Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold a far stretching land [R.V.m. a land of far distances].—Isa_33:17.
The circumstances that gave rise to this saying were those connected with the memorable siege of Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah. The tents of the Assyrians were blackening all the heights round the sacred city, and the inhabitants were reduced to the greatest straits. Hezekiah during this siege covered himself with sackcloth and ashes, and humbled himself before God. He was also disfigured with the boils of a severe and dangerous illness, and prayed earnestly for relief. In these trying circumstances, a cheering promise of deliverance came by the mouth of the prophet, conveyed in imagery derived from the circumstances of the siege. The fierce invader, Sennacherib, would be routed, the besieging troops would be withdrawn, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem would see the king in his beauty—restored to health, and clothed again with the gorgeous robes of state which he had laid aside during the period of his humiliation. They would also behold the land of farnesses. Hitherto, for a long period, they had been shut up in the besieged city; they were confined within the walls and closed gates of Jerusalem; their horizon was bounded by the narrow streets and houses around them; they could see nothing beyond—no green tree, or field, or garden. But when the siege would be ended, they would be able to go out at will into the country, and feast their eyes upon its fair landscapes and far-extending prospects. They would be brought out into a free and large place, and their horizon would stretch into illimitable distances.
This, then, is the first application of the text; and so interpreted, what a beautiful image it is. But it has a further application than this. The text is undoubtedly Messianic, although, as Dr. Skinner says, some commentators have been unaccountably slow in perceiving this. And when we have reached the Messianic sphere, it is legitimate, even although it may be no part of the original prophecy, to pass yet further and use the text to introduce us to the beauty of the ascended Lord, and to the limitless stretches of that heaven where the redeemed dwell whom no man can number. Thus there will be three stages of exposition—(1) the ideal kingly beauty of the commonplace and the enlargement of the narrow and the near; (2) the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth and the far-stretching Kingdom of God; (3) the beauty of the King of Glory and the emancipation of Heaven.
The Beauty of the Commonplace and the Enlargement of the Narrow
How persons or things appear to us depends as much upon our own eyesight as upon the persons or things themselves. While the people saw Hezekiah humiliated and unlovely, Isaiah saw him a king in his beauty. For the soul of Isaiah was emancipated from the earthly. His eye had the spiritual insight. This lifted him up so that he saw the king from a heavenly height, transformed in the purpose of God to the beauty of true kingliness. And at the same time he saw the kingdom ever widening till it fulfilled the utmost reach of the promise—from sea to sea, and from the River unto the ends of the earth.
The bold aeronaut who ascends through the invisible air not only looks up and beholds the ever-nearing blue heavens, but he also looks down, and lo! because of his ascent, all he is leaving below him changes and becomes transfigured. Not only has the horizon of his outlook vastly extended, but the inequalities of level and the natural boundaries and differences of earth that seemed so insuperable when he walked thereon have vanished away. Hill and dale have melted into one dead level. City and country, field and moor, land and sea fade into each other. The towering mountain shrinks into a veritable molehill, and the broad, deep-flowing river dwindles to a silver thread. Such, I think, is no unfaithful symbol and picture of the inevitable twofold effect on those happy souls who ascend in the atmosphere of the spiritual. Nay, may I not go further in this analogy and say that just as the aeronaut proves and measures his ascent towards the blue sky by the altering appearance of the earth he looks down upon—being so much nearer to the latter than he is to the former—so a man’s upward approach to God is most surely measured by his altering view of humanity? We know that Isaiah had ascended into the heavenlies because he wrote this text.1 [Note: C. E. P. Antram.]
i. The King in His Beauty
What is beauty? The best definition is an old one. “The essence of the beautiful consists in amplitude and order” (Arist. Poet. vii.). The sublime and the pretty are two opposite modifications. The sublime is the beautiful with its amplitude pushed into indefinite vastness and the tender smile, which is the inevitable tribute, exchanged for a certain awe. The pretty is at the opposite end of the measurement. It is beauty so reduced on the scale as to want the nobility of seriousness; so petty that our admiration is not without a certain intermixture of contempt. The beautiful, when it approaches the verge of terror at one extreme or of contempt at the other, when it begins to be feared or patronised, may soon have to be called by another name. The soul and the actions of man are properly, and not merely by analogy, termed beautiful. There are natures so large and so conformed to moral harmony that we instinctively term them beautiful. There are actions which show so much of the beauty of the soul from which they proceed that we call them also beautiful.
