THE MISSION OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD . The words of our Lord in Luke 4:21 , "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears," preclude the application of this passage to any other than the Lord himself. It is simply astonishing that some Christian commentators (Ewald, Hitzig, Knobel) have not seen the force of this argument, but, with the Jews, imagine the prophet to be speaking of his own ministry. It is contrary to the entire spirit of Isaiah's writings so to glorify himself, and specially unsuitable that, after having brought forward with such emphasis the Person of "the Servant" ( Isaiah 42:1-8 ; Isaiah 49:1-12 ; Isaiah 1:4-9 ; Isaiah 52:13-15 ; Isaiah 53:1-12 ), he should proceed to take his place, and to "ascribe to himself those very same official attributes which he has already set forth as characteristic features in his portrait of the predicted One" (Delitzsch). Hence most recent commentators, whatever their school of thought, have acquiesced in the patristic interpretation, which regarded the Servant of Jehovah as here speaking of himself.
To appoint … to give . The latter expression is a correction of the former, which was not wide enough. Messiah is sent to give to the godly mourners
The purposes of Messiah's mission.
We are not to suppose that the prophet unfolds to us in the present passage the whole purpose of God in sending his Son into the world. Such logical exactness is alien to the spirit of prophecy, and especially unsuited to the rhetorical tone which everywhere characterizes Isaiah. Still, as the subject is one of transcendent interest, and as our Lord himself cites the passage as descriptive of his mission, it may be useful to note how many, and what purposes, it sets before us as included in the counsels of the Father, and intended to be realized by Christ's coming. They seem to be some nine or ten.
I. THE PREACHING OF GOOD TIDINGS . Christ "came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" ( John 3:17 ). The angels who announced his birth intimated that it was a subject for joy and rejoicing—"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" ( Luke 2:14 ). His forerunner declared it to be the object of his coming, "that all flesh should see the salvation of God" ( Luke 3:6 ). He himself came with "gracious words" ( Luke 4:22 ), and called men into his kingdom. Hence from a very early date his message to man was known as the gospel, i.e. "the good tidings." What could be better tidings than the announcement of free pardon on repentance, of salvation, of atonement, of deliverance from sin, of a Comforter to support, and sustain, and cleanse the heart, and give men peace and joy in believing? Man, lost without him, was by him sought and saved, and brought out of darkness and misery into light and happiness.
II. THE HEALING OF THE BROKEN - HEARTED . By "the broken-hearted" seem to be meant, not so much those whom misfortune and calamity have afflicted and reduced to despondency, as those who are deeply grieved on account of their sins. Among the objects of Christ's coming was the healing, or restoring to health, of such persons. He "healed the broken in heart, and bound up their wounds" ( Psalms 147:3 ). He made atonement for their sins, and thus secured them forgiveness; he assured them of God's mercy and readiness to pardon; he bade them "come to him," and promised to "give them rest" ( Matthew 11:28 ). Through his actions and his teaching all the contrite in all ages have their wounds bound up; are strengthened, sustained, and comforted; obtain, even in this life, a "peace that passeth all understanding."
III. THE GIVING OF LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES . "The captives" are the servants of sin—the unfortunates whom Satan has made his prisoners, and compels to labour in his service . Christ came to "proclaim" to them "liberty," to make them an offer of release. "Christ Jesus," St. Paul tells us, "came into the world to save sinners" ( 1 Timothy 1:15 ). He himself declared, "I came not to call ,he righteous, but sinners to repentance" ( Matthew 9:18 ). It is one of his greatest glories that he delivers men "from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" ( Romans 8:21 ). He offers to do this for all; but unless his offer is accepted he can do nothing. Men must not only be sinners, but must pass into the class of repentant sinners, before he can aid them. Then, however, his aid is effectual. All the bonds of sin may be struck off; the service of Satan may be renounced and quitted; and the captives have only thenceforth to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free" ( Galatians 5:1 ).
