“Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth. Thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shall make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them; and thou shalt rejoice jut the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy one of Israel.”—Isaiah 41:15,16
1. We will consider to whom these words are addressed.
2. The mountains.
3. The threshing instrument.
4. He shall fan them, and the wind shall carry them away.
5. The end to be answered.
1. To whom spoken. The character is a worm, called in the preceding verse, “worm Jacob.” It refers, in the first instance, to the Lord Jesus Christ; secondly to his ministers, and thirdly to his people. Christ in his humble state is called a worm; yes, the Lord of life and glory became a worm of the earth. He was in this state the meek and lowly Jesus. “The foxes had holes, the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay his head.” O what a state of humiliation was that! “He became flesh and dwelt among us.” And why? That we might have fellowship with him and that he might be able to call us brethren, and know how to come to our low estate as the compassionate High Priest of God. Indeed, if it were not so, what should we do? For many of God’s little ones cannot soar so high in their faith as to rejoice in him in his glorification; but happy are they who have fellowship with him in his humility; they shall have fellowship with him in his glorification. “For if we suffer with him we shall also reign with him.”
But where in his Word is the Lord Jesus called a worm? In Ps. 22:6: “But I am a worm and no man, a reproach of men and despised of the people.” These are his own words, which he spake in the distress of his soul. O who can describe his humiliation, or who can fully enter into his sufferings? See “him, without form or comeliness, without beauty, that he should be desired.” He became a reproach to the scorner, and hid not his face from shame and spitting. See him at Gethsemane. And all this he endured for his poor suffering people. Ah! Where shall we hide our faces? Shame belongeth unto us; for we are proud, we are vile sinners; we have need to lament our sins; but Jesus stooped lower than we can in the horrible pit and miry clay of human degradation and suffering, and at last bore our sins in his own body on the tree.
Secondly. The ministers of God are worms,—poor crawling worms of the earth; so that if it was not for the power of God they could not breathe, or lift up their voices to him. I have often wondered at sovereign mercy making such a poor crawling worm as I into one of his ambassadors, to thresh mountains. But so it is; to him be all the praise; for God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence. Here I can come in; for I have often thought and felt if there was one sinner more base than another, it was I.
Thirdly. The people of God are worms. And indeed if you are never brought to feel this truth in this life you may depend upon it hell will be your portion. However moral you may have been, however high you may have stood in the esteem of others, you must be brought to feel that, in spiritual things, you are a poor crawling’ worm of the earth. Look at Job. What a poor worm he considered himself to be, when he cried out, “My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust, my skin is broken and become loathsome.” May the Lord bring you to feel it, that you may glory in him, and in hint alone.
These poor worms are longing for and pursuing after a manifestation of God’s grace. Hence it is written in the next verse: “When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Jacob will not forsake them.” They are seeking the water of life, that water that flowed from Jesus’ side,
“To quench the fiery law
And blood to purge their sin.”
They are blessed indeed, when, under a consciousness of their guilt, they have this longing desire; for blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. The desire of their heart shall be granted.
2. The mountains. A conscious child of God cannot do without a religion that comes home to his conscience. There is no vitality in religion without sweet access to God. It is not talking, but feeling. What then are we to understand by some of these mountains? Fresh contracted guilt in the conscience is one mountain. Some think lightly of sin; but it is a solemn matter. What! “Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” Was it a light thing to Christ when he groaned under it and sweat, as it were, great drops of blood on account of it? O then is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Is it nothing to you? Sin is a curse to us; yea, to the whole human race, and without the blood of the Lamb we could never be delivered from it.
Another mountain is the temptations of the wicked one. The sinner has sometimes a greater regard for his character than for the honour of God in abstaining from sin; and so, lest he should be called narrow-minded, or a fanatic, he will join in unbecoming conversation; but God takes notice of this and causes it to become a mountain between God and his soul. And sometimes a poor soul, though not exactly joining in, secretly listens to it. And then such a passage as this is sent home to him, and seems like a mountain: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The poor soul knows that he regards iniquity in his heart, and therefore he feels condemned. Some of the “decidedly pious “folks will say, “Remove the cause, and the effect will cease.” That is an insult both to God and conscience. How can a drowning man save himself? What a mockery it would be to tell him he must remove the cause, and the effect would cease. It would be like telling him he must not tumble into the water, and then he would not be drowned. But the man is in already; so how can he remove the cause?
Another mountain is inbred corruption. If it does not come out it is there, and is a sore burden to the poor man. He feels it to be a mountain between God and his soul.
Another is worldly cares. If he is poor, he sometimes envies the rich, and asks himself how it is that they have so much while he has so little; and he thinks if he had plenty, as they have, he should be happy. But no! Rich men are not always happy. Indeed, on the contrary, riches often prove a great mountain. For how often do you see well-to-do men consider religion only a secondary matter, and neglect the means of grace, especially on a week-day, lest they should, if tradesmen, miss sixpence by a sale. And if they have retired, they are often constantly fearing that that bank will break or that that man who owes them money will fail. Riches do not open a way to communion with God, but often raise a mountain against it.
Again. How often has a child of God a mountain of horrible temptation between God and his own soul. He sometimes has hard views of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; and the enemy will accuse him of sinning against the Holy Ghost. And O what a mountain this is! The poor man will run to his minister, and first to one friend and then to another, almost in despair. Has he indeed committed the unpardonable sin? That is his anxious inquiry. But no man, who is really afraid he has committed the sin and is sorely distressed on account thereof, ever did or ever can commit it. He has the life of God in his soul, or he would not trouble about it.
