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Verse 2: “In that day shall the Branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.”

We here have the same day referred to, which was noticed in the preceding; namely, the period when a general falling away of the churches shall have prevailed, and when God shall visit them for this apostasy. But the reference is to show the state of the true disciples of Christ during, or at that period, described as those “who are escaped of Israel.”

The term Branch is so frequently used by the prophets to denote the Messiah, that there can be no hesitancy as to the Lord Jesus Christ’s being here intended. The term Branch in most of the texts in which it occurs, has a special reference to Christ in his kingly office, or as the Son of David. This is very clearly the case in Isaiah 11:1, Jer.23:5, Zech.6:12, and it of course may be supposed to have such reference in this passage. In Isaiah 11:1, there is also an allusion to the circumstance of Christ’s birth, as being at the time when the house of David would be very low, or nearly extinct. Joseph could trace his lineage to David, but was in obscurity, and the throne was possessed by the family of the Herods. After the destruction of Jerusalem, if after the butchery of the infants about Bethlehem, the lineage of David was no further to be traced, and was probably extinct, excepting as it existed in this one righteous Branch. Hence in that passage the figure employed is that of a stem, or branch, springing up from the roots of a tree, which had been cut down, or become dead.

We have, in the circumstances connected with the birth of Christ one of those special instances in which God accomplishes his wise purposes by instruments, to human view, entirely foreign; and by leaving those instruments to follow their own ambitious inclinations. It was important that the fact of Joseph’s being of the house of David should be publicly established; and this not by the design of men, lest it should be thought to be a mere device to raise the reputation of Jesus of Nazareth. This was fully accomplished. A “decree went forth from Cesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Under the operation of this decree, Joseph is brought to Bethlehem to show his lineage and be taxed. Jesus was then, and there, born manifestly as a branch of the house of David.

In this passage Christ is called emphatically the Branch of the Lord; by which we are evidently taught that this was the peculiar King, the Lord had in view in raising David to the throne of Israel, and in establishing his covenant with him, and his seed after him. See in confirmation of this, II Sam.7:12-17, and Psalms 89:3,4, compared with several following verses.

The term, Branch of the Lord, may also be used to show the divine superiority of Christ, as king of Israel, over David and all his natural posterity. He is the root, as well as offspring of David, and David’s Lord. See Rev.22:16, and Matt.22:42.

Christ as king, is called a righteous Branch, Jer.23:5. It is said he shall reign in righteousness, Isa.32:1. And he is called king of righteousness, Heb.7:2. From all which it is evident that Christ’s becoming the end of the law for righteousness, and bringing in an everlasting righteousness, is connected with his kingly office, or in other words, that he establishes the law, and fulfils its righteous and eternal demands, in the stead of his people, whilst he delivers them from under it, and makes them kings and priests unto God.

Again the term, the Fruit of the earth, is evidently used to present the Lord Jesus Christ in a different point of view. It has, I think a special reference to the atonement of Christ, or to Christ’s death and resurrection as the substitute of his people. Hence the comparison which Christ makes relative to himself when he says, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” John 12:24. It may also be used to designate Christ as that peculiar and precious fruit which the earth was destined to bring forth from the beginning. Isa.66:8. Under this view of the subject, we shall be led to contemplate the creation of the world, and of men upon it, the entrance of sin, the preservation of man amidst all his corruption, rebellion and depravity, the dividing and dispensing the families of the earth, the various promises, and institutions of God, all as parts of the husbandry of God in the culture of this precious faith. See John 15:1.

I will now notice the persons here connected with Christ, and described as them that are escaped of Israel. Not national Israel; though what is here affirmed is true of those Israelites or Jews who escaped in the sense here intended. The fact is, that as the term Israel, originally belonging to the whole twelve tribes, and was afterwards retained by the revolting tribes, so the term used in a figurative sense, frequently denotes the whole professed or visible Church of Christ. As in the division, ten tribes revolted from the house of David and turned from the Temple of the Lord, so of the professed Church of Christ, a great proportion has in ages past, revolted from the government of our spiritual David, and turned to their golden calves. It is remarkable that the anti-christian interest is represented by ten horns, or kingdoms.

That we are not to understand what is here said of Israel literally, will be manifest from a notice of the fifth verse, as it is evident that cannot be taken in a literal sense.

Of the characteristic here given to the people designed, there is an escape which the children of grace experience in their new birth. As they lay exposed to the everlasting wretchedness, and all hope of deliverance by human exertions has failed, the Holy Ghost opens to their view a safe way of escape, and leads them into it. That way is Christ Jesus. As Israel on the shore of the Red Sea, sang the delivering hand of the Lord, who had made a way through the sea, for their escape from the Egyptians; so the believer, in view of what he feels is a miraculous escape, in songs of praise, ascribing his salvation to the Lord.

But the escape which I understand to be more immediately intended here, is an escape from being carried away by the flood of errors which is cast out of the mouth of the serpent. This escape the Apostle Peter aptly defines as an escape from the pollution that is in the world through lust. II Pet.1:4. This escape is often spoken of in the scriptures as a narrow escape, and is ascribed to the electing Grace of God; and so the believer in his experience finds it. The Master’s declaration is, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Again, speaking as before in reference to his coming in the destruction of Jerusalem, but also in reference to his future comings, he describes the signs and wonders shown by the false christs and false prophets to be such that “if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect.” Matt.24:13-24. Here we are taught that nothing short of the electing love of God could preserve them. Peter also speaks of this escape as a very narrow one; his words are, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” I Pet.4:18. Once more, Paul, speaking of the man of sin, and of the strong delusions by which others would be led to believe a lie, expresses his confidence in the escape of the Thessalonian brethren with thankfulness to God on the ground of God’s having “from the beginning chosen them to salvation.” II Thes.2:13. These facts also afford the precious assurance that the elect of God shall all finally escape.

When we come to experience on this point, we find the believer ever ready with a deep felt sense of the fact, to respond the language of Paul and say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” The natural feelings of the child of grace so strongly incite him to avoid reproach, and to seek worldly ease and applause, his natural propensity to go along with the multitude is so great, the current of his affections run so strongly toward his listening to the affectionate persuasions of others, and toward his going with his old friends and associates, those whom he had accompanied with delight to the house of God into those measures which they recommend so highly as calculated to promote the cause of Christ, and as productive of such good feelings, &c., but more than these, the finding himself so much alone, whilst the more talented, more learned, the wealthier, and more showy baptists, have engaged with zeal in the promotion of the new measures; and connected with this, the sense he has of his own weakness, and the distrust he has of his own heart, and the consequent fears that he may not be actuated by right motives; and worse than all, he feels himself to be such a disobedient, ungrateful child, if a child, that he is often ready to doubt whether it can be possible that the Lord should so distinguish him, as to give him so much clearer light in the doctrine and order of the gospel; I say the child of grace having all these struggles within, together with fightings without, and finding himself still urged by a sense of duty to maintain in the face of opposition, a steadfast adherence to the word of God, as the rule of his faith and practice, realizes in the following language of the poet, the breathings of his heart,

“O! To grace, how great a debtor,
Daily, I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee!”

Whilst he knows how to appreciate the feelings of David when he says, “As for me, my feet were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped;” he, like him, also finds his relief in going into the sanctuary of God. That is, when he tests by the scriptures the religious notions of those, at whose prosperity he had felt envious; when the preached gospel, like the dew, distils upon his soul; or when he can truly wait upon God for guidance and support, he realizes such a divine beauty and excellency in the simple gospel of Christ, and order of his house, and such a difference between these and the devises of men; Christ to be so sure a foundation to rest his own salvation, and the salvation of the church of God upon; and the standing of those who depend on human exertions for salvation, to be so slippery, that he finds his mind settled in the conclusion, that whoever else may leave Christ, to follow the contrivances of men, and how popular soever it may be to trust to an arm of flesh, he must trust in Christ as his only hope, and follow him as his only guide, the captain of his salvation. See Psalms 73.

But I must pass to the consideration of what Christ, as the Branch of the Lord, and as the fruit of the earth, is to those who have experienced this escape.

As the branch of the Lord, or as the King of righteousness, and King of Zion, he is to his people beautiful and glorious; or as some render the original, for beauty and for glory. 1st. Whilst the deceived ones are seeking to adorn the gospel of Christ with their school divinity, and with their additional ceremonies and plans, thinking it too plain without such embellishments to attract the attention of the polite; the escaped from Israel see such a divine beauty in Christ, as that branch which the Lord alone brought forth, and caused to grow, as they are enabled to discover him budding and spreading throughout the scriptures, and as he is manifested in their experience of salvation, that in their estimation, nothing has been or can be, added by man to the revelation made by him, which does not tend to deformity. 2nd. Whilst others are decking themselves with their faith, their repentance, and their benevolent doings, &c., to render themselves beautiful as religionists in the eyes of man, and as they vainly think in the sight of God, the child of grace has seen so much pollution attached to all creaturely acts, that he wishes to be clothed only in the righteousness of Christ; to appear clad alone in that before men, as the ground of his hope, and before God, as his plea for acceptance. Having the evidence that he is covered over with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, he feels a confidence in professing his religion before men, and in pleading at the throne of grace, disturbed with the apprehension that he has substituted something else in the place of Christ’s righteousness, he feels ashamed and confounded, both before God and men. Thus Christ is to the believer, for glory as well as for beauty, as he is received as the Lord their righteousness. 3rd. Christ considered as King of Zion. Whilst others esteem the bulls of Popes, the decrees of councils, the decisions of assemblies, the recommendations of conventions, or the precedents of certain eminent D.D.’s, as giving great importance to religious ceremonies and plans, and whilst the simple institutions and orders established by Zion’s King, are pronounced by such, as inert and inefficient; a thus saith the Lord, is that alone, which to the true disciple of Jesus gives beauty to a religious rite, and renders it precious in his sight; and without that nothing can give value to a ceremony in his estimation. The knowledge that his Lord has commanded it, is to the believer, a ground of glorying in what he performs as religious, which no sarcasm, no reproach of men, can diminish in his esteem. With this plea, he with confidence can face councils, and kings in justification of his acts. In a word, the escaped of Israel would put on Christ as their only beauty, and glory alone in the conquests of his grace.

