Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 60:1 - 60:1

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 60:1 - 60:1


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Arise! Shine!

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.—Isa_60:1.

The address is directed to Zion-Jerusalem, which is regarded as a woman. Stricken down by the punitive judgment of God, brought down by inward prostration, she lies on the ground: then the cry reaches her ears—“Arise!” It is a strength-imparting word, which reanimates her frame, so that she can arise from the ground on which she is lying, as it were under the ban. The power-imparting word “Arise!” is supplemented by a second, “be light!”1 [Note: F. Delitzsch, Commentary on Isaiah, ii. p. 382.]

The prophet is primarily addressing his speech to an awakening nation. Here is a people opening its eyes upon recovered sovereignty, stretching out its hands to a restored ministry, feeling out for enlarged dominion. And here is a statesman-prophet instructing the newly opened eyes, feeding and training the sight with large and healthy ideals. To direct a nation’s views is to shape its policies, and to determine the trend and colour of its life.

But the glory of the ideal is still further enriched and intensified. Old Testament words must to us now receive New Testament contents. Old Testament visions must acquire New Testament significance. We cannot take Isaiah’s ideal and employ it with Isaiah’s limitation; we must carry over his vocabulary into the fuller day and let it receive enlargement in the life and mind of Christ.

Those who have ever been privileged to see from the shoulder or the summit of a mountain in Switzerland the sun rise will never forget that wonderful sight. They will remember how, in the chill of the hour before dawn, great clouds had brooded down in the valley, rolling mists had lain beneath their feet, and thick darkness had dwelt over the whole earth. Suddenly, as they stood there, there has been a faint flush of pink on one snowy summit, then another, then another. The pink has changed to a bright gold, then to a deeper gold, and then, suddenly, like a giant set free, up with great leaps and bounds and a most astonishing speed has come the sun and flooded the world with light; and as it has come up it has seemed to cry to the sleeping earth, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”1 [Note: Bishop A. F. W. Ingram.]

Around is absolute blackness; the valleys are in gloom; trees, rivers, towns have been obscured; nothing is visible but that dim shaft of granite rising into the silence of the sky. Suddenly we may imagine a spirit’s voice crying, “The light has come.” Instantly there is a glow on the mountain—trees, rivers, towns begin to take shape; the whole world has changed. The point to be observed here is that the light was from God. The city was exhorted to be in a condition in which the glory of God might be reflected from it.2 [Note: A. H. Bradford.]

Of our relation to the ancient prophecies, we can say, adapting words from Browning’s Paracelsus, that we are “the heirs of hopes too fair to turn out false.” It is precisely the fact that the colours of the prophet’s palette are of such an unearthly fairness that justifies us in believing that our hopes will yet be fulfilled. The fact that the Perfect Man, the world’s Saviour, has come is our warrant for this. If so unexpected an event has occurred, nothing is now too great to hope for. Take Isaiah 60, which a great French scholar, who, in spite of his unbelief, continually falls into the language of faith, has finely called “a ray from the glances of Jesus.” If Jesus once lived upon the earth, lifting up all those with whom He came vitally into contact, surely this most radiant prophecy, which expresses the undoubting belief, not only of the prophet, but of Jesus, must itself be fulfilled.3 [Note: T. K. Cheyne in The Thinker, Jan. 1892, p. 8.]

I

Arise

The word “Arise,” or some word with the same meaning, is of great importance in Scripture, and occurs in several places.

There is a very remarkable correspondence reiterated in the text between the illuminating God and the illuminated Zion. The word for shine is connected with the word for light, and may fairly be rendered “lighten” or “be light.” Twice the phrase “thy light” is employed; once to mean the light which is thine because it shines on thee; once to mean the light which is thine because it shines from thee. The other word, three times repeated, for rising, is the technical word which expresses the sunrise, and is applied both to the flashing glory that falls upon Zion and to the light that gleams from her. Touched by the sun, she becomes a sun, and blazes in her heaven in a splendour that draws men’s hearts.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

1. “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” Here we have an exhortation to the dead. It is addressed to them by God, who is the Giver of life. It is the first of all exhortations. When the dead hear the voice of God they come forth. The moment that Jesus spoke that word of power to the man who had his dwelling among the tombs, that moment the man felt that he must obey. He became alive unto God for evermore. And not only alive for evermore, but also a witness for God, a witness to His power to raise the dead. “Go home and tell thy friends”; and he went.