Then there are mountains of legality. The poor soul does want to do something to secure God’s favour; but his favour is not to be obtained that way. It is the humble and contrite heart that the Lord will not despise. And sometimes he feels the chastisements of his Father; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth; but not with the anger or passion of a man. When he chastises us, he makes us feel that we deserve it; so that we tremble before him, until he applies his precious promise unto us, “Fear not.”
3. I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument. This instrument may refer, in the natural sense, to such a one as is described in Isa. 28, beginning at the 25th verse. But let us see what the Holy Ghost means. He means vital faith in the love and blood of the Son of God. But first the man is brought to have faith in his own weakness,—to feel his own weakness; for out of weakness hath Christ ordained strength; and then he is brought to have faith in Christ’s strength. This last will overcome all difficulties; for the battle is not to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but the Son of God is made perfect in our weakness; and as God, in his mercy, leads us into this mystery, we shall indeed be enabled to thresh down mountains. When Christ was in the flesh, he said to his disciples,” If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matt. 17:20.) It is supposed by some that when Christ spoke this, he pointed to a mountain called Mount Corruption. I know nothing about this; but doubtless the mountain was figurative of corruption, and the sea, referred to in another place, was the atoning blood of Christ. Into this your mountain is cast; and, while you feel free from the burden of that mountain, you find freedom of access to Christ, and can praise and adore his precious name.
Moses threshed mountains. He had faith given him to believe that God had called him to deliver the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. He went and slew an Egyptian, who was quarrelling with a Hebrew; but he went too soon. He proved himself to be only a man, and, therefore, met with a rebuke; for the next time he went the Hebrew said unto him, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian?” At this Moses feared, as well he might, and said, “Surely this thing is known.” And he fled into the land of Midian. This place became a sort of college to Moses; for here he was taught a little humility by his God; here he was taught manifestively that he was only a worm; and yet he was a fit subject to thresh the mountains. Hence, when God called him to go up to Egypt on that business, he felt his own weakness and worm-like condition, and begged to excuse himself, saying, “I am no orator,” Ac. But God told him to say, “I AM hath sent me unto you.” And this I AM is the mystery of his Word. All hell is moved before him; for if it were not for this I AM, we might for ever preach in vain. Even Moses, if he had not been sent in the strength of-this I AM, would have gone in vain.
When the people passed through the Bed Sea, this I AM divided the waters. And when they met with the Amalekites, what did Moses do? Why, while Joshua engaged the Amalekites, Moses went to the top of a hill and held up his arms, emblematical of his faith in God. Some would have laughed at him, and have said, “What is the old fool doing up there? Why does he not come down and help us to fight?” But Moses believed in God as their deliverer; and as long as his arms were up, the Israelites prevailed; but when his arms, through weakness, dropped, the Amalekites overcame. But the great I AM was the Thresher. Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill, and they took a stone and put it under Moses, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands; emblematical of the Lord holding up his people in prayer and in their conflicts. Moses’ arms having to be supported was also to show that, though God will be inquired of by his people, prayer is not at their own command. When the Lord designs to give them a blessing, he causes them to pray for that blessing, and the answer is certain. However great your guilt, beloved, faith in Christ makes you feel free. May the Lord the Spirit impart unto us more of this faith, that we may overcome all our enemies, through the blood of the Lamb; and to his name be all the praise.
4. These worms, after thus threshing the mountains, shall fan them away. By which the Holy Ghost is figured forth; as we find John the Baptist saying of Christ, “Whose fan is in his hand.” The whirlwind sets forth God’s vengeance and judgment against our inventions; but it spares our persons. As it is written: “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning,” &c. That is, separating between flesh and spirit; burning up our hay, wood, and stubble. The whirlwind shall scatter them.
5. The end. There are three ways in which a sinner’s self- righteousness is manifested: First, he feels his sinfulness and mourns under its weight. The enemy comes in and says, “God’s people are a holy people; but what are you?” He feels condemned, knowing his own sinfulness; and his self-righteous principle desires to have some holiness of its own. But when the Holy Spirit comes into the soul, the man can turn round to the enemy, and say, “I know it; I feel it; but the Lord Christ is my Surety; he is my holiness.” Thus, by faith, he fans it away.
The second is, he now experiences a sweet frame of mind, a full reliance upon God, and can pour out his soul into him in a familiar manner. The enemy, Self-righteousness, says, “Now that is religion! How amiable you are!” If a young man, he is for being a parson; if a young woman, she almost wishes she was a Quakeress, so that she could stand up in the chapel and speak what she feels. This is not Christ; it is not a ground of humility. Christ and Christ alone is the ground of our joy and salvation. If it is not so, when a whirlwind attacks us, all goes; it sweeps away all our self confidence, makes our hearts tremble, till the Spirit of the Lord comes and blows upon us, and fans away all our fears.
The third is, when the Lord works this deliverance for you and make’s you rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel, you are ready, after a time, to overlook whence it comes, and to put it in the place of Christ. Thus self creeps in and
“Makes even grace a snare.”
But, ere long, you have to prove that even your sweet frames cannot recommend you to God. The end desired and to which the Lord will bring the poor soul is that he shall rejoice in Him alone. However dark and mysterious your path, you shall find the Lord to be your portion for ever, your holiness, your beauty, your strength, your all and in all; and then you will indeed glory in the Holy One of Israel.
Amen and Amen.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist.