“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1,2.
God’s people while here upon earth are always represented as a poor and afflicted people, who trust in the Lord, and for whom God has graciously provided comfort which shall be sent in supplies, and so proportioned to their necessities that they shall know that it is from the Lord, who has promised that, “As their days, so shall their strength be.” Paul has said of them, “If in this life only we have hope in God, we are of all men most miserable.” Among the afflictions to which they are subject are some which are for the testing or trial of their faith and confidence in God; and some are sent in chastisement for their transgressions. The people of Israel under the law were typical of the spiritual Israel under the gospel dispensation. The judgments and chastisements of the former, and their deliverances from them were according to the obedience or disobedience to the law under which they were known as God’s peculiar people. As an evidence that he regarded them as such, they were frequently sorely chastised for the very things at which the Lord winked when committed by the heathen nations; and he also provided deliverances for them, which the heathen or Gentiles were denied. In the text to which our sister invites our attention, a command is issued from the throne of God, but unto whom it is stated we can only infer, from the words, “Saith your God,” that it can be only directed to those whose God is the Lord. God is able to, and sometimes does, send comfort to his people by aliens; as he did to Israel by raising Cyrus to liberate them from Babylon, or as he used the ravens to feed Elijah. But he commissions none to bear his special messages of love and mercy to his people, but his own worshipers, who are his people, and to whom he is their God.
This command to comfort his people seems to generally apply to all whose God is the Lord, as in the ninth and tenth verses, Zion and Jerusalem are found to respond to the command as bearers of the good tidings of comfort to God’s people. “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain. O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid.”
The warfare or conflict under which God’s people had been depressed and afflicted seems to be on account of their sins and their iniquities; without remission of these there was no comfort for them; for however much ungodly men may rejoice in the works of their own hands, and exult in their iniquities, God’s people are so elemented that they can only rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of their salvation. In his presence to them is fulness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forever more. But when conscious that they have transgressed his laws, and in their conduct departed from him as the fountain of living water, they realize that “clouds and darkness are round about him; he keepeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it;” and they are made to say in anguish of spirit, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” “Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that he cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1,2.
God’s people to whom the message of comfort in our text is sent, had long been struggling under the law, in conflict, and in an unequal warfare. The service which they performed under the covenant of works, and the offerings which they brought continually to the altar, could not purge their conscience from dead works, nor qualify them to worship the true God. Nor could the law help them, because it was weak through the flesh; the blood of the victims which were offered could not prevent a remembrance being made every year of their sins, and hence could secure no substantial comfort for them. But in our text we have a prediction of a perfect and complete atonement for all the people of God. Like many of the predictions of this and other prophets, it is expressed in the perfect or past tense; for although more than seven hundred years should elapse before the advent of the Redeemer, and the work which he should perform in making an end of sin, and in bringing in everlasting righteousness, God could and did speak of things which were not, with the same infallible certainty as though they were already accomplished; for he is the Inhabitant of eternity, and does not require the revolutions of the wheel of time to disclose to his eye anything that shall be in the future. That this prophesy had a special allusion to the introduction of the gospel dispensation is clear from the application of the fourth and fifth verses, to John the Baptist, Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4,5; John 1:23. The law and the prophets were until John, then began to dawn the light of the gospel day. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets.” (Isaiah 40:4,5; Malachi 3:1) Then should come forth unto God, out of Bethlehem Ephratah, him that is to be ruler in Israel; “whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2. And he should turn away ungodliness from Jacob. With his stripes God’s people should be healed. Bearing their sins in his own body, he should die, the just for the unjust, and be raised from the dead for their justification, and be exalted, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance unto Israel, (or God’s people) and the remission of sins. Acts 5:31, Luke 24:46,47. This gospel message, these good tidings of comfort, by special command of God, were to be made to God’s people. Thrice the charge is given, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.” But if there be any command from God to speak thus comfortably to any other than God’s people, or to cry to the ungodly, that their warfare is accomplished, that their iniquity is pardoned, we have failed to find it in the sacred volume. For eighteen hundred years the messengers of Christ have been reproached and persecuted for not preaching the gospel to the ungodly, and for applying its comfort exclusively to God’s people. We cannot apply the gospel to them who are under the law; for as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. To preach the law to them, or to describe the horrors of the damned, or to appeal to them to save themselves, or to allow the Lord to save them, or to tell them to repent, or to believe, is not preaching the gospel; but to preach the gospel is to proclaim glad tidings to the meek, to speak comfortably to God’s people, to cry unto Jerusalem, that her warfare is accomplished and that her sins are pardoned. Dare we, without express command from God, preach to any but his people that their iniquity is pardoned? They must first be convinced by a divine power that they are sinners, that they have committed iniquity, before such a message, or assurance of forgiveness, could be glad tidings to them. The word gospel signifies good news, or glad tidings, and these words being of the same signification, are used interchangeably in the Scriptures. The words good tidings in Isaiah 61:2, are rendered by our Lord, in Luke 4:18, gospel, and so throughout the sacred pages, when ever used in reference to spiritual things. Where in the sacred volume shall we find the command from God, saying, Comfort ye, comfort ye the Chaldeans; speak ye comfortably to Babylon, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned? Must we infer that if such joyful tidings are sent to God’s people, that he is in justice bound to send a similar message to Sodom and Egypt?
