Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Nehemiah 4

Commentary on Nehemiah 4

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

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Nehemiah

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The Book of Nehemiah

This book continues the history of the children of the captivity, the poor Jews, that had lately returned out of Babylon to their own land. At this time not only the Persian monarchy flourished in great pomp and power, but Greece and Rome began to be very great and to make a figure. Of the affairs of those high and mighty states we have authentic accounts extant; but the sacred and inspired history takes cognizance only of the state of the Jews, and makes no mention of other nations but as the Israel of God had dealings with them: for the Lord’s portion is his people; they are his peculiar treasure, and, in comparison with them, the rest of the world is but as lumber. In my esteem, Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the tirshatha, though neither of them ever wore a crown, commanded an army, conquered any country, or was famed for philosophy or oratory, yet both of them, being pious praying men, and very serviceable in their day to the church of God and the interests of religion, were really greater men and more honourable, not only than any of the Roman consuls or dictators, but than Xenophon, or Demosthenes, or Plato himself, who lived at the same time, the bright ornaments of Greece. Nehemiah’s agency for the advancing of the settlement of Israel we have a full account of in this book of his own commentaries or memoirs, wherein he records not only the works of his hands, but the workings of his heart, in the management of public affairs, inserting in the story many devout reflections and ejaculations, which discover in his mind a very deep tincture of serious piety and are peculiar to his writing. Twelve years, from his twentieth year (Neh 1:1) to his thirty-second year (Neh 13:6), he was governor of Judea, under Artaxerxes king of Persia, whom Dr. Lightfoot supposes to be the same Artaxerxes as Ezra has his commission from. This book relates, I. Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem and the commission he obtained from the king to go thither, Neh 1:1-11, 2. II. His building the wall of Jerusalem notwithstanding the opposition he met with, ch. 3, 4. III. His redressing the grievances of the people, ch. 5. IV. His finishing the wall, ch. 6. V. The account he took of the people, ch. 7. VI. The religions solemnities of reading the law, fasting, and praying, and renewing their covenants, to which he called the people (ch. 8-10). VII. The care he took for the replenishing of the holy city and the settling of the holy tribe, ch. 11, 12. VIII. His zeal in reforming various abuses, ch. 13. Some call this the second book of Ezra, not because he was the penman of it, but because it is a continuation of the history of the foregoing book, with which it is connected (Neh 1:1). This was the lasthistorical book that was written, as Malachi was the last prophetical book, of the Old Testament.

Nehemiah 4

We left all hands at work for the building of the wall about Jerusalem. But such good work is not wont to be carried on without opposition; now here we are told what opposition was given to it, and what methods Nehemiah took to forward the work, notwithstanding that opposition. I. Their enemies reproached and ridiculed their undertaking, but their scoffs they answered with prayers: they heeded them not, but went on with their work notwithstanding (Neh 4:1-6). II. They formed a bloody design against them, to hinder them by force of arms (Neh 4:7, Neh 4:8, Neh 4:10-12). To guard against this Nehemiah prayed (Neh 4:9), set guards (Neh 4:13), and encouraged them to fight (Neh 4:14), by which the design was broken (Neh 4:15), and so the work was carried on with all needful precaution against a surprise (Neh 4:16-23). In all this Nehemiah approved himself a man of great wisdom and courage, as well as great piety.

Nehemiah 4:1-6

Here is, I. The spiteful scornful reflection which Sanballat and Tobiah cast upon the Jews for their attempt to build the wall about Jerusalem. The country rang of it presently; intelligence was brought of it to Samaria, that nest of enemies to the Jews and their prosperity; and here we are told how they received the tidings. 1. In heart. They were very angry at the undertaking, and had great indignation, Neh 4:1. It vexed them that Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel (Neh 2:10); but, when they heard of this great undertaking for their good, they were out of all patience. They had hitherto pleased themselves with the thought that while Jerusalem was unwalled they could swallow it up and make themselves masters of it when they pleased; but, if it be walled, it will not only be fenced against them, but by degrees become formidable to them. The strength and safety of the church are the grief and vexation of its enemies. 2. In word. They despised it, and made it the subject of their ridicule. In this they sufficiently displayed their malice; but good was brought out of it; for, looking upon it as a foolish undertaking that would sink under its own weight, they did not go about to obstruct it till it was too late. Let us see with what pride and malice they set themselves publicly to banter it. (1.) Sanballat speaks with scorn of the workmen: “These feeble Jews” (Neh 4:2), “what will they do for materials? Will they revive the stones out of the rubbish? And what mean they by being so hasty? Do they think to make the walling of a city but one day’s work, and to keep the feast of dedication with sacrifice the next day? Poor silly people! See how ridiculous they make themselves!” (2.) Tobiah speaks with no less scorn of the work itself. He has his jest too, and must show his wit, Neh 4:3. Profane scoffers sharpen one another. “Sorry work,” says he, “they are likely to make of it; they themselves will be ashamed of it: If a fox go up, not with his subtlety, but with his weight, he will break down their stone wall.” Many a good work has been thus looked upon with contempt by theproud and haughty scorners.

II. Nehemiah’s humble and devout address to God when he heard of these reflections. He had notice brought him of what they said. It is probable that they themselves sent him a message to this purport, to discourage him, hoping to jeer him out of his attempt; but he did not answer these fools according to their folly; he did not upbraid them with their weakness, but looked up to God by prayer.

1. He begs of God to take notice of the indignities that were done them (Neh 4:4), and in this we are to imitate him: Hear, O our God! for we are despised. Note, (1.) God’s people have often been a despised people, and loaded with contempt. (2.) God does, and will, hear all the slights that are put upon his people, and it is their comfort that he does so and a good reason why they should be as though they were deaf, Psa 38:13, Psa 38:15. “Thou art our God to whom we appeal; our cause needs no more than a fair hearing.”

2. He begs of God to avenge their cause and turn the reproach upon the enemies themselves (Neh 4:4, Neh 4:5); and this was spoken rather by a spirit of prophecy than by a spirit of prayer, and is not to be imitated by us who are taught of Christ to pray for those that despitefully use and persecute us. Christ himself prayed for those that reproached him: Father, forgive them. Nehemiah here prays, Cover not their iniquity. Note, (1.) Those that cast contempt on God’s people do but prepare everlasting shame for themselves. (2.) It is a sin from which sinners are seldom recovered. Doubtless Nehemiah had reason to think the hearts of those sinners were desperately hardened, so that they would never repent of it, else he would not have prayed that it might never be blotted out. The reason he gives is not, They have abused us, but, They have provoked thee, and that before the builders, to whom, it is likely, they sent a spiteful message. Note, We should be angry at the malice of persecutors, not because it is abusive to us, but because it is offensive to God; and on that we may ground an expectation that God will appear against it, Psa 74:18, Psa 74:22.

III. The vigour of the builders, notwithstanding these reflections, Neh 4:6. They made such good speed that in a little time they had run up the wall to half its height, for the people had a mind to work; their hearts were upon it, and they would have it forwarded. Note, 1. Good work goes on well when people have a mind to it. 2. The reproaches of enemies should rather quicken us to our duty than drive us from it.

Nehemiah 4:7-15

We have here,

I. The conspiracy which the Jews’ enemies formed against them, to stay the building by slaying the builders. The conspirators were not only Sanballat and Tobiah, but other neighbouring people whom they had drawn into the plot. They flattered themselves with a fancy that the work would soon stand still of itself; but, when they heard that it went on a prospered, they were angry at the Jews for being so hasty to push the work forward and angry at themselves for being so slow in opposing it (Neh 4:7): They were very wroth. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. Nothing would serve but they would fight against Jerusalem, Neh 4:8. Why, what quarrel had they with the Jews? Had they done them any wrong? Or did they design them any? No, they lived peaceably by them; but it was merely out of envy and malice; they hated the Jews’ piety, and were therefore vexed at their prosperity and sought their ruin. Observe, 1. How unanimous they were: They conspired all of them together, though of different interests among themselves, yet one in their opposition to the work of God. 2. How close they were; they said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we have them at our mercy.” Thus they took crafty counsel, and digged deep to hide it from the Lord, and promised themselves security and success from the secresy of their management. 3. How cruel they were: We will come and slay them. If nothing less than the murder of the workmen will put a stop to the work, they will not stick at that; nay, it is their blood they thirst for, and they are glad of any pretence to glut themselves with it. 4. What the design was and how confident they were of success: it was to cause the work to cease (Neh 4:11), and this they were confident that they should effect. The hindering of good work is that which bad men aim at and promise themselves; but good work is God’s work, and it shall prosper.

II. The discouragements which the builders themselves laboured under. At the very time when the adversaries said, Let us cause the work to cease, Judah said, “Let us even let it fall, for we are not able to go forward with it,” Neh 4:10. They represent the labourers as tired, and the remaining difficulties, even of that first part of their work, the removing of the rubbish, as insuperable, and therefore they think it advisable to desist for the present. Can Judah, that warlike valiant tribe, sneak thus? Active leading men have many times as much ado to grapple with the fears of their friends as with the terrors of their enemies.

III. The information that was brought to Nehemiah of the enemies’ designs, Neh 4:12. There were Jews that dwelt by them, in the country, who, though they had not zeal enough to bring them to Jerusalem to help their brethren in building the wall, yet, having by their situation opportunity to discover the enemies’ motions, had so much honesty and affection to the cause as to give intelligence of them; nay, that their intelligence might be the more credited, they came themselves to give it, and they said it ten times, repeating it as men in earnest, and under a concern, and the report was confirmed by many witnesses. The intelligence they gave is expressed abruptly, and finds work for the critics to make out the sense of it, which perhaps is designed to intimate that they gave this intelligence as men out of breath and in confusion, whose very looks would make up the deficiencies of their words. I think it may be read, without supplying any thing: “Whatever place you turn to, they are against us, so that you have need to be upon your guard on all sides,” Note, God has many ways of bringing to light, and so bringing to nought, the devices and designs of his and his church’s enemies. Even the cold and feeble Jews that contentedly dwell by them shall be made to serve as spies upon them; nay, rather than fail,a bird of the air shall carry their voice.

IV. The pious and prudent methods which Nehemiah, hereupon, took to baffle the design, and to secure his work and workmen.

1. It is said (Neh 4:14) he looked. (1.) He looked up, engaged God for him, and put himself and his cause under the divine protection (Neh 4:9): We made our prayer unto our God. That was the way of this good man, and should be our way; all his cares, all his griefs, all his fears, he spread before God, and thereby made himself easy. This was the first thing he did; before he used any means, he made his prayer to God, for with him we must always begin. (2.) He looked about him. Having prayed, he set a watch against them. The instructions Christ has given us in our spiritual warfare agree with this example, Mat 26:41. Watch and pray. If we think to secure ourselves by prayer only, without watchfulness, we are slothful and tempt God; if by watchfulness, without prayer, we are proud and slight God; and, either way, we forfeit his protection.

2. Observe, (1.) How he posted the guards, Neh 4:13. In the lower places he set thembehind the wall, that they might annoy the enemy over it, as a breast-work; but in the higher places, where the wall was raised to its full height, he set them upon it, that from the top of it they might throw down stones or darts upon the heads of the assailants: he set them after their families, that mutual relation might engage them to mutual assistance. (2.) How he animated and encouraged the people, Neh 4:14. He observed even the nobles and rulers themselves, as well as the rest of the people, to be in a great consternation upon the intelligence that was brought them, and ready to conclude that they were all undone, by which their hands were weakened both for work and war, and therefore, he endeavours to silence their fears. “Come,” says he, “be not afraid of them, but behave yourselves valiantly, considering, [1.] Whom you fight under. You cannot have a better captain: Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible; you think your enemies great and terrible, but what are they in comparison with God, especially in opposition to him? He is great above them to control them, and will be terrible to them when he comes to reckon with them.” Those that with an eye of faith see the church’s God to be great and terrible will see the church’s enemies to be mean and despicable. The reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of man. He that is afraid of a man that shall die forgets the Lord his Maker, Isa 51:12, Isa 51:13. [2.] “Whom you fight for. You cannot have a better cause; you fight for your brethren (Psa 122:8), your sons, and your daughters. All that is dear to you in their world lies at stake; therefore behave yourselves valiantly.

V. The happy disappointment which this gave to the enemies, Neh 4:15. When they found that their design was discovered, and that the Jews were upon their guard, they concluded that it was to no purpose to attempt any thing, but that God had brought their counsel to nought. They knew they could not gain their point but by surprise, and, if their plot was known, it was quashed. The Jews hereuponreturned every one to his work, with so much the more cheerfulness because they saw plainly that God owned it and owned them in the doing of it. Note, God’s care of our safety should engage and encourage us to go on with vigour in our duty. As soon as ever a danger is over let us return to our work, and trust God another time.

Nehemiah 4:16-23

When the builders had so far reason to think the design of the enemies broken as to return to their work, yet they were not so secure as to lay down their arms, knowing how restless and unwearied they were in their attempts, and that, if one design failed, they would be hatching another. Thus must we watch always against our spiritual enemies, and not expect that our warfare will be accomplished till our work is. See what course Nehemiah took, that the people might hold themselves in a readiness, in case there should be an attack. 1. While one half were at work, the other half were under their arms, holding spears, and shields, and bows, not only for themselves but for the labourers too, who would immediately quit their work, and betake themselves to their weapons, upon the first alarm, Neh 4:16. It is probable that they changed services at stated hours, which would relieve the fatigue of both, and particularly would be an ease to the bearers of burdens, whose strength had decayed (Neh 4:10); while they held the weapons, they were eased and yet not idle. Thus dividing their time between the trowels and the spears, they are said to work with one hand and hold their weapons with the other (Neh 4:17), which cannot be understood literally, for the work would require both hands; but it intimates that they were equally employed in both. Thus must we work out our salvation with the weapons of our warfare in our hand; for in every duty we must expect to meet with opposition from our spiritual enemies, against whom we must still be fighting the good fight of faith. 2. Every builder had a sword by his side (Neh 4:18), which he could carry without hindering his labour. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, which we ought to have always at hand and never to seek, both in our labours and in our conflicts as Christians. 3. Care was taken both to get and give early notice of the approach of the enemy, in case they should endeavour to surprise them. Nehemiah kept a trumpeter always by him to sound an alarm, upon the first intimation of danger. The work was large, and the builders were dispersed; for in all parts of the wall they were labouring at the same time. Nehemiah continually walked round to oversee the work and encourage the workmen, and so would have speedy intelligence if the enemy made an attack, of which, by sound of trumpet, he would soon give notice to all, and they must immediately repair to him with a full assurance that theirGod would fight for them, Neh 4:18-20. When they acted as workmen, it was requisite they should be dispersed wherever there was work to do; but when as soldiers it was requisite they should come into close order, and be found in a body. Thus should the labourers in Christ’s building be ready to unite against a common foe. 4. The inhabitants of the villages were ordered to lodge within Jerusalem, with their servants, not only that they might be the nearer to their work in the morning, but that they might be ready to help in case of an attack in the night, Neh 4:22. The strength of a city lies more in its hands than in its walls; secure them, and God’s blessing upon them, and be secure. 5. Nehemiah himself, and all his men, kept closely to their business. The spears were held up, with the sight of them to terrify the enemy, not only from sun to sun, but from twilight to twilight every day, Neh 4:21. Thus ought we to be always upon our guard against our spiritual enemies, not only (as here) while it is light, but when it is dark, for they are the rulers of the darkness of this world. Nay, so very intent was Nehemiah upon his work, and so fast did he hold his servants to it, that while the heat of the business lasted neither he himself nor his attendants went into bed, but every night lay and slept in their clothes (Neh 4:23), except that they shifted them now and then, either for cleanliness or in a case of ceremonial pollution. It was a sign that their heart was upon their work when they could not find time to dress and undress, but resolved they would be at all times ready for service. Good work is likely to go on successfully when those that labour in it thus make a business of it.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Nehemiah

                                                                             Commentary on Nehemiah 4

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch.  Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

Nehemiah

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The Book of Nehemiah

This book continues the history of the children of the captivity, the poor Jews, that had lately returned out of Babylon to their own land. At this time not only the Persian monarchy flourished in great pomp and power, but Greece and Rome began to be very great and to make a figure. Of the affairs of those high and mighty states we have authentic accounts extant; but the sacred and inspired history takes cognizance only of the state of the Jews, and makes no mention of other nations but as the Israel of God had dealings with them: for the Lord’s portion is his people; they are his peculiar treasure, and, in comparison with them, the rest of the world is but as lumber. In my esteem, Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the tirshatha, though neither of them ever wore a crown, commanded an army, conquered any country, or was famed for philosophy or oratory, yet both of them, being pious praying men, and very serviceable in their day to the church of God and the interests of religion, were really greater men and more honourable, not only than any of the Roman consuls or dictators, but than Xenophon, or Demosthenes, or Plato himself, who lived at the same time, the bright ornaments of Greece. Nehemiah’s agency for the advancing of the settlement of Israel we have a full account of in this book of his own commentaries or memoirs, wherein he records not only the works of his hands, but the workings of his heart, in the management of public affairs, inserting in the story many devout reflections and ejaculations, which discover in his mind a very deep tincture of serious piety and are peculiar to his writing. Twelve years, from his twentieth year (Neh 1:1) to his thirty-second year (Neh 13:6), he was governor of Judea, under Artaxerxes king of Persia, whom Dr. Lightfoot supposes to be the same Artaxerxes as Ezra has his commission from. This book relates, I. Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem and the commission he obtained from the king to go thither, Neh 1:1-11, 2. II. His building the wall of Jerusalem notwithstanding the opposition he met with, ch. 3, 4. III. His redressing the grievances of the people, ch. 5. IV. His finishing the wall, ch. 6. V. The account he took of the people, ch. 7. VI. The religions solemnities of reading the law, fasting, and praying, and renewing their covenants, to which he called the people (ch. 8-10). VII. The care he took for the replenishing of the holy city and the settling of the holy tribe, ch. 11, 12. VIII. His zeal in reforming various abuses, ch. 13. Some call this the second book of Ezra, not because he was the penman of it, but because it is a continuation of the history of the foregoing book, with which it is connected (Neh 1:1). This was the lasthistorical book that was written, as Malachi was the last prophetical book, of the Old Testament.

Nehemiah 4

We left all hands at work for the building of the wall about Jerusalem. But such good work is not wont to be carried on without opposition; now here we are told what opposition was given to it, and what methods Nehemiah took to forward the work, notwithstanding that opposition. I. Their enemies reproached and ridiculed their undertaking, but their scoffs they answered with prayers: they heeded them not, but went on with their work notwithstanding (Neh 4:1-6). II. They formed a bloody design against them, to hinder them by force of arms (Neh 4:7, Neh 4:8, Neh 4:10-12). To guard against this Nehemiah prayed (Neh 4:9), set guards (Neh 4:13), and encouraged them to fight (Neh 4:14), by which the design was broken (Neh 4:15), and so the work was carried on with all needful precaution against a surprise (Neh 4:16-23). In all this Nehemiah approved himself a man of great wisdom and courage, as well as great piety.

