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The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 8

No 8 col

Isaiah 9:2

[The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
]
 
Contrasts are suited to illustrate, and heighten the impression of each other.
 
That state of happiness – of peace, liberty and comfort, which the Gospel bestows upon believers – is exceedingly heightened and endeared, by the consideration of that state of misery in which they once lived, and the greater misery to which they were justly exposed. They are not only made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, but they are delivered from the powers of darkness. Thus while upon earth they have communion with God as a Father, they contemplate their privilege with a greater pleasure than they could so, if they had never known a difference. They remember the time when they were afar off, without hope, without God in the world, and how carelessly they then trifled upon the brink of destruction – that they were thus found of the Lord when they sought him not, and brought thus near by the blood of Jesus, the admiration, gratitude and love they feel for this unexpected, underserved grace, greatly enhances the value of the blessings they enjoy.
8 admiration
Yea the thought of what they are redeemed from, of which they will then have a stronger perception than they can at present, will add to their joys even in heaven, and inspire such a song of praise, as is peculiar to themselves, and in which the angels, who never felt the stings of guilt, nor the sweetness of pardoning mercy, cannot join them.
8 wonder working
They are accordingly represented as nearer to the throne, and uniting in the noblest strains of praise to him who sitteth upon it, while the surrounding angels can only take part in the chorus, and admire and adore when they behold the brightest displays of the glory of the wonder-working God manifested in his love to sinful, ruined man.
 
These ideas are joined in my text. The people who are spoken of as rejoicing in a great light, were, till this light arose and shone upon them, walking, sitting, living in darkness and the land or region of the shadow of death.
8 great light
That this passage refers to the Messiah, we have a direct proof. It is referred to him, as accomplished by him (Matthew 4:13-16 [1]). I shall first consider the literal fulfilment, and then take it more generally as the happy experience of all believers.
1.    Hebrew words, as many words with us, have often more senses than one. But only one sense can be expressed in a version. And therefore interpreters and translators frequently differ; when the different words used to express the original term are most happily chosen, must be often decided by the context. The word signifying ‘weight’ signifies ‘glory’ likewise, and glory would perhaps have been better substituted in the preceding verse. Then the sense of the whole might be expressed something in this manner, as the Bishop of London [2] and Vitringa [3] have rendered it: “Nevertheless there shall not be dimness or darkness as in the time of her vexations. He formerly debased, or made light, or vile, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, but in the latter time he hath made it glorious, even the land by the way of the sea, etc.” The words are the same as in 1 Samuel 2:30. [4] The opposition likewise between lightly esteemed and honoured, seems the same in both places.
  1.1 

 
The land of Zebulon and Napthali, afterwards called Galilee, being a frontier or border towards the heathen, had been frequently vexed and afflicted – by Tiglath-pileser [5] and Sennacherib – as frontier countries usually suffer most in times of war and invasion. The people there were likewise more mixed with foreigners, and it was at a distance from Judea – on these accounts it was lightly esteemed by the Jews themselves; they thought no prophet could arise in Galilee. It was even a hindrance to Nathaniel: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? [6] They were accounted a rude, provincial, unpolished people and therefore Peter was known to be a Galilean by his speech.
1.2 This despised and least valued part of the land of Israel, the Messiah honoured with the most of his presence, insomuch that he was supposed to have been born in it. He was brought up at Nazareth, and dwelt for a time in Capernaum.
1.3 By his residency Galilee was honoured and ennobled. On this account he himself says Chorazin, Bethsaidar and Capernaum, were exalted even to heaven. [7] These were privileged places which our Lord visited in person – and so those where he sends his Gospel. The Gospel preached and owned renders a village more honourable and important, than a wealthy metropolis without that advantage.
1.4 Though Galilee had the Scriptures and Synagogue worship it was a land of darkness, when our Lord appeared. The law was obscured by their perverse teachers, who substituted the traditions of men for the commands of God. Though they were not idolaters, gross ignorance prevailed. The single circumstance of keeping herds of swine, as the Gadarenes did, seems proof, that the law of Moses was little regarded.
Yet these were the people among whom the Messiah chiefly conversed, and he had the name of Galilean and Nazarene as a reproach. He seeth not as man seeth. The most of his apostles were Galileans, as his train chiefly consisted of poor people, and of those who had been accounted the refuse – publicans and sinners.

