Return to article Print
The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 7
 

No 7 col

Isaiah 60:1-3

[Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people:
but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising
.]
 
 
One striking internal proof that the Bible is a revelation from God, is that it is the book, and the only book, which teaches us to think honourably of him. I say the only book, for there is no knowledge of this kind, but what is evidently derived from it. What is the Jupiter of Homer, compared with the God of Israel, as represented to us by his servants the prophets? And if the heathen philosophers in some detached passages have sentiments not altogether unworthy of him, history honestly tells us, how they obtained them. They travelled, and especially into Phoenicia, into the confines of that people, who alone thought rightly of God, because they alone had a revelation of himself. Could we suppose that the description in Isaiah 40 from verse 12 to the end, had been only known of late years, recovered we will say out of the ruins of Herculaneum, there is little doubt but it would have engaged the attention and admiration of all the learned. For the most admired writings of antiquity are as much inferior to it, as the spark of the glow-worm, falls short of the glory of the sun. [1] The sublimity of the prophets is natural, just and unforced, and flows from the grandeur of their subject, because they were influenced by Him, who alone can speak worthily of himself.

A song so vast, a theme so high
Called for the voice that tuned the sky. [2]

With them the whole compass of the creation is but as dust upon the balance, in respect of the great Creator. His purpose is fate, his voice is power. He speaks and it is done. Thus he called the universe into being; and thus as the great Lord and Proprietor of all, he still maintains and governs it, directing the frame of nature, and every event and contingence, to his own glory, the last and highest end of all his works.

The principal of these, is the exhibition of his perfections in the person of his Son. The prophesies we have already considered, announce this event with a gradual increase of clearness and precision, as the period of accomplishment is supposed to draw nigh. We lately heard the command to proclaim his approach, from the hills and tops of the mountains. Here the prophet contemplates the effects of his actual appearance. The earth is considered as involved in a state of gross and utter darkness, but the sun, the Sun of Righteousness is about to arise and to fill it by his beams with life, light and glory. These effects indeed will not extend to all, for many love darkness rather than light. But he will not shine in vain. There will be a people prepared to receive him and to rejoice in his light. They shall arise as from sleep, as from the grave – and his light reflected upon them shall cause them to shine likewise. Darkness shall still cover those who reject him; yea their darkness will be increased. But the glory of the Lord shall be seen upon those who believe. And their numbers from age to age shall be enlarged. Nations shall come to him, and kings shall be subservient to the spreading of his kingdom. Such is the scope of the passage. I would briefly touch upon a few particulars.
1.
As the sun is the source of light to the natural world, so is the Messiah to the moral and spiritual world.
The subject of the next passage will be similar to this, but I will endeavour to avoid a mere sameness in the explication.
 
Light and its opposite darkness are figuratively used in Scripture. The latter is applied to a state of ignorance, sin and misery – the former therefore signifies true knowledge, holiness and happiness. But there is an intermediate state: light advancing from the first dawn to the perfect day. This twilight no less than the daylight is from the sun. Such was the state of the Old Testament church. The Messiah was the source of their knowledge, their hope and their consolation – but he was yet, if I may so speak, below the horizon as to them. Though they were a people saved of the Lord, they were trained up by types and shadows; they were as the heir while a minor, under tutors and governors. They were comparatively in a spirit of bondage and distance.
7 sun arose
But the Sun arose, the shadows vanished, when the Sun[Son] of God incarnate conversed with man - and especially from the time of his ascension, and the beginning of his visible kingdom on the day of Pentecost. Our Lord declared that none born of woman had been greater than John his forerunner, and at the same time said, The least in the kingdom of heaven, in the Gospel church, was greater than he.
2.    The subjects of the Messiah, the members of his church, are so irradiated by him that they shine likewise. Thus the moon shines, but with a borrowed light, derived from the sun. [3] So 2 Corinthians 3:18. [4] Here two things:
2.1 That they do so shine
Though they were once darkness, they are now light. A dark, ignorant, wicked, selfish Christian is a contradiction. They have knowledge, have a good understanding (Psalm 111 [5]); they know more than the wisest who have not seen the Lord. They are conformed to his image, and different from the world; they have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty. And they have at the least the beginnings of peace and happiness in communion with God.
2.2 That they shine by his light
If their own words may be taken, this will need no other proof. They are free to confess that they are only wise by his wisdom, and strong by his power, and without him have no sufficiency to think a good thought. They cannot stand except he upholds, nor watch except he watcheth with them – nor be happy or safe a single day [6] without fresh communications from him. But we have still better authority: John 15:5; [7] Psalm 34:5. [8]
3.   

