Israel and Britain. A Note of Warning
Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, June 7th, 1885, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him."—John 12:37-41.
HE BLINDNESS of Israel concerning our Lord was sadly remarkable. It was a blindness of the eyes, for they saw his many miracles, and yet believed not: their ears also seemed to be stopped, for they heard his words and did not understand them; and their hearts also were heavy, for they did not relent under the plaintive admonitions of a Saviour's love. Their hearts were cruel towards the Messiah; they hated him without a cause. No door was open to the heart of Israel; they had hardened their heart, they had shut their eyes, they had stopped their ears, and even he that spake as never man spake gained no access to their souls. They went so far as to crucify him, and cried as they did so, "His blood be on us, and our children,"—words so sadly verified when Jerusalem was destroyed, and her children slaughtered, sold as slaves, or scattered to the four corners of the earth. It was indeed, a terrible blindness which happened unto Israel.
Her rejection of the Lord Jesus is the more amazing because Isaiah gave so clear an account of the Messiah, and so clearly pictured Jesus of Nazareth. Descriptions of him could not have been more explicit than were the prophecies of Isaiah. It would be very easy to construct an entire life of Christ out of the book of Isaiah, beginning with "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," and ending with "he made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death." Isaiah spake of John the Baptist as the "voice crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God," and he foretold our Lord's ministry by the way of the sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the Gentiles, where the people who sat in darkness saw great light. The prophecy portrayed his Lord as "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Clearest of all is he upon his vicarious sufferings, concerning which he uses a variety of most definite expressions, such as,—"The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah saw so clearly the day of our Lord Jesus that he spake rather as an evangelist than as a prophet; as an eyewitness, rather than as one foretelling a far-off event. Yet all this clearness was lost upon the men of his generation, and upon those who followed after. The nation had so long been fickle towards God, and had trifled so long with God's truth, that it was at length given up to a judicial hardness of heart, so that it could not understand or perceive. They refused the plainest messages of grace, and were so confirmed in unbelief that all their prophets cried with one plaintive voice, "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
Nor was it alone grievous that Israel sinned against the light which shone in Isaiah's testimony; but, alas, she closed her eyes against the meridian splendour of our Lord's own life. Jesus bore his own witness in his person, teachings, works, and gifts. A sad wonder lies in the fact, that they did not know the Lord of glory although they saw his miracles, which were sure witnesses to his claims. He wrought among them works which none other man did. There is about our Lord a likeness to God: in all that he does the Godhead shines forth. He is so pure that he can say, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" How like to him who is saluted as "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!" His teaching is so full of tenderness and gentleness that since God is love, we conclude that Christ is God. His many miracles touch upon every point in the great circle of omnipotence. What is there that God can do which the Christ did not do? Was he not multiform and multitudinous in his works of power and grace? Herein lay the wonder, that though he did so many miracles before them, not in secret but actually before their eyes; though he fed them with bread which they could see, and handle, and eat; though he healed the sick and raised the dead, they yet believed not on him. How sadly far can men go in unbelief, prejudice, and hardness of heart! How dim can human eyes become when men refuse to see! How darkened the understanding when men are unwilling to comprehend! Let us tremble at this, lest ourselves by imitating the chosen people in their unbelief should fall into like bondage to prejudice and ignorance, lest we by tampering with truth should come at last to be incapable of perceiving it, lest we also by rejecting the testimony of God should be given up to our own willfulness, to believe a lie and refuse the truth. Such, then, as Isaiah had foreseen, was the state of Israel in our Lord's day: never clearer evidence, and never more obstinate refusal to see it; never truth more plain, and never rejection so determined. Woe to those who close their ears; for the day cometh when they shall no longer hear! Woe to those who shut their eyes to the light, for they shall ere long be made blind! Isaiah was informed that such would be the outcome of his ministry: the Lord bade him say to the people, "Hear ye indeed, but underststand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not." This must have been a very sad business for so generous and tender-hearted a man of God. It was painful to him to be so clear and yet to be so little understood. He was the Paul of the Old Testament; to him belonged fulness of knowledge, clearness of vision, plainness of speech, and faithfulness of spirit, and yet none of these things could make the people understand his message and receive it into their hearts. He was sublime in thought, attractive in word, and affectionate in spirit, and yet they did not believe his testimony; so that he must often have been astonished and heart-broken as he spake in vain to a people who were determined that they would not hear.