To the carnal eye, John Bunyan dwelt within the narrow walls of Bedford jail, with only coarse and painful things to contemplate and suffer; but his spiritual imagination made him live in a country where it was summer the year round. He dwelt in the Palace Beautiful, climbed the Hill Beulah, heard golden trumpets, saw the city of gems and glass lighted with the glory of God.
1. We are so framed by God as to experience delight in the contemplation of objects which we term beautiful. Take, for instance, the beauties of nature, as they are called. With dimmed vision and burdened heart man can snatch from the faded loveliness of a sin-stained earth moments of refreshment that make him purer and stronger for the task he has to perform here. Who does not feel this? Who does not take pleasure in form and colour? Who does not love to look at a green field or a garden of flowers; at a clump of trees, or a stream of water gliding and sparkling through the thickness of overhanging leaves? Which of us has not been sometimes drawn away from busy or anxious thoughts to look at an evening sky when the sun went down amidst piles of clouds that glowed and glittered as if they were mountains of jewels, or the far-off pinnacles of the golden city?
2. The beauty of humanity transcends all other beauty, and in the human countenance God has, as it were, sealed up the sum of its perfection. There is nothing in visible nature, in earth or sky, so beautiful to look upon as a beautiful face. The feeling is common to man everywhere, and at all time; and it is a holy feeling. The admiration inspired by earthly beauty has something very sacred and mysterious in it, as all our deeper emotions have; although for us, who know the truth of the Incarnation, the union of our nature with the Divine in the person of Christ, the mystery is cleared.
3. What, then, is that aspect or attribute of the human soul from which outward beauty springs? It is not life only, nor mind, nor intellectual power. What is it? To answer this question we have only to consider what is the characteristic attribute of the soul itself—that which is supreme over all others, which is inseparable from it, and belongs to its very essence. To us Christians, at any rate, the reply is at hand. That which distinguishes the soul, and makes it to be what it is, is its moral nature. Man was first created in the image of God, and when he lost it the Son of God became incarnate in order to restore it; and that image the Scripture describes as consisting in righteousness and true holiness. The central attribute of the soul, then, is its moral character, and in this at last we find the source of outward beauty. In a word, it is goodness, and goodness alone, that sheds over the countenance this Divine lustre which men call beauty.
4. Dare we advance higher? Nature is beautiful because it reveals thought; the human face is more beautiful because it reveals that moral goodness of which thought is only a condition; the soul is more beautiful, for in it dwells the goodness that lights the countenance; but all these, and the highest of them all, are but dim and broken reflections of a beauty which is beyond and above all, as it is the source of all. “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty.” To see the King in His beauty is to see the beauty of His glorified humanity taken for ever into the Godhead. It is to see that form which the Son of God took to Himself in the womb of the Virgin, bore while He dwelt on earth, raised from the grave, ascended with into heaven, and in which He now stands at the right hand of the Father. It is to see with the eyes the perfect manhood of God incarnate; it is to see the face of God; it is to see with the soul the beauty from which it derives any beauty—the beauty of holiness, of purity, of truth, of love, of mercy, of justice, of wisdom, of all perfection. It is to see this, not through cloud, or in vision, or broken by any medium, but as directly as it is possible for the creature to see the uncreated. It is for the soul to see by participation, to see the more the more it partakes; to bathe in the abysses of that glory, beholding and becoming itself beautiful in beholding, even as the light of the sun imparts its light to the object it falls upon, and glorifies that on which it shines.
Shall we follow for a day one who has got the true perspective? Here is the outer side: a humble home, a narrow circle, measuring goods, chopping a typewriter, checking a ledger, feeding the swift machinery, tiresome examination papers; and all the rest of the endless, endless doing, day by day, of the commonplace treadmill things that must be done, that fill out the day of the great majority of human lives. This one whom we are following unseen is doing quietly, cheerily, his daily round, with a bit of sunshine in his face, a light in his eye, and lightness in his step. He is working for God. No, better, he is working with God. He has an unseen friend at his side. Now, hold your breath and look, for here is the inner side, where the larger work of life is being done. Here is the quiet bit of time alone with God. God Himself is here. The angels are here. This room opens out into, and is in direct touch with, a spirit space as wide as the earth. To-day a half-hour is spent in China, for its missionaries, its native Christians, its millions. And so this man pushes his spirit through Japan, India, Persia, the home-land, the city; in and out; out and in. This is the true Christian life. The true follower of Jesus has as broad a horizon as his Master.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Prayer.]
