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4. From the solemn charge he gives to ministers
[He sends his servants “ to turn men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”n. And he especially charges them to “strengthen the weak hands, to confirm the feeble knees, and to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; your God will come and save you."" Thrice is that injunction repeated' in the text: and in the execution of this duty we are justly called, " The helpers of your joy.””]
5. From the dispensations both of his providence and grace
[When he suffered his beloved Son to be tempted in all things like unto us, it was with a view to comfort us under our temptations. And when he comforted St. Paul under his multiplied afflictions, he still consulted the comfort of his church and people: yea, however he diversified his dispensations, he had invariably the same gracious object in view.s]
As a further proof of his regard for our comfort, we may observe that II. He has made abundant provision for it in his word
The message which we are commanded to deliver to his people, contains in it the richest sources of consolation. We proclaim to them, that 1. Their “ warfare is accomplished”
[This, as referring to the captives in Babylon, foretold their deliverance from captivity. But.it chiefly relates to the deliverance of the church from the bondage and misery to which they were subject under the Mosaic dispensation. The burthensome yoke of ceremonies was to be abolished at the coming of Christ, and to be succeeded by a “law of perfect libertyu-A similar „deliverance every soul experiences, as soon as ever it believes in Christ: the chains of sin, wherewith it was bound, fall off;* and, though there yet remain many conflicts to be endured, yet is Satan's power irrecoverably broken; and the once captive sinner is brought into the glorious liberty of God's children. What rich consolation must this of necessity administer to the weary, and heavyladen!-] 2. Their iniquity is pardoned
[The Lord's people, not excepting the least or meanest of them, have all their iniquities forgiven?-What consolation then can they want? Let their circumstances in other respects be ever so aflictive, they may “ be of good cheer:" for we have the united testimony of prophets and apostles that they are truly blessed-]
n Acts xxvi. 18.
• Isai. xxxv. 3, 4.
P 2 Cor. i. 24.
3. They have received mercies that far overbalance all their aMictions
[The prophet does not mean that the Lord's people are punished beyond their deserts (for this were contrary both to scripture and experience) but that their mercies far exceed any judgments which may have been inflicted on them on account of sin. God will punish his people, and it is necessary that he should) but their enjoying of his favour, and their prospect of his glory, are mercies, in comparison of which their troubles are not worth a thought-Indeed their very chastisements are mercies in disguise;e and have been acknowledged as such by those who have endured them in an abundant measurel -] Let us LEARN then from this subject 1. The genuine tendency of thię gospel
[The gospel is generally considered as a source of melancholy, and consequently, as inimical to men's happiness. But the very reverse of this is true. It calls men indeed to repentance, and, in this view, may be considered as an occasion of sorrow: but it is a salutary sorrow that will be followed by joy: nor can any one duly reflect on the expressions of the text, without acknowledging, that a reliance on God's promises and oath revealed in the gospel, is, as it'was intended to be, a source of“ strong consolation,” to all the people of God." Let this absurd prejudice then be put away, and the gospel be received by us with gratitude and joy.]
2. The wonderful difference between those who em. brace, and those who disregard the gospel
[Can that be said of carnal and worldly men, which is here spoken of the Lord's people? Are their chains broken? their sins forgiven? their comforts greater than any judgments that await them? No: they are yet in bondage to sin and Satan; their sins are all “ sealed up in a bag." against the day of judgment; and the wrath of God is shortly coming upon them to the uttermost. Then it will appear how great a " dif
a Col. ii. 13. Ps. ciii. 12. Acts xiii. 39.
. Heb. vi, 17, 18.
b Matt. ix. 2.
ference there is between those who serve the Lord, and those who serve him not.”h Let not this distinction then be made a subject of profane ridicule, but a motive to seek the Lord, that we may be numbered with his people, and be made partakers of his benefits.]
h Mal. iii. 18.
CCX, CONSOLATION FOR THE AFFLICTED.