2. The present passage may come next—“Arise, shine; for thy light is come.” This is not the voice of God the Creator. It is the voice of Jehovah, the covenant God. He speaks to His own people with whom He has made a perpetual covenant, that they will reflect His light and glorify Him upon earth. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

There came, once, to a meeting I was addressing, a brother who had been, for years, earnest after the ordinary fashion of Christian young men; and the Lord so guided me that I spoke about the usefulness that some young men might acquire if they would but bestir themselves. I urged the desirability of some attempting to preach in the street, who might find their gifts abundant for that work. Well, this young man went back and tried what he could do for Christ, and God greatly blessed him. That young man was Mr. W. P. Lockhart, of Liverpool, who is at this moment pastor of the church meeting in the Toxteth Tabernacle, a large edifice erected by the people whom he gathered by his preaching. Our friend has, with much acceptance, occupied this pulpit, and been of great service to our denomination; but, if it had not been for God’s awakening him under that particular address, he might have remained just the ordinary trader that he was, serving the Lord in a very proper way, but nothing noteworthy might have come of it.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 2617, p. 170.]

3. “Arise and be doing” (1Ch_22:16). This comes third because it directs us to some definite way of letting our light shine. It may be “Arise and build,” as in 1Ch_22:19, Neh_2:20, there being so many who give their life to pulling down rather than to building up. Or it may be “Arise and go to Nineveh,” as the command came to Jonah (Isa_1:2, Isa_3:2), that we may do something which demands faith and self-control. This is the voice of the Lord the King.

4. Last of all we hear the voice of the tender friend. He speaks from the humble supper-room where He deigns to hold fellowship with His own: “Arise, let us go hence” (Joh_14:31). He calls us now to the fellowship of His sufferings, that we may be made conformable unto His death.

I heard M. Monod say last year at Keswick, mourning as he was the death of his wife, which had taken place only a fortnight before: “As the gates seem to open, and the Master’s voice is heard saying, ‘Arise, come away,’ it is never going alone, or to be alone, but it is ‘Let us go hence.’ ”2 [Note: H. W. Webb-Peploe, Calls to Holiness, p. 191.]

II

Shine

If we are light, we shall be able to shine; if we are light, we are bound to shine; if we are light, we shall want to shine.

1. If we have light we shall be able to shine.—Any man can manifest what he is, unless he is a coward. Any man can talk about the things that are interesting to him, if only they are interesting to him. Any man that knows Jesus Christ can say so; and perhaps the utterance of the simple personal conviction is the best method of proclaiming His name. All other things are surplusage. They are good when they come, they may be done without. Learning, eloquence, and the like of these, are the adornments of the lamp, but it does not matter whether the lamp be a gorgeous affair of gilt and richness, or whether it be a poor piece of black tin; the main question is: are there wick and oil in it? The pitcher may be gold and silver, or costly crystal or marble, or it may be a poor potsherd. Never mind. If there is water in it, it will be precious to a thirsty lip. And so, every Christian man has the power, if he be a Christian, to proclaim his Master; and if he has the Light, he will be able to show it. This suggests for us the condition of all faithful and effectual witness for Jesus Christ. Cultivate understanding and all other faculties as much as you like; but remember this, the fitness to impart is to possess, and that being taken for granted, the main thing is secured. As long as the electric light is in contact with the battery so long does it burn. Electricians have been trying during the past few years to make accumulators, things in which they can store the influence and put it away in a corner and use it so that the light need not be in connection with the battery; and they have not succeeded; at least, it is only a very partial success. You and I cannot start accumulators. Let us remember personal contact is power, and only the personal contact. Arise, shine.

The saints, while they have been the most invincible, have been also the most dependent of mankind. For of moral as of material light there are two kinds, one inherent and independent, the other derived and borrowed. The lamp on the table burns; the mirror opposite shines. Our sun, and the multitude of stars, all blaze with their own fire; but the sphere we inhabit is a planet whose milder lustre is entirely borrowed from the sun, whence all its light and loveliness are drawn.1 [Note: G. A. Chadwick, Pilate’s Gift, p. 164.]

2. If we are light we are bound to shine.—That is an obvious principle. The capacity to shine is the obligation to shine, for we are all knit together by such mystical cords in this strange brotherhood of humanity that every one of us holds his position as trust property for the use and behoof of others, and in the present case that which we have received (and the price at which we have received it) gives an edge to the keenness of the obligation, and adds a new band to the stringency of the command. It is because Christ has given Himself thus to us that the possession of Him binds us to the imitation of His example, and the impartation of Him to all our brethren. The obligation lies at our doors, and cannot be delegated or devolved.