Three worlds there are:—the first of Sense—
That sensuous earth which round us lies;
The next of Faith’s Intelligence:
The third of Glory in the skies.
The first is palpable but base:
The second heavenly, but obscure;
The third is star-like in the face—
But ah! remote that world as pure!
Yet, glancing through our misty clime,
Some sparkles from that loftier sphere
Make way to earth; then most what time
The annual spring flowers appear.
Amid the coarser needs of earth
All shapes of brightness, what are they
But wanderers, exiled from their birth,
Or pledges of a happier day?
Yea, what is beauty, judged aright,
But some surpassing transient gleam;
Some smile from Heaven, in waves of light,
Rippling o’er life’s distempered dream?
Or broken memories of that bliss
Which rushed through first-born Nature’s blood
When He who ever was, and is,
Looked down and saw that all was good?2 [Note: Sir Aubrey de Vere.]
The Land of Far Distances
The land of far distances was not for Isaiah in some foreign country, to which a long and toilsome pilgrimage had to be made. It was simply the region round Jerusalem, the fair open country, fading away in the far-off aerial perspective; the land of clear lights and distant views, as contrasted with the narrow streets and the strait boundaries of the besieged city. And all that was necessary to enable the inhabitants to see it was that the siege should be ended, and that they should be delivered and allowed to go out of the city to behold it. And so the spiritual land of far distances which it symbolises, is not a land removed from us into the remote depths of heaven, like a fixed star. It is round about us; our being is in it now; our souls are the inhabitants of it here. It is our Fatherland. This world itself is the land of far distances. Its things that are unseen and eternal are only eclipsed by the shadow of ourselves. All that is necessary is that our eyes should be opened, and that we should be delivered from the bondage of sin, and made heavenly-minded in order to see it.
The land of far distances! The image could only have originated in an Eastern country, where the atmosphere is so crystal clear that the remotest distances are visible. Our cloudy northern skies limit the horizon and circumscribe the view, and bring the heavens like a roof close to the earth. But in Eastern lands the brilliant sunshine and the translucent air give the feeling of vast aerial space, and the heavens ascend to an infinite height. It is a large, open, radiant world, where, as in the old description of the Celtic heaven, “distance fades not on the sight, and nearness fatigues not the eye.” Wandering recently over a moorland in Perthshire, on one of those perfect autumn days which are so rare in our climate, when earth seems a suburb of the celestial city, I saw, upwards of a hundred miles away, behind the blue hills that bounded the horizon, the summit of Ben Macdhui, which I had never seen before from this point, with the snow patches on it glancing white in the sun. That vision of the far-off mountain land glorified the whole landscape, introduced into it an element of grandeur and immensity before unknown. It reminded me irresistibly of the land of far distances of Isaiah, and gave a wonderful impressiveness to the beautiful image.1 [Note: 1 Hugh Macmillan.]
1. We live for the most part in a land that is narrow and confined. The walls of life hem us in. The freedom which the most favourably situated of us imagine we enjoy is only the length of our chain. We are limited by our natures, by our faculties, by our weaknesses, by our circumstances. Human nature, made in the image of God, and destined for eternity, is in itself a large thing, and it needs a large world to live in. But we are each shut up in a small world; and, small as it is at the best, we make it still smaller by our sins and our follies. We enclose ourselves in straits, and confine ourselves in prisons of our own making. We dwarf our natures and belittle our powers by the insect tasks to which we devote ourselves. We paralyse our faculty of enjoyment by undue indulgence. We lay waste our powers by over-exertion; we narrow our faculties by concentrating them upon the one aim and end of becoming successful in the world. We are short-sighted, looking only at the things that are seen and temporal.
It is one of our everyday trials,—a trial that partly explains the modern passion for holidays—that life consists so largely of foreground. It is the bane of the great city that it smothers backgrounds out of view—the background of cloud and horizon, of large thought and quiet meditation, of great motives and high interests. We are imprisoned in the office, the alley, the day, the moment. So many people to see, so many things to be done, so many visits to pay, so many letters to be written, so many orders to be dispatched, so much domestic detail to be attended to,—such is the daily routine of the majority of mankind. The best that Mr. Dick Swiveller could boast of, when trying to let his room to the little old gentleman, was that it afforded “an uninterrupted view across the street.”1 [Note: E. Griffith-Jones.]