  

 
 
That they who turn from this light sink into double darkness
The grossest errors, the greatest obduracy of heart, the most abominable practices, the most extreme wretchedness – are to be sought for, and alas will be found among the despisers of the Gospel. Their guilt is more aggravated and inexcusable; their misery will be more heavy.

It is evident that the morality which is so highly spoken of in the Christian world and set in opposition to the Gospel, is much leaner and more scanty, than the morality of the Heathen– I mean the idea, for neither Heathens nor nominal Christians are able to act up to their own rules. But I think I may boldly [affirm] that none of the professed modern moralists who have disowned the Gospel revelation, have given us a system of morality equal to that of the heathen Tully. [9] Many of the Heathens felt the desirableness and necessity of revelation which modern infidels despise, and avowed atheists - that is men who either deny a God, or his providence, or the obligations of men to obey him - are seldom to be found but in Christian countries. The heart must have resisted light and conviction, before it can ordinarily go these dreadful lengths. But while the blind stumble in the noon of day, the Messiah's people shall walk in confidence and peace and shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
4. The third verse foretells, and therefore secures, the conversion of the heathens or Gentiles. The times and the seasons are in the hand of God; but the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Much was done in the first age of Christianity. A single instrument, Paul, preached the Gospel as he tells us from Jerusalem roundabout to Illyricum, [10] and probably much farther afterwards, and with great success, gathering churches in every province. When the Gospel had footing at Rome, it would of course spread into the different parts of the Roman Empire, and we have reason to believe it was introduced very early into our Island. And though what was called the conversion of heathen nations in some following ages, hardly deserved the name, yet I cannot doubt that wherever the New Testament and the Messiah's sufferings and death were made known, some individuals at least were savingly turned to God. And we are warranted to look for still greater things. When the gross darkness which still covers a great part of the world shall be dispelled and the Redeemer’s kingdom, spoken of by Daniel, as a stone cut out without hands, shall become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. [11]
[5.] The call in my text may be taken in a general sense, as the Apostle’s, Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. [12] Natural light requires eyes. Gospel light opens the eyes of the blind. It is the instrument of divine power. Having the Lord’s command, we are not to be discouraged by the carelessness or obstinacy which sinners have hitherto shown. Let [Like] Ezekiel [13] we are sent forth to preach and prophecy to dry bones; and he that sent us can cause the dry bones to live. This word of salvation is sent to you. The Lord is risen indeed. In his name we proclaim pardon and peace to all that will seek him – turn then from your evil ways for why will ye die? [14]
 


Endnotes:
 
[1] Newton possibly retained this comparison from Theron and Aspasio, or, A series of dialogues and letters..., James Hervey, 1755, vol 1, Dialogue 5, p223: “Ah! my Theron, if we seek an example of God’s unbounded goodness, amongst the puny proceedings of men; we shall be led into the most egregious misapprehensions… However, the all-condescending Creator has been pleased, so to dispense his infinitely rich grace; that we may find, though nothing parallel, nothing correspondent, yet some faint shadow of its manner, among the affairs of mankind. Something, that may perhaps give us such an idea of the stupendous subject, as a glow-worm would give of the sun’s splendour, in case a person had never beheld that magnificent luminary.”
[2] Isaac Watts, Horae Lyricae, 1706, God only known to himself.
[3] See Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 86, ‘Moonlight’:
The moon has but a borrowed light,
A faint and feeble ray;
She owes her beauty to the night,
And hides herself by day.
[4] 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
[5] Psalm 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.
[6] Newton repeated ‘or’ here, to read ‘a single day or without fresh communications’ but removed it in the printed version.
[7] John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
[8] Psalm 34:5 They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
[9] Tully: Marcus Tullius Cicero [106 BC – 43 BC], a Roman philosopher, lawyer and statesman, who resisted the rise of dictatorship.
[10] Romans 15:19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
[11] Daniel 2:45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.
[12] Ephesians 5:14
[13] ms: ‘Ezechial’
[14] Ezekiel 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?


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

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 10:36 on 12 December 2019