IN the margin the words are, 'the land of far distances.' Bishop Lowth, who translated the Prophecies of Isaiah, expresses the last clause of the passage thus: 'They shall see thine own land far extended.' This, I believe, comes nearest the original; and agrees best with the history of those circumstances, which Isaiah is treating of in this chapter. And we should always attend to the literal meaning of scripture; or else, instead of giving the true spiritual signification of it, we shall be indulging the flights of fancy, and the reveries of enthusiasm. Beyond all doubt, this chapter contains an account of the invasion of Judea, by Sennacherib, king of Assyria; of the perilous state the children of Judea were in; and of their distress and distressing fears on account thereof. We are informed, that in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.' This was agreeable to the threatening of God against that people, the Jews. 'Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: and he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel' (Isaiah 8:7,8) In these words, the people of Judah are compared to a man overwhelmed with a mighty flood, and just ready to sink, having only his head above water. This was the case with the Jews, when all their fenced cities were taken, and only the capital, the head city, Jerusalem, left; and a numerous, powerful, conquering army in full march against that. At this time, their king lay ill with a sickness unto death, beyond all human help; their soldiers discouraged; and themselves sorely oppressed. But according to the often-used and true proverb, 'Man's extremity is God's opportunity.' Therefore, when their strength was all gone, and they were upon the very brink of destruction, the Lord made his strength perfect in weakness, according to these words: 'Now will I arise, saith the Lord, now will I be exalted, now will I lift up myself. Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath as fire shall devour you,' &c. The Lord sent an angel, who destroyed one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army, and completely delivered his people from them; raised their king to health and strength; and blessed him and his people with peace and prosperity. They not only recovered what the king of Assyria had taken from them; but 'they saw their land far extended' by fresh conquests: for Hezekiah made war with the Philistines, and other adjoining nations, and enlarged the coast of Judea considerably. Thus much for the history.
Now, in the sweetest, the highest, the spiritual meaning of my text, it contains a most precious promise, from a most gracious God, to his distressed people, who are by nature upon the brink of eternal destruction; and who know it, and feel it, when the Holy Spirit enlightens and quickens them. We should never forget, that God's precious unconditional promises, of the new and better covenant, are so many gracious revelations of his most blessed, adorable, eternal, and immutable purpose. What a person intends to do for, or give to another, is an entire secret with himself, till he makes it known by words, or deeds, or both. When he promises, if he speaks truth, he makes known the design, intention, or purpose of his heart. You read in scripture, of the eternal purpose which God purposed in himself; and, also, which he purposed in Christ Jesus, — for he was that blessed Person who was appointed to fulfill the purpose of Jehovah, in the salvation of God's elect. To this end, he was set up from everlasting, as Mediator between God and us; and anointed to the threefold offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, — distinct offices, though sustained and acted in by one person, the God-man, Jehovah Jesus.
As the Great High Priest over the house of God, he acts immediately towards God in our behalf. 'He gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.' 'He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.' By this offering — this sacrifice — he made an atonement to infinite justice, for all the sins of all God's elect; and which being approved of and accepted by our Creator, our Lawgiver, and our Judge, nothing can be laid to the charge of God's elect. (Rom. 8:32-34)
As the Prophet of his church, he reveals to every chosen member of it, the good-will of God in Christ Jesus. This he revealed in his own person, whilst upon earth; and after his ascension, by his Spirit in his apostles; by whom they were inspired to make known the exceeding riches of God's grace, in the forgiveness of sins, through the redemption which we have in Christ Jesus.
