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57. God's Accusation Against Wicked

The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. 2He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.

3But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. 4Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood, 5Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks? 6Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these? 7Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice. 8Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it. 9And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell. 10Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved. 11And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not? 12I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.

13When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain; 14And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people. 15For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. 16For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. 17For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. 18I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. 19I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him. 20But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. 21 There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.

1. The righteous man hath perished. Isaiah continues his subject; for, after having shown how fearlessly hypocrites indulge in their luxuries, and with what impudence they despise the word of God, he likewise complains that they do not consider the works of God. We have been placed here, as in a spacious theater, to behold the works of God; and there is no work of God so small that we ought to pass by it; lightly, but all ought to be carefully and diligently observed.

And no man layeth it to heart. The Lord holds out as a mirror this event of his providence, more remarkable than all others, that he takes away good and worthy men out of this life, when he determines to chastise his people severely. But no man considers it, or reflects that it is a token of approaching destruction, that God gathers them, and places them in safety from being distressed by prevailing afflictions. The general meaning is, that wicked men grievously deceive themselves by supposing that there is no greater happiness than to have life continued to a great age, and by thus pluming themselves on their superiority to the servants of God, who die early. Being attached to the world, they likewise harden themselves by this pretense, that, by nothing else than a manifestation of God’s favor towards them, while others die, they continue to be safe and sound.

Men of mercy are gathered. If by “men of mercy” be meant kind or tender-hearted men, this description ought to be carefully studied, by which the Prophet shows what is the true righteousness of the children of God; for hypocrites reckon this to be of no value. But nothing is more acceptable to God than kindness, by which we give evidence of our righteousness, and manifest that our heart is free from all hypocrisy. Yet we may with equal propriety take the phrase “men of mercy” in a passive sense, as meaning those whom the Lord has embraced by his mercy; for it is a phrase of frequent occurrence in Hebrew writings. Nor will it be inappropriate to suppose that there is an implied contrast between the grace of God and the wicked and unfavorable judgments of men; for they are wont to look on those persons as condemned who are taken away in the flower of their age. But, since God, in many passages of Scripture, represents gentleness and kindness as a distinguishing mark of his children, this may be, as I have said, a definition of true righteousness.

Hence we see that the Lord, at that time, gathered many good men, whose death portended some dreadful calamity, and yet that the Jews paid no regard to such forewarnings, and even proceeded to more daring lengths of wickedness; for they thought that all went well with them, when they were the survivors of many excellent men. This doctrine is highly appropriate to every age. It frequently happens that God takes good men out of this world, when he intends to punish severely the iniquities of the ungodly; for the Lord, having a peculiar regard to his own people, takes compassion upon them, and, as it were, snatches them from the burning, that even survivors may perceive in it the wrath of God. And yet this is not an invariable rule; for righteous men are frequently involved, along with the reprobate, in temporal punishments; but it is so frequent that it rarely happens otherwise. 105105     “This is a beautiful sentiment, that God removes righteous and good men from a world unworthy of them, and takes them to himself, so that they are not stained by the offenses of their time, or mingled with the prevailing corruption that universally devours, and do not consent to it, or connive at it, and thus expose themselves to similar judgments of God, which have been decreed and appointed for the ungodly. It has undoubtedly been remarked by the wise in every age, that the sudden death of good and judicious men is a clear indication of the approaching ruin of a state.” ­ Vitringa.

In our own times a remarkable instance of this was given in the death of Luther, who was snatched from the world a short time before that terrible calamity befell Germany, which he had foretold many years before, when he exclaimed loudly against that contempt of the Gospel, and that wickedness and licentiousness which everywhere prevailed. Frequently had he entreated the Lord to call him out of this life before he beheld that dreadful punishment, the anticipation of which filled him with trembling and horror. And he obtained it from the Lord. Soon after his death, lo, a sudden and unforeseen war sprang up, by which Germany was terribly afflicted, when nothing was farther from her thoughts than the dread of such a calamity.

Instances of this kind occur every day; and if men observed them, they would not so heedlessly flatter themselves and their vices. But I thought it right to take special notice of this event, both because it happened lately, 106106     “Pource que c’est une chose avenue depuis peu d’annees.” “Because it is an event that happened but a few years ago.” and because in so distinguished a preacher of the Gospel and prophet of God it must be more clearly seen. We ought, therefore, to consider diligently the worlds of the Lord, both in the life and in the death of “the righteous,” but especially in their death, by which the Lord calls them away to a better life, that they may be rescued from those afflictions in which the wicked must be plunged.

2. Peace shall come. The Prophet describes what shall be the condition of believers in death; for the wicked, who think that there is no life but the present, imagine that good men have perished; because in death they see nothing but ruin. For this reason he says that “Peace shall come,” which is more desirable than a thousand lives full of trouble; as if he compared them to discharged soldiers, who are and allowed to enjoy case and quietness.

They shall rest in their beds. He adds the metaphor of sleep, in order to show that they shall be absolutely free from all the uneasiness of cares, just as if they were safely pleasantly asleep “on their beds.”

Whosoever walketh before him. 107107     “Walking in his uprightness, or, before him.” (Eng. Ver.) “The phrase denotes, ‘One who walks straight before him,’ so as to follow constantly the rule, not turning aside from it to the right hand or the left, and observing and keeping the straight line and road towards the end or mark which the Lord has held out to them, according to the example of the Apostle. (Philippians 3:14)” — Vitringa. I do not think that the verb “walketh” is connected with שלום, (shalom,) “peace,” as some do, who suppose the meaning to be this, that peace shall go before believers, so as to be, as it were, the guide of their life. But I am of opinion that believers, on the contrary, are described by it; as if he had said, “Whosoever walketh before God shall enjoy peace.” Thus, when righteous men die, and their various labors are finished, and their course is ended, they are called to peace and repose. They “rest in their beds,” because they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness and glory; but they wail; for the last day of the resurrection, when everything shall be perfectly restored; and that, I think, is what Isaiah meant.

It will be said, “Do not righteous men enjoy this peace while they live?” for the fruit of faith is, that; “in patience we may possess our souls.” (Luke 21:19) Although faith produces peace in our hearts, (Romans 5:3) yet we are tossed about by various storms and tempests; and never in life are we so calm and peaceful as when the Lord takes us to himself. Peaceful and calm, therefore, is the death of the righteous, (Psalm 116:15) for it is “precious in the sight of God;” but stormy is the death of the wicked. 108108     “Mais celle des meschans est effroyable.” “But that of the wicked is frightful.” Hence also we may learn that souls are immortal; for if souls had no feeling, (as some fanatics have dreamed,) they could not enjoy “peace.” Thus they enjoy peace and repose, because they live in Christ.


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