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The Love of God
The story of the Word up to this point unfolds in its inner meaning the growth of an experiential knowledge of God from infancy to middle age, especially with those who are being prepared for positions of great responsibility in life both in this world and in the world to come. It is like the growth of the tree of life from a sprout to its branches with leaves and fruit thereon. The regulation of conduct in accord with the sovereign principles of duty, justice and self-sacrifice— represented by Saul, David and Solomon— establish the kingdom of heaven in the heart. Yet, we are far from being what we should like to be, and ought to be. We still justify certain evil habits that have become second nature with us. Israel is captive in Assyria. An inbred love of having our own way blinds us to that fact. Judah is captive in Babylon. "The vision of Isaiah"— the latter prophets—is meant to open our eyes to the inmost cause of all our troubles, and reveal the love of God which becomes ours through the daily submission of our will to the Divine Will, "Not my will, but thine, be done."
The Saving Power of Faith
Chapter 1. The first words of "the latter prophets" intimate the Savior’s concern for "the celestial, the good of love"—the love of God among men, represented by Judah and Jerusalem. "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." We are obsessed by the love of self, and, in our latter years, we are beginning to see it with a vengeance. Here at last is the vision of the damnable state of our hearts, and of our worship of the Lord. Like children unconscious of all that their parents have done for them, we have forgotten that the Lord ever did anything for us, and hold Him responsible for all our woes. "The ox knoweth his owner, but Israel doth not know . . . . The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint . . . . Your country is desolate." The deportation of the ten tribes has begun. We imagine we are beyond evil through self-justification. Yet, nothing is right. The only thing that checks an outright denial of God is the thought of cowardice on our part should we let others down by deserting them altogether, or by quitting the fight because our lot appears to be unreasonably hard. That is a saving remnant—a vague childlike trust in God hidden deep beneath the surface. What wonder that our worship of God is a mere show of religion! An empty profession of faith! A perfunctory repetition of rituals! Prayers—without point! The whole situation is remediable, but we cling to evils that are part and parcel of our being, and that seem to be unquenchable, or invincible. "The great arraignment," as this chapter has been entitled, carries weight as it spurs us on to analyze our states of mind to better purpose. "Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land."
2. Humiliation effects a temporary exaltation with a vision of what life might be if we loved others as the Lord has loved us. But at present, the vision is far beyond our grasp. Self-love, opinionatedness, the pride of learning, and the love of gain occupy the center, and the love of the Lord is at the circumference. In practice, conflicting interests make it impossible for men to pull together. Social security is only a dream, which vanishes instantly on the appearance of terrifying fears that our own interests may shortly be destroyed.
Self-Interest Is Ubiquitous
3. How sorely we lack courage and the knowledge of ourselves and of the world in meeting the tempter. Judah and Jerusalem are without sustenance and leaders. "Children are princes, and babes rule the people." Everyone childishly oppresses his neighbor for personal advantages. He is shameless in wrongdoing. "They have rewarded evil unto themselves." The Lord is ever ready to plead our cause, but we are ill-disposed toward others, and averse to the spirit of humility. We "grind the faces of the poor" in spirit. The haughty daughters of Zion represent the common tendency in self-seeking to pervert the truths of the Word, mistaking anger for indignation, lust for zeal, etc. Innate evils are indulged in secret. They cast deep shadows over our lives, and make us very unhappy. The Lord comes to expose them, with all the trappings used to make them attractive and inciting. Our humiliation is trying and discomfiting.
4. "And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man," appealing to him to take away their reproach. With the coming of the Lord feelings sacred to us from childhood impel us to turn to Christianity for a practical solution of our problem. We find it there. "In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious." The Lord comes to the childlike heart with a passion to put an end to our perversion of the truth, "to wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion," and to be true to the teaching of the Gospel, nevermore to be angry or lustful, etc.
5. Then may we rejoice in the return of better feelings toward others. We visualize again the possibilities of brotherliness in our midst. Yet, again, we fail to live as we pray. The vine yields wild grapes instead of sweet grapes. Individualism and nationalism appear with stern warnings to all comers to keep off our preserves. Look out for the guns and airplanes! The present world situation is just an enlargement of a miniature conflict of human interests inviting settlement by force, dethroning reason. The Lord looks for judgment, but behold oppression. Woe be to those who gloat on self-aggrandizement! Woe to those who revel in fanciful interpretations of the Word, and ignore the straightforward and simple lessons of life in it. When deaf to correction they worsen the situation; but not beyond the range of Providence. Excesses are as danger posts to the open-minded. The greater the excess, or perversion, the bolder the lettering on the sign post. "The Lord will lift up an ensign to the nations from far," to warn and save those who are impressible, and love freedom.