Nehemiah 4:1-6

Here is, I. The spiteful scornful reflection which Sanballat and Tobiah cast upon the Jews for their attempt to build the wall about Jerusalem. The country rang of it presently; intelligence was brought of it to Samaria, that nest of enemies to the Jews and their prosperity; and here we are told how they received the tidings. 1. In heart. They were very angry at the undertaking, and had great indignation, Neh 4:1. It vexed them that Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel (Neh 2:10); but, when they heard of this great undertaking for their good, they were out of all patience. They had hitherto pleased themselves with the thought that while Jerusalem was unwalled they could swallow it up and make themselves masters of it when they pleased; but, if it be walled, it will not only be fenced against them, but by degrees become formidable to them. The strength and safety of the church are the grief and vexation of its enemies. 2. In word. They despised it, and made it the subject of their ridicule. In this they sufficiently displayed their malice; but good was brought out of it; for, looking upon it as a foolish undertaking that would sink under its own weight, they did not go about to obstruct it till it was too late. Let us see with what pride and malice they set themselves publicly to banter it. (1.) Sanballat speaks with scorn of the workmen: “These feeble Jews” (Neh 4:2), “what will they do for materials? Will they revive the stones out of the rubbish? And what mean they by being so hasty? Do they think to make the walling of a city but one day’s work, and to keep the feast of dedication with sacrifice the next day? Poor silly people! See how ridiculous they make themselves!” (2.) Tobiah speaks with no less scorn of the work itself. He has his jest too, and must show his wit, Neh 4:3. Profane scoffers sharpen one another. “Sorry work,” says he, “they are likely to make of it; they themselves will be ashamed of it: If a fox go up, not with his subtlety, but with his weight, he will break down their stone wall.” Many a good work has been thus looked upon with contempt by theproud and haughty scorners.

II. Nehemiah’s humble and devout address to God when he heard of these reflections. He had notice brought him of what they said. It is probable that they themselves sent him a message to this purport, to discourage him, hoping to jeer him out of his attempt; but he did not answer these fools according to their folly; he did not upbraid them with their weakness, but looked up to God by prayer.

1. He begs of God to take notice of the indignities that were done them (Neh 4:4), and in this we are to imitate him: Hear, O our God! for we are despised. Note, (1.) God’s people have often been a despised people, and loaded with contempt. (2.) God does, and will, hear all the slights that are put upon his people, and it is their comfort that he does so and a good reason why they should be as though they were deaf, Psa 38:13, Psa 38:15. “Thou art our God to whom we appeal; our cause needs no more than a fair hearing.”

2. He begs of God to avenge their cause and turn the reproach upon the enemies themselves (Neh 4:4, Neh 4:5); and this was spoken rather by a spirit of prophecy than by a spirit of prayer, and is not to be imitated by us who are taught of Christ to pray for those that despitefully use and persecute us. Christ himself prayed for those that reproached him: Father, forgive them. Nehemiah here prays, Cover not their iniquity. Note, (1.) Those that cast contempt on God’s people do but prepare everlasting shame for themselves. (2.) It is a sin from which sinners are seldom recovered. Doubtless Nehemiah had reason to think the hearts of those sinners were desperately hardened, so that they would never repent of it, else he would not have prayed that it might never be blotted out. The reason he gives is not, They have abused us, but, They have provoked thee, and that before the builders, to whom, it is likely, they sent a spiteful message. Note, We should be angry at the malice of persecutors, not because it is abusive to us, but because it is offensive to God; and on that we may ground an expectation that God will appear against it, Psa 74:18, Psa 74:22.

III. The vigour of the builders, notwithstanding these reflections, Neh 4:6. They made such good speed that in a little time they had run up the wall to half its height, for the people had a mind to work; their hearts were upon it, and they would have it forwarded. Note, 1. Good work goes on well when people have a mind to it. 2. The reproaches of enemies should rather quicken us to our duty than drive us from it.

Nehemiah 4:7-15

We have here,

I. The conspiracy which the Jews’ enemies formed against them, to stay the building by slaying the builders. The conspirators were not only Sanballat and Tobiah, but other neighbouring people whom they had drawn into the plot. They flattered themselves with a fancy that the work would soon stand still of itself; but, when they heard that it went on a prospered, they were angry at the Jews for being so hasty to push the work forward and angry at themselves for being so slow in opposing it (Neh 4:7): They were very wroth. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. Nothing would serve but they would fight against Jerusalem, Neh 4:8. Why, what quarrel had they with the Jews? Had they done them any wrong? Or did they design them any? No, they lived peaceably by them; but it was merely out of envy and malice; they hated the Jews’ piety, and were therefore vexed at their prosperity and sought their ruin. Observe, 1. How unanimous they were: They conspired all of them together, though of different interests among themselves, yet one in their opposition to the work of God. 2. How close they were; they said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we have them at our mercy.” Thus they took crafty counsel, and digged deep to hide it from the Lord, and promised themselves security and success from the secresy of their management. 3. How cruel they were: We will come and slay them. If nothing less than the murder of the workmen will put a stop to the work, they will not stick at that; nay, it is their blood they thirst for, and they are glad of any pretence to glut themselves with it. 4. What the design was and how confident they were of success: it was to cause the work to cease (Neh 4:11), and this they were confident that they should effect. The hindering of good work is that which bad men aim at and promise themselves; but good work is God’s work, and it shall prosper.

II. The discouragements which the builders themselves laboured under. At the very time when the adversaries said, Let us cause the work to cease, Judah said, “Let us even let it fall, for we are not able to go forward with it,” Neh 4:10. They represent the labourers as tired, and the remaining difficulties, even of that first part of their work, the removing of the rubbish, as insuperable, and therefore they think it advisable to desist for the present. Can Judah, that warlike valiant tribe, sneak thus? Active leading men have many times as much ado to grapple with the fears of their friends as with the terrors of their enemies.

III. The information that was brought to Nehemiah of the enemies’ designs, Neh 4:12. There were Jews that dwelt by them, in the country, who, though they had not zeal enough to bring them to Jerusalem to help their brethren in building the wall, yet, having by their situation opportunity to discover the enemies’ motions, had so much honesty and affection to the cause as to give intelligence of them; nay, that their intelligence might be the more credited, they came themselves to give it, and they said it ten times, repeating it as men in earnest, and under a concern, and the report was confirmed by many witnesses. The intelligence they gave is expressed abruptly, and finds work for the critics to make out the sense of it, which perhaps is designed to intimate that they gave this intelligence as men out of breath and in confusion, whose very looks would make up the deficiencies of their words. I think it may be read, without supplying any thing: “Whatever place you turn to, they are against us, so that you have need to be upon your guard on all sides,” Note, God has many ways of bringing to light, and so bringing to nought, the devices and designs of his and his church’s enemies. Even the cold and feeble Jews that contentedly dwell by them shall be made to serve as spies upon them; nay, rather than fail,a bird of the air shall carry their voice.

IV. The pious and prudent methods which Nehemiah, hereupon, took to baffle the design, and to secure his work and workmen.

1. It is said (Neh 4:14) he looked. (1.) He looked up, engaged God for him, and put himself and his cause under the divine protection (Neh 4:9): We made our prayer unto our God. That was the way of this good man, and should be our way; all his cares, all his griefs, all his fears, he spread before God, and thereby made himself easy. This was the first thing he did; before he used any means, he made his prayer to God, for with him we must always begin. (2.) He looked about him. Having prayed, he set a watch against them. The instructions Christ has given us in our spiritual warfare agree with this example, Mat 26:41. Watch and pray. If we think to secure ourselves by prayer only, without watchfulness, we are slothful and tempt God; if by watchfulness, without prayer, we are proud and slight God; and, either way, we forfeit his protection.

2. Observe, (1.) How he posted the guards, Neh 4:13. In the lower places he set thembehind the wall, that they might annoy the enemy over it, as a breast-work; but in the higher places, where the wall was raised to its full height, he set them upon it, that from the top of it they might throw down stones or darts upon the heads of the assailants: he set them after their families, that mutual relation might engage them to mutual assistance. (2.) How he animated and encouraged the people, Neh 4:14. He observed even the nobles and rulers themselves, as well as the rest of the people, to be in a great consternation upon the intelligence that was brought them, and ready to conclude that they were all undone, by which their hands were weakened both for work and war, and therefore, he endeavours to silence their fears. “Come,” says he, “be not afraid of them, but behave yourselves valiantly, considering, [1.] Whom you fight under. You cannot have a better captain: Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible; you think your enemies great and terrible, but what are they in comparison with God, especially in opposition to him? He is great above them to control them, and will be terrible to them when he comes to reckon with them.” Those that with an eye of faith see the church’s God to be great and terrible will see the church’s enemies to be mean and despicable. The reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of man. He that is afraid of a man that shall die forgets the Lord his Maker, Isa 51:12, Isa 51:13. [2.] “Whom you fight for. You cannot have a better cause; you fight for your brethren (Psa 122:8), your sons, and your daughters. All that is dear to you in their world lies at stake; therefore behave yourselves valiantly.

V. The happy disappointment which this gave to the enemies, Neh 4:15. When they found that their design was discovered, and that the Jews were upon their guard, they concluded that it was to no purpose to attempt any thing, but that God had brought their counsel to nought. They knew they could not gain their point but by surprise, and, if their plot was known, it was quashed. The Jews hereuponreturned every one to his work, with so much the more cheerfulness because they saw plainly that God owned it and owned them in the doing of it. Note, God’s care of our safety should engage and encourage us to go on with vigour in our duty. As soon as ever a danger is over let us return to our work, and trust God another time.

Nehemiah 4:16-23

When the builders had so far reason to think the design of the enemies broken as to return to their work, yet they were not so secure as to lay down their arms, knowing how restless and unwearied they were in their attempts, and that, if one design failed, they would be hatching another. Thus must we watch always against our spiritual enemies, and not expect that our warfare will be accomplished till our work is. See what course Nehemiah took, that the people might hold themselves in a readiness, in case there should be an attack. 1. While one half were at work, the other half were under their arms, holding spears, and shields, and bows, not only for themselves but for the labourers too, who would immediately quit their work, and betake themselves to their weapons, upon the first alarm, Neh 4:16. It is probable that they changed services at stated hours, which would relieve the fatigue of both, and particularly would be an ease to the bearers of burdens, whose strength had decayed (Neh 4:10); while they held the weapons, they were eased and yet not idle. Thus dividing their time between the trowels and the spears, they are said to work with one hand and hold their weapons with the other (Neh 4:17), which cannot be understood literally, for the work would require both hands; but it intimates that they were equally employed in both. Thus must we work out our salvation with the weapons of our warfare in our hand; for in every duty we must expect to meet with opposition from our spiritual enemies, against whom we must still be fighting the good fight of faith. 2. Every builder had a sword by his side (Neh 4:18), which he could carry without hindering his labour. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, which we ought to have always at hand and never to seek, both in our labours and in our conflicts as Christians. 3. Care was taken both to get and give early notice of the approach of the enemy, in case they should endeavour to surprise them. Nehemiah kept a trumpeter always by him to sound an alarm, upon the first intimation of danger. The work was large, and the builders were dispersed; for in all parts of the wall they were labouring at the same time. Nehemiah continually walked round to oversee the work and encourage the workmen, and so would have speedy intelligence if the enemy made an attack, of which, by sound of trumpet, he would soon give notice to all, and they must immediately repair to him with a full assurance that theirGod would fight for them, Neh 4:18-20. When they acted as workmen, it was requisite they should be dispersed wherever there was work to do; but when as soldiers it was requisite they should come into close order, and be found in a body. Thus should the labourers in Christ’s building be ready to unite against a common foe. 4. The inhabitants of the villages were ordered to lodge within Jerusalem, with their servants, not only that they might be the nearer to their work in the morning, but that they might be ready to help in case of an attack in the night, Neh 4:22. The strength of a city lies more in its hands than in its walls; secure them, and God’s blessing upon them, and be secure. 5. Nehemiah himself, and all his men, kept closely to their business. The spears were held up, with the sight of them to terrify the enemy, not only from sun to sun, but from twilight to twilight every day, Neh 4:21. Thus ought we to be always upon our guard against our spiritual enemies, not only (as here) while it is light, but when it is dark, for they are the rulers of the darkness of this world. Nay, so very intent was Nehemiah upon his work, and so fast did he hold his servants to it, that while the heat of the business lasted neither he himself nor his attendants went into bed, but every night lay and slept in their clothes (Neh 4:23), except that they shifted them now and then, either for cleanliness or in a case of ceremonial pollution. It was a sign that their heart was upon their work when they could not find time to dress and undress, but resolved they would be at all times ready for service. Good work is likely to go on successfully when those that labour in it thus make a business of it.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Nehemiah

Commentary on Nehemiah 4

Commentary on Nehemiah 4

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

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Nehemiah

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The Book of Nehemiah

This book continues the history of the children of the captivity, the poor Jews, that had lately returned out of Babylon to their own land. At this time not only the Persian monarchy flourished in great pomp and power, but Greece and Rome began to be very great and to make a figure. Of the affairs of those high and mighty states we have authentic accounts extant; but the sacred and inspired history takes cognizance only of the state of the Jews, and makes no mention of other nations but as the Israel of God had dealings with them: for the Lord’s portion is his people; they are his peculiar treasure, and, in comparison with them, the rest of the world is but as lumber. In my esteem, Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the tirshatha, though neither of them ever wore a crown, commanded an army, conquered any country, or was famed for philosophy or oratory, yet both of them, being pious praying men, and very serviceable in their day to the church of God and the interests of religion, were really greater men and more honourable, not only than any of the Roman consuls or dictators, but than Xenophon, or Demosthenes, or Plato himself, who lived at the same time, the bright ornaments of Greece. Nehemiah’s agency for the advancing of the settlement of Israel we have a full account of in this book of his own commentaries or memoirs, wherein he records not only the works of his hands, but the workings of his heart, in the management of public affairs, inserting in the story many devout reflections and ejaculations, which discover in his mind a very deep tincture of serious piety and are peculiar to his writing. Twelve years, from his twentieth year (Neh 1:1) to his thirty-second year (Neh 13:6), he was governor of Judea, under Artaxerxes king of Persia, whom Dr. Lightfoot supposes to be the same Artaxerxes as Ezra has his commission from. This book relates, I. Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem and the commission he obtained from the king to go thither, Neh 1:1-11, 2. II. His building the wall of Jerusalem notwithstanding the opposition he met with, ch. 3, 4. III. His redressing the grievances of the people, ch. 5. IV. His finishing the wall, ch. 6. V. The account he took of the people, ch. 7. VI. The religions solemnities of reading the law, fasting, and praying, and renewing their covenants, to which he called the people (ch. 8-10). VII. The care he took for the replenishing of the holy city and the settling of the holy tribe, ch. 11, 12. VIII. His zeal in reforming various abuses, ch. 13. Some call this the second book of Ezra, not because he was the penman of it, but because it is a continuation of the history of the foregoing book, with which it is connected (Neh 1:1). This was the lasthistorical book that was written, as Malachi was the last prophetical book, of the Old Testament.

Nehemiah 4

We left all hands at work for the building of the wall about Jerusalem. But such good work is not wont to be carried on without opposition; now here we are told what opposition was given to it, and what methods Nehemiah took to forward the work, notwithstanding that opposition. I. Their enemies reproached and ridiculed their undertaking, but their scoffs they answered with prayers: they heeded them not, but went on with their work notwithstanding (Neh 4:1-6). II. They formed a bloody design against them, to hinder them by force of arms (Neh 4:7, Neh 4:8, Neh 4:10-12). To guard against this Nehemiah prayed (Neh 4:9), set guards (Neh 4:13), and encouraged them to fight (Neh 4:14), by which the design was broken (Neh 4:15), and so the work was carried on with all needful precaution against a surprise (Neh 4:16-23). In all this Nehemiah approved himself a man of great wisdom and courage, as well as great piety.

Nehemiah 4:1-6

Here is, I. The spiteful scornful reflection which Sanballat and Tobiah cast upon the Jews for their attempt to build the wall about Jerusalem. The country rang of it presently; intelligence was brought of it to Samaria, that nest of enemies to the Jews and their prosperity; and here we are told how they received the tidings. 1. In heart. They were very angry at the undertaking, and had great indignation, Neh 4:1. It vexed them that Nehemiah came to seek the welfare of the children of Israel (Neh 2:10); but, when they heard of this great undertaking for their good, they were out of all patience. They had hitherto pleased themselves with the thought that while Jerusalem was unwalled they could swallow it up and make themselves masters of it when they pleased; but, if it be walled, it will not only be fenced against them, but by degrees become formidable to them. The strength and safety of the church are the grief and vexation of its enemies. 2. In word. They despised it, and made it the subject of their ridicule. In this they sufficiently displayed their malice; but good was brought out of it; for, looking upon it as a foolish undertaking that would sink under its own weight, they did not go about to obstruct it till it was too late. Let us see with what pride and malice they set themselves publicly to banter it. (1.) Sanballat speaks with scorn of the workmen: “These feeble Jews” (Neh 4:2), “what will they do for materials? Will they revive the stones out of the rubbish? And what mean they by being so hasty? Do they think to make the walling of a city but one day’s work, and to keep the feast of dedication with sacrifice the next day? Poor silly people! See how ridiculous they make themselves!” (2.) Tobiah speaks with no less scorn of the work itself. He has his jest too, and must show his wit, Neh 4:3. Profane scoffers sharpen one another. “Sorry work,” says he, “they are likely to make of it; they themselves will be ashamed of it: If a fox go up, not with his subtlety, but with his weight, he will break down their stone wall.” Many a good work has been thus looked upon with contempt by theproud and haughty scorners.

II. Nehemiah’s humble and devout address to God when he heard of these reflections. He had notice brought him of what they said. It is probable that they themselves sent him a message to this purport, to discourage him, hoping to jeer him out of his attempt; but he did not answer these fools according to their folly; he did not upbraid them with their weakness, but looked up to God by prayer.

1. He begs of God to take notice of the indignities that were done them (Neh 4:4), and in this we are to imitate him: Hear, O our God! for we are despised. Note, (1.) God’s people have often been a despised people, and loaded with contempt. (2.) God does, and will, hear all the slights that are put upon his people, and it is their comfort that he does so and a good reason why they should be as though they were deaf, Psa 38:13, Psa 38:15. “Thou art our God to whom we appeal; our cause needs no more than a fair hearing.”