Isai. li. 143. Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteous
ness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the Rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your Father, and Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the Lord will comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places, he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desart like the garden of the Lord: joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
AN attention to the voice of God in his word would comfort us under all troubles, and keep us stedfast amidst all the vicissitudes of life-God, anxious for the welfare of his people, says continually, Hearken to me, hearken to mea—He has just before exhorted them, when walking in darkness to trust in him—He now bids them bear in mind his former mercies, and expect yet' richer blessings at his hands, when the destined period of their captivity shall have elapsed–Thus did God provide comfort for them against the day of their calamity-And the same comfort is reserved for all his people in their seasons of darkness or affliction-To obtain the consolation which the text is suited to convey, it will be proper to consider 1. What God has done for us already,
The description given of God's people is sufficiently appropriate, and will distinguish them from all other people upon earth-They “ seek” the favour of the Lord,” and follow after” it with incessant care in the way of
a Ver. 1, 4, 7.
\ Isai. l. 10.
They once had little prospect of ever attaining to the blessings they enjoy
[The Jewish nation was to descend from Abraham; but the promised seed was not given him till, according to the course of nature, there was no probability that his family should be increased–There was then little reason to expect that that nation ever should exist Thus the people of God may
look back upon
the time that they were lying as stones in a quarry, and as clay in a pit-How little prospect was there then, that they should ever form a part of "God's spiritual building!"They were as blind, as stupid, as averse to God and holy exercises, as any people in the universe-If they “ran not to the same excess of riot” as others, they were restrained merely by the overruling providence of God, and not by any hatred of sin which they had inore than others] Yet they are now " called and blessed” of the Lord
[The descendants of Abraham rapidly increased, and in process of time formed a very numerous and powerful nation -Who that beheld them at their departure from Egypt would have imagined that, only four hundred years before, these two millions of people had no existence but in the loins of Abraham? And who, that sees a person now " following after righteousness,” would imagine that he was once a determined enemy to God, and had a nature as corrupt as any of his fellow-creatures!--Let the saints remember what they were, that they may see what “ great things the Lord has done for them”-Let them “ walk softly all the days of their life" under a sense of their former guilt; and stand amazed at the goodness of their God, who has so distinguished them with his favour-]
Nor is this any thing more than an earnest of II. What he has engaged to do
As the church at large, so every individual member of it may be in very afflictive circumstances
[The Jews were reduced to the greatest distress during their captivity in Babylon; and their once fertile country was become a wilderness; nor could they remember Zion but with deep 'sorrow and regret—Thus the people of God at this time may be brought into great tribulation-Through persecution or temptation their “sorrows may be enlarged," and their joys be turned into pain and anguish---]
But God promises to interpose for them in the time of need
į Rom. iii. 10_19. and viii. 7.
[He repeatedly foretold that he would deliver his people from their Babylonish captivity; and restore them with joy and triumph to their own land- This was a faint representation of what he would do for the true seed of Abraham under the Christian dispensation-He will revive his people with spiritual consolations---He will make their hearts, which now seem barren, or productive only of thorns, to be fruitful in every good word and work”-Paradise itself, before sin had deformed its beauty, was a just emblem of what the soul shall be, when God returns to visit it-The harp hung upon the willows shall be strung anew; “joy and gladness" shall succeed to the effusions of sorrow, and the groans of contrition yield to “thanksgivings and the voice of melody”-Let but the afflicted soul tarry the Lord's leisure, and it shall surely experience the wished-for deliverance-]
To encourage all to confide in this promise, let us consider III. In what respects the recollection of mercies received
may strengthen our expectation of those that are pro
mised Nothing could be more animating to the Jews in Babylon than the recollection of what God had done in rais, ing so flourishing a tree from the dead stock of Sarah's womb, and in continuing to water it for so many centuries, notwithstanding the bad fruit it had continued to produce-Nor can any thing be more consoling to us than a retrospective view of God's dealings with us - In them we may behold 1. His sovereign grace
[In every thing relative to the raising of the Jewish nation God displayed his sovereignty—And may' we not behold the same in his choice of us? Why did he hew us out of the quarry, while such a mass of stone, equally fit for his purpose, was left behind?-Why did he “ form us into vessels of honour, while so much of the very "same lump was left to form vessels of dishonour?”-Who shall deny the fact that such a selection has been made? " Who shall say unto God, What doest thou?"-Shall any drooping saints then despond because of their unworthiness? Let them remember, that, as God never chose them for their superior worthiness, so he may still continue his favours towards them notwithstanding their unworthiness-His grace is still his own as much as ever; and, if they do but lament their unworthiness and cast themselves on his mercy, it shall still be glorified in their restoration and bliss]