[ On December 31, 1618, Johannes Polyander preached a sermon on Isaiah 52:7 before the delegates at the Synod of Dordt. Polyander was professor of theology at Leiden. The sermon, originally preached in Latin, appears in Dutch in the “Acts” of the Synod. The sermon as published here is severely abridged. The translator is Marjorie Kamps. —Ed.]
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Isaiah 52:7
As it has pleased the honorable President to impose upon me recently that I, continuing in the footsteps of the honorable men, Doctor Hallus and Doctor Scultetus, should preach a sermon in this place and should produce my meditation from a few texts of the Holy Scriptures; so I will in the beginning employ no other excuse than that I have esteemed it to be my bounden duty to obey the President. I assure myself that you, according to your special favor and friendliness to me, wherewith the good, almighty God has adorned you with so many excellent gifts, will approve of this my purpose and public testimony of my obedience. Trusting this before I begin my sermon, I will request the help of the Lord, who has made the heavens and the earth, with this my prayer, earnestly imploring that with the mouth leading in prayer you will be able to follow me with outstretched hearts.
Pay attention with me to God’s Word, with proper reverence and humbleness of hearts, as proclaimed and described aforetime by the prophet Isaiah in the 52nd chapter, verse 7, of his prophecy.
That which is generally said of renowned sciences and excellent offices, that is, that things which are beautiful are also heavy, may be especially applied to the service of the churches. Experience itself, as well as the Holy Scriptures, abundantly expresses this.
If we look at the Holy Scriptures, the apostle Paul teaches, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work (I Tim. 3:1). Preaching is a work because of the difficulty of the service; it is excellent because of its dignity. If we look at experience, it is proved by various examples from all times that the administration of the divine Word, by which, with a man’s tongue, the whole multitude of people are gently attended to and preserved in the common bond of holy religion and in the mutual love of the truth and peace, is no less hard and laborious than it is praiseworthy and honorable. Upon perceiving this, the prophet Isaiah rightly exclaims, “How beautiful,” etc., with which exclamation that outstanding prophet gives to understand that no man is serving a more admirable office amongst God’s people, that no one deserves more thanks for his holy labor with the people of God than the preachers of the divine Word, who, in the name of God, the most supreme King, preach peace to the disquieted, good to the miserable, salvation to the lost, and liberty to the captives.
The occasion of this outcry everyone will notice with me shortly in the preceding verses. There, Isaiah has wished to portray the promise of God of redemption through the coming Messiah and the mission of His forerunners, with the picture of the deliverance of the church of old out of Babylonian servitude.
Isaiah is praising preachers for three things, namely, their dignity, their diligence, and the loveliness of their doctrine. He points out their dignity by a figurative manner of speaking, taken from the sincerity and beauty of the lovely feet. By their feet, he signifies both their distinguished mission and their honorable association among the people, so that they are able to be distinguished from the false prophets, not so much by the appearance and the confession of their mouths, as by their lawful calling and the beauty of their manners.
He describes their diligence, not only from the old manners of the prophets sent of God to the Jews, who in former times used to climb up the mountains of Palestine and preach to the people from there so that they would be louder and more clearly heard by all, but also through a resemblance to either the shepherds, as some think, or of the watchmen on the mountains, as others prefer to think. The former were diligent in leading the sheep to graze on the mountains where they walked. The latter, keeping watch from the only elevated place, warned their neighbors in advance either of the enemies or of the robbers. We are of the opinion that both of the likenesses are able to be applied to the preachers of the gospel.
We continue with the loveliness of their doctrine. Their doctrine is called here a gospel, which is to say, a good, glad, and blessed message from God the Father, reconciled with us in Christ, the Immanuel, born and given to us of the Father, so that He is to us our all in all: wisdom to those who are ignorant; a path to the wandering; truth to the doubting; righteousness to the guilty; sanctification to those who are polluted with sin; redemption to those who lie captive under the flesh, the world, and the prince of this world; eternal life to the dying; and the bread of life to those who are hungry.
The fruits of this lovely doctrine are four, as stated here by the prophet. They are peace, goodness, salvation, and the kingdom of God. These fruits are bound to each other with an unbreakable bond. For where through the single blessing of God the seed of the gospel is sown, there peace blooms. Where peace blooms, it is there that goodness, the salvation of souls, and the kingdom of God grow and blossom.
Under the name of this peace the prophet understands blessings of all sorts, as much bodily as spiritual, which all men receiving the gospel with the obedience of faith are promised in the Holy Scriptures. These blessings of God indicated by the name of peace are of utmost importance, as well in the mutual association of God with us in Christ and of us with our neighbor for Christ’s sake, as in the quietness of the conscience arising in our hearts out of both of those unions, and increasing more and more. With this peace, kings, princes, and magistrates become attached, as with a tight chain, to their subjects; the shepherds with their churches; the fathers of the family with the whole family; God in heaven with the angels, on earth with men; and man with God through the Holy Spirit. Christ has promised, proclaimed, given, left, and most highly recommended this peace to His church.
