Isaiah xl. 1-8
Notes of an Address at Glasgow, 25th Oct. 1877
by Henry Dyer
The first eight verses of this chapter form a preface to the other part of the chapter, and also to the entire remainder of the book of Isaiah. Up to chap. xxxv. is occupied with burden after burden upon Israel and many Gentile nations.
Chapters xxxvi. to xxxix. show us what the flesh is. First in Sennacherib what the flesh is untamed, and then in Hezekiah what the flesh is in you and me. Then flows the unchecked stream of triumphant grace from chap. xl. to the end. When all has failed then God from the throne of His grace can pour out unrestrained His mighty love.
So different are the latter chapters of Isaiah from the former part that speculative theologians have said that it could not have been written by Isaiah at all. The very Hebrew is different. But those who speak thus know not the contrasts that are found in the heart of a saint.
In these first eight verses there are three mighty cries.
1. The cry of triumphant grace.
2. The coming glory.
3. What we have to learn in the meantime, viz., the worthlessness of the flesh and the value of 'the Word of God.
If only in your heart and mine that threefold cry be heard it will be what you and I most require. But you cannot enter into the third cry till the first two are known. If you realize the first two you will gladly accept the third. You must first enjoy the mighty song of triumphant grace, and the glory soon to be revealed be shining in at your eyes, before you will be prepared to say with Paul, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God".
Now let us look at the first cry. "Comfort ye comfort ye, my people, saith your God, speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem [the margin is right, 'speak to her heart'], and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sin." A perfect fullness of judgment she has received.
Dear fellow-saints, what a precious voice of mighty, mighty comfort! It is not that her iniquity has been slided over. Far from it; all has been perfectly judged by Jehovah's hand. That hand which laid upon His Son the iniquities of us all. She hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins. She received it in the person of her own Messiah. But "He died not for that nation only." We have heard that voice, to which in the meantime, the nation of Israel is deaf.
We receive double comfort because of double judgment. Speak to her heart, because into the heart of the Shepherd entered the piercing sword. The smitten rock sent forth the stream that availed for Israel all the wilderness journey through. Double for ALL her sin. Precious word "all".
Here we rest in wonder viewing
All our sins on Jesus laid.
And a full redemption flowing
From the sacrifice He made.
"The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." His heart was broken that nothing but joy might flow through all our gladdened hearts. Thanks be to God for grace, triumphant grace, and thank God for putting this cry first.
The 3rd, 4th, and 5th verses contain the cry of coming glory. Mark the place whence it comes—"The Wilderness." We had nothing to do in the first cry ; nothing to do with the fountain, it was all Jehovah's work, but here now is something for the happy saints to do. "Prepare ye the way of Jehovah." Grace is yet to be crowned with glory; meantime our place is in the wilderness. We are redeemed out of the filth of man's religion, out of the filth of man's money-getting world, out of the filth of man's wisdom, that we should go outside the city bearing the reproach of Christ.
Who heard the voice in the day of John the Baptist? None in Jerusalem; none who tarried in the city of man's religion, and still I find not the hope of coming glory shining in any hearts but those who are separate from man's religion and in spirit where John the Baptist was—in the wilderness.
Ask beloved John, the writer of the glorious visions of the Book of Revelation, where he caught the glory of that blessed hope which gleamed in his eyes, and he will answer, "in the lonely Patmos; they sent me to Patmos, they hunted me out of my bishopric—the best thing that ever happened to me, for there in Patmos I saw the glory." Thus we get ready in spirit for the coming glory. Not ready by title—our title is complete, and that is the blood—but ready in the spirit of our minds.
John the Baptist was a priest, both his father and mother were of the house of Aaron. His place was to go in and out of the holy place, to offer the morning and evening sacrifice, and to burn incense upon the altar. But he left it all behind; he saw it to be a mass of iniquity—he left it for the wilderness, where in separation from it all he beheld the heavenly Lamb and waited for the coming glory.
Now we come to the third cry. And the prophet seems surprised at the voice which says, "Cry!" as much as to say—" What! is there anything else to cry? What more can I cry?" Yes, cry, "All flesh is grass!" &c
We had double comfort, because of double judgment, and now we have double withering of the flesh. This is the intermediate lesson we have to learn until that glory comes. All things below are but as withering grass. A bitter lesson to nature but a welcome lesson to faith. The world has to learn it in a way. Yonder in that Blantyre catastrophe, where many a stalwart form lies buried and mangled in death, or abroad amid the horrors of war, the world is learning the vanity of all the power and glory of man; but here the saints are called to learn it in another way. Not because death comes like a scythe and sweeps it off the field, but by the Word of God and the inward teaching of the Spirit. "The body is dead because of sin; the spirit is life because of righteousness." How good thus to have the sentence of death in ourselves every hour we live. Thanks to our God for this third heavenly cry. That we lean not on anything in ourselves but on the Lord alone, and on His word which endureth forever. The cry of the cross is past; the cry of the glory tells us we shall soon be there. Meantime, young fellow-saints, may you know the withering of your fleshly power by the blessed Holy Ghost blowing upon it.