And in that day there will be a root of Jesse, which will stand for an ensign of the people; to it will the Gentiles seek: and his rest will be glorious.
'And in that day there will be;' and in this day there, a root of Jesse that put forth its branch. That day was but the prophecy; the Gospel of it. Now first, (to speak in the Psalmist's phrase,) 'truth flourished out of the earth;' now first the truth of it appeared.
Some indeed have applied it to Hezekiah, and perhaps not amiss in a lower sense; but the Apostle, who is the best commentator ever upon the Prophets, applies it unto Christ. (Rom. xv. 10). There we find the text, and him it suits to more exactly every tittle of it, and of the chapter hitherto, than to Hezekiah or any else.
He was properly the Branch that was then to grow out of old Jesse's root. For Hezekiah was born and grown up already some years before, thirteen at least. He, 2. it is whom 'the Spirit of the Lord does rest upon.' Upon Hezekiah and all of us; it is the Dove going and returning. Upon Him, 3. only it is, that the Spirit in all its fullness, with all its gifts, wisdom and understanding and counsel and might and the rest, is poured out upon. He, it is alone, who judges the earth in righteousness, which is said of this root. He, 5. it is that shall 'smite the earth with the rod or spirit [64/65] of his mouth,' as it so attested. He, 6. it is who can make the wolf and lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf, the young lion and fatling, lie down and dwell together, as is prophesied of him. He the only Prince and God of peace, who can reconcile all enmities and difference, who can unite all disagreeing spirits. In a word, he is the very only He whom God has set up 'for an ensign to the people,' to whom all the Gentiles flock in, to whom rest and glory both properly belong; the only 'root' too from whence all good things spring, or ever sprung, either to Jesse, or David, or any other. Nor is it the apostle, or we Christians only that thus expound it of Christ; the learnedest of the Jewish Rabbies do so too, Tam Christiani, quam tota circumcisio fatebur, says S. Jerome: all the circumcised expositors confess as much; all understand it of the Messiah, only a temporal Messiah they would have, and err in that, because ours, the true one, they will not acknowledge. But we have enough from what they do, from their own confessing it to be spoken of the Messiah, or the Christ.
Of whom we have here four particulars to consider: the stock from whence he was to come; the design upon which he was to come; the success of his design; and the glory of his success.
1. The stock from whence he was to come, is the 'root of Jesse.'
2.The design upon which he was to come, is, to 'stand for an ensign to the people' to come in unto him.
3. The success of his design, is their coming in, and seeking to him: 'to it shall the Gentiles seek.'
4. The glory of his success: 'And his rest shall be glorious.' Rest he shall have in it, and glorious he shall be by it.
And to bring both ends of the text together, nay all the ends of it together, I shall lastly add the time, when this rest shall spring, when this ensign shall stand up, when the Gentiles shall seek, when this rest and glory, or glorious rest, shall be. 'In that day,' says the text. In this day, says the time. In the birth of Christ. in the times of Christ all this should be, and all this was. Both days are [65/66] one, and this of his birthday, the very first of all these things here, beginning to be fulfilled.
And the sum of all is no more but this, that notwithstanding the most calamitous times, (such as were threatened to the Jews, by bringing upon them the Assyrian, in the former chapter,) there should a day of deliverance at last appear, a day of rest and glory, when the Messiah or Christ should come to perfect all their deliverances; and not only theirs but the Gentiles also; and build up a Church out of them both unto Himself, and dwell and rest gloriously among them, and bring them also to his eternal rest and glory. I begin at the root of this great design, to show you who he is, and whence he comes, that shall thus stand up for the rest and glory of the people. And the root of Jesse here he is called: 'There shall be a root of Jesse.'
In the first verse his style somewhat differs: he is called, 'a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots:' and he is them all; and this root in the text, but a metonymy to express them all.
1. He is a rod; the rod, the staff that so comforted old David; that even raises his dead bones out of the grave, and makes him as it were walk still among the living.
The staff that supported dying Jacob, which he leaned upon, and worshipped, which we may worship too without any idolatry. A rod, a staff he is to lean upon, a staff that will not fail us; not like the reeds of Egypt, the supports and succours that the world affords us; they will but run into our hands and hurt us, to be sure never be able to hold us up. This Christ is the only staff for that; a staff that will comfort us when we are ready to die, that we may thrust to upon our death-beds, that we may commit our dying spirits to, as S. Stephen did. No other can do that but this of Christ. Indeed, no rod had either comfort or strength to hold by but only He.