IV. THE GIVING OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND . (See Luke 4:18 .) Our Lord, when-on earth, gave recovery of sight, in the most literal sense, to several persons who were literally blind. But this is scarcely the "giving of sight" which was one of the main purposes of his coming. He came to open the eyes of men's understandings, to give them spiritual intelligence and spiritual insight, to enable them to discern between right and wrong, between good and evil. Men at the time were so far gone from original righteousness, that they were to a large extent blind to moral distinctions—"put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter, darkness for light, and light for darkness' ( Isaiah 5:20 ), were " vain in their imaginations,and had "their foolish hearts darkened ( Romans 1:21 ). Christ dispelled this spiritual darkness. He taught a pure and broad morality, which re-established moral distinctions in the general conscience, and at the same time, through his Spirit, he gave to each individual Christian an inward light, which man did not possess before, by which he might direct his paths.
V. THE PROCLAIMING OF A TIME OF ACCEPTANCE . Christ proclaimed a "time of acceptance" in various ways. To the Jews generally the three years of his ministry formed "the acceptable time," during which, if they had received him ( John 1:11 ), they would have maintained their position as a nation, and have held pre-eminence in the Church of Christ. To individuals who heard him the "time of acceptance" was that between such hearing and a hardening of the heart consequent on the rejection of his gracious message. To mankind at large the "time of acceptance" is the time of their sojourn here below, during which it is always possible for them to repent and turn to him, unless perchance they have been guilty of the "sin against the Holy Ghost." Such sin is probably still possible; but it may be hoped that few have committed it, and that the apostle's declaration, which he made to all his converts ( 2 Corinthians 6:2 ), may still be repeated to professing Christians generally, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
VI. THE PROCLAIMING OF A DAY OF VENGEANCE . It was among the purposes of our Lord's coming that he should "proclaim a day of vengeance."
1 . To the nation of the Jews, which by rejecting him caused its own rejection from the position assigned it under the first covenant, and was delivered up for punishment to the Romans. This he did by a number of remarkable prophecies ( e.g. the following: Matthew 21:40-43 ; Matthew 24:4-28 ; Luke 13:34 , 85; Luke 21:20-22 ), which announced that Jerusalem was to be destroyed, and that there was to be "great wrath upon the people" ( Luke 21:23 ).
2 . To the enemies of God universally. The general day of vengeance upon God's enemies is that "last day," which our Lord announced so often, when he "will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead" (see Matthew 7:22 , Matthew 7:23 ; Matthew 24:29-31 ; Matthew 25:31-46 ; Matthew 26:64 , etc.). Then all his enemies will be "put under his feet." Then will be fulfilled the apocalyptic vision, "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" ( Revelation 20:12-15 ).
VII. THE COMFORTING OF MOURNERS . It was indicative of the tenderness of Jesus, that in his life on earth he had ever such great compassion for mourners. In his sermon on the mount he assigned to them the second Beatitude, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" ( Matthew 5:4 ). Thrice only in his ministry does he seem to have come across actual death, and then each time he had such pity on those who mourned their dead, that he worked miracles on their behalf, and comforted them by raising their lost ones to life again ( Mark 5:22-42 ; Luke 7:12-15 ; John 11:32-44 ). After his resurrection, he hastened to comfort the women who mourned him, by special appearances to them. These, however, were but samples of his power and of his good will. Through the long ages that have elapsed since he founded his Church, mourners have ever found in him a true and potent Comforter. Through him it is that Christians "sorrow not as they that have no hope" ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ); through him that they have resignation, and are able to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the Name of the Lord;" through him that they look to receive their dead again raised to life ( Hebrews 11:35 ), and to be joined with them in a land where there is no parting.
VIII. THE CROWNING OF THE SAINTS IN BLISS . "Henceforth," said St. Paul, as he approached the end of his life, "there is laid. up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing" ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ). We shall receive, says St. James, "the crown of life" ( James 1:12 ). "When the chief Shepherd shall appear," says St. Peter, "ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" ( 1 Peter 5:4 ). Such crowns were seen by the beloved disciple as worn by the elders in the heaven]y region ( Revelation 4:4 ), and were promised to all who should remain "faithful unto death" ( Revelation 2:10 ) by him that is "Faithful and True" ( Revelation 19:11 ). A part of the intention of Christ's mission was to purify to himself a people to whom such crowns might without unfitness be awarded in his heavenly kingdom. The term "crown" is, no doubt, a metaphor; but it signifies some definite and positive degree of glory, having a substantial value, and forming a proper object of the Christian's desire.
