A Study of Isaiah 61:2
“To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God.” (Isaiah 61:2)
Our text contains one part of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ; and as a solemnly glorious minister of the New Testament, He was anointed by the LORD for the important work. And the two things mentioned in our text His Majesty proclaims in the Word, and in the conscience of all that He takes to heaven. A man, whose notions are all he has of religion, a mere judgmental knowledge of it, can be satisfied with the proclamation made in the letter of the Word; but I believe that any man, and every man, who can feel satisfied with that, is a stranger to God. God brings His people to feel that their disease is deep. He lays it upon their hearts; and they must have a proclamation that reaches the disease and comes to the heart. The Gospel of God must come to them, “not in word, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” And when the blessed Redeemer, by the power of his Spirit, “proclaims the acceptable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God” in the conscience of a poor sinner, if the sinner is sunk as low as sin can sink him, it lifts him up, and brings him to have a peace which the world knows nothing of; a peace and joy in believing. And thus he knows experimentally that there is a solemn reality in God’s truth and in God’s kingdom, and that God’s kingdom “stands not in word, but in power.”
It is now fifty years since God first made a proclamation of this in my conscience. I have had many other visits since then; but I really cannot go on without fresh visits to the present moment. I have heard that there are men, very high in a profession of religion, who say they do not care if they never enjoy the presence of God again upon earth; they know they shall go to heaven. I cannot make out what such men want to go to heaven for. They might almost as well go elsewhere as to heaven, if they are not to have the sweet and blessed presence of the LORD. If the presence of the LORD here in this vale of tears is of such little moment that they do not care whether or not they have it again, I believe in my heart they are strangers to God and vital religion. For wherever the LORD, in the riches of His grace, reveals this blessed truth under His divine anointings, and grants the sinner an unctuous feeling of His presence, he wants it again—and again—and again— and will be thirsting for it till his dying moments. “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God.” I shall endeavour, as God shall assist, to make a few remarks upon these two things: “The day of vengeance of our God and the acceptable year of the Lord.” II. The proclamation of them by the blessed Lord of life and glory.
Now we read in the Word of God of some solemn displays of God’s vengeance and wrath; and yet our text speaks as if there were but one “day of vengeance.” Why, was it not “the day of vengeance” when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Was it not “the day of vengeance” when He swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and all their company, and when they went down into the pit alive? Was it not a “day of vengeance” when He hurled Satan and his adherents from their high-towering thrones, and sank them into “blackness of darkness”? Was it not a “day of vengeance” when He drowned the Egyptians in the Bed Sea? And are not the damned in hell, devils and damned spirits, feeling “the day of vengeance” now? And yet, put it all together, it were as nothing compared to “the day of vengeance” in our text. Therefore the Holy Ghost fixes upon this important subject as “the day of vengeance” that outstretches all the rest.
And what was it? The “day,” when Divine Justice unsheathed its sword, and the wrath of that incensed Justice was poured with all its inflexible fury upon the God-man Mediator; when all the sins of the church,—heart sins, lip sins, sins however circumstanced, were gathered together, and put upon the Surety, and when the whole of the wrath due to the millions of God’s elect was poured into the heart of their covenant Head,—the Lord Jesus Christ. That was “the day of vengeance” with a witness. Here Justice exacted its utmost mite, and made no abatement; and His solemn Majesty paid the debt to the full. Sin may appear a trifling matter to you or me; we may be sufficiently hardened to laugh at it, to trifle with it; but it did not trifle with the Son of God. It broke His heart, it tortured His soul, and harrowed up His mind; and with all the majesty and glory of His infinite Godhead, He had but strength enough to bear up under the tremendous wrath that he had to endure for His people. This was “the day of vengeance,” and here the wrath of God was poured out to the uttermost.