2. He begs of God to avenge their cause and turn the reproach upon the enemies themselves (Neh 4:4, Neh 4:5); and this was spoken rather by a spirit of prophecy than by a spirit of prayer, and is not to be imitated by us who are taught of Christ to pray for those that despitefully use and persecute us. Christ himself prayed for those that reproached him: Father, forgive them. Nehemiah here prays, Cover not their iniquity. Note, (1.) Those that cast contempt on God’s people do but prepare everlasting shame for themselves. (2.) It is a sin from which sinners are seldom recovered. Doubtless Nehemiah had reason to think the hearts of those sinners were desperately hardened, so that they would never repent of it, else he would not have prayed that it might never be blotted out. The reason he gives is not, They have abused us, but, They have provoked thee, and that before the builders, to whom, it is likely, they sent a spiteful message. Note, We should be angry at the malice of persecutors, not because it is abusive to us, but because it is offensive to God; and on that we may ground an expectation that God will appear against it, Psa 74:18, Psa 74:22.

III. The vigour of the builders, notwithstanding these reflections, Neh 4:6. They made such good speed that in a little time they had run up the wall to half its height, for the people had a mind to work; their hearts were upon it, and they would have it forwarded. Note, 1. Good work goes on well when people have a mind to it. 2. The reproaches of enemies should rather quicken us to our duty than drive us from it.

Nehemiah 4:7-15

We have here,

I. The conspiracy which the Jews’ enemies formed against them, to stay the building by slaying the builders. The conspirators were not only Sanballat and Tobiah, but other neighbouring people whom they had drawn into the plot. They flattered themselves with a fancy that the work would soon stand still of itself; but, when they heard that it went on a prospered, they were angry at the Jews for being so hasty to push the work forward and angry at themselves for being so slow in opposing it (Neh 4:7): They were very wroth. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. Nothing would serve but they would fight against Jerusalem, Neh 4:8. Why, what quarrel had they with the Jews? Had they done them any wrong? Or did they design them any? No, they lived peaceably by them; but it was merely out of envy and malice; they hated the Jews’ piety, and were therefore vexed at their prosperity and sought their ruin. Observe, 1. How unanimous they were: They conspired all of them together, though of different interests among themselves, yet one in their opposition to the work of God. 2. How close they were; they said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we have them at our mercy.” Thus they took crafty counsel, and digged deep to hide it from the Lord, and promised themselves security and success from the secresy of their management. 3. How cruel they were: We will come and slay them. If nothing less than the murder of the workmen will put a stop to the work, they will not stick at that; nay, it is their blood they thirst for, and they are glad of any pretence to glut themselves with it. 4. What the design was and how confident they were of success: it was to cause the work to cease (Neh 4:11), and this they were confident that they should effect. The hindering of good work is that which bad men aim at and promise themselves; but good work is God’s work, and it shall prosper.

II. The discouragements which the builders themselves laboured under. At the very time when the adversaries said, Let us cause the work to cease, Judah said, “Let us even let it fall, for we are not able to go forward with it,” Neh 4:10. They represent the labourers as tired, and the remaining difficulties, even of that first part of their work, the removing of the rubbish, as insuperable, and therefore they think it advisable to desist for the present. Can Judah, that warlike valiant tribe, sneak thus? Active leading men have many times as much ado to grapple with the fears of their friends as with the terrors of their enemies.

III. The information that was brought to Nehemiah of the enemies’ designs, Neh 4:12. There were Jews that dwelt by them, in the country, who, though they had not zeal enough to bring them to Jerusalem to help their brethren in building the wall, yet, having by their situation opportunity to discover the enemies’ motions, had so much honesty and affection to the cause as to give intelligence of them; nay, that their intelligence might be the more credited, they came themselves to give it, and they said it ten times, repeating it as men in earnest, and under a concern, and the report was confirmed by many witnesses. The intelligence they gave is expressed abruptly, and finds work for the critics to make out the sense of it, which perhaps is designed to intimate that they gave this intelligence as men out of breath and in confusion, whose very looks would make up the deficiencies of their words. I think it may be read, without supplying any thing: “Whatever place you turn to, they are against us, so that you have need to be upon your guard on all sides,” Note, God has many ways of bringing to light, and so bringing to nought, the devices and designs of his and his church’s enemies. Even the cold and feeble Jews that contentedly dwell by them shall be made to serve as spies upon them; nay, rather than fail,a bird of the air shall carry their voice.

IV. The pious and prudent methods which Nehemiah, hereupon, took to baffle the design, and to secure his work and workmen.

1. It is said (Neh 4:14) he looked. (1.) He looked up, engaged God for him, and put himself and his cause under the divine protection (Neh 4:9): We made our prayer unto our God. That was the way of this good man, and should be our way; all his cares, all his griefs, all his fears, he spread before God, and thereby made himself easy. This was the first thing he did; before he used any means, he made his prayer to God, for with him we must always begin. (2.) He looked about him. Having prayed, he set a watch against them. The instructions Christ has given us in our spiritual warfare agree with this example, Mat 26:41. Watch and pray. If we think to secure ourselves by prayer only, without watchfulness, we are slothful and tempt God; if by watchfulness, without prayer, we are proud and slight God; and, either way, we forfeit his protection.

2. Observe, (1.) How he posted the guards, Neh 4:13. In the lower places he set thembehind the wall, that they might annoy the enemy over it, as a breast-work; but in the higher places, where the wall was raised to its full height, he set them upon it, that from the top of it they might throw down stones or darts upon the heads of the assailants: he set them after their families, that mutual relation might engage them to mutual assistance. (2.) How he animated and encouraged the people, Neh 4:14. He observed even the nobles and rulers themselves, as well as the rest of the people, to be in a great consternation upon the intelligence that was brought them, and ready to conclude that they were all undone, by which their hands were weakened both for work and war, and therefore, he endeavours to silence their fears. “Come,” says he, “be not afraid of them, but behave yourselves valiantly, considering, [1.] Whom you fight under. You cannot have a better captain: Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible; you think your enemies great and terrible, but what are they in comparison with God, especially in opposition to him? He is great above them to control them, and will be terrible to them when he comes to reckon with them.” Those that with an eye of faith see the church’s God to be great and terrible will see the church’s enemies to be mean and despicable. The reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of man. He that is afraid of a man that shall die forgets the Lord his Maker, Isa 51:12, Isa 51:13. [2.] “Whom you fight for. You cannot have a better cause; you fight for your brethren (Psa 122:8), your sons, and your daughters. All that is dear to you in their world lies at stake; therefore behave yourselves valiantly.

V. The happy disappointment which this gave to the enemies, Neh 4:15. When they found that their design was discovered, and that the Jews were upon their guard, they concluded that it was to no purpose to attempt any thing, but that God had brought their counsel to nought. They knew they could not gain their point but by surprise, and, if their plot was known, it was quashed. The Jews hereuponreturned every one to his work, with so much the more cheerfulness because they saw plainly that God owned it and owned them in the doing of it. Note, God’s care of our safety should engage and encourage us to go on with vigour in our duty. As soon as ever a danger is over let us return to our work, and trust God another time.

Nehemiah 4:16-23

When the builders had so far reason to think the design of the enemies broken as to return to their work, yet they were not so secure as to lay down their arms, knowing how restless and unwearied they were in their attempts, and that, if one design failed, they would be hatching another. Thus must we watch always against our spiritual enemies, and not expect that our warfare will be accomplished till our work is. See what course Nehemiah took, that the people might hold themselves in a readiness, in case there should be an attack. 1. While one half were at work, the other half were under their arms, holding spears, and shields, and bows, not only for themselves but for the labourers too, who would immediately quit their work, and betake themselves to their weapons, upon the first alarm, Neh 4:16. It is probable that they changed services at stated hours, which would relieve the fatigue of both, and particularly would be an ease to the bearers of burdens, whose strength had decayed (Neh 4:10); while they held the weapons, they were eased and yet not idle. Thus dividing their time between the trowels and the spears, they are said to work with one hand and hold their weapons with the other (Neh 4:17), which cannot be understood literally, for the work would require both hands; but it intimates that they were equally employed in both. Thus must we work out our salvation with the weapons of our warfare in our hand; for in every duty we must expect to meet with opposition from our spiritual enemies, against whom we must still be fighting the good fight of faith. 2. Every builder had a sword by his side (Neh 4:18), which he could carry without hindering his labour. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, which we ought to have always at hand and never to seek, both in our labours and in our conflicts as Christians. 3. Care was taken both to get and give early notice of the approach of the enemy, in case they should endeavour to surprise them. Nehemiah kept a trumpeter always by him to sound an alarm, upon the first intimation of danger. The work was large, and the builders were dispersed; for in all parts of the wall they were labouring at the same time. Nehemiah continually walked round to oversee the work and encourage the workmen, and so would have speedy intelligence if the enemy made an attack, of which, by sound of trumpet, he would soon give notice to all, and they must immediately repair to him with a full assurance that theirGod would fight for them, Neh 4:18-20. When they acted as workmen, it was requisite they should be dispersed wherever there was work to do; but when as soldiers it was requisite they should come into close order, and be found in a body. Thus should the labourers in Christ’s building be ready to unite against a common foe. 4. The inhabitants of the villages were ordered to lodge within Jerusalem, with their servants, not only that they might be the nearer to their work in the morning, but that they might be ready to help in case of an attack in the night, Neh 4:22. The strength of a city lies more in its hands than in its walls; secure them, and God’s blessing upon them, and be secure. 5. Nehemiah himself, and all his men, kept closely to their business. The spears were held up, with the sight of them to terrify the enemy, not only from sun to sun, but from twilight to twilight every day, Neh 4:21. Thus ought we to be always upon our guard against our spiritual enemies, not only (as here) while it is light, but when it is dark, for they are the rulers of the darkness of this world. Nay, so very intent was Nehemiah upon his work, and so fast did he hold his servants to it, that while the heat of the business lasted neither he himself nor his attendants went into bed, but every night lay and slept in their clothes (Neh 4:23), except that they shifted them now and then, either for cleanliness or in a case of ceremonial pollution. It was a sign that their heart was upon their work when they could not find time to dress and undress, but resolved they would be at all times ready for service. Good work is likely to go on successfully when those that labour in it thus make a business of it.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Isaiah 41

Commentary on Isaiah 41

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

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Isaiah 41:1-9

That particular instance of God’s care for his people Israel in raising up Cyrus to be their deliverer is here insisted upon as a great proof both of his sovereignty above all idols and of his power to protect his people. Here is,

I. A general challenge to the worshippers and admirers of idols to make good their pretensions, in competition with God and opposition to him, Isa 41:1. Is renewed (Isa 41:21): Produce your cause.The court is set, summonses are sent to the islands that lay most remote, but not out of God’s jurisdiction, for he is the Creator and possessor of the ends of the earth, to make their appearance and give their attendance. Silence (as usual) is proclaimed while the cause is in trying: “Keep silence before me, and judge nothing before the time”; while the cause is in trying between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan it becomes all people silently to expect the issue, not to object against God’s proceedings, but to be confident that he will carry the day. The defenders of idolatry are called to say what they can in defence of it: “Let them renew their strength, in opposition to God,and see whether it be equal to the strength which those renew that wait upon him (Isa 40:31); let them try their utmost efforts, whether by force of arms or force of argument. Let them come near; they shall not complain that God’s dread makes them afraid (Job 13:21), so that they cannot say what they have to say, in vindication and honour of their idols; no,let them speak freely: Let us come near together to judgment.” Note. 1. The cause of God and his kingdom is not afraid of a fair trial; if the case be but fairly stated, it will be surely carried in favour of religion. 2. The enemies of God’s church and his holy religion may safely be challenged to say and do their worst for the support of their unrighteous cause. He that sits in heaven laughs at them,and the daughter of Zion despises them; for great is the truth and will prevail.

II. He particularly challenges the idols to do that for their worshippers, and against his, which he had done and would do for his worshippers, and against theirs. Different senses are given of Isa 41:2, concerning the righteous man raised up from the east; and, since we cannot determine which is the true, we will make use of each as good.

1. That which is to be proved is, (1.) That the Lord is God alone, the first and with the last(Isa 41:4), that he is infinite, eternal,and unchangeable, that he governed the world from the beginning, and will to the end of time. He has reigned of old, and will reign for ever; the counsels of his kingdom were from eternity, and the continuance of it will be to eternity. (2.) That Israel is his servant(Isa 41:8), whom he owns, and protects, and employs, and in whom he is and will be glorified. As there is a God in heaven,so there is a church on earth that is his particular care. Elijah prays (1Ki 18:36), Let it be known that thou art God, and that I am thy servant. Now,

2. To prove this he shows,

(1.) That it was he who called Abraham, the father of this despised nation, out of an idolatrous country, and by many instances of his favour made his name great, Gen12:2. He is the righteous man whom God raised up from the east. Of him the Chaldee paraphrast expressly understands it: Who brought Abraham publicly from the east? To maintain the honour of the people of Israel, it was very proper to show what a figure this great ancestor of theirs made in his day; and Isa 41:8seems to be the explication of it, where God calls Israel the seedof Abraham my friend; and (Isa 41:4)he calls the generations (namely, the generations of Israel) from the beginning. Also, to put contempt upon idolatry, and particularly the Chaldean idolatry, it was proper to show how Abraham was called from serving other gods (Jos 24:2,Jos 24:3, etc.), so that an early testimony was borne against that idolatry which boasted so much of its antiquity. Also,to encourage the captives in Babylon to hope that God would find a way for their return to their own land, it was proper to remind them how at first he brought their father Abraham out of the same country into this land, to give itto him for an inheritance, Gen 15:7. Now observe what is here said concerning him. [1.] That he was a righteous man, or righteousness, a man of righteousness, that believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness; and so he became the father of all those who by faith in Christ are made the righteousness of God through him,Rom 4:3, Rom 4:11;2Co 5:21. He was a great example of righteousness in his day, and taught his household to do judgment and justice, Gen 18:19. [2.] That God raised him up from the east, from Ur first and afterwards from Haran, which lay east from Canaan. God would not let him settle in either of those places, but did by him as the eagle by her young, when she stirs up her nest: he raised him out of iniquity and made him pious, out of obscurity and made him famous. [3.] He called him to his foot, to follow him with an implicit faith; for he went out, not knowing whither he went, but whom he followed, Heb 11:8.Those whom God effectually calls he calls to his foot, to be subject to him, to attend him, and follow the Lamb whither soever he goes; and we must all either come to his foot or be made his footstool. [4.] He gave nations before him, the nations of Canaan, which he promised to make him master of, and thus far gave him an interest in that the Hittites acknowledged him a mighty prince among them, Gen23:6. He made him rule over those kings whom he conquered for the rescue of his brother Lot, Gen. 14. And when God gave them as dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow(that is, made them an easy prey to his catechised servants), he then pursued them, and passed safely, or in peace, under the divine protection, though it was in a way he was altogether unacquainted with; and so considerable was this victory that Melchizedec himself appeared to celebrate it. Now who did this but the great Jehovah? Can any of the gods of the heathen do so?

(2.) That it is he who will, ere long, raise up Cyrus from the east. It is spoken of according to the language of prophecy as a thing past, because as sure to be done in its season as if it were already done. God will raise him up in righteousness (so it may be read, Isa 45:13), will call him to his foot, make what use of him he pleases, and make him victorious over the nations that oppose his coming to the crown, and give him success in all his wars; and he shall be a type of Christ, who is righteousness itself, the Lord our righteousness, whom God will, in the fulness of time,raise up and make victorious over the powers of darkness; so that he shall spoil them and make a show of them openly.

III. He exposes the folly of idolaters, who,notwithstanding the convincing proofs which the God of Israel had given of his being God alone, obstinately persisted in their idolatry, nay, were so much the more hardened in it (Isa 41:5): The isles of the Gentiles saw this, not only what God did for Abraham himself, but what he did for his seed, for his sake, how he brought them out of Egypt, and made them rule over kings, and they feared, Exo 15:14-16. They were afraid, and, according to the summons (Isa 41:1),they drew near, and came; they could not avoid taking notice of what God did for Abraham and his seed; but, instead of helping to reason one another out of their sottish idolatries, they helped to confirm one another in them, Isa 41:6, Isa 41:7. 1. They looked upon it as a dangerous design upon their religion, which they were jealous for the honour of, and were resolved, right or wrong, to adhere to, and therefore were alarmed to appear vigorously for the support of it, as the Ephesians for their Diana. When God,by his wonderful appearances on the behalf of his people, went about to wrest their idols from them, they held them so much the faster, and said one to another, “Be of good courage; let us unanimously agree to keep up the reputation of our gods. Though Dagon fall before the ark, he shall be set up again in his place.” One tradesman encourages another to come into a confederacy for the keeping up of the noble craft of god-making. Thus men’s convictions often exasperate their corruptions, and they are made worse both by the word and the works of God, which should make them better. 2. They looked upon it as a dangerous design upon themselves. They thought themselves in danger from the growing greatness both of Abraham that was a convert from idolatry, and of the people of Israel that were separatists from it; and therefore they not only had recourse to their old gods for protection, but made new ones, Deu 32:17. So the carpenter, having done his part to the timber work, encouraged the goldsmith to do his part in gilding or overlaying it; and, when it came into the goldsmith’s hand, he that smooths with the hammer that polishes it, or beats it thin, quickened him that smote the anvil, bade him be expeditious, and told him it was ready for the soldering, which perhaps was the last operation about it, and then it is fastened with nails, and you have a god of it presently. Do sinners thus animate and quicken one another in the ways of sin?And shall not the servants of the living God both stir up one another to, and strengthen one another in, his service? Some read all this ironically, and byway of permission: Let them help every one his neighbour; let the carpenter encourage the goldsmith; but all in vain; idols shall fall for all this.

IV. He encourages his own people to trust in him (Isa 41:8, Isa 41:9):“But thou, Israel, art my servant. They know me not, but thou knowest me, and knowest better than to join with such ignorant besotted people as these” (for it is intended for a warning to the people of God not to walk in the way of the heathen); “they put themselves under the protection of these impotent deities, but thou art under my protection.

Those that make them are like unto them, and so is every one that trusts in them; but thou, O Israel! art the servant of a better Master.” Observe what is suggested here for the encouragement of God’s people when they are threatened and insulted over. 1. They are God’s servants, and he will not see them abused, especially for what they do in his service: Thou art my servant (Isa 41:8), and (Isa 41:9) “I have said unto thee,Thou art my servant; and I will not go back from my word.” 2. He has chosen them to be a peculiar people to himself. They were not forced upon him, but of his own good-will he set them apart. 3. They were the seed of Abraham his friend. It was the honour of Abraham that he was called the friend of God (Jas 2:23),whom God covenanted and conversed with as a friend, and the man of his counsel; and this honour have all the saints, Joh 15:15. And for the father’s sake the people of Israel were beloved. God was pleased to look upon them as the posterity of an old friend of his, and therefore to be kind to them; for the covenant of friendship was made with Abraham and his seed. 4. He had sometimes,when they had been scattered among the heathen, fetched them from the ends of the earth and taken them out of the hands of the chief ones thereof, and therefore he would not now abandon them. Abraham their father was fetched from a place at a great distance, and they in his loins; and those who had been thus far-fetched and dear-bought he could not easily part with. 5. He had not yet cast them away, though they had often provoked him, and therefore he would not now abandon them. What God has done for his people, and what he has further engaged to do, should encourage them to trust in him at all times.

