A RENEWAL OF PROMISE . God's judgment ( Isaiah 29:14 ), whatever it is, will pass. In a little while there will be a great change. The lowly will be exalted, the proud abased. From the "meek" and "poor' will be raised a body of true worshippers, who will possess spiritual discernment ( Isaiah 29:18 ), while the oppressors and "scorners" will be brought to naught. When Isaiah expected this change is uncertain; but he holds out the hope of it here, as elsewhere so frequently ( Isaiah 1:24-31 ; Isaiah 2:2-5 ; Isaiah 4:2-6 ; Isaiah 5:13 , etc.), to keep up the spirits of the people and prevent them from sinking into a state of depression and despair.
The Lord, who redeemed Abraham ; rather, who delivered Abraham , as the verb used is often rendered (see Job 33:28 ; Psalms 51:18 ; Psalms 69:18 ; Psalms 78:42 , etc.). God's directions to Abraham to remove from a land of idolaters ( Joshua 24:2 , Joshua 24:3 ; Acts 7:2 , Acts 7:3 ) were practically a "deliverance." The work thus commenced could not be suffered to remain incomplete. Israel—the true Israel— would not be ashamed , or wax pale through fear any more; they would be God's children, his true worshippers, and would have no need to experience either fear or shame.
It is sometimes supposed that religious revivals are modern inventions, concessions to the weakness of the degenerate man of the nineteenth century; and no doubt there have been features in many so-called "revivals" which have justified this view of them. But, in point of fact, revivals, if we follow out the history of religion, are found to be movements which have belonged to all ages, and without which it appears more than probable that religion in this world would stagnate and lose all vital energy. The subject may he best viewed under three heads.
I. REVIVALISM IS A LAW OF NATURE . Not only does Nature annually revive in spring from her winter's trance, but throughout the universe exhaustion is continually occurring at irregular intervals, and recoveries from exhaustion, i.e. revivals, are the only mode by which Nature is recruited and enabled to maintain herself. A long series of wet and cold seasons produces at any rate the impression that Nature's productive powers are declining and wearing out; when, suddenly, there is a complete inversion of what had come to be regarded as an established order, and a summer of brilliant sunshine causes an overflowing harvest and an agricultural reaction. The ozone in the atmosphere, so essential to human health, decreases for months; then, all at once, there is a revival, and the average of a century is exceeded. Electrical phenomena are for a time in abeyance, and the earth seems to have "used up" the power on which her vitality principally depends; when, lo! the reaction comes, fresh electricity is developed, or conveyed to the earth from without, and electrical phenomena become more frequent and more striking than ever.
II. REVIVALISM IS CONSISTENT WITH , AND CONDUCIVE TO , A CONSTANT ADVANCE . A priori we might have expected that all growth and progress would have been regular and gradual. But the fact is otherwise. In all the fields of human energy, in art, in science, in philosophy, in religion, long periods of comparative deadness and apathy occur, during which there is scarcely any perceptible advance at all, followed by shorter intervals of activity and energy, when progress is made "by leaps and bounds." The scientific energy of the last half-century is a ease in point. The artistic revival initiated by Reynolds and Gainsborough, is another. The history of the Church, dispassionately viewed, shows a manifest progress; but the progress has been far from uniform. Many centuries have been centuries of stagnation. Religion has just kept itself alive, and that has been all. Then some stir has come from within or from without, and a rush of vitality has supervened, which has exercised an influence for good on all later times. Indifference to doctrinal truth was overspreading the world, when the dogmatic revival of the fourth century at once saved the faith, and advanced it. The expansion of the Church, which is a special mark of its life, had almost ceased, when missionary zeal broke out suddenly in the West, and the seventh and eighth centuries saw the conversion of England, Scotland, Friesland, Batavia, Switzerland, and most of Germany. A general deadness and dullness had come over Christendom between the eighth and the eleventh centuries, when the Crusades, which were s political necessity, produced the revival of the twelfth and thirteenth. The greatest revival of all was the Reformation, which recovered spiritual religion when it seemed almost lost, and exerted a purifying influence even on those parts of Christendom which most opposed it. Lesser revivals have been—in Germany Pietism, in France Jansenism, among ourselves Methodism and the Church movement still in progress. It seems scarcely too much to say that, without revivals, religion—even the Christian religion—would perish.
III. REVIVALS ARE MOST COMMONLY THE RESULT OF CHASTISEMENTS . As it was with the Jews of whom Isaiah wrote, so in the Christian Church generally, revivals have been produced by judgments. The blasphemies of Arius, and the patronage of Afianism by the court, gave rise to the counter-movement of Athanasius. The contraction of Christendom in the East by the conquests of Mohammed and his immediate successors led on to its expansion in the West by renewed missionary effort. The alarming progress of the Saracens and Turks caused the revival connected with the Crusades. The exactions and tyranny of the court of Rome, being felt as a burden that could no longer be borne, brought about the Reformation. Among ourselves, the revival which dates from 1830 was due to the loss of ten Irish bishoprics and the other attacks made on the Church by her enemies at that period. Methodism is about the only Christian revival not provoked by some manifest calamity.