Neither did Divine Justice look upon sin as a trifling matter. If God the Father loved the people with an everlasting love (and He did), if He fixed His heart upon them in eternity, if He considered them His jewels, the crown of His glory, and yet this people could not possess the bliss He provided for them till Justice was satisfied in the Surety and sin was punished there, sin was no trifling thing in the eyes of God. The wrath of God poured upon devils and damned spirits is for their various transgressions; but here is the holy, the harmless, the innocent Lamb of God, the glory of heaven, and He for whom all things were created, He for whose pleasure all was made, standing as Surety for sinners; and though He was the Father’s infinite delight, the people whose cause He had espoused must be set free, and the wrath of God must be poured upon Him, as the Surety, and poured there to the uttermost. Thus Jehovah demonstrated His holy, His righteous indignation against sin; and it was “the day of vengeance.” To know what sin is, we must not go to some few trifling things that we suffer here in consequence of sin. Nay, if we could possibly sink into the regions of the damned, and hear their yelling, behold their tortures, and return back, we should come far short of knowing the evil of sin. It is at Gethsemane, it is at Golgotha, where the God that supported all worlds, in union with our nature and that nature in union with its Godhead, bled and was tortured, agonizing with indescribable misery as the effect of sin,—it is here we see what an evil sin is. Can you trifle with sin? Can you sport with it? Can you speak of it as a light matter? Is there a hardened wretch here who can do it? Conscience! Where art thou? Good God! Arouse them to feel what an awful thing sin is, and let their hearts tremble before thee on account of their various transgressions, and lead them to Golgotha, lead them to Gethsemane, and let them have a feeling of the fellowship of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then they will know a little of the solemnity of our text,—”the day of vengeance;” for there it was executed with all its awful terrors and its tremendous power. And now, before I proceed, I ask you, Have you a hope, a spiritual hope, that Christ suffered for you? that He weltered in blood for you? that “He was wounded for your transgressions, braised for your iniquities,” that “the chastisement of your peace was upon him?” And do you feel, now and then, a sweetness in this truth, that “with his stripes you are healed?” Can you profess to cherish this hope, and yet trifle with that which tore His heart, which tortured His soul, which brought vengeance upon Him as your Surety? Can you play with it? Is it a trifling matter with you? If it is, your hope is a horrible delusion, and you know nothing at all of the life and power of vital godliness in your soul. For wherever the Spirit of the living God brings a sinner to have good hope, through the precious atonement of Christ, the glorious and solemn sufferings of Christ, he knows what it is to be a little in that spot: “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” And when we have been for a season mourning over ourselves, because of the light and life and love of God, made manifest by blood, we shall have a solemn mourning for the LORD of life, that He should suffer vengeance for such reptiles as we are, for such brutes as we are; and so we shall know something of being humble at his feet, whilst we bless God for the mysteries of His cross.
Now, do you know anything of this in your own souls?
Has God ever presented it to your conscience?
Has he brought you to feel something of the solemn sufferings of a once-slaughtered Christ, and to feel that it was your sins that were the daggers that pierced His heart,—your sins that pressed blood through every pore? Sometimes, when I have been led to feel the horrible oozings up and workings of a corrupt nature, and I should be worse than a vagabond if I said I never did, and when God the Spirit has then led me in faith and feeling to Gethsemane, dropped a little of the atoning blood of Christ into my conscience, and brought me to feel a sweetness in the efficacy of His blood, with contrition of soul I have been brought to bow before him, and say, “LORD, it is such a salvation that I wonder thou wouldst bestow it upon such a wretch; I wonder that such mercy should be given to such a brute.” But so it is; and God is exalted, self abased, and Christ reigns, and the conscience triumphs in the efficacy of His precious blood, and adores God for such a blessed method of pouring out His wrath upon His Son, that we might be free.
Sinner! Trembling, broken-hearted sinner! “Sinner! THOU hast done the deed; THOU hast made the Saviour bleed. Justice drew its sword on me; Pierced my heart to pass by thee.” God help thee to feel it, and to glorify God for such amazing grace, such matchless grace, manifested to sinners. But we pass on to make a few remarks upon “the acceptable year of the LORD.” This solemn “day of vengeance” was at the same time an “acceptable year.” Here was the glorious body and substance of the jubilee; and the holy prophet appears to have this in view. Through the finished work of Christ, the blessed obedience and righteousness of Christ, the real spirit of the jubilee is proclaimed and made manifest, both in the Word of God and in the conscience of the sinner. “The acceptable year of the LORD.” A word or two upon this point, as connected with the jubilee.