2. How are we to have our horizon enlarged? Satan comes and promises that our eyes shall behold the land of far distances if we will only obey him. He took up our Lord to the top of an exceeding high mountain, and showed to Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and promised that they should be His if He would fall down and worship him. He offered to transport our first parents beyond the limits of their narrow garden and give them a godlike freedom to enjoy, if they would eat of the forbidden fruit. And as he tempted the first and the second Adam, so he tempts every man. He knows that the eye of man was made for far distances—that the soul of man longs instinctively for wider and more varied experiences than can be found in the little round of daily life; and therefore he cunningly adapts his temptation to this godlike instinct. He offers a freer and a larger world. But the disenchantment soon comes. The eyes are opened, and they see that the promise of the vision is a mere mirage of the desert, which has changed for the moment the thirsty land and the arid air into the appearance of living waters and refreshing verdure. Instead of far distances and boundless prospects, the transgressor finds himself in straits which become narrower as he advances, until at last, like the prison-house of the mediæval story—constructed with fiendish ingenuity to contract its walls every day—they close in upon him and crush him, and his prison becomes his grave. Sin inevitably cripples the energy and restricts the freedom of the human powers. To that longing for freedom and enlargement which is the chief element of fascination in every sin, the tempter has nothing to give but the experience of a drearier imprisonment.
3. The true enlargement comes only when the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death. Then are we brought out from the confining bars of the prison-house of the soul; then have we the vision and the faculty Divine, and become far-sighted indeed. We feel like one who has been transferred from the dark, dreary depths of a cavern to the summit of a lofty mountain, from which the eye takes in at a glance a boundless horizon. We have a sense of recovered freedom which quickens and enlarges the soul. Old familiar things acquire a new aspect and meaning. The vastness and glory of the universe fill us with joy, because it all belongs to our Father, and is ours by virtue of our Divine sonship. We behold the things that are unseen and eternal. Both worlds, the earthly and the heavenly, come within our horizon, and are visible in one view to the eye of faith. All things are ours—life and death, things present and things to come.
We speak of a prisoner being “set at large”; but we little realise what the phrase means to him—the new and thrilling sense of largeness around him; air and space and light, and God’s great world, with its lofty sky overhead; nothing confining his movements or intercepting his view but the horizon, which, in the far distance, comes down upon the earth with walls of blue air, opening up into farther distances as he moves on. His eye, hitherto accustomed to the semi-opaque gloom of the narrow prison-cell, beholds with rapture the wide, open country. In such new circumstances his soul expands within him, and he feels himself a part of the infinite light and liberty around.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan.]
4. There is no promise more pronounced in the Scriptures than just this promise of the enlargement and intensification of the sight. We are to be delivered from petty outlooks, from narrow and confined horizons, and we are to see things in large relationships, and to behold the far-off issues. It is the will of our God that we should be spiritually endowed with a sort of prairie sight, with eyes that can scan mighty areas and see things when they are far away. Long sight is what the majority of us lack, and it is what we all need. It is essential to the healthiness of our spirits that we should be able to see things before they are quite at our doors.
(1) I want to be able to see temptation when it is a long way off. I need to distinguish sin in its small and apparently innocent beginnings. I want the perception which can detect it when it is in the germ, when it is a mere infant, when it is a playful cub. Yes, I need to be able to read the fatality that dwells in the cub long before it becomes a full-grown and overpowering beast. I am so easily deceived, and I hear the world say to me, “There is no harm in it,” and the specious utterance frequently leads to my undoing. I want long sight.
Some of you know the old Greek story describing how Ulysses slew the monster Proteus. You know how he had been forewarned that it would be of no use to kill it only in its first form, because the monster would change itself from shape to shape, appearing now as a seal, now as a lion, now as a bear. Only by recognising it in its first form, and killing it in each different shape, could he hope to conquer it in the end. And you remember how, by following this advice, Ulysses was able to conquer, though only after a very long struggle.
It is only an old Greek legend, I know; but perhaps it will bring out more clearly what we mean by sins “in disguise.” Sometimes a temptation to sin comes to you—so small that it seems hardly worth your while to fight against it. But if you do not recognise it as a sin in its first form, and try to overcome it at once, then it, too, will change from shape to shape, until at last it will become a giant sin, bearing, perhaps, no likeness at all to the first little sin which as boys you allowed to enter your mind, but a giant sin so huge that you cannot cast it out.1 [Note: F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to the Young Boys, p. 19.]
