creeping moralities, which may do for old women and children. Do we not know the sort of people? Have we none of them surviving to-day?

Then Isaiah comes back to his theme of drunkenness, but in a new connection. It poisons the fountain of justice. There is a world of indignant contempt in the prophet's scathing picture of those who are mighty' and men of strength,'--but how is their strength shown? They can stand any quantity of wine, and can mix their drinks,' and yet look sober! What a noble use to put a good constitution to! These valiant topers are in authority as judges, and they sell their judgments to get money for their debauches. We do not see much of such scandals among us, but yet we have heard of leagues between liquor-sellers and municipal authorities, which certainly do not make for righteousness.' When shall we learn and practise the lesson that Isaiah was reading his countrymen,--that it is fatal to a nation when the private character of public men is regarded as of no account in political and civic life? The prophet had no doubt as to what must be the end of a state of things in which the very courts of law were honeycombed with corruption, and demoralised by the power of drink. His tremendous image of a fierce fire raging across a dry prairie, and burning the grass to its very roots, while the air is stifling with the thick dust' of the conflagration, proclaims the sure fate, sooner or later, of every community and individual that rejects the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despises the word of the Holy One of Israel.' Change the name, and the tale is told of us; for it is righteousness that exalteth a nation,' and no single vice drags after it more infallibly such a multitude of attendant demons as the vice of drunkenness, which is a crying sin of England to-day.

VISION AND SERVICE

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. 2. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. 4. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. 6. Then flew one of the seraphims onto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7. And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. 9. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 11. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 12. And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. 13. But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a tell tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.'--ISAIAH vi. 1-13.

WE may deal with this text as falling into three parts: the vision, its effect on the prophet, and his commission.

I. The Vision.--In the year that King Uzziah died' is more than a date for chronological accuracy. It tells not only when, but why, the vision was given. The throne of David was empty.

God never empties places in our homes and hearts, or in the nation or the Church, without being ready to fill them. He sometimes empties them that He may fill them. Sorrow and loss are meant to prepare us for the vision of God, and their effect should be to purge the inward eye, that it may see Him. When the leaves drop from the forest trees we can see the blue sky which their dense abundance hid. Well for us if the passing of all that can pass drives us to Him who cannot pass, if the unchanging God stands out more clear, more near, more dear, because of change.

As to the substance of this vision, we need not discuss whether, if we had been there, we should have seen anything. It was doubtless related to Isaiah's thoughts, for God does not send visions which have no point of contact in the recipient. However communicated, it was a divine communication, and a temporary unveiling of an eternal reality. The form was transient, but Isaiah then saw for a moment the things which are' and always are.

The essential point of the vision is the revelation of Jehovah as king of Judah. That relation guaranteed defence and demanded obedience. It was a sure basis of hope, but also a stringent motive to loyalty, and it had its side of terror as well as of joyfulness. You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.' The place of vision is the heavenly sanctuary of which the temple was a prophecy. Eminently significant and characteristic of the whole genius of the Old Testament is the absence of any description of the divine appearance. The prophet saw things which it is not lawful for a man to utter,' and his silence is not only reverent, but more eloquent than any attempt to put the Ineffable into words. Even in this act of manifestation God was veiled, and there was the hiding of His power.' The train of His robe can be spoken of, but not the form which it concealed even in revealing it. Nature is the robe of God. It hides while it discloses, and discloses while it hides.

The hovering seraphim were in the attitude of service. They are probably represented as fiery forms, but are spoken of nowhere else in Scripture. The significance of their attitude has been well given by Jewish commentators, who say, with two he covered his face that he might not see, and with two he covered his body that he might not be seen' and we may add, with two he stood ready for service, by flight whithersoever the King would send.' Such awe-stricken reverence, such humble hiding of self, such alacrity for swift obedience, such flaming ardours of love and devotion, should be ours. Their song celebrated the holiness and the glory of Jehovah of hosts. We must ever remember that the root-meaning of holiness' is separation, and that the popular meaning of moral purity is secondary and derivative. What is rapturously sung in the threefold invocation of the seraphs is the infinite exaltation of Jehovah above all creatural conditions, limitations, and, we may add, conceptions. That separation, of course, includes purity, as may be seen from the immediate effect of the vision on the prophet, but the conception is much wider than that. Very beautifully does the second line of the song re-knit the connection between Jehovah and this world, so far beneath Him, which the burst of praise of His holiness seems to sever. The high heaven is a bending arch; its inaccessible heights ray down sunshine and drop down rain, and, as in the physical world, every plant grows by Heaven's gift, so in the world of humanity all wisdom, goodness, and joy are from the Father of lights. God's glory' is the flashing lustre of His manifested holiness, which fills the earth as the train of the robe filled the temple. The vibrations of that mighty hymn shook the foundations of the threshold' (Rev. Ver.) with its thunderous harmonies. The house was filled with smoke' which, since it was an effect of the seraph's praise, is best explained as referring to the fragrant smoke of incense which, as we know, symbolised the prayers of saints.'

II. The effect of the vision on the prophet.--The vision kindled as with a flash Isaiah's consciousness of sin. He expressed it in regard to his words rather than his works, partly because in one aspect speech is even more accurately than act a cast, as it were, of character, and partly because he could not but feel the difference between the mighty music that burst from these pure and burning lips and the words that flowed from and soiled his own. Not only the consciousness of sin, but the dread of personal evil consequences from the vision of the holy God, oppressed his heart. We see ourselves when we see God. Once flash on a heart the thought of God's holiness, and, like an electric searchlight, it discloses flaws which pass unnoticed in dimmer light. The easy-going Christianity, which is the apology for religion with so many of us, has no deep sense of sin, because it has no clear vision of God. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'

The next stage in Isaiah's experience is that sin recognised and confessed is burned away. Cleansing rather than forgiveness is here emphasised. The latter is, of course, included, but the main point is the removal of impurity. It is mediated by one of the seraphim, who is the messenger of God, which is just a symbolical way of saying that God makes penitents partakers of His holiness,' and that nothing less than a divine communication will make cleansing possible. It is effected by a live coal. Fire is purifying, and the New Testament has taught us that the true cleansing fire is that of the Holy Spirit. But that live coal was taken from the altar. The atoning sacrifice has been offered there, and our cleansing depends on the efficacy of that sacrifice being applied to us.

The third stage in the prophet's experience is the readiness for service which springs up in his purged heart. God seeks for volunteers. There are no pressed men in His army. The previous experiences made Isaiah quick to hear God's call, and willing to respond to it by personal consecration. Take the motive-power of redemption from sin out of Christianity, and you break its mainspring, so that the clock will only tick when it is shaken. It is the Christ who died for our sins to whom men say, Command what Thou wilt, and I obey.'

III. The prophet's commission.--He was not sent on his work with any illusions as to its success, but, on the contrary, he had a clear premonition that its effect would be to deepen the spiritual deafness and blindness of the nation. We must remember that in Scripture the certain effect of divine acts is uniformly regarded as a divine design. Israel was so sunk in spiritual deadness that the issue of the prophet's work would only be to immerse the mass of this people' farther in it. To some more susceptible souls his message would be a true divine voice, rousing them like a trumpet, and that effect was what God desired; but to the greater number it would deepen their torpor and increase their condemnation. If men love darkness rather than light, the coming of the light works only judgment.

Isaiah recoils from the dreary prospect, and feels that this dreadful hardening cannot be God's ultimate purpose for the nation. So he humbly and wistfully asks how long it is to last. The answer is twofold, heavy with a weight of apparently utter ruin in its first part, but disclosing a faint, far-off gleam of hope on its second. Complete destruction, and the casting of Israel out from the land, are to come. But as, though a goodly tree is felled, a stump remains which has vital force (or substance) in it, so, even in the utmost apparent desperateness of Israel's state, there will be in it the holy seed,' the remnant,' the true Israel, from which again the life shall spring, and stem and branches and waving foliage once more grow up.

THE EMPTY THRONE FILLED

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.'--ISAIAH vi. 1.

Uzziah had reigned for fifty-two years, during the greater part of which he and his people had been brilliantly prosperous. Victorious in war, he was also successful in the arts of peaceful industry. The later years of his life were clouded, but on the whole the reign had been a time of great well-being. His son and successor was a young man of five-and-twenty; and when he came to the throne ominous war-clouds were gathering in the North, and threatening to drift to Judah. No wonder that the prophet, like other thoughtful patriots, was asking himself what was to come in these anxious days, when the helm was in new hands, which, perhaps, were not strong enough to hold it. Like a wise man, he took his thoughts into the sanctuary; and there he understood. As he brooded, this great vision was disclosed to his inward eye. In the year that King Uzziah died' is a great deal more than a date for chronological purposes. It tells us not only the when, but the why, of the vision. The earthly king was laid in the grave; but the prophet saw that the true King of Israel was neither the dead Uzziah nor the young Jotham, but the Lord of hosts. And, seeing that, fears and forebodings and anxieties and the sense of loss, all vanished; and new strength came to Isaiah. He went into the temple laden with anxious thoughts; he came out of it with a springy step and a lightened heart, and the resolve Here am I; send me.' There are some lessons that seem to me of great importance for the conduct of our daily life which may be gathered from this remarkable vision, with the remarkable note of time that is appended to it.

Now, before I pass on, let me remind you, in a word, of that apparently audacious commentary upon this great vision, which the Evangelist John gives us: These things said Esaias, when he had beheld His glory and spake of Him.' Then the Christ is the manifest Jehovah; is the King of Glory. Then the vision which was but a transitory revelation is the revelation of an eternal reality, and the vision splendid' does not fade but brightens, into the light of common day' when instead of being flashed only on the inward eye of a prophet, it is made flesh and walks amongst us, and lives our life, and dies our death. Our eyes have seen the King in as true a reality, and in better fashion, than ever Isaiah did amid the sanctities of the Temple. And the eyes that have seen only the near foreground, the cultivated valleys, and the homes of men, are raised, and lo! the long line of glittering peaks, calm, silent, pure. Who will look at the valleys when the Himalayas stand out, and the veil is drawn aside?

I. Let me say a word or two about the ministration of loss and sorrow in preparing for the vision.

It was when King Uzziah died' that the prophet saw the Lord sitting upon the throne.' If the Throne of Israel had not been empty, he would not have seen the throned God in the heavens. And so it is with all our losses, with all our sorrows, with all our disappointments, with all our pains; they have a mission to reveal to us the throned God. The possession of the things that are taken away from us, the joys which our sorrows smite into dust, have the same mission, and the highest purpose of every good, of every blessing, of every possession, of every gladness, of all love--the highest mission is to lead us to Him. But, just as men will frost a window, so that the light may come in but the sight cannot go out, so by our own fault and misuse of the good things which are meant to lead us up to, and to show us, God, we frost and darken the window so that we cannot see what it is meant to show us. And then a mighty and merciful hand shivers the painted glass into fragments, because it has been dimming the white radiance of Eternity.' And though the casement may look gaunt, and the edges of the broken glass may cut and wound, yet the view is unimpeded. When the gifts that we have misused are withdrawn, we can see the heaven that they too often hide from us. When the leaves drop there is a wider prospect. When the great tree is fallen there is opened a view of the blue above. When the night falls the stars sparkle. When other props are struck away we can lean our whole weight upon God. When Uzziah dies the King becomes visible.

Is that what our sorrows, our pains, losses, disappointments do for us? Well for those to whom loss is gain, because it puts them in possession of the enduring riches! Well for those to whom the passing of all that can pass is a means of revealing Him who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever'! The message to us of all these our pains and griefs is Come up hither.' In them all our Father is saying to us, Seek ye My face.' Well for those who answer, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not Thy face far from me.'

Let us take care that we do not waste our griefs and sorrows. They absorb us sometimes with vain regrets. They jaundice and embitter us sometimes with rebellious thoughts. They often break the springs of activity and of interest in others, and of sympathy with others. But their true intention is to draw back the thin curtain, and to show us the things that are,' the realities of the throned God, the skirts that fill the Temple, the hovering seraphim, and the coal from the altar that purges.

II. Let me suggest how our text shows us the compensation that is given for all losses.

As I have pointed out already, the thought conveyed to the prophet by this vision was not only the general one, of God's sovereign rule, but the special one of His rule over and for, and His protection of, the orphan kingdom which had lost its king. The vision took the special shape that the moment required. It was because the earthly king was dead that the living, heavenly King was revealed.

So there is just suggested by it this general thought, that the consciousness of God's presence and work for us takes in each heart the precise shape that its momentary necessities and circumstances require. That infinite fulness is of such a nature as that it will assume any form for which the weakness and the need of the dependent creature call. Like the one force which scientists now are beginning to think underlies all the various manifestations of energy in nature, whether they be named light, heat, motion, electricity, chemical action, or gravitation, the one same vision of the throned God, manifest in Jesus Christ, is protean. Here it flames as light, there burns as heat, there flashes as electricity; here as gravitation holds the atoms together, there as chemical energy separated and decomposes them; here results in motion, there in rest; but is the one force. And so the one God will become everything and anything that every man, and each man, requires. He shapes himself according to our need. The water of life does not disdain to take the form imposed upon it by the vessel into which it is poured. The Jews used to say that the manna in the wilderness tasted to each man as each man desired. And the God, who comes to us all, comes to us each in the shape that we need; just as He came to Isaiah in the manifestation of His kingly power, because the throne of Judah was vacated.

So when our hearts are sore with loss, the New Testament Manifestation of the King, even Jesus Christ, comes to us and says, The same is my mother and sister and brother,' and His sweet love compensates for the love that can die, and that has died. When losses come to us He draws near, as durable riches and righteousness. In all our pains He is our anodyne, and in all our griefs He brings the comfort; He is all in all, and each withdrawn gift is compensated, or will be compensated, to each in Him.

So, dear friends, let us learn God's purpose in emptying hearts and chairs and homes. He empties them that He may fill them with Himself. He takes us, if I might so say, into the darkness, as travellers to the south are to-day passing through Alpine tunnels, in order that He may bring us out into the land where God Himself is sun and moon,' and where there are ampler ether and brighter constellations than in these lands where we dwell. He means that, when Uzziah dies, our hearts shall see the King. And for all mourners, for all tortured hearts, for all from whom stays have been stricken and resources withdrawn, the old word is true: Lord shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.'

Let me recall to you what I have already insisted on more than once, that the perfecting of this vision is in the historical fact of the Incarnate Son. Jesus Christ shows us God. Jesus Christ is the King of Glory. If we will go to Him, and fix our eyes and hearts on Him, then losses may come, and we shall be none the poorer; death may unclasp our hands from dear hands, but He will close a dearer one round the hand that is groping for a stay; and nothing can betaken away but He will more than fill the gap it leaves by His own sweet presence. If our eyes behold the King, if we are like John the Seer in his rocky Patmos, and see the Christ in His glory and royalty, then He will lay His hands on us and say, Fear not! Weep not; I am the First and the Last,' and forebodings, and fears, and sense of loss will all be changed into trustfulness and patient submission. Seeing Him, who is invisible,' we shall be able to endure and to toil, until the time when the vision of earth is perfected by the beholding of heaven. Blessed are they who with purged eyes see, and with yielding hearts obey, the heavenly vision, and turn to the King and offer themselves for any service He may require, saying, Here am I; send me.'

A SERAPH'S WINGS

With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.'--ISAIAH vi. 2.

This is the only mention in Scripture of the seraphim. I do not need to enter upon the much-debated, and in some respects interesting, question as to whether these are to be taken as identical with the cherubim, or as to whether they are altogether imaginary and symbolical beings, nor as to whether they are identical with the angels, or part of their hierarchy. All that may be left on one side. I would only notice, before I deal with the specific words of my text, the significance of the name. It means the flaming' or burning ones,' and so the attendants of the divine glory in the heavens, whether they be real or imaginary beings, are represented as flashing with splendour, as full of swift energy, like a flame of fire, as glowing with fervid love, as blazing with enthusiasm. That is the type of the highest creatural being, which stands closest to God. There is no ice in His presence, and the nearer we get to Him in truth, the more we shall glow and burn. Cold religion is a contradiction in terms, though, alas, it is a reality in professors.

And so with that explanation, and putting aside all these other questions, let us gather up some, at least, of the lessons as to the essentials of worship, and try to grasp the prophecy of the heavenly state, given us in these words.

I. The Wings of Reverence.

He covered his face, or they covered their faces, lest they should see. As a man brought suddenly into the sunlight, especially if out of a darkened chamber, by an instinctive action shades his eyes with his hand, so these burning creatures, confronted with the still more fervid and fiery light of the divine nature, fold one pair of their great white pinions over their shining faces, even whilst they cry Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord God Almighty!'

And does not that teach us the incapacity of the highest creature, with the purest vision, to gaze undazzled into the shining light of God? I, for my part, do not believe that any conceivable extension of creatural faculties, or any conceivable hallowing of creatural natures, can make the creature able to gaze upon God. I know that it is often said that the joy of the future life for men is what the theologians call the beatific vision,' in which there shall be direct sight of God, using that word in its highest sense, as applied to the perceptions of the spirit, and not of the sense. But I do not think the Bible teaches us that. It does teach us We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.' But who is the Him'? Jesus Christ. And, in my belief, Jesus Christ will, to all eternity, be the medium of manifesting God, and there will remain, to all eternity, the incapacity which clogs creatures in time-- No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him.'

But my text, whilst it thus suggests solemn thoughts of a Light that cannot be looked at with undazzled eyes, does also suggest to us by contrast the possibility of far feebler-sighted and more sinful creatures than these symbolical seraphs coming into a Presence in which God shall be manifest to them; and they will need no veil drawn by themselves across their eyes. God has veiled Himself, that we, with unveiled faces, beholding His glory, may be changed into the same image.' So the seraph, with his white wings folded before his eyes, may at once stand to us as a parallel and a contrast to what the Christian may expect. We, we can see Jesus, with no incapacity except such as may be swept away by His grace and our will. And direct vision of the whole Christ is the heaven of heaven, even as the partial vision of the partially perceived Christ is the sweetest sweetness of a life on earth.

