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The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 12


[1]
No 12 col

Isaiah 35:5-6

[Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing
.][2]
 
How beautiful and magnificent is the imagery the prophet employs in this chapter to represent the effects of the Messiah's appearance.
12 light
The scene proposed to our view, is a barren and desolate wilderness. But when he who in the beginning said, Let there be light and there was light, [3] condescends to visit it, the face of nature is changed by his presence. The wilderness becomes a garden. Fountains and streams of water burst forth in the burning desert, the soil becomes fruitful, clothed with verdence and adorned with flowers – the towering cedars which were the glory of Lebanon and the richest pastures which were the excellency of Carmel, present themselves to the eye, where a little before all was uncomfortable and dreary.
 
To what shall we ascribe it, that so few of those who value themselves upon their taste, and who profess themselves admirers of pastoral poetry, are struck with the elegance and grandeur of this passage? Alas, we can only ascribe it the depravity of the human heart. They would surely have admired it had it been found in any of their favourite authors, but such descriptions are only to be found in the Bible, a book which their unhappy prejudices and passions, leads them generally to neglect or despise.
 
But they who know themselves, and the Lord, consider it not merely as a description of a change in outward nature, but as a representation of a more important, a moral change, of which they themselves are in a measure the happy subjects.
 
The barren wilderness reminds them of the state of the world by nature, and of their own hearts, before the Messiah, the Sun of Righteousness arose and shone upon them with healing, with light, power and comfort in his beams. In that memorable hour old things passed away and all things became new. The Lord by shining into their hearts and showing them his glory in the person of Christ has created for them a new heaven and a new earth. The works of God without them in his creation and providence assume a different appearance, they see his hand wherever they look, they hear his voice in all events, for now, the principles of his grace are planted in their souls, and they are no longer barren and unfruitful but are filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to his praise and glory.
 
The verses I have read exhibit the effects of the Messiah's power and goodness, by another image equally pleasing – not only the wilderness, but the inhabitants of the wilderness, partake of the virtue of the great Restorer. He finds them in misery, in circumstances of distress incurable by any hand but his own. But when he comes the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the dumb have their voices given them to resound his praise. These mighty works in the literal sense, marked his character, and confirmed his claims, when he was upon earth, and to these he himself appealed in proof that he was the promised Saviour who should come, and that no other was to be expected. Matthew 12:3-6. [4]
 
But the words have a more sublime and important sense. As the great Physician he cured all manner of bodily diseases and infirmities, but he came into the world for greater purposes.
12 greater purposes
The maladies to which sin has subjected the body, are but emblems of the greater evils it has brought upon the soul. He came to open the eyes of the mind, to make the obstinate will attentive and obedient to the voice of God, to invigorate our benumbed and paralytic faculties, that we may be active and cheerful in his service and to open our lips that our mouths may show forth his praise. I have a good hope that I may warrantably say, This day, is this Scripture fulfilled in your eyes!
 
These different effects are produced by one simple but powerful operation. When Lazarus lay in the grave all his natural powers were inactive. But when the voice of the Son of God, restored him to life, he was of course immediately enabled to see, to hear, to move and to speak. Thus while we are spiritually dead, we are necessarily blind, deaf and dumb, and motionless, with respect to all the objects and faculties of that life of God in the soul which is the perfection and honour of our nature. When we are made partakers of this life by a new and heavenly birth, then our spiritual senses are brought into exercise. Then the eyes of the blind are opened to see the beauty and glory of divine truths, we hear the voice of God, we feel a liberty to walk and act in his service, and our tongues are taught to praise him.
 