His glorious work, as God's anointed King, set upon his Holy Hill of Zion, was to conquer all his enemies; deliver God's Israel from under their hands; make his people willing in the day of his power; establish a kingdom in the hearts of his elect, which consists of 'righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.' (Rom. 14:17) To rule them by his word and Spirit, and preserve them by his power to eternal blessedness. To this end, he assumed our nature, fought with our enemies, viz. sin, a broken law, its awful curse, the devil, death, and hell; and gained a glorious conquest over them. He brought in everlasting righteousness; made an eternal peace; and became, in his own person and work, the everlasting joy of his people. After the glorious work was done, and the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering — principalities and powers spoiled, death abolished, him that had the power of death destroyed, the law magnified and made honorable, by its precepts being perfectly obeyed, and its awful curse endured, justice satisfied, and God atoned — he took his seat on the right hand of the Majesty on high; and there sits, as a Priest upon his throne, ever-living to make intercession for us, and as a king crowned with glory and honor, possessing all power in heaven and in earth, to give eternal life to as many as the Father hath given him. This is 'the King in his beauty.' A crown of glory and honor on his head, as a full proof of the Father's approbation and acceptance of his obedience, sufferings, and death; wisdom in his eyes, to watch over his people, notice all their wants and weakness, in order to supply, strengthen, uphold, and preserve; love in his heart; and power in his arm; possessed of an inexhaustible treasure of grace, to communicate to his subjects; having the Spirit without measure, to give a measure thereof to every member of his church; with all our enemies under his feet; and having procured eternal peace in his kingdom, and secured everlasting prosperity to his nation.
In my text, God makes a most gracious promise to his poor oppressed and distressed people, that their 'eyes should see the King in his beauty.' This sight is twofold — by precious faith, which produces blessed experience while we are in this world; and by sight, which causes full njoyment in that world which is to come. Of the former, i. e. of believing views of the King in his beauty, which we are favored with, while here below, I would now treat.
The glorious gospel of divine grace is that glass in which the Lord Jesus is revealed in his glory and beauty. Hence, we read of 'the glorious light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.' And again, '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.' And also, 'For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to irradiate us with the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face (the person and work) of Jesus Christ.' The Holy Spirit, by his operation, produces precious faith in our minds, which is the visive faculty of the soul: he shines upon the blessed revelation, made in the everlasting gospel, of that Just One; and so enables us, by precious faith, to behold the Lord Jesus, as having, in our behalf and for our salvation, completely destroyed all the destroying power of our enemies, and as having them under his feet.
To behold, by precious faith, our dear and all-conquering Saviour as having eternally destroyed the power of the law to curse, and of divine justice to condemn; the power of sin to damn, and of Satan to destroy; and the power of death to prevent our enjoying of himself: and to experience the power of his Spirit, accompanying his gospel, overcoming all our blindness, legality, hardness of heart, unbelief, spiritual pride, and slavish, guilty, unbelieving fears; producing profound peace in the conscience; sweet assurance in the mind; joy unspeakable in the soul; love inexpressible in the heart; a lively, joyful hope of glory within us; subduing all our iniquities; casting the accuser of the brethren down, and the destroyer of mankind out; giving us the light of God's countenance; and shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts: then, O then the poor hell-deserving, hell-expecting sinner beholds 'the King in his beauty!' O what a gracious promise is this! It is a revelation of the gracious purpose of Jehovah in covenant; and O, it is made to wretched transgressors, who have, by their iniquities, brought themselves to the very brink of eternal ruin; and who are totally helpless, in the full meaning of that word; so that they cannot possibly deliver themselves out of that condition; nor, of themselves, prevent the deserved and apparently approaching destruction! But their King is omnipotent; in him is their help found; and when he makes bare his holy arm, the blessed work is done; their enemies are all laid low, brought down even to the dust; and the delivered sinner has a sweet believing view of the King in his beauty, 'which is accompanied with unfeigned love to his person, and most willing, cheerful obedience to his gospel, in all its glorious truths, precious promises, and holy precepts.
Let me now appeal, affectionately appeal, to your conscience: do you know, experimentally, anything of this sweet religion? Woe be to them who have no desire for it, and who depart this life without an experience of it!
But it is not a single view of 'the King in his beauty' that the heirs of promise obtain in this world. No; while we are here below, we must have tribulation. The Redeemer saith, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation:' Paul saith, 'Ye are thereunto appointed: 'and the apostles declare, that 'it is through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of heaven.' Though our enemies are destroyed, as to their destroying power, by our all-conquering King; yet they are still in existence, and have power to oppose, harass, and distress; so that the people of God are often brought exceedingly low by their deceit and violence. The devil is still in being, can still tempt, accuse, condemn; sin yet abides in the saints, and often makes them groan under the opposition it makes against the law of their minds; there are yet fleshly lusts that war against the soul, and a law in the members which wars against the law of the mind, and which brings them into captivity to the law of sin, which is in their members: and the world continuing under the curse, its people, manners, customs, &c. fight against the grace of God in believers' hearts; and against them, as partakers of grace. Their opposing power so far prevails at times, as to bring the 'called of God' exceeding low: 'Without are fightings, within are fears.' And though the chosen, redeemed, called people of God never are, never can be cast off by their covenant God, yet they are often cast down. Therefore, God, in faithfulness, again and again fulfils the precious promise in my text, raising up their hearts that are bowed down, and lifting up their downcast eyes, by giving them fresh believing views of 'the King in his beauty;' showing them that 'he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet,' that his love will employ his power in their final perseverance, and that he will make them more than conquerors.