Isaiah 41:10-20

The scope of these verses is to silence the fears,and encourage the faith, of the servants of God in their distresses. Perhaps itis intended, in the first place, for the support of God’s Israel, in captivity;but all that faithfully serve God through patience and comfort of this scripture may have hope. And it is addressed to Israel as a single person, that it might the more easily and readily be accommodated and applied by every Israelite indeed to himself. That is a word of caution, counsel, and comfort, which is so often repeated, Fear thou not; and again (Isa 41:13), Fear not;and (Isa 41:14), “Fear not,thou worm Jacob; fear not the threatenings of the enemy, doubt not the promise of thy God; fear not that thou shalt perish in thy affliction or that the promise of thy deliverance shall fail.” It is against the mind of God that his people should be a timorous people. For the suppressing of fear he assures them,

I. That they may depend upon his presence with them as their God, and a God all-sufficient for them in the worst of times.Observe with what tenderness God speaks, and how willing he is to let the heirs of promise know the immutability of his counsel, and how desirous to make them easy: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee, not only with in call, but present with thee; be not dismayed at the power of those that are against thee, for I am thy God, and engaged for thee. Art thou weak? I will strengthen thee.Art thou destitute of friends? I will help thee in the time of need. Art thou ready to sink, ready to fall? I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness, that right hand which is full of righteousness, in dispensing rewards and punishments,” Psa 48:10. And again (Isa41:13) it is promised, 1. That God will strengthen their hands, that is,will help them: “I will hold thy right hand, go hand in hand with thee” (so some): he will take us by the hand as our guide, to lead us in our way, will help us up when we are fallen or prevent our falls; when we are weak he will hold us up – wavering, he will fix us – trembling, he will encourage us, and so hold us by the right hand, Psa 73:23. 2. That he will silence their fears: Saying unto thee, Fear not. He has said it again and again in his word, and has there provided sovereign antidotes against fear: but he will go further; he will by his Spirit say it to their hearts, and make them to hear it, and so will help them.

II. That though their enemies be now very formidable, insolent, and severe, yet the day is coming when God will reckon with them and they shall triumph over them. There are those that are incensed against God’s people, that strive with them (Isa 41:11), that war against them (Isa 41:12), that hate them, that seek their ruin,and are continually picking quarrels with them. But let not God’s people be incensed at them, nor strive with them, nor render evil for evil; but wait God’s time, and believe, 1. That they shall be convinced of the folly, at least, if not of the sin of striving with God’s people; and, finding it to no purpose, they shall be ashamed and confounded, which might bring them to repentance, but will rather fill them with rage. 2. That they shall be quite ruined and undone (Isa 41:11):They shall be as nothing before the justice and power of God. When God comes to deal with his proud enemies he makes nothing of them. Or they shall be brought to nothing, shall be as if they had never been. This is repeated (Isa 41:12): They shall be as nothing and as a thing of nought, or as that which is gone and has failed. Those that were formidable shall become despicable; those that fancied they could do any thing shall be able to bring nothing to pass; those that made a figure in the world, and a mighty noise, shall become mere ciphers and be buried in silence. They shall perish, not only be nothing, but be miserable: Thou shalt seek them, shalt enquire what has become of them,that they do not appear as usual, but thou shalt not find themas David, Psa 37:36. I sought him, but he could not be found.

III. That they themselves should become a terror to those who were now a terror to them, and victory should turn on their side, Isa 41:14-16. See here, 1. How Jacob and Israel are reduced and brought very low. It is the worm Jacob, so little, so weak, and so defenceless, despised and trampled on by every body,forced to creep even into the earth for safety; and we must not wonder that Jacob has become a worm, when even Jacob’s King calls himself a worm and no man, Psa 22:6. God’s people are sometimes as worms, in their humble thoughts of themselves and their enemies’ haughty thoughts of them – worms, but not vipers, as their enemies are, not of the serpent’s seed. God regards Jacob’s low estate, and says, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob; fear not that thou shalt be crushed;and you men of Israel” (you few men,so some read it, you dead men, so others) “do not give up yourselves for gone notwithstanding.” Note, The grace of God will silence fear seven when there seems to be the greatest cause for them. Perplexed but not in despair. 2. How Jacob and Israel are advanced from this low estate, and made as formidable as ever they have been despicable. But by whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small? We are here told: I will help thee, saith the Lord; and it is the honour of God to help the weak. He will help them, for he is their Redeemer, who is wont to redeem them, who has undertaken to do it. Christ is the Redeemer, from him is our help found. He will help them, for he is the Holy One of Israel, worshipped among them in the beauty of holiness and engaged by promise to them. The Lord will help them by enabling them to help themselves and making Jacob to become a threshing instrument.Observe, He is but an instrument, a tool in God’s hand, that he is pleased to make use of; and he is an instrument of God’s making and is no more than God makes him. But, if God make him a threshing instrument, he will make use of him, and therefore will make him fit for use, new and sharp, and having teeth, or sharp spikes;and then, by divine direction and strength, thou shalt thresh the mountains, the highest, and strongest, and most stubborn of thy enemies:thou shalt not only beat them, but beat them small; they shall not be a corn threshed out, which is valuable, and is carefully preserved(such God’s people are when they are under the flail, Isa21:10 : O my threshing! yet the corn of my floor, that shall not be lost); but these are made as chaff, which is good for nothing, and which the husbandman is glad to get rid of. He pursues the metaphor, Isa 41:16.Having threshed them, thou shalt winnow them, and the wind shall scatter them. This perhaps had its accomplishment, in part, in the victories of the Jews over their enemies in the times of the Maccabees; but it seems in general designed to read the final doom of all the implacable enemies of the church of God, and to have its accomplishment likewise in the triumphs of the cross of Christ, the gospel of Christ, and all the faithful followers of Christ, over the powers of darkness, which, first or last, shall all be  dissipated, and in Christ all believers shall be more than conquerors, and he that overcomes shall have power over the nations, Rev 2:26.

IV. That, hereupon, they shall have abundance of comfort in God, and God shall have abundance of honour from them: Thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, Isa 41:16.When we are freed from that which hindered our joy, and are blessed with that which is the matter of it, we ought to remember that God is our exceeding joy and in him all our joys must terminate. When we rejoice over our enemies we must rejoice in the Lord, for to him alone we owe our liberties and victories.“Thou shalt also glory in the Holy One of Israel, in thy interest in him and relation to him, and what he has done for thee.” And, if thus we make God our praise and glory, we become to him for a praise and a glory.

V. That they shall have seasonable and suitable supplies of every thing that is proper for them in the time of need; and, if there be occasion, God will again do for them as he did for Israel in their march from Egypt to Canaan, Isa 41:17-19.When the captives, either in Babylon or in their return thence, are in distress for want of water or shelter, God will take care of them, and, one way or other, make their journey, even through a wilderness, comfortable to them. But doubtless this promise has more than such a private interpretation. Their return out of Babylon was typical of our redemption by Christ; and so the contents of these promises, 1. Were provided by the gospel of Christ. That glorious discovery of his love has given full assurance to all those who hear this joyful sound that God has provided inestimable comforts for them, sufficient for the supply of all their wants, the balancing of all their griefs, and the answering of all their prayers. 2. They are applied by the grace and Spirit of Christ to all believers, that they may have strong consolation in their way and a complete happiness in their end. Our way to heaven lies through the wilderness of this world. Now, (1.) It is here supposed that the people of God, in their passage through this world, are often in straits: The poor and needy seek water, and there is none; the poor in spirit hunger and thirst after righteousness. The soul of man,finding itself empty and necessitous, seeks for satisfaction somewhere, but soon despairs of finding it in the world, that has nothing in it to make it easy: creatures are broken cisterns, that can hold no water;so that their tongue fails for thirst, they are weary of seeking that satisfaction in the world which is not to be had in it. Their sorrow makes them thirsty; so does their toil. (2.) It is here promised that,one way or other, all their grievances shall be redressed and they shall be made easy. [1.] God himself will be nigh unto them in all that which they call upon him for. Let all the praying people of God take notice of this, and take comfort of it; he has said, “

I the Lord will hear them, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them; I will be with them, as I have always been, in their distresses.” While we are in the wilderness of this world this promise is to us what the pillar of cloud and fire was to Israel, an assurance of God’s gracious presence. [2.] They shall have a constant supply of freshwater, as Israel had in the wilderness, even where one would least expect it (Isa 41:18): I will open rivers in high places, rivers of grace, rivers of pleasure, rivers of living water, which he spoke of the Spirit (Joh7:38, Joh 7:39), that Spirit which should be poured out upon the Gentiles, who had been as high places, dry and barren, and lifted up on their own conceit above the necessity of that gift.And there shall be fountains in the midst of the valleys,the valleys of Baca (Psa 84:6), that are sandy and wearisome; or among the Jews, who had been as fruitful valleys in comparison with the Gentile mountains. The preaching of the gospel to the world turned that wilderness into a pool of water, yielding fruit to the owner of it and relief to the travellers through it. [3.] They shall have a pleasant shade to screen them from the scorching heat of the sun, as Israel when they pitched at Elim, where they had not only wells of water, but palm-trees (Exo 15:27): “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, Isa 41:19. I will turn the wilderness into an orchard or garden, such as used to be planted with these pleasant trees, so that they shall pass through the wilderness with as much ease and delight as a man walks in his grove. These trees shall be to them what the pillar of cloud was to Israel in the wilderness, a shelter from the heat.” Christ and his grace are so to believers, as the shadow of a great rock, Isa 32:2.When God sets up his church in the Gentile wilderness there shall be as great a change made by it in men’s characters as if thorns and briers were turned into cedars, and fir-trees, and myrtles; and by this a blessed change is described, Isa 55:13. [4.] They shall see and acknowledge the hand of God, his power and his favour, in this, Isa41:20. God will do these strange and surprising things on purpose to awaken them to a conviction and consideration of his hand in all: That they may see this wonderful change, and knowing that it is above the ordinary course and power of nature may consider that therefore it comes from a superior power, and, comparing notesupon it, may understand together, and concur in the acknowledgment of it, that the hand of the Lord, that mighty hand of his which is stretched out for his people and stretched out to them, has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it, made it anew, made it out of nothing, made it for the comfort of his people. Note, God does great things for his people, that he may be taken notice of.

Isaiah 41:21-29

The Lord, by the prophet, here repeats the challenge to idolaters to make out the pretentions of their idols: “Produce your cause (Isa 41:21)and make your best of it; bring forth the strongest reasons you have to prove that your idols are gods, and worthy of your adoration.”Note, There needs no more to show the absurdity of sin than to produce the reasons that are given in defence of it, for they carry with them their own confutation.

I. The idols are here challenged to bring proofs of their knowledge and power. Let us see what they can inform us of, and what they can do. Understanding and active power are the accomplishments of a man.Whoever pretends to be a god must have these in perfection; and have the idols made it to appear that they have? No;

1. “They can tell us nothing that we did not know before, so ignorant are they. We challenge them to inform us,” (1.) “What has been formerly: Let them show the former things, and raise them out of the oblivion in which they were buried” (God inspired Moses to write such a history of the creation as the gods of the heathen could never have dictated to any of their enthusiasts); or “let the defenders of idols tell us what mighty achievements they can boast of as performed by their gods informer times. What did they ever do that was worth taking notice of? Let them specify any thing, and it shall be considered, its due weight shall be given it, and it shall be compared with the latter end of it; and if, in the issue,it prove to be as great as it pretended to be, they shall have the credit of it.” (2.) “We challenge them to tell us what shall happen, to declare to us things to come (Isa 41:22),and again (Isa 41:23), show the things that are to come hereafter. Give this evidence of your omniscience, that nothing can be hidden from you, and of your sovereignty and dominion. Make it to appear that you have the doing of all, by letting us know beforehand what you deign to do. Do this kindness to the world; let them know what is to come, that they may provide accordingly. Do this, and we will own that you are gods above us, and gods to us, and worthy of our adoration.” No creature can foretell things to come, otherwise than by divine information, with any certainty.

2. “They can do nothing that we cannot do ourselves, so impotent are they.” He challenges them to do either good or evil, good to their friends or evil to their enemies:“Let them do, if they can, any thing extraordinary, that people will admire and be affected with. Let them either bless or curse, with power. Let us see them either inflict such plagues such as God brought on Egypt or bestow such blessings as God bestowed on Israel. Let them do some great thing, and we shall be amazed when we see it, and frightened into a veneration of them, as many have been into a veneration of the true God.” That which is charged upon these idols, and let them disprove it if they can, is that they are of nothing, Isa 41:24. Their claims have no foundation at all, nor is there any ground or reason in the least for men’s paying them the respect they do; there is nothing in them worthy our regard.“They are less than nothing, worse than nothing;” so some read it. “The work they do is of nought, and so is the ado that is made about them. There is no pretence or colour for it; it is all a jest; it is all a sham put upon the world; and therefore he that chooses you, and so give you your deity, and” (as some read it) “that delights in you, is an abomination;” so some take it. A servant is at liberty to choose his master, but a man is not at liberty to choose his God. He that chooses any other than the true God chooses an abomination; his choosing it makes it so.

II. God here produces proofs that he is the true God, and that there is none besides him. Let him produce his strong reasons.

1. He has an irresistible power. This he will shortly make to appear in the raising up of Cyrus and making him a type of Christ (Isa 41:25): He will raise him up from the north and from the rising of the sun. Cyrus by his father was a Mede, by his mother a Persian; and his army consisted of Medes, whose country lay north, and Persians, whose country lay east, from Babylon. God will raise him up to great power, and he shall come against Babylon with ends of his own to serve. But, (1.) He shall proclaim God’s name; so it may be read. He shall publish the honour of the God of Israel; so he did remarkably when, in his proclamation for the release of the Jews out of their captivity, he acknowledged that the Lord God of Israel was the Lord God of heaven, and the God: and he might be said to call on his name when he encouraged the building of his temple, and very probably did himself call upon him and pray to him, Ezr 1:2, Ezr 1:3.(2.) All opposition shall fall before him: He shall come upon the princes of Babylon, and all others that stood in his way, as mortar, and trample upon them as the potter treads clay,to serve his own purposes with it. Christ, as man, was raised up from then orth, for Nazareth lay in the northern parts of Canaan; as the angel of the covenant, he ascends from the east. He maintained the honour of heaven (he shall call upon my name), and broke the powers of hell, came upon the prince of darkness as mortar and trod him down.

2. He has an infallible foresight. He would not only do this, but he did now, by his prophet, foretell it. Now the false gods not only could not do it, but they could not foresee it. (1.) He challenges them to produce any of their pretended deities, or their diviners, that had given notice of this, or could (Isa 41:26):“Who has declared from the beginning any thing of this kind, or has told it before-time? Tell us if there be any that you know of, for we know not any; if there be any, we will say, He is righteous,he is true, his cause is just, his claims are proved, and he is in the right in demanding to be worshipped.” This agrees with Isa 41:22,Isa 41:23. (2.) He challenges to himself the sole honour of doing it and foretelling it (Isa 41:27):I am the first (so it may be read) that will say to Zion, Behold, behold them, that will let the people of Israel know their deliverers are at hand (for there were those who understood by books, God’s books, the approach of the time, Dan 9:2),and I am he that will give to Jerusalem one that brings good tidings, these good tidings of their enlargement. This is applicable to the work of redemption, in which the Lord showed himself much more than in the release of the Jews out of Babylon: he it was that contrived our salvation, and he brought it about, and he has given to us the glad tidings of reconciliation.

III. Judgment is here given upon this trial. 1.None of all the idols had foretold, or could foresee, this work of wonder.Other nations besides the Jews were released out of captivity in Babylon by Cyrus, or at least were greatly concerned in the revolution of the monarchy and there transferring of it to the Persians; and yet none of them had any intelligence given them of it beforehand, by any of their gods or prophets: “There is none that shows (Isa 41:26),none that declares, none that gives the least intimation of it; there is none of the nations that hears your words, that can pretend to have heard from their gods such words as you, O Israelites! have heard from your God, by your prophets,” Psa 147:20. None of all the gods of the nations have shown their worshippers the way of salvation, which God will show by the Messiah. The good tidings which the Lord will send in the gospel is a mystery hidden from ages and generations, Rom 16:25,Rom 16:26. 2. None of those who pleaded for them could produce any instance of their knowledge or power that had in it any colour of proof that they were gods. All their advocates were struck dumb with this challenge (Isa 41:28): “I beheld, and there was no man that could give evidence for them, even among those that were their most zealous admirers; and there was no counsellor, none that could offer any thing for the support of their cause. Even among the idols themselves there was none fit to give counsel in the most trivial matters, and yet there were those that asked counsel of them in the most important and difficult affairs. When I asked them what they had to say for themselves they stood mute; the case was so plain against them that there was none who could answer a word.” Judgment must therefore be given against the defendant upon Nihil dicitHe is mute. He has nothing to say for himself. He was speechless, Mat 22:12. 3.Sentence is therefore given according to the charge exhibited against them (Isa 41:24): “Behold, they are all vanity (Isa 41:29); they are a lie and a cheat; they are not in themselves what they pretend to be, nor will their worshippers find that in them which they promise themselves. Their works are nothing, of no force, of no worth; their enemies need fear no hurt from them; their worshippers can hope for no good from them. Their molten images, and indeed all their images, are wind and confusion, vanity and vexation; those that worship them will be deceived in them, and will reflect upon their own folly with the greatest bitterness. Therefore, dearly beloved, flee from idolatry,1Co 10:14.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Psalms 27

Commentary on

Psalms 27

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

Psalms 27

Some think David penned this psalm before his coming to the throne, when he was in the midst of his troubles, and perhaps upon occasion of the death of his parents; but the Jews think he penned it when he was old, upon occasion of the wonderful deliverance he had from the sword of the giant, when Abishai succoured him (2Sa 21:16, 2Sa 21:17) and his people thereupon resolved he should never venture his life again in battle, lest he should quench the light of Israel. Perhaps it was not penned upon any particular occasion; but it is very expressive of the pious and devout affections with which gracious souls are carried out towards God at all times, especially in times of trouble. Here is, I. The courage and holy bravery of his faith (Psa 27:1-3). II. The complacency he took in communion with God and the benefit he experienced by it (Psa 27:4-6). III. His desire towards God, and his favour and grace (Psa 27:7-9, Psa 27:11,Psa 27:12). IV. His expectations from God, and the encouragement he gives to others to hope in him (Psa 27:10, Psa 27:13,Psa 27:14). And let our hearts be thus affected in singing this psalm.

 A psalm of David.