There is no need for us to draw any screen between our happy eyes and the Face in which we behold the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father.' All the tempering that the divine lustre needed has been done by Him who veils His glory with the veil of Christ's flesh, and therein does away the need for any veil that we can draw.

But, beyond that, there is another consideration that I should like to suggest, as taught us by the use of this first pair of the six wings, and that is the absolute need for the lowliest reverence in our worship of God. It is strange, but true, I am afraid, that the Christian danger is to weaken the sense of the majesty and splendour and separation of God from His creatures. And all that is good in the Christian revelation may be so abused as that there shall come, what I am sure does in effect sometimes come, a terrible lack of due reverence in our so-called worship. What does that lofty chorus of Holy! Holy! Holy!' that burst from those immortal lips mean but the declaration that God is high above, and separate from, all limitations and imperfections of creatures? And we Christians, who hear it re-echoed in the very last Book of Scripture by the four-and-twenty elders who represent redeemed humanity, have need to take heed that we do not lose our reverence in our confidence, and that we do not part with godly fear in our filial love. If one looks at a congregation of professing Christians engaged in their worship, does not one feel and see that there is often a carelessness and shallowness, a want of realisation of the majesty and sanctity and tremendousness of that Father to whom we draw near? Brethren, if a seraph hides his face, surely it becomes us to see to it that, since we worship a God who is a consuming fire,' we serve Him with far deeper reverence and godly fear' than ordinarily mark our devotions.

II. The Wings of Humility.

With twain he covered his feet.' The less comely and inferior parts of that fiery corporeity were veiled lest they should be seen by the Eyes that see all things. The wings made no screen that hid the seraph's feet from the eye of God, but it was the instinctive lowly sense of unworthiness that folded them across the feet, even though they, too, burned as a furnace. The nearer we get to God, the more we shall be aware of our limitations and unworthiness, and it is because that vision of the Lord sitting on His throne, high and lifted up,' with the thrilling sense of His glory filling the holy temple of the universe, does not burn before us that we can conceit ourselves to have anything worth pluming ourselves upon. Once lift the curtain, once let my eye be flooded with the sight of God, and away goes all my self-conceit, and all my fancied superiority above others. One little molehill is pretty nearly the same height as another, if you measure them both against the top of the Himalayas, that lie in the background, with their glittering peaks of snow. Star differeth from star in glory' in a winter's night, but when the great sun swims into the sky, they all vanish together. If you and I saw God burning before us, as Isaiah saw Him, we should veil ourselves, and lose all that which so often veils Him from us--the fancy that we are anything when we are nothing. And the nearer we get to God, and the purer we are, the more shall we be keenly conscious of our imperfections and our sins. If I say I am perfect,' said Job in his wise way, this also should prove me perverse.' Consciousness of sin is the continual accompaniment of growth in holiness. The heavens are not pure in His sight, and He chargeth His angels with folly.' Everything looks black beside that sovereign whiteness. Get God into your lives, and you will see that the feet need to be washed, and you will cry, Lord! not my feet only, but my hands and my head!'

III. Lastly--The Wings for Service.

With twain he did fly.' That is the emblem of joyous, buoyant, unhindered motion. It is strongly, sadly contrary to the toilsome limitations of us heavy creatures who have no wings, but can at best run on His service, and often find it hard to walk with patience in the way that is set before us.' But--service with wings, or service with lame feet, it matters not. Whosoever, beholding God, has found need to hide his face from that Light even whilst he comes into the Light, and to veil his feet from the all-seeing Eye, will also feel impulses to go forth in His service. For the perfection of worship is neither the consciousness of my own insufficiency, nor the humble recognition of His glory, nor the great voice of praise that thrilled from those immortal lips, but it is the doing of His will in daily life. Some people say the service of man is the service of God. Yes, when it is service of man, done for God's sake, it is so, and only then. The old motto, Work is worship,' may preach a great truth or a most dangerous error. But there is no possibility of error or danger in maintaining this: that the climax and crown of all worship, whether for us footsore servants upon earth, or for these winged attendants on the throne of the King in the heavens, is activity in obedience. And that is what is set before us here.

Now, dear brethren, we, as Christians, have a far higher motive for service than the seraphs had. We have been redeemed, and the spirit of the old Psalm should animate all our obedience: O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.' Why? The next clause tells us: Thou hast loosed my bonds.' The seraphs could not say that, and therefore our obedience, our activity in doing the will of the Father in heaven, should be more buoyant, more joyful, more swift, more unrestricted than even theirs.

The seraphim were winged for service even while they stood above the throne and pealed forth their thunderous praise which shook the Temple. May we not discern in that a hint of the blessed blending of two modes of worship which will be perfectly united in heaven, and which we should aim at harmonising even on earth? His servants serve Him and see His face.' There is possible, even on earth, some foretaste of the perfection of that heavenly state in which no worship in service shall interfere with the worship in contemplation. Mary, sitting at Christ's feet, and Martha, busy in providing for His comfort, may be, to a large extent, united in us even here, and will be perfectly so hereafter, when the practical and the contemplative, the worship of noble aspiration, of heart-filling gazing, and that of active service shall be indissolubly blended.

The seraphs sang Holy! Holy! Holy!' but they, and all the hosts of heaven, learn a new song from the experience of earth, and redeemed men are the chorus-leaders of the perfected and eternal worship of the heavens. For we read that it is the four-and-twenty elders who begin the song and sing to the Lamb that redeemed them by His blood, and that the living creatures and all the hosts of the angels to that song can but say Amen!'

THE MAKING OF A PROPHET

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'--ISAIAH vi. 5.

In previous pages we have seen how Isaiah's vision of Jehovah throned in the Temple, high and lifted up,' derived significance from the time of its occurrence. It was in the year that' the earthly King died' that the heavenly King was revealed. The passing of the transient prepared the way for the revelation of the Eternal, and the revelation of the Eternal more than compensated for the passing of the transient. But strengthening and calming as these thoughts are, they by no means exhaust the purpose of the vision, nor do they describe all its effects on the recipient. These were, first and immediately, the consciousness of unworthiness and sin, expressed in the words that I have taken for my text. Then came the touch of the live coal from the altar,' laid on the unclean lips by the seraph; and on that followed willing surrender for a perilous service.

These three stages flowing from the vision of God, recognition of sin, experience of purging, abandonment to obedience and service, must be repeated in us all, if we are to live worthy lives. There may be much that is beautiful and elevating and noble without these; but unless in some measure we pass through the prophet's experience, we shall fail to reach the highest possibilities of beauty and of service that open before us. So I wish to consider, very simply, these three stages in my remarks now."

I. If we see God we shall see our sin.

There came on the prophet, as in a flash, the two convictions, one which he learned from the song of the seraphs, ringing in music through the Temple, and one which rose up, like an answering note from the voice of conscience within. They sang Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty.' And what was the response to that, in the prophet's heart?--I am unclean.' Each major note has a corresponding minor, and the triumphant doxology of the seraph wakes in the hearer's conscience the lowly confession of personal unlikeness to the holiness of God. It was not joy that sprang in Isaiah's heart when he saw the throned King, and heard the proclamation of His name. It was not reverence merely that bowed his head in the dust, but it was the awakened consciousness, Thou art holy; and now that I understand, in some measure, what Thy holiness means, I look on myself and I say, "unclean! unclean!"'

The prophet's confession assumes a form which may strike us as somewhat singular. Why is it that he speaks of unclean lips,' rather than of an unclean heart? I suppose partly because, in a very deep sense, a man's words are more accurately a cast, as it were, from a man's character than even his actions, and partly because the immediate occasion of his confession was the words of the seraphim, and he could not but contrast what came burning from their pure lips with what had trickled from, and soiled, his own.

But, however expressed, the consciousness of personal unlikeness to the holiness of God is the first result, and the instantaneous result, of any real apprehension of that holiness, and of any true vision of Him. Like some search-light flung from a ship over the darkling waters, revealing the dark doings of the enemy away out yonder in the night, the thought of God and His holiness streaming in upon a man's soul, if it does so in any adequate measure, is sure to disclose the heaving waters and the skulking foes that are busy in the dark.

But it was not only the consciousness of sinfulness and antagonism that woke up instantaneously in response to that vision of the holy God. It was likewise a shrinking apprehension of personal evil from contact of God's light with Isaiah's darkness. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.' What is to become, then, of the man that has neither the one nor the other? The experience of all the world witnesses that whenever there comes, in reality, or in a man's conceptions or fancy, the contact of the supernatural, as it is called, with the natural, there is a shrinking, a sense of eerieness, an apprehension of vague possibilities of evil. The sleeping snake that is coiled in every soul stirs and begins to heave in its bulk, and wake, when the thought of a holy God comes into the heart. Now, I do not suppose that consciousness of sin is the whole explanation of that universal human feeling, but I am very sure it is an element in it, and I suspect that if there were no sin, there would be no shrinking.

At all events, be that as it may, these are the two thoughts that, involuntarily and spontaneously and immediately, sprang in this man's heart when his purged eyes saw the King on His throne. He did not leap up with gladness at the vision. Its consolatory and its strengthening aspects were not the first that impinged upon his eye, or upon his consciousness, but the first thing was an instinctive recoil, Woe is me; I am undone.' Now, brethren, I venture to think that one main difference between shallow religion and real is to be found here, that the dim, far-off vision, if we may venture to call it so, which serves the most of us for a sight of God, leaves us quite complacent, and with very slight and superficial conceptions of our own evil, and that if once we saw, in so far as it is possible for humanity to-day to see, God as He is, and heard in the depths of our hearts that Holy! holy! holy!' from the burning seraphim, the easy-going, self-satisfied judgment of ourselves which too many of us cherish would be utterly impossible; and would disappear, shrivelled up utterly in the light of God. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,' said Job, but now mine eye seeth Thee; therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.' A hearsay God and a self-complacent beholder--a God really seen, and a man down in the dust before Him! Has that vision ever blazed in on you? And if it has, has not the light shown you the seaminess of much in which a dimmer light detects no flaws or stains? Thank God if, having seen Him, you see yourselves. If you have not felt, I am unclean and undone,' depend upon it, your knowledge of God is faint and dim, and He is rather One heard of from the lips of others than realised in your own experience.

II. Again, note the second stage here, in the education of a soul for service--the sin, recognised and repented, is burned away.

Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo! this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.'

Now, I would notice as to this stage of the process, first, that Isaiah singularly passes beyond all the old ritual in which he had been brought up, and recognises another kind of cleansing than that which it embodied. He had got beyond the ritual to what the ritual meant. We have passed beyond the ritual, too, by another process; and, though I would by no means read full, plain, articulate Christian thought into the vision of Isaiah--which would be an anachronism, and unfaithful to the gradual historical development of the idea and means of redemption--yet I cannot help pointing to the fact that, even although this vision is located as seen in the Temple, there is not a single reference (except that passing allusion to the altar) to the ritual of the Temple, but the cleansing comes in another fashion altogether.

But far more important than that thought is the human condition that is required ere this cleansing can be realised. I am a man of unclean lips.' I am undone!' It was because that conviction and confession sprang in the prophet's consciousness that the seraph winged his way with the purifying fire in his hands. Which being translated is just this: faith alone will not bring cleansing. There must go with it what we call, in our Christian phraseology, repentance, which is but the recognition of my own antagonism to the holiness of God, and the resolve to turn my back on my own past self. Now, it seems to me that a great deal of what is called, and in a sense is, Evangelical teaching, fails to represent the full counsel of God, in the matter of man's redemption, because it puts a one-sided emphasis on faith, and slurs over the accompanying idea of repentance. And I am here to say that a trust in Jesus Christ, which is unaccompanied by a profound penitent consciousness and abhorrence of one's own sins, and a resolve to turn away from them for the time to come, is not a faith which will bring either pardon or cleansing. We do not need to have less said about trust; we need to have a great deal more said about repentance. You have to learn what it is to say, I abhor myself' you have to learn what it is to say, I will turn right round, and leave all that past behind me; and go in the opposite direction' or the faith which you say you are exercising will neither save nor cleanse your souls nor your lives.

Again, note that we have here set forth most strikingly the other great truth that, side by side, and as closely synchronous as the flash and the peal, as soon as the consciousness of sin and the aversion from it spring in a man's heart, the seraph's wings are set in motion. Remember that beautiful old story in the historical books, of how the erring king, brought to sanity and repentance by Nathan's apologue, put all his acknowledgments in these words, I have sinned against the Lord' and how the confession was not out of his lips, nor had died in its vibration in the atmosphere, before the prophet, with divine authority, replied with equal brevity and completeness, and as if the two sayings were parts of one sentence, And the Lord hath made to pass the iniquity of thy sin.' That is all. Simultaneous are the two things. To confess is to be forgiven, and the moment that the consciousness of sin rises in the heart, that moment does the heavenly messenger come to still and soothe.

Still further, notice how the cleansing comes as a divine gift. It is purifying, much more than pardon, that is set forth in the symbolical incident before us. The seraph is the divine messenger, and he brings a coal from the altar, and lays that upon the prophet's lips, which is but the symbolical way of saying that the man who is conscious of his own evil will find in himself a blessed despair of being his own healer, and that he has to turn to the divine source, the vision of which has kindled the consciousness, to find there that which will take away the evil. The Lord is He that healeth us.'

But, further, the cleansing is by fire. By which, as I suppose, in the present context, and at Isaiah's stage of religious knowledge and experience, we are to understand that great thought that God burns away our sins, as you put a piece of foul clay into the fire, and the stain melts from the surface like a dissipating cloud as the heat finds its way into the substance. He will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire'--a fire that quickens. A new impulse will be granted, which will become the life of the sinful man's life, and will emancipate him from the power of his own darkness and evil.

Now, let us remember that we have the fulness of all that was shadowed to the prophet in this vision, and that the reality of every one of these emblems is gathered together--if I may so say--not with confusion, but with abundance and opulence in Jesus Christ Himself. Is He not the seraph? Is He not Himself the burning coal? Is He not the altar from which it is taken? All that is needed to make the foulest clean is given in Christ's great work. Brethren, we shall never understand the deepest secret of Christ and of Christianity until we learn and hold fast by the conviction that the central work of Jesus is to deal with man's sin; and that whatever else Christianity is, it is first and foremost God's way of redeeming the world, and making it possible for the unholy to dwell with His holy self.

III. Lastly, and only a word, the third stage here is--the purged spirit is ready for service.

God did not bid the prophet go on His mission till the prophet had voluntarily accepted the mission. He said, Who will go for us?' He wants no pressed men in His army. He does not work with reluctant servants. There is, first, the yielding of the will, and then there is the enduement with the privilege of service. The prophet, having passed through the preceding experiences, had thereby received a quick ear to hear God's calling for volunteers. And we shall not hear Him asking Who will go?' unless we have, in our measure, passed through similar experiences. It will be a test of having done so, of our having been purged from our evil, if, when other people think that it is only Eli speaking, we know that it is the Lord that has called us, and say, Here am I.'

For such experiences as I have been describing do influence the will, and mould the heart, and make it a delight to do God's commandments, and to execute His purpose, and to be the ministers of His great Word. Some of us are willing to say that we have learned God's holiness; that we have seen and confessed our sins; that we have received pardon and cleansing. Have these experiences made you ready for any service? Have they made your will flexible--made you dethrone yourself, and enthrone the King whom the prophet saw? If they have, they are genuine; if they have not, they are not. Submission of will; glorying in being the instrument of the divine purpose; ears sharpened to catch His lowest whisper; eyes that, like those of a dog fixed on his master, watch for the faintest indication from his guiding eye--these are the infallible tests and signs of having had lips and heart touched with the live coal that burns away our uncleanness.

So, friends, would that I could flash upon every conscience that vision! But you can do so for yourselves. Let me beseech you to bring yourselves honestly into that solemn light of the character of God, and to ask yourselves, How can two walk together except they be agreed?' Do not put away such thoughts with any shallow, easy-going talk about how God is good and will not be hard upon a poor fellow that has tried to do his best. God is good; God is love. But divine goodness and love cannot find a way by which the unclean shall dwell with the clean. What then? This then--Jesus Christ has come. We may be made clean if we trust in Him, and forsake our sins. He will touch the heart and lips with the fire of His own Spirit, and then it will be possible to dwell with the everlasting burnings of that flaming fire which is a holy God. Blessed are they that have seen the vision; blessed they that have felt it disclosing their own sins; blessed they whose hearts have been purged. Blessed most of all they who, educated and trained through these experiences, have taken this as the motto of their lives, Here am I; send me.'

SHILOAH AND EUPHRATES

Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly . . . the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many.'--ISAIAH viii. 6, 7.

The kingdom of Judah was threatened with a great danger in an alliance between Israel and Damascus. The cowardly King Ahaz, instead of listening to Isaiah's strong assurances and relying on the help of God, made what he thought a master-stroke of policy in invoking the help of the formidable Assyrian power. That ambitious military monarchy was eager to find an excuse for meddling in the politics of Syria, and nothing loath, marched an army down on the backs of the invaders, which very soon compelled them to hasten to Judah in order to defend their own land. But, as is always the case, the help invoked was his ruin. Like all conquering powers, once having got its foot inside the door, Assyria soon followed bodily. First Damascus and Israel were ravaged and subdued, and then Judah. That kingdom only purchased the privilege of being devoured last. Like the Spaniards in Mexico, the Saxons in England, the English in a hundred Indian territories, the allies that came to help remained to conquer, and Judah fell, as we all know.

This is the simple original application of these words. They are a declaration that in seeking for help from others Judah was forsaking God, and that the helper would become ruler, and the ruler an oppressive tyrant.

