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Robert McCulloch on Isa. 2:1-4

June 13, 2013

Robert McCulloch (1740-1824), was a Minister of the Gospel at Dairsie, Scotland. He was the author of a series of lectures on the prophecies of Isaiah. In his exposition on Isaiah 2:1-4 he rejected a strictly literal approach to the prophecy, and identified ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house’ as signifying the Christian church, especially in apostolic times. The following excerpt is from ‘Lectures on the Prophecies of Isaiah,’ Volume 1 (1791)  pp. 129-142.

1 THE word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw, concerning Judah and Jerusalem. This is the inscription of the prophecy contained in this, and the two following chapters.–The remarkable form of speech here used, is often adopted by the prophets, when they mention the revelations wherewith they were favoured. The prophecy of Amos thus begins; ‘The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel.’ In like manner, Micah introduces his prophecy; ‘The word of the Lord that came to Micah the Morasthite, in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.’ Our prophet likewise uses a similar expression, [Isa. xiii. 1] where he speaks of the burden of Babylon, which he saw. Though, properly speaking, a word is not an object of sight, it is to be observed, that what Isaiah here declares he had revealed to him from God, was communicated by a vision, in which he was favoured with a visible representation of what he relates. This remark, I apprehend, fully justifies the form of speech under consideration; which seems designed to intimate, that the prophet received the clearest and most satisfying revelation of what is here recorded.

This prophecy relates to the same persons with the former, namely Judah and Jerusalem, by whom, as I observed from Chap. i.1 we must understand the people of God, inhabiting those places to whom this message was primarily delivered; who afforded an instructive type of his peculiar people under the New Testament, who are intimately concerned in this subject, recorded for their admonition. In this view, we are deeply interested in the predictions before us; and, therefore, we ought diligently to attend to the important truths we now proceed to consider.

2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.

In these words a most remarkable event, and the time of its accomplishment, is foretold.–The time fixed for the accomplishment of this prophecy, is the last days, an expression which frequently occurs in the Old Testament. Though some commentators suppose the times of the gospel are intended by this phrase, I do not recollect any passage of scripture in which it is used to denote the whole period of that dispensation; nor is it thus understood by the Jews, to whom the oracles of God were committed, so far as I know. The season here referred to, is the concluding period of the Jewish church and state, prior to their abolition; and in this sense the words of the patriarch Jacob are to be explained, where he informs his sons, what should befall them in the last days, in which the great Messiah was to come, before the sceptre departed from Judah. To this time, I suppose, Balaam looked forward, when he spake of the end of the days. ‘In these last days’ (as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews remarks), ‘God hath spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things’ and as the prophet Joel foretold; ‘He poured out his Spirit upon all flesh,’ &c.–With great propriety is this description given to the last series of God’s dispensations toward his church on earth, the last course of his providence toward this world, and the concluding scene in which the great work of man’s redemption was accomplished. Then, saith the prophet, shall come to pass that which is written,

The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains. Were these words to be literally explained, they would contain what would seem more like a fable of the poets, than a divine prediction, highly interesting to the church of God, and recorded for its benefit. They would affirm, that the mountain, on which the temple, or the Lord’s house, was anciently built, called Zion, on which also stood the city Jerusalem, was to be so prepared and established as to be exalted far above all other mountains, such as Sinai and Tabor, Carmel and Hermon; or rather, that it mould be removed from off its basis, and be fixed on the tops of the hills. Every one sees the impropriety of such an explanation of the words, assured, that literally Mount Zion shall never be removed. No doubt the splendid edifice which adorned its summit, and the deep valley which lay at the bottom, made it appear immensely high; and as the Jews reckoned the land of Canaan was the highest part of the earth, and this mountain the highest ground of Canaan, they might consider it as exalted above the hills, and established as on the tops of the mountains. But this is not the import of the prophecy, which must be explained in its figurative and spiritual sense.

By the mountain of the Lord’s house, we understand the church of Jesus Christ, the holy hill of Zion, over which God hath anointed him King, of which that mountain was an eminent type. The solid rocks, of which it was composed, afforded an instructive emblem of the stability and duration of the church of God, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail: its elevation above the neighbouring grounds, represented the dignity and influence of the church of Christ in its prosperous condition: being seen at a great distance, and enjoying the richest prospects, signified that the church is a city set on a hill, from whence the disciples of Christ are favoured with the most transporting views. In the church of the New Testament, as anciently in the mountain of the Lord’s house, the Living God takes up his peculiar residence, so as to dwell in the midst of it; his presence is enjoyed, his glory is seen, and therein he is honoured and served according to his own appointment. In this sense we understand the mountain of the Lord’s house, which is here foretold.