Psalms 27:1-6

We may observe here,

I. With what a lively faith David triumphs in God, glories in his holy name, and in the interest he had in him. 1. The Lord is my light. David’s subjects called him the light of Israel,2Sa 21:17. And he was indeed a burning and a shining light: but he owns that he shone, as the moon does, with a borrows light; what light God darted upon him reflected upon them: The Lord is my light. God is a light to his people, to show them the way when they are in doubt, to comfort and rejoice their hearts when they are in sorrow. It is in his light that they now walk on in their way, and in his light they hope to see light for ever. 2. “He is my salvation, in whom I am safe and by whom I shall be saved.” 3. “He is the strength of my life, not only the protector of my exposed life, who keeps me from being slain, but the strength of my frail weak life, who keeps me from fainting, sinking, and dying away.” God, who is a believer’s light, is the strength of his life, not only by whom, but in whom, he lives and moves. In God therefore let us strengthen ourselves.

II. With what an undaunted courage he triumphs over his enemies; no fortitude like that of faith. If God be for him, who can be against him? Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid? If Omnipotence be his guard, he has no cause to fear; if he knows it to be so, he has no disposition to fear. If God be his light, he fears no shades; if God be his salvation, he fears no colours. He triumphs over his enemies that were already routed, Psa 27:2. His enemies came upon him, to eat up his flesh, aiming at no less and assured of that, but they fell; not, “He smote them and they fell,” but, “They stumbled and fell;” they were so confounded and weakened that they could not go on with their enterprise. Thus those that came to take Christ with a word’s speaking were made to stagger and fall to the ground, Joh 18:6. The ruin of some of the enemies of God’s people is an earnest of the complete conquest of them all. And therefore, these having fallen, he is fearless of the rest: “Though they be numerous, a host of them, – though they be daring and their attempts threatening, – though they encamp against me, an army against one man, – though they wage war upon me, yet my heart shall not fear.” Hosts cannot hurt us if the Lord of hosts protect us. Nay, in this assurance that God is for me “I will be confident.” Two things he will be confident of: – 1. That he shall be safe. “If God is my salvation, in the time of trouble he shall hide me; he shall set me out of danger and above the fear of it.” God will not only find out a shelter for his people in distress (as he did Jer 36:26), but he will himself be their hiding-place, Psa 32:7. His providence will, it may be, keep them safe; at least his grace will make them easy. His name is the strong tower into which by faith they run,Pro 18:10. “He shall hide me, not in the strongholds of En-gedi (1Sa 23:29), but in the secret of his tabernacle.” The gracious presence of God, his power, his promise, his readiness to hear prayer, the witness of his Spirit in the hearts of his people – these are the secret of his tabernacle, and in these the saints find cause for that holy security and serenity of mind in which they dwell at ease. This sets them upon a rock which will not sink under them, but on which they find firm footing for their hopes; nay, it sets them up upon a rock on high, where the raging threatening billows of a stormy sea cannot touch them; it is a rock that is higher than we,Psa 61:2. 2. That he shall be victorious (Psa 27:6): “Now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies, not only so as that they cannot reach it with their darts, but so as that I shall be exalted to bear rule over them.” David here, by faith in the promise of God, triumphs before the victory, and is as sure, not only of the laurel, but of the crown, as if it were already upon his head.

III. With what a gracious earnestness he prays for a constant communion with God in holy ordinances, Psa 27:4. It greatly encouraged his confidence in God that he was conscious to himself of an entire affection to God and to his ordinances, and that he was in his element when in the way of his duty and in the way of increasing his acquaintance with him. If our hearts can witness for us that we delight in God above any creature, that may encourage us to depend upon him; for it is a sign we are of those whom he protects as his own. Or it may be taken thus: He desired to dwell in the house of the Lord that there he might be safe from the enemies that surrounded him. Finding himself surrounded by threatening hosts, he does not say, “One thing have I desired, in order to my safety, that I may have my army augmented to such a number,” or that I may be master of such a city or such a castle, but “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, and then I am well.” Observe,

1. What it is he desires – to dwell in the house of the Lord. In the courts of God’s house the priests had their lodgings, and David wished he had been one of them. Disdainfully as some look upon God’s ministers, one of the greatest and best of kings that ever was would gladly have taken his lot, have taken his lodging, among them. Or, rather, he desires that he might duly and constantly attend on the public service of God, with other faithful Israelites, according as the duty of every day required. He longed to see an end of the wars in which he was now engaged, not that he might live at ease in his own palace, but that he might have leisure and liberty for a constant attendance in God’s courts. Thus Hezekiah, a genuine son of David, wished for the recovery of his health, not that he might go up to the thrones of judgment, but that he mightgo up to the house of the Lord,Isa 38:22. Note, All God’s children desire to dwell in God’s house; where should they dwell else? Not to sojourn there as a wayfaring man, that turns aside to tarry but for a night, nor to dwell there for a time only, as the servant that abides not in the house for ever, but to dwell there all the days of their life; for there the Son abides ever. Do we hope that praising God will be the blessedness of our eternity? Surely them we ought to make it the business of our time.

2. How earnestly he covets this: “This is the one thing I have desired of the Lord and which I will seek after.” If he were to ask but one thing of God, this should be it; for this he had at heart more than any thing. He desired it as a good thing; he desired it of the Lord as his gift and a token of his favour. And, having fixed his desire upon this as the one thing needful, he sought after it; he continued to pray for it, and contrived his affairs so as that he might have this liberty and opportunity. Note, Those that truly desire communion with God will set themselves with all diligence to seek after it, Pro 18:1.

3. What he had in his eye in it. He would dwell in God’s house, not for the plenty of good entertainment that was there, in the feasts upon the sacrifices, nor for the music and good singing that were there, but to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple. He desired to attend in God’s courts, (1.) That he might have the pleasure of meditating upon God. He knew something of the beauty of the Lord, the infinite and transcendent amiableness of the divine being and perfections; his holiness is his beauty (Psa 110:3), his goodness is his beauty, Zec 9:17. The harmony of all his attributes is the beauty of his nature. With an eye of faith and holy love we with pleasure behold this beauty, and observe more and more in it that is amiable, that is admirable. When with fixedness of thought, and a holy flame of devout affections, we contemplate God’s glorious excellencies, and entertain ourselves with the tokens of his peculiar favour to us, this is that view of the beauty of the Lord which David here covets, and it is to be had in his ordinances, for there he manifests himself. (2.) That he might have the satisfaction of being instructed in his duty; for concerning this he would enquire in God’s temple. Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? For the sake of these two things he desired that one thing, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life; for blessed are those that do so; they will be still praising him (Psa 84:4), both in speaking to him and in hearing from him. Mary’s sitting at Christ’s feet to hear his word Christ calls the one thing needful, and the good part.

4. What advantage he promised himself by it. Could he but have a place in God’s house, (1.) There he should be quiet and easy: there troubles would not find him, for he should be hid in secret; there troubles would not reach him, for he should be set on high,Psa 27:5. Joash, one of David’s seed, was hidden in the house of the Lord six years, and there not only preserved from the sword, but reserved to the crown, 2Ki 11:3. The temple was thought a safe place for Nehemiah to abscond in,Neh 6:10. The safety of believers however is not in the walls of the temple, but in the God of the temple and their comfort in communion with him. (2.) There he should be pleasant and cheerful: there he would offer sacrifices of joy, Psa 27:6. For God’s work is its own wages. There he would sing, yea, he would sing praises to the Lord. Note, Whatever is the matter of our joy ought to be the matter of our praise; and, when we attend upon God in holy ordinances, we ought to be much in joy and praise. It is for the glory of our God that we should sing in his ways; and, whenever God lifts us up above our enemies, we ought to exalt him in our praises. Thanks be to God, who always causeth us to triumph, 2Co 2:14.

 

Psalms 27:7-14

David in these verses expresses,

I. His desire towards God, in many petitions. If he cannot now go up to the house of the Lord, yet, wherever he is, he can find a way to the throne of grace by prayer.

1. He humbly bespeaks, because he firmly believes he shall have, a gracious audience: “Hear, O Lord, when I cry, not only with my heart, but, as one in earnest, with my voice too.” He bespeaks also an answer of peace, which he expects, not from his own merit, but God’s goodness: Have mercy upon me, and answer me, Psa 27:7. If we pray and believe, God will graciously hear and answer.

2. He takes hold of the kind invitation God had given him to this duty,Psa 27:8. It is presumption for us to come into the presence of the King of kings uncalled, nor can we draw near with any assurance unless he hold forth to us the golden sceptre. David therefore going to pray fastens, in his thoughts, upon the call God had given him to the throne of his grace, and reverently touches, as it were, the top of the golden sceptre which was thereby held out to him. My heart said unto thee (so it begins in the original) or of thee, Seek you my face; he first revolved that, and preached that over again to himself (and that is the best preaching: it is hearing twice what God speaks once) – Thou saidst (so it may be supplied), Seek you my face; and then he returns what he had so meditated upon, in this pious resolution, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Observe here, (1.) The true nature of religious worship; it is seeking the face of God. This it is in God’s precept:Seek you my face; he would have us seek him for himself, and make his favour our chief good; and this it is in the saint’s purpose and desire: “Thy face, Lord, will I seek, and nothing less will I take up with.” The opening of his hand will satisfy the desire of other living things (Psa 145:16), but it is only the shining of his face that will satisfy the desire of a living soul, Psa 4:6,Psa 4:7. (2.) The kind of invitation of a gracious God to this duty: Thou saidst, Seek you my face; it is not only permission, but a precept; and his commanding us to seek implies a promise of finding; for he is too kind to say, Seek you me in vain. God calls us to seek his face in our conversion to him and in our converse with him. He calls us, by the whispers of his Spirit to and with our spirits, to seek his face; he calls us by his word, by the stated returns of opportunities for his worship, and by special providences, merciful and afflictive. When we are foolishly making our court to lying vanities God is, in love to us, calling us in him to seek our own mercies. (3.) The ready compliance of a gracious soul with this invitation. The call is immediately returned:My heart answered, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. The call was general; “Seek you my face;” but, like David, we must apply it to ourselves, “I will seek it.” The word does us no good when we transfer it to others, and do not ourselves accept the exhortation. The call was, Seek you my face; the answer is express, Thy face, Lord, will I seek; like that (Jer 3:22), Behold, we come unto thee. A gracious heart readily echoes to the call of a gracious God, being made willing in the day of his power.

3. He is very particular in his requests. (1.) For the favour of God, that he might not be shut out from that (Psa 27:9): “Thy face, Lord, will I seek, in obedience to thy command; therefore hide not thy face from me; let me never want the reviving sense of the favour; love me, and let me know that thou lovest me; put not thy servant away in anger.” He owns he had deserved God’s displeasure, but begs that, however God might correct him, he would not cast him away from his presence; for what is hell but that? (2.) For the continuance of his presence with him: “Thou hast been my help formerly, andthou are the God of my salvation; and therefore whither shall I go but to thee? O leave me not, neither forsake me; withdraw not the operations of they power from me, for then I am helpless; withdraw not the tokens of thy good-will to me, for then I am comfortless.” (3.) For the benefit of divine guidance (Psa 27:11): “Teach me thy way, O Lord! give me to understand the meaning of thy providences towards me and make them plain to me; and give me to know my duty in every doubtful case, that I may not mistake it, but may walk rightly, and that I may not do it with hesitation, but may walk surely.” It is not policy, but plainness (that is, downright honesty) that will direct us into and keep us in the way of our duty. He begs to be guided in a plain path, because of his enemies, or (as the margin reads it) his observers. His enemies watched for his halting, that they may find occasion against him. Saul eyed David, 1Sa 18:9. This quickened him to pray, “Lord, lead me in a plain path, that they may have nothing ill, or nothing that looks ill, to lay to my charge.” (4.) For the benefit of a divine protection (Psa 27:12): “Deliver me not over to the will of my enemies. Lord, let them not gain their point, for it aims at my life, and no less, and in such a way as that I have no fence against them, but thy power over their consciences; for false witnesses have risen up against me, that aim further than to take away my reputation or estate, for theybreathe out cruelty; it is the blood, the precious blood, they thirst after.” Herein David was a type of Christ; for false witnesses rose up against him, and such as breathed out cruelty; but though he was delivered into their wicked hands, he was not delivered over to their will, for they could not prevent his exaltation.

II. He expresses his dependence upon God,

1. That he would help and succour him when all other helps and succours failed him (Psa 27:10): “When my father and my mother forsake me, the nearest and dearest friends I have in the world, from whom I may expect most relief and with most reason, when they die, or are at a distance from me, or are disabled to help me in time of need, or are unkind to me or unmindful of me, and will not help me, when I am as helpless as ever poor orphan was that was left fatherless and motherless, then I know the Lord will take me up, as a poor wandering sheep is taken up, and saved from perishing.” His time to help those that trust in him is when all other helpers fail, when it is most for his honour and their comfort. With him the fatherless find mercy. This promise has often been fulfilled in the letter of it. Forsaken orphans have been taken under the special care of the divine Providence, which has raised up relief and friends for them in a way that one would not have expected. God is a surer and better friend than our earthly parents are or can be.

2. That in due time he should see the displays of his goodness, Psa 27:13. He believed he should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living; and, if he had not done so, he wouldhave fainted under his afflictions. Even the best saints are subject to faint when their troubles become grievous and tedious, their spirits are overwhelmed, and their flesh and heart fail. But then faith is a sovereign cordial; it keeps them from desponding under their burden and from despairing of relief, keeps them hoping, and praying, and waiting, and keeps up in them good thoughts of God, and the comfortable enjoyment of themselves. But what was it the belief of which kept David from fainting? – that he should see the goodness of the Lord, which now seemed at a distance. Those that walk by faith in the goodness of the Lord shall in due time walk in the sight of that goodness. This he hopes to see in the land of the living, that is, (1.) In this world, that he should outlive his troubles and not perish under them. It is his comfort, not so much that he shall see the land of the living as that he shall see the goodness of God in it; for that is the comfort of all creature-comforts to a gracious soul. (2.) In the land of Canaan, and in Jerusalem where the lively oracles were. In comparison with the heathen, that were dead in sin, the land of Israel might fitly be called the land of the living; there God was known, and there David hoped to see his goodness; see 2Sa 15:25,2Sa 15:26. Or, (3.), In heaven. It is that alone that may truly be called the land of the living, where there is no more death. This earth is the land of the dying. There is nothing like the believing hope of eternal life, the foresights of that glory, and foretastes of those pleasures, to keep us from fainting under all the calamities of this present time.

3. That in the mean time he should be strengthened to bear up under his burdens (Psa 27:14); whether he says it to himself, or to his friends, it comes all to one; this is that which encourages him: He shall strengthen thy heart, shall sustain thy spirit, and then the spirit shall sustain the infirmity. In that strength, (1.) Keep close to God and to your duty.Wait on the Lord by faith, and prayer, and a humble resignation to his will; wait, I say, on the Lord; whatever you do, grow not remiss in your attendance upon God. (2.) Keep up your spirits in the midst of the greatest dangers and difficulties: Be of good courage; let your hearts be fixed, trusting in God, and your minds stayed upon him, and then let none of these things move you. Those that wait upon the Lord have reason to be of good courage.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Zephaniah 2.1-3

Commentary on

Zephaniah 2.1-3

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

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In this chapter we have, I. An earnest exhortation to the nation of the Jews to repent and make their peace with God, and so to prevent the judgments threatened before it was too late (Zep 2:1-3), and this inferred from the revelation of God’s wrath against them in the foregoing chapter. II. A denunciation of the judgments of God against several of the neighbouring nations that had assisted, or rejoiced in, the calamity of Israel. 1. The Philistines (Zep 2:4-7). 2. The Moabites and Ammonites (Zep 2:8-11). 3. The Ethiopians and Assyrians (Zep 2:12-15). All these shall drink of the same cup of trembling that is put into the hands of God’s people, as was also foretold by other prophets before and after.

Zephaniah 2:1-3

Here we see what the prophet meant in that terrible description of the approaching judgments which we had in the foregoing chapter. From first to last his design was, not to drive the people to despair, but to drive them to God and to their duty – not to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sins. In pursuance of that he here calls them to repentance, national repentance, as the only way to prevent national ruin. Observe,

I. The summons given them to a national assembly (Zep 2:1): Gather yourselves together. He had told them, in the last words of the foregoing chapter, that God would make a speedy riddance of all that dwelt in the land, upon which, one would think, it should follow, “Disperse yourselves, and flee for shelter where you can find a place.” When the decree had absolutely gone forth for the last destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, that was the advice given (Mat 24:16), Then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains; but here it is otherwise. God warns, that he may not wound, threatens, that he may not strike, and therefore calls to the people to use means for the turning away of his wrath. The summons is given to a nation not desired. The word signifies either, 1. Not desiring, that has not any desires towards God or the remembrance of his name, is not desirous of his favour or grace, but very indifferent to it, has no mind to repent and reform. “Yet come together, and see if you can stir up desires in one another.” Thus God is often found of those that sought him not, nor asked for him, Isa 65:1. Or, 2. Not desirable, no ways lovely, nor having any thing in them amiable, or which might recommend them to God. The land of Israel had been a pleasant land, a land of delight (Dan 11:41); but now it is unlovely, it is a nation not desired, to which God might justly say, Depart from me; but he says, “Gather together to me, and let us see if any expedient can be found out for the preventing of the ruin. Gather together, that you may in a body humble yourselves before God, may fast, and pray, and seek his face. Gather together, to consult among yourselves what is to be done in this critical juncture, that every one may consider of it, may give and take advice, and speak his mind, and that what is done may be done by consent and so may be a national act.” Some read it, “Enquire into yourselves, yea, enquire into yourselves; examine your consciences; look into your hearts; search and try your ways; enquire into yourselves, that you may find out the sin by which God has been provoked to this displeasure against you, and may find out the way of returning to him.” Note, When God is contending with us it concerns us to enquire into ourselves.

II. Arguments urged to press them to the utmost seriousness and expedition herein (Zep 2:2): “Do it in earnest; do it with all speed before it is too late, before the decree bring forth, before the day pass.” The manner of speaking here is very lively and awakening, designed to make them apprehensive, as all sinners are concerned to be, 1. That their danger is very great, that their all lies at stake, that it is a matter of life and death, which therefore well requires and well deserves the closest application of mind that can be. It is not a trifle, and therefore is not a thing to be trifled about. It is the fierce anger of the Lord that is kindled against them, and is just ready to kindle upon them, that devouring fire which none can dwell with, which none can make head against or hold up their head under. “It is the day of the Lord’s anger, the day set for the pouring out of the full vials of it, that you are threatened with, that great day of the Lord” spoken of, Zep 1:14. “Are you not concerned to prepare for that day?” 2. That it is very imminent: “Bestir yourselves now quickly, before the decree bring forth, and then it will be too late, the opportunity will be lost and never retrieved. The decree is as it were big with child, and it will bring forth the day, the terrible day, which shall pass as chaff, which shall hurry you away into captivity as chaff before the wind.” We know not what a day may bring forth (Pro 27:1), but we do know what the decree will bring forth against impenitent sinners, whom therefore it highly concerns to repent in time, in the accepted time. Note, It is the wisdom of those whom God has a controversy with to agree with him quickly, while they are in the way, before his fierce anger comes upon them, not to be turned away. In a case of this nature delays are highly dangerous and may be fatal; they will be so if by them the heart is hardened. How solicitous should we all be to make our peace with God before the Spirit withdraw from us, or cease to strive with us, before the day of grace be over or the day of life, before our everlasting state shall be determined on the other side of the great gulf fixed!