The most extraordinary of all British lighthouses is that found on Arnish Rock, Stornoway Bay, a rock separated from the Island of Lewis by a channel over 500 feet in width. On this rock a conical beacon is erected, and on its summit a lantern is fixed, from which, night after night, shines a light seen by fishermen far and wide. The way in which this peculiar lighthouse is illuminated is this: On the Island of Lewis, 500 feet away or so, is an ordinary lighthouse, and from a window on its tower a stream of light is projected on to a mirror in the lantern on the summit of the Arnish Rock. The consequence is that a lighthouse exists having neither lamp nor lighthouse keeper.

3. If we have light we shall wish to shine.—What shall we say about the Christian people that never really had such a wish? God forbid that we should say they have no light; but this we may say, it burns very dimly. There is no better test of the depth and the purity of our personal attachment to and possession of our Master than the impulse that will spring from them to communicate them to others. “Necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is me if I preach not.” That should be the word of every one of us; and it will be, in the measure in which we ourselves get thorough hold of Jesus Christ. “This is a day of good tidings. We cannot hold our peace,” said the handful of lepers in the camp; “if we are silent some mischief will come to us.” “Thy Word, when I shut it up in my bones and said I will speak no more in Thy name, was like a fire, and I was weary of forbearing and I could not stay.”

One hot June night, on the banks of the Hudson River in America, I watched the fire-flies dancing like fairy lamps against the deep blue-black of the sky. Now and again one would flare with exceptional brilliancy. I was told that it was when they were attacked by a hostile insect, and that their source of protection was to emit a keener brilliancy to discomfit and dazzle the adversary. Those that failed to let their light shine fell victims to the depredator.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce.]

III

For Thy Light is Come

The prophet enables us to see how bright the light is that has dawned upon the Holy City of Zion by presenting in the following verses a graphic picture of the gross darkness that still lies upon the surrounding nations. And it is good for us, even as we rejoice in the light, to recall sometimes the darkness from which we have been rescued.

It is not so many years ago that there was a young man, who did not know his right hand from his left in spiritual things; he put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; and that man, not so young now, knows the Saviour, he has learnt the evil of sin, and he has rejoiced in all the delights of pardon. Was that young man yourself? If so, you may well prize your present privileges. It is not so long ago that there was a man who was in the darkness of soul-agony. His sin was heavy upon him; God’s hand pressed him till all the moisture of his being seemed to exude, and he was like a plant withered in the long droughts of autumn. He cried to the Lord, but for a while he received no response to his petitions. He begged for mercy, but it did not come. Now, that same person is sitting here, thankful that he is pardoned, and that he knows how he has been delivered from the wrath of God, and he blesses that Divine Substitute who took upon Himself his sin, and with it that sin’s penalty, and so delivered the guilty one from the wrath to come. Oh, what a change there is in that young man! That young man is yourself; is he not?1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 2617, p. 171.]

There are three stages in the history of the soul’s enlightenment.

1. Spiritual penitence.—I say spiritual penitence, because there is a repentance which is by no means a rising of God’s light in the soul, but merely a transient emotion, which passes into indifference and may deepen into despair. True repentance is the turning of the whole heart to God on the discovery of its own darkness and estrangement. Its chief cause is not so much the remembrance of guilty acts, as the feeling of a guilty heart—it is not the sense of sin—it is not the terror of judgment—it is the feeling of a deep darkness in the soul itself, and the turning of the soul to the Lord that He may make it pure.

2. Spiritual penitence must pass into spiritual love.—Again the word spiritual is emphatic, in contrast with that semi-pious emotion which is always convulsively striving to learn whether the soul loves God or not. Spiritual love is not so much the feeling of our love to God, as of His love to us. It is the belief that He loved us amidst all our misery, and coldness, and sin—that from childhood the same loving power has guided us. It is the love which has swept into the soul, subduing its whole being, and becoming its ruling emotion. And this is requisite, because love is the insight of the soul, it colours all its visions, for the ruling passion of a man creates his world.

3. Spiritual love necessitates spiritual prayer.—Again the word spiritual is emphatic. The first cry of life is prayer; but by spiritual prayer I mean living fellowship with the Father, the prayer which pervades the whole life of the soul. This is the full dawning of the light of God. He who lives in prayer, lives before the unveiled eternity. This life of prayer loosens from the bonds of sense, and elevates the spirit in the unclouded regions of Divine glory. When man daily walks with God thus, then he is living in the light. By penitence, therefore, the soul turns Godwards; by love its eye is opened; and by prayer it moves in the sunrise of the eternal light.1 [Note: E. L. Hull, Sermons Preached at King’s Lynn, 1st series, p. 65.]