Shall be established in the tops of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills. Both expressions seem designed to intimate, that the church of God should be exalted to distinguished dignity; and, on account of the peculiar privileges wherewith it should be invested, should far excel all that are called hills and mountains; and therefore its praises should be celebrated, and its fame spread abroad through the earth. The Son of God was to elevate his church to the highest honour, by appearing in the Lord’s house, and there delivering the glorious truths of the gospel; whereby he was to afford a much clearer revelation of the divine glory, and to institute a far more perfect worship, than ever had been ordained from any other mountain, not excepting Sinai itself. He was to give the most wonderful demonstrations of the divine presence among men, the fame whereof should spread through the whole world; so that the nations should be happily disposed to renounce their vain superstitions, to detest their false religions, and to submit to his doctrine and authority. We behold this prediction verified, when the Son of God, entering Jerusalem and the temple, laid the foundations of his kingdom, taught the ways of God in truth, and qualified his apostles for the faithful performance of his service, by his divine instructions and Holy Spirit. Then the mountain of the Lord’s house was honoured with astonishing displays of the gracious presence of God, which were every where published abroad. The blessed consequences were, that the sublime doctrines, inculcated by Jesus Christ and his apostles, founded on eternal truth, which no human or infernal power shall ever be able to subvert, destroyed the false religions professed in the world; so that Mount Zion became far more illustrious and famous than any other mountain in the earth.

And all nations shall flow unto it. The vast concourse of people, which should resort to Zion, are here described in language which hath an obvious reference to the waters of a river flowing on in their course toward the sea. The expression intimates, that all nations should speedily, and in continued succession, repair to the church of Jesus Christ; whilst one should have powerful influence on another, all should press forward, with progressive force and rapidity, until they were received into its bosom. True, indeed, it is not more contrary to the course of nature, for water to run upward, and flow unto the tops of the mountains, than it is for men, alienated from the life of God, to refrain from walking in the vanity of their minds, and to have recourse to Jesus Christ, that they may participate of the blessings of his church. It ought therefore to be remembered, that the fountain from whence these mighty streams take their rise, which shall convey all nations to the great Redeemer, is in the highest heavens; and as waters rise as high as the spring from which they flow, the multitudes of people, here intended, shall be conducted not only to the house of the Lord, established on the tops of the mountains, but to that not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. How astonishing this event, that all nations, even those who had hitherto walked in their own ways, should resort, in great numbers, to Mount Zion, that they may join themselves to the church of God, in which are inculcated the difficult lessons of self-denial, the study of humility and inward purity, that are opposite and troublesome to human nature in its degenerate state! To excite in the people of God the lively expectation of this unlikely success of things, it was repeatedly foretold, by the prophets Jeremiah [Jer. iii. 17] and Zechariah. [Zech. ii. 10-11] That Gentiles, as well as Jews, should repair to the church under the New Testament. Such, accordingly, was the powerful agency of the Holy Spirit that attended the doctrine of Jesus Christ preached at Jerusalem, that devout men, of every nation under heaven, came and dwelt in that highly favoured city, as we read in the second chapter and 5th verse of the Acts of the Apostles.

Because of God’s temple at Jerusalem, as the prophet David predicted, ‘Kings shall bring presents unto him.’ [Psa. lxviii. 29] This prophecy was remarkably fulfilled, in the numerous converts from among the Gentiles, who were gathered into the apostolic church; though, it is hoped, it shall receive a still farther completion in the last days of the gospel dispensation.–Improve this animating consideration, for strengthening and confirming your faith, in the accomplishment of this, and similar predictions, notwithstanding every intervening difficulty; and for encouraging your earnest prayers to God, for the performance of the glorious things which yet remain to be fulfilled. However unlikely the foretold event may seem, the faithfulness of Jehovah hath never failed: he hath remembered his mercy from generation to generation, and his truth endureth for ever.

3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

In these words, wherein the nations are represented as inciting one another to repair to the house of the Lord, the subject introduced in the foregoing verse is amplified and illustrated. The Hebrew word, which is here rendered many, signifies also powerful; so that many powerful people are the subjects of this prediction, whose numbers and influence shall be very great. From this expression, however, we must not suppose, that it is necessary, to the accomplishment of this prophecy, that whole nations, without exception, should adopt the following language. It is sufficient for this purpose, that large numbers of them stir up one another to join in the worship of God, and the obedience of his commands, though the great part among them continue in superstition and idolatry. This remark, I apprehend, is founded in fact, and deserves attention, when we are employed in considering such events as that here foretold. Whilst, therefore, many of the elect of God, dispersed among different nations, as the accomplishment of this prophecy, should invite one another to go up to the house of the Lord, the rest of them may be persisting in criminal idolatry, foolish superstitions, and walking in the vanity of their minds.–Concerning these many people, thus understood, it is foretold, that they shall go and say,