Yet a rod, 2, He is to rule and correct us too, as there is need; a rod of iron by which God bruises the rebellious spirits. The rod or sceptre of Judah, the shepherd's rod or hook, one to show his kingly power, the other his priestly power over us. So the word denotes two of His prime offices out to us, and may yet intimate a third; the shepherd's rod [66/67] being not so much to strike, as to direct and lead the straggling sheep into the way: a part of His prophetic office. So a word well chosen to signify unto us all His three offices. And the rod or wand that is carried before the judge, when he goes to the judgment seat, may not unfitly be added to the other, and put us in mind that this our King, and Priest, and Prophet, will also come to be our Judge; and we therefore so to carry it, so to yield our obedience to Him, so to submit to His rod, as we intend to answer it when He comes to be our Judge, as we expect or hope to have His favour in the day of judgment.
But he is a rod, 3, new springing out of the root; a kind of pliable tender thing, so styled for His meekness and humility, ready to be wound and turned any way for our service, to become anything, to become all things, for our good. A rod so pliant, so flexible, so pliable, so tender; never any son of man so pliant to his Father's will, so flexible to all good, so pliable to do or suffer, so tender over us; never so meek, and humble, and lowly, never any.
Nor did, 4, ever rod grow out of a more unlikely stem; the word used here imports a dead trunk cut close down to the earth, no appearance of life or power in it. The royal family of David was come to that; nothing appeared above the ground that could give hope of the least bud or leaf. And then it was, that not withstanding this rod came forth. So low may things be brought to human eyes, and yet rise again; God's time is often then. When our eyes are ready to fail with expectation, and all hopes have given up the ghost; when the family of David, from whence all the promised and looked for hope, was in a condition near an extinguishment; when Herod had usurped the throne, and the Romans settled him and his succession in it; when not so much as a sprig, or bud, or string of hope could be seen by the quickest sight, then out starts this rod upon a sudden, and prospers to a wonder. Well might the prophet put 'Wonderful' for one of His names; there was never any like Him; and it may teach us, first, to adore this wonder, to kiss this rod;--support or comfort us, rule or correct us how it will; and, 2, thankfully admire God's goodness that thus does so unexpectedly often for us.
And upon this next title we may do as much:: for He is not only a bare single rod, but a branch that spreads itself abroad into twigs and little boughs. Two main ones at first, His divinity and His humanity; from which infinite little twigs and leaves, infinite graces and blessings, are extended to us. 'My servant the Branch,' God calls him; and the 'Man whose name is the Branch.' The word in both places descend from jma,, which signifies anything that springs or rises, either from above or from below. His divinity, that springs or rises from above, from heaven; and to that alludes the Latin on both places, which translates jma by Oriens, the east or rising sun; and is alluded to by Zacharias in his Benedictus, when he calls Him the 'Day-spring from on high,' Oriens ex alto. His humanity, that rises from beneath, from earth, and is sufficiently signified by the 'root of Jesse.' You have them both together Jer. xxiii.: 'I shall raise unto David a righteous branch,' and this is his name, 'the Lord our Righteousness.' And from these two all the leaves and fruits of righteousness whatsoever.
For it is not, 2, a mere sprout, or yet a barren one, but flourishing and flowering too. 'Beautiful' and 'glorious,' (Isa. iv.3) 'excellent,' and 'comely' in the same place. Flos, the Vulgar reads it, a fair goodly 'flower.' The 'rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys;' a sweet-smelling flower that sent forth its odour into all the world. Flos odorem suum succisus reservat, et contritus accumulat, nec avulses amittit; ita et dominus Jesus in illo patibulo cruces, nec avulses evanuit, nec contritus emarcuit, sed illâ lanceæ punctione succisus speciosior fusi cruoris colore vernavit, mori ipse nescius et mortius æternæ vitæ munus exhalans, says S. Ambrose 'A flower when it is cut off loses not its scent, and being bruised it increases it: so our Lord Jesus,' says he, 'lost none of his beauty, or sweetness, by being broken and bruised upon the cross; when He was here taken off from the stock of the living, the blood that issued out of his wounds made his beauty more fresh and orient; and His bruising there extracted from Him so sweet an odour, that even still every day raises the fainting soul out of its swoon, and revives even the dead, that they flourish out of their graves by a resurrection to life eternal.' [68/69] The original of the word wan is from wan servavit, to reserve or keep; and may therefore not unfitly denote the great sweetness and virtue that is reserved and laid up in Christ to sweeten and adorn the stinking and nasty houses of our sinful souls and bodies.