III. Directions prescribed for the doing of this effectually. It is not enough to gather together in a consternation, but they must seriously and calmly apply to the duty of the day (Zep 2:3): Seek you the Lord. That they might find mercy with God, they are here put upon seeking; for so is the rule – Seek, and you shall find. A general call was given to the whole nation to gather together, but little good is to be expected from the far greater part of them; if the land be saved, it must be by the interest and intercession of the pious few, and therefore to them the exhortation here is particularly directed. And observe, 1. How they are described – they are the meek of the earth, or of the land. It is the distinguishing character of the people of God that they are the meek ones of the earth; this is their badge; it is their livery. They are modest, and humble, and low in their own eyes; they are mild, and gentle, and yielding to others, not soon angry, not very angry, not long angry; they are the quiet in the land, Psa 35:20. And they are subject and submissive to their God, to all his precepts and all his providences. Actuated by this principle and disposition, they have wrought his judgments, that is, have obeyed his laws, observed his institutions, have made conscience of their duty to him, and have laid out themselves for the advancement of his honour and interest in the world. 2. What they are required to do; they must seek, which denotes both a careful enquiry and a constant endeavour, that they may know and do their duty. (1.) They must seek the Lord, seek his favour and grace, address him upon all occasions, ask of him what they need, seek him early, seek him diligently, and continue seeking him. (2.) They must seek righteousness. “Seek to God for the performance of his promises to you, and see to it that you abound yet more in duty to him; seek for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to you, for the graces of God’s Spirit to be implanted in you; hunger and thirst after them.” (3.) They must seek meekness. This is a grace they were so eminent for that they were denominated the meek of the land, and yet this they must seek. Note, Those that are ever so good must still strive to be better, those that have ever so much grace must be still praying and labouring for more. Nay, those that excel in any particular grace must still seek to excel yet more in that, because in that most assaults will be made upon them by their enemies, in that most is expected from them by their friends, and in that they are most apt to be themselves secure. Si dixisti, Sufficit, periistiSay but, I am all that I ought to be, and you are undone. In the difficult trying times approaching, the meek will find exercise for all the meekness they have, and all little enough, and therefore should seek it earnestly, and pray that when God in his providence gives them occasion for it he would by his grace enable them to exercise it, to show all meekness to all men, in all instances, that, as the day is, so may the strength be.

IV. Encouragements given to take these directions: It may be, you shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger. 1. “You particularly that are the meek of the earth. Though the day of the Lord’s anger do come upon the land, yet you shall be safe, you shall be taken under special protection. Verily it shall be well with thy remnant, Jer 15:11. Thy life will I give unto thee for a prey, Jer 45:5. I will deliver thee in that day, Jer 39:17. It may be, you shall be hid; if any be hid, you shall.” Good men cannot be sure of temporal preservation, for all things come alike to all, but they are most likely to be hid, and stand fairest for a distinguishing care of Providence. It is expressed thus doubtfully to try if they will trust the goodness of God’s nature, though they have but the it may be of a promise, and to keep up in them a holy fear and watchfulness lest they should seem to come short, and should do any thing to throw themselves out of the divine protection. Note, those that hold fast their integrity, in times of common iniquity, have reason to hope that God will find out a hiding-place for them, where they shall be safe and easy, in times of common calamity. They shall be hid (as Luther says) aut in coelo, aut sub coeloeither in heaven or under heaven, either in the possession of heaven or under the protection of heaven. Or, 2. “You of this nation, though it be a nation not desired, yet, in the day of the Lord’s anger with the neighbouring nations, when his judgments are abroad, you shall be hid; your land shall be preserved for the sake of those few meek ones that stand in the gap to turn away the wrath of God.” It concerns us all to make it sure to ourselves that we shall be hid in the great day of God’s wrath; and, if we hide ourselves in the chambers of duty, God will hide us in chambers of safety, Isa 26:20. If we prepare an ark, that shall be our hiding-place, Gen 7:1.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Comfort for Christians (P1 of 2)

Comfort for Christians (P1 of 2)
By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Introduction

The work unto which the servant of Christ is called is many-sided. Not only is he to preach the Gospel to the unsaved, to feed God’s people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15), and to take up the stumbling stone out of their way (Isa 57:14), but he is also charged to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression” (Isa. 58:1 and cf. 1 Tim. 4:2). While another important part of his commission is stated in, “Comfort ye, My people, said your God” (Isa 40:1).

What an honorable title, “My people!” What an assuring relationship: “your God!” What a pleasant task: “comfort ye My people!” A threefold reason may be suggested for the duplicating of the charge. First, because sometimes the souls of believers refuse to be comforted (Psa 77:2), and the consolation needs to be repeated. Second, to press this duty the more emphatically upon the preacher’s heart, that he need not be sparing in administering cheer. Third, to assure us how heartily desirous God himself is that His people should be of good cheer (Php 4:4).

God has a “people,” the objects of His special favour: a company whom He has taken into such intimate relationship unto Himself that He calls them “My people.” Often they are disconsolate: because of their natural corruption’s, the temptations of Satan, the cruel treatment of the world, the low state of Christ’s cause upon earth. The “God of all comfort” (2Co 1:3) is very tender of them, and it is His revealed will that His servants should bind up the broken-hearted and pour the balm of Gilead into their wounds. What cause have we to exclaim “Who is a God like unto Thee!” (Mic 7:18), who has provided for the comfort of those who were rebels against His government and transgressors of His Law.

May it please Him to use His Word as expounded in this book to speak peace to afflicted souls today, and the glory shall be His alone.

—A. W. Pink, 1952

Chapter 1

No Condemnation

Rom 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”

“There is therefore now no condemnation.” The eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans concludes the first section of that wonderful epistle. Its opening word “Therefore” (“There is” is in italics, because supplied by the translators) may be viewed in a twofold way. First, it connects with all that has been said from 3:21. An inference is now deduced from the whole of the preceding discussion, an inference which was, in fact, the grand conclusion toward which the apostle had been aiming throughout the entire argument. Because Christ has been set forth “a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Rom 3:25); because He was “delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:25); because by the obedience of the One the many (believers of all ages) are “made righteous,” constituted so, legally, (Rom 5:19); because believers have “died (judicially) to sin” (Rom 6:2); because they have “died” to the condemning power of the law (Rom 7:4), there is “therefore now NO CONDEMNATION.”

But not only is the “therefore” to be viewed as a conclusion drawn from the whole of the previous discussion, it is also to be considered as having a close relation to what immediately precedes. In the second half of Romans 7 the apostle had described the painful and ceaseless conflict which is waged between the antagonistic natures in the one who has been born again, illustrating this by a reference to his own personal experiences as a Christian. Having portrayed with a master pen (himself sitting for the picture) the spiritual struggles of the child of God, the apostle now proceeds to direct attention to the Divine consolation for a condition so distressing and humiliating. The transition from the despondent tone of the seventh chapter to the triumphant language of the eighth appears startling and abrupt, yet is quite logical and natural. If it is true that to the saints of God belongs the conflict of sin and death, under whose effect they mourn, equally true is it that their deliverance from the curse and the corresponding condemnation is a victory in which they rejoice. A very striking contrast is thus pointed. In the second half of Romans 7 the apostle treats the power of sin, which operates in believers as long as they are in the world; in the opening verses of chapter eight, he speaks of the guilt of sin from which they are completely delivered the moment they are united to the Saviour by faith. Hence in 7:24 the apostle asks “Who shall deliver me” from the power of sin, but in 8:2 he says, “hath made me free,” i.e. hath delivered me, from the guilt of sin.

“There is therefore now no condemnation.” It is not here a question of our heart condemning us (as in 1Jn 3:21), nor of us finding nothing within which is worthy of condemnation; instead, it is the far more blessed fact that God condemns not the one who has trusted in Christ to the saving of his soul. We need to distinguish sharply between subjective and objective truth; between that which is judicial and that which is experimental; otherwise, we shall fail to draw form such Scriptures as the one now before us the comfort and peace they are designed to convey. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. “In Christ” is the believer’s position before God, not his condition in the flesh. “In Adam” I was condemned (Rom 5:12); but “in Christ” is to be forever freed from all condemnation.

“There is therefore now no condemnation.” The qualifying “now” implies there was a time when Christians, before they believed, were under condemnation. This was before they died with Christ, died judicially (Gal 2:20) to the penalty of God’s righteous law. This “now,” then, distinguishes between two states or conditions. By nature we were “under the (sentence of) law,” but now believers are “under grace” (Rom 6:14). By nature we were “children of wrath” (Eph 2:2), but now we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Under the first covenant we were “in Adam” (1Co 15:22), but now we are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1). As believers in Christ we have everlasting life, and because of this we “shall not come into condemnation.”

Condemnation is a word of tremendous import, and the better we understand it the more shall we appreciate the wondrous grace that has delivered us from its power. In the halls of a human court this is a term which falls with fearful knell upon the ear of the convicted criminal and fills the spectators with sadness and horror. But in the court of Divine Justice it is vested with a meaning and content infinitely more solemn and awe-inspiring. To that Court every member of Adam’s fallen race is cited. “Conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity” each one enters this world under arrest – an indicted criminal, a rebel manacled. How, then, is it possible for such a one to escape the execution of the dread sentence? There was only one way, and that was by the removal from us of that which called forth the sentence, namely sin. Let guilt be removed and there can be “no condemnation.”

Has guilt been removed, removed, we mean, from the sinner who believes? Let the Scriptures answer: “As far as the east is from the west so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:12). “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions” (Isa 43:25). “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa 38:17). “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb 10:17).

But how could guilt be removed? Only by it being transferred. Divine holiness could not ignore it; but Divine grace could and did transfer it. The sins of believers were transferred to Christ: “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). “For he hath made him to be sin for us” (2Co 5:21).

“There is therefore no condemnation.” The “no” is emphatic. It signifies there is no condemnation whatsoever. No condemnation from the law, or on account of inward corruption, or because Satan can substantiate a charge against me; there is none from any source or for any cause at all. “No condemnation” means that none at all is possible; that none ever will be. There is no condemnation because there is no accusation (Rom 8:33), and there can be no accusation because there is no imputation of sin (Rom 4:8).

“There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” When treating of the conflict between the two natures in the believer the apostle had, in the previous chapter, spoken of himself in his own person, in order to show that the highest attainments in grace do no exempt from the internal warfare which he there describes. But here in 8:1 the apostle changes the number. He does not say, There is no condemnation to me, but “to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This was most gracious of the Holy Spirit. Had the apostle spoken here in the singular number, we should have reasoned that such a blessed exemption was well suited to this honored servant of God who enjoyed such wondrous privileges; but could not apply to us. The Spirit of God, therefore, moved the apostle to employ the plural number here, to show that “no condemnation” is true of all in Christ Jesus.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” To be in Christ Jesus is to be perfectly identified with Him in the judicial reckoning and dealings of God: and it is also to be one with Him as vitally united by faith. Immunity from condemnation does not depend in any-wise upon our “walk,” but solely on our being “in Christ.” “The believer is in Christ as Noah was enclosed within the ark, with the heavens darkening above him, and the waters heaving beneath him, yet not a drop of the flood penetrating his vessel, not a blast of the storm disturbing the serenity of his spirit. The believer is in Christ as Jacob was in the garment of the elder brother when Isaac kissed and blessed him. He is in Christ as the poor homicide was within the city of refuge when pursued by the avenger of blood, but who could not overtake and slay him” (Dr. Winslow, 1857). And because he is “in Christ” there is, therefore, no condemnation for him. Hallelujah!

Chapter 2

The Christian’s Assurance

Rom 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.

How many of God’s children have, through the centuries, drawn strength and comfort from this blessed verse. In the midst of trials, perplexities, and persecutions, this has been a rock beneath their feet. Though to outward sight things seemed to work against their good, though to carnal reason things appeared to be working for their ill, nevertheless, faith knew it was for otherwise. And how great the loss to those who failed to rest upon this inspired declaration: what unnecessary fears and doubtings were the consequence.

“All things work together.” The first thought occurring to us is this: What a glorious Being our God be, who is able to make all things so work! What a frightful amount of evil there is in constant activity. What an almost infinite number of creatures there are in the world. What an incalculable quantity of opposing self-interests at work. What a vast army of rebels fighting against God. What hosts of super-human creatures over opposing the Lord. And yet, high above all, is GOD, in undisturbed calm, complete master of the situation. There, from the throne of His exalted majesty, He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). Stand in awe, then, before this One in whose sight “all nations are as nothing; and they are counted as less than nothing, and vanity ” (Isa 40:17). Bow in adoration before this “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa 57:15). Lift high your praise unto Him who from the direct evil can educe the greatest good.

“All things work.” In nature there is no such thing as a vacuum, neither is there a creature of God that fails to serve its designed purpose. Nothing is idle. Everything is energized by God so as to fulfill its intended mission. All things are laboring toward the grand end of their Creator’s pleasure: all are moved at His imperative bidding.

“All things work together.” They not only operate, they co-operate; they all act in perfect concert, though none but the anointed ear can catch the strains of their harmony. All things work together, not simply but conjointly, as adjunct causes and mutual helps. That is why afflictions seldom come solitary and alone. Cloud rises upon cloud: storm upon storm. As with Job, one messenger of woe was quickly succeeded by another, burdened with tidings of yet heavier sorrow. Nevertheless, even here faith may trace both the wisdom and love of God. It is the compounding of the ingredients in the recipe that constitutes its beneficent value. So with God: His dispensations not only “work,” but they “work together.” So recognized the sweet singer of Israel—”He drew me out of many waters” (Psa 18:16).

“All things work together for good to,” etc. These words teach believers that no matter what may be the number nor how overwhelming the character of adverse circumstances, they are all contributing to conduct them into the possession of the inheritance provided for them in heaven. How wonderful is the providence of God in over-ruling things most disorderly, and in turning to our good things which in themselves are most pernicious! We marvel at His mighty power which holds the heavenly bodies in their orbits; we wonder at the continually recurring seasons and the renewal of the earth; but this is not nearly so marvelous as His bringing good out of evil in all the complicated occurrences of human life, and making even the power and malice of Satan, with the naturally destructive tendency of his works, to minister good for His children.

“All things work together for good.” This must be so for three reasons. First, because all things are under the absolute control of the Governor of the universe. Second, because God desires our good, and nothing but our good. Third, because even Satan himself cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and then only for our further good. Not all things are good in themselves, nor in their tendencies; but God makes all things work for our good. Nothing enters our life by blind chance: nor are they any accidents. Everything is being moved by God, with this end in view, our good. Everything being subservient to God’s eternal purpose, works blessing to those marked out for conformity to the image of the Firstborn. All suffering, sorrow, loss, are used by our Father to minister to the benefit of the His elect.

“To them that love God.” This is the grand distinguishing feature of every true Christian. The reverse marks all the unregenerate. But the saints are those who love God. Their creeds may differ in minor details; their ecclesiastical relations may vary in outward form; their gifts and graces may be very unequal; yet, in this particular there is an essential unity. They all believe in Christ, they all love God. They love Him for the gift of the Saviour: they love Him as a Father in whom they may confide: they love Him for His personal excellencies – His holiness, wisdom, faithfulness. They love Him for His conduct: for what He withholds an for what He grants: for what He rebukes and for what He approves. They love Him even for the rod that disciplines, knowing that He doth all things well. There is nothing in God, and there is nothing from God, for which the saints do not love Him. And of this they are all assured, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

“To them that love God.” But, alas, how little I love God! I sofrequently mourn my lack of love, and chide myself for the coldness of my heart. Yes, there is so much love of self and love of the world, that sometimes I seriously question if I have any real love for God at all. but is not my very desire to love God a good symptom? Is not my very grief that I love Him so little a sure evidence that I do not hate Him? The presence of a hard and ungrateful heart has been mourned over by the saints of all ages. “Love to God is a heavenly aspiration, that is ever kept in check by the drag and restraint of an earthly nature; and from which we shall not be unbound till the soul has made its escape from the vile body, and cleared its unfettered way to the realm of light and liberty” (Dr. Chalmers).

“Who are called.” The word “called” is never, in the New Testament Epistles, applied to those who are the recipients of a mere external invitation of the Gospel. The term always signifies an inward and effectual call. It was a call over which we had no control, either in originating or frustrating it. So in Rom 1:6-7 and many other passages: “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called saints.” Has this call reached you, my reader? Ministers have called you: the Gospel has called you, conscience has called you: but has the Holy Spirit called you with an inward and irresistible call? Have you been spiritually called from darkness to light, from death to life, from the world to Christ, from self to God? It is a matter of the greatest moment that you should know whether you have been truly called of God. Has, then, the thrilling, life-giving music of that call sounded and reverberated through all the chambers of your soul? But how may I be sure that I have received such a call? There is one thing right here in our text which should enable you to ascertain. They who have been efficaciously called, love God. Instead of hating Him, they now esteem Him; instead of fleeing from Him in terror, they now seek Him; instead of caring not whether their conduct honored Him; their deepest desire now is to please and glorify Him.

“According to His purpose.” The call is not according to the merits of men, but according to the Divine purpose: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to this own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2Ti 1:9). The design of the Holy Spirit in bringing in this last clause is to show that the reason some men love God and others do not is to be attributed solely to the mere sovereignty of God: it is not for anything in themselves, but due alone to His distinguishing grace.

There is also a practical value in this last clause. The doctrines of grace are intended for a further purpose than that of making up a creed. One main design of them is to move the affections; and more especially to reawaken that affection to which the heart oppressed with fears, or weighed down with cares, is wholly insufficient—even the love of God. That this love may flow perennially from our hearts, there must be a constant recurring to that which inspired it and which is calculated to increase it; just as to rekindle your admiration of a beautiful scene or picture, you would return again to gaze upon it. It is on this principle that so much stress is laid in Scripture on keeping the truths which we believe in memory: “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you” (1Co 15:2). “I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance,” said the apostle (2Pe 3:1). “Do this in remembrance of me” said the Saviour. It is, then, by going back in memory to that hour when, despite our wretchedness and utter unworthiness, God called us, that our affection will be kept fresh. It is by recalling the wondrous grace that then reached out to a hell-deserving sinner and snatched you as a brand from the burning, that your heart will be drawn out in adoring gratitude. And it is by discovering this was due alone to the sovereign and eternal “purpose” of God that you were called when so many others are passed by, that your love for Him will be deepened.

Returning to the opening words of our text, we find the apostle (as voicing the normal experience of the saints) declares, “We know that all things work together for good.” It is something more than a speculative belief. That all things work together for good is even more than a fervent desire. It is not that we merely hope that all things will so work, but that we are fully assured all things do so work. The knowledge here spoken of is spiritual, not intellectual. It is a knowledge rooted in our hearts, which produces confidence in the truth of it. It is the knowledge of faith, which receives everything from the benevolent hand of Infinite Wisdom. It is true that we do not derive much comfort from this knowledge when out of fellowship with God. Nor will it sustain us when faith is not in operation. But when we are in communion with the Lord, when in our weakness we do lean hard upon Him, then is this blessed assurance ours: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa 26:3).