It was only the other day that we read in the papers of conceit leading a man on to commit a brutal murder. When the actor William Terriss was killed, we thought at first that there must have been some strong motive for the crime: some cruel injustice, some secret wrong, had been done to the man; it would all come out at the inquest. But no, at the inquest no particular reason could be assigned. It was only that the man, Prince, from his boyhood up had thought of himself too highly—always looking for admiration, and angry when he didn’t get it; failing again and again, but always thinking his failure undeserved. At last this wrong idea of his power produced in him a distorted view of his abilities, a condition of mind which the doctors described as a form of madness, and led him to kill in cold blood a man who, he thought, had slighted him, but who had really done him no single wrong.1 [Note: F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to the Young Boys, p. 19.]
(2) I would like the power to see homesick prodigals when they are still away in the far country. This was the characteristic sight of the Father: “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him!” It is the pathos and tragedy of the Church, and of so many of the Lord’s disciples, that we see the prodigal only when he knocks at the door and when the long return is over. We know him when he kneels at the penitent bench, or expresses himself in some outward confession. We do not see him before confession springs to his lips, and while a sullen indifference appears still to sit upon his face. I would have the sight which can see the beginnings of the better life, while the outside still seems violently antagonistic.
(3) I would like to have the power of seeing the far-off significance of seemingly insignificant events. I covet the gift of a sanctified imagination, which can look down long highways into distant futurity. For instance, when an apostle like Paul walks into imperial Rome, utterly unheeded and ignored, I would like the power of being able to foresee some of the amazing possibilities of that lonely entrance. When a few women are met together for prayer by the riverside at Philippi, entirely unnoticed in the busy, hurrying life of the great city, I would have the power of tracing in sanctified imagination the far-reaching, healthy currents proceeding from that consecrated circle. When James Gilmour crosses the frontier into Mongolia, and sets his single plough to the upturning of the soil in that mighty land, I would have the eyes that can see coming harvests, vast reaches of waving corn, shining ripe before the face of my Lord. When the New Testament is translated into a new language I would have the power of seeing the tremendous influence of the modest book, the light it will bring, and the warmth, and the moving air, and the genial liberty.
(4) I would like to see the distant and glorious possibilities which are the purposed inheritance of my children. When I look at my boy I want the eyes which can see beyond what he is to what he can be, and I want to live in the inspiration of that splendid prospect. It is altogether needful that I should see my child other than he is if I am to lead him into something better. My imagination must rivet itself upon the contemplation of his splendid possibilities, and I must work upon the immediate while I gaze upon the distant. With the ideal in my eyes I must turn to present training, and the strength and glory of the possibility will get into my moulding fingers and determine the quality of my immediate work. The “far-away” shall lend its influence to the near, and something of the glory of the goal shall shine upon the very beginnings.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
The text is now to be regarded in its application to the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom.
i. The Beauty of the Son of Man
Christian thinkers have expressed two different conceptions of the personal presence of Jesus. Some have inferred from such words as those in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.… Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted,” that the Messiah was weak and suffering, stricken with disease; nay, even, from the expression “smitten of God,” that He was a leper. But others again, seeking what they have felt to be a natural association between physical and moral beauty in the Divine life on earth, have pictured Him as fairer than the children of men, full of grace and glory, yea, altogether lovely. Perhaps the two lines of prophetic utterance are not wholly irreconcilable. It is difficult to believe that beauty of soul such as was seen in Him alone should not have expressed itself in physical attractiveness. There is no mention of His suffering from disease. Yet who can think of Him—the Man of Sorrows—the Supreme Sufferer, except as showing in His physical aspect something of the burden of the world’s sinfulness? But it seems, if the Gospels are justly interpreted, that the might—the majesty—of His Divine Nature flashed ever and again through the vesture of His human life. Let us recall only the passage where St. John relates how the soldiers who came to arrest Him in Gethsemane, at His words, “I am he,” immediately “went backward and fell to the ground.” The evangelist may well have been thinking of that incident or of others like it, of which he had been an eye-witness, when he wrote in the preface of his Gospel: “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.”