The waters of Shiloah that go softly stand as an emblem of the Davidic monarchy as God meant it to be, and, since that monarchy was itself a prophecy, they therefore represent the kingdom of God or the Messianic King. The waters strong and many' are those of the Euphrates, which swells and overflows and carries havoc, and are taken as the emblem of the wasting sweep of the Assyrian king, whose capital stood on its banks.

But while thus there is a plain piece of political history in the words, they are also the statement of general principles which apply to every individual soul and its relations to the kingdom, the gentle kingdom, of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

I. The Gentle Kingdom.

That little brooklet slipping quietly along; what a striking image of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ!

It suggests the character of the King, the meek and lowly in heart.' It suggests the manner of His rule as wielded in gentleness and exercising no compulsion but that of love. It suggests the blessed results of His reign under the image of the fertility, freshness, and beauty which spring up wherever the river cometh.' That kingdom we are all summoned to enter.

II. The Rejection of the Kingdom.

Strange and awful fact that men do turn away from it and Him.

In what does rejection consist?

In not trusting in His power to help and deliver.

In seeking help from other sources. This rejection is often unconscious on the part of men who are guilty of it.

III. The Allies who are preferred to the gentle King.

The crowd of worldly things.

What is to be noticed is that at first the preference seems to answer and be all right.

IV. The Allies becoming Tyrants.

The swift Euphrates in spate. That is what the rejecters have chosen for themselves. Better to have lived by Shiloah than to have built their houses by the side of such a raging stream. Mark how this is a divine retribution indeed, but a natural process too.

(a) If Christ does not rule us, a mob of tyrants will.

Our own passions. Our own evil habits. The fascinating sins around us.

(b) They soon cease to seem helpers, and become tyrants.

How quickly the pleasure of sin disappears--like some bird that loses its gay plumage as it grows old.

How stern becomes the necessity to obey; how great the difficulty of breaking off evil habits! So a man becomes the slave of his own lusts, of his indulged tastes, which rise above all restraints and carry away all before them, like the Euphrates in flood. Fertility is turned to barrenness; a foul deposit of mud overlays the soil; houses on the sand are washed away; corpses float on the tawny wave. The soul that rejects Christ's gentle sway is harried and laid waste by a mob of base-born tyrants. We have to make our choice--either Christ or these; either a service which is freedom, or an apparent freedom which is slavery; either a worship which exalts, or a worship which embrutes. If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed.'

There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.' It is peaceful to pitch our tents beside its calm flow, whereon shall go no hostile fleets, and whence we shall but pass to the city above, in the midst of the street whereof the river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.'

THE KINGDOM AND THE KING

The people that walked in darkness hare seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. 3. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4. For Thou hast broken the yoke of His burden, and the staff of His shoulder, the rod of His oppressor, as in the day of Midian. 5. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood: but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. 6. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.'--ISAIAH ix. 2-7.

The darker the cloud, the brighter is the rainbow. This prophecy has for its historical background the calamitous reign of the weak and wicked Ahaz, during which the heart of the nation was bowed, like a forest before the blast, by the dread of foreign invasion and conquest. The prophet predicts a day of gloom and anguish, and then, out of the midst of his threatenings, bursts this glorious vision, sudden as sunrise. With consummate poetic art, the consequences of Messiah's rule are set forth before He Himself is brought into view.

I. Image is heaped on image to tell the blessedness of that reign (vs. 2-5). Each trait of the glowing description is appropriate to the condition of Israel under Ahaz; but each has a meaning far beyond that limited application. Isaiah may, or may not, have been aware of what' or what time' his words portrayed in their deepest, that is, their true meaning, but if we believe in supernatural prediction which, though it may have found its point of attachment in the circumstances of the present, was none the less the voice of the Spirit of God, we shall not make, as is often done now, the prophet's construction of his words the rule for their interpretation. What the prophecy was discerned to point to by its utterer or his contemporaries, is one thing; quite another is what God meant by it.

First we have the picture of the nation groping in a darkness that might be felt, the emblem of ignorance, sin, and sorrow, and inhabiting a land over which, like a pall, death cast its shadow. On that dismal gloom shines all at once a great light,' the emblem of knowledge, purity, and joy. The daily mercy of the dawn has a gospel in it to a heart that believes in God; for it proclaims the divine will that all who sit in darkness shall be enlightened, and that every night but prepares the way for the freshness and stir of a new morning. The great prophecy of these verses in its indefiniteness goes far beyond its immediate occasion in the state of Judah under Ahaz. As surely as the dawn floods all lands, so surely shall all who walk in darkness see the great light; and wherever is a land of the shadow of death,' there shall the light shine. It is the light of the world.'

Verse 3 gives another phase of blessing. Israel is conceived of as dwindled in number by deportation and war. But the process of depopulation is arrested and reversed, and numerical increase, which is always a prominent feature in Messianic predictions, is predicted. That increase follows the dawning of the light, for men will flock to the brightness of its rising.' We know that the increase comes from the attractive power of the Cross, drawing men of many tongues to it; and we have a right to bring the interpretation, which the world's history gives, into our understanding of the prophecy. That enlarged nation is to have abounding joy.

Undoubtedly, the rendering To it thou hast increased the joy' is correct, as that of the Authorized Version (based upon the Hebrew text) is clearly one of several cases in which the partial similarity in spelling and identity in sound of the Hebrew words for not' and to it,' have led to a mistaken reading. The joy is described in words which dance and sing, like the gladness of which they tell. The mirth of the harvest-field, when labour is crowned with success, and the sterner joy of the victors as they part the booty, with which mingles the consciousness of foes overcome and dangers averted, are blended in this gladness. We have the joy of reaping a harvest of which we have not sowed the seed. Christ has done that; we have but to enjoy the results of His toil. We have to divide the spoil of a victory which we have not won. He has bound the strong man, and we share the benefits of His overcoming the world.

That last image of conquerors dividing the spoil leads naturally to the picture in verse 4 of emancipation from bondage, as the result of a victory like Gideon's with his handful. Who the Gideon of this new triumph is, the prophet will not yet say. The yoke of his burden' and the rod of his oppressor' recall Egypt and the taskmasters.

Verse 5 gives the reason for the deliverance of the slaves; namely, the utter destruction of the armour and weapons of their enemy. The Revised Version is right in its rendering, though it may be doubtful whether its margin is not better than its text, since not only are boot' and booted' as probable renderings of the doubtful words as armour' and armed man,' but the picture of the warrior striding into battle with his heavy boots is more graphic than the more generalised description in the Revised Version's text. In any case, the whole accoutrements of the oppressor are heaped into a pile and set on fire; and, as they blaze up, the freed slaves exult in their liberty. The blood-drenched cloaks have been stripped from the corpses and tossed on the heap, and, saturated as they are, they burn. So complete is the victory that even the weapons of the conquered are destroyed. Our conquering King has been manifested, that He might annihilate the powers by which evil holds us bound. His victory is not by halves. He taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted.'

II. Now we are ready to ask, And who is to do all this? The guarantee for its accomplishment is the person of the conquering Messiah. The hopes of Israel did not, and those of the world do not, rest on tendencies, principles, laws of progress, advance of civilisation, or the like abstractions or impersonalities, but on a living Person, in whom all principles which make for righteousness and blessedness for individuals and communities are incarnated, and whose vital action works perpetually in mankind.

In this prophecy the prophet is plainly speaking greater things than he knew. We do not get to the meaning if we only ask ourselves what did he understand by his words, or what did his hearers gather from them? They and he would gather the certainty of the coming of Messiah with wondrous attributes of power and divine gifts, by whose reign light, gladness, liberty would belong to the oppressed nation. But the depth of the prophecy needed the history of the Incarnation for its disclosure. If this is not a God-given prediction of the entrance into human form of the divine, it is something very like miraculous that, somehow or other, words should have been spoken, without any such reference, which fit so closely to the supernatural fact of Christ's incarnation.

The many attempts to translate verse 6 so as to get rid of the application of Mighty God,' Everlasting Father,' to Messiah, cannot here be enumerated or adequately discussed. I must be content with pointing out the significance of the august fourfold name of the victor King. It seems best to take the two first titles as a compound name, and so to recognise four such compounds.

There is a certain connection between the first and second of these which respectively lay stress on wisdom of plan and victorious energy of accomplishment, while the third and fourth are also connected, in that the former gathers into one great and tender name what Messiah is to His people, and the latter points to the character of His dominion throughout the whole earth. A wonder of a counsellor,' as the words may be rendered, not only suggests His giving wholesome direction to His people, but, still more, the mystery of the wisdom which guides His plans. Truly, Jesus purposes wonders in the depth of His redeeming design. He intends to do great things, and to reach them by a road which none would have imagined. The counsel to save a world, and that by dying for it, is the miracle of miracles. Who hath been His counsellor in that overwhelming wonder?' He needs no teacher; He is Himself the teacher of all truth. All may have His direction, and they who follow it will not walk in darkness.

The mighty God.' Chapter x. 21 absolutely forbids taking this as anything lower than the divine name. The prophet conceives of Messiah as the earthly representative of divinity, as having God with and in Him as no other man has. We are not to force upon the prophet the full new Testament doctrine of the oneness of the incarnate Word with the Father, which would be an anachronism. But we are not to fall into the opposite error, and refuse to see in these words, so startling from the lips of a rigid monotheist, a real prophecy of a divine Messiah, dimly as the utterer may have perceived the figure which he painted. Note, too, that the word mighty' implies victorious energy in battle. It is often applied to human heroes, and here carries warlike connotations, kindred with the previous picture of conflict and victory. Thus strength as of God, and, in some profound way, strength which is divine, will be the hand obeying the brain that counsels wonder, and all His plans shall be effected by it.

But these are not all His qualities. He is the Father of Eternity'--a name in which tender care and immortal life are marvellously blended. This King will be in reality what, in old days, monarchs often called themselves and seldom were,--the Father of His people, with all the attributes of that sacred name, such as guidance, love, providing for His children's wants. Nor can Christians forget that Jesus is the source of life to them, and that the name has thus a deeper meaning. Further, He is possessed of eternity. If He is so closely related to God as the former name implies, that predicate is not wonderful. Dying men need and have an undying Christ. He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.'

The whole series of names culminates in the Prince of Peace,' which He is by virtue of the characteristics expressed in the foregoing names. The name pierces to the heart of Christ's work. For the individual He brings peace with God, peace in the else discordant inner nature, peace amid storms of calamity--the peace of submission, of fellowship with God, of self-control, of received forgiveness and sanctifying. For nations and civic communities He brings peace which will one day hush the tumult of war, and burn chariots and all warlike implements in the fire. The vision tarries, because Christ's followers have not been true to their Master's mission, but it comes, though its march is slow. We can hasten its arrival.

Verses 7 and 8 declare the perpetuity of Messiah's kingdom, His Davidic descent, and those characteristics of His reign, which guarantee its perpetuity. Judgment' which He exercises, and righteousness' which He both exercises and bestows, are the pillars on which His throne stands; and these are eternal, and it never will totter nor sink, as earthly thrones must do. The very life-blood of prophecy, as of religion, is the conviction that righteousness outlasts sin, and will survive the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.'

The great guarantee for these glowing anticipations is that the zeal of the Lord of hosts' will accomplish them. Zeal, or rather jealousy, is love stirred to action by opposition. It tolerates no unfaithfulness in the object of its love, and flames up against all antagonism to the object. He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.' So the subjects of that Messiah may be sure that a wall of fire is round about them, which to foes without is terror and destruction, and to dwellers within its circuit glows with lambent light, and rays out beneficent warmth.

LIGHT OR FIRE?

And the Light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day.'--ISAIAH x. 17.

With grand poetry the prophet pictures the Assyrian power as a forest consumed like thistles and briers by the fire of God. The text suggests solemn truths about the divine Nature and its manifestations.

I. The Essential Character of God.

Light and Holiness are substantially parallel. Light symbolises purity, but also knowledge and joy. Holiness is Separation from Creatures, but chiefly from their Evils.

II. The Different Attitudes which Men assume to that Character.

Light of Israel': His Holy One.'

God becomes ours, and we have an interest in that radiant Personality if we choose to claim it by faith, love, and obedience. We are free to accept God as ours or to reject Him.

III. The Opposite Aspects which that Character accordingly assumes.

(a) The self-same divine Character has two effects according to the character of the beholder.

To those who respond to God's love it is--heaven. To those who are indifferent or alienated it may be pain, and will harm them if they see it and do not yield to it.

God's holiness is not retributive justice but moral perfectness, which to a good man will be joy, and to a bad man, intolerable.

The light which is gladsome to a healthy eye is agony to a diseased one.

(b) All the manifestations and operations of that divine Character have a twofold aspect. Christ is either a stone of stumbling or a sure foundation. Men are either the better or the worse for Him. The Gospel is the savour of life unto life or of death unto death. The tremendous either--or.' The Cross rejected harms the moral nature, hardens conscience, deepens condemnation.

All divine operations are necessarily on the side of God's lovers and against those who love Him not. They are contrary to Him, therefore He is so to them. With the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward.'

The final Judgment will be either rapture or despair, like the coming of a bridegroom, or the fiery rain that burnt up Sodom.

The very dew of Heavenly Bliss would be corroding poison to a godless spirit.

THE SUCKER FROM THE FELLED OAK

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; 3. And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4. But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 7. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den. 9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. 10. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.'--ISAIAH xi. 1-10.

The hopeless fall of Assyria is magnificently pictured in the close of chapter x., as the felling of the cedars of Lebanon by the axe swung by Jehovah's own hand. A cedar once cut down puts out no new shoots; and so the Assyrian power, when it falls, will fall for ever. The metaphor is carried on with surpassing beauty in the first part of this prophecy, which contrasts the indestructible vitality of the Davidic monarchy with the irremediable destruction fated for its formidable antagonist. The one is a cedar, the stump of which rots slowly, but never recovers. The other is an oak, which, every woodman knows, will put out new growth from the stool.' But instead of a crowd of little suckers, the prophet sees but one shoot, and that rising to more than the original height and fruitfulness of the tree. The prophecy is distinctly that of One Person, in whom the Davidic monarchy is concentrated, and all its decadence more than recovered.

Isaiah does not bring the rise of the Messiah into chronological connection with the fall of Assyria; for he contemplates a period of decay for the Israelitish monarchy, and it was the very burden of his message as to Assyria that it should pass away without harming that monarchy. The contrast is not intended to suggest continuity in time. The period of fulfilment is entirely undetermined.

The first point in the prophecy is the descent of the Messiah from the royal stock. That is more than Isaiah's previous Messianic prophecies had told. He is to come at a time when the fortunes of David's house were at their worst. There is to be nothing left but the stump of the tree, and out of it is to come a shoot,' slender and insignificant, and in strange contrast with the girth of the truncated bole, stately even in its mutilation. We do not talk of a growth from the stump as being a branch' and sprout' would better convey Isaiah's meaning. From the top of the stump, a shoot; from the roots half buried in the ground, an outgrowth,--these two images mean but one person, a descendant of David, coming at a time of humiliation and obscurity. But this lowly shoot will bear fruit,' which presupposes its growth.

The King-Messiah thus brought on the scene is then described in regard to His character (v. 2), the nature of His rule (vs. 3-5), the universal harmony and peace which He will diffuse through nature (vs. 6-9), and the gathering of all mankind under His dominion. There is much in the prophetic ideal of the Messiah which finds no place in this prophecy. The gentler aspects of His reign are not here, nor the deeper characteristics of His spirit,' nor the chiefest blessings in His gift. The suffering Messiah is not yet the theme of the prophet.

The main point as to the character of the Messiah which this prophecy sets forth is that, whatever He was to be, He was to be by reason of the resting on Him of the Spirit of Jehovah. The directness, fulness, and continuousness of His inspiration are emphatically proclaimed in that word shall rest,' which can scarcely fail to recall John's witness, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon Him.' The humanity on which the Divine Spirit uninterruptedly abides, ungrieved and unrestrained, must be free from the stains which so often drive that heavenly visitant from our breasts. The white-breasted Dove of God cannot brood over foulness. There has never been but one manhood capable of receiving and retaining the whole fulness of the Spirit of God.

The gifts of that Spirit, which become qualities of the Messiah in whom He dwells, are arranged (if we may use so cold a word) in three pairs; so that, if we include the introductory designation, we have a sevenfold characterisation of the Spirit, recalling the seven lamps before the throne and the seven eyes of the Lamb in the Apocalypse, and symbolising by the number the completeness and sacredness of that inspiration. The resulting character of the Messiah is a fair picture of one who realises the very ideal of a strong and righteous ruler of men. Wisdom and understanding' refer mainly to the clearness of intellectual and moral insight; counsel and might,' to the qualities which give sound practical direction and vigour to follow, and carry through, the decisions of practical wisdom; while the knowledge and fear of the Lord' define religion by its two parts of acquaintance with God founded on love, and reverential awe which prompts to obedience. The fulfilment, and far more than fulfilment, of this ideal is in Jesus, in whom were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' to whom no circumstances of difficulty ever brought the shadow of perplexity, who always saw clearly before Him the path to tread, and had always might' to tread it, however rough, who lived all His days in unbroken fellowship with the Father and in lowly obedience.

The prophet saw not all the wonders of perfect human character which that indwelling Spirit would bring to realisation in Him; but what he saw was indispensable to a perfect King, and was, at all events, an arc of the mighty circle of perfection, which has now been revealed in the life of Jesus. The possibilities of humanity under the influence of the Divine Spirit are revealed here no less than the actuality of the Messiah's character. What Jesus is, He gives it to His subjects to become by the dwelling in them of the spirit of life which was in Him.