In that solemn year, when the proclamation went throughout all the land of Israel, all the Hebrews had their debts discharged, their legal servitude put an end to, their mortgaged inheritances restored. A proclamation was made of plenty without labour. No farmer, no person that kept a vineyard, was to sow or reap for himself; but the fruits of the earth were free for every Hebrew to pluck and partake of. And this was “the acceptable year of the Lord” amongst the Jews. So through the Person, blood, and obedience of Christ, every spiritual Hebrew has his debts discharged; for “he is not a Jew,” saith the LORD, “which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.” Now, has God cut off all your legal hopes, cut off all your legal expectations? Some one may say, “He has; and yet I am not happy.” Perhaps, if you examine closely, he has not quite cut them off. Say you, “I have no hope in anything that I have ever done.” But have not you a little hope at the bottom that there will come some favourable juncture when you shall be able to manage a little better than you do now? “Why,” say you, “if I had not that, I should despair.” Then the sooner you despair the better, poor soul. You are not entirely a self-despairing sinner whilst you can have any hope of mending the matter in time to come; but when you are brought to be entirely hopeless, both now and for time to come, as it relates to anything you can do to help yourself, here is ”the acceptable year of the LORD.” Christ has paid the debt fully; cleared it, discharged it, without leaving an iota undone. He has “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;” made an end of it, and finished it. “Justice, when the Surety died, Acquitted the believer;” and here it is, poor soul, that it is an “acceptable year” of the LORD. Justice is satisfied. And when God brings it with power to thy conscience, it will be an “acceptable year” to thee; for thou wilt be satisfied, and say with the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If a Hebrew had sold himself or hired himself in service, “the acceptable year of the LORD” proclaimed his liberty. No master could keep him, if he wished to go. And so, if God has given you a heart really, truly, feelingly, to be at liberty (ponder over it, and ask whether He has), though you have “sold yourself for naught,” you are “redeemed without money.” Though you have become the slave of sin and Satan, and are under bondage and fetters, if the Spirit of God has made you willing to be saved in God’s own way, here is “the acceptable year of the LORD.” Legal servitude must be given up. When this is proclaimed in the conscience, conscience must rejoice in liberty, and in that liberty that is accomplished by the Son; and “if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
“Well,” say you, “I feel as if I were willing, and yet I am not quite set at rest.” Perhaps not quite willing. There is some little lurking, knavish thief or other, in some corner of thy heart, that wants to cling to self, wants to cling to something of thine own. Thou art not yet an entire bankrupt, willing to be saved in God’s own way, by the precious blood of the Lamb and “the acceptable year of the LORD.” If God brings thee there, Christ has discharged the debt, the Son has made thee free, and thou art “free indeed.” But further. Is it the case that you have lost all that you had, — forfeited every morsel that you ever possessed in Adam the first? Yes, you have. And some people tell us that Christ came to restore that. So He did; but that is not all He did. He brings a better life than ever old Adam had to lose; and that is a mercy for God’s people. He comes to give us life, and to give it “more abundantly,” and to give a glorious life in Himself. Thine inheritance that thou hast mortgaged or sold, by thy sin in Adam the first, was at best but a glorious earthly inheritance; but the LORD the Redeemer has secured for thee, not only a glimpse of an inheritance here, but one that is “incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them that are kept by the power of God.” Do you feel you need “keeping by the power of God?” I do; and I solemnly declare that, old as I am, I never felt myself more liable to stumble, nor ever felt a greater need for God to keep me, than I do now. I feel in my very soul that if God does not keep me, I shall bring disgrace upon His name. I know it, and feel that that would be the case. But then, that blessed God who has made manifest this “acceptable year,” has engaged to “keep the feet of his saints,” and to watch over their path, night and day. And then there is an inheritance, secured by the love and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; and He is gone, poor child of God, through the channel of His own obedience, to take possession of it Himself. And there is one text that has confounded me scores of times. Christ says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” To “prepare a place!” That is very strange. Is not heaven already prepared? It would appear as if created heaven was not glory enough for God’s people; and I do believe it is not. I do not believe created heaven is what God considers sufficient glory for His people; and therefore Christ, as their Mediator, as their