IX. THE ANNOINTING THEM WITH THE OIL OF JOY . Christ himself was to be "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows" ( Psalms 45:7 ). His mission on earth was, in part, to extend the blessing of this anointing to his disciples. The " oil of gladness," whatever else it may mean, cannot but primarily symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is called by St. John an "unction from the Holy One" ( 1 John 2:20 ), and which was, in fact, the unction wherewith Christ himself was anointed (see the comment on verse 1). To give the Holy Spirit to Christians was a very main object of his coming. The Spirit was essential to the sanctification of Christians; and he must "send the Spirit," and he could not send him until he himself was first "glorified" ( John 7:39 ; John 16:7 ). St. Luke tells us how soon after his ascension the Spirit was given ( Acts 2:4-33 ); and our Lord promised that, after he once came, he would abide with the Church "for ever" ( John 14:16 ). Of all the immediate consequences of our Lord's mission the gift of the Spirit was perhaps the most precious, embracing as it did regeneration, sanctification, comfort, strength, gladness.
X. THE CAUSING THEM TO BE CALLED , AND THEREFORE TO BE , RIGHTEOUS . All the other objects had this final end in view. The good tidings were preached, and the brokenhearted healed, and the captives set free, and the dull of sight given moral discernment, and the acceptable time proclaimed, and the day of vengeance threatened, and the mourners comforted, and the crowns of glory promised, and the Holy Spirit given, in order that "oaks of righteousness" might be planted in the garden of the Lord—that men might burst the bonds of sin, and become righteous, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" ( 2 Corinthians 7:1 ). Christ "gave himself for us," says St. Paul, "that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" ( Titus 2:14 ). This was the principal object of our Lord's coming—to "save men from their sins." Other objects were rather means to cuds. This was the great end. Christianity is a success just so far forth as it weans man from sin, and creates and maintains in the world a "company of faithful men," who deserve to "be called oaks of righteousness," who persistently and determinately "eschew evil and do good," who lead holy lives, who "shine like lights in the world," "adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things" ( Titus 2:10 ).
Message of grace to Zion.
I. THE ANOINTING OF THE MESSENGER . Under the Law, the priests were anointed ( Exodus 29:7 ; Le 7:36), and also the kings ( 1 Samuel 9:16 ; 1 Samuel 10:1 ; 1 Samuel 16:13 ). It was the sign of appointment to a high office or commission from God. Hence, by a figure, it is applied to the appointment of Elisha to the prophetic office ( 1 Kings 19:16 ), and to the designation of Cyrus as the instrument of the purpose of Jehovah. Similarly, in 1 John 2:20 , the use is figurative. The idea is that of consecrated dedication (cf. Psalms 45:7 ; Hebrews 1:9 ).
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE ANOINTING .
1 . That he may evangelize , or preach the gospel. To whom? To those who need good tidings—the afflicted, the distressed and needy, the poor ( Luke 4:18 ), or those borne down by long captivity or other calamity (cf. Matthew 11:5 ).
2 . To bind up the broken-hearted. In temporal or spiritual reference, "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds" ( Psalms 147:3 ). And this by the proclamation of liberty. The sound of the words would remind of the great "year of jubilee" (Le 25:10; cf. Ezekiel 46:17 ; Jeremiah 34:8 ). If nothing is said in the law of jubilee about the release of prisoners or the remission of debts, all the associations of the time led to its being spoken of as a symbol of manumission, emancipation, and so of universal joy.
3 . To proclaim a time of grace and of retribution. A "year" of mercy, a "day" only of vengeance. Punishment descends to the third and fourth generation, but mercy to the thousandth ( Exodus 20:5 , Exodus 20:6 ; cf. Deuteronomy 7:9 ). But the coming or deliverance must ever mean also the coming in destruction (cf. Matthew 25:31-46 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 ).