As the fruit of the earth – Christ is to the escaped of Israel, excellent and comely, or for excellency and for comeliness.

First: Christ viewed as the fruit of the earth in relation to his atonement. Whilst those who follow new systems, divest the atonement of Christ of its divine excellency, representing it as indefinite, uncertain, and an unsafe thing to trust in for salvation; even practically, ascribing more direct effect to tears, repentance, and prayers of an individual toward making his peace with God, than to the blood of Christ; and presumptuously boast of a virtue in missionary money to save souls which the death of Christ would leave to sink to hell; those, who by grace, have escaped those delusions, not only have seen the entire deficiency of everything else to redeem them from destruction, and to make their peace with God, but have also revealed to them by the Holy Ghost, such an excellency in the atonement of Christ, that with confidence they trust their whole salvation there; and knowing its excellency, from its meeting their own ruined, helpless case, they feel the assurance that not a soul for whom Christ died can be lost.

Second: From the little which has been said in these days, of the work of Christ, and the abundance that has been said, of what men can and must do to save themselves and others; we must judge that the multitude of professors see no comeliness in the atonement of Christ. But the escaped of Israel see such a comeliness in it, that they not only delight to look upon it themselves, but they wish constantly to be presenting it to the view of others, as the way of salvation. They feel that there is a kind of peculiar comeliness or suitableness {as the word might be rendered,} in it to their case. They feel its suitableness, as meeting the awful guilt and pollution of their case, from which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could redeem and cleanse them; as honoring the Divine law, and maintaining the purity of the Divine throne, whilst it constitutes a channel through which mercy flows freely to them, as condemned sinners; and bringing them to feel their entire dependence for salvation on that God against whom they had sinned, cutting off all boasting, excepting in the grace of God and all glorying save in the cross of Christ.

Third: Christ viewed as that fruit which the earth from the beginning was destined to bring forth. The believer has seen such an emptiness in the world, and such an excellency and comeliness in this fruit, that he has been made willing to give up the world with all its allurements as his inheritance, and to take Christ as his only portion. Whilst others manifest a disposition to make worldly gain of all their religious acts; the child of grace, however much he may, at times, be tried by a worldly mind, when brought to the test will cheerfully forego all worldly advantages, for Christ and for the honor of his cause. The world without Christ, can afford the believer no happiness, no real enjoyment; with the assurance that Christ is his, and he is Christ’s, he is happy in any situation; the frowns of the world cannot mar his peace.

It is true, that in the present tried state of the church, the believer has often to mourn in darkness; many and long are the seasons when his Son of righteousness withdraws his shining, when he dares hardly say, that he sees any beauty and glory in Christ, when he doubts whether he ever has known the excellency and comeliness of Christ in truth. But can he in those gloomy periods find anything in the world to make up the deficiency he feels, or to satisfy the mind? No, he is like the lonely dove, which mourns the absence of her mate. But even these gloomy feelings afford him a gleam of hope that he has known something of Christ, and that he shall again be brought forth to the light. And at times, his mind experiences a temporary relief from the application of some precious promise to his case, from a manifestation of the love of God to him, or from a review of his past experiences. The prophecy before us, as I understand it, gives the precious assurance, that at the period intended, when the apostate ones have got to the worst, then they who are escaped of Israel, will realize such beauty and glory in Christ as the branch of the Lord, such excellency and comeliness in him as the fruit of the earth, that their minds will be fully sustained under whatever persecutions they may be called to experience, and with the disciples of old, will “take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing in themselves, that they have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” Hence also will be fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, that, “At evening time it shall be light.” Zech.14:7.

Fairfax Court House, Va., Feb.9th, 1837.