The command of God to his messengers in our text does not leave them at liberty to make the proclamation general; for God has made it special, and limited it to his people, to his Zion, or Jerusalem. Cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished. What warfare? Her conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil; with sin, death and hell; with the law of a carnal commandment; with the stern demands of God’s inflexible justice. From the standpoint of the prophet, his faith illuminated by immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, looked through the vista of intervening ages, and with Abraham he saw the Redeemer’s day, his work, his triumph and his glory, rejoiced in it and was glad. The warfare, as conducted by God’s people, in vain attempts to meet the law’s demands by the blood of bulls and goats, or to establish a law righteousness in which man could be just with God, had proved abortive, and it was made known that by the deeds of the law no flesh could be justified in the sight of God. In the absence of something more efficient, despair must settle forever upon God’s people. But lo! In the dark hour in which all human power and excellency had utterly failed, the angel of mercy rolls back the fearful cloud; the voice of God is heard; but not in terrific peals, as when his voice once shook the earth; but in the mild and gentle tones which rang from the Redeemer’s mouth, when he said, “Lo I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me to do thy will, O God.” He comes to do the will of him that sent him, and to finish the work; and this he declares is the will of the Father, that of all he has given him, he should lose nothing, but should raise them up at the last day. “He shall save his people from their sins.” And now, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation.” Zechariah 9:9. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:3,4. In the proclamation of this comfort and pardon, without any sacrifice of justice or truth, God appears as a just God, and yet a Savior is revealed. God has found a ransom. He is able to justify the ungodly, without the least infraction of his holy and righteous law. Christ our passover was slain. God hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He has put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, and with his stripes we are healed. There is now forgiveness with him, and upon the most sacred principles of law and justice. For Christ did not come to save us by destroying either the law or the prophets, for he came to fulfill them in their jots and tittles, to meet all their demands, suffer all penalties due to our transgressions, and redeem us with his precious blood from all iniquities. Although our sins could not be remitted to Christ, for he had to bear them in his own body on the tree, yet he having borne them, was able to arise from the dead, and now he has power on earth to forgive sins, and to do it legally and justly. Her iniquity is pardoned; for she, in the person of her Surety, has received all that law and justice could inflict on him for them; and his propitiatory sacrifice has not only met the exact and even handed retribution due for her sins; but she has received of his hand double for all her sins. The word double generally means just twice as much, but in this and some other passages it has been supposed to express in very strong terms that the atonement was very full, ample and perfect. To our own mind, however, it seems to express not that the law has received double, for the holy law could only receive the exact amount of its demands. For the law then to inflict more wrath, or to receive more payment than its just due, would be as great a violation of the principles of eternal justice, as it would be to accept of any less than its due. But, cry unto her, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. It is then what she, not what the law has received of the Lord’s hand. Let us enquire then, What has Zion received of the Lord’s hand? Has she received no more than the remission of her sins? The forgiveness of her sins would be exactly the amount of them, and not double their amount. This she has received, and this secures her from all wrath on the account of her sins. As a thick cloud, they are blotted out, and shall be remembered against her no more. But if Christ has only relieved us from responsibility for having sinned, and has done no more for us, that would secure us from wrath on their account, but it would leave us as far from heaven as we were in Adam, before sin entered. It would leave us where our Lord was crucified, suspended between heaven and earth, and without power to reach either heaven or hell. And if we consider that his identification of his people with him in his resurrection life, making us partakers of his divine nature, and imparting to us that spiritual and eternal life which he had with the Father before the world began, causing us to be born again of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever, then we have received the double. Both the expiation of our sins, and reception of his Spirit, the church has received of the Lord’s hand. His mediatorial work was not only to put away our sins, but to make us the righteousness of God in him.
Now it strikes us that a faithful proclamation of the perfect, effectual, definite and infallible atonement which the church has received at the hand of the Lord, and her being made a partaker of his eternal righteousness, identified with Christ in resurrection life and immortality, is most comforting to God’s people, and all who have received the command in our text, have business enough to occupy all their time, and call into action all their ability, as long as they shall dwell in the house of their pilgrimage.
This commission or command of God is lodged in Zion, it is enjoined on Jerusalem, and lodged within her sacred precincts. It is carefully deposited in the ark of the testimony, and this comfort shall go forth from Zion, and be declared only from Jerusalem, from that Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and which is the mother of all who, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise.
The views which we have written, if we mistake not, will be greatly enlarged by reading understandingly the whole chapter of which our text is the beginning. The voice that proclaims from God this comfort to his people, bids them cry. And if they enquire with the prophet, “What shall I cry?” we are told to discriminate between all flesh, and all the goodliness thereof, and the Word of our God. Of the former we are partakers in our first birth, and so far as that is considered we are flesh, and all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof, the most amiable and goodly of all our fleshly qualities or works, are only as the flower of the field, withering, fading, dying. But that which is born of incorruptible seed, is born of the Word of our God which liveth and abideth forever. Zion has this testimony, and none but the Zion of God can either have or comprehend it. “O, Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, [all of which are represented by, and under the government of Jerusalem] Behold your God.” Behold him in the face of your Redeemer; for, “Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand; and his arm shall rule for him; behold his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.” Well may the enraptured psalmist exclaim, “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” Comfort inspiring words which God has commanded to be spoken to his people.
August 15, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 465 – 471