6. Uzziah "was a leper unto the day of his death." Hypocrisy is spiritual leprosy. The inner and the outer life are out of gear. Isaiah’s vision "in the year that king Uzziah died" reveals the glory of the Lord in heaven and on earth. And the prophet cried, "Woe is me! for I am unclean; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the king: the Lord of hosts." The lips were cleansed, the iniquity taken away, and sin purged by the touch of a live coal from the altar upon his lips. Even so the evil in the inner life is cleansed as evil is shunned in the outer life. The perpetual flame in the altar of burnt sacrifices is a symbol of the zeal kept alive in the effort to do God’s will on earth, as in heaven. We may wander far from the path of duty, we may reach the limit of desolation and despair, but within shall be that "tenth," the "remnant" that returns to work out our salvation. "The holy seed shall be the substance thereof."
Isaiah’s Sons Symbolize
Childhood Innocence Recaptured
7. Our love of God is being put to the test more and more in preparation for still severer tests that are to follow. Here Syria and Ephraim conspire to break into Jerusalem, and place a stranger on the throne of David. False reasoning and misinterpretation of the Scriptures combine to break down our morale, weakening our love of God, and our sense of justice. The Scriptures assure us that this goes too far. Jerusalem may be destroyed, but the house of David may not perish. There shall never fail a man to sit on the throne of David. "A remnant will return" (Shear-jashub is with Isaiah), and God Himself will make His abode with us (Immanuel will come). This prophetic sign is vouchsafed to renew our courage when conflicting ideas and senseless reasoning menace the very life of religion. Many a bitter conflict may rage within, and many a lapse in conduct follow, and yet the reign of love will survive every attack upon it and grow, so long as the effort to live unselfishly according to God’s Word exists. "Butter and honey shall everyone eat that is left in the land," that he "may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." Butter gives heat and energy to the body, and honey is sweet to the taste (Psalm 119:103).
8. "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me," saith Isaiah, "are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in Mount Zion" (verse 18). Here is the key to this and the preceding chapter. The prophet tells us that our "greater love" for others will be put to the severest tests, "because we are unwilling to accept the Word in simplicity" (verse 18). Our comfort rests in the conviction that "the remnant will return" (Shear-jashub), and that the good taken captive by the enemy shall be recaptured. God speed the day when we snatch it out of the very jaws of hell! That is Maher-shalal-hash-baz—"speed spoil, hasten prey." "Take thee a great roll, and write this with a man’s pen." There can be no misunderstanding of the decree, faithfully witnessed by Uriah, the priest (meaning "Jah is light"), and Zechariah (meaning "whom God remembers"). The "light of love" and "the remembrance of the Lord" in our blessings testify to the truth of the prophecy. God’s Word will not fail us in any extremity, if only we sustain the endeavor to be faithful to it.
"Unto Us a Child Is Born"
9. Here follows further testimony of prophecy. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light." The more we ponder over the promised advent of the Prince of Peace and the increase of His government and peace, the stronger is its hold upon us in these later conflicts of life. Again and again our weaker nature will assert itself, and will "falsify and pervert every truth and good of the Word and thus of the church even until nothing remains." But these relapses, common to everyone especially in his secret thoughts, only challenge us to make a closer analysis of our thoughts and feelings to uncover the perversions, and register a sturdy condemnation of them. The Lord never overtaxes our strength, or our intelligence. Three times appear these blessed words: "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." The power of recovery in temptation is always within our reach.
10. This chapter is a searching analysis of self-imposed sufferings due to the common practice of picking other people to pieces, and secretly, or openly, laying down the law for them. "Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed." Then is our opportunity to see in part wherein our spirit of self-righteousness is at work robbing others of much good in them, perverting the truth, and abusing our rational faculty. A passing judgment of our own guilt restores in part our innocence. "The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God." "The high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled."
11. Self-judgment does yet more for us. It opens the way for the coming of the Lord as our Savior, imparting innocence, a new understanding of the Word, and freedom from the hurt of pitiless thoughts. The gathering of the Gentiles, and the remnant and the outcasts of Israel attests the rectification of innumerable mistakes made in ignorance. Instruction is welcomed—when given in the right spirit.
12. "And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me." With joy we own the saving grace of the Lord.
Crosses to Be Taken Up
13. Again the Lord unveils the repulsive nature of the love of forcing others to serve us, or the endeavor to have our own way in preference to God’s way. This is "the burden of Babylon which Isaiah saw." To see the burden is to see the load—the cross—we must bear in giving up self-will for God’s will.