Come ye, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. They thus encourage one another, as persons commonly do who are exceedingly fond of the enterprise in which they are engaging, and solicitous that others may join them in what they expect to enjoy the greatest satisfaction. The form of expression here used, is modelled upon an opinion which anciently prevailed among the Jews, which I mentioned when treating of the preceding verse, that the land of Judea, and especially the city Jerusalem, were higher in regard of situation than the countries wherewith they were surrounded: hence we read in the New Testament, of going down from Judea, and going up to Jerusalem; which was a figure of the Jerusalem that is above. The mountain of the Lord, and the house of the God of Jacob, must be explained here, as we have already observed from the 2d verse, in a figurative sense; denoting the church of the Living God, under the present dispensation of his grace, on which he commands his blessing, even life for evermore. The expression before us, in its spiritual signification, is instructive and animating, and merits the closest attention. It supposes, that the persons introduced speaking, and those complying with their invitation, were to rise from a lower to a higher condition, which, you know, is commonly attended with much difficulty, and requires the most vigorous exertion. Though, at first view, the work, to which men are here encouraged, might appear unpleasant and difficult, yet the happy consequences arising from its performance, would abundantly compensate all their labour and trouble. Many have been the people who (as here foretold) have animated one another in their ascent to the house of the Lord. This doubtless would be the pleasant employment of the devout men, of every nation under heaven, who resorted to Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus Christ, when this prediction was remarkably verified. This day, brethren, let this scripture be farther fulfilled in our ears. Come ye, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. I do not invite you to go up to the literal mount Zion, whither the tribes of God resorted of old, to give thanks to the name of the Lord; nor do I ask you to go up to the temple built on that mountain, called the house of God, which was long ago buried in ruins: I invite you to rise above this earth, in affection and pursuit, that, in the way of obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ, you may ascend to the spiritual Zion, the perfection of beauty, the house of God, in which he delights for ever to reside. Let not the labours and difficulties that may attend this journey discourage you: look to Jesus Christ, lest at any time you be weary and faint in your minds; and cease not, until, having gone from strength to strength, you arrive before God, perfect in Zion. To this the most ample encouragement is subjoined.

And he will teach us of his ways. The person here spoken of, is no other than the blessed God himself, the great Instructor of his church. Who teacheth like him? The benefit promised is of the highest importance. It relates not to literal or grammatical instruction, whereby persons learn to read the words before them, and to acquire the form of knowledge, though this also cometh from the Lord of hosts; but to that spiritual instruction which is conveyed by the illumination of the understanding, and demonstration of the Spirit, which makes known the things freely given us of God, and the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. By the former of these, a child is taught to read; by the latter, a man acquires a good understanding, which enables him to know the meaning of what he reads, or hears, respecting divine subjects. By the one, a speculative acquaintance with sacred truths is acquired; by the other, the law of God is put into the heart, and so written on the inward parts as to be transcribed into. the life. The word of God (hews us what is good, and what the Lord requires of us; and the Spirit of God effectually disposes the heart to attend to his instructions, to profit by them, so as to reduce them to practice; and both the word, and Spirit of God, being necessary to bring men to walk in the paths of the Lord, we suppose, both are included in the words before us.

By the ways of God, may be meant his purposes and counsels, so far as are proper and necessary for his servants to be acquainted with, in order to promote their happiness and salvation; his providential dispensations, so far as is consistent with their duty and interest to know them, that they may understand the loving-kindness of the Lord; the ministration of his Spirit, and the way of salvation, by which the manifold wisdom of Jehovah is admirably displayed. These are, with great propriety, called the ways of God, as he points them out to us in his word, and as they are intended to conduct to the enjoyment of him in the land of everlasting uprightness. Some degree of acquaintance with these things is indispensably requisite to men walking in the ways of God’s precepts; and, therefore, let us entreat, that he may grant us the wisdom of the prudent, that we may understand his way, and walk therein with increasing delight. And let it be our great design, in attending his ordinances, that we may learn his truths; that we may hear all things commanded us in his law and gospel, respecting faith and practice, that, through the strength of the Most High, we may keep his precepts with our whole hearts.