And from the same Hebrew root, so signifying servavit, we have Servator, our Saviour and Conservator, pointed to us. This wan,, 'branch,' this 'flower,' bear in its name the Saviour; and hath been by some drawn into Nazareus, to raise a conjecture that Christ was called a Nazarene from Isaiah's Netzer, from the word here translated 'branch,' or 'flower.' But this to be sure can be no mistake, to tell you, either from the word or any way else, that our Saviour is designed by it; and this 'rod,' and 'branch' and 'root' is none but He.
And 'root,' indeed he is, as well as a rod or branch; a root without a metonymy, as well as by it. The very root of all our happiness. The root in which our very life is hid. 'Our life is hid with Christ in God,' says the Apostle[St. Paul]. The 'root,'2, and foundation upon which we all are built; we are all but so many twigs of this great vine-root, so many 'branches' from him. The 'root,'3, whence all good springs to us, all flowers of art, of nature, all the staves of comfort and rods of hope, all the branches of grace and glory; no name more proper to Him in all these respects. Nay, 4, even the 'very root of Jesse' too, from whom Jesse had his original, from whom Jesse's family throve into a kingdom, from whence his youngest son's sheep-hook sprang into a sceptre: 'the root of David' himself too, so says he of himself. Why. Then, say we, or why says the prophet, 'the root of Jesse?' Why? Not without reason neither. Jesse was but a poor man in Israel. My family, what is it? says David himself; yet from Jesse would God raise up Christ, that we might know that God can bring anything out of anything. He can raise empires out of sheepcotes; so he did Cyrus, so he did Romulus; the one the founder of the Persian monarchy, the other of the Roman. He raised the first governor of the Jews out of a bulrush-basket, and the first states of the Christian Church out of a fisher-boat: and 'not many mighty, not many noble,' says St. Paul, [69/70 'but God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things that are despised has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring nought things that are.' So little is God taken with our greatness, our great birth or breeding.
And it is, 2, to shame our pride, who undervalue mean things; ready enough to say with the unbelieving Jews, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' Can any great eminent person spring out of the root of Jesse? Yes it can.
And our great ancestors will but shame us, as well as be ashamed of us, if we have nothing to glory of but our relation to their ashes: our high descent is not worth the speaking of, and perhaps if we but trace it a little higher than our own memories (to be sure if to the first beginning) the best and gloriousest princes will find themselves derived from as means an original as any poor Jesse whatsoever. And this may serve well to cut our plumes, to stop our rantings of our descent and birth, or anything, and teach humility.
To drive that lesson home, I may note to you, that it is the root of Jesse here, not David, (though otherwise he is called the 'Root of David,' as Rev. v.5,) lest he should seem either to receive glory from David, or need his name to cover the obscurity of his beginning. There is no glory to that of humility, nor any so truly honourable as the humble spirit.
And 'of Jesse,' not David, to point out as it were the very time of our Messiah's coming; even then when there was scarce anything to be seen or heard of the house of David; the royal line as it were extinct, and David's house brought back again to its first beginning, to that private and low condition it was in the days of Jesse. Thus again would God teach us to be humble in the midst of all our ruff, and glory, by thus showing us what the greatest families of the greatest princes may quickly come to, where they may take up ere they are aware. And, to give us the nearest sign both of Christ's coming, and of Himself; that when things were at the lowest, then it would be, and that his coming would be in a low condition too; in poverty and humility: 'Root' and 'Jesse' both intimate as much.
And lastly, if we may with some etymologists derive it [70/71] from jçn, and interpret it a gift, there will be as good a reason as any why it is here said rather of Jesse than of David; even because this root of all this good to us, comes merely of free gift. 'So God loved the world,' says St. John, 'that He gave His only begotten Son;' and 'not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy,' says St. Paul, this great kindness of God our Saviour appeared towards us, this Lord our Saviour appeared to us, as a root, as a rod, as a branch; a root to settle us, a rod to comfort us, a branch to shelter us; a root to give us life, a rod to rule us in it, a branch to crown us for it; a close stubbed root, a weak slender rod, a tender branch full of loveliness, meekness and humility.
And he appeared as they all do, out of the earth, watered by the dew of heaven; they have no other father than the heavenly showers: so by the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin, as rain into a dry ground, this holy 'root' put forth, this 'branch' sprang up, without other father of humanity; which is the meaning both of erit in the text, and egredietur in the beginning, both of this 'shall be' here, and that 'shall come forth,' or 'there shall grow up,' in the first verse of the chapter. And thus we have the first part of the text, the descent, and stock, and nature, and condition, and birth of Christ, with other things pertaining to it. And now for his design, to be 'set up,' or 'stand for an ensign to the people.'