There is, also, a sight of 'the King in his beauty,' which is reserved for another and a better world. It is this blessed view that our great High Priest intercedes for, in these words: 'Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they also may behold my glory,' &c. What it will be to see his glorified humanity, with the bodily eyes; and to comprehend, as much as a finite creature, enlightened with the light of glory, can comprehend, of his glorious person and work, as Mediator; and what we shall know of his essential glory, as our God and King, I am not able to describe, not having been favored with that glorious sight. Our present believing views of him, which are accompanied with love, joy, and peace, are sweet foretastes of seeing him as he is, of being completely conformed to his image, and of being for ever with him. Hence, Peter saith, 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.' And the apostle John saith, 'We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.' Then shall we be 'ever with the Lord.'
I will now conclude this part of my subject in the appropriate words of the blessed poet, viz.
"If such the sweetness of the streams.
What must the fountain be!
Where saints and angels draw their bliss
Immediately from thee!"
And will Wrap it up in the words of the prophet and apostle: 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'
My next work is, to show what is the spiritual meaning of the latter clause of my text, viz. 'Thine eyes shall see thine own land far extended.' I will first, in a few words, advert to the literal sense, in order to lead your minds to its gospel meaning. We read in scripture, that God gave the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, for a perpetual possession, for an everlasting inheritance; but, by their enemies, they were often prevented from enjoying it to the full extent that was specified in the deed of gift. At the time alluded to by the prophet, in the chapter from whence I have taken my text, compared with the history of Hezekiah's reign, it appears that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had taken all the fenced cities of Judah; and that many of the Jews were fearful that he would also take Jerusalem, and so dispossess them of the land which God gave to their fathers. These cried to the Lord, 'O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou our arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.' (Isa.33:2) In answer, the Lord gave them gracious promises, to quiet their perplexed minds, and to relieve their hearts from distressing fears. The latter promise in my text, includes a deliverance from their enemies, a recovery of what was taken from them, and a further extension of their coast, by fresh conquests, which their God and King would favor them with. But all these things were types of better things to come. Christ, his church, and a gospel church state are what they represent.
I have in the former part of my discourse treated of Christ Jesus as meant by 'the King in his beauty;' and now let me dwell a little upon the land of Canaan as a type of the gospel church state, and of the people of Israel as typical of God's elect.
Remarkable are the words of the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of Stephen, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles; where, speaking of Abraham, it is said, 'And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.' (Acts 7:5) And remember, that Stephen, in that chapter, is reproving the Sanhedrim, and the Scribes and Pharisees, for acting as their fathers did, in trusting in and cleaving to the types, to the neglect and rejection of the things signified. Hence he concludes his history with these words, 'Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye.' Therefore, in the fifth verse, which I have quoted, he is evidently showing that something higher and better was meant by the promise, than the land of Canaan. Hence the Holy Spirit observes that though God had promised it to Abraham for a possession, yet he gave him not so much as to set his foot upon. Carnal reason and unbelief, in Abraham and his seed for several generations, might conclude that God was unmindful of and unfaithful to his promise; but the apostle Paul informs us, that their minds were led up to 'high and heavenly things.' Paul saith, 'They sought a better country, that is, a heavenly.' This heavenly country is the new Jerusalem — the gospel church state — the new and better covenant, called the covenant of promise, as the land of Canaan was called the land of promise; into which the true Joshua, the Captain of the Lord's host, the Captain of our salvation, brings all the Israel of God: this Abraham possessed, according to Christ's words, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.'