Head and Representative, has “gone to prepare a place for them.” How? To bespangle heaven with his blood and righteousness, and to exhibit to view the glory of His own work, and to bring His saints into the blessedness of the glory of that work, that they may glory in that only. Through His blood and righteousness he has ascended up on high to bring this to pass! And this is “the acceptable year of the LORD.” We noticed that in the jubilee everything was to be free. And we should vastly well relish a jubilee of that sort at Manchester, I assure you. What work there would be with thousands of poor, famishing creatures! They would soon make clearance of the fields, if it were, “Pluck and eat.” But, however it may be in nature, it is plain enough in grace. We have the promises; all the blessings of the oath, of the love and blood of a precious Redeemer; all the blessings of the fulness of His heart; all are freely given, “without money and without price.” Not an iota of creature merit to obtain it. The poorer the wretch, the more welcome he is. “Come needy, come guilty, come loathsome, come bare; You can’t come too filthy; come just as you are.” God, in the riches of His grace, keeps jubilee all the year round,— open house and open field for famishing sinners. May God bless us with hearts to enter into the field of the mystery of God’s grace, and pluck and eat, by Divine faith in the love and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; and then we shall know that it is the “acceptable year of the LORD.”
But it is “the acceptable year of the LORD,” inasmuch as it is acceptable to the LORD. “I have heard in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succour thee.” This is “the accepted time.” Divine justice, poor sinner, has accepted the Person of Christ as thy surety, the work and obedience of Christ actively as thy righteousness, and the sufferings and death of Christ as the atonement for thy sin. It is passed current in the account of God and filed up in heaven; and God says, “I am well pleased for his righteousness’ sake.” He will magnify the law, and make it honourable. Thus it is “the acceptable year of the LORD.” There is nothing, therefore, that the blessed Redeemer contains, or that he has done, as the Head of the church, but what is received in heaven with the Divine approbation of God; and as a demonstration of it, it is said, “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.” God and angels, and glorified spirits which were gone before, have all shouted him home; and when God gives you and me faith in the mystery of it, we help them to shout too. He is “ascended up on high,” as a demonstrative proof that he is accepted of the Father; and he is seated at the right hand of the Father, there to live and make intercession for his people. It is “the acceptable year of the LORD;” and I am sure it will be acceptable to you, if Jesus, in the riches of his grace, manifests it in your consciences.<
Perhaps there may be some who think they do not need such a salvation as this. You say, “Christ has done a great deal; he has done his part, and I must do my part; and, notwithstanding all that Christ has done, if I do not do my part too, I cannot be saved.” There is a deal of talk in our day about Popery being likely to be established; and I know no men in the world who are more likely to establish it than these “do part” men, for their sentiment is the very life and soul of Popery. What is Popery? What is Antichrist? Creature-merit. If you could destroy creature merit, man’s doing his part, in all its bearings, and creature-merit could entirely be put out of existence, the devil himself could not make a Pope. There could be no such thing in existence. But creature-merit is the blood, and sinews, and pulse, and life of Popery; and, therefore, where men go on with the strange idea that, notwithstanding all that Christ has done, they must do their part too, or they cannot be saved, they are bidding Popery “God speed,” and doing their part to establish it. They find fault all the while with some of their external things, such as their dolls, and a few mummeries of that nature; but the poison is in the soul of Popery, and the soul of Popery is creature-merit. And in fact, what can we find flourishing in our day but creature-merit, in some form or other? You will find some men, who would be vastly strenuous against creature-merit in the shape of free-will; and yet they have got it in another shape. They say, “O! You may always believe. Why don’t you believe? Simply believe, and be happy.” Why, that is creature-merit; it is the old leaven; it is another name, but it is creature-merit. But God’s people are brought to feel that they can no more believe themselves into the mysteries of Christ than they can work themselves into the mysteries of Christ by labour; that it must be the LORD Himself who must “work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure,” and that faith is His entire gift. And so they glorify God for the mysteries of His cross, and are brought to know something of the freedom there is in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessings connected with it.
But we pass on to the proclamation: “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.”