II. And indeed, for that He was born, to gather the straggling world into one body, to unite the Jew and Gentile under one head, to bring the straying sheep into one fold, to draw all the armies of the earth together into one heavenly banner of the Almighty, under the command of heaven.
Men had long marched under the command of flesh, earth and hell. God had suffered all nations, says, St. Paul, to do so, 'to walk after their own ways.' But now He commands to repent, and leave those unhappy standards to come in to His.
And He exempts none, debars none; all men everywhere are called to it; 'every nation,' and 'every one' in every nation, who will come will be 'accepted.' [71/72] 'Every creature,' says he himself; [St. Paul]; 'Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female,' all are one here. Be we never so heavy laden with sins and infirmities, under this banner we shall 'find rest.' Be we never so hotly pursued by our fiercest enemies, here we shall have shelter and protection. For he is not only an ensign set up to invite us in, but an ensign to protect us too by the armies it leads out for us.
And as it first is set up to call us, and secondly to bring us into a place of defence and safety, so does it, thirdly, stand to us, and not leave us. An ensign may be set up and quickly taken down, but this stands, and stands for ever. It is not idly said, when it is here said particularly, it is to 'stand.' Human forces, devices, and designs may be set up, and not stand at all; but God's and Christ's; theirs will: the gates of hell itself cannot disappoint them, cannot throw down His banner. 'His counsels shall stand, he will do all his pleasure.' They do but 'fight against God' that go about to resist it, says Galamiel, the greatest doctor of the law.
And will you know the staff, the colours, and the flag or streamer of this 'ensign?' Why, the staff is His cross, the colours are blood and water, and the streamer the Gospel, or preaching of them to the world. The staff that carried the colours was of old time fashioned like a cross: a cross bar near the top there was, from which the flag or streamer hung; so as it were prefiguring, that all the hosts and armies of the nations were one day to be gathered under the banner of the cross, to which soldiers should daily flow out of all the nations and kingdoms of the earth. By blood and water, the two sacraments, is the way to Him; and the word or Gospel preached is the flag waved out to invite all people in.
Come we then in, first, and let not this flag of reconciliation, of peace and treaty for to such ends are flags of reconciliation, of peace and treaty for to such ends are flags sometimes hung out--be set up in vain; let it not stand like an ensign forsaken, upon a hill: come we in to treat with Him at least about our everlasting peace, lest it become a flag of defiance by and by.
Come we in, and submit to the conditions of peace, submit to His orders and commands. The Septuagint reads _ ¢rcÒmenoj qnîu, here, to intimate this: He that stands for an ensign is to be the great Ruler and Commander of the [72/73] nations; it is requisite therefore that we come in and obey him.
Come we, 3, to this standard, and remember we are also to fight under it; that is the prime reason of ensigns and banners. We promise to do it when we are baptized, and it must be our business to perform it. It is not for us to be afraid of pains or labours, of danger or trouble, of our lives and fortunes, for Christ's service. A soldier scorns it, even he who fights but for a little pay, and that commonly ill paid. And shall we turn cowards when we fight for a kingdom, and that in heaven, which we may be sure of it we fight well?
Above all, 4, if this ensign stand up for us, let us stand up to it, and stand for it to the last. A soldier will venture all to save his colours; rather wrap himself up in them, and die so, than part with them. For, Christ, for His word, for His sacraments, for His cross, for our Gospel and religion we should do as much. But I am ashamed; the age has showed us too many cowards, that have not only run away from this standard, but betrayed it too; the more unworthy certainly that they should ever reap fruit or benefit, twig or branch from the root of Jesse. The very Gentiles in the next words will sufficiently shame them. For to it, to this ensign, 'do all the Gentiles seek.'
III. 'Shall,' it is, I confess, in the future tense here, reached no further in the prophet's time, but now it does; the prophecy is fulfilled, it so came to pass. And it quickly came so, after the ensign was set up, the cross reared, and resurrection had displayed it. 'For I, if I be lifted up from the earth,' says he himself, 'will draw all men to Me.' Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, the dwellers in Mesopotamia and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia, Egypt and Libya, Rome and Cyrene, as well as dwellers in Judae; Cretes and Arabians, as well as Israelites; proselytes, as well as Jews; He will draw all into Him. The vast multitudes that came daily in from all quarters of the world, so many churches of the Gentiles, so suddenly raised and planted, are a sufficient evidence to this great truth. And the term the Jews at this day give the Christians, of mywn, the very word in the text for Gentiles [73/74] confirms as much by their own confession. . So true was both Isaiah's prophecy here, and father Jacob's so long before, that to Him should 'the gathering of the people be.' But that which is an evidence as great as any, if not above all, is, St. Paul applies the text as fulfilled then. And there is this only to be added for our particular, that we still go on and continue seeking Him.
