Isaiah 65, 2.—Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your eoul delight itself in fatness.
Having set forth, in the first verse, the perfect adaptation of the grace which is offered in the gospel, to the wants of sinners, as a source of refreshment, spiritual strength, and divine exhilaration; and having, at the same time, exhibited its absolute and perfect freeness, by inviting men to buy it "without money and without price," the evangelical prophet now expostulates with those who are unwilling to receive it, and exposes the absurdity of thus refusing to embrace the only real good, while at the same time they are toiling in pursuit of that which is imaginary. If it were possible for men to forego all desire of happiness, and all attempts to gain it, such a course would be demonstrably unworthy of a rational and moral agent, whose entire constitution shows him to have been created for the future. But in that case, notwithstanding the stupendous guilt and folly of his conduct, he would have wherewith to parry the attacks of conscience, and evade the invitations of the gospel, by alleging that he asked for nothing more than he possessed, that his desires were satisfied, and that it would be folly to disturb his own enjoyment and exhaust the remnant of his days in seeking that of which he felt no need, and the attainment of which could not possibly afford him any satisfaction.
It is easy to perceive the self-deluding sophistry of such a plea, assuming, as it does, the non-existence, nay impossibility of all degrees of happiness not actually experienced; an absurdity so palpable, as of itself to be an adequate preventive of that stagnant apathy which it defends. But the necessity of any such preventive is excluded by the very constitution of our nature, which has made it impossible for sentient creatures to be wholly regardless of their own well-being. Bhnded and grievously mistaken they may be as to the best means of securing it, and as to the comparative amount of good attainable in that course which they are pursuing and in others. But they must pursue some course as the way to happiness. The living creature clings to life until he finds it insupportable, and even then he chooses death not as a greater but a lesser evil. It is not against a hatred of enjoyment, therefore, or an absolute indifference to it, that the grace of God and the salvation of the gospel must contend; it is against the most intense desire of happiness acting in the wrong direction, and impelling him who feels it to the use of means, which must ultimately thwart the very end which they are now employed to bring about.
The expostulation of the preacher is not," Why, oh why are you not hungry? why do you refuse to spend your money, and yonr labour in obtaining food?" but it is, "Why do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which Batisfieth not!" Observe, too, that he does not seek to remedy the evils which arise from perverted and unsatisfied desire, by the extinction of the appetite itself;—of that immortal, inextinguishable craving, which can only cease by annihilation, or by full fruition. This, indeed, is a distinctive mark of true religion, as opposed to other systems. Since the evils under which the human race is groaning may be clearly traced to the inordinate indulgence of desires after happiness, under the influence of "strong delusions," as to that which can afford it, we are not to wonder that when unassisted reason undertakes to do away with the effect, it should attempt the extirpation of the cause; and you will find accordingly that every system of religion or philosophy, distinct from Christianity, either indulges, under some disguise, that perversion of man's natural desire after happiness winch makes him wretched, or affects to cure it by destroying the desire itself.
Between these Epicurean and Stoical extremes, all systems of religion but the true one have been oscillating since the world began. The one has found favour with the many, the other with the few; the one has prevailed in society at large, the other has arisen from the over-refinements of a vain philosophy. And thus these two antagonist errors have existed and produced their bitter fruit simultaneously, and under every outward form of practice and belief. While the one has shown itself in the prevailing selfindulgence of all heathen nations, in the sensual creed and practice of the Moslem, in the Papist's compromise between his pleasures on the one hand, and his periodical confessions on the other, and in a similar but more concealed mode of compensation on the part of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness; the other has appeared in the speculations and selfdenial of the old philosophers, the austerities and selfinflicted sufferings of heathen, Mohammedan, and Christian self-tormentors. And with what effect? that of plunging men in the bottomless abyss of selfindulgence on the one hand, or in that of a desperate unbelief upon the other. But while one voice cries to the bewildered sinner, " Cease to hunger, cease to thirst," and another from an opposite direction bids him " Eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," the voice of God and of the gospel is, " Wherefore do ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?"
The question presupposes that the soul is hungry, that it must be hungry until it is fed, that the gnawings of this hunger will constrain it to seek food, and that the instinct of self-preservation, no less than the desire of enjoyment, will induce it to give any thing it has in exchange for the necessary means of its subsistence and enjoyment; that the fatal error lies not in the seeking after something to sustain it and to make it happy, but in imagining that this end can be answered by the pleasures, gains, and honours of the world, which are not only brief in their duration, but unsuited in their nature, even while they last, to satisfy the wants of an immortal spirit. It is this view of man's natural condition upon which the invitations of the gospel are all founded; and the absolute coincidence of this view with the lessons of experience is among the strongest proofs, not only that Christianity is better suited to the actual necessities of man than any other system of belief, but also that it is a plan devised by one who had an intimate and perfect knowledge of our nature; while the most ingenious speculations of philosophy, even when aided by a partial reception and appropriation of the doctrines of the Bible, at every step have betrayed the grossest ignorance of man's original and actual condition, and of the only way in which his restoration can be possibly effected.
The Christian, in endeavouring to win men to the Saviour, may proceed in full assurance, that the plan which he developes and the offers which he makes, are in perfect accordance with the natural capacities and wants of those for whose salvation he is labouring, and under this encouraging conviction he may cry aloud and spare not, to the starving souls around him, "Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good."
For let it be observed, that while the prophet shows the insufficiency of temporal enjoyments or advantages as means of happiness, he is far from leaving us to be content with this as a mere theoretical opinion, which can lead to nothing but a painful consciousness of want unsatisfied, and to that sickness of the heart produced by "hope deferred." But on the contrary, he makes the utter insufficiency of earthly good an argument, a reason, not for ceasing to desire, which is impossible, and if it were not, would be wrong and foolish, but for fixing the desires upon other objects, good in themselves, and adapted to our nature. He assures the disappointed soul that happiness is really attainable; and while the last achievement of philosophy (falsely so called) is to make man acquiesce with a sullen apathy in the frustration of his dearest hopes, the gospel soars immeasureably higher, and assures him that his hopes shall not be frustrated; that there is a good as perfect, nay immeasureably more so than his fondest wishes ever yet conceived; a good, substantial and enduring, aye and satisfying too, at which he may, at which he ought to aim, and aiming at which he shall not be disappointed, because God invites him to desire it and to seek it, holding it out as an equivalent, a substitute, for that ideal and fallacious good, in quest of which he is exhausting nature and despising grace. To such, to all such let the voice of invitation come in tender and persuasive tones. Let all who are employed in the laborious, but vain attempt, to feed a spiritual nature with material good, hear God's voice like the voice of a compassionate father to his erring children saying, "Wherefore do ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness."
But is this all? Is this indefinite assurance that there is a good sufficient and attainable, the highest and best offer that the gospel makes to sinners? Must the soul, disappointed in its quest of earthly good, be left to gaze at random on the infinite variety of possible contingencies by which the cravings of its nature may be satisfied? Alas! if this were all, the tender mercies of the gospel would be cruel. If the sinner is to be convinced of the unsatisfying nature of the objects he is actually seeking, only in order to be taught that there is somewhere in the universe an object truly worthy of his choice and suited to his nature, but without direction where or how he is to seek it; how can this tantalizing process be regarded as a favourable change, or one promotive of his happiness? If he is never to know more than this, that there is only one way of becoming blessed, and that he has missed it, it were better for him to remain in his delusion. But, my friends, if Christianity has ever left men in this state of mere negation, it is not because its Author or the word of God has thus revealed it, but because the heralds who were sent forth to proclaim it were mistaken in their own views, or unfaithful to their trust.
But the voice of God himself has no such "uncertain sound." He does not proclaim merely that there is salvation somewhere, and exhort mankind to seek it; but he leads them to it: he stands at the fountain of life and cries, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,—" to these waters. "Look unto me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth." "Incline your ear and come unto me : hear, and your soul shall live." He does not merely tell the wanderer in the desert that he has lost his way; he does not merely show him how he may regain it; but he stands, and calls him to come hither; Come to me; turn away your eyes from every other object, and especially from those which have hitherto misled you; listen no longer to the voices which have tempted you astray, and which are still loudly ringing in your ears. Regard them not, for they would lead you downwards to despair and death. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." "Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your sold shall live."
This direction of the soul to a specific and exclusive object as its only ground of hope and trust, without allowing any interval of doubt, or any liberty of choice, is a distinctive feature in the gospel system, and should never be forgotten in the dispensation of the grace of God by his ambassadors. The soul, when really convinced of its own error in resorting to the world and to itself for happiness, if suffered to remain without a fixed point of attraction and dependence, will infallibly revert to its abandoned idols, or to some new form of self-delusion, more incurable and fatal than the old, because adopted under the excitement of a groundless hope, and amidst the raptures of a spurious joy. The only safeguard against such delusions is a full exhibition of the one way of salvation, and in this as in other points already mentioned, we have only to follow a divine example. For the prophet, speaking in the name of God, after calling men to come to him, to hear him that their souls may live, annexes to this gracious invitation the specific promise of a sure salvation; a salvation not contingent or fortuitous, but one provided by a gracious constitution on the part of God himself; a salvation promised and confirmed by oath; a covenant of mercy, eternal in its origin, and everlasting in its stipulations, comprehending in its wonderful provisions the essential requisite of an atonement, a priest and sacrifice, an all-sufficient Saviour; not a Saviour whose performance of his office should be partial, or contingent, or uncertain from the change of person, but the One, the only Saviour, "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever;" a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec, the Son of God, the Son of man, the Son of David, who should sit upon his royal father's throne for ever, who was promised to the dying king himself, and of whom that expiring saint exclaimed, "This is all my salvation and all my desire!" It is to this exclusive object that the sinner's faith and hope are turned when God says by the prophet: "Incline your ear and come unto me: hear and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David."
Some suppose that Christ is here expressly mentioned by the name of David, an interpretation not by any means so arbitrary as it may appear to those who have not made themselves acquainted with the remarkable variety of names by which the prophets designate the Saviour. In the words before us, however they may be explained, there is an evident allusion to the promise made to David and recorded in the first book of Samuel, (7, 16,) "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee, thy throne shall be established forever," viz., by the succession of Messiah, of whom it was said, before his birth, by a messenger from heaven: "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord shall give unto him the throne of his fathe David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacol forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.' (Luke 1, 32. 33.)
It was in the prospect of this glorious succession by which David was to live again and reign agaii forever, that the ancient prophets uttered some oi their most cheering and sublime predictions: (Jer 23, 5. 6.) "Behold the days come, saith the Lord that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, anc a king shall reign and prosper, and shall executt judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judal shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely, and thii is the name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah oui Righteousness." In these words of Jeremiah, Chris' is represented as a branch which should be raised uj unto David; in those of Ezekiel which follow, he ap pears in the character of David himself: (Ezek. 34 22. 23. 24.) " I will save my flock, and they shall nc more be a prey, and I will judge between cattle anc cattle; and I will set up one Shepherd over them and he shall feed them, even my servant David; h( shall feed them, and he shall be their Shepherd, anc I the Lord will be their God, and my servant Davie a prince among them: I the Lord have spoken it.' And again: (Ezek. 37, 24. 25.) "So shall they b( my people, and I will be their God, and David mj servant shall be king over them, and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given untc Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt:
they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children forever, and my servant David shall be their prince forever." These are clear cases of the application of the name to Christ, and will perhaps suffice to justify a like interpretation in the case before us, even in the absence of all parallel expressions in the writings of Isaiah.
There is, however, no necessity for any such interpretation, as the words here used, unlike those of Ezekiel, may be referred either to the future or the past; and because, if taken in their obvious meaning, as referring to the literal king David, they afford a sense good in itself and perfectly coherent with the context. There is less reason for departing from the obvious and common-sense meaning, because, in either case, the reference to Christ is clear, though more ex plicit in the one case than the other. On the one supposition, he is spoken of as David; on the other, as the great blessing promised to David. In the one case, the promise is: "Come unto me, and I will make you partakers of the blessings promised in and through the second David, the Messiah;" in the other case it is, "Come, and I will make an everlasting covenant with yon, securing to you the sure mercies, the blessings faithfully and irrevocably promised to the ancient David, all which blessings meet and terminate in Christ." In either case, therefore, the promise is specific, and the offer made is not an offer of salvation in the general or the abstract, but of free salvation through the blood of Christ.