The Lord alone can relieve us of the burden, that is, with our cooperation, but not without it. It is a frightful picture. "Everyone that is found shall be thrust through, and everyone that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes: their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished." These scenes are common in time of war. They would be impossible if our passions had been brought under control through the Spirit of the Lord. As it is, self-will at times plunges us into hell, "with its direful and horrid evils and falsities," to remain there so long as we disdain correction and help.
14. Human nature abhors correction, or change. We even challenge God to set us right when conscience pricks a long established evil within on the rampage. "O Lucifer, thou hast said in thine heart, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will be like the most High!" To see the picture true to life within, and then look to the Lord for deliverance, brings certain judgment and relief.
Next follows the burden of Palestina, or Philistia—the judgment upon the pride of learning. When the evil spirits responsible for this common delusion are removed in answer to our entreaty, "the church will be safe."
15, 16. "The burden of Moab." Another cross! We all on occasion make more of the outside than of the inside, in one form or another. We think more of the raiment than of the body— more of the meat than of the life. We despise those who think otherwise. We are ourselves under judgment until we rectify our error. There is power in reading this and the next chapter with this thought in mind. The power of the Word increases with a growing knowledge of the imagery in the prophecy, and definite knowledge of the spiritual Moabite in ourselves. This point applies to prophecy in general. The truth is hidden in the language of parable, and gradually appears in the light, as we enter into the life of it. The Lord permits the evils in the heart to come to the surface, and speaks to us through His Word as we are able to bear it.
17. "The burden of Damascus," that is, of those who make much of memorizing the particular teachings of their religion, or of the inner meaning of the Scriptures. Damascus, in Syria, implies a rational, or irrational, understanding of such knowledge. To make a religion of abstract truths treasured in the memory stigmatizes anyone who fails to accept them without question. Truths so held are like "a ruinous heap," as the city is designated by the prophet. They may be of service to others, but not to ourselves unless put to the test in practical life. Otherwise we lose the power of discriminating the false from the true when presented to us.
18. "Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia." This refers to "those who are willing to be in blind ignorance respecting the things of salvation." Unwilling to have our eyes opened to our own inconsistencies, or infirmities! We thus voluntarily separate ourselves from the Lord, and may only draw near to Him again when smitten with regret for our contumacy and ignorance.
19. "The burden of Egypt." Another cross to be taken up! The worship of memory-knowledges, like the worship of money, as an end in itself, and not a means to an end, generates interminable strife. It leads to the perversion of the truth, and to insanity, and not to added intelligence. It spells death—total insensibility to the right use of knowledge as the only justification of its accumulation. The "right use" is determined by reason actuated by religion. "In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land."
20. This chapter specifies a common abuse of knowledge in senseless talk for no good. Futile speculation on current events! Gossip! Naked and barefoot Egypt!
21. "The burden of the desert of the sea." This concerns "the emptiness of memory-knowledges which are not for use" (Arcana Coelestia #3048). We may, for example, get into a discussion, and take up a position that is called in question: "A whirlwind in the south passes through." With eagerness we draw upon the memory for support to our argument, and use material that is valueless. We are unwilling to give in. However, we "set a watchman to declare what he seeth." Conscience tells us that our feelings are not right, and that our position is untenable. Then appear a chariot and two horsemen with the report that Babylon has fallen. We capitulate.
"The burden of Dumah." The cross that lifts up the head in this instance teaches us that light dispels darkness to the gentile mind in penitence, even after the repetition of the same fault in ignorance. Habit is second nature, until a new habit is established through painstaking reeducation. "If ye will enquire, enquire: return, come."
"The burden of Arabia." Living in expectation of the Lord’s coming, "those who are in ignorance will have knowledge of good and truth" according to their needs, after winnowing many old ideas, and separating the useful from the useless. Our thinking in the abstract is a process that needs straining all the time to purify it.
22. "The burden of the valley of vision," the cross of prideful self-intelligence. We imagine that our solution of problems about which we profess to know something is infallible; that our criticism is unanswerable, that we have the best interests of others at heart, and that the Lord is therefore on our side. Our concept of life in general and in particular is superficial and faulty. We often fail miserably to square it with the teachings of the Word. We should weep and mourn, if forced to face the light. Instead, we stick to many crazy ideas. They are all right, no matter what anyone may say or think about them! We are digging our own graves. The power of the Word within remains inviolate, guarded by the Lord, while self-intelligence without has disdained to lift the burden, at least for the time being.
23. "The burden of Tyre." Tyre was once the mercantile center of the world, and furnished most of the material for building Solomon’s temple—gold, wood, stone, and precious stones. The world furnishes us by the grace of God with materials to build our concept of the ideal life. What the Lord Jesus Christ means to us is largely dependent on our knowledge of what is best in human character drawn from literature, or from personal contact with our fellow men. Somehow, sometime, we feel that we are very small and mean in the light of cherished memories. It is a hard cross to bear. "Howl ye ships of Tarshish, for Tyre is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in." He who withstands the trial comes through all the richer for it. "Her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord": purged of worldliness.