It is surely no light thing that the Christian world in its universal tradition of half a hundred generations, has piously and intimately believed that the second Adam, like the first, bore the outward signature of God’s perfect hand. It is not without some deep reason, dwelling in universal belief among those countless things which, if written, should have filled the whole world with Scriptures; or in the intuitions of the Spirit, or in the instinct of love, or in the self-evident harmonies of God’s works; it is not, I say, without some or all of these reasons, that the world has believed that prophets, psalmists, and seers knew what they spake, and spake what they beheld. It is a pardonable fault to take them in the letter of their words, and a harmless error to go astray with the belief of Christendom. We shall not be dangerously out of the way, if we lovingly and humbly believe that He who is the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person, did take unto Himself our manhood as His revealed presence for ever, in its most perfect image and likeness; that where two natures were united, as both were perfect, so both were beautiful. I know not what he may be to whom such a thought is not blessed.1 [Note: H. E. Manning, Sermons, iii. p. 439.]
Among all the artists who represented Christ’s life, one stands alone for his unique, unconventional, and manifold treatment of it and its subject. Others have represented Him in the common humanities of life, but they have lacked the power to give with equal grandeur the awful moments in which His mission was concentrated. Others have represented Him ideally and with sublimity, but they have not been able to touch such subjects as the Supper at Cana without either making it too ideal or too vulgar. One man alone has mingled, without a trace of effort, and with a profound conception at the root of his work, the heavenly with the earthly, the Divine with the human, the common with the wonderful, the poetical with the prose of daily life, in his representation of the human existence of Christ. That man was Tintoret. In his “Last Supper,” for example, it is a common room in which the Apostles and the Master meet. Servants hurry to and fro; the evening has fallen dark, and the lamps are lit; those who eat the meal are really fishermen and unlearned men; here and there, there are incidents which prove that the artist wished to make us feel that it was just such a meal as was eaten that night by every one else in Jerusalem. We are in the midst of common human life. But the upper air of the chamber is filled with a drift of cherubim, and the haze of the lamp light takes that azure tint with which the artist afterwards filled the recesses of the “Paradise,” and the whole soft radiance of the lamp falls on and envelops the upright figure of Christ, worn and beautiful, and bending down to offer to one of His disciples the broken bread. It is common human life filled with the Divine. It is the conception of Christ’s personality which modern theology ought to possess, because it ought to be the ideal of our own life.1 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]
In his volume on Christ in Modern Life Stopford Brooke makes an effort to analyse the character of Jesus as a man. He finds that it contains these elements.
1. Sensibility.—Not sensitiveness, which is too passive. Sensibility is sensitiveness with the addition of activity of soul exercised upon the impressions received. Jesus manifested (1) sensibility to natural beauty. He had watched the tall “lilies” arrayed more gloriously than Solomon; He had marked the reed shaken in the wind, and the tender green of the first shoot of the fig tree. (2) Sensibility to human feeling. This is the highest touch of beauty in a character. He saw Nathanael under the fig tree and recognised the long effort of the man to be true. He met Peter in the morning light, and seeing through all the surface impetuosity of his character deep into the strength of his nature, called him Cephas the rock.
2. Sympathy.—When sensibility to human feeling is translated into action it becomes sympathy. The examples are innumerable. How discriminating was the sympathy which gave to Martha and to Mary their several meed of praise. With what forgetfulness of His own pain did He speak the distinctive word to mother and apostle: Behold thy son! Behold thy mother!
But, as Dr. Guthrie says, there is no sight in the wide world like Jesus Christ, with forgiveness on His lips, and a crown in His blessed hand! This is worth labouring for; praying for; living for; suffering for; dying for. You remember how the prophet’s servant climbed the steeps of Carmel. Three years, and never cloud had dappled the burning sky; three long years, and never a dewdrop had glistened on the grass, or wet the lips of a dying flower; but the cloud came at last. No bigger than a man’s hand, it rose from the sea; it spread; and as he saw the first lightnings flash, and heard the first thunders roll, how did he forget all his toils! and would have climbed the hill, not seven but seventy times seven, to hail that welcome sight! It is so with sinners as soon as their eyes are gladdened with a believing sight of Christ; when they have got Christ; and with Him peace.
When the lights of life are gleaming,
Where its blossoms bud and bloom;
When each brow is bound with roses,
As we bask in their perfume:
Just beyond the smiles and sunshine,
All unseen the Master stands,
Waiting ever, ever waiting,
Holding out His pierced hands.