And we will walk in his paths. This is the promised, happy effect of being instructed in the ways of God. By the paths of the Lord, we understand the divine doctrines, and holy precepts of the gospel, by which God hath marked the way wherein we ought to go, to the everlasting enjoyment of his presence and glory. These paths serve to conduct to the kingdom of God all those who are so wise as walk in them. They afford direction in every condition through which they pass, whether prosperous or adverse; in every stage of life, whether youth or old age; in every relation in which they stand connected; and in every station, whether more humble or elevated, that they occupy. They clearly point out the truths necessary to be believed with the heart, and confessed with the mouth; and the duties requisite to be performed, to demonstrate the sincerity of faith, to adorn the profession of the gospel, and display the power of godliness. The resolution before us plainly implies, a free choice of the precepts of the gospel, in preference to all other ways, and in opposition to every kind of compulsion whatsoever. It includes, a fixed purpose of heart, a firm determination, to cleave unto the Lord, notwithstanding every difficulty and discouragement that may lie in the way. And as walking is an uniform, progressive motion, it comprehends a constant, persevering progress in the good ways of the Lord, wherein they are instructed. Those who are taught of God, by his word, providence, and Spirit, here express their sincere purpose, through divine aid, to make advances in the paths of obedience and submission, to whatsoever the Most High may be pleased to require and appoint. After what I have already remarked, respecting the fulfilment of this prophecy, I only add, that the words now explained received their accomplishment, when multitudes from among many great and celebrated nations, Greeks, Egyptians, and Italians, leaving their native country, resorted to the church of Jesus Christ in Mount Zion, where they were instructed in its doctrine, worship, and discipline, and joined in the faith and obedience of the gospel.

For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. These words assign the reason why great numbers of people should encourage one another to repair to Mount Zion. The law, and word of the Lord, seem both intended to signify, the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, published by Jesus Christ and his apostles. With great propriety are they called a law, as they bear the impression of the divine authority by which they were delivered, and reveal the will of the one great Lawgiver to all those to whom they are published. With the belief and subjection they justly demand, are connected glory, honour, and immortality, whilst the neglect and contempt of them exposes to tribulation and wrath. And they are properly called the law, by way of eminence, as far excelling all other laws. They are emphatically denominated the law of faith, the royal law, the perfect law of liberty. With no less justice are they said to be the word of the Lord, as they proceeded from the great Messiah, who is Lord of all, the blessed Messenger, sent by the Living God to make known his will unto men. Accordingly, in the New Testament, they are described as the word of God’s grace, the word of righteousness, the word of truth, the word of life, the word that is able to make wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

This law, and word of the Lord, is foretold to go forth out of Zion and Jerusalem. The expression seems to allude to the custom of princes, whose edicts and laws are issued from the cities and palaces in which they reside, and being stamped with royal authority, they demand reverence and obedience. From the renowned places here mentioned, the sublime doctrine of the gospel was announced, according to this prediction. From thence Jesus Christ and his apostles, and afterward many others, went forth every where through the whole world, preaching the gospel with admirable simplicity and success; insomuch that, as the evangelist Luke affirms, repentance and remission of sins were preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. The prophet Micah repeated this prophecy with little variation. [Mic. 4:1-3] You may compare together both predictions at your leisure.–Let us, my friends, attend to this law, and hearken to this word of Jehovah, solicitous that from the heart we may believe and obey it; remembering, that ‘he who despised Moses law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?’ [Heb. x. 28-29]

4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation,’ neither shall they learn war any more.

The happy consequences of the preaching of the gospel are, in this verse, beautifully described.

The person spoken of can be no other than the Lord, whose word went forth from Jerusalem, and who, in these last days, published in person the glad tidings of salvation. He is the Governor among among the nations, for the kingdom is the Lord’s. It belongs to kings, who are the judges of their people, to give laws to their subjects, to take care of their interests, to defend them from their enemies, to hear their petitions, to determine their differences, to go forth before them to war, and to distribute among them rewards and punishments. All these kind offices Jesus Christ the Lord performs, by his servants, his word, and Spirit, in his church and kingdom, constituted of the nations of them that are saved. He gives laws to his people: he adjusts all their concerns: he protects them from their powerful enemies: he attends to all their requests: he enriches them with every needful blessing: he decides their controversies: he goes before them to victory, as their leader: he dispenses among them those divine consolations, and necessary chastisements, which their various circumstances require: he invests his numerous subjects with the most glorious privileges and admits them to the enjoyment of those sacred prerogatives, which render them safe and comfortable; though, for wise reasons, he defers their advancement to desired happiness, until their entrance into life, and the commencement of another economy. All power in heaven and earth being committed into his hands, as the great Judge of the world, he will at last determine the everlasting state of all men, who shall receive from him their final sentence.—Let us then, brethren, subject ourselves, without reserve, to our rightful Judge, Lawgiver, and King, and yield him that unlimited submission which he justly demands, assured, that he will deal with us as with his servant David, whom ‘he rewarded according to his righteousness, and recompensed according to the cleanness of his hands.’ [Psa xviii. 20]