To those who received him, he was the light, the true light, the Sun. They bore testimony to him, for they saw his glory, they felt his power, and attached themselves to his service. Thus much for the literal sense.
2. It is true in general. He is still the light of the world – though he is not visible. He sends his Gospel where he pleases – and the preference seems like that of old. Courts and palaces are seldom favoured with it. He passes by the great cities – the habitation of the wise and the wealthy, and is known in villages and cottages. [8] Yet he visited Jerusalem and taught there, and London is favoured with his Gospel. But it may still be said, alas! as then. Have any of the rulers believed on him? [9]

However, my text describes the blessed state and change of all who do receive the testimony concerning the Messiah. Without him:
  2.1 We are in darkness. We know not our own nature or state, wherein our happiness properly consists, nor how to attain it. We know neither the cause, nor the cure, nor the consequences of our cleaving to the dust, and placing our affections on unsatisfying objects.
  2.2 Supposing the mind awakened to a sense of sin, and a conviction that we can be only happy in the favour of God. Still we are in darkness, and in the shadow of death. For without the Messiah and the promises through him, there is nothing in nature can give us any reasonable hope of mercy.
But he is the Sun that enlightens our darkness:
 
8 he is the sun
1. The office and agency of the Holy Spirit to awaken and convince the soul, is in consequence of his mediation.
2. His obedience unto death affords a clear and satisfactory discovery of reconciliation with God.
3. The doctrine of the Cross throws a light upon every subject and circumstance in which we are concerned, and forms us to a sound and spiritual judgment.
4. God made known in Christ, is apprehended as our chief and proper good. Thus we come to the possession of the pearl of great price; and are furnished with motives and encouragements, to comply with the will of God, in his precepts and providences – and are made willing and able to do and to suffer, and to run with patience the race set before us, knowing that he will guide us by his counsel, and at length receive us to his glory.
 


Endnotes:
 
[1] Matthew 4:13-16 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
[2] Bishop Robert Lowth: Isaiah 8:23 “But there shall not hereafter be darkness in the land which was distressed: In the former time he debased the land of Zebulon, and the land of Naphthali; But in the latter time he hath made it glorious: Even the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” Isaiah, A New Translation, vol 1, 5th edition, Edinburgh, 1807
[3] Campegius Vitringa [1669-1772], Dutch Christian Hebraist, Professor of Oriental Languages, Theology and Church History at Franeker University (Friesland). Commentarius in librum prophetiarum Jesajae, 2 vols, Leeuwarden, 1714–20
[4] 1 Samuel 2:30 Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.
[5] See for example 2 Kings 15:29
[6] John 1:46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
[7] Matthew 11:21-23 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
[8] Newton’s Diary, 17 October 1775: “I have been visiting thy people at Emberton … I adore thy grace in supporting thy poor afflicted ones. Particularly in the case of Hannah Markam whom thou art pleased still to continue in life, that we may all observe and admire, the wonderful effects thy Gospel is designed to produce, where it is received and embraced by simple faith. How does that glory shine in a poor cottage, of which it is to be feared few traces are to be found in the palaces of kings.”
[9] As this is an early sermon in the series, begun in June 1784, it would have been preached before William Wilberforce appealed to Newton in December 1785 for ‘some serious conversation with you’, which then opened up an opportunity of reaching ‘many of the rulers’. During the Slave Trade Debates of 1788 Newton reminded Wilberforce of that historic occasion: “The joy that I felt and the hopes I conceived when you called on me in the vestry at St Mary's, I shall never forget.” 12 September 1788


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

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 21:51 on 13 December 2019