When the lights of life are darkened,
As its flowers fall and fade,
And we watch our loved ones vanish
Thro’ the silence, and the shade:
Then the Master draweth nearer,
Thro’ the circling shadow lands;
Waiting ever, ever waiting,
Holding out His pierced hands,
When the shades of night are falling,
Where each heart must stand alone,
And the world has left us nothing
We can call or claim our own:
Then we turn to meet the Master,
Where a halo lights the past,
Waiting ever, ever waiting,
Till we clasp His hands at last.
ii. The Far-stretching Kingdom
The text is to be considered as the great prophet’s vision of a Divine King who reigns over the earth from the heaven of heavens. It is the great foreshadowing of a universal empire, a kingdom bounded only to human view by the far-distant horizon of man’s outlook. It foretells that blessed time yet to be when all the kingdoms of the world shall merge into that one abiding Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, by the extinction of all racial differences in the one spiritual and enduring nationality of a new life through a new birth. The text is indeed but a poetic anticipation of those plain words of the King of kings Himself which He addressed to the astonished Jews in Mat_8:11 : “And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”
But the Kingdom of God is to be a kingdom of far distances, not only as it stretches geographically over the surface of the earth. More than that, there is to be an expansion of view and a deepening of experience on the part of every member of the kingdom.
1. An expansion of knowledge.—There are godly men and women who never get beyond the first principles of the doctrine of Christ. The cross and resurrection, the victories of the Holy Ghost, the richness of the Christian hope—these are continents that lie waiting for their exploration.
2. The onward march of holiness.—The character of the disciple of Christ is an unlimited and immeasurable Paradise. He never comes to its margin. However long he may have been crucifying the flesh and following hard after Jesus Christ, is there not still some lurking sin to be dragged out and slain? is there not still some grace in the incomparable Law to be appropriated and wrought into the fibre of his being?
3. The development of service.—In teaching, in healing, in comforting, in seeking to make the rule of Christ a reality among those around us, in doing the will of the Father, what opportunities we have for ingenuity, for originality, for improving old enterprises, and for initiating plans untried before! Out of my love for Him, and my longing to win men to Him, I should be ambitious to strike forth in fresh directions, to pray more fervently, to give more liberally, to turn duty into delight, to spend and be spent.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, p. 41.]
Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
Hs word or two, and then comes night.
Greatly begin! though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime,—
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.2 [Note: J. R. Lowell.]
If the streams are so sweet, what will the fountain be? If the King is beautiful in these His lower courts, what must He be when the veils are removed, and the pictures are at an end? Well may the poet sing—
The King there in His beauty
Without a veil is seen;
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between!
All the bright and blessed things God’s people know on earth are but feeble foretastes of the joys of heaven. Yes, I have a word of comfort for thee, aged pilgrim. Thine eyes, often so tear-stained, red with weeping, weary with anxiety, perhaps half-blinded with infirmity, or dim with age, thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty. And more than that they shall see the far-stretching land, the undulating plains of heaven, the hills and valleys of the glory-land.
1. Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty. Of all the senses, sight affords us the largest, the most perfect, and the purest fruition. By this marvellous faculty we seem to take actual possession of what we behold. To see what we desire is to enjoy it. It comes nearer than voice or touch; we inwardly embrace and hold it. The eyes dwell on, run over it, feast and are satisfied. What is the single wish of those who have been long separated but to see one another again? What was the exclamation of Jacob when he heard that his beloved and long-lost son was still living? “It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.” When the Queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s glory—type as that was of something infinitely higher—“There was no more spirit in her. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts, and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not their words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it.” When Simeon beheld the infant Saviour in the Temple, he said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.… For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” To the pure in heart it is promised that they shall see God. When our Lord prayed for His elect before His Passion, He said, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.” And St. John says, “Now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” To see Him, then, is the final consummation of all. There is nothing more held out to man, as nothing higher could be. For this great vision our whole life here is but a preparation. This is the end of creation, the end of redemption, the end of struggle and victory. They to whom it is vouchsafed will have reached the greatest height and the most perfect bliss that any creature can attain.
Dr. Matthews in his book about Madagascar, where he was for thirty years a missionary, describes this native custom: “The prisoners were kept in chains, but they had to earn their own living, and were confined to prison only during the night. On the days, however, on which the Sovereign appeared they were not allowed to leave the prison; or if allowed out on these days, at noon, before the Sovereign was to appear, they had all to return to prison, were counted, and locked up. Why? Because if one of those criminals managed to secrete himself, and then emerged from his hiding-place to gaze at and salute the Sovereign as she passed, wearing her diadem and beautiful in the glory of her royal apparel, he was a free man, whatever his crime had been. His chains were at once struck off, for he had looked on the Sovereign in her beauty and saluted her, the salutation being, ‘Is it well with you, my Sovereign?’ and no one could do that and still remain a prisoner.”