The Blessings of Deliverance
24. Frequently one trial leads to another; work on a definite problem may be followed by undefined feelings; discontent, irritability, malaise. We are all out of sorts, and cannot tell what is the matter with us. The light-heartedness of the unthinking is gall to us. We may hug our distemper, because we are unable to diagnose the cause clearly. It is enough, however, to take several thoughts that are the most pronounced disturbers of the peace, set them aside for judgment, and get into the sunshine again as soon as possible. Then we may be surprised to discover how much suffering we might have been saved had we only taken the bull by the horns sooner. "Then the moon shall blush and the sun shall be ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and shall be glory for his ancients."
25. Now follows our confession of the Lord’s mercies in delivering us from evil, removing our sorrows, raising us on to the heights again, and giving us a clearer insight into the permissions of evil for the greater good of all. We may need to wait long before we experience complete freedom from any given evil to which we have been prone, after the defense of it has been broken down, and "laid low, even to the dust."
26. It is one thing to rejoice in our religious convictions, but quite another to rejoice in the power of the truth which saves us from evil. "In the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." It is a mistake to compromise with evil when it is plainly in sight. "Let favor be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness." We pass through many trials, and gain nothing from them so long as our prayers and effort are insincere. Failures are reminders to clear our sight, and strengthen our purpose, until "the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity."
27. The Lord protects the spiritual life in man from "the reasonings from fallacies whence come falsities," as in scandal, or corrupt politics (leviathan, the serpent and dragon). The fallacies and falsities come to the surface for judgment, to the enrichment of the church and the worship of the Lord.
Pride in Our Understanding of the Truth
28. "The crown of pride! The drunkards of Ephraim!" We see what this means in our young people. They often know not where they are, or where they are going. You cannot tell them anything: they know it all. We imagine that we have outgrown these youthful pretenses, and the folly of them. In reality, we have learned the art of hiding them to save our reputation. Occasionally we are more tractable. Earlier states of innocence are revived, and life is brighter. "In that day the Lord was for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people." The Lord, however, exposes the "woe to the crown of pride" from time to time to restore our sanity. "Give ye ear and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working."
Faith Assailed by
Self-Will, Reason, and Knowledge
29. Ariel means "lion of God." The Lord is called "the lion of the house of Judah, the root of David," to represent the power of the truth to redeem the world. "Woe to Ariel, the city where David dwelt," reflects trouble within through a lost vision of the New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrines; or, rather, of what this world might be through the practical application of these doctrines to life. False ideologies are in the ascendancy, and it is useless, in some places even dangerous, to question or oppose them. We all suffer through the loss of interest in the Church, and her teachings, and need to feel it to revive our faith in the Lord. Then "they that murmured shall learn doctrine."
30. "Woe to the rebellious children." Judah is threatened by Assyria, and seeks the aid of Egypt, contrary to Isaiah’s advice. The people should trust in the Lord. In time of adversity we are sorely tempted to put our trust in knowledge (Egypt), and our own learning (horses), rather than "in quietness and confidence." By knowledges here is understood truth, or doctrine, in the abstract, or without a real practical meaning. The latter half of the chapter shows why the rebellious heart should return to the Lord, and rest in Him. The Lord turns to those who trust in Him, shows them what to do, and frees them from specious reasoning to exculpate self, and justify procrastination.
31. "Woe unto them that go down into Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots." An old familiar evil is at the door. It is untouchable. We claim immunity for it. But when it is seriously challenged, rather than admit blame, we resort to the Bible and the doctrines, as to an opiate, to soothe our conscience. This corrupts our religion by substituting thought and feeling for action. As a matter of fact, when we hate the evil in our hearts, and put our shoulder to the wheel to get it out of the rut, the excuses we fear to touch no longer appear to be sacrosanct, and in time cease to have further influence over us. "Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him, and his young men shall become tributary."
32. "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment." Character is cleared in part from pretense. But the wound remains; there is still swelling to subside, and matter to be removed, before it is healed. The evil is there, and much more evil besides. But each experience in the regenerate life, and the present experience in particular, assures us that "the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever."
