"But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." (Isaiah 43:1,2)
TENDERNESS and sensibility of heart and conscience are blessed tokens of spiritual life. The conclusion of the chapter before my text shows us the displeasure of God against the contrary sins; and before I bring forward the subject of the text, I wish we may be enabled to lay this to heart. After the Lord has there set forth and magnified Jesus Christ as the end of the law for righteousness, he proceeds in the 22nd verse as follows, "But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil and none saith, Restore:" which words contain a fearful description of the manifold snares into which even the people of God may fall. But the very hearing of these things is strange, we are so puffed up, and conceited, have such a presumptuous feeling (I speak to professors) that God is for us, and that we have a claim upon him: wherefore the Lord adds, "Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?" That is, he knows how ready we shall be to turn away from it; as many, when they hear this fear of God and his judgments on his people set forth, are ready to say, "It is all legal bondage!" The Lord open their blind, blind eyes.
But at least "for the time to come" may we now give ear to the things which follow, "Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned?" This short sentence contains the whole substance of what is set forth at large in the 80th Psalm: the destitution, affliction, oppression of the church, notwithstanding all the care and love of God. The cause of it is sin; the sin of these same, the workings of the body of sin and death in them; and if the life of God be in our souls we shall tremble at this. For this spoil and robbery is shown spiritually in the languor of vital religion in us, or in others. Many after a show of zeal or earnestness, forsaking their first love, and never returning to it again: for this is of the Lord because they became careless, and watched not unto prayer, but dallied with sin and the world, therefore the Lord himself has come upon them as a thief, they knew not when nor how, and they have neither peace nor unctuous light, nor joy in believing, nor any of the sweet and savory fruits of the spirit. And in all this there are really the sad tokens of the Lord's anger, for they know nothing of his spiritual presence and favor, and their enemies prevail against them. "He hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle:" yet by reason of deadness and insensibility they lay these things not to heart; even though they are on fire with them, and half consumed, yet they lay it not to heart: for this is the charge in the last verse.
Wherefore, brethren, by the mercy of God may we of all things be enabled to watch and pray against this deadly insensibility of heart. If we tremble and fear, and cry and confess, then are we in a state to receive the words of my text like manna, "But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine."
This creation and forming of Israel and Jacob by the Lord's own hand is assuredly not the mere natural creation. "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves." If we have not felt this with tender earnestness to be indeed most true, we are strangers yet to the deadly nature of the sin which dwells in us. Again I say, the Lord's word of power is "Fear not;" but then he must address it to those who fear and tremble indeed, or it will be as water spilt on the ground. He proceeds to set before them their redemption, their effectual calling, and their election. "I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by name; thou art mine."
Now for our encouragement let us remember that the same Jacob and Israel, reproved in the last chapter for their insensibility, may have this divine principle in them, which this word of the Lord will quicken into lively exercise. Wherefore let us labor at this point, to bow our whole hearts to desire this spiritual quickening, and attend to what the Lord says further to these same believers: "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
The words are often quoted as a most gracious and tender promise; but one point in them is very often overlooked. It speaks peace to the church passing through fire and water: there is no exemption made: it is not a promise that they shall escape the fire and water, but of preservation in them. This gives the word a deeper character, and shows more that it is a sharp two-edged sword, than some seem to be aware of. But what is it that shall escape destruction in this terrible baptism and purification? I know this, it will lay hold of our pride and self-righteousness, conceit, vanity, lust, envy, and every part of our fleshly nature to consume it as dross: but the faith and the tenderness, the repentance, godly fear, hope, love, and joy in the Lord shall all escape unhurt, and be greatly advanced. This is no other than the words imply with which our Lord closes his ministry, Peace in me: tribulation in the world.