IV. But there is rest and glory here added to the success of this great design: 'his rest will be glorious.
Now by 'his rest,' we in the first place understand the Church, the place where the psalmists tells us 'his honour dwells;' the place where the Psalmist tells us 'his honour dwells;' the place of which himself says no less than 'This shall be my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have delight therein.' And glorious it is the Apostle tells us, 'a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle;' so glorious that the Prophet [Isaiah] says, 'The Gentiles will come to its light, and kings to the brightness of its rising.' They will 'bring gold and increase from Sheba; the flock of Kedar and the rams of Nebaioth will come with acceptance to his altar; the glory of Lebanon will come unto it;' 'They shall call the walls of it salvation, and the gates praise;' 'The Lord is an everlasting light unto it, and god is its glory.' 'Glorious things are spoken of thee, O thou city of God!' Thy Church, thy congregation, O thou Root of Jesse, thou Son of David, whom thou hast gathered, and thy churches or holy temples too, which are raised to thee, exceed in glory; the beauty of holiness, thy holy mysteries, thy blessed self are there!
And indeed, in the holy mysteries of the blesses Sacrament, is His second place of rest. There it is that He 'feeds His flock, and rests at noon.' And He is glorious there, glorious in His mercies, illustrious in His benefits, wonderful in His being there. No such wonder in the world as His being under these consecrated elements, His feeding our souls with them, His discovering Himself from under them, by the comforts He affords us by them.
His cratch to-day was a third place of His rest; glorious it was because, 1. the God of glory rested there, because 2, the glorious angels displayed their wings, and gave forth their [74/75] light and sung about it, because, 3, kings themselves came from far to visit it, and laid all their glories down there at His feet. There His rest was glorious too.
Nay, 4, his sepulchre, the place of His rest in death, was as glorious still, as any of the other: and I must tell you, the Latin reads it, sepulchrum ejus gloriosum. From thence it is He rose in glory, and by that it was He gained a glorious victory over death and hell, from thence He came forth a glorious conqueror. Thither have devout Christians flocked in incredible numbers. There have miracles been often wrought, there have kings hung up their crowns, there have millions paid their homage. And thence have we all received both grace and glory, from His sepulchre where He lay down in death and rose again to life.
There is one rest still behind, and it is not only glorious, but itself is glory. His 'rest' Himself calls it, yet a rest into which He would have us enter too. And heaven it is; no rest to this, no rest indeed anywhere but there, and perfect glory nowhere else.
And now to wind up all together. This rest and glory, or glorious rest, which ends the text (and it is the best end we can either make or wish), springs from the 'root' at the beginning. The Church itself, and all the rest and glory the Churches ever had, or have, or will enjoy, grows all from that. Our holy temples, our holy sacraments, our holy days,--this day, the first of all the rest,- all the benefits of His death, ressurrection and ascension into glory,--nay, our greatest glory in heaven itself, comes from this little Branch of Jesse, this humble Root, and the way to all is by Him and His humility.
And the time suits well, and the day hits fair for all. In that day, says the text, all this you have heard will be; and that day now is this. To-day the Root sprang forth, the Branch appeared. To-day the Ensign was displayed to all the people; from this day the Gentiles began their search. This day He began to call in His Church, and the shepherds were the first. To-day He first was laid to mortal rest; to-dat the glory of the star appeared to wait upon His cradle. To-day we also may enter into His rest, one or other of them.
[75/76] One of His places of rest we are told you was in the church, or holy place; let us seek Him there. Another rest of His we mentioned to be in the blessed Sacrament; let us seek Him there. His ensign is set up; let us go in to Him, and offer our lives and fortunes at His feet, proffer to fight His battles and obey His commands. Strive we, as the Apostle adviseth us, to 'enter in to His rest.' Root we and build ourselves upon Him. Root we ourselves upon Him by humility; build we upon Him by faith; grow we up with Him 'rooted and grounded in love, and sprouting out in all good works. Rest we ourselves upon Him, and make Him our only stay and glory. So when this Root will appear the second time, and blow up His trumpet, as He here set up His ensign, and our dead roots spring all afresh out of their dust, we also may appear with Him, with palms and branches in our hands, to celebrate the praises of this Root and Branch of Jesse, and enter joyfully into His rest, into the rest of everlasting glory.