33. "Woe to thee that spoilest." This refers to the Assyrian, that is, to one who gets rid of the truths of the Church by false reasonings; or one, for example, who justifies a temper and impatience as zeal for decency, or good behavior. The justification of any evil to which we are prone destroys the power of the truth to save, like insects devastating the fields. We never feel the bad effect upon character until we stop self-justification, and look at ourselves in the light. How do we feel when others are impatient with us? Our first reaction is generally to return it with interest. But second thought, and a clearer recognition of what is happening in ourselves, brings penitence. The Lord will be gracious, and disperse the evil. Then again, we see yet more of the evil in the light, but the Lord is our judge and Savior. "The people who dwell in the land shall be forgiven their iniquity."
34. "Come near ye nations to hear; and hearken ye people, . . . for it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompense for the controversy of Zion." This chapter "describes a last judgment upon all who are in evil and in falsities therefrom." We are more often unhappy and in hell than we realize. We give a free rein to moods that are ancient, but not honorable. We recognize their character, and bear our cross patiently, until relief arrives.
35. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose." We discover a new joy in a world that is barren and forbidding, a new sympathy for the destitute and outcast, the poor, and the unhappy rich, the sick and the criminal, the sinner and the self-appointed saint. There is hope for the world. For "the way of holiness" is there, "and the ransomed of the Lord shall return by it, and come to Zion with songs; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Philanthropy as a Relief under Strain
36–39. The chief difference between the next four chapters and 2 Kings 18:13 to 20:19 is in the addition of Hezekiah’s song of thanksgiving upon his recovery in Isaiah 38:9–20. The two incidents which these chapters record alike in a different setting are the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, and Hezekiah’s recovery from sickness. We have long felt the force of arguments justifying self-will, and repelled them, but deeper evils have come to light, and give a new lease of life to false reasons favorable to them. We are in their grip, unwilling to capitulate. Israel is captive in Assyria. And now a frontal attack is made upon our belief in God. Evil spirits assault our love and worship of God. The heart is held in contempt for its weakness. The Word of God (Isaiah) insists that we have nothing to fear from the most subtle arguments against the life of religion. The destruction of the Assyrian hosts and the assassination of Sennacherib by his own sons is proof positive. But Hezekiah is sick unto death. The heart is sick: our faith in the law of love is weak, but not dead. We are in a hard place, the love of God is strained to the limit, the least increase in the pressure of self-interest would break the tie. Relief comes by diverting our attention to the pressing claims of suffering humanity. Something must be done about it. "Place a lump of figs on the boil, and he shall recover." And so the king’s life was lengthened—twice seven years and then another. There is worse to follow, but strength given to meet it.
The remaining chapters of Isaiah fall into three sections. The first stresses the acknowledgment of the Lord as our deliverer from self-will (Babylon), through the agency of his Divine Human (chapters 40–48); the second centers attention on the Lord’s sufferings, foreshadowing our tribulations as followers in His footsteps (49–57); and the third announces the glorious restoration of the church through the conquest over evil (58–66). The three hold together as do the end, the cause (or means), and the effect; or the will, understanding, and life. Bear this in mind when studying them. Each section closes with a solemn declaration that good and evil cannot live together. Evil must be cast without, that good may dwell within.
The Will to Do God’s Will a Settled Habit
40. How salutary is the message to everyone who knows what it means to be released even in part from a domineering disposition. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. . . . for Jerusalem hath received of the Lord’s hands double for all her sins." The remnant has returned from Babylon. We have touched bottom: we know in a measure how deceitful and wicked the heart is. The practice of shunning evils as sins has been established, to be kept up daily opening the way for the Lord’s entrance into our lives more and more. The flesh profiteth nothing, when contrasted with the Lord’s tender love for us. How infinite is His wisdom too, in comparison with our short-sighted plans for influence or gain! Nor are his ways altogether beyond understanding. Self-interest may quicken the pace in the world’s work, but has in itself no staying power. We see the hand of Him "who slumbers not nor sleeps" every time He renews our will to withstand opposition, and carry on to the finish the work He has given us to do.
41. Proof of this is found in the Lord’s own life. He perfected His Human, despite unparalleled antagonism, through a perpetual renewal of the will to do the will of the Father within even to the end. His Human is "my servant" referred to in verses 8–16. In like manner He will strengthen all who confide in Him. Hundreds of thoughts issuing from an impure heart every day must be challenged, found wanting, and rejected. It is hard labor, requiring recuperation from time to time. Both the light and the strength to do our work are from the Lord. Without Him all is "vanity: our works are nothing: our molten images are wind and confusion."
42. "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect in whom my soul delighteth." The Lord Jesus Christ gently leads and teaches us. He is our Savior. He fights for us against the hells, and destroys their power over us. He opens our eyes to see wondrous things out of his law, and removes conceit from the heart. He is patient, merciful and just, though we often fail to appreciate it, or even complain.