In the days of the monarchy in Madagascar the festival of the native New Year was ushered in at sunset by the Queen taking a bath. That ceremony over, and the short twilight having ended in complete darkness, a signal was given by lighting a torch outside the palace in Tananarive. The signal was answered at once. Bunches of hay fastened to poles had been made ready, and these were lighted and waved on high. Throughout the city, on the wide plains beyond, on the hill-sides beyond these, and on to the farthest ridges, these lights gleamed in the clear darkness of a tropical night. Then in widening circles, North, South, East and West, torches blazed from hill-top to hill-top, until, in about twenty minutes from the start, the signal would be flashed to the writer’s district some 200 miles to the South. Almost instantly, the whole country-side would be gilded with these tiny points of flame. In appearance it was much as if on some frosty November night the multitudinous stars had slid down from the sky to bespangle the pall of earthly darkness. Everywhere throughout the land the palace-torch had been translated into a call, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come.”

Certain men slept upon a plain, and the night was chill and dark. And as they slept, at that hour when night is darkest, one stirred. Far off to the eastward, through his half-closed eyelids, he saw, as it were, one faint line, thin as a hair’s width, that edged the hill-tops. And he whispered to his fellows: “The dawn is coming.” But they with fast closed eyelids murmured, “He lies, there is no dawn.” Nevertheless, day broke.1 [Note: Olive Schreiner, Trooper Peter Halket.]

IV

And the Glory of the Lord is Risen upon Thee

It is wonderful, not only that God should give us light, but that that light should be His own glory. Creation is a part of God’s glory, but it is only a moonlight glory compared with that of redemption. God, in the gift of Jesus Christ, displayed the whole of His nature. Creation is not a canvas large enough for the whole image of God to be stamped upon it. Byron speaks of God’s face being mirrored in the sea; but there is not space enough for the face of Deity to be fully reflected in the broad Atlantic, or in all the oceans put together. The image of God is to be fully seen in Jesus Christ, and nowhere else; for there you behold attributes which Creation cannot display. Creation can manifest love, power, wisdom, and much else; but how can Creation manifest justice, and justice lying side by side with mercy, like the lion and the lamb? It is only in Christ that you can see this wondrous sight, God hating sin with perfect hatred, but yet loving sinners with much more than the tenderness of a mother towards her child.

These great words, “the glory of the Lord,” ought not to be merely a vague phrase to us. You remember what power upon our spiritual life St. Paul associates with that glory. “We all with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” So he says in another place, “That which is illuminated is light.” The personal transformation which the best of us are still conscious of needing—the change from fleshly creatures into spiritual, from what we have been into what we may be—is to be wrought through our submitting ourselves with inward willingness and desire to the glory which shines upon us. Divine light cannot be divorced from warmth and quickening. The Spirit is always proceeding from the Father and the Son. In all who set their spiritual eyes upon the glory of the Lord, the life-giving power of the Spirit is working, and is effecting that blessed transformation. They are being transformed into an image for which they were created. And the image is that of the King of Glory, who is Himself the image of God.

Christ is not to be reduced into words. That very word “glory” itself testifies that He transcends all words. Yet there are two words which let us into the secrets of the revelation of the Divine nature in Christ. They are “grace” and “righteousness”; we can hardly make too much of these, as indicating the Image which is shown to us, and into which it is our high destiny to be transformed. These two words are of unlimited significance; the powers they signify are able to invest themselves with all ideals which should draw us upwards and onwards. Grace and righteousness are as windows through which we may gain trustworthy visions of the incomprehensible nature of our God, and they are adequate characters of the nature into which we ourselves are to grow. Grace is the compassionate issue of the eternal love; righteousness is the expression of the Divine order. To what better things can we look up, towards what better things can we strive, than grace and righteousness?