Here are four leading [effects] of a work of grace, which distinguish believers from the rest of mankind:
[1.] They were once blind but now they see. [5] Their religion is not the effect of a blind impulse, but is derived from a solid knowledge, and is the reasonable service of an enlightened understanding. They see God, their apprehensions of him are in some measure suited to his greatness and goodness, and inspire them with reverence and love. They see things as they really are. Sin appears hateful, and holiness desirable. They know themselves. They see and feel that they are as the Bible describes them: weak, poor and evil. Of course they see folly of attempting to recommend themselves to God. And therefore they see they[their] necessity of a Saviour. They see likewise and approve the method of God’s salvation, the dignity, excellence and sufficiency of him on whom their help is laid. They see the vanity of the things of time and the importance of eternity. In these respects they have all a good understanding.
[2.] Their knowledge of these things is not merely speculative – cold and indistinct like the light of the moon – but the Sun of Righteousness himself has shined into their heart. The light they enjoy is vital, cheering, effective. Because they thus see, they hear likewise. They were once deaf to the voice of God whether he spoke by his word or his providence, whether in the language of mercy or judgment. But now their deaf ears are unstopped – this implies, attention, submission, willingness to receive his instructions and to obey his commands. They know the voice of their Shepherd, and rejoice to hear it. One ‘Thus saith the Lord’ has with them the force of a thousand arguments. They desire no farther proof of a doctrine – no other warrant for their practice, no other reason for any dispensation – than ‘Thus the Lord saith, this he requires, and this is his appointment’. Thus their wills are brought into subjection, they so understand as to believe and to obey.
[3.] Farther, with their sight and their hearing they receive power and activity. Once they were tied and bound by the chain of their sins, or like a man benumbed with a dead palsy. If they had any desires that could be called good, they were found ineffectual – but now they experience liberty, their fetters are broken, and activity, the health and strength of their souls is restored, and God has wrought in them not only to will, but also to do according to his good pleasure. It is not a greater wonder to see a cripple enabled to walk, than to see a poor sinner enabled to run with alacrity in the ways of God. How burdensome was what they once accounted their religion, how little comfort, how little success did they find in it. But now it is pleasant, and victorious. Their obligations, motives, resources, encouragements and prospects fill them with a holy vigour, and run with patience and perseverance the race set before them.
[4.] Having their sight and hearing thus restored and their hearts enlarged to walk, to run, in wisdom’s ways, they are no longer dumb, silent and sullen, but out of the abundance of their hearts their mouth speaks – the language of gratitude, praise and joy. Most people have the use or rather the abuse of their tongues. In the language of falsehood, folly, vice and profaness we are sufficiently expert. But we are dumb till grace teaches us to speak, with respect to that language which properly becomes us. But grace teaches the heart, and the heart teaches the mouth. We believe and then we speak, yea we sing – the language of exultation and thankfulness. (So guilt and trouble stop the mouth.)
[Observe:]
1. True Christianity is friendly to society and the common interests of mankind – it is the source of peace, benevolence, tenderness and every humane and amiable temper. It is calculated to soothe the fierce disposition – to enlarge the selfish spirit and to transform the lion into the lamb.
2. The change thus wrought is great, marvellous and if not so frequent, might be called miraculous. It is more than education, example, persuasion or resolution can effect. It is the work of God alone to open the blind eyes, to change the heart of stone into flesh, and to raise the dead.

This thought should exclude boasting – and likewise prevent despair – however apparently hard your case may be, it is easy to divine power, and the promises invite you to apply. [6]
 


Endnotes:
 
[1] Newton’s numbering got out of phase at No. 10 when he extended that for two weeks and inadvertently counted it as two sermons when he had intended only one. Consequently he initially wrote No. 13 for this sermon, then corrected it to No. 12.
[2] KJV verse 6 continues: “for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.”
[3] Genesis 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
[4] Matthew 12:3-6 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
[5] John 9:25 …one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
[6] See Newton’s hymn Come my soul thy suit prepare, Olney Hymns, Book 1, Hymn 31

Come, my soul, thy suit prepare,
JESUS loves to answer prayer;
He Himself has bid thee pray,
Therefore will not say thee nay.


Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.


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

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 18:37 on 23 May 2019