43. "Redemption and salvation of those from every quarter who will be of the new church from the Lord." He opens the way before us, to surmount every difficulty, and profit by every disappointment, or failure. Yet we often magnify our difficulties and nurse our grievances beyond reason. We disdain the blessings at our very door. We fail to honor the Lord with our sacrifices. We "weary Him with our sins." Like wayward children we deliberately prefer disjunction and vexation to unity and good cheer.
44. When our willfulness has about spent itself we hear the plea, "Yet now hear, O Jacob, my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring." This is a definite promise of the Holy Spirit by "the Lord, the king of Israel, and his redeemer, the Lord of hosts," beside whom there is no God. He who is in the love of self denies God, and places his confidence in his own opinions, or beliefs, or works, or pleasures. "He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" It is possible to see wherein we err, and be forgiven and worship the Lord alone as we are freed from self-worship and its delusions. Cyrus, the Persian, freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The worshipper of self sees the way out of captivity in the revelation of "God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."
45. "Thus saith the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus." It was ordained that the Divine Human should liberate us from servitude to self-will. The Word is dynamic when taken to heart, and proclaims the power of the Lord as the only God of heaven and earth. No doubt on the point is tenable, "Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?" The Lord alone saves man from hell. "Man is born for heaven. In the Lord alone is all the life of heaven."
46. Selfish considerations (the idols of Babylon) can save no man. We instantly perceive the folly of appealing to idols of gold, or silver, for the good of life. It is still greater folly to expect lasting satisfaction in pursuing any objective in life that can only be gratified at the expense of the well-being of others. Why do we fail to see it? "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel, my glory." Israel always represents the spiritual life in man, and Jacob the natural life.
47. We have come out of Babylon, so to speak, but are still far from being free from the domineering spirit which that city represents. The Word exists to show us the perfidy of it, framing lies to obtain its object by force, or fear. Even the church is infected with this same heinous spirit, arrogating equality with God, approving the orthodox and condemning the heterodox. It is the greatest scandal in the world that men professing to be Christians cannot pull together. Moreover, this spirit attempts to escape judgment, appealing to the service it renders to others in extenuation, but in vain. (Witness on a large scale how the more powerful nations justify their domination over weaker nations, and how some churches claim superiority over all others.) The life and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ stand out in an unqualified condemnation of this spirit.
48. "Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel." The Lord exhorts us herein to desist from desecrating the good life He gave us, and the teachings of the Church which we confess with our lips. To "turn every one to his own way" of necessity dishonors the Father in heaven. We see children continually disregarding the instruction of their parents and teachers, sometimes even deliberately. They know little better. We ought to know how serious is our offense. We are not superior to others, yet of the Lord’s mercy we are preserved to prove that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth to whom we owe allegiance for the peace of the world. No compromise with self-will is admissible at the crossroads: "There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked."
The Word Feeds the Will
49. "Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people from far; the Lord called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name . . . and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified." This second section of the latter part of the prophecy is an entreaty to think through the teaching of the Lord’s glorification in its relation to the outmost affairs of men—the isles and remote peoples. This covers every intermediate point to the farthermost limit. What does the Lord’s ascension mean to us, and to all men, in daily life? It appears to be a vain question. It has a partial and obvious answer in the doctrinal teaching of the church in regard to salvation. The church has not appreciated the practical side of the doctrine beyond the verbal definition of it. The simple-hearted will learn, however, that the Lord cares for them, and changes their lives. He will be a light to lead them to Himself, and protect them in temptation.
50. Unfortunately, we who have the doctrine are not applying it to life as is expected of us. The substitution of our orthodoxy, or devotion to the Church, for the life of religion, is a practical denial "that the Divine has power to save, wherefore all things of the church are hidden" from us at that time, or in that state of mind, by crassness and obstinacy. It is a fatal mistake. We have many a lesson to learn from the unpretentious gentile, or non-Christian.
51. At other times, however, we look to the Lord, and take home a lesson from the Church for life, which gives us real joy. Only that which is from and of the Lord in us is abiding. Nor should we fear opposition from without or from within in upholding the right as God gives us to see it. The Lord has power to save, and will gradually establish order in the world. The truth will in time gain force, and falsity pass into the distant background, until lost sight of altogether. We have all witnessed changes of this order in science—and to some extent in religious beliefs too.
52. The New Christianity is roused to embrace the truth, separated from all defilements, and especially from the justification of evils that held man in bondage aforetime, to his sorrow. Whosoever will may know that God is here among men from the message of peace, and goodwill and salvation which has a different ring to it than heretofore. These blessings cannot be had for the asking, or by faith alone, but only by following the way of the cross to the complete sacrifice of the self-life. This after the example of the Lord bowing the heavens, and coming down for our salvation.