Upon these two points in the offer of salvation, let us look with fixed attention. It is specific. It is sure. It is not mercy in general that is offered, but the mercies of David, the mercies purchased by the second David, the mercies promised to the ancient David, which he hoped for, which he trusted in, and of which he could say: "this is all my salvation, and all my desire." It is this peculiar, special exhibition of God's mercy to lost sinners that is her.e held forth to them; it is this that he offers to make theirs by the provisions of an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David; for the blessing offered is not only definite but sure. It is a covenanted blessing, and it therefore cannot fail; it is a permanent blessing, and can undergo no change; it is a durable blessing, and shall last forever.
These two attributes or qualities of Christ's salvation, thongh to some they may appear of little moment, seem not so to the convinced, alarmed, and half-despairing soul, when after trying every source of natural enjoyment, but without obtaining rest or satisfaction, while the vast variety of objects sought and tried, serves only to distract and weary it. Hope faints and the heart sickens, till at last, through sovereign mercy, the inviting voice of Christ and of his servants gains access to the reluctant ear, and with the ear the eye is turned to that quarter whence the voice proceeds, and there, no longer roving among many objects, fixes finally on one, and there abides forever.
But to this concentration of the sinner's hopes, there must be added aa assurance of security and constancy in that which he relies upon, or he can never rest. And this the gospel offers when it calls him to partake of "the sure mercies of David." It is the glory of this great salvation that it is thus "sure ;" sure, from the very nature of the change which it produces in the relation of the soul to Christ, and sure from the irrevocable oath and promise of a covenant-keeping God. When the soul is awakened to a sense of its condition, the first great object of its wonder is the depth and aggravation of its guilt, which seem to render its escape from wrath an impossibility. Soon its wonder is excited by another and a nobler object, by the revelation of the truth that God can be just and yet a justifier of the ungodly. Nor is this its last discovery, for after vainly struggling to acquire some legal right to the salvation which is thus seen to be possible, the soul is filled with new amazement as it forms at last a just conception of the glorious truth that this salvation is as free as it is full and efficacious, that none can taste of it at all but those who are content to purchase it on God's own terms, "without money and without price."
But even after this conception has been formed, and has become familiar, weakness of faith and a remaining leaven of self-righteousness will often lead to sceptical misgivings, and suspicions that, although the gospel method of salvation be a perfect one, and perfectly gratuitous, it may, like other favours be withdrawn, and he who rested in it, perish after all. But when it pleases God to throw the rays of his illuminating grace upon the soul and to dispel the clouds of ignorance and error which involve it, one of the first objects which stands forth to view in that self-evidencing light, is the unalterable steadfastness and absolute security of that salvation which is offered in the gospel. It is there seen, too clearly to admit of doubt, that the believer's hope is founded, not at all upon himself, but altogether on another, and the merit of that other always the same and always infinite. This "great salvation " is as sure as it is free, sure as the merit of the Saviour and the covenant of God can make it, and may therefore well be called, as the prophet calls it in the text, "the sure mercies of David."
And is it not an interesting thought that the same sure mercies upon which the dying king so confidently rested, and in praise of which "the sweet psalmist of Israel" aroused the farewell echoes of his harp, that these same mercies are the song and rejoicing of the humblest convert in the darkest spots of Africa and Asia and the islands of the sea, and that on this same foundation are erected all the hopes of those who name the name of Christ in these ends of the earth?