The rule of the King is accordant with His character. It is described in verses 3-5. The first characteristic named may be understood in different ways. According to some commentators, who deserve respectful consideration, it means, He shall draw His breath in the fear of Jehovah' that is, that that fear has become, as it were, His very life-breath. But the meaning of breathing' is doubtful; and the phrase seems rather to express, as the Revised Version puts it, His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.' That might mean that those who fear Jehovah shall be His delight, and this would free the expression from any shade of tautology, when compared with the previous clause, and would afford a natural transition to the description of His rule. It might, on the other hand, continue the description of His personal character, and describe the inward cheerfulness of His obedience, like I delight to do Thy will.' In any case, the fear of the Lord' is represented as a sweet-smelling fragrance; and, if we adopt the former explanation, then it is almost a divine characteristic which is here attributed to the Messiah; for it is God to whom the fear of Him in men's hearts is an odour of a sweet smell.'

Then follow the features of His rule. His unerring judgment pierces through the seen and heard. That is the quality of a monarch after the antique pattern, when kings were judges. It does not appear that the prophet rose to the height of perceiving the divine nature of the Messiah; but we cannot but remember how far the reality transcends the prophecy, since He whose eyes are as a flame of fire' knows what is in man, and the earliest prayers of the Church were addressed to Jesus as Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men.'

The relation of Messiah to two classes is next set forth. The oppressed and the meek shall have Him for their defender and avenger,--a striking contrast to the oppressive monarchs whom Isaiah had seen. We remember who said Blessed are the poor in spirit,' Blessed are the meek.' The King Himself has taught us to deepen the meaning of the words of the prophet, and to find in them the expression of the law of His kingdom by which its blessings belong to those who know their need and come with humble hearts. But the same acts which are for the poor are against the oppressors. The emendation which reads tyrant' (arits) for earth' (erets) brings the two clauses descriptive of the punitive acts into parallelism, and is probably to be preferred. The same pillar was light to Israel and darkness to the Egyptians. Christ is the savour of life unto life and of death unto death. But what is His instrument of destruction? The rod of His mouth' or the breath of His lips.' And who is He whose bare word thus has power to kill and make alive? Is not this a divine prerogative? and does it not belong in the fullest sense to Him whose voice rebuked fevers, storms, and demons, and pierced the dull, cold ear of death? Further, righteousness, the absolute conformity of character and act to the standard in the will of God, and faithfulness, the inflexible constancy, which makes a character consistent with itself, and so reliable, are represented by a striking figure as being twined together to make the girdle, which holds the vestments in place, and girds up the whole frame for effort. This righteous King shall not fail nor be discouraged.' He is to be reckoned on to the uttermost, or, as the New Testament puts it, He is the faithful and true witness.' This is the strong Son of God, who gathered all His powers together to run with patience the race set before Him, and to whom all may turn with the confidence that He is faithful as a Son over His own house,' and will inviolably keep the promise of His word and of His past acts.

We pass from the picture of the character and rule of the King over men to that fair vision of Paradise regained, which celebrates the universal restoration of peace between man and the animals. The picture is not to be taken as a mere allegory, as if lions' and wolves' and snakes' meant bad men; but it falls into line with other hints in Scripture, which trace the hostility between man and the lower creatures to sin, and shadow a future when the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.' The psalm which sings of man's dominion over the creatures is to be one day fulfilled; and the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that it is already fulfilled in Christ, who will raise His brethren, for whom He tasted death, to partake in His dominion. The present order of things is transient; and if earth is to be, as some shadowy hints seem to suggest, the scene of the future glories of redeemed humanity, it may be the theatre of a fulfilment of such visions as this. But we cannot dogmatise on a subject of which we know so little, nor be sure of the extent to which symbolism enters into this sweet picture. Enough that there surely comes a time when the King of men and Lord of nature shall bring back peace between both, and restore the fair music that all creatures made To their great Lord.'

Verse 10 begins an entirely new section, which describes the relations of Messiah's kingdom to the surrounding peoples. The picture preceding closed with the vision of the earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and this verse proclaims the universality of Messiah's kingdom. By the root of Jesse' is meant, not the root from which Jesse sprang, but, in accordance with verse 1, the sprout from the house of Jesse. Just as in that verse the sprout was prophesied of as growing up to be fruitbearing, so here the lowly sucker shoots to a height which makes it conspicuous from afar, and becomes, like some tall mast, a sign for the nations. The contrast between the obscure beginning and the conspicuous destiny of Messiah is the point of the prophecy. I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.' Strange elevation for a king is a cross! But it is because He has died for men that He has the right to reign over them, and that they shall seek' to Him. His resting-place shall be glorious.'

The seat of His dominion is also the seat of His repose. The beneficent activity just described is wielded from a calm, central palace, and does not break the King's tranquillity. That is a paradox, except to those who know that Jesus Christ, sitting in undisturbed rest at the right hand of God, thence works with and for His servants. His repose is full of active energy; His active energy is full of repose. And that place of calm abode is glorious' or, more emphatically and literally, glory. He shall dwell in the blaze of the uncreated glory of God,--a prediction which is only fulfilled in its true meaning by Christ's ascension and session at the right hand of God, in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and into which He has borne that lowly manhood which He drew from the cut-down stem of Jesse.

THE WELL-SPRING OF SALVATION

Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.'--ISAIAH xii. 3.

There are two events separated from each other by more than fifteen hundred years which have a bearing upon this prophecy: the one supplied the occasion for its utterance, the other claimed to be its interpretation and its fulfilment. The first of these is that scene familiar to us all, where the Israelites in the wilderness murmured for want of water, and the law-giver, being at his wits' end what to do with his troublesome charges, took his anxieties to God, and got for an answer the command to take with him the elders of Israel and his miracle-working rod, and to go to the rock, and the Lord shall stand upon the rock before thee and them, and the water shall flow forth.' It was not the rock, nor the rod, nor Moses and the elders, but the presence of God that brought the refreshing draught. And that that incident was in Isaiah's mind when he wrote our text is very clear to anybody who will observe that it occurs in the middle of a song of praise, which corresponds to the Israelites' song at the Red Sea after the destruction of Pharaoh, and is part of a great prophecy in which he describes God's future blessings and mercies under images constantly drawn from the Egyptian bondage and the Exodus in the desert. Now, that interpretation, or rather that application, of the words of my text, was very familiar to the Jews long, long before the New Testament was thought about. For, as many of you will know, there came in the course of time a number of ceremonies to be added to a feast established by Moses himself--the Feast of Tabernacles. That was a feast in which the whole body of the Israelitish people dwelt for a week in leafy booths, in order to remind them of the time when they were wanderers in the wilderness; and as is usually the case, the ritual of the celebration developed a number of additional symbolical observances which were tacked on to it in the course of centuries. Amongst these there was this very memorable one: that on each of the days of the Feast of Tabernacles, at a given point in the ceremonial, the priests went from the temple, winding down the rocky path on the temple mountain, to the Pool of Siloam in the valley below, and there in their golden vases they drew the cool sparkling water, which they bore up, and amidst the blare of trumpets and the clash of cymbals poured it on the altar, whilst the people chanted the words of my text, With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.'

That ceremonial had been going on for eight hundred years from Isaiah's time; and once more the period came round when it was to be performed; and on the seven days of the feast, punctually at the appointed time, the procession wound down the rocky slopes, drew the water in the golden vases, bore it up to the temple, and poured it upon the altar; and on the last great day of the feast, the same ceremonial went on up to a given point; and just as the last rites of the chant of our text were dying on the ears, there was a little stir amidst the crowd, which parted to make way for him, and a youngish man, of mean appearance and rustic dress, stepped forward, and there, before all the gathered multitudes and the priests standing with their empty urns, symbol of the impotence of their system, on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.' Brethren, such a commentary, at such a time, from such a commentator, may well absolve me from the necessity of enforcing the evangelistic bearing of the words of my text. And so, then, with that understanding of the deepest meaning of these words that we have to look at, I ask you to take them in the simplest possible way, and to consider three points: the Well of Salvation, the Act of Drawing the Water, the Gladness of those that draw. With joy shall ye draw water out of the fountains of salvation.'

Now, with regard to the first point, let me remind you to begin with, that the idea of the word here is not that which we attach to a well, but that which we attach to a spring. It does not describe the source of salvation as being a mere reservoir, still less as being a created or manufactured thing; but there lies in it the deep idea of a source from which the water wells up by its own inward energy. Then, when we have got that explanation, and the deep, full, pregnant meaning of the word salvation as a thing past, a thing present, a thing future, a thing which negatively delivers a man from all sin and sorrow, and a thing which positively endows a man with beauty, happiness, and holiness--when we have got that, then the question next cries aloud for answer--this well-spring of salvation, is--what? Who? And the first answer and the last answer is GOD--GOD HIMSELF. It is no mere bit of drapery of the prophet's imagery, this well-spring of salvation; it is something much more substantial, much deeper than that. You remember the old psalm, With Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light' and what David and John after him called life, Isaiah and Paul after him calls salvation. And you remember too, no doubt, the indictment of another of the prophets, laying hold of the same metaphor in order to point to the folly and the suicide of all godless living: My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves broken cisterns.' They were manufactured articles, and because they were made they could be cracked, but the fountain, because it rises by its own inherent energy, springing up into everlasting life, is all-sufficient. God Himself is the well-spring of salvation.

If I had time to enlarge upon this idea, I might remind you how nobly and blessedly that principle is confirmed when we think of this great salvation, past, present, and future, negative and positive, all-sufficient and complete, as having its origin in His deep nature, as having its process in His own finished work, and as being in its essence the communication of Himself. That last thing I should like to say a word or two about. If there is a man or a woman that thinks of salvation as if it were merely a shutting up of some material hell, or the dodging round a corner so as to escape some external consequence of transgression, let him and her hear this: the possession of God is salvation, that and nothing else. To have Him within me, that is to be saved; to have His life in His dear Son made the foundation of my life, to have my whole being penetrated and filled with God, that is the essence of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. And because it comes unmotived, uncaused, self-originated, springing up from the depths of His own heart; because it is all effected by His own mighty work who has trodden the winepress alone, and, single-handed, has wrought the salvation of the race; and because its essence and heart is the communication of God Himself, and the bestowing upon us the participation in a divine nature, therefore the depth of the thought, God Himself is the well-fountain of salvation.

But there is still another step to take. If these things which I have only just been able to glance at in the most superficial, and perhaps, therefore, confused manner, in any measure commend themselves to your judgments and your consciences, let me ask you to go with me one step further, and to figure to yourselves the significance and the strangeness of that moment to which I have already referred, when a man stood up in the temple court, and, with distinct allusion to the whole of the multitude of Old Testament sayings, in which God and the communication of God's own energy were represented as being the fountain of salvation and the salvation from the fountain, and said, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me.' Why, what a thing--let us put it into plain, vulgar English--what a thing for a man to say--If any man thirst.' Who art Thou that dost thus plant Thyself opposite the race, sure that Thou hast no needs like them, but, contrariwise, canst refresh and satiate the thirsty lips of them all? Who art Thou that dost proclaim Thyself as sufficient for the fruition of the mind that yearns for truth and thirsts for certitude, of the parched heart that wearies and cracks for want of love, of the will that longs to be rightly and lovingly commanded? Oh, dear brethren, not only the Titanic presumption of proposing oneself as enough for a single soul, but the inconceivable madness of proposing oneself as enough for all the race in all generations to the end of time, except on one hypothesis, marks this utterance of Him who has also said, I am meek and lowly of heart.' Strange lowliness! singular meekness! Who was He? Who is this that steps into the place that only a God can fill, and says, I can do it all. If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink'?

Dear brethren, some of us can, thank God, answer that question as I pray that every one of you may be able to answer it, Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ; Thou art the everlasting son of the Father. With Thee is the fountain of life; Thou Thyself art the living water.'

But I think there is a still further step to be taken. It is not only that our Lord Jesus Christ, in His nature, in His person, is the communicator of the divine life to man, just as--if you will let me take such a metaphor--just as up in the hills sometimes you will find some little tarn or loch all shut in; but having trickling from it a thread of limpid life, and, wherever it flows, the water of the loch goes; only, the one is lake and the other is river, and the latter is the medium of communication of the former to the thirsty pastures of the wilderness. And not only so, but--if I might venture to build upon a word of the context--there seems to be another consideration there. The words which precede my text are a quotation from a song of the Israelites in their former Exodus: The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.' Now, if our Bible has been correct--and I do not enter upon that question--in emphasising the difference between is and is become, mark where it takes us. It takes us to this, that there was some single, definite, historical act wherein God became in an eminent manner and in reality what He had always been in purpose, intent, and idea. Then that to which my text originally alludes, to which it looks back, is the great deliverance wrought by the banks of the Red Sea. It was because Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in it that Miriam and her musical sisters, with their timbrel and dance, not only said, The Lord is my strength,' but He has become my strength'--there where the corpses are floating yet. What answers to that in the matter with which we are concerned? Brethren, it is not enough to say that God is the fountain of salvation, it is not enough to say that the Incarnate Christ is the medium of salvation. Will you take the other step with us, and say that the Cross of Christ is the realisation of the divine intention of salvation? Then He, who from everlasting was the strength and song of all the strong and the songful, is become the salvation of all the lost, and the fountain is opened for sin and for uncleanness.' A definite, historical act, the manifestation of Jesus Christ, is the bringing to man of the salvation of God. So much, then, for that first point to which I desired to ask your attention.

And now let me say a word or two as to the second. I wish to speak about this process of drawing from the fountain. That metaphor, without any further explanation, might very naturally suggest more idea of human effort than in reality belongs to it. Men have said: Yes; no doubt God is the fountain of salvation; no doubt Christ is the river of salvation; no doubt His death is the opening of the fountain for sin and for uncleanness; but how am I to bring myself into contact and connection with it?' And there have been all sorts of answers. Every kind of pump has been resorted to. Go up to the Agricultural Hall and you will see no end of contrivances for bringing water to the surface. There are not so many there as men have found out for themselves to bring the water of salvation to their lips, and the effect has always been the same. There has been something wrong with the valves; the pump has not worked properly; there has been something wrong with the crank; the pipe has not gone down to the water; and there has been nothing but a great jingling of empty buckets, and aching and wearied elbows, and what the woman said to Christ has been true all round, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.' Ay! thank God, it is deep; and if we let our Lord be His own interpreter, we have only to put together three sayings of His in order to come to the true meaning of this metaphor. My text says, With joy ye shall draw water' and Christ, sitting at the well of Samaria--what a strange combination of the weakness and the weariness of manhood and the strength and self-consciousness of Divinity was there!--wearied with His journey, said, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him and He would have given thee living water.' So, then, drawing is asking. That is step number one.

Take another word of the Master's that I have already quoted for other purposes, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.' So, then, drawing, or asking, or coming are all equivalent. That is step number two.

And, then, take another word. He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.' So, then, drawing, asking, coming, all melt into the one simple word--believing. Trust in Him, and thou hast come, thou hast asked, thou hast drawn, thou dost possess.

But whilst I would lay the foundation thus broad, thus simple, do not forget, dear brethren, what I was saying about a definite historical act. You will hear people say, Oh, I trust in Christ!' What do you trust in Christ? You will hear people say, Oh, I look to the goodness of God.' Be it so. God forbid I should say a word to prevent that; but what I would insist upon is that a mere vague regard to a vague Christ is not the faith that is equivalent to drawing from the fountain of salvation. There must be a further object in a faith that saves. It must lay hold of the definite historical act in which Christ has become the salvation of the world.

Do not take it upon my words, take it upon His own. He once said to His fellow-countrymen in His lifetime, I am the living bread' and many of our modern teachers would go that length heartily. Was that where Christ stopped? By no means. Was His Gospel a gospel of incarnation only? Certainly not. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.' Anything more? Yes; this more, and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. He that eateth Me he shall live by Me.' Well,' say some people, that means following His example, accepting His teaching, being loyal to His Person, absorbing His Spirit.' Yes, it means all that; but is that all it means? Take His own commentary: He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.' Yes, brethren, a Christ incarnate, blessed be God! A Christ crucified, blessed be God! And not the one but both must be the basis of our faith and our hope.

Now, will you let me say one thing about this matter of drawing the water? It is an act of faith in a whole Jesus, and eminently in the mighty act and sacrifice of His Cross. But to go back again to the context: He also is become my salvation. That is what I desire, God helping me, to lay on the hearts of all my hearers--that a definite act of faith in Christ crucified is not enough unless it is a personal act, unless it is what our old Puritan forefathers used to call appropriating faith.' Never mind about the somewhat dry and technical phraseology; the thing is what I insist upon--my salvation.' O brother! what does it matter though all Niagara were roaring past your door; you might die of thirst all the same unless you put your own lips to it. Down on your knees like Gideon's men; it is safest there; that is the only attitude in which a man can drink of this fountain. Down on your knees and put your lips to it--your very own lips--and drink for your own soul's salvation. Christ died for the world. Yes; but the world for which Christ died is made up of individuals who were in His heart. It is Paul's words that I would beseech you to make your own: The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.' Every one of you is entitled to say that, if you will. You remember that verse filled with adoring contemplation that we sometimes sing, one word in which seems to me to be coloured by the too sombre doctrine of the epoch from which it came:--

My soul looks back to see The burden Thou didst bear, When hanging on the accursed tree, And knows her guilt was there.'

He also is my strength and my song. He is become my salvation; therefore, in joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.'

Now, I have left myself no time to do more than say one word about that last point, the gladness of the water-drawers. It is a pretty picture in our text, full of the atmosphere and spirit of Eastern life: the cheery talk and the ringing laughter round the village well, where the shepherds with their flocks linger all day long, and the maidens from their tents come--a kind of rude Exchange in the antique world; and, says our prophet, As the dwellers in the land at their village springs, so ye, the weary travellers at "the eye of the desert," will draw with gladness.' So we have this joy.

Dear brethren, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meant for something better than to make us glad, but it is meant to make us glad too, and he is but a very poor Christian who has not found that it is the joy and rejoicing of his heart. We need not put too much emphasis and stress upon that side of the truth; but we need not either suppress it or disregard it in our modern high-flown disinterestedness. There are joys worth calling so which only come from possessing this fountain of salvation. How shall I enumerate them? The best way, I think, will be to quote passages.