This morning I shall draw certain lessons for ourselves from the great evangelical prophet, his ministry, and the people to whom he ministered so vainly. Our first meditation shall be concerning Isaiah and his ministry: and our second shall be concerning the people to whom he spake. Alas! I fear that we who speak in the name of the Lord in these last days have also to deal with hearts that are gross, ears that are heavy, and eyes that are dimmed. Upon this generation also there is falling a measure of judicial withdrawal of light and discernment; and we also have to cry, "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
I. First, then, let me speak with you CONCERNING ISAIAH AND HIS MINISTRY. Oh, that the Spirit of God may speak with power through me. Our text says two things of Isaiah: first, that "he saw his glory," and secondly, that "he spake of him."
The first statement is that Isaiah saw. Isaiah was a great seer: his prophesy begins thus,—"The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." All prophets were more or less seers, and saw what they foretold; but Isaiah above others was endowed with the seeing and foreseeing faculty. He had the clearest sight, and for that reason he had the clearest speech. When a man speaks so that you cannot understand him, the usual reason is that he does not understand himself; and when a man speaks so as to be readily comprehended, it is because the thought in his own mind is well defined. He that would speak well must see well. Mark the two things in the text—"When Isaiah saw his glory, and spake of him."
In what sense is Isaiah said to have seen that which he spake? Does it not mean that he realized his thoughts? that they stood out vividly, so as to make a deep impression upon his own mind? Things to come were already come in his apprehension: he beheld what he believed, he felt what he foretold. He was not a dreamy person, maundering about half-fashioned, undeveloped thoughts; but he was a person who knew, and perceived, and felt what he preached. He saw with his soul what he set forth with his lips.
But what did he see? It is a most important thing that in these days you and I should see the same, for the same work lies before us among a people who are a repetition of that disobedient and gainsaying nation. Read, then, with care the sixth chapter of Isaiah. Open your Bibles and refer to the passage verse by verse.
First, what Isaiah saw was the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. When the prophet went abroad among the people he heard them speaking against the Lord God; some contending for our deity and some for another; some leaning upon an arm of flesh, and others despising the promise of Jehovah the God of Israel. All this, I say, he saw out of doors, and he was troubled. But when he went into the sanctuary of God he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne : still reigning, still glorious, undisturbed by opposition. He must then have felt like David when he said, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." As David saw Christ upon the throne amid the strivings of the people, so did Isaiah see the Lord Jesus, not only upon the lowly mercy-seat, but upon a throne high and lifted up. I pray you, brethren, settle this in your hearts: our Lord is highly exalted as Lord of all. When you see evil occurrent, do not imagine that it defeats the eternal purposes of Jehovah: when you hear blasphemy and your blood runs cold, do not think that Christ has lost his glory: when men riot in sin, do not dream that the reins of affairs are out of Jesus' hands; for still he is "God over all, blessed for ever." My heart exalts this day, as, by undoubting faith, I am assured that he who died on Calvary is now exalted on high, far above all principalities and powers. "Thou art the King of glory, O Christ!" To thee our spirits ascribe infinite honour, world without end. Though the earth be removed, and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, yet the Lord reigneth. He that died upon the tree is crowned with majesty, and all the angels of God worship him. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet." Let us have no question about this; for if we have, we shall not be prepared to speak in the Lord's name with this evil generation. Amid the anarchy of the ages we see the glorious high throne of our redeeming Lord unmoved, unmovable: this is the rock of our refuge when the unsettled times rage about us like the waters of the troubled sea. We cannot be afraid, for Christ is on the throne.
Observe that in Isaiah's vision he not only saw the Lord "upon a throne high and lifted up," but he saw that "his train filled the temple." so that in that temple there was room for no one else. The robes of this great King filled all the holy place; and neither priests nor offerers could there find standing room. It is a great thing to see how Jesus fills the heavenly places; in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead. Let it be acknowledged to be so in heaven, for the glory of our Redeemer fills every street of the upper city, every mansion of the Father's house. In the church below, which is also his temple, among his spiritual people, the glory of the Lord Jesus engages and occupies every heart. They feel that there is none other in whom they can trust, none other whose words they will receive, none other in whom they glory; the Lord Christ is all in all to us, and we know no other Master or Saviour. His train fills the temple. I trust it is so among us. From Sabbath to Sabbath the one glory of this Tabernacle is the person and work of Jesus. What a glory hath God put upon the Only Begotten Son, whom he hath raised from the dead that he should be head over all things to his church, which he fills with his life, light, and love. Nor may we forget that all the things that exist are in a sense his temple, and the whole universe is filled with his train; for "he hath ascended up far above all heavens that he might fill all things." Glory be unto our ascended and reigning Lord. (Please click here to continue reading, “Israel and Britain: A Note of Warning)