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The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 6

No 6 col

Isaiah 40:9

[O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain;
O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid;
say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
]
 
 
I would never propose the slightest alteration in the reading of a text, without bearing my testimony to the fidelity and excellency of our version, which I believe it would not be found easy to amend upon the whole. Yet here and there a slight change in the English may render the sense clearer, and be equally agreeable [1] to the Hebrew.

In the Messiah the passage stands thus: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion – agreeable to the Bishop of London’s translation. [2] Zion seems to be considered by the prophet not as bringing but as receiving the good tidings. And the bringer of good tidings to Zion and Jerusalem [3] is expressed with a feminine construction as if it were a woman – and may be thus: Let her that bringeth good tidings.

That it was the custom in Israel for the women to publish and celebrate good news with songs and timbrels is well known. We have an early instance: Exodus 15:20,21. [4] So afterwards on David’s success over the Philistines: 1 Samuel 18:6,7. [5] And thus Deborah supposes the mother of Sisera and her women alternately singing from a confident though vain expectation that Sisera would return a conqueror.

Here the prophet in prospect of the Messiah's appearance, speaks of it as suited to excite a general joy. The gospel (as the word imports) is glad tidings indeed, good news, the best that ever reached the ears, or cheered the heart of man. The women in this address are called upon to proclaim his approach, on the eminences, the tops of the hills and mountains, from whence they may be seen and heard to the greatest advantage for the spreading [of] the tidings through the country. Zion is as a besieged city, but relief is at hand – say unto her, Behold your God. The Lord will come with a strong hand, or against the strong one – and his own people shall know him as their Shepherd: full of care, kindness and power.
6 kindness
The promise of an Emmanuel [6] - God with us - is now to be spread like the morning from the tops of the mountains – the day is breaking, and this passage prepares for the following: Arise, shine, for thy light is come. [7] The welcome news is dispersed from one to another, from Jerusalem to Samaria, from Jew to Gentile, from one nation to another people, till at length, all the nations and ends of the earth shall see the Salvation of God.

The causes of this exultation arise from the character of the Messiah, compared with the design of his appearance, and this is answerable to the state in which he finds mankind –