53. The world is barely conscious of the fact— not in theory, but in actual practice—that the omnipotence of God is in the Lord Jesus Christ. The belief in practice is the only belief that counts. Judged by that the Lord appeared like an ordinary man, despised and rejected by his fellowmen. But when judged by His achievements in the spirit, He felt the force of every evil to which the flesh is heir without a murmur, and without giving way to it. The stature of this Man for us approaches the Divine as we realize our impotence in our attempt to follow in his footsteps; for it is "by his stripes that we are healed." He did not suffer in our stead. He "makes intercession for the transgressors" by conferring the power to endure and to overcome evil as He overcame it, when asked "in His Name," that is, in the same spirit in which He received it from the Father within—through humiliation and effort to do the will of God.
54. "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord." Deep humiliation reveals to us that our past efforts to do God’s will have been rather fruitless. Our method has been wrong. We now rejoice in the truth of new and better conceptions of fulfilling the law. New methods and a new spirit promise extensive growth of the church, making amends for past failures. This close union with the Lord renews our courage. We are far from perfect, and have made many terrible blunders, but we are happy in sensing the Lord’s loving kindness in the effort to do better, and in the assurance that we can withstand any test. The Lord is on our side.
55. In this bright state of mind we hail the invitation to regale our spirits with the blessed teachings of the Word. Why should we "labor for the meat that perisheth," when we can actually share the Lord’s own presence with us in intimate fellowship renewing our vision of the possibilities of life before us in a clearer light, and reassuring us that no message that comes to us through His Word for Christian living will be fruitless. "It shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." "Through this alone is heavenly happiness, and instead of evil and falsity there is good and truth to eternity."
56. We cannot, however, live on the mountain top always. The vision of further progress in life can only be made permanent through the practice of justice, unpolluted by any thought of self-righteousness. We should cooperate more freely with non-Christians, or nonconformists, than with anti-Christians. Even those who think wrongly in ignorance merit our sympathy and understanding. For all of them may be introduced into the worship of "the Lord God, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel": they have been unwittingly seduced by unprincipled and self-indulgent leaders. This implies a broadening of character in evaluating Christian living regardless of sectarian boundaries.
57. Deep humiliation effects great exaltation. But it is also followed by deeper insight into evils within. We return to old evil habits that were regarded as perfectly justifiable. "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart. He goes in peace." But now comes a secret impulse to "draw near hither" and investigate the despicable conditions beneath and behind these old habits of which we had been wholly unconscious. We never could be convinced that we were wrong, because we regarded our own ideas as infallible. Our self-justifications were sacrosanct. No one dared question them, much less call for a retraction. We were dead to the meaning of these facts. Now we see it, and in humility and grief seek the Lord for instruction, and for the complete removal of the evil revealed to us. Again, there can be no compromise. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."
Holy Living with the Lord’s
Help Is Possible for Everyone
58. We take up the last section of this prophecy. The process of eliminating the deeper evils within is slow and exceedingly trying. We complain that we "afflict our souls," and the Lord takes no notice of it. Little wonder, because we grieve, and at the same time rake up the old arguments to justify inaction and self-pity. We fast for strife and debate. The Lord requires us to come out with a straightforward admission of wrong on our part, an honest hatred of it, and then He can give us a new spirit in our approach to suffering humanity. "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily." We call, and the Lord answers, and guides us in "building the old waste places, and raising up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in." The union of the Lord with the church in holy living is heaven.
59. "Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear." We know that from experience, yet evil persists. Weeds come to the surface so long as there is a shred of root left in the ground. We still hate others, and entertain many ugly thoughts about them. We lie, misrepresenting our own actions and speech in our after thoughts in the effort to exculpate ourselves in the eyes of the world. We uphold injustice, trust in riches, and dislike those who take exception to our opinions, or plans. Our thoughts are sometimes impure, or contentious, and our ways crooked. We are in a very sad plight indeed, without light or guidance. We are unhappy. "We look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us." We have more work ahead than we can accomplish in years, and know it. Even so, the Lord found none to sustain Him at the end. The chosen twelve forsook Him, and fled. Wherefore He put on "the garments of vengeance, and his own arm brought salvation unto him." We likewise gather strength in life’s conflicts as we practice repentance daily, and turn all the energy spent in the service of mammon into a well directed effort to learn the truth about ourselves, and defeat our enemies within, to the advantage of our children, and children’s children, who must continue the fight in years to come.
60. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." It was night when we were sounding the depths of evil within. The glory of the Lord enlightening the redeemed appears all the brighter for the contrast. At last the Church begins to influence well-disposed people everywhere to worship the Lord "in spirit and in truth." The world will give its best to enrich the commonweal, putting up a defense for the higher interests of all as against the present policy of nationalism and individualism. "Sons of strangers shall build up thy walls." The church itself will keep the city gates open to all comers who desire to contribute anything of real value to the home in which we live as joint tenants in the service of the All-Father. Testimony to the blessings of unity will continually add to the joy of the new culture. But above all, the better understanding of the Lord’s life "makes the place of his feet glorious." Religion has been under fire for a long, long time, but many who never thought much of it are rallying round the cross of Christ today for conflict in a cause worthy of everything man has to give for it. It raises everything that he learns to a higher plane in the interest of peace and justice. The love of God shall rule supreme with growing intelligence in giving expression to it, under the aegis of the Lord Himself.
61. The Lord’s coming was in time, yet not of time. His Spirit is ever actively spreading the gospel, healing broken hearts, liberating addicts from evil habits, providing a way of escape in temptation, comforting the sufferer, and filling the heart with joy and praise. The Spirit is constantly in evidence restoring everything in the church that had been destroyed, and in the world without, strengthening the life of charity and initiating plans for better social and occupational work. Specially prepared servants of the Lord superintend the spiritual interests of the community. These undeserved changes for the better at the hand of Providence restore joy to the world, particularly on account of the promise of increased justice and praise for the generations that are to come.
62. We have, first, the assurance that "the people outside the church who are not in possession of the Word have light by its means." "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the Gentiles shall come to thy light" (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture #104). Second, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to build the old wastes," to repair the breaches in the church. And, third, "For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof goeth forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth." Those who are on the inside effect contact with those on the outside that all may consciously and spontaneously cooperate in the living church to rejuvenate the old world. "They will not be separated from the Lord, as before, but conjoined with Him. This gospel will be preached even until it takes place. Then the truths of the Word will not be for those who falsify them, but for those who receive them." Preparation for this has begun in removing many obstacles to it, and in raising a new standard of life for all peoples to live by. As soon as the nations take up the life of religion seriously the demand for the technique will be as great as the present demand for a better technique in every other department of human endeavor. "Thou shalt be called, Sought out, a city not forsaken."
63. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" The road to glory for the New Church and the New Earth in the future is through suffering. "Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" As it was for the Master, so must it be for the disciple. "I have trodden the winepress alone. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come." The hatred of evil was weighted against the loving kindness of the Father within, and his tender regard for his children in their affliction, still his children, though they "had rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit." How touching the appeal of the Human: "Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? Are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our Father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy mercies’ sake, the tribes of thine inheritance." Power always does return in answer to prayer and effort.
64. "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down," and be present with us in humility! Ours is the power to repel evil, "to make known thy name to thine adversaries, to do terrible things which we looked not for"; and ear hath not heard, nor eye seen, "O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him." The Lord saves the faithful, though the experience in confronting pet evils may be long and painful. We are obdurate, and unwilling to admit our guilt. Only an unreserved confession and deep repentance for the part we have taken in the desolation of God’s home on earth can reveal his presence in our afflictions.
65. "I have offered answers to those who asked not; I have been at hand to those who sought me not: I said Behold me, unto a nation that hath not called upon my name. The Lord is present with us when we are perverse and foolish. He is close to us even when we degrade ourselves by the not uncommon reflection, "Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou." The Lord sees the trouble we bring upon ourselves, and longs to help us see our errors and save us from the consequences of them. Fortunately, the Church is preserved to uphold the law of justice, and "my people that have sought me" have learned the meaning of that law by hard experience. But for those who did not answer when called, or hear when spoken to through conscience, "but did evil before mine eyes," nothing can avert the harm that follows. Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Lord is constantly in operation to renovate the world through the conquest of evil, and bring joy to man instead of woe. And as soon as momentum for reconstruction is well underway, "it shall come to pass, that before men call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." A well-trained conscience detects the existence of evil in the thoughts as soon as they appear in the mind, so that evil can do no further harm.
66. "Thus saith the Lord, Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool." Heaven and the church exist in those who live according to the law in humility. Worship for form’s sake is a snare and a delusion. The Pharisee may deride the publican’s prayer, but the latter "went down to his house justified rather than the other." The worship and love of God in time of need brings rich reward. "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." True worship yields new concepts of life, lasting joy, peace and comfort after a healthy purgation of selfish thoughts and purposes. "They that sanctify themselves shall be consumed together, saith the Lord." "Men will draw near to the Lord from all parts, and from every religion. They will be in all truth and doctrine of the church, and in its good." Heaven and the church is in them. Their worship of the Lord is pure and abiding after having seen, condemned, and been delivered from everything that savors in the least degree of a holier-than-thou spirit, the spirit "of the men that have transgressed against the Lord."
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