There are three ways in which the glory of the Lord manifests itself in life—

1. In the majesty of holiness.—Holiness means, literally, separateness from sin, by dedication to God; from the world, in living by heavenly laws and aspirations. In saying this, we must carefully avoid an error. Our fathers, in the early centuries, drew a broad outward line of demarcation between the Church and the world. That was their fault; but it was in harmony with the tendency of the age. We are not likely to fall into such an error. Men now are, perhaps, too much afraid of standing alone. The hollow spirit of a hollow Christianity sneers at the lonely grandeur of a saint. The endeavour of many Christian people seems now to be to conform as much as possible to the world, without being excluded from the pale of the Church. One result of this is that the power of the Christian Church has greatly fallen away. But we must remember that Christian separateness is not external nonconformity. It is being in the world and yet above it;—having saintly separateness of soul amidst all the duties;—making men feel that your inner life is apart from the business of the world; that your heart is in eternity. Now this must result from the dawning of the light. He who communes with God will not fear to be alone. Seeing the Invisible, he will have too strong a faith in the Kingdom of heaven to seek to uphold it by excitement, convulsive effort, or outward show. A pilgrim of the morning, he will not go with the tide of the world. In him there will be a solemn sense of eternity—the looking onwards of an eye that beholds the dawning glory. And this is power—the truest, deepest power.

2. In the beauty of unselfishness.—The life of God is the life of the Cross in the heart. This is a manifestation of God’s light in the soul. Let that light dawn, and men will see the Cross-life there. This is the light which the world so much needs to-day. This is the light which made the Pantheon crumble, and the Greek altars fall. Men believe in Christ as a beautiful image—in Christianity as an old fable. Show them His reality, and reveal to them its power in your daily lives.

3. In the earnestness of your efforts for men.—If the light has risen, you know its power. If the glory has dawned, you feel the realities of life. In that illumination who can be slothfully calm? There is a spirit of so-called refinement abroad now which makes men afraid to speak of those things which lie deepest in the heart. Was it so with the great ones of old? Was it so with Paul? Was he afraid to speak in the name of Christ before Agrippa? Did he shrink before the fiery scorn of Festus? Go, then, bear witness of that light. Live out your prayers in daily actions. You say it is hard, difficult, impossible. Yes, it is hard—in all ages men have found it so: but remember the glory of the future is the result of your struggle to-day. Struggle on, then, the morning is breaking, the day is at hand when “the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended!”

There is a certain picture in the National Gallery which, Ruskin says, reveals the first sign and token of the Renaissance. The painter has partially shaken himself free from the cold, stiff, imitative traditionalisms of mediæval art; he has partially broken the bands of the mere copyist, he has gone out to Nature, has been for himself, and has brought back a bird! That bird, set there in the midst of much that is still ceremonial and traditional, Ruskin declares to be one of the first signs of the renaissance of art! Yes, but the coming of that bird was subsequent to the coming of a new atmosphere! The renaissance of art succeeded to the renaissance of religion! The bird was significant of a more intimate touch with reality, but this intimate touch with reality was the issue of a more intimate communion with God. The sensitive perception of the beautiful was the fruit of the re-discovery of the beauty of the Lord. The cheery light and the genial heat of the Renaissance are to be explained by “the Sun of Righteousness,” upon whose glory men’s eyes were gazing again in ravishing and exultant delight. The people had obtained a new vision of the light and glory of God, and they rose into a sweeter and more wholesome life.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

Arise! Shine!

Literature

Chadwick (G. A.), Pilate’s Gift, 162.

Cornaby (W. A.), In Touch with Reality, 83.

Henson (H. H.), Light and Leaven, 99.

Holland (H. S.), Pleas and Claims, 108.

Hull (E. L.), King’s Lynn Sermons, i. 61.

Huntington (G.), Sermons for the Church’s Seasons, 27.

Ingram (A. F. W.), Banners of the Christian Faith, 197.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year, Christmas—Epiphany, 69.

M‘Cheyne (R. M.), Additional Remains, 45.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions, Isaiah xlix.–lxvi. 176.

Newman (J. H.), Parochial Sermons, ii. 79.

Sellar (J. A.), Church Doctrine and Practice, 25.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xlv. No. 2617.

Webb-Peploe (H. W.), Calls to Holiness, 175.

Wilmot Buxton (H. J.), Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, i. 85.

American Jewish Pulpit, i. (Kohler).

Sermons for Sunday Festivals and Fasts, 2nd Ser., i. 156.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxii. 232 (Maclaren); xxxv. 307 (Horton); xxxix. 24 (Holland); l. 181 (Bradford); lxii. 16 (Jowett).

Church of England Pulpit, lvii. 2 (Davies).

Church Pulpit Year Book, vi. 9.

Thinker, i. 6 (Cheyne).

Treasury, (New York), xiv. 82 (Hallock).