The state of fallen man by nature is described in the Scripture, under these leading and principal features:
1. Guilt
All have sinned. We are the creatures of God; he made and preserves us. Our life, facilities, preservation, and comforts are from him. He is therefore our great Lord, our supreme Benefactor. We therefore belong to him, his we are. Dependence, gratitude, submission and obedience, are incumbent on us in the very nature of things. But we have broken this law – we have violated the order of his government, renounced our allegiance and set up for ourselves. It is possible if quite left to ourselves, we should never have been aware of the consequences of this rebellion. Thinking God like ourselves, we might have felt no remorse or fear. But there is a revelation. The wrath of God, his fixed purpose to avenge disobedience, and that he is not an indifferent spectator of our rebellion, is declared. His justice, truth and honour are engaged to punish, and our obnoxiousness [8] to punishment, is what we mean by guilt. If the Scripture be true, there is no way to escape, unless he himself appoint one. He has done so; this is a part of the good tidings – proclaim it from the top of the mountains: there is forgiveness with him. Behold – the Messiahyour God – he comes to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. See 2 Corinthians 5:21. [9] He can do it for he is God, and he will, for he [has] taken on him our nature for this very purpose.
2.
Alienation of mind
Not only is it true that we have sinned, but the principle of aversion is deeply rooted in the heart. Therefore one part of our character is ‘haters of God’. [10] We have an inbred dislike to all his moral attributes. We cannot consent to approve either his glory as our end, or his favour as our good. The proof is plain; the ends we do propose, and the good we prefer are utterly inconsistent with the plan he has laid down. His ways, though truly pleasant in themselves, appear to us unpleasing, and we prefer our own. We do not like to retain God in our thoughts, which is a sure sign of enmity; nay, so far does this enmity reach, that we cannot bear that others should think better of God than we do, or be more attached to him than we are ourselves. On this ground Cain killed Abel. Can we show a stronger mark of dislike to a person, than by hating all who profess a regard for him, and when we have no other charge against them? No sooner does the grace of God call a sinner out of the spirit and practice of the world than his former friends discover a dislike, and often a man’s foes are those of his own household.
6 lift up
But O thou that bringest good tidings lift up thy voice – Say to poor sinners, Behold your God. He comes to take this enmity away. The cross of Christ subdues it, when every other expedient is found unavailing. The heart too hard to be softened by all temporal benefits, and too stout to submit by afflictions, is melted by the dying love of a Saviour, and by that discovery of the divine perfections which is exhibited in redemption. See a striking instance in Paul of Tarsus – but it is not singular. I trust many in this assembly have been the subjects of a like change, by the same means. You were once afar off, but you are now made nigh by the blood of Christ.
3. Misery
How can it be otherwise? Guilt entails a burden and foreboding upon the conscience. And our alienation from the fountain of living waters, compels us, for we are insufficient to ourselves, to seek resources from broken cisterns and pits which will hold no water. Farther, sin has filled the world with woe. The whole creation travails and groans, and natural evil is as inseparable from moral as the shadow from the body. Though the earth is full of tokens of God’s patience and forbearance, it likewise abounds with marks of his displeasure. Hurricanes, earthquakes, famines and pestilence are the effects of sin. Still worse are the evils we bring upon ourselves – war, rapine, violence, discord, hatred, furnish part of every page in the mournful history of human life, and are felt in every nation, city, village and family. Want, care, disease, prey upon individuals. Disappointment, dissatisfaction, vanity and vexation of spirit are felt by every rank and in every stage of human life. How much better, but for the hope of the Gospel, to be of the brute creation, than to bear the name of man. The brutes have few wants, their propensities and the means of gratifying them are all suited to their natures. They do not regret the past, nor trouble under the apprehensions of the future. It is otherwise with man. His boasted pleasures end with a sting – he cannot bear his own reflections on them – and he suffers almost as much from imaginary fears, as from real afflictions. The more he possesses, the more are the sources of his anxieties – and after being long wearied with a train of mortifications, pains and inquietudes, he must at last, however unwilling, admit meet that stroke of death, the thought of which when strongly realised to his mind was always sufficient to embitter the happiest hours of his life.
But publish from the mountains, and let the sound overspread the plains – Your God cometh. The Messiah establishes a new, a spiritual kingdom in the world – and his happy subjects possess peace. They commit all to him and he manages for them. Their fears are removed, their irregular desires corrected, and all that is really good for them, secured to them by his love, care and promise. Afflictions still await them, but they are sanctified, work for their good, and are leading them on [to] a happy hour when all their troubles shall cease, and they shall enter upon a state of eternal, inconceivable glory.
 
Though truly a man, he is truly called God. Neither man nor angel could do all this. But his wisdom and power are infinite, his purpose unchangeable.
6 joy
Does the language of my text cause joy to spring up in your heart? Or is it nothing to you? You heard the music of the Messiah performed perhaps, were entertained or struck at the time – but still continue unaffected by the subject. Yet once more hear: Thy God cometh. He did come according to the prophecy, and we have a sure prophecy that he will come again. Prepare to meet thy God O Israel. [11]
 


Endnotes:
 
[1] ms: ‘agreeably’
[2] Isaiah: a new translation : with a preliminary dissertation, and notes critical, philological, and explanatory, Robert Lowth, 1778. Robert Lowth [1710-1787] was Bishop of London from 1777. See also De sacra Poesi Hebraeorum,  Robert Lowth, 1753, published in English, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, by G. Gregory in 1787
[3] ms: ‘Z & Jer’
[4] Exodus 15:20,21 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.
[5] 1 Samuel 18:6,7 And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick.  And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.
[6] ‘Emmanuel’ (Newton sometimes uses ‘Emanuel’) and ‘Immanuel’ are interchangeable.
[7] Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
[8] obnoxiousness: abhorrence, loathsomeness, hatred
[9] 2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
[10] Romans 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
[11] Amos 4:12 Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.


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

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 21:53 on 13 December 2019