There is the gladness of forgiven sin and a quieted conscience: Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.' There is the joy of a conscious possession of God: Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day.' There is the joy of fellowship and communion with Jesus Christ and His full presence: I will see you again; and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh away from you.' There is the joy of willing obedience: I delight to do Thy will.' It is joy to the just to do judgment.' There is the joy of a bright hope of an inheritance incorruptible,' wherein ye greatly rejoice,' and there is a joy which, like that Greek fire they talk about, burns brighter under water, and glows as the darkness deepens--a joy which is independent of circumstances, and can say, Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.'

And all that, brother and friend, may be yours and mine; and then what this same prophet says may also be true: The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads'--that is for the pilgrimage; They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away'--that is for the home. There is another prophecy in this same book of Isaiah: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters' that was the voice of the Christ in prophecy. There is a saying spoken in the temple courts: If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink' that was the voice of the Christ upon earth. There is a saying at the end of Scripture--almost the last words that the Seer in Patmos heard: Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely' that was the voice of the Christ from the throne. And the triple invitation comes to every soul of man in the world, and to thee, and thee, and thee, my brother. Answer, answer as the Samaritan woman did: Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come hither' any more to draw of the broken cisterns.

THE HARVEST OF A GODLESS LIFE

Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow.'--ISAIAH xvii. 10, 11.

The original application of these words is to Judah's alliance with Damascus, which Isaiah was dead against. He saw that it would only precipitate the Assyrian invasion, as in fact it did. Judah had forsaken God, and because they had done so, they had gone to seek for themselves delights--alliance with Damascus. The image of planting a garden of pleasures, and vine slips of a stranger' refers to sensuous idolatry as well as to the entangling alliance. Then follows a contemptuous description of the rapid growth of this alliance and of the care with which Israel cultivated it. In a day thou makest thy plant to grow' (or fencest it), and next morning it was in blossom, so sedulously had they nursed and fostered it. Then comes the smiting contrast of what it was all for--A harvest heap in the day of sickness and incurable pain.'

Now we may take this in a more general way as containing large truths which affect the life of every one of us.

I. The Sin of a Godless Life.

(a) Notice the Sin charged. It is merely negative--forgettest. There is no charge of positive hostility or of any overt act. This forgetfulness is most natural and easy to be fallen into. The constant pressure of the world. It indicates alienation of heart from God.

It is most common among us, far more so than active infidelity, far more so than gross sin, far more so than conscious hostility.

(b) The implied Criminality of it. He is the Rock of thy strength' and the God of thy salvation.' Rock is the grand Old Testament name of God, expressing in a pregnant metaphor both what He is in Himself and what in relation to those who trust Him. It speaks of stability, elevation, massiveness, and of defence and security. The parallel title sets Him forth as the Giver of salvation; and both names set in clear light the sinful ingratitude of forgetting God, and force home the question: Do ye thus requite the Lord, oh foolish people and unwise?'

(c) The implied Absurdity of it. What a contrast between the safe munitions of rocks' and the unsheltered security of these Damascene gardens! What fools to leave the heights and come down into the plain! Think of the contrast between the sufficiency of God and the emptiness of the substitutes. Forgetfulness of Him and preference of creatures cannot be put into language which does not convict it of absurdity.

II. The Busy Effort and Apparent Success of a Godless Life.

(a) If a man loses his hold on God and has not Him to stay himself on, he is driven to painful efforts to make up the loss. God is needed by every soul. If the soul is not satisfied in Him, then there are hungry desires. This is the explanation of the feverish activity of much of our life.

(b) Such work is far harder than the work of serving God. It takes a great deal of toil to make that garden grow. The world is a hard taskmaster. God's service is easy. He sets us in Eden to till and dress it, but when we forget Him, the ground is cursed, and bears thorns and thistles, and sweat drips from our brows.

Men take more pains to damn themselves than to save themselves. There is nothing more wearying than the pursuit of pleasure. Pleasant plants'--that is a hopeless kind of gardening. There is nothing more degrading.

Ye lust and desire to have,'--what a contrast is in, Ask and have! We might live even as the lilies or the ravens, or with only this difference, that we laboured, but were as uncaring and as peaceful as they.

God is given. The world has to be bought. Its terms are Nothing for nothing.'

(c) Such work has sometimes quick, present success.

In the day.' It is hard for men to labour towards far-off unseen good. We like to have what will grow up in a night, like Jonah's gourd. So these present satisfactions in a worldly life appeal to worldly, sensuous natures. And it is hard to set over against these a plant which grows slowly, and only bears fruit in the next world.

III. The End of it all.

A harvest heap in the day of grief.' This clearly points on to a solemn ending--the day of judgment.

(a) How poor the fruit will he that a God-forgetting man will take out of life! There is but one heap from all the long struggle. He has sowed much and brought home little.' What shall we take with us out of our busy years as their net result? A very small sack will be large enough to hold the harvest that many of us have reaped.

(b) All this God-forgetting life of pleasure-seeking and idolatry is bringing on a terrible, inevitable consummation.

Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.'

No doubt there is often a harvest of grief and desperate sorrow springing, even in this life, from forgetting God. For it is only they who set their hopes on Him that are never disappointed, and only they who have chosen Him for their portion who can always say, I have a goodly heritage.' But the real harvest is not reaped till death has separated the time of sowing from that of ingathering. The sower shall reap; i.e. every man shall inherit the consequences of his deeds. They that have planted it shall eat it.'

(c) That harvest home will be a day of sadness to some. These are terrible words--grief and desperate sorrow,' or pain and incurable sickness.' We dare not dilate on this. But if we trust in Christ and sow to the Spirit, we shall then rejoice before God as with the joy of harvest,' and return with joy, bringing our sheaves with us.

'IN THIS MOUNTAIN'

In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. 7. And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. 8. He will swallow up death in victory.'--ISAIAH xxv. 6-8.

A poet's imagination and a prophet's clear vision of the goal to which God will lead humanity are both at their highest in this great song of the future, whose winged words make music even in a translation. No doubt it starts from the comparatively small fact of the restoration of the exiled nation to its own land. But it soars far beyond that. It sees all mankind associated with them in sharing their blessings. It is the vision of God's ideal for humanity. That makes it the more remarkable that the prophet, with this wide outlook, should insist with such emphasis on the fact that it has a local centre. That phrase in this mountain' is three times repeated in the hymn; two of the instances occurring in the verses of my text have lying side by side with them the expressions all people' and all nations,' as if to bring together the local origin, and the universal extent, of the blessings promised.

The sweet waters that are to pour through the world well up from a spring opened in this mountain.' The beams that are to lighten every land stream out from a light blazing there. The world's hopes for that golden age which poets have sung, and towards which earnest social reformers have worked, and of the coming of which this prophet was sure, rest on a definite fact, done in a definite place, at a definite time. Isaiah knew the place, but what was to be done, or when it was to be done, he knew not. You and I ought to be wiser. History has taught us that Jesus Christ fulfils the visioned good that inspired the prophet's brilliant words. We might say, with allowable licence, that this mountain,' in which the Lord does the great things that this song magnifies, is not so much Zion as Calvary.

Brethren, in these days, when so many voices are proclaiming so many short cuts to the Millennium, this clear declaration of the source of the world's hope is worth pondering. For us all, individually, this localisation of the origin of the universal good of mankind is an offer of blessings to us if we will go thither, where the provision for the world's good is stored--In this mountain' therefore, to seek it anywhere else is to seek it in vain.

Now, I wish, under the impression of that conviction, to put before you just these three thoughts: where the world's food comes from; where the unveiling which gives light to the world comes from; and where the life which destroys death for the world comes from--In this mountain.'

I. Where does the world's food come from?

Physiologists can tell, by studying the dentition--the system of the teeth--and the digestive apparatus of an animal, what it is meant to live upon, whether vegetables or flesh, or a mingled diet of both. And you can tell, if you will, by studying yourself, what, or whom, you are meant to live upon. The poet said, We live by admiration, hope, and love.' But he did not say on what these faculties, which truly nourish man's spirit, are to fix and fasten. He tells of the appetites; he does not tell of their food. My text does: In this mountain shall the Lord make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the less well refined.' Friends, look at these hearts of yours with their yearnings, with their passionate desires, with their clamant needs. Will any human love--the purest, the sweetest, the most unselfish, the most utter in its surrender--satisfy the heart-hunger of the poorest of us? No! Look at the capacities of grasping thought and truth in our spirits, which are ever seek, seek, seeking for absolutely certain foundations on which we may build the whole structure of our beliefs. You have to go deeper down than the sand of man's thinkings and teachings before you can reach what will bear without shifting the foundations of a life's credence and confidence. Look at these tumultuous wills of ours that fancy they crave to be independent, and really crave an absolute master whom it is blessedness to obey. You will find none such beneath the stars. The very elements of our being, our heart, will, mind, desires, passions, longings, all with one voice proclaim that the only food for a man is God.

Jesus Christ brings the food that we need. Remember His own adaptation of this great vision of my text in more than one parable; such as the supper that was provided, and to which all men were invited, and, with one consent,' declined the invitation. Remember His own utterance,' I am the Bread of God which came down from heaven to give life to the world.' Remembering such words, let me plead with you to listen to the voice of warning as well as of invitation, which sounds from Cradle and Cross and Throne. Why will ye spend your money for that which is not bread'--you know it is not--and your labour for that which satisfieth not?'--you know it does not. Turn to Him, eat, and your souls shall live.' In this mountain is prepared a feast. . . for all nations.'

Notice that although it does not appear on the surface, and to English readers, this world's festival, in which every want is met, and every appetite satisfied, is a feast on a sacrifice. That touches the deepest need, about which I shall have a word or two to say presently. But in the meantime let me just press this upon you, that the Christ who died on the Cross is to be lived on by us; and that it is His sacrifice that is to be the nourishment of our spirits.

Would that the earnest men, who are trying to cure the world's evils and to still the world's wants, and are leaving Jesus Christ and His religion out of their programme, would take thought and ask themselves whether there is not something more in the hunger of humanity than their ovens can ever bake bread for! They are spinning ropes of sand, if they are trying to lift the world clear of its miseries and of its hunger, and are not presenting Jesus Christ. I hope I am no bigot; I know that I sympathise earnestly with all these other schemes for helping mankind, but this I am bound to say here--all of them put together will not reach the need of the case, unless they start from, and are subsidiary to, and develop out of, the presenting of the primal supply for the universal want, Christ, who alone is able to still the hunger of men's hearts. Education will do much, but university degrees and the highest culture will not satisfy a hungry heart. Fitting environment, as it is fashionable to call it, will do a great deal, but nothing outside of a man will staunch his evils or still the hunger that coils and grips in his heart. Competent wealth is a good--there is no need to say that in Manchester--but millionaires have been known to be miserable. A heart at rest in the love of husband, wife, parent, child, is a blessing earnestly to be sought and thankfully to be treasured by us all; but there is more than that wanted. Put a man in the most favourable circumstances; give him competent worldly means; do all that modern philosophers who leave religion out of the question are trying to do; put in practice your most advanced Socialistic schemes, and you will still have a man with a hungry heart. He may not know what he wants; very often he will entirely mistake what that is, but he will be restless for want of an unknown good. Here is the only thing that will still his heart: The bread which I give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.'

Brother and sister, this is not a matter only for social reformers, and to be dealt with as bearing upon wide movements that influence multitudes. It comes home to you and me. Some of you do not in the least degree know what I am talking about when I speak of the hunger of men's hearts; for you have lost your appetites, as children that eat too many sweets have no desire for their wholesome meals. You have lost your appetite by feeding upon garbage, and you say you are quite content. Yes, at present; but deep down there lies in your hearts a need which will awake and speak out some day; and you will find that the husks which the swine did eat are scarcely wholesome nutriment for a man. And there are some of you that turn away with disgust, and I am glad of it, from these low, gross, sensuous delights; and are trying to satisfy yourselves with education, culture, refinement, art, science, domestic love, wealth, gratified ambition, or the like. There are tribes of degraded Indians that in times of famine eat clay. There is a little nourishment in it, and it distends their stomachs, and gives them the feeling of having had a meal. And that is like what some of you do. Dear friends, will you listen to this?--Why do ye spend your money for that which is not bread?' Will you listen to this?--I am the Bread of Life,' Will you listen to this?--In this mountain will the Lord make unto all people a feast of fat things.'

II. Where does the unveiling that gives light to the world come from?

My text, as I have already remarked, emphatically repeats in this mountain' in its next clause. He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.'

Now, of course, the pathetic picture that is implied here, of a dark pall that lies over the whole world, suggests the idea of mourning, but still more emphatically, I think, that of obscuration and gloom. The veil prevents vision and shuts out light, and that is the picture of humanity as it presents itself before this prophet--a world of men entangled in the folds of a dark pall that lay over their heads, and swathed them round about, and prevented them from seeing; shut them up in darkness and entangled their feet, so that they stumbled in the gloom. It is a pathetic picture, but it does not go beyond the realities of the case. For, with all our light on other matters, with all our freedom of action, with all our frequent forgetfulness of the fact that we are thus encompassed, it remains true that, apart from the emancipation and illumination that are effected by Jesus Christ, this is the picture of mankind as they are. And you are beneath that veil, and swathed, obstructively as regards light and liberty, by its heavy folds, unless Christ has freed you.

But we must go a step further than that, I think; and although one does not wish to force too much meaning on to a poetic metaphor, still I cannot help supposing that that universal pall, as I called it, which is cast over all nations, has a very definite and a very tragic meaning. There is a universal fact of human experience which answers to the figure, and that is sin. That is the black thing whose ebon folds hamper us, and darken us, and shut out the visions of God and blessedness, and all the glorious blue above us. The heavy, dark mist settles down on the plains, though the sky above is undimmed by it, and the sun is blazing in the zenith. Not one beam can penetrate through the wet, chill obstruction, and men stumble about in the fog with lamps and torches, and all the while a hundred feet up it is brightness and day. Or, if at some points the obstruction is thinned and the sun does come through, it is shorn of all its gracious beams and power to warm and cheer, and looks but like a copper-coloured, livid, angry ball. So the veil that is spread over all nations, that awful fact of universal sinfulness, shuts out God--who is our light and our joy--from us, and no other lights or joys are more than twinkling tapers in the mist. Or it makes us see Him as men in a fog see the sun--shorn of His graciousness, threatening, wrathful, unlovely.

Brethren, the fact of universal sinfulness is the outstanding fact of humanity. Jesus Christ deals with it by His death, which is God's sacrifice and the world's atonement. That Lamb of God has borne away the world's sins, and my sins and thy sins are there. By the fact of His death He has rent the veil from the top to the bottom, and the light comes in, unhindered by the terrible solemn fact that all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. By His life He communicates to each of us, if we will trust our poor sinful souls to Him, a new power of living which is triumphant over temptation, and gives the victory over sin if we will be true to Him. And so the last shreds of the veil, like the torn clouds of a spent thunderstorm, are parted into filmy rags and float away below the horizon, leaving the untarnished heavens and the flaming sunshine; and we with unveiled faces' can lift them up to be irradiated by the light. In this mountain will the Lord destroy the covering that is spread over all nations.'

The weak point of all these schemes and methods to which I have already referred for helping humanity out of the slough, and making men happier, is that they underestimate the fact of sin. If a man comes to them and says, I have broken God's law. What am I to do? I have a power within me that impels me now to evil. How am I to get rid of it?' they have no adequate answer. There is only one remedy that deals radically with the fact of human transgression; only one power that will deliver each of us, if we will, from the penalty, the guilt, the power of sin; and that is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and its result, the inspiration of the spirit of life that was in Jesus Christ, breathed into us from the Throne itself. Thus, and thus only, is the veil done away in Christ.

III. Lastly, where does the life that destroys death come from?

He will swallow up death in victory,' or, as probably the word more correctly means, He will swallow up death for ever.' None of the other panaceas for the world's evils that I have been speaking of even attempt to deal with that Shadow feared of Man' that sits at the end of all our paths. Jesus Christ has dealt with it. Like the warrior of Judah who went down into a pit and slew a lion, He has gone down into the lair of the dreadful thing, and has come up leaving Death dead on the threshold.

By His death Christ has so altered that grim fact, which awaits us all, that to those who will trust their souls to Him it ceases to be death, even though the physical fact remains unaltered. For what is death? Is it simply the separation of soul from body, the cessation of corporeal existence? Surely not. We have to add to that all the spiritual tremors, all the dreads of passing into the unknown, and leaving this familiar order of things, and all the other reluctances and half-conscious feelings which make the difference between the death of a man and the death of a dog. And all these are swept clean away, if we believe that Jesus died, and died as our Redeemer and our Saviour. So, unconsciously and instinctively, the New Testament writers will seldom condescend to call the physical fact by the ugly old name. It has changed its character; it is a sleep' now; it is an exodus,' a going out' from the land of Egypt into a land of peace. It is a plucking up of the tent-pegs, according to another of the words which the writers employ for death, in preparation for entering, when the tabernacle is dissolved,' into a house not made with hands,' a statelier edifice, eternal in the heavens.' To die in Christ is not to die, but becomes a mere change of condition and of place, to be with Him, which is far better.' So an Apostle who was coming within measurable distance of his own martyrdom, even whilst the headsman's block was all but in his sight, said: He hath abolished death,' the physical fact remaining still.

By His resurrection Jesus Christ has established immortality as a certainty for men. I can understand a man, who has persuaded himself that when he dies he is done with, dressing his limbs to die without dread if without hope. But that is a poor victory over death, which, even in the act of getting rid of the fear of it, invests it with supreme and ultimate power over humanity. Surely, surely, to believe that the grave is a blind alley, with no exit at the other end,--to believe that, however it may minister to a quiet departure, is no victory over the grave. But to die believing, on the other hand, that it is only a short tunnel through which we pass, and come out into fairer lands on the other side of the mountains, is to conquer that last foe even while it seems to conquer us.