The good that springs forth from this peace means blessedness. Philosophers have tried in different ways to find this good, though they have never been able to, because they, being devoid of the light of the gospel and the eyes of faith, have neither been able to recognize in themselves the supreme good of the eternal inheritance obtained through Christ’s blood, nor their original leprosy, nor the guilt of eternal death, two distinct evil diseases in contrast with this supreme good, nor have been able to find the right remedy for both diseases outside of themselves in the atoning offering of Christ for our sins.
Let us turn again to our prophet, Isaiah, who places the supreme good in these three. In the first place, he places it in the peace whereof we have now spoken. Secondly, he places it in the salvation of our souls. Thirdly, he places it in the renewing of the kingdom of God in us.
Salvation is attributed here to the reigning God as the only author, so that we conclude that salvation is only from God, but corruption is from man, and that these all remain there in that corruption, until they, through the preaching of the gospel, which is a power of God unto salvation to all those who believe, are translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, and are brought of God under the beneficial yoke of obedience.
This salvation, joined to peace and good, becomes allied to the kingdom of God. We know that these three heavenly gifts are flowing, as diverse out-workings from one and the same origin, a perfect, supreme King and Head of the church universal, Jesus Christ, into each and every one of its members. In truth, there really is no lasting peace, no concise and perfect good, no true salvation of souls to be understood outside of the kingdom of God.
Also, it ought not be forgotten that the gospel of the kingdom of God is promised of the prophet exclusively to Zion, that is, to the gathering of those with whom God has made His gracious covenant, as He says that the ministers of God shall proclaim to Zion, “Thy God reigneth.” He distinguishes between the status of the allies and the status of the aliens. It is true, God the Lord reigns powerfullythrough the common ruling of His providence over both of them, that is, the elect and the reprobate, but amongst the children of Zion, according to the particular decree of His grace, He establishes the realm of salvation and of everlasting blessedness. For that reason it is said in truth by David in Psalm 105:6, 7, “Oh, ye seed of Abraham, his servant, Ye children of Zion, his chosen. He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.”
Who is there amongst you, honorable brethren, who would not lament with me because of the sad state of our churches today, or rather about this frightening transformation itself, about which the entire Calvinistic Christendom is dismayed; about which heaven and earth are startled; about which the angels descending daily unto us from heaven are extremely sorrowful; about which finally the pulpits and the pews of the churches and academics shudder and become very devastated? Who is there amongst you to be sent to the people of Zion as ministers of this prophecy of Isaiah of peace and salvation, which Paul says must be understood to be the preachers of the New Testament (Rom. 10)? Who, considering this prophecy with me, does not burst out in this lament: Where, O Isaiah, is your promise of the very glad coming of the shepherds who preach peace, good, salvation, and the kingdom of God? Where are their lovely, sincere, and beautiful feet, radiating before God and His people through the rays of the truth, through clear manifestation of a lawful calling, and through the clarity of a guiltless association.
Is it not so on the other hand that very many black, crooked, deformed feet are seen, those which are not sent of God, but have entered into the sheepfold of Christ from somewhere other than through the true door, and, contaminated with evil morals, much rather introduce their good thoughts than Christ’s gospel, much prefer their corrupt disputes than the beneficial peace of Christ?
I exhort you that you no longer permit, through more delay, the weeds of errors, strifes, and disagreements to be spread along with the serving of the good seed of the gospel in our Netherlands, through the secret and crafty practices of the devil, but, earnestly paying attention to a capable remedy for the healing of the wounds of our churches, that you labor in every possible way to that end, that you, with me, satisfy the great expectations, commands, and desires of all pious hearts who confess the same religion with us. We must rescue the healthy doctrine of our old Reformed churches. Let us take away the rising differences amongst us, not according to our own intelligence, but according to the mind of the Holy Spirit, revealed to us in His Holy Word.
The synod must chase away these three armorbearers sent from hell by the prince of darkness, namely, false human tradition, discord, and the freedom of all to teach and to present God’s Word as everyone sees fit, by which they have disturbed and almost overthrown the churches up until now. When you will return home from this synod, the whole multitude of these consistories and of the citizens of Dordrecht and your fellow citizens and brothers in Christ will call you together and congratulate you, to have finished so weighty and great a matter. All will say, “How lovely are the feet of those who have now restored again to the Dutch churches peace, salvation, and the wholesome rest of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.”