Now our blessed Christ proclaims this truth in the written Word. Hear His blessed Majesty proclaim it: “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Incline your ear and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live.” Now, some say that proclamation is made to sinners dead in sin; and, as a proof of it, they say that it runs, “Hear, and your soul shall live.” But it would be very strange for a corpse to be invited to come to the queen’s palace in order to be banqueted. It would want something to move it; and if it was dead how could it “come?” The fact is, they are living souls who are here spoken of; but they are famishing, they are starving, they are wanting food; and when God the Spirit brings them to Christ, then they live, and live well too; for they have the fatted calf, the paschal Lamb, and the mysteries of the cross revealed to the conscience. Therefore, says the LORD, “Come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live.” So again: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Just as if the blessed Redeemer had looked upon a poor burdened, dejected sinner, and said, “I see, poor creature, you are yoked down by Moses; you have got the burden of the law, and you have got the burden of a guilty conscience; there you are with your yoke on, and you cannot get ease, you cannot get rest. Now come to me; my yoke is easy.” Why, what is His yoke? Everlasting glory: and O! How easy that fits the neck of a poor sinner, when God puts it manifestively on! And what is His burden? The divine fulness of the glory of God, treasured up in Christ; and O! How solemnly glorious is that, when the conscience receives it under the divine teaching of the Holy Spirit! Then we shall find a rest and a contentment the world knows nothing of.
Then, the Lord Jesus Christ, being anointed, proclaimed this day. He proclaimed this jubilee, and He proclaimed His own sufferings. O! How solemnly he by His Spirit proclaims it in the 58th chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah, where he is spoken of as “led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opening not his mouth!” And how solemnly he proclaims it when He speaks in His Word and says, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” And, poor wretch, is it nothing to you? Can you hear of the sufferings of Christ, the agonies of the Son of God, and be unmoved? Can you hear of them and have no feeling? Perhaps some poor living souls say with the poet, “The rocks can rend, the earth can shake, The seas can roar, the mountains quake; Of feeling all things show some sign, But this unfeeling heart of mine.” Well, then, if the proclamation made in the Word again and again cannot move the heart, cannot soften the heart, cannot melt the heart, cannot bring the heart into obedience, and cannot lead to the sweet enjoyment of it, is there nothing that can? Has sin brought us into such a state of ruin, such a state of disease, unhallowed ungodly disease, that there is nothing that can move the sinner, nothing that can bring him to feel something of “the day of vengeance,” nothing that can bring him to realize “the acceptable year” and the blessings that it contains? Yes, brethren, there is. When God, by His blessed Spirit, proclaims it in the conscience, brings it with power to the heart, leads the soul feelingly into that blessed text, “Thou, LORD, hast wrought all our works in us;” when He makes manifest that precious truth, “I will bring the blind, and the lame,” and the burdened, and the dejected, and “they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd, and their soul shall be as a watered garden;” when he makes the proclamation with divine power into the soul, and leads the soul solemnly and sweetly into the mysteries of the cross, then He raises the hope and expectation of His people, and they are brought, in some blessed measure, to know that the proclamation of “the acceptable year of the LORD” is made to them.
Now do you know anything of this? Has God ever brought you to feel it? Say you, “I do not like you to talk about a feeling religion.” And I would not thank you for any that is not; and so there is just that difference between you and me. AN UNFEELING RELIGION IS THE DEVIL’S RELIGION. It is not the religion of Christ; for God brings His people to know what it is to “handle and taste and feel of the Word of life.” He brings them to know what it is to have the Word sealed in their hearts, and hidden there. And, therefore, do not you deceive your soul. If you die without a feeling religion, as God is God, you will be damned. I am sure you will. And whatever trials, difficulties, or distresses you may have, a sweet feeling religion, revealed to the conscience by the power of the Spirit of Christ, will support your soul under your troubles, prop up your mind, and bring you sweetly to rejoice in the mysteries of the cross of the Lamb; and then you will bless God for the wonders of His grace.
I leave the few hints that have been dropped in the hands of the LORD.
[The poor thief on the cross, short as was his spiritual life, had a feeling religion. Hence he said to his fellow-thief, “We suffer justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 24:40-43)]
William Gadsby – 1842