Jesus Christ, who died that we might never die, lives that we may always live. For His immortal life will give to each of us, if we join ourselves to Him by simple faith and lowly obedience, an immortal life that shall persist through, and be increased by, the article of bodily death. And when we pass into the higher realm of fulness of joy, then-- as Paul quotes the words of my text--shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.'

Dear brethren, gather all these thoughts together. Do they not plead with you to cast yourselves on Jesus Christ, and to turn to Him alone? He will give you the food of your souls; if you will not sit at His table you will starve. He will strip you of the covering that is cast over you, as over us all; if you will not let Him unwind its folds from your limbs, then like the clothes of a drowning man, they will sink you. He will give you immortal life, which laughs at death, and you will be able to take up the great song, O Death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?. . . Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory.' In this mountain' and in this mountain only, are the food, the illumination, the life of the world. I beseech you, do not turn away from them, lest you stumble on the dark mountains, where are starvation and gloom and death, but rather join that happy company of pilgrims who sing as they march, Come! let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.'

THE FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE

And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast.'--ISAIAH xxv. 6.

There is here a reference to Sinai, where a feast followed the vision of God. It was the sign of covenant, harmony, and relationship, and was furnished by a sacrifice.

I. The General Ideas contained in this Image of a Feast.

We meet it all through Scripture; it culminates in Christ's parables and in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.'

In the image are suggested:--

Free familiarity of access, fellowship, and communion with Him.

Abundant Supply of all wants and desires.

Festal Joy.

Family Intercommunion.

II. The Feast follows on Sacrifice. We find that usage of a feast following a sacrifice existing in many races and religions. It seems to witness to a widespread consciousness of sin as disturbing our relations with God. These could be set right only by sacrifice, which therefore must precede all joyful communion with Him.

The New Testament accepts that truth and clears it from the admixture of heathenism.

God provides the Sacrifice.

It is not brought by man. There is no need for our efforts--no atonement to be found by us. The sacrifice is not meant to turn aside God's wrath.

Communion is possible through Christ.

In Him God is revealed.

Objective hindrances are taken away.

Subjective ones are removed.

Dark fears--indifference--dislike of fellowship--Sin--these make communion with God impossible.

At Sinai the elders saw God, and did eat and drink' Here the end of the preceding chapter shows the elders' gazing on the glory of Jehovah's reign in Zion.

III. The Feast consists of a Sacrifice.

Christ is the food of our souls, He and His work are meant to nourish our whole being. He is the object for all our nature.

The Sacrifice must be incorporated with us. It is not enough that it be offered, it must also be partaken of.

Now the Sacrifice is eaten by faith, and by occupation with it of each part of our being, according to its own proper action. Through love, obedience, hope, desire, we may all feed on Jesus.

The Lord's Supper presents the same thoughts, under similar symbols, as Isaiah expressed in his prophecy.

Symbolically we feast on the sacrifice when we eat the Bread which is the Body broken for us. But the true eating of the true sacrifice is by faith. Crede et manducasti--Believe, and thou hast eaten.

THE VEIL OVER ALL NATIONS

He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.'--ISAIAH xxv. 7.

The previous chapter closes with a prediction of the reign of Jehovah in Mount Zion before His elders' in Glory. The allusion apparently is to the elders being summoned up to the Mount and seeing the Glory, as the body of heaven in its clearness.' The veil in this verse is probably a similar allusion to that which covered Moses' face. It will then be an emblem of that which obscures for all nations the face of God.' And what is that but sin?

I. Sin veils God from men's sight.

It is not the necessary inadequacy of the finite mind to conceive of the Infinite that most tragically hides God from us. That inadequacy is compatible with true and sufficient knowledge of Him. Nor is it the veils of flesh and sense,' as we often hear it said, that hide Him. But it is our sinful moral nature that darkens His face and dulls our eyes. Knowledge' of God, being knowledge of a Person, is not merely an intellectual process. It is much more truly acquaintance than comprehension; and as such, requires, as all acquaintance does, some foundation of sympathy and appreciation.

Every sin darkens the witness to God in ourselves, In a pure nature, conscience would perfectly reveal God; but we all know too sadly and intimately how it is gradually silenced, and fails to discriminate between what pleases and what displeases God. In a pure nature, the obedient Will would perfectly reveal God and the man's dependence on Him. We all know how sin weakens that.

Every sin diminishes our power of seeing Him in His external Revelation. Every sin ruffles the surface of the soul, which is a mirror reflecting the light that streams from Creation, from Providence, from History. A mass of black rock flung into a still lake shatters the images of the girdling woods and the overarching sky.

Every sin bribes us to forget God. It becomes our interest, as we fancy, to shut Him out of our thoughts. Adam's impulse is to carry his guilty secret with him into hiding among the trees of the garden. We cannot shake off His presence, but we can--and when we have sinned, we have but too good reason to exercise the power--we can dismiss the thought of Him. They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.'

Individual sins may seem of small moment, but an opaque veil can be woven out of very fine thread.

II. To veil God from our sight is fatal.

We imagine that to forget Him leaves us undisturbed in following aims disapproved by Him, and we spend effort to secure that false peace by fierce absorption in other pursuits, and impatient shaking off of all that might wake our sleeping consciousness of Him.

But what unconscious self-murder that is, which we take such pains to achieve! To know God is life eternal; to lose Him from our sight is to condemn all that is best in our nature, all that is most conducive to blessedness, tranquillity, and strenuousness in our lives, to languish and die. Every creature separated from God is cut off from the fountain of life, and loses the life it drew from the fountain, of whatever kind that life is. And that in man which is most of kin with God languishes most when so cut off. And when we have blocked Him out from our field of vision, all that remains for us to look at suffers degradation, and becomes phantasmal, poor, unworthy to detain, and impotent to satisfy, our hungry vision.

III. The Veil is done away in Christ.

He shows us God, instead of our own false conceptions of Him, which are but distorted refractions of His true likeness. Only within the limits of Christ's revelation is there knowledge of God, as distinguished from guesses, doubtful inferences, partial glimpses. Elsewhere, the greatest certitude as to Him is a peradventure' Jesus alone says Verily, verily.'

Jesus makes us able to see God.

Jesus makes us delight in seeing Him.

All dread of the steady whole of the Judge's face' is changed to the loving heart's joy in seeing its Beloved.

IV. The Veil is wholly removed hereafter.

The prophecy from which the text is taken is obviously not yet fulfilled. It waits for the perfect condition of redeemed manhood in another life. But even then, the chief reason why the Christian is warranted in cherishing an unpresumptuous hope that he will know even as he is known is not that then he will have dropped the veil of flesh and sense, but that he will have dropped the thicker, more stifling covering of sin, and, being perfectly like God, will be able perfectly to gaze on Him, and, perfectly gazing on Him, will grow ever more perfectly like Him.

The choice for each of us is whether the veil will thicken till it darkens the Face altogether, and that is death; or whether it will thin away till the last filmy remnant is gone, and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.'

THE SONG OF TWO CITIES

In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. 2. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. 3. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee. A. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength: 5. For He bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, He layeth it low; He layeth it low, even to the ground He bringeth it even to the dust. 6. The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy. 7. The way of the just is uprightness: Thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the Just. 8. Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee; the desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee. 9. With my soul have I desired Thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek Thee early: for when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. 10. Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.'--ISAIAH xxvi. 1-10.

This song' is to be interpreted as a song, not with the cold-blooded accuracy proper to a scientific treatise. The logic of emotion is as sound as that of cool intellect, but it has its own laws and links of connection. First, the song sets in sharp contrast the two cities, describing, in verses 1-4, the city of God, its strength defences, conditions of citizenship, and the peace which reigns within its walls; and in verses 5 and 6 the fall and utter ruin of the robber city, its antagonist Jerusalem, on its rocky peninsula, supplies the form of Isaiah's thought; but it is only a symbol of the true city of God, the stable, invisible, but most real, polity and order of things to which men, even while wandering lonely and pilgrims, do come, if they will. It is possible even here and now to have our citizenship in the heavens, and to feel that we belong to a great community beyond the sea of time, though our feet have never trodden its golden pavements, nor our eyes seen its happy glories.

In one aspect, it is ideal, but in truth it is more real than the intrusive and false things of this fleeting present, which call themselves realities. The things which are' are the things above. The things here are but shows and shadows.

The city's walls are salvation. There is no need to name the architect of these fortifications. One hand only can pile their strength. God appoints salvation in lieu of all visible defences. Whom He purposes to save are saved. Whom He wills to keep safe are kept safe. They who can shelter behind that strong defence need no other. Weak, sense-governed hearts may crave something more palpable, but they do not really need it. A parapet on an Alpine road gives no real security, but only satisfies imagination. The sky needs no pillars to hold it up.

Then an unknown voice breaks in upon the song, calling on unnamed attendants to fling wide the gates. The city is conceived of as empty; its destined inhabitants must have certain qualifications. They must be righteous, and must keep faithfulness' being true to the God who is faithful and true' in all His relations. None but the righteous can dwell in conscious citizenship with the Unseen while here, and none but the righteous can enter through the gates into the city. That requirement is founded in the very nature of the case, and is as emphatically proclaimed by the gospel as by the prophet. But the gospel tells more articulately than he was enlightened to do, how righteousness is to be won. The last vision of the Apocalypse, which is so like this song in its central idea, tells us of the fall of Babylon, of the descent to earth of the New Jerusalem, and leaves as its last message the great saying, Blessed are they that wash their robes that they may . . . enter in through the gate into the city.'

Our song gives some hint of similar thoughts by passing from the description of the qualifications for entrance to the celebration of the security which comes from trust. The safety which is realised within the walls of the strong city is akin to the perfect peace' in which he who trusts is kept; and the juxtaposition of the two representations is equivalent to the teaching that trust, which is precisely the same as the New Testament faith, is the condition of entrance. We know that faith makes righteous, because it opens the heart to receive God's gift of righteousness; but that effect of faith is implied rather than stated here, where security and peace are the main ideas. As some fugitives from the storm of war sit in security behind the battlements of a fortress, and scarcely hear the din of conflict in the open field below, the heart, which has taken refuge by trust in God, is kept in peace so deep that it passes description, and the singer is fain to give a notion of its completeness by calling it peace, peace.' The mind which trusts is steadied thereby, as light things lashed to a firm stay are kept steadfast, however the ship toss. The only way to get and keep fixedness of temper and spirit amid change and earthquake is to hold on to God, and then we may be stable with stability derived from the foundations of His throne to which we cling.

Therefore the song breaks into triumphant fervour of summons to all who hear it, to trust in Jab Jehovah for ever,' Such settled, perpetual trust is the only attitude corresponding to His mighty name, and to the realities found in His character. He is the Rock of Ages' the grand figure which Moses learned beneath the cliffs of Sinai and wove into his last song, and which tells us of the unchanging strength that makes a sure hiding-place for all generations, and the ample space which will hold all the souls of men, and be for a shadow from the heat, a covert from the tempest, a shelter from the foe, and a home for the homeless, with many a springing fountain in its clefts.

The great act of judgment which the song celebrates is now (vs. 5, 6) brought into contrast with the blessed picture of the city, and by the introductory for' is stated as the reason for eternal trust. The language, as it were, leaps and dances in jubilation, heaping together brief emotional and synonymous clauses. So low is the once proud city brought, that the feet of the poor tread it down. These poor' and needy' are the true Israel, the suffering saints, who had known how cruel the sway of the fallen robber city was; and now they march across its site; and its broken columns and ruined palaces strew the ground below their feet. The righteous nation' of the one picture are the poor and needy' of the other. No doubt the prophecy has had partial accomplishments more than once or twice, when the oppressed church has triumphed, and some hoary iniquity been levelled at a blow, or toppled over by slow decay. But the complete accomplishment is yet future, and not to be realised till that last act, when all antagonism shall be ended, and the net result of the weary history of the world be found to be just these two pictures of Isaiah's--the strong city of God with its happy inhabitants, and the everlasting desolations of the fallen city of confusion.

The triumphant hurry of the song pauses for a moment to gaze upon the crash, and in verse 7 gathers its lessons into a kind of proverbial saying, which is perhaps best translated The path of the just is smooth (or "plain"); Thou levellest smooth the path of the just.' To render upright' instead of smooth' seems to make the statement almost an identical proposition, and is tame. What is meant is, that, in the light of the end, the path which often seemed rough is vindicated. The judgment has showed that the righteous man's course had no unnecessary difficulties. The goal explains the road. The good man's path is smooth, not because of its own nature, but because God makes it so. We are to look for the clearing of our road, not to ourselves, nor to circumstances, but to Him; and even when it is engineered through rocks and roughnesses, to believe that He will make the rough places plain, or give us shoes of iron and brass to encounter them. Trust that when the journey is over the road will be explained, and that this reflection, which breaks the current of the swift song of the prophet, will be the abiding, happy conviction of heaven.

Lastly, the song looks back and tells how the poor and needy, in whose name the prophet speaks, had filled the dreary past, while the tyranny of the fallen city lasted, with yearning for the judgment which has now come at last. Verses 8 and 9 breathe the very spirit of patient longing and meek hope. There is a certain tone of triumph in that Yea,' as if the singer would point to the great judgment now accomplished, as vindicating the long, weary hours of hope deferred. That for which the poor and needy' wait is the coming in the path of Thy judgments.' The attitude of expectance is as much the duty and support of Christians as of Israel. We have a greater future clearer before us than they had. The world needs God's coming in judgment more than ever; and it says little for either the love to God or the benevolence towards man of average Christians, that they should know so little of that yearning of soul which breathes through so much of the Old Testament. For the glory of God and the good of men, we should have the desire of our souls turned to His manifestation of Himself in His righteous judgments. It was no personal end which bred the prophet's yearning. True, the night' round him was dreary enough, and sorrow lay black on his people and himself; but it was God's name' and memorial' that was uppermost in his desires. That is to say, the chief object of the devout soul's longings should be the glory of God's revealed character. And the deepest reason for wishing that He would flash forth from His hiding-place in judgments, is because such an apocalypse is the only way by which wilfully blind eyes can be made to see, and wilfully unrighteous hearts can be made to practise righteousness.

Isaiah believed in the wholesome effect of terror. His confidence in the power of judgments to teach the obstinate corresponds to the Old Testament point of view, and contains a truth for all points of view; but it is not the whole truth. We know only too well that sorrows and judgments do not work infallibly, and that men being often reproved, harden their necks.' We know, too, more clearly than any prophet of old could know, that the last arrow in God's quiver is not some unheard-of awfulness of judgment, but an unspeakable gift of love, and that if that favour shown to the wicked' in the life and death of God's Son does not lead him to learn righteousness,' nothing else will.

But while this is true, the prophet's aspirations are founded on the facts of human nature too, and judgments do sometimes startle those whom kindness had failed to touch. It is an awful thought that human nature may so steel itself against the whole armoury of divine weapons as that favour and severity are equally blunted, and the heart remains unpierced by either. It is an awful thought that there may be induced such truculent obstinacy of love of evil that, even when in a land of uprightness,' a man shall choose evil, and forcibly shut his eyes, that he may not see the majesty of the Lord, which he does not wish to see because it condemns his choice, and threatens to burn up him and his work together. A blasted tree when all the woods are green, a fleece dry when all around is rejoicing in the dew, a window dark when the whole city is illuminated, one black sheep amid the white flock, or anything else anomalous and alone in its evil, is less tragic than the sight, so common, of a man so sold to sin that the presence of good only makes him angry and restless. It is possible to dwell amidst the full light of Christian truth, and in a society moulded by its precepts, and to be unblessed, unsoftened thereby. If not softened, then hardened; and the wicked who in the land of uprightness deals wrongfully is all the worse for the light which he hated because it showed him the sinfulness of the sin which he obstinately loved and would keep.

OUR STRONG CITY

In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.'--ISAIAH xxvi. 1-2.

What day is that day'? The answer carries us back a couple of chapters, to the great picture drawn by the prophet of a world-wide judgment, which is followed by a burst of song from the ransomed people of Jehovah, like Miriam's chant by the shores of the Red Sea. The city of confusion,' the centre of the power hostile to God and man, falls; and its fall is welcomed by a chorus of praises. The words of my text are the beginning of one of these songs. Whether or not there were any historical event which floated before the prophet's mind is wholly uncertain. If there were a smaller judgment upon some city of the enemy, it passes in his view into a world-wide judgment; and my text is purely ideal, imaginative, and apocalyptic. Its nearest ally is the similar vision of the Book of the Revelation, where, when Babylon sank with a splash like a millstone in the stream, the ransomed people raised their praises.

So, then, whatever may have been the immediate horizon of the prophet, and though, there may have stood on it some historical event, the city which he sees falling is other than any material Babylon, and the strong city in which he rejoices is other than the material Jerusalem, though it may have suggested the metaphor of my text. The song fits our lips quite as closely as it did the lips from which it first sprang, thrilling with triumph: We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.'

There are three things, then, here: the city, its defences, its citizens.

I. The City.

Now, no doubt the prophet was thinking of the literal Jerusalem; but the city is ideal, as is shown by the bulwarks which defend, and by the qualifications which permit entrance. And so we must pass beyond the literalities of Palestine, and, as I think, must not apply the symbol to any visible institution or organisation if we are to come to the depth and greatness of the meaning of these words. No church which is organised amongst men can be the New Testament representation of this strong city. And if the explanation is to be looked for in that direction at all, it can only be the invisible aggregate of ransomed souls which is regarded as being the Zion of the prophecy.

But perhaps even that is too definite and hard. And we are rather to think of the unseen but existent order of things or polity to which men here on earth may belong, and which will one day, after shocks and convulsions that shatter all which is merely institutional and human, be manifested still more gloriously.

