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The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 2

No 2 col

Isaiah 40:2-5

[The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it
.]
 
2 simplicity
The general style of the prophets is poetical.  Simplicity is the grand inimitable characteristic of the whole Bible.  But the magnificence and variety of imagery, which constitute the life and spirit of poetry, evidently distinguishes the style of the Psalms, Isaiah and the other poetical books, from that of the historical parts even in our common version. 

The various rules and properties of Hebrew poetry are not at this distance of time certainly known.  But the present Bishop of London [1] in his lectures on this subject, and in the discourse prefixed to his translation of Isaiah, has fully demonstrated one property.  It usually consists of parallel expressions, in which the same thought for substance, is repeated in a different manner. 

I may open the book anywhere, almost, to explain my meaning, as [in Isaiah] chapter 59;[2] [Isaiah chapter] 55; [3] Psalm 114. [4

The knowledge of this peculiarity may often save us the trouble of enquiring minutely into the meaning of every single word – when one plain and comprehensive sense arises, if the whole passage be taken together.  Thus in this place, though it be true that John the Baptist, was long retired in the wilderness, and began to preach in the wilderness of Judea, yet the word does not merely foretell that circumstance.  The expressions are parallel.  The prophet rapt into future times, hears a voice proclaiming the Messiah’s approach.  And this is the majestic language:  In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord; make strait in the desert a highway for our God

The wilderness and the desert are the same, as likewise in chapter 35, where the happy, the sudden, the unexpected effects of his appearance are described.  Now to see with the eye of faith the glory of the Redeemer, in his appearance, to see power divine preparing the way before him, to enter into the gracious and wonderful design of his salvation, to acknowledge, admire and adore him as the Lord – humbly to claim him as our God, affords a pleasure very different from that which the finest music, however well adapted to the words, can possibly give.  The latter may be relished by a worldly mind, but the former is appropriate, and can only be enjoyed by those who are taught of God.

When the Eastern monarchs travelled. Harbingers went before to give notice that the king was upon the road and proper persons likewise to prepare the way and to remove obstacles.  Some of them, if we may depend upon history, in the affectation of displaying their pomp and power, affected extraordinary things upon such occasions.  For man, though vain, would appear wise; though a mere worm he would fain be great. [5]  We read of their having actually filled up valleys, and levelled hills to make a commodious way for themselves or their armies through places otherwise impassable.  The prophet thus illustrates great things by small, and accommodates the language and usages of men, to divine truth.  The Messiah is about to visit a wilderness world, and those parts of it which he blesses with his presence shall become the garden of the Lord. [6]  Till then it is all desolate – rocky, wild and barren.  But his way shall be prepared, mountainous difficulties shall sink before him into plains, in defiance of hindrances and difficulties, his glory shall be revealed in the wilderness and all flesh shall see it, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.
 
Points:
1. The state of the Jewish church and nation and the Heathens when our Lord came – a wilderness
2. The mountains, rocks, etc, to be removed
3. The effect in part by John’s ministry, principally by his own Gospel.
 
1. Israel once the beloved people, was now with a few exceptions, totally degenerated.  The Lord’s vineyard brought only wild grapes.  They had the temple, the Scripture, the name of Abraham’s seed.  The prophet’s lamentation, Isaiah 1:21, [7] was still more applicable afterwards.
2. The heathen world is described as sitting in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death.  Philosophers had talked of wisdom and morality from age to age.  But their speculations were mere swelling words of vanity, and did no real good.  There were philosophers, poets, painters, musicians, eminent in their way, but the world was buried in idolatry and abominable wickedness (Romans 1:23 ad fin [8]).  Everything was diametrically opposite to the design and spirit of that kingdom the Messiah was about to set up, and therefore disposed, as the event proved, to withstand his progress.
3. A way was prepared for him
  3.1  In providence
    3.1.1  By Alexander’s conquests, which spread the knowledge of the Greek language among many nations – and the Scriptures being afterwards translated into Greek became more common – an expectation of some great deliverer was raised far and wide, and the Messiah became in this verse the desire of many nations.
    3.1.2 By the establishment and growth of the Roman power, which was in its height at our Lord’s birth, the principal part of the then known world was united in one empire – and as all the provinces were connected with Rome, an intercourse was opened on every side, for the reception of the truth.
  3.2 By John’s ministry and its effects
These were so great that John himself seems to have been astonished at the numbers and character of those who came to his baptism.  It was to Judea our Lord came, and there especially were the great obstructions to be removed.  For he came:
4. 4.1 To exalt the valleys
To preach the Gospel to the poor, to fill the hungry with good things, to save the chief of sinners, to open the kingdom to publicans and harlots.

Likewise to correct the low thoughts the Jews had indulged of the law of God, the office and kingdom of the Messiah.
   4.2 To bring low every mountain and hill
To detect the wickedness and confound the pride of the Pharisees and rulers, to pour contempt on all human glory, and to show that the 2 exalted of man, is abomination in the sight of God (See 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 [9]). [10]
  4.3 To rectify the perverse disposition of the hearts of men, to soften and subdue their spirits, and to make them willing in the day of his power.
 
[in the left hand margin alongside the closing paragraph, the following headings]
Glory of the Lord –
All flesh shall see  
Certainty
GV [11] Those of you who heard the Messiah certainly know whether you were affected by thoughts of this kind, when this part was performed, or whether you were only captivated by the power of the music, and paid no more regard to the words than if they had no meaning.  They are however the great truths of God.  May you attend to them properly now.
2 those of you


Endnotes:
 
 [1] Dr Robert Lowth (1710-1787), De sacra Poesi Hebraeorum, 1753 and Isaiah: a new translation : with a preliminary dissertation, and notes critical, philological, and explanatory, 1778
[2] In the printed version of this sermon, Newton refers to Isaiah 59:1,9 Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: and Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. As these are only his preparatory notes, he doubtless read these verses from the pulpit when he preached this sermon.
[3] In the printed version of this sermon, Newton refers to Isaiah 55:2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
[4] In the printed version of this sermon, Newton refers not to Psalm 114 but to Psalm 2:4,5 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
[5] 'wise 'and 'great 'were ‘Wise’ and ‘Great’ in the ms. In the printed version they are in italics, without capitals. That seems an easier emphasis to the modern reader’s eye.
[6] Isaiah 51:3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
[7] Isaiah 1:21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
[8] 'Romans 1:23 ad fin' – i.e. vv23-32 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things… [to v32] Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
[9] 2 exalted – 'what is highest'
2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
[10] In the printed version, Newton dropped the 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 reference in favour of Luke 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God..
[11] GV: abbreviation for ‘Gloria Videbit’, from the Latin for Isaiah 40:5 (the last verse heading this sermon) et revelabitur gloria Domini et videbit omnis caro pariter quod os Domini locutum est


Acknowledgements:
Cowper & Newton Museum, John Newton's Messiah notebook
 

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 04:24 on 26 August 2019