"Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD: and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken." (Isaiah 62:10-12)
I PURPOSE to go through the subject of the gates this morning, and the other parts in the afternoon, and by the mercy of the Lord, I hope some may share well in the morning, and also some in the afternoon. The gates or doors allude to the way of entrance into a house or city, and here is meant the way into the sheepfold, or into the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, or church of the firstborn. "Every house is built by some man, but he that built all things is God;" (Heb. 3:4) and Christ is a Son over his own house. In order to our entering here, one door we must first come through,--the door of death's shadow, where we all, in a state of nature, have laid. "The people that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." (Isa. 9:2) Then the first gate of entrance into this city is what David mentions Psalm 118:18,19. "Thou hath chastened me sore; but not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: and I will go into them, and praise the Lord." Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all that believe; (Rom. 10:4) and as the unrighteous cannot enter the kingdom, righteousness must, in this way, be obtained.
The next is the gate of truth. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) God had declared, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die; and I will by no means clear the guilty." (Ezek. 18:4,20; Num. 14:18) All this is true, but then we all have sinned, and the sentence of death passed upon all men; all have broken the law, and so all are guilty before God. Now how is God's truth to stand, and the sinner to be saved? why, says God, the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head; (Gen. 3:15) through death he destroyed him that had the power of death. (Heb. 2:14) He fulfilled the law, suffered the penalty, and of that which was showed by the promises and the types he was the body and substance. In him, and in our salvation by him, we see justice and judgment is the habitation of God's throne, while mercy and truth, in this our salvation, go before his face; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. We are not of the bondwoman then, but of the free, and of that city which is from above, and called free. (Gal. 4:22-26) "Enter in at the straight gate, for straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. 7:14) Here Christ Jesus our Lord calls himself the gate of life: and he that lays hold of him by faith passes from death in the law to the blessing of life in Christ; he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.
"The way of the people" alludes to the way to be made plain to the city of refuge for the manslayer, that he might flee thereto and live. This highway was to be cast up, the stones or obstructions to be removed. All other ways but Christ are called bye-ways, and all pretended worship but by faith in him is idolatry in God's sight.
"Lift up the standard." Judah's tribe, as all the others, had a standard, and every tribe was to encamp round their standard. I will lift up my standard, says God; to this ensign shall the gathering of God's elect be: he is God's salvation to the ends of the earth. "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." (Luke 2:32) His reward that he brings when he comes into the heart that is opened to receive him is his own salvation, which is attended with pardon, and his work is the health and healing that attend this manifestation of himself; he heals the sick, and binds up the broken-hearted.
Christ, and faith in him, is the highway, in contra-distinction to all other ways devised by men, which are only idolatry, and bye-paths. "Gather out the stones;" by these, obstructions are meant, called, at another place, "stumblingblocks." This is commanded, that the manslayer might not be hindered in his flight to the city of refuge. This city of refuge was intended for him that unwittingly slew his neighbor, not hating him before the time. (Num. 35) Peter tells his audience, in Acts 3, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as also did your rulers." Paul says, "I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly and in unbelief." Refuge is provided for these, but not for them that, through envy and malice, said Christ had "an unclean spirit."
The stones and stumblingblocks to be taken out of the way are, by John the Baptist, called mountains and valleys, crooked and rough places, and he says, "Every mountain shall be made low, and every valley shall be exalted; the crooked made straight, and rough places plain." (Isa. 40:4) Now when Christ rose from the dead, he destroyed principalities and powers, and brought life and immortality to light. David, laying hold of this by faith, said, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me;" he could not sink even in this. Every mountain shall be made low. The sin or cry of Sodom was said to reach the sky, or come up to heaven, and it is sin that separates between God and sinners; but in Christ there is a fountain opened, and all that wash in this fountain are to be clean; all that lay hold of him as God's covenant are to make peace with him; their sins he will cast behind his back into the depths of the sea, no more to be remembered. "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say to this mountain, Be thou cast into the midst of the sea, and it should be done." But no mountain, spiritually speaking, can be leveled, but by faith in Christ.
"The crooked shall be made straight, and rough places plain." With a sinner brought to the knowledge of Christ, and to the enjoyment of God's love in him, old things are passed away, and behold all things (with him) are become new:--and he can delight himself in his God, while the corruptions of his flesh seem hid. At this time he spends his days in prosperity; but, by and by, when his heart sins and lusts rise afresh, and he begins to compare his present feelings with his former, all seems crooked indeed, and how, with such things in him, can he be in a state of grace and favor with God? this will not lay straight, till he is given to see that this, his old man, was crucified with Christ; that he died for these, as well as all his past sins; the whole was satisfied for by his death, and that the best of men, mentioned in the bible, have been thus inwardly exercised with the selfsame things, and have said, In my flesh dwelleth no good thing--the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and again, the spirit against the flesh. Grace shall have dominion, and sin shall not, though it strive! Grace shall reign through Christ's righteousness to eternal life. With my renewed mind I serve God's law, and love him; though with corrupt affections I love the law of sin. In Psalm 73, the chastening hand of God upon the righteous, and prosperity with the wicked, was a crooked thing to the Psalmist; till in the sanctuary it was made straight.
This lifting up of the standard seems to be in allusion to the command of God to Moses (Num. 3) that every tribe should have a standard, with the ensign of his father's house thereon. The tribe of Judah is the first mentioned, and around the standard was each tribe to pitch their tents; and when they marched. (see Num. 10) Judah was to go first. He chose not the tribe of Ephraim, says David (alluding to the tribe from which Christ was to come), but chose the tribe of Judah: to the standard of this tribe shall God's elect come, and no where but here shall they find rest.
"They shall call them the holy people." Our holiness is first by God's choice, according as he has chosen us in him, that we should be holy, (Eph. 1:4) and then we are chastened, that we might be partakers of his holiness, and our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. The tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. "Jesus, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate;" (Heb. 13:12) and in his sacrifice, by faith, is the heart purified from an evil conscience; and thus are we created anew in righteousness and true holiness.
"The redeemed of the Lord." Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. (Gal. 3:13) We are said also to be redeemed from our vain conversation, by the precious blood of Christ, and not with silver or gold. Here we see the effects of his redemption; "he led captivity captive; and received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them." (Ps. 68:18) So that the gift of the Holy Ghost is to turn to us a pure language, "to shew forth the praises of Him that calleth us out of darkness, into his marvellous light." (1 Pet. 2:9) In Rev. 5, the lion of the tribe of Judah (which was the ensign upon the standard of that tribe) is mentioned as prevailing to open the book sealed with seven seals; and when he had done this, the four beasts and the elders fell down before him, and sung a new song, saying, "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: [and then why?] for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth."
"Thou shalt be called sought out." In Ezek. 34, Christ promises to seek his sheep and search them out. "I am found of them that sought me not:" therefore he must first seek them. "If a man have an hundred sheep, and lose one, doth he not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and goeth after that which was lost till he find it?" (Luke 15:4) When this comes to pass, we know he has found us, by the power we feel; and by power also he brings us back: which, when done, and we are put among the children, he calls his friends, and bids them rejoice: so at the return of a sinner, there is joy in heaven.
"A city not forsaken." When brought back, says God, thou shalt no more be termed forsaken nor desolate;--"The Lord will not forsake you, because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people." Israel hath not been forsaken of his God, though sin remaineth in him; if he transgress, he will use the rod, but not lose the child. "My lovingkindness I will not take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." "Thou shalt be called Sought out, a city not forsaken."