The central thought that was moving in the prophet's mind is that of the indestructible vitality of the true Israel, and the order which it represented, of which Jerusalem on its rock was but to him a symbol. And thus for us the lesson is that, apart altogether from the existing and visible order of things in which we dwell, there is a polity to which we may belong, for ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God,' and that that order is indestructible. Convulsions come, every Babylon falls, all human institutions change and pass. The kingdoms old' are cast into another mould.' But persistent through them all, and at the last, high above them all, will stand the stable polity of Heaven, the city which hath the foundations.'

There is a lesson for us, brethren, in times of fluctuation, of change of opinion, of shaking of institutions, and of new social, economical, and political questions, threatening day by day to reorganise society. We have a strong city' and whatever may come--and much destructive will come, and much that is venerable and antique, rooted in men's prejudices, and having survived through and oppressed the centuries, will have to go; but God's polity, His form of human society of which the perfect ideal and antitype, so to speak, lies concealed in the heavens, is everlasting. Therefore, whatsoever changes, whatsoever ancient and venerable things come to be regarded as of no account, howsoever the nations, like clay in the hands of the potter, may have to assume new forms, as certainly they will, yet the foundation of God standeth sure. And for Christian men in revolutionary epochs, whether these revolutions affect the forms in which truth is grasped, or whether they affect the moulds into which society is run, the only worthy temper is the calm, triumphant expectation that through all the dust, contradiction, and distraction, the fair city of God will be brought nearer and made more manifest to man. Isaiah, or whoever was the writer of these great words of my text, stayed his own and his people's hearts in a time of confusion and distress, by the thought that it was only Babylon that could fall, and that Jerusalem was the possessor of a charmed, immortal life.

This strong city, the order of human society which God has appointed, and which exists, though it be hidden in the heavens, will be manifested one day when, like the fair vision of the goddess rising from amidst the ocean's foam, and shedding peace and beauty over the charmed waves, there will emerge from all the wild confusion and tossing billows of the sea of the peoples the fair form of the Bride, the Lamb's wife.' There shall be an apocalypse of the city, and whether the old words which catch up the spirit of my text, and speak of that Holy City as descending from heaven' upon earth, at the close of the history of the world, are to be taken, as perhaps they are, as expressive of the truth that a renewed earth is to be the dwelling of the ransomed or no, this at least is clear, that the city shall be revealed, and when Babylon is swept away, Zion shall stand.

To this city--existent, immortal, and waiting to be revealed--you and I may belong to-day. We have a strong city.' You may lay hold of life either by the side of it which is transient and trivial and contemptible, or by the side of it which goes down through all the mutable and is rooted in eternity. As in some seaweed, far out in the depths of the ocean, the tiny frond that floats upon the billow goes down and down and down, by filaments that bind it to the basal rock, so the most insignificant act of our fleeting days has a hold upon eternity, and life in all its moments may be knit to the permanent. We may unite our lives with the surface of time or with the centre of eternity. Though we dwell in tabernacles, we may still be come to Mount Zion,' and all life be awful, noble, solemn, religions, because it is all connected with the unseen city across the seas. It is for us to determine to which of these orders--the perishable, noisy and intrusive and persistent in its appeals, or the calm, silent, most real, eternal order beyond the stars--our petty lives shall attach themselves.

II. Now note, secondly, the defences.

Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.' This evangelical prophet,' as he has been called, is distinguished, not only by the clearness of his anticipations of Jesus Christ and His work, but by the fulness and depth which he attaches to that word salvation.' He all but anticipates the New Testament completeness and fulness of meaning, and lifts it from all merely material associations of earthly or transitory deliverance, into the sphere in which we are accustomed to regard it as especially moving. By salvation' he means and we mean, not only negative but positive blessings. Negatively it includes the removal of every conceivable or endurable evil, all the ills that flesh is heir to,' whether they be evils of sin or evils of sorrow; and, positively, the investiture with every possible good that humanity is capable of, whether it be good of goodness, or good of happiness. This is what the prophet tells us is the wall and bulwark of his ideal-real city.

Mark the eloquent omission of the name of the builder of the wall. God' is a supplement. Salvation will He appoint for walls and bulwarks.' No need to say who it is that flings such a fortification around the city. There is only one hand that can trace the lines of such walls; only one hand that can pile their stones; only one that can lay them, as the walls of Jericho were laid, in the blood of His first-born Son. Salvation will He appoint for walls and bulwarks.' That is to say in a highly imaginative and picturesque form, that the defense of the City is God Himself; and it is substantially a parallel with other words which speak about Him as being a wall of fire round about it and the glory in the midst of it.' The fact of salvation is the wall and the bulwark. And the consciousness of the fact and the sense of possessing it, is for our poor hearts, one of our best defenses against both the evil of sin and the evil of sorrow. For nothing so robs temptation of its power, so lightens the pressure of calamities, and draws the poison from the fangs of sin and sorrow, as the assurance that the loving purpose of God to save grasps and keeps us. They who shelter behind that wall, feel that between them and sin, and them and sorrow, there rises the inexpugnable defense of an Almighty purpose and power to save, lie safe whatever betides. There is no need of other defenses. Zion

Needs no bulwarks, No towers along the steep.'

God Himself is the shield and none other is required.

So, brethren, let us walk by the faith that is always confident, though it depends on an unseen hand. It is a grand thing to be able to stand, as it were, in the open, a mark for all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' and yet to feel that around us there are walls most real, though invisible, which permit no harm to come to us. Our feeble sense-bound souls much prefer a visible wall. We, like a handrail on the stair. Though it does not at all guard the descent, it keeps our heads from getting dizzy. It is hard for us, as some travellers may have to do, to walk with steady foot and unthrobbing heart along a narrow ledge of rock with beetling precipice above us and black depths beneath, and we would like a little bit of a wall of some sort, for imagination if not for reality, between us and the sheer descent. But it is blessed to learn that naked we are clothed, solitary we have a Companion, and unarmed we have our defenceless heads covered with the shadow of the great wing, which, though sense sees it not, faith knows is there. A servant of God is never without a friend, and when most unsheltered

From marge to blue marge The whole sky grows his targe, With sun's self for visible boss,'

beneath which he lies safe.

Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks,' and if we realise, as we ought to do, His purpose to keep us safe, and His power to keep us safe, and the actual operation of His hand keeping us safe at every moment, we shall not ask that these defences shall be supplemented by the poor feeble earthworks that sense can throw up.

III. Lastly, note the citizens.

Our text is part of a song,' and is not to be interpreted in the cold-blooded fashion that might suit prose. A voice, coming from whom we know not, breaks in upon the first strain with a command, addressed to whom we know not--Open ye the gates'--the city thus far being supposed to be empty--that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.' The central idea there is just this, Thy people shall be all righteous.' The one qualification for entrance into the city is absolute purity.

Now, brethren, that is true in regard to our present imperfect denizenship within the city; and it is true in regard to men's passing into it in its perfect and final form. As to the former, there is nothing that you Christian people need more to have dinned into you than this, that your continuance in the state of a redeemed man, with all the security and blessing that attach thereto, depends upon your continuing to be righteous. Every sin, every flaw, every dropping beneath our own standard in conscience of what we ought to be, has for its inevitable result that we are robbed for the time being of consciousness of the walls of the city being about us and of our being citizens thereof. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?' The New Testament, as emphatically as the old psalm, answers,' He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.' Let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous.' There is no way by which Christian men here on earth can pass into and keep within the city of the living God, except they possess personal purity, righteousness of life, and cleanness of heart.

They used to say that Venice glass was so made that any poison poured into it shivered the vessel. Any drop of sin poured into your cup of communion with God, shatters the cup and spills the wine. Whosoever thinks himself a citizen of that great city, if he falls into transgression, and soils the cleanness of his hands, and ruffles the calm of his pure heart by self-willed sinfulness, will wake to find himself not within the battlements, but lying wounded, robbed, solitary, in the pitiless desert. My brother, it is the righteous nation' that enters in,' even here on earth.

I do not need to remind you how, admittedly by us all, that is the case in regard to the final form of the city of our God, into which nothing shall enter that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie.' Heaven can only be entered into hereafter by, as here and now it can only enter into, those who are pure of heart. All else there would shrivel as foul things born In the darkness do in the light, and be consumed in the fire. None but the pure can enter and see God.

The nation which keepeth the truth'--that does not mean adherence to any revelation, or true creed, or the like. The word which is employed means, not truth of thought, but truth of character; and might, perhaps, be better represented by the more familiar word in such a connection, faithfulness.' A man who is true to God, keeping up a faithful relation to Him who is faithful to us, he, and only he, will pass into, and abide in, the city.

Now, brethren, so far our text carries us, but no further; unless, perhaps, there may be a hint of something yet deeper in the next clause of this song. If any one asks, How does the nation become righteous? the answer may lie in the immediately following exhortation--Trust ye in the Lord for ever.' But whether that be so or not, if we want an answer to the questions, How can my stained feet be cleansed so as to be fit to tread the crystal pavements? how can my foul garments be so purged as not to be a blot and an eyesore, beside the white, lustrous robes that sweep along them and gather no defilement there? the only answer that I know of is to be found by turning to the final visions of the New Testament, where the spirit of this whole section of our prophet is reproduced. Again, Babylon falls amidst the songs of saints; and then, down upon all the dust and confusion of the crash of ruin, the seer beholds the Lamb's wife, the new Jerusalem, descending from above. To his happy eyes its glories are unveiled, its golden streets, its open gates, its walls of precious stones, its flashing river, its peaceful inhabitants, its light streaming from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And when that vision passes, his last message to us is, Blessed are they that wash their robes that they may enter through the gates into the city.' None but those who wash their garments, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, can, living, come unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; or, dying, can pass through the iron gate that opens to them of its own accord, and find themselves as day breaks in the street of the Jerusalem which is above.

THE INHABITANT OF THE ROCK

Thou wilt keep him In perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.'--ISAIAH xxvi. 3-4.

There is an obvious parallel between these verses and the two preceding ones. The safety which was there set forth as the result of dwelling in the strong city is here presented as the consequence of trust. The emblem of the fortified place passes into that of the Rock of Ages. There is the further resemblance in form, that, just as in the two preceding verses we had the triumphant declaration of security followed by a summons to some unknown persons to open the gates,' so here we have the triumphant declaration of perfect peace, followed by a summons to all to trust in the Lord for ever.' If we may suppose the invocation of the preceding verses to be addressed to the watchers at the gate of the strong city, it is perhaps not too fanciful to suppose that the invitation in my text is the watcher's answer, pointing the way by which men may pass into the city.

Whether that be so or no, at all events I take it as by no means accidental that, immediately upon the statement of the Old Testament law that righteousness alone admits to the presence of God, there follows so clear and emphatic an anticipation of the great New Testament Gospel that faith is the condition of righteousness, and that immediately after hearing that only the righteous nation which keepeth the truth' can enter there, we hear the merciful call, Trust ye in the Lord for ever.' So, then, I think we have in the words before us, though not formally yet really, very large teaching as to the nature, the object, the blessed effects, and the universal duty of that trust in the Lord which makes the very nexus between man and God, according to the teaching of the New Testament.

I. First, then, I desire to notice in a sentence the insight into the true nature of trust or faith given by the word employed here.

Now the literal meaning of the expression here rendered to trust' is to lean upon anything. As we say, trust is reliance. As a weak man might stay his faltering, tottering steps upon some strong staff, or might lean upon the outstretched arm of a friend, so we, conscious of our weakness, aware of our faltering feet, and realising the roughness of the road, and the smallness of our strength, may lay the whole weight of ourselves upon the loving strength of Jehovah.

And that is the trust of the Old Testament, the faith of the New--the simple act of reliance, going out of myself to find the basis of my being, forsaking myself to touch and rest upon the ground of my security, passing from my own weakness and laying my trembling hand into the strong hand of God, like some weak-handed youth on a coach-box who turns to a stronger beside him and says: Take thou the reins, for I am feeble to direct or to restrain.' Trust is reliance, and reliance is always blessedness.

II. Notice, secondly, the steadfast peacefulness of trust.

Now there are difficulties about the rendering and precise significance of the first verse of my text with which I do not need to trouble you. The Authorised Version, and still more perhaps the Revised Version, give substantially, as I take it, the prophet's meaning; and the margin of the Revised Version is still more literal and accurate than the text, A steadfast mind Thou keepest in perfect peace, because it trusteth in Thee.' If this, then, be the true meaning of the words, you observe that it is the steadfast mind, steadfast because it trusts, which God keeps In the deep peace that is expressed by the reduplication of the word.

And if we break up that complex thought into its elements, it just comes to this, first, that trust makes steadfastness. Most men's lives are blown about by winds of circumstance, directed by gusts of passion, shaped by accidents, and are fragmentary and jerky, like some ship at sea with nobody at the helm, heading here and there, as the force of the wind or the flow of the current may carry them. If my life is to be steadied, there must not only be a strong hand at the tiller, but some outward object which shall be for me the point of aim and the point of rest. No man can steady his life except by clinging to a holdfast without himself. Some of us look for that stay in the fluctuations and fleetingnesses of creatures; and some of us are wiser and saner, and look for it in the steadfastness of the unchanging God. The men who do the former are the sport of circumstances, and the slaves of their own natures, and there is no consistency in noble aim and effort throughout their lives, corresponding to their circumstances, relations, and nature. Only they who stay themselves upon God, and get down through all the superficial shifting strata of drift and gravel, to the base-rock, are steadfast and solid.

My brother, if you desire to govern yourself, you must let God govern you. If you desire to be firm, you must draw your firmness from the unchangingness of that divine nature which you grasp. How can a willow be stiffened into an iron pillar? Only--if I might use such a violent metaphor--when it receives into its substance the iron particles that it draws from the soil in which it is rooted. How can a bit of thistledown be kept motionless amidst the tempest? Only by being glued to something that is fixed. What do men do with light things on deck when the ship is pitching? Lash them to a fixed point. Lash yourselves to God by simple trust, and then you will partake of His serene immutability in such fashion as it is possible for the creature to participate in the attributes of the Creator.

And then, still further, the steadfast mind--steadfast because it trusts--is rewarded in that it is kept by God. It is no mere mistake in the order of his thought which leads this prophet to allege that it is the steadfast mind which God keeps. For, though it is true, on the one hand, that the real fixity and solidity of a human character come more surely and fully through trust in God than by any other means, on the other hand it is true that, in order to receive the full blessed effects of trust into our characters and lives, we must persistently and doggedly keep on in the attitude of confidence. If a man holds out to God a tremulous hand with a shaking cup in it, which Le sometimes presents and sometimes twitches back, it is not to be expected that God will pour the treasure of His grace into such a vessel, with the risk of most of it being spilt upon the ground. There must be a steadfast waiting if there is to be a continual flow.

It is the mind that cleaves to God which God keeps. I suppose that there was floating before Paul's thoughts some remembrance of this great passage of the evangelical prophet when he uttered his words, which ring so strikingly with so many echoes of them, when he said, The peace of God which passeth understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' It is the steadfast mind that is kept in perfect peace. If we keep ourselves,' by that divine help which is always waiting to be given,' in the' faith and love of God,' He will keep us in the hour of temptation, will keep us from falling, and will garrison our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And then, still further, this faithful, steadfast heart and mind, kept by God, is a mind filled with deepest peace. There is something very beautiful in the prophet's abandoning the attempt to find any adjective of quality which adequately characterises the peace of which he has been speaking. He falls back upon the expedient which is the confession of the impotence of human speech worthily to portray its subject when he simply says, Thou shalt keep in peace, peace . . . because he trusteth in Thee.' The reduplication expresses the depth, the completeness of the tranquillity which flows into the heart, Such continuity, wave after wave, or rather ripple after ripple, is possible even for us. For, dear brethren, the possession of this deep, unbroken peace does not depend on the absence of conflict, on distraction, trouble, or sorrow, but on the presence of God. If we are in touch with Him, then our troubled days may be calm, and beneath all the surface tumult there may be a centre of rest. The garrison in some high hill-fortress looks down upon the open where the enemy's ranks are crawling like insects across the grass, and scarcely hears the noise of the tumult, and no arrow can reach the lofty hold. So, up in God we may dwell at rest whate'er betide. Strange that we should prefer to live down amongst the unwalled villages, which every spoiler can harry and burn, when we might climb, and by the might and the magic of trust in the Lord bring round about ourselves a wall of fire which shall consume the poison out of the evil, even whilst it permits the sorrow to do its beneficent work upon us!

III. Note again the worthiness of the divine Name to evoke, and the power of the divine character to reward, the trust.

We pass to the last words of my text:--In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.'

Now I suppose we all know that the words feebly rendered in the Authorised Version everlasting strength' are literally the Rock of Ages' and that this verse is the source of that hallowed figure which, by one of the greatest of our English hymns, is made familiar and immortal to all English-speaking people.

But there is another peculiarity about the words on which I dwell for a moment, and that is, that here we have, for one of the only two times in which the expression occurs in Scripture, the great name of Jehovah reduplicated. In Jab Jehovah is the Rock of Ages.' In the former verse the prophet had given up in despair the attempt to characterise the peace which God gave, and fallen back upon the expedient of naming it twice over. In this verse, with similar eloquence of reticence, he abandons the attempt to describe or characterise that great Name, and in adoration, contents himself with twice taking it upon his lips, in order to impress what he cannot express, the majesty and the sufficiency of that name.

What, then, is the force of that name? We do not need, I suppose, to do more than simply remind you that there are two great thoughts communicated by that self-revelation of God which lies in it. Jehovah, in its literal grammatical signification, puts emphasis upon the absolute, underived, and therefore unlimited, unconditioned, unchangeable, eternal being of God. I AM THAT I AM.' Men and creatures are what they are made, are what they become, and some time or other cease to be what they were. But God is what He is, and is because He is. He is the Source, the Motive, the Law, the Sustenance of His own Being; and changeless and eternal He is for ever. In that name is the Rock of Ages.