A striking exemplification of our text is supplied by the history of Jacob—one whom in several respects each of us closely resembles. Heavy and dark was the cloud which settled upon him. Severe was the test, and fearful the trembling of his faith. His feet were almost gone. Hear his mournful plaint: “And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” (Gen 42:36). And yet those circumstances, which to the dim eye of his faith wore a hue so somber, were at that very moment developing and perfecting the events which were to shed around the evening of his life the halo of a glorious and cloudless sunset. All things were working together for his good! And so, troubled soul, the “much tribulation” will soon be over, and as you enter the “kingdom of God” you shall then see, no longer “through a glass darkly” but in the unshadowed sunlight of the Divine presence, that “all things” did “work together” for your personal and eternal good.

Chapter 3

Sufferings Compensated

Rom 8:18  For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us

Ah, says someone, that must have been written by a man who was a stranger to suffering, or by one acquainted with nothing more trying than the milder irritations of life. Not so. These words were penned under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and by one who drank deeply of sorrow’s cup, yea, by one who suffered afflictions in their acutest forms. Hear his own testimony: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2Co 11:24-27).

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This, then was the settled conviction not of one of “fortune’s favorites,” not of one who found life’s journey a carpeted pathway, bordered with roses, but, instead, of one who was hated by his kinsmen, who was oft-times beaten black and blue, who knew what it was to be deprived not only of the comforts but the bare necessities of life. How, then shall we account for his cheery optimism? What was the secret of his elevation over his troubles and trials?

The first thing with which the sorely-tried apostle comforted himself was that the sufferings of the Christian are but of brief duration—they are limited to “this present time.” This is in sharp and solemn contrast from the sufferings of the Christ-rejector. His sufferings will be eternal: forever tormented in the Lake of Fire. But far different is it for the believer. His sufferings are restricted to this life on earth, which is compared to a flower that cometh forth and is cut down, to a shadow that fleeth and continueth not. A few short years at most, and we shall pass from this vale of tears into that blissful country where groans and sighs are never heard.

Second, the apostle looked forward with the eye of faith to “the glory.” To Paul “the glory” was something more than a beautiful dream. It was a practical reality, exerting a powerful influence upon him, consoling him in the warmest and most trying hours of adversity. This is one of the real tests of faith. The Christian has a solid support in the time of affliction, when the unbeliever has not. The child of God knows that in his Father’s presence there is “fullness of joy,” and that at His right hand there are “pleasures forever more.” And faith lays hold of them, appropriates them, and lives in the comforting cheer of them even now. Just as Israel in the wilderness were encouraged by a sight of what awaited them in the promised land (Num 13:23, Num 13:26), so, the one who today walks by faith, and not by sight, contemplates that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, but which God by His Holy Spirit hath revealed unto us (1Co 2:9-10).

Third, the apostle rejoiced in “the glory which should be revealed in us.” All that this means we are not yet capable of understanding. But more than a hint has been vouchsafed us. There will be:

1. The “glory” of a perfect body. In that day this corruption shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal, immortality. That which was sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory, and that which was sown in weakness shall be raised in power. As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (1Co 15:49). The content of these expressions is summarized and amplified in Php 3:20-21 : “For our conservation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”

2. There will be the glory of a transformed mind. “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1Co 13:12). O what an orb of intellectual light will be each glorified mind! What range of light will it encompass! What capability of understanding will it enjoy! Then will all mysteries be unraveled, all problems solved, all discrepancies reconciled. Then shall each truth of God’s revelation, each event of His providence, each decision of His government, stand yet more transparently clear and resplendent than the sun itself. Do you, in your present quest for spiritual knowledge, mourn the darkness of your mind, the weakness of your memory, the limitations of your intellectual faculties? Then rejoice in hope of the glory that is to be revealed in you—when all your intellectual powers shall be renewed, developed, perfected, so that you shall know even as you are known.

3. Best of all, there will be the glory of perfect holiness. God’s work of grace in us will then be completed. He has promised to “perfect that which concerneth us” (Psa 138:8). Then will be the consummation of purity. We have been predestinated to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29), and when we shall see Him, “we shall be like him” (1Jn 3:2). Then our minds will be no more defiled by evil imaginations, our consciences no more sullied by a sense of guilt, our affections no more ensnared by unworthy objects.

What a marvelous prospect is this! A “glory” to be revealed in me who now can scarcely reflect a solitary ray of light! In me—so wayward, so unworthy, so sinful; living so little in communion with Him who is the Father of lights! Can it be that in me this glory shall be revealed? So affirms the infallible Word of God. If I am a child of light—through being “in Him” who is the effulgence of the Father’s glory—even though now dwelling amid the world’s dark shades, one day I shall outshine the brightness of the firmament. And when the Lord Jesus returns to this earth. he shall “be admired in all them that believe” (2Th 1:10).

Finally, the apostle here weighed the “sufferings” of this present time over against the “glory” which shall be revealed in us, and as he did so he declared that the one is “not worthy to be compared” with the other. The one is transient, the other eternal. As, then, there is no proportion between the finite and the infinite, so there is no comparison between the sufferings of earth and the glory of heaven.

One second of glory will outweigh a lifetime of suffering. What were the years of toil, of sickness, of battling with poverty, of sorrow in any or every form, when compared with the glory of Immanuel’s land! One draught of the river of pleasure at God’s right hand, one breath of Paradise, one hour amid the blood-washed around the throne, shall more than compensate for all the tears and groans of earth. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” May the Holy Spirit enable both writer and reader to lay hold of this with appropriating faith and live in the present possession and enjoyment of it to the praise of the glory of Divine grace.

Chapter 4

The Great Giver

Rom 8:32  He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

The above verse supplies us with an instance of Divine logic. It contains a conclusion drawn from a premise; the premise is that God delivered up Christ for all His people, therefore everything else that is needed by them is sure to be given. There are many examples in Holy Writ of such Divine logic. “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you?” (Mat 6:30). “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat 7:11). So here in our text the reasoning is irresistible and goes straight to the understanding and heart.

Our text tells of the gracious character of our loving God as interpreted by the gift of His Son. And this, not merely for the instruction of our minds, but for the comfort and assurance of our hearts. The gift of His own Son is God’s guarantee to His people of all needed blessings. The greater includes the less; His unspeakable spiritual gift is the pledge of all needed temporal mercies. Note in our text four things:

1. The Father’s Costly Sacrifice.

This brings before us a side of the truth upon which I fear we rarely meditate. We delight to think of the wondrous love of Christ, whose love was stronger than death, and who deemed no suffering too great for His people. But what must it have meant to the heart of the Father when His Beloved left His Heavenly Home! God is love, and nothing is so sensitive as love. I do not believe that Deity is emotionless, the Stoic as represented by the Schoolmen of the middle ages. I believe the sending forth of the Son was something which the heart of the Father felt, that it was a real sacrifice on His part.

Weigh well then the solemn fact which premises the sure promise that follows: God “spared not His own Son”! Expressive, profound, melting words! Knowing full well, as He only could, all that redemption involved—the Law rigid and unbending, insisting upon perfect obedience and demanding death for its transgressors. Justice, stern and inexorable, requiring full satisfaction, refusing to “clear the guilty.” Yet God did not withhold not the only suitable Sacrifice.

God “spared not His own Son,” though knowing full well the humiliation and ignominy of Bethlehem’s manger, the ingratitude of men, the not having where to lay His head, the hatred and opposition of the ungodly, the enmity and bruising of Satan—yet He did not hesitate. God did not relax ought of the holy requirements of His throne, nor abate one whit of the awful curse. No, He “spared not His own Son.” The utmost farthing was exacted; the last dregs in the cup of wrath must be drained. Even when His Beloved cried from the Garden, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” God “spared” Him not. Even when vile hands had nailed Him to the tree, God cried “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts; smite the Shepherd” (Zec 13:7).

2. The Father’s Gracious Design.

“But delivered him up for us all.” Here we are told why the Father made such a costly sacrifice; He spared not Christ, that He might spare us! It was not want of love to the Saviour, but wondrous, matchless, fathomless love for us! O marvel at the wondrous design of the Most High. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Verily, such love passeth knowledge. Moreover, He made this costly sacrifice not grudgingly or reluctantly, but freely out of love.

Once God had said to rebellious Israel, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” (Hos 11:8). Infinitely more cause had He to say this of the Holy One, His well-beloved, the One in whom His soul daily delighted. Yet, He “delivered Him up”—to shame and spitting, to hatred and persecution, to suffering and death itself. And He delivered Him up for us—descendants of rebellious Adam, depraved and defiled, corrupt and sinful, vile and worthless! For us who had gone into the “far country” of alienation from Him, and there spent our substance in riotous living. Yes, “for us” who had gone astray like sheep, each one turning to “his own way.” For us “who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” in whom there dwelt no good thing. For us who had rebelled against our Creator, hated His holiness, despised His Word, broken His commandments, resisted His Spirit. For us who richly deserved to be cast into the everlasting burnings and receive those wages which our sins so fully earned.

Yes, for thee fellow Christian, who art sometimes tempted to interpret your afflictions as tokens of God’s hardness; who regard your poverty as a mark of His neglect, and your seasons of darkness as evidences of His desertion. O, confess to Him now the wickedness of such dishonoring doubtings, and never again question the love of Him who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.

Faithfulness demands that I should point out the qualifying pronoun in our text. It is not God “delivered him up for all,” but “for us all.” ‘This is definitely defined in the verses which immediately precede. In v. 31 Rom 8:31  the question is asked, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In v. 30 Rom 8:30 this “us” is defined as those whom God did predestinate and has “called” and “justified.” The “us” are the high favorites of heaven, the objects of sovereign grace. God’s elect. And yet in themselves they are, by nature and practice, deserving of nothing but wrath. But yet, thank God, it is “us all” —the worst as well as the best, the five-hundred-pounds-debtor equally as much as the fifty-pence-debtor.

3. The Spirit’s Blessed Inference.

Ponder well the glorious “conclusion” which the Spirit of God here draws from the wondrous fact stated in the first part of our text, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.” How conclusive and how comforting is the inspired reasoning of the apostle. Arguing from the greater to the less, He proceeds to assure the believer of God’s readiness to also freely bestow all needed blessings. The gift of His own Son, so ungrudgingly and unreservedly bestowed, is the pledge of every other needed mercy.

Here is the unfailing guaranty and talisman of perpetual reassurance to the drooping spirit of the tried believer. If God has done the greater, will He leave the less undone? Infinite love can never change. The love that spared not Christ cannot fail its objects nor begrudge any needed blessings. The sad thing is that our hearts dwell upon what we have not, instead of upon what we do have. Therefore the Spirit of God would here still our restless thoughts and quiet the ignorant discontent with a soul-satisfying knowledge of the truth; by reminding us not only of the reality of our interest in the love of God, but also of the extent of that blessing that flows from that love.

Weigh well what is involved in the logic of this verse. First, the great Gift was given unasked; will He not bestow others for the asking? None of us supplicated God to send forth His Beloved; yet He sent Him! Now, we may come to the throne of grace and there present our requests in the virtuous and all-efficacious name of Christ.

Second, the one great Gift cost Him much; will He not then bestow the lesser gifts which cost Him nothing save the delight of giving! If a friend were to give me a valuable picture, would he begrudge the necessary paper and string to wrap it in? Or if a loved one made me a present of a precious jewel, would he refuse a little box to carry it in? How much less will He who spared not His own Son, withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly.

Third, the one Gift was bestowed when we were enemies; will not then God be gracious to us now that we have been reconciled and are His friends? If He had designs of mercy for us while we were yet in our sins, how much more will He regard us favorably now that we have been cleansed from all sin by the precious blood of His Son!

4. The Comforting Promise.

Observe the tense that is used here. It is not “how has he not with him also freely given us all things,” though this is also true, for even now are we “heirs of God” (Rom 8:17). But our text goes further than this: “How shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?” The second half of this wondrous verse contains something more than a record of the past; it supplies reassuring confidence both for the present and for the future. No time-limits are to be set upon this “shall.” Both now in the present and forever and ever in the future God shall manifest Himself as the great Giver. Nothing for His glory and for our good will He withhold. The same God who delivered up Christ for us all is “without variableness or shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17).

Mark the manner in which God gives: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” God does not have to be coaxed; there is no reluctance in Him for us to overcome. He is ever more willing to give than we are to receive. Again; He is under no obligations to any; if He were, He would bestow of necessity, instead of giving “freely.” Ever remember that He has a perfect right to do with His own as He pleases. He is free to give to whom He wills.

The word “freely” not only signifies that God is under no constraint, but also means that He makes no charge for His gifts, He places no price on His blessings. God is no retailer of mercies or barterer of good things; if He were, justice would require Him to charge exactly what each blessing was worth, and then who among the children of Adam could find the wherewithal? No, blessed be His name, God’s gifts are “without money and without price” (Isa 55:1), unmerited and unearned.

Finally, rejoice over the comprehensiveness of this promise: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The Holy Spirit would here regale us with the extent of God’s wondrous grant. What is it you need, fellow Christian? Is it pardon? Then has He not said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9)? Is it grace? Then has He not said, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2Co 9:8)? Is it a “thorn in the flesh”? this too will be given “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh” (2Co 12:7). Is it rest? Then heed the Saviour’s invitation, “Come unto Me . . . and I will give you rest (Mat 11:28). Is it comfort? Is He not the God of all comfort (2Co 1:3)?

“How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Is it temporal mercies that the reader is in need of? Are your circumstances adverse so that you are filled with dismal forebodings? Does your cruse of oil and barrel of meal look as though they will soon be quite empty? Then spread your need before God, and do it in simple childlike faith. Think you that He will bestow the greater blessings of grace and deny the lesser ones of Providence? No, “My God shall supply all your need” (Phil. 4:19). True, He has not promised to give all you ask, for we often ask “amiss.” Mark the qualifying clause: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” We often desire things which would come in between us and Christ if they were granted, therefore does God in His faithfulness withholds them.

Here then are four things which should bring comfort to every renewed heart. (1) The Father’s costly sacrifice. Our God is a giving God and no good thing does He withhold from them that walk uprightly. (2) The Father’s gracious design. It was for us that Christ was delivered up; it was our highest and eternal interests that He had at heart. (3) The Spirit’s infallible inference. The greater includes the less; the unspeakable Gift guarantees the bestowment of all other needed favors. (4) The comforting promise. Its sure foundation, its present and future scope, its blessed extent, are for the assuring of our hearts and the peace of our minds. May the Lord add His blessing to this little meditation.

Chapter 5

The Divine Rememberer

Psalm 136:23  Who remembered us in our low estate: for His mercy endureth forever

“Who remembered us.” This is in striking and blessed contrast from our forgettings of Him. Like every other faculty of our beings, the memory has been affected by the Fall and bears on it the marks of depravity. This is seen from its power to retain what is worthless and the difficulty encountered to hold fast that which is good. A foolish nursery-rhyme or song heard in youth, is carried with us to the grave; a helpful sermon is forgotten within twenty-four hours! But most tragic and solemn of all is the ease with which we forget God and His countless mercies. But, blessed be His name, God never forgets us. He is the faithful Rememberer.

We were very much impressed when, on consulting the concordance, we found that the first five times the word “remember” is used in Scripture, in each case it is connected with God. “And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark” (Gen 8:1). “And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth” (Gen 9:16). “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt” (Gen 19:29), etc. The first time it is used of man we read, “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (Gen 40:23)!

The historical reference here is to the children of Israel, when they were toiling amid the brick-kilns of Egypt. Truly they were in a “low estate”: a nation of slaves, groaning beneath the lash of merciless task-masters, oppressed by a godless and heartless king. But when there was none other eye to pity, Jehovah looked upon them and heard their cries of distress. He “remembered” them in their low estate. And why? Exo 2:24-25 tells us: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto it.”

Our text is not to be limited to the literal seed of Abraham: it has reference to the whole “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). The saints of this present Day of salvation also unite in saying, “Who remembered us in our low estate.” How “low” was our “estate” by nature! As fallen creatures we lay in our misery and wretchedness, unable to deliver or help ourselves. But, in wondrous grace, God took pity on us. His strong arm reached down and rescued us. He came to where we lay, saw us, and had compassion on us (Luk 10:33). Therefore can each Christian say, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psa 40:2).

And why did He “remember” us? The very word “remember” tells of previous thoughts of love and mercy towards us. As it was with the children of Israel in Egypt, so it was with us in our ruined condition by nature. He “remembered” His covenant, that covenant into which He had entered with our Surety from everlasting. As we read in Tit 1:2 of eternal life “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world was. Promised to Christ, that He would give that eternal life to those for whom our covenant Head should transact. Yes, God “remembered” that He had “chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), therefore did He, in due time, bring us from death unto life.

Yet this blessed word goes beyond our initial experience of God’s saving grace. Historically, our text refers not only to God remembering His people while they were in Egypt, but also, as the context shows, while they were in the Wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. Israel’s experiences in the desert but foreshadow the saints’ walk through this hostile world. And Jehovah’s “remembrance” of them, manifested in the daily supply of their every need, adumbrated the rich provisions of His grace for us while we journey to our Home on High. Our present estate, here on earth, is but a lowly one, for we do not now reign as kings. Yet, is our God ever mindful of us, and hourly does He minister to us.

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Not always are we permitted to dwell upon the mount. As in the natural world, so in our experiences. Bright and sunny days give place to dark and cloudy ones: summer is followed by winter. Disappointments, losses, afflictions, bereavements came our way, and we were brought low. And ofttimes just when we seemed to most need the comfort of friends, they failed us. Those we counted on to help, forgot us. But, even then, there was One “who remembered us” and showed Himself to be “the same yesterday and today and forever,” and then did we prove afresh that “His mercy endureth forever” (1Ch 16:34)

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” There are some who may read these lines that will think of another application of these words: namely, the time when you left your first love, when your heart grew cold, and your life became worldly. When you were in a sadly back-slidden state. Then, indeed, was your estate a low one; yet even then did our faithful God “remember” thee. Yes, each of us has cause to say with the Psalmist “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psa 23:3).

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Still another application of these words may be made, namely, to the last great crisis of the saint, as he passes out of this world. As the vital spark of the body grows dim and nature fails, then too is our “estate” low. But then also the Lord remembereth us, for “His mercy endureth for ever. Man’s extremity is but God’s opportunity. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is then that he “remembers” us by making good His comforting promises, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” (Isa 41:10).

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Surely this text will furnish us with suitable words to express our thanksgiving when we are at Home, present with the Lord. How we shall then praise Him for His covenant faithfulness, His matchless grace, and His loving kindness, for having “remembered us in our low estate! Then shall we know, even as we are known. Our very memories will be renewed, perfected, and we shall remember all the way the Lord our God hath led us” (Deu 8:2), recalling with gratitude and joy His faithful remembrances, acknowledging with adoration that “His mercy endureth for ever.”