2. “They shall behold the far-stretching land.” What is heaven? Everybody who cares to call himself a Christian hopes to go to heaven when he dies, and heaven means his idea of happiness. But if we try to get nearer people’s thoughts as to what they really understand by heaven, we soon find that it means a different thing to different people, and except to a very few has really only a negative meaning. For instance, people think of the sorrow and the trouble there is in the world, and they say, “Thank God, in heaven there will be no more sorrow nor sighing, for God shall wipe away all tears from off all faces.” Or again, they think of the toil and weariness which is the lot of many, and the unkindness which makes so many a life sad, and they look forward to that place, “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” And I have heard, too, of people rejoicing in another of the negative joys of heaven, which, though not stated in the Bible, we all feel to be a fact. I have heard people say there will be no sects in heaven, no divisions or strifes, either religious or social. We feel at once that these cannot be where God is, for divisions are the work of sin and selfishness and self-assertion; and God is Love. And others, who feel a longing for knowledge, look forward to the fulfilment of the promise that “there shall be no night there,” none of those things which puzzle and confuse and distract us here, but that we shall have risen above and beyond our present partial knowledge, and shall rejoice in the Truth.
If we turn from these negative ideas and ask, What has God revealed to us by His Spirit? we find—
1. Heaven is a happy place. There is no doubt about that. “In thy presence is the fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” It is natural, no doubt, that men should conceive of this happiness as the opposite of all that makes them unhappy here, let it be sorrow or suffering, or want or sin. But happiness has a deeper meaning. It is simply the condition of that created thing which is doing that for which God created it; realising, as we say, the idea of its being.
2. Heaven is a holy place. It is because it is holy that it is happy. Nothing that defileth can enter in. The Church triumphant, i.e. the Church in heaven, is adorned as a Bride for her husband. It is a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
3. And just as it is happy because it is holy, so it is holy because it is the presence-chamber of God. We return to the first part of our text—“Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty.” See Him as He is, in all the majesty of holiness and the tenderness of perfect love. We shall all be with Him, and near Him—nay, more than all, “we shall be like him when we see him as he is.” That, then, is the great central truth which God has revealed to us about heaven. All else follows from this—the holiness, the happiness, the joy of heaven. “In his Presence there is the fulness of joy.”1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
How know I that it looms lovely that land I have never seen,
With morning-glories and heartease and unexampled green,
With neither heat nor cold in the balm-redolent air?
Some of this, not all, I know; but this is so:
Christ is there.
How know I that blessedness befalls who dwell in Paradise,
The outwearied hearts refreshing, rekindling the worn-out eyes;
All souls singing, seeing, rejoicing everywhere?
Nay, much more than this I know: for this is so:
Christ is there.
O Lord Christ whom having not seen I love and desire to love,
O Lord Christ who lookest on me uncomely yet still Thy dove,
Take me to Thee in Paradise, Thine own made fair:
For whatever else I know, this thing is so:
Thou art there.
The King and the Country
Alexander (W.), Leading Ideas of the Gospels, 128.
Austin (G. R.), The Beauty of Goodness, 110.
Bromfield (A.), Sermons in Town and Country, 48.
Brooke (S. A.), Christ in Modern Life, 89, 102, 117.
Buckland (A. R.), Text Studies for a Year, 145.
Griffith-Jones (E.), Faith and Verification, 288.
Hamilton (J.), Faith in God, 213.
How (W. W.), Plain Words, i. 245.
Hutchings (W. H.), Sermon-Sketches, ii. 23.
Macmillan (H.), The Mystery of Grace, 265.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iii. 431.
Matheson (G.), Thoughts for Life’s Journey, 102.
Maturin (W.), The Blessedness of the Dead in Christ, 90.
Moore (A. L.), From Advent to Advent, 277.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial Sermons, v. 1, 13, 29, 46.
Paget (E. C.), Silence, 31.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, ix. 225.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 40, 41.
Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 41.
Spurgeon (G. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xiii. No. 752.
Spurgeon (T.), God Save the King, 175.
Swan (A. R.), The Death of Jesus Christ, 59.
Welldon (J. E. C.), The School of Faith, 199.
Wilkinson (J. B.), Mission Sermons, 30.
Wilmot Buxton (H. J.), Mission Sermons for a Year, 212.
British Congregationalist, January–June 1907, 156 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, li. 106 (Snell); lxvii. 379 (Rawnsley); lxxiv. 101 (Antram).