That mighty name, by its place in the history of Revelation, conveys to us still further thoughts, for it is the name of the God who entered into covenant with His ancient people, and remains bound by His covenant to bless us. That Is to say, He hath not left us in darkness as to the methods and purpose of His dealings with us, or as to the attitude of His heart towards us. He has bound Himself by solemn words, and by deeds as revealing as words. So we can reckon on God. To use a vulgarism which is stripped of its vulgarity if employed reverently, as I would do it--we know where to have Him. He has given us the elements to calculate His orbit; and we are sure that the calculation will come right. So, because the name flashes upon men the thought of an absolute Being, eternal, and all-sufficient, and self-modified, and changeless, and because it reveals to us the very inmost heart of the mystery, and makes it possible for us to forecast the movements of this great Sun of our heavens, therefore in the name Jab Jehovah is the Bock of Ages.'

The metaphor needs no expansion. We understand that it conveys the idea of unchangeable defence. As the cliffs tower above the river that swirls at their base, and takes centuries to eat the faintest line upon their shining surface, so the changeless God rises above the stream of time, of which the brief breakers are human lives, sparkling, bursting, borne away.' They who fasten themselves to that Rock are safe in its unchangeable strength, God the Unchangeable is the amulet against any change, that is not growth, in the lives of those who trust Him. Some of us may recall some great precipice rising above the foliage, which stands to-day as it did when we were boys, unwasted in its silent strength, while generations of leaves have opened and withered at its base, and we have passed from childhood to age. Thus, unaffected by the transiency that changes all beneath, God rises, the Bock of Ages in whom we may trust. The conies are a feeble folk, but they make their houses in the rocks.' So our weakness may house itself there and be at rest.

IV. Lastly, note the summons to trust.

We know not whose voice it is that is heard in the last words of my text, but we know to whose ears it is addressed. It is to all. Trust ye in the Lord for ever.'

Surely, surely the blessed effects of trust, of which we have been speaking, have a voice of merciful invitation summoning us to exercise it. The promise of peace appeals to the deepest, though often neglected and misunderstood, longings of the human heart. Inly we sigh for that repose.' O dear brethren, if it is true that into our agitated and struggling lives there may steal, and in them there may abide, this priceless blessing of a great tranquillity, surely nothing else should be needed to woo us to accept the conditions and put forth the trust. It is strange that we should turn away, as we are all tempted to do, from that rest in God, and try to find repose in what was only meant for stimulus, and is altogether incapable of imparting rest. Storms live in the lower regions of the atmosphere; get up higher and there is peace. Waves dash and break on the surface region of the ocean; get down deeper, nearer the heart of things, and again there is peace.

Surely the name of the Bock of Ages is an invitation to us to put our trust in Him. If a man knew God as He is, he could not choose but trust Him. It is because we have blackened His face with our own doubts, and darkened His character with the mists that rise from our own sinful hearts, that we have made that bright Sun in the heavens, which ought to fall upon our hearts with healing in its beams, into a lurid ball of fire that shines threatening through the dim obscurity of our misty hearts. But if we knew Him we should love Him, and if we would only listen to His own self-revelation, we should find that He draws us to Himself by the manifestation of Himself, as the sun binds all the planets to his mass and his flame by the eradiation of his own mystic energies.

The summons is a summons to a faith corresponding to that upon which it is built. Trust ye in the Lora for ever, for in the Lord is the strength that endures for ever.' Our continual faith is the only fit response to His unchanging faithfulness. Build rock upon rock.

The summons is a summons addressed to us all. Trust ye'--whoever ye are--in the Lord for ever.' You and I, dear friends, hear the summons in a yet more beseeching and tender voice than was audible to the prophet, for our faith has a nobler object, and may have a mightier operation, seeing that its object is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world' and its operation, to bring to us peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When from the Cross there comes to all our hearts the merciful invitation, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' why should not we each answer,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee'?

THE GRASP THAT BRINGS PEACE

Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me; yea, let him make peace with Me.'--ISAIAH xxvii. 5.

Lyrical emotion makes the prophet's language obscure by reason of its swift transitions from one mood of feeling to another. But the main drift here is discernible. God is guarding Israel, His vineyard, and before Him its foes are weak as thorns and briers,' whose end is to be burned. With daring anthropomorphism, the prophet puts into God's mouth a longing for the enemies to measure their strength against His, a warrior's eagerness for the fight. But at once this martial tone gives place to the tender invitation of the text, and the infinite divine willingness to be reconciled to the enemy speaks wooingly and offers conditions of peace. All this has universal application to our relations to God.

I. The Hostility.

That our relations with God are strained,' and that men are enemies of God,' is often repelled as exaggeration, if not as directly false. And, no doubt, the Scripture representation has often been so handled as to become caricature rather than portraiture. Scripture does not deny the lingering presence in men of goodness, partial and defective, nor does it assert that conscious antagonism to God is active in godless men. But it does assert that God is not in all their thoughts,' and that their wills are not subject to the law of God.' And in such a case as man's relations to God, indifference and forgetfulness cannot but rest upon divergence of will and contrast of character. Why do men not like to retain God in their knowledge, but because they feel that the thought of Him would spoil the feast, like the skeleton in the banqueting chamber? Beneath the apparent indifference lie opposition of will, meeting God's Thou shalt' with man's I will not' opposition of moral nature, impurity shrinking from perfect purity; opposition of affection, the warmth of human love being diverted to other objects than God.

II. The entreating Love that is not turned aside by hostility.

The antagonism is wholly on man's part.

True, man's opposition necessarily turns certain sides of the divine character to present a hostile front to him. Not only God's physical attributes, if we may so call them, but the moral attributes which guide the energies of these, namely, His holiness and His righteousness, and the acts of His sovereignty which flow from these, must be in opposition to the man who has set himself in opposition to God. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil.' If it were not, He would not be God.

But still, God's love enfolds all men in its close and tender clasp. As the context says, in close connection with the threat to burn the briers and thorns, Fury is not in Me.' Man's hostility does not rouse God's. He wars against the sin because He still loves the sinner. His love must come with a rod,' but, at the same time, it comes with the spirit of meekness.' It gives its enemy all that it can; but it cannot give all that it would.

He stoops to sue for our amity. It is the creditor who exhausts beseechings on His debtor, so much does He wish to agree with His adversary quickly.' The tender pleading of the Apostle was but a faint echo of the marvellous condescension of God, when he, in God's stead, besought: Be ye reconciled to God.'

III. The grasp which ends alienation.

The word for strength' here means a stronghold or fortified place, which serves as an asylum or refuge. There may be some mingling of an allusion to the fugitive's taking hold of the horns of the altar, and so being safe from the vengeance of his pursuers. If we may take this double metaphor as implied in the text, it vividly illustrates the essence of the faith which brings us into peace with God. That faith is the flight of the soul to God, and, in another aspect, it is the clinging of the soul to Him. How much more these two metaphors tell of the real nature of faith than many a theological treatise! They speak of the urgency of the peril from which it seeks deliverance. A fugitive with the hot breath of the avenger of blood panting behind him, and almost feeling the spear-point in his back, would not let the grass grow under his feet. They speak of the energetic clutch of faith, as that of the man gripping the horns of the altar. They suggest that faith is something much more vital than intellectual assent or credence, namely, an act of the whole man realising his need and casting himself on God.

And they set in clear light what is the connection between faith and salvation. It is not the hand that grasps the altar that secures safety, but the altar itself. It is not the flight to the fortress, but the massive walls themselves, which keeps those who hunt after the fugitive at bay. It is not my faith, but the God on whom my faith fastens, that brings peace to my conscience.

IV. The peace that this grasp brings.

In Christ God has put away all His wrath, and turned Himself from the fierceness of His anger.' And He was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. It is a one-sided warfare that men wage with Him, and when we abandon our opposition to Him, the war is ended. We might say that God, clasped by faith and trusted in and loved, is the asylum from God opposed and feared. His moral nature must be against evil, but faith unites us to Jesus, and, by union with Him, we receive the germ of a nature which has no affinity with evil, and which God wholly delights in and loves. To those who live by the life, and growingly bear the image of His Son, the divine Nature turns a face all bright and favouring, and His moral and physical attributes are all enlisted on their side. The fortress looks grim to outsiders gazing up at its strong walls and frowning battlements, but to dwellers within, these give security, and in its inmost centre is a garden, with flowers and a springing fountain, whither the noise of fighting never penetrates. We have but to cease to be against Him, and to grasp the facts of His love as revealed in the Cross of Christ, the sacrifice who taketh away the sin of the world, and we are at peace with God. Being at peace with Him, the discords of our natures warring against themselves are attuned into harmony, and we are at peace within. And when God and we are at one, and we are at one with ourselves, then all things will be on our side, and will work together for good. To such a man the ancient promise will be fulfilled: Thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.'

THE JUDGMENT OF DRUNKARDS AND MOCKERS

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine! 2. Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which, as a tempest of hail, and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. 3. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: 4. And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up. 5. In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of His people. 6. And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate. 7. But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way: the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. 9. Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: 11. For with stammering lips, and another tongue, will He speak to this people. 12. To whom He said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. 13. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.'--ISAIAH xxviii. 1-13.

This prophecy probably falls in the first years of Hezekiah, when Samaria still stood, and the storm of war was gathering black in the north. The portion included in the text predicts the fall of Samaria (verses 1-6) and then turns to Judah, which is guilty of the same sins as the northern capital, and adds to them mockery of the prophet's message. Isaiah speaks with fiery indignation and sharp sarcasm. His words are aflame with loathing of the moral corruption of both kingdoms, and he fastens on the one common vice of drunkenness--not as if it were the only sin, but because it shows in the grossest form the rottenness underlying the apparent beauty.

I. The woe on Samaria (verses 1-6). Travellers are unanimous in their raptures over the fertility and beauty of the valley in which Samaria stood, perched on its sunny, fruitful hill, amid its vineyards. The situation of the city naturally suggests the figure which regards it as a sparkling coronet or flowery wreath, twined round the brows of the hill; and that poetical metaphor is the more natural, since revellers were wont to twist garlands in their hair, when they reclined at their orgies. The city is the crown of pride'--that is, the object of boasting and foolish confidence--and is also the fading flower of his sparkling ornament' that is, the flower which is the ornament of Ephraim, but is destined to fade.

The picture of the city passes into that of the drunken debauch, where the chief men of Samaria sprawl, smitten down' by wine, and with the innocent flowers on their hot temples drooping in the fumes of the feast. But bright and sunny as the valley is, glittering in the light as the city sits on her hill, careless and confident as the revellers are, a black cloud lies on the horizon, and one of the terrible sudden storms which such lands know comes driving up the valley. The Lord hath a mighty and strong one'--the conqueror from the north, who is God's instrument, though he knows it not.

The swift, sudden, irresistible onslaught of the Assyrian is described, in harmony with the figure of the flowery coronal, as a tempest which beats down the flowers and flings the sodden crown to the ground. The word rendered tempest' is graphic, meaning literally a downpour.' First comes hail, which batters the flowers to shreds; then the effect of the storm is described as destruction,' and then the hurrying words turn back to paint the downpour of rain, mighty' from its force in falling, and overflowing' from its abundance, which soon sets all the fields swimming with flood water. What chance has a poor twist of flowers in such a storm? Its beauty will be marred, and all the petals beaten off, and nothing remains but that it should be trampled into mud. The rush of the prophet's denunciation is swift and irresistible as the assault it describes, and it flashes from one metaphor to another without pause. The fertility of the valley of Samaria shapes the figures. As the picture of the flowery chaplet, so that which follows of the early fig, is full of local colour. A fig in June is a delicacy, which is sure to be plucked and eaten as soon as seen. Such a dainty, desirable morsel will Samaria be, as sweet and as little satisfying to the all-devouring hunger of the Assyrian.

But storms sweep the air clear, and everything will not go down before this one. The flower fadeth, but there is a chaplet of beauty which men may wreathe round their heads, which shall bloom for ever. All sensuous enjoyment has its limits in time, as well as in nobleness and exquisiteness; but when it is all done with, the beauty and festal ornament which truly crowns humanity shall smell sweet and blossom. The prophecy had regard simply to the issue of the historical disaster to which it pointed, and it meant that, after the storm of Assyrian conquest, there would still be, for the servants of God, the residue of the people, both in Israel and in Judah, a fuller possession of the blessings which descend on the men who make God their portion. But the principle involved is for ever true. The sweeping away of the perishable does draw true hearts nearer to God.

So the two halves of this prophecy give us eternal truths as to the certain destruction awaiting the joys of sense, and the permanence of the beauty and strength which belong to those who take God for their portion.

Drunkenness seems to have been a national sin in Israel; for Micah rebukes it as vehemently as Isaiah, and it is a clear bit of Christian duty in England to-day to set the trumpet to thy mouth and show the people' this sin. But the lessons of the prophecy are wider than the specific form of evil denounced. All setting of affection and seeking of satisfaction in that which, in all the pride of its beauty, is a fading flower,' is madness and sin. Into every life thus turned to the perishable will come the crash of the destroying storm, the mutterings of which might reach the ears of the feasters, if they were not drunk with the fumes of their deceiving delights. Only one kind of life has its roots in that which abides, and is safe from tempest and change. Amaranthine flowers bloom only in heaven, and must be brought thence, if they are to garland earthly foreheads. If we take God for ours, then whatever tempests may howl, and whatever fragile though fragrant joys may be swept away, we shall find in Him all that the world fails to give to its votaries. He is a crown of glory' and a diadem of beauty.' Our humanity is never so fair as when it is made beautiful by the possession of Him. All that sense vainly seeks in earth, faith finds in God. Not only beauty, but a spirit of judgment,' in its narrower sense and in its widest, is breathed into those to whom God is the master light of all their seeing' and, yet more, He is strength to all who have to fight. Thus the close union of trustful souls with God, the actual inspiration of these, and the perfecting of their nature from communion with God, are taught us in the great words, which tell how beauty, justice, and strength are all given in the gift of Jehovah Himself to His people.

II. The prophet turns to Judah (vs. 7-13), and charges them with the same disgusting debauchery. His language is vehement in its loathing, and describes the filthy orgies of those who should have been the guides of the people with almost painful realism. Note how the words reel' and stagger' are repeated, and also the words wine' and strong drink.' We see the priests' and prophets' unsteady gait, and then they stumble' or fall. There they lie amid the filth, like hogs in a sty. It is very coarse language, but fine words are the Devil's veils for coarse sins; and it is needful sometimes to call spades spades, and not to be ashamed to tell men plainly how ugly are the vices which they are not ashamed to commit. No doubt some of the drunken priests and false prophets in Jerusalem thought Isaiah extremely vulgar and indelicate, in talking about staggering teachers and tables swimming in vomit.' But he had to speak out. So deep was the corruption that the officials were tipsy even when engaged in their official duties, the prophets reeled while they were seeing visions; the judges could not sit upright even when pronouncing judgment.

Verses 9 and 10 are generally taken as a sarcastic quotation of the drunkards' scoffs at the prophet. They might be put in inverted commas. Their meaning is, Does he take us grave and reverend seigniors, priests and prophets, to be babies just weaned, that he pesters us with these monotonous petty preachings, fit only for the nursery, which he calls his "message"?' In verse 10, the original for precept upon precept,' etc., is a series of short words, which may be taken as reproducing the babbling tones of the drunken mockers.'

The loose livers of all generations talk in the same fashion about the stern morality which rebukes their vice. They call it weak, commonplace, fit for children, and they pretend that they despise it. They are much too enlightened for such antiquated teaching. Old women and children may take it in, but men of the world, who have seen life, and know what is what, are not to be fooled so. What will this babbler say?' was asked by the wise men of Athens, who were but repeating the scoffs of the prophets and priests of Jerusalem, and the same jeers are bitter in the mouth of many a profligate man to-day. It is the fate of all strict morality to be accounted childish by the people whom it inconveniently condemns.

In verse 11 and onwards the prophet speaks. He catches up the mockers' words, and retorts them. They have scoffed at his message as if it were stammering speech. They shall hear another kind of stammerers when the fierce invaders' harsh and unintelligible language commands them. The reason why these foreign voices would have authority, was the national disregard of God's voice. Ye would not hear' Him when, by His prophet, He spoke gracious invitations to rest, and to give the nation rest, in obedience and trust. Therefore they shall hear the battle-cry of the conqueror, and have to obey orders spoken in a barbarous tongue.

Of course, the language meant is the Assyrian, which, though cognate with Hebrew, is so unlike as to be unintelligible to the people. But is not the threat the statement of a great truth always being fulfilled towards the disobedient? If we will not listen to that loving Voice which calls us to rest, we shall be forced to listen to the harsh and strident tones of conquering enemies who command us to slavish toil. If we will not be guided by His eye and voice, we shall be governed by whip and bridle. Our choice is either to hearken to the divine call, which is loving and gentle, and invites to deep repose springing from faith, or to have to hear the voice of the taskmasters. The monotony of despised moral and religious teaching shall give place to a more terrible monotony, even that of continuous judgments.

The mills of God grind slowly.' Bit by bit, with gradual steps, with dismal persistence, like the slow drops on the rock, the judgments of God trickle out on the mocking heart. It takes a long time for a child to learn a pageful when he gets his lesson a sentence at a time. So slowly do His chastisements fall on men who have despised the continuous messages of His love. The word of the Lord, which was laughed at when it clothed itself in a prophet's speech, will be heard in more formidable shape, when it is wrapped in the long-drawn-out miseries of years of bondage. The warning is as needful for us as for these drunken priests and scornful rulers. The principle embodied is true in this day as it was then, and we too have to choose between serving God in gladness, hearkening to the voice of His word, and so finding rest to our souls, and serving the world, the flesh, and the devil, and so experiencing the perpetual dropping of the fiery rain of His judgments.

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