4 . To comfort mourners. Especially those of Zion. But an application of evangelical promises must be equally larger with human need, human receptivity, human willingness, human power to receive, i.e. faith. Upon such the "coronet" is to be placed instead of ashes; the associations of the wedding ( 1 John 2:10 ) are to replace those of the funeral ( 2 Samuel 13:19 ), the nuptial song the former lamentation. Instead of the failing spirit," described under the image of a wick burning out, or of dimness, or faintness ( Isaiah 42:3 ; 1 Samuel 3:2 ; Le 13:39), there will be the "mantle of renown." In the Orient, especially, the apparel expresses the mood of the mind. See an illustration in 10:3 , 10:4 : she "put on her garments of gladness, wherewith she was clad during the life of Manasses her husband."
5 . To produce a vigorous and beautiful life. Men shall call them "oaks of righteousness, the plantation of Jehovah for showing himself glorious" (cf. on the simile , Psalms 92:12-14 , "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," etc.; Psalms 1:3 ; Jeremiah 17:8 ). A mystic plantation under the care of the Divine Gardener (cf. Matthew 15:13 ). The exiles will return, will "build up the ruins of antiquity, and raise up the desolations of the forefathers, and renew the ruined cities. As ruins suggest all the pathos of the decay of families and nations, so does the act of rebuilding remind of that ever-recreative energy which lies in the religious heart of mankind, and which breaks forth afresh after every epoch of calamity. Strangers are to feed their flocks, aliens are to be their ploughmen and vinedressers, and all classes are to partake in the Messianic blessings. The people of Israel themselves will be called the "priests of Jehovah." For the priests, as a class only, represented the idea of Israel, as a nation consecrated to the service of the Eternal, destined to perform a holy ministry to the rest of mankind. Men will take hold of the skirts of the Jew ( Zechariah 8:23 ). There will be compensation, double compensation, in the possession of the land in increased fertility and. with enlarged boundaries.
III. THE CONFIRMATION OF JEHOVAH .
1 . The principle of justice and compensation. He "hates things torn away unjustly," and will compensate his people for their past sufferings. How grand and all-consoling that truth of compensation! "All things are moral. That soul which within us is a sentiment, outside of us is a law. We feel its inspiration; yonder in history we can see its fatal strength." "It is in the world, and the world was made by it. Justice is not postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. The dice of God are always loaded. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. What we call retribution is the universal necessity by which the whole appears wherever a part appears" (Emerson).
2 . The everlasting covenant. ( Isaiah 55:3 .) Part of the condition of that covenant is the securing of an illustrious position for Israel among the nations; to be "known" is to be honoured, as in Psalms 67:2 ; Psalms 76:1 ; Psalms 79:10 . The time shall come in a larger sense, when the friends of the lowly and despised Nazarene shall be regarded as the favoured of the Lord; instead of being persecuted and despised, the whole earth shall regard them with confidence and esteem. Providence throws a veil of obscurity over its deepest designs, and the seed of glorious futures lies slumbering in the rough husk until the appointed time for its germination and growth.—J.
Comfort and cheer.
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion," etc. There is a triple exchange spoken of in these words, which ought to quicken thought.
I. CHARACTER . "Beauty for ashes." The penitent is uplifted from the dust. Instead of standing before God in sad confession, with all the stains of sin upon his heart and the liturgy of woe upon his lips, he has new life. The beauty of the Lord is given to him—there is transformation.
II. EMOTION . "The oil of joy for mourning." No longer looking at the dark side of personal history and personal prospect. The very countenance is anointed with fresh oil—a type of what has taken place within the man. Because you cannot force joy, nor can yon pretend it. Nature sets herself against all forgeries. Such joy as a godly man experiences can only come from the good treasure of his heart.
III. EXPRESSION . "The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." The outward life is all so different. As God is said to clothe himself with light as with a garment, so the Easterns understood the garment of light to be the expression of the man himself, even as we now look to the habiliments of the mourner as testifying to his grief. The spirit of heaviness is distressing. It is not a thankful spirit, nor a hopeful spirit, nor an inspiring spirit. But the garment of praise is like the melody of the temple choir; like the music of the river; like the "lark that sings at heaven's gate." "Awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake right early."—W.M.S.
Christ our Comforter.
We think of our Lord as of our Divine Friend; and there is no way in which any one can show himself so true a friend as in the time of trouble. Well says the old adage, "A friend in need is a friend indeed."