I will now prove my assertions, by Paul's words, in the third and fourth chapters of his Epistle to the Hebrews. The apostle, after having treated of the glorious person, gracious offices, and blessed works of the Son of God, as Mediator, in chapters first and second, goes on to describe the awful condition of those who, through unbelief, privative or positive, neglect or reject so great a salvation. He then proceeds to show, that as the people of Israel, in time past, disbelieved the gospel preached to them, and entered not into the land of Canaan, the place of rest which God had promised to Abraham and his seed; so every unbeliever, in gospel days, should not enter into Christ's rest, that is, the rest which God provided for believers, who are the true Israel of God. That the land of Canaan was not the real rest that God intended in his promise, the apostle proves, by quoting the words of the sweet Psalmist of Israel:' Today if ye will hear his voice,' &c. Therefore, as these words were spoken many years after the Israelites were in possession of the holy land, Paul saith, 'If Jesus' (that is, Joshua) 'had given them rest, then would he' (the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David) 'not afterward have spoken of another day;' and then the apostle concludes thus : 'There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God.'
This place, or rather state of rest, I understand to be the new and better covenant, as confirmed by the precious blood of Christ, and revealed by his everlasting gospel; in which every believer possesses peace, satisfaction, safety, continuance, spiritual prosperity, and delight; all which are meant by 'rest.' This blessed state was purposed by Jehovah from everlasting; and promised to Christ the Mediator, and to his seed, for a perpetual possession, and for an everlasting inheritance. But the chosen, redeemed people of Jehovah are, by their spiritual enemies, kept out of their possession, until God, with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, brings them into the experience and enjoyment of it: the devil leads them captive at his will, and thousands of devices are at his command; the flesh, with its innumerable vile thoughts, evil imaginations, and powerful lustings and transgressions; the world, with its ten thousands of baits, snares, allurements, &c. all combine to prevent God's chosen people possessing that land, which was given to them in Christ, their everlasting Father, from all eternity. But God, with a high hand and stretched-out arm, 'in mercy leads forth his people, whom he hath redeemed, and guides them in his strength to his holy habitation.' The Holy Spirit, by his mighty power, working precious faith in their hearts, leads them into rest, that is, into solid satisfaction, perfect peace, certainty of eternal safety, and everlasting continuance, in a pardoned, justified state, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, agreeable to that covenant promise, 'I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.' (Zech. 3:9)
But still there is a warfare to be carried on, while we are here below. The devil, with his host of suggestions, temptations, and accusations; sin, that dwelleth in us, with its thousands of lusts, legal workings, and unbelieving fears; the world, with its army of reproaches, deceptions, snares, persecutions, troubles, &c. often make war against the believer, and take from him the enjoyment of covenant promises and blessings: but whenever God appears in his behalf, he recovers all that he has lost, and experiences his knowledge of, his faith in, and his possession of, new covenant blessings and promises increased. How many precious promises does the tried and opposed believer find renewed, and his interest in them confirmed! How many precious promises, which he never noticed, never understood, never enjoyed before, are applied to him, and obtained by him! Past experienced covenant blessings are again enjoyed by him, and the blessedness of them more abundantly increased to him. Thus, as the people of Israel saw their own land far extended by fresh conquests, so the believer obtains more covenant blessings and promises (in the enjoyment of them) after his victories over his enemies.
There is yet an uninterrupted, eternal rest, that is provided for the people of God, viz. heaven above; for, while we are below, it is only an entrance that we have into rest, as the apostle saith, 'For we which have believed do enter into rest.' Our satisfaction, peace, and joy are often interrupted, while we are in this world, by trials, temptations, troubles, and the continual opposition of the law in our members; but when above, we shall possess everlasting rest; and for ever enjoy Jehovah, as our God; and be his people, to love and serve him, in the beauty of holiness, for ever and ever.
If we retain the common reading of the text, 'And they shall behold the land that is very far off,' then the kingdom of glory is meant. There, no enemy can enter to disturb; there, all sighing and sorrowing shall be done away; and there, everlasting joy and endless peace will be the blessed portion of all who depart this life in the faith of our Lord Jesus. This land is, at present, 'far off;' but faith beholds it, and realizes, in measure, the enjoyment of it. It is a believing view of that land that enables us to count all our afflictions, in this time-state, but light, and, as it were, but for a moment. May God bless what has been spoken, as far as consistent with his will.