A time of regeneration.
A time of refreshing and of renewal is, notwithstanding all the gloom of preceding pictures, at hand.
I. THE CHANGE IN NATURE . "One of Isaiah's most characteristic ideas is a future transformation of nature corresponding to that of man" (Cheyne). The forest will be turned into the garden-land. Lebanon stands for the wild or uncultivated land (cf. Isaiah 10:18 , Isaiah 10:34 ). The passage in Isaiah 32:15 is parallel. When God again begins to bless his people, the untilled land will become a cultivated country, and the fields will produce an abundance compared with which their present condition may be pronounced barren. The meaning may be both literal and symbolical. When human energy is renewed, so is the face of nature, which saddens with war, pestilence, and the depression of industry. And the turning of waste land into cultivated fields is typical of the regeneration of human life; for what is all depravity and misery, but thought, faculty, passion, run to waste?
II. SIGNS OF THE NEW LIFE , The deaf will hear the words of a writing, and the blind shall be brought out of gloom and darkness into new spiritual perception, the lowly hearted shall receive a fresh access of joy in Jehovah, and the poor shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Notice everywhere the loving spirit of the gospel. Ever it is good news to those who need that news the most—the ignorant, the humble, and the poor. And correspondingly, the proud and the self-sufficient are to be brought low. The terrible foe without, and the scornful foes within, will have vanished and be brought to naught. The prophetic message in every age is vehement, burning against oppression and treachery. There are men that watch for iniquity, that swear away others' lives by false testimony, or seek to ruin those who plead in the gate or judicial court, and wrest the just verdict from the righteous by frivolous pretences, (For the expression, "turning aside the right" of the weak, etc; cf. Exodus 23:6 ; Amos 5:12 ; Malachi 3:5 .) Traitors, conspirators, false witnesses, and false men of every kind will be rooted out of the new kingdom; and all that is incorrigible will be given up to destruction, that there may be room for the plants of Jehovah's planting to flourish.
III. THE HOLY AND HAPPY CONSUMMATION . No more shall Jacob be ashamed and his face turn pale. His oppressors will have been swept away. He will see "his sons, the work of Jehovah's hands, within him." In presence of the judgments of Jehovah there will be a true conversion; they will become holy even as he is holy—a Church sanctifying him, the Holy One of Israel. A sound intelligence will displace the former spirit of error, and former murmuring will give way to a willingness to receive instruction. This is the state of things for which we pray when we say, "Hallowed be thy Name" "They shall hallow thy Name," says the prophet; " They shall fear the God of Israel." Pure reverence, united with bright clear intelligence, and applied in every department of thought and practice, will be the spirit of the future kingdom, must be the spirit in all who sincerely pray for the coming of that kingdom in their hearts now.—J.
The hour of revival.
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS .
1. The spirit of docility . Those once deaf now " hear the words of the book" ( Isaiah 29:18 ); " They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine" ( Isaiah 29:24 ). It is one of the surest signs of the presence of God's Spirit that the attitude of insensibility or of captiousness is exchanged for the desire to learn the will of God—that those who once held aloof altogether or came to carp and quibble now lend a reverent, inquiring ear, sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus, look heavenwards like Paul and say, "Lord, what wilt. thou have me to do?"
2. The power of spiritual perception . "The eyes of the blind shall see," etc. ( Isaiah 29:18 ). God awakens human souls from the sleep of sin or the languor of spiritual decline. Then, in the one case men see the guilt of continued rebellion against God's will, also the terrible risks they run who remain rebellious, and also the excellency and openness of the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, etc.; in the other case they see the transcendent value of the human souls around them, the admirableness of Christian zeal, the desirableness of gaining the approval of Christ for carrying on his work of redeeming love, etc.
3. Gladness of heart in God and in man.
4. The disappearance of iniquity . ( Isaiah 29:20 , Isaiah 29:21 .) The oppressor, the scorner, the vicious, the unrighteous,—these and such as they are removed from the scene; they no longer linger about the gates or frequent the courts or walk the streets of Jerusalem. The force of sacred fervor, like the cleansing indignation of Christ himself, sweeps unholiness from the sanctuary; "that which defileth" is cast out with the strong hand of reawakened purity.
II. THE DIVINE SOURCE OF IT . All those thus made true children of God are "the work of mine hands" ( Isaiah 29:23 ); everything, as every one, is his workmanship; it is all of God. It is his Spirit that "renews the face of the earth," that also revives the souls of men and the condition of his Church.
III. THE HOPE OF ITS COMING .
1. We may look to the promises of God ' s Word , that hold out to us the hope of better and brighter days in the future.
2. Or to the grace and power of our Lord ; for we cannot believe that his yearning compassion and his mighty power will leave outside forever the multitudes that are still afar off.
3. But we do well to look to devout and earnest preparation on our own part . Can we not "prepare the Lord's way" by cleansing our hearts of selfishness and sin, of pride and unbelief; by devout expectation and eager readiness for the sound of his chariot-wheels; by earnest and believing prayer for the action of his reviving Spirit?—C.