I. OUR URGENT NEED OF HIS DIVINE SUCCOUR . "Them that mourn in Zion." In virtue of his relation to us as our Saviour, Jesus Christ delivers ,s from the power and bondage of sin, and so from the remorse which attends its presence and constitutes a principal part of its penalty. But there are other things from which he does not profess to save his people in this world; these are suffering and sorrow. His very best disciples may inherit a bodily constitution which has in it the seeds of feebleness and pain, and which may develop these evils in their acutest form; or they may be the victims of some terrible accident or of human cruelty; or they may be called on to pass through trying straits, or to bear hitter disappointment, or to endure grievous losses and long-continued loneliness. There is no mark on the lintel of their doors to tell the angel of sorrow to pass by. He enters every home; he has a message for every heart, and the children of the kingdom hear his voice, and feel the touch of his hand, even as do the citizens of the worldly kingdom.
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF OUR SAVIOUR 'S SUCCOUR . Christ saves us in suffering and sorrow, though he does not here deliver us from it. Such is the transforming power of his mighty touch, that he converts it into another thing; under his hand it changes its aspect and is something else; the disfiguring ashes become a diadem of beauty; instead of the signs of mourning there is seen the anointing with the oil of joy; divested of the spirit of heaviness, the soul is clothed in the blessed garment of praise. The power of the wonderful Worker ( Isaiah 9:6 ) has transfigured everything—has turned the curse into a blessing. And how?
1 . By a sense of his gracious presence. The sorrowing spirit rejoices to feel that its Lord is near—is nearer than closest relative, than dearest friend.
2 . By a consciousness of his tender pity. The known and felt compassion, the assured sympathy of the Lord of love, fills the heart with peace.
3 . By the direct, sustaining influences of his Holy Spirit.
4 . By the assurance that he is seeking our highest good; that things are not happening by accident or mistake; that the gracious and wise Lord of all hearts and lives is working out an issue, dark and afar off, perhaps, but kind and good, righteous and beneficent; that he is planting and nourishing "trees of righteousness," and that these can only be grown with drenching rains and searching winds as well as with sweet sunshine and balmy airs.
5 . By the promise of unshadowed blessedness a little further on.—C.
God glorified in the joyous and the beautiful.
"A garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness … that he might be glorified." The figures used arc drawn from Eastern customs and sentiments. The afflicted clothe themselves in sackcloth, sit in ashes, and throw dust on their heads. In gladness and feast-time men crown themselves with garlands or wreaths. In sickness men do not use oil at toilet; when restored to health they resume the oil which "makes the face to shine." Festal days call forth bright-coloured garments; troublous seasons find men crouched on the ground heedless of the robes that cover them. But God is not honoured with ashes; he wants garlands. Nor is he honoured with neglected toilets; he wants the oil of joy. He asks for songs by the way from all who are journeying to Zion. His call ever is, "Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh."
I. GOD 'S MESSIAH FINDS MEN SAD . And they had abundant reason for being sad. Illustrate from the state of the Jewish nation when deliverance from captivity came; also from the state of the world when Jesus the Saviour came. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." Dr. Kane and His shipwrecked crew might well be sad when, in the polar regions, they never saw the sun for one hundred and forty long and weary days. Those out of Christ have good reason to be sad. It is even a hopeful sign that they are. Philosophers and scientific teachers who do not "like to retain God in their thoughts" are always sad—affectingly, impressively sad. The saddest hook ever written is John Stuart Mill's autobiography.
II. GOD 'S MESSIAH MAKES MEN GLAD . Jesus Christ cannot do with people who, in moral senses, stay in the ashes, neglect their toilet, and keep up miserable groans. He wants to get a song into men's set, is—even praise unto a redeeming God—which shall compel them to put garlands and festal garments on, and make their faces shine. We cannot keep Jesus and sadness both with us, any more than the world can keep both sunshine and mists. This homily should be used for pleading against a long-faced, dreary religion, and in behalf of the smiles and song that should characterize all who know the grace in Christ Jesus unto life eternal.
"I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a Resting-place,
And he has made me glad."