Was this extension of the truth foreseen by David and Isaiah? or did they imagine, with their carnal and narrow-minded countrymen, that "Israel according to the flesh" should continue to monopolize the promises of God forever? There are some parts of Scripture where the promises of God are so exclusively connected with the name and local circumstances of his ancient people, as to furnish some apology, at least, for the pretensions of the modern Jews, and at the same time to divide interpreters, who harmonize in other matters, as to the question whether these predictions are to be literally verified hereafter, or have already been accomplished in a figurative, spiritual manner. In all such cases it may be disputed whether the promise, in its original and proper sense, extended further than the Jewish Church; but in the case before us, the ungrateful necessity of such restriction is precluded by the language of the prophecy itself; for the attention of the thirsting, starving sinner has no sooner been directed to the Saviour as the Son and yet the Lord of David, than the prophet, speaking in the name of God, as if to encourage even us who are "sinners of the Gentiles " to confide in the same all-sufficient Saviour, says, "Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
The connection leaves no doubt that Christ is here the subject of discourse. He was a witness of the truth, but an authoritative one, because he spoke what he did know: he spake on his own authority, not that of others; hence he was, at the same time, a leader and commander of the people. To the mere English reader, this important verse is shorn of half its meaning and of all its emphasis by the unhappy use of the word "people," which in English has no plural, to translate a Hebrew word not only plural in its form, but most" emphatically plural in its sense. It may be given as a general suggestion to the readers of the prophecies in English, that in multitudes of cases, where the very thing predicted is the calling of the Gentiles, it is utterly obscured in the translation by this idiomatical defect of form in the equivalent selected for the word denoting "nations," a defect which cannot possibly have failed to render that illustrious event less conspicuous and striking to the mind of the unlearned English Christian than to the readers of some other versions. In the case before us, the divine declaration is not merely or at all, that God had set Christ forth as a witness and commander to the Jews, but on the contrary that he had made him, by express appointment, a witness and a leader to the other nations, by whose convincing testimony and almighty power, God's elect were to be gathered out of every kindred, tribe, and people under heaven. Christ is a witness of the truth, a prophet, a divinely constituted teacher, not to this or that community or race of men, not even to God's chosen and peculiar people, but to nations, to all nations; and his office as a Prince of Peace and Captain of Salvation is no less extensive. To the nations generally he reveals the Father, and brings life and immortality to light. This wide extent of his official influence is furthermore expressed in what immediately follows, where the Father speaks of him no more in the third person, but addresses him directly, and assures him that his saving power should extend to nations which he knew not in his human personality, to nations which were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the old restricted covenants of promise. To the carnal Jews, this doctrine was a stumbling-block and foolishness, because they reckoned as political and natural advantages those means which God had used to prepare the way for Christ's appearance and the calling of the Gentiles. Hence they clung with impious folly to the means, when the end had been accomplished, and imagined in their blindness, that the system which they worshipped had been framed for their sake, when the word of God on every page, assured them that its object was to glorify Jehovah; and that when this great end could be answered more effectually by the abrogation of the ancient system it should cease forever. And in view of that cessation, and of Him who should accomplish it by breaking down the middle wall of partition which divided Jews from Gentiles, it is here said of him, or directly to him, (v. 5,) "Behold, thou shalt call a nation which thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel, for he hath glorified thee." As Messiah was to glorify the Father by revealing him not only to the Jews, but to the other nations which had never known him, so the Father was to glorify the Son by making him a witness and commander of the nations, and by granting him a glorious accession from the Gentile world; by giving him the heathen for his inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession; by inviting all the ends of the earth to look unto him for salvation, and thus making good to all who hear the call, the stipulations of that everlasting covenant which seals to all believers, without national distinction or respect of persons, "the sure mercies of David."
If, in addition to the doctrinal instructions of this interesting passage, we would learn from it a lesson in the art of invitation, let it be observed (1) that we must not address our invitations to a nature of which man is not possessed, but to his actual capacities and wants, admitting or assuming their reality and strength, and striving to convince him that they never can be satisfied by any thing but that which is so freely offered in the gospel. (2) In the next place, let us see to it, that this great offer of the gospel be distinctly and specifically held up to the sinner's view, instead of suffering his mind to rest in a mere negative conviction that the world is not a satisfying portion, or allowed to roam at large in search of untried sources of enjoyment, which can never prove more lasting or abundant than those which have already been resorted to in vain. (3) Let no man be invited to a general indefinite reliance upon mercy as an attribute of God without regard to that particular and only way in which it can and will be exercised to fallen man; but let him be invited to a share in the provisions of that everlasting covenant which God has promised to bestow upon him.*
* A few pages of the conclusion wanting.