Chapter 6

Tried by Fire

Job 23:10  But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold

Job here corrects himself. In the beginning of the chapter we find him saying: “Even today is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning” (Job 23:1-2). Poor Job felt that his lot was unbearable. But he recovers himself. He checks his hasty outburst and revises his impetuous decision. How often we all have to correct ourselves! Only One has ever walked this earth who never had occasion to do so.

Job here comforts himself. He could not fathom the mysteries of Providence but God knew the way he took. Job had diligently sought the calming presence of God, but, for a time, in vain. Behold I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him. On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him” (vv. 8, 9). But he consoled himself with this blessed fact—though I cannot see God, what is a thousand times better, He can see me—”He knoweth.” One above is neither unmindful nor indifferent to our lot. If He notices the fall of a sparrow, if He counts the hairs of our heads, of course “He knows” the way that I take.

Job here enunciates a noble view of life. How splendidly optimistic he was! He did not allow his afflictions to turn him into a skeptic. He did not permit the sore trials and troubles through which he was passing to overwhelm him. He looked at the bright side of the dark cloud—God’s side, hidden from sense and reason. He took a long view of life. He looked beyond the immediate ‘fiery trials” and said that the outcome would be gold refined. “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Three great truths are expressed here: let us briefly consider each separately.

1. The Divine Knowledge of My Life.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” The omniscience of God is one of the wondrous attributes of Deity. “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings” (Job 34:21). “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Pro 15:3). Spurgeon said, “One of the greatest tests of experimental religion is, What is my relationship to God’s omniscience?” What is your relationship to it, dear reader? How does it affect you? Does it distress or comfort you? Do you shrink from the thought of God knowing all about your way? perhaps, a lying, selfish, hypocritical way! To the sinner this is a terrible thought. He denies it, or if not, he seeks to forget it. But to the Christian, here is real comfort. How cheering to remember that my Father knows all about my trials, my difficulties, my sorrows, my efforts to glorify Him. Precious truth for those in Christ, harrowing thought for all out of Christ, that the way I am taking is fully known to and observed by God.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” Men did not know the way that Job took. He was grievously misunderstood, and for one with a sensitive temperament to be misunderstood, is a sore trial. His very friends thought he was a hypocrite. They believed he was a great sinner and being punished by God. Job knew that he was an unworthy saint, but not a hypocrite. He appealed against their censorious verdict. “He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Here is instruction for us when like circumstanced. Fellow-believer, your fellow-men, yes, and your fellow Christians, may misunderstand you, and misinterpret God’s dealings with you: but console yourself with the blessed fact that the omniscient One knows.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” In the fullest sense of the word Job himself did not know the way that he took, nor do any of us. Life is profoundly mysterious, and the passing of the years offer no solution. Nor does philosophizing help us. Human volition is a strange enigma. Consciousness bears witness that we are more than automatons. The power of choice is exercised by us in every move we make. And yet it is plain that our freedom is not absolute. There are forces brought to bear upon us, both good and evil, which are beyond our power to resist. Both heredity and environment exercise powerful influences upon us. Our surroundings and circumstances are factors which cannot be ignored. And what of providence which “shapes our destinies”? Ah, how little do we know the way which we “take.” Said the prophet, “O Lord I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jer 10:23). Here we enter the realm of mystery, and it is idle to deny it. Better far to acknowledge with the wise man, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Pro 20:24).

In the narrower sense of the term Job did know the way which he took. What that “way” was he tells us in the next two verses. “My foot hath held his steps. his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:11-12). The way Job chose was the best way, the scriptural way, God’s way—”His way.” What do you think of that way, dear reader? Was it not a grand selection? Ah, not only “patient,” but wise Job! Have you made a similar choice? Can you say, My foot hath held his steps. his way have I kept, and not declined?” (Job 23:11). If you can, praise Him for His enabling grace. If you cannot, confess with shame your failure to appropriate His all-sufficient grace. Get down on your knees at once, and unbosom yourself to God. Hide and keep back nothing. Remember it is written “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). Does not Job 23:2 verse 12 explain your failure, my failure, dear reader? Is it not because we have not trembled before God’s commandments, and because we have so lightly esteemed His Word, that we have “declined” from His way! Then let us, even now, and daily, seek grace from on high to heed His commandments and hide His Word in our hearts.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” Which way are you taking?—the Narrow Way which leadeth unto life, or ‘the Broad Road that leadeth to destruction? Make certain on this point, dear friend. Scripture declares, “So every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12). But you need not be deceived or uncertain. The Lord declared, “I am The Way” (Joh 14:6).

2. Divine Testing

“When he hath tried me.” “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts” (Pro 17:3). This was God’s way with Israel of old, and it is His way with Christians now. Just before Israel entered Canaan, as Moses reviewed their history since leaving Egypt, he said, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, and to know what as in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no” (Deu 8:2). In the same way God tries, tests, proves, humbles us.

“When he hath tried me.” If we realized this more, we should bear up better in the hour of affliction and be more patient under suffering. The daily irritations of life, the things which annoy so much—what is their meaning? why are they permitted? Here is the answer: God is “trying” you! That is the explanation (in part, at least) of that disappointment, that crushing of your earthly hopes, that great loss; God was, is, testing you. God is trying your temper, your courage, your faith, your patience, your love, your fidelity.

“When he hath tried me.” How frequently God’s saints see only Satan as the cause of their troubles. They regard the great enemy as responsible for much of their sufferings. But there is no comfort for the heart in this. We do not deny that the Devil does bring about much that harasses us. But above Satan is the Lord Almighty! The Devil cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and when he is allowed to disturb and distract us, even then it is only God using him to “try” us. Let us learn then, to look beyond all secondary causes and instruments to that One who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). This is what Job did.

In the opening chapter of the book which bears his name we find Satan obtaining permission to afflict God’s servant. He used the Sabeans to destroy Job ‘s herds (Job 1:15): he sent the Chaldeans to slay his servants (Job 1:17 ): he caused a great wind to kill his children (v. 19). And what was Job’s response? This: he exclaimed “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job looked beyond the human agents, beyond Satan who employed them, to the Lord who controls all. He realized that it was the Lord trying him. We get the same thing in the New Testament. To the suffering saints at Smyrna John wrote, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried” (Rev 2:10). Their being cast into prison was simply God trying them.

How much we lose by forgetting this! What a stay for the trouble-tossed heart to know that no matter what form the testing may take, no matter what the agent which annoys, it is God who is “trying” His children. What a perfect example the Saviour sets us. When He was approached in the garden and Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the Saviour said, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Joh 18:11). Men were about to vent their awful rage upon Him, the Serpent would bruise His heel, but He looks above and beyond them. Dear reader, no matter how bitter its contents, (infinitely less than that which the Saviour drained) let us accept the cup as from the Father’s hand.

In some moods we are apt to question the wisdom and right of God to try us. So often we murmur at His dispensations. Why should God lay such an intolerable burden upon me? Why should others be spared their loved ones, and mine taken? Why should health and strength, perhaps the gift of sight, be denied me? The first answer to all such questions is, “O man, who art thou that repliest against God?”! It is wicked insubordination for any creature to call into question the dealings of the great Creator. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). How earnestly each of us need to cry unto God, that His grace may silence our rebellious lips and still the tempest within our desperately wicked hearts!

But to the humble soul which bows in submission before the sovereign dispensations of the all-wise God, Scripture affords some light on the problem. This light may not satisfy reason, but it will bring comfort and strength when received in child-like faith and simplicity. In 1Pe 1:6 we read; “Wherein (God’s salvation) ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (or trials): That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Note three things here. First, there is a needs-be for the trial of faith. Since God says it, let us accept it. Second, this trying of faith is precious, far more so than of gold. It is precious to God (cf. Psa 116:15) and will yet be so to us. Third, the present trial has in view the future. Where the trial has been meekly endured and bravely borne, there will be a grand reward at the appearing of our Redeemer.

Again, in 1Pe 4:12-13 we are told: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings: that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” The same thoughts are expressed here as in the previous passage. There is a needs-be for our “trials” and therefore we are to think them not strange—we should expect them. And, too, there is again the blessed outlook of being richly recompensed at Christ’s return. Then there is the added word that not only should we meet these trials with faith’s fortitude, but we should rejoice in them, inasmuch as we are permitted to have fellowship in “the sufferings of Christ.” He, too, suffered: sufficient then, for the disciple to be as his Master.

“When he hath tried me.” Dear Christian reader, there are no exceptions. God had only one Son without sin, but never one without sorrow. Sooner or later, in one form or another, trial-sore and heavy—will be our lot. “And sent Timotheus our brother . . . to establish you, and comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1Th 3:2-3). And again it is written, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). It has been so in every age. Abram was “tried,” tried severely. So, too, were Joseph, Jacob. Moses, David, Daniel, the Apostles, etc.

3. The Ultimate Issue

“I shall come forth as gold.” Observe the tense here. Job did not imagine that he was pure gold already. “I shall come forth as gold,” he declared. He knew full well that there was yet much dross in him. He did not boast that he was already perfect. Far from it. In the final chapter of his book we find him saying, “I abhor myself” (Job 42:6). And well he might: and well may we. As we discover that in our flesh there dwelleth “no good thing,” as we examine ourselves and our ways in the light of God’s Word and behold our innumerable failures, as we think of our countless sins, both of omission and commission, good reason have we for abhoring ourselves. Ah, Christian reader, there is much dross about us. But it will not ever be thus.

“I shall come forth as gold.” Job did not say, “When he hath tried me I may come forth as gold,” or “I hope to come forth as gold,” but with full confidence and positive assurance he declared, “I shall come forth as gold.” But how did he know this? How can we be sure of the happy issue? Because the Divine purpose cannot fail. He which hath begun a good work in us “will finish it” (Php 1:6).How can we be sure of the happy issue? Because the Divine promise is sure: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psa 138:8). Then be of good cheer, tried and troubled one. The process may be unpleasant and painful, but the issue is charming and sure.

“I shall come forth as gold.” This was said by one who knew affliction and sorrow as few among the sons of men have known them. Yet despite his fiery trials he was optimistic. Let then this triumphant language be ours. “I shall come forth as gold” is not the language of carnal boasting, but the confidence of one whose mind was stayed upon God. There will be no credit to our account—the glory will all belong to the Divine Refiner (Jas 1:12).

For the present there remain two things: first, Love is the Divine thermometer while we are in the crucible of testing—”And he shall sit (the patience of Divine grace) as a Refiner and Purifier of silver,” etc. (Mal 3:3). Second, the Lord Himself is with us in the fiery furnace, as He was with the three young Hebrews (Dan 3:25). For the future this is sure: the most wonderful thing in heaven will not be the golden street or the golden harps, but golden souls on which is stamped the image of God—”predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son!” Praise God for such a glorious prospect, such a victorious issue, such a marvelous goal.

Chapter 7

Divine Chastisement

Hebrews 12:5  Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou are rebuked of him

It is of first importance that we learn to draw a sharp distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement: important for maintaining the honour and glory of God, and for the peace of mind of the Christian. The distinction is very simple, yet is it often lost sight of. God’s people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins, for God has already punished them at the Cross. The Lord Jesus, our Blessed Substitute, suffered the full penalty of all our guilt, hence it is written “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jn 1:7). Neither the justice nor the love of God will permit Him to again exact payment of what Christ discharged to the full. The difference between punishment and chastisement lies not in the nature of the sufferings of the afflicted: it is most important to bear this in mind. There is a threefold distinction between the two. First, the character in which God acts. In the former God acts as Judge, in the latter as Father. Sentence of punishment is the act of a judge, a penal sentence passed on those charged with guilt. Punishment can never fall upon the child of God in this judicial sense because his guilt was all transferred to Christ: “Who his own self bear our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pe 2:24)

But while the believer’s sins cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned (Rom 8:3), yet he may be chastised. The Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he is a member of the Family of God. The relationship which now exists between him and God is that of parent and child; and as a son he must be disciplined for wrongdoing. Folly is bound up in the hearts of all God’s children, and the rod is necessary to rebuke, to subdue, to humble.

The second distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement lies in the recipients of each. The objects of the former are His enemies. The subjects of the latter are His children. As the Judge of all the earth, God will yet take vengeance on all His foes. As the Father of His family, God maintains discipline over all His children. The one is judicial, the other parental.

A third distinction is seen in The design of each: the one is retributive, the other remedial. The one flows from His anger, the other from His love. Divine punishment is never sent for the good of sinners, but for the honoring of God’s law and the vindicating of His government. But Divine chastisement is sent for the well-being of His children: “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Heb 12:9-10).

The above distinction should at once rebuke the thoughts which are so generally entertained among Christians. When the believer is smarting under the rod let him not say, God is now punishing me for my sins. That can never be. That is most dishonoring to the blood of Christ. God is correcting thee in love, not smiting in wrath. Nor should the Christian regard the chastening of the Lord as a sort of necessary evil to which he must bow as submissively as possible. No, it proceeds from God’s goodness and faithfulness, and is one of the greatest blessings for which we have to thank Him. Chastisement evidences our Divine son-ship: the father of a family does not concern himself with those on the outside: but those within he guides and disciplines to make them conform to his will. Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests. Look beyond the rod to the All-wise hand that wields it!

The Hebrew Christians to whom this Epistle was first addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably were they conducting themselves. They were the little remnant out of the Jewish nation who had believed on their Messiah during the days of His public ministry, plus those Jews who had been converted under the preaching of the apostles. It is highly probable that they had expected the Messianic Kingdom would at once be set up on earth and that they would be allotted the chief places of honour in it. But the Millennium had not begun, and their own lot became increasingly bitter. They were not only hated by the Gentiles, but ostracized by their unbelieving brethren, and it became a hard matter for them to make even a bare living. Providence held a frowning face. Many who had made a profession of Christianity had gone back to Judaism and were prospering temporally. As the afflictions of the believing Jews increased, they too were sorely tempted to turn their back upon the new Faith. Had they been wrong in embracing Christianity? Was high Heaven displeased because they had identified themselves with Jesus of Nazareth? Did not their suffering go to show that God no longer regarded them with favour?

Now it is most instructive and blessed to see how the Apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their own Scriptures! He reminded them of an exhortation Found in Pro 3:11-12, and applied it to their case. Notice, first, the words we place in italics: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you. This shows that the exhortations of the Old Testament were not restricted to those who lived under the old covenant: they apply with equal force and directness to those of us living under the new covenant. Let us not forget that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2Ti 3:16) The Old Testament equally as much as the New Testament was written for our learning and admonition. Second, mark the tense of the verb in our opening text: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh.” The Apostle quoted a sentence of the Word written one thousand years previously, yet he does not say “which hath spoken,” but “which speaketh.” The same principle is illustrated in that sevenfold “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith (not “said”) unto the churches” of Rev. 2 and 3. The Holy Scriptures are a living Word in which God is speaking today!

Consider now the words “Ye have forgotten.” It was not that these Hebrew Christians were unacquainted with Pro 3:11-12, but they had let them slip. They had forgotten the Fatherhood of God and their relation of Him as His dear children. In consequence they misinterpreted both the manner and design of God’s present dealings with them, they viewed His dispensation not in the light of His Love, but regarded them as signs of His displeasure or as proofs of His forgetfulness. Consequently, instead of cheerful submission, there was despondency and despair. Here is a most important lesson for us: we must interpret the mysterious providences of God not by reason or observation, but by the Word. How often we “forget” the exhortation which speaketh unto us as unto children: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.”

“Unhappily there is no word in the English language which is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here. “Paideia” which is rendered “chastening” is only another form of “paidion” which signifies “young children,” being the tender word that was employed by the Saviour in Joh 21:5 and Heb 2:13. One can see at a glance the direct connection which exists between the words “disciple” and “discipline”: equally close in the Greek is the relation between “children” and “chastening.” Son-training would be better. It has reference to God’s education, nurture and discipline of His children. It is the Father’s wise and loving correction.

Much chastisement comes by the rod in the hand of the Father correcting His erring child. But it is a serious mistake to confine our thoughts to this one aspect of the subject. Chastisement is by no means always the scourging of His refractive sons. Some of the saintliest of God’s people, some of the most obedient of His children, have been and are the greatest sufferers. Oftentimes God’s chastenings instead of being retributive are corrective. They are sent to empty us of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness: they are given to discover to us hidden transgressions, and to teach us the plague of our own hearts. Or again, chastisements are sent to strengthen our faith, to raise us to higher levels of experience, to bring us into a condition of usefulness. Still again, Divine chastisement is sent as a preventative, to keep under pride, to save us from being unduly elated over success in God’s service. Let us consider, briefly, four entirely different examples.

David. In his case the rod was laid upon him for grievous sins, for open wickedness. His fall was occasioned by self-confidence and self-righteousness. If the reader will diligently compare the two Songs of David recorded in 2 Samuel 22 and 23, the one written near the beginning of his life, the other near the end, he will be struck by the great difference of spirit manifested by the writer in each. Read 2Sa 22:22-25 and you will not be surprised that God suffered him to have such a fall. Then turn to chapter 23, and mark the blessed change. At the beginning of 2Sa 23:5 there is a heart-broken confession of failure. In 2Sa 23:10-12 there is a God-glorifying confession, attributing victory unto the Lord. The severe scourging of David was not in vain.

Job. Probably he tasted of every kind of suffering which falls to man’s lot: family bereavements, loss of property, grievous bodily afflictions came fast, one on top of another. But God’s end in it all was that Job should benefit therefrom and be a greater partaker of His holiness. There was not a little of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness in Job at the beginning. But at the end, when He was brought face to face with the thrice Holy One, he “abhorred himself” (Job 42:6). In David’s case the chastisement was retributive, in Job’s corrective.

Abraham. In him we see an illustration of an entirely different aspect of chastening. Most of the trials to which he was subjected were neither because of open sins nor for the correction of inward faults. Rather were they sent for the developmen of spiritual graces. Abraham was sorely tried in various ways, but it was in order that faith might be strengthened and that patience might have its perfect work in him. Abraham was weaned from the things of this world, that he might enjoy closer fellowship with Jehovah and become the “friend” of God.

Paul. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2Co 12:7). This “thorn” was sent not because of failure and sin, but as a preventative against pride. Note the “lest” both at the beginning and end of the verse. The result of this “thorn” was that the beloved apostle was made more conscious of his weakness. Thus, chastisement has for one of its main objects the breaking down of self-sufficiency, the bringing us to the end of our selves.

Now in view of these widely different aspects chastenings (retributive, corrective, educative, and preventative), how incompetent are we to diagnose, and how great is the folly of pronouncing a judgment concerning others! Let us not conclude when we see a fellow-Christian under the rod of God that he is necessarily being taken to task for his sins. In our next meditation we shall consider the spirit in which Divine chastisements are to be received.