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Isaiah 5:4

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

What could I … - As a man who had done what is described in Isaiah 5:2, would have done all that “could” be done for a vineyard, so God says that he has done all that he could, in the circumstances of the Jews, to make them holy and happy. He had chosen them; had given them his law; had sent them prophets and teachers; had defended them; had come forth in judgment and mercy, and he now appeals “to them” to say what “could” have been done more. This important verse implies that God had done all that he could have done; that is, all that he could consistently do, or all that justice and goodness required him to do, to secure the welfare of his people. It cannot, of course, be meant that he had no physical ability to do anything else, but the expression must be interpreted by a reference to the point in hand; and that is, an appeal to others to determine that he had done all that could be done in the circumstances of the case. In this respect, we may, without impropriety, say, that there is a limit to the power of God. It is impossible to conceive that he “could” have given a law more holy; or that he could append to it more solemn sanctions than the threatening of eternal death; or that he could have offered higher hopes than the prospect of eternal life; or that he could have given a more exalted Redeemer. It has been maintained (see the “Princeton Bib. Repert.,” April 1841) that the reference here is to the future, and that the question means, ‹what remains now to be done to my vineyard as an expression of displeasure?‘ or that it is asked with a view to introduce the expression of his purpose to punish his people, stated in Isaiah 5:5. But that the above is the meaning or the passage, or that it refers to what God had actually done, is evident from the following considerations:

(1) He had specified at length Isaiah 5:2 what he had done. He had performed “all” that was usually done to a vineyard; in fencing it, and clearing it of stones, and planting in it the choicest vines, and building a wine-press in it. Without impropriety, it might be said of a man that, whatever wealth he had, or whatever power he had to do “other” things, he “could do nothing more to perfect a vineyard.”

(2) It is the meaning which is most naturally suggested by the original. Literally, the Hebrew is, ‹What to do more?‘ עוד מה־לעשׂות mah -la‛ăs'ôth ‛ôd Coverdale renders this, as it is in our translation, ‹What more could have been done for it?‘ Luther, ‹What should one do more to my vineyard, that I have not done for it?‘ Was sollte man doth mehr thun an meinem Weinberge, das ich nicht gethun babe an illin? Vulgate, Quid est quod debui ultra facere. ‹What is there which I ought to do more?‘ Septuagint, Τί ποιήσω ἔτι Ti poiēsō eti ‹What shall I do yet?‘ implying that he had done all that he could for it. The Chaldee renders it, ‹What good thing - טבא מה mah ṭâbâ' - shall I say that I will do to my people that I have not done for them?‘ implying that he had done for them all the good which could be spoken of. The Syriac, ‹What remains to be done to my vineyard, and I have not done it?‘ In all these versions, the sense given is substantially the same - that God had done all that could be done to make the expectation that his vineyard would produce fruit, proper. There is no reference in one of these versions to what he “would” do afterward, but the uniform reference is to what he “had” done to make the expectation “reasonable,” that his vineyard would produce fruit.

(3) That this is the fair interpretation is apparent further, because, when, in Isaiah 5:5, he says what he “would do,” it is entirely different from what he said he “had done.” He “had” done all that could be done to make it proper to expect fruit; he now “would” do what would be a proper expression of his displeasure that no fruit had been produced. He would take away its hedge; break down its walls, and lay it waste. But in the interpretation of the passage proposed by the “Princeton Repert.,” there is an entire omission of this part of the verse - ‹that I have not done in it.‘ It is not improper, therefore, to use this passage to show that God had done all that could be consistently done for the salvation of man, and the same appeal may now be made to sinners everywhere; and it may be asked, what God “could” have done for their salvation more than has been done? “Could” he have given them a purer law? “Could” he present higher considerations than have been drawn from the hope of an “eternal” heaven, and the fear of an “eternal” hell? Could he have furnished a more full atonement than has been made by the blood of his own Son? The conclusion to which we should come would be in accordance with what is said in the prophet, that God has done “all” for the salvation of sinners that in the circumstances of the case could be done, and that if they are lost, they only will bear the blame.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Christ is God's beloved Son, and our beloved Saviour. The care of the Lord over the church of Israel, is described by the management of a vineyard. The advantages of our situation will be brought into the account another day. He planted it with the choicest vines; gave them a most excellent law, instituted proper ordinances. The temple was a tower, where God gave tokens of his presence. He set up his altar, to which the sacrifices should be brought; all the means of grace are denoted thereby. God expects fruit from those that enjoy privileges. Good purposes and good beginnings are good things, but not enough; there must be vineyard fruit; thoughts and affections, words and actions, agreeable to the Spirit. It brought forth bad fruit. Wild grapes are the fruits of the corrupt nature. Where grace does not work, corruption will. But the wickedness of those that profess religion, and enjoy the means of grace, must be upon the sinners themselves. They shall no longer be a peculiar people. When errors and vice go without check or control, the vineyard is unpruned; then it will soon be grown over with thorns. This is often shown in the departure of God's Spirit from those who have long striven against him, and the removal of his gospel from places which have long been a reproach to it. The explanation is given. It is sad with a soul, when, instead of the grapes of humility, meekness, love, patience, and contempt of the world, for which God looks, there are the wild grapes of pride, passion, discontent, and malice, and contempt of God; instead of the grapes of praying and praising, the wild grapes of cursing and swearing. Let us bring forth fruit with patience, that in the end we may obtain everlasting life.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 240

The standard of holiness is the same today as in the days of the apostles. Neither the promises nor the requirements of God have lost aught of their force. But what is the state of the Lord's professed people as compared with the early church? Where is the Spirit and power of God which then attended the preaching of the gospel? Alas, “how is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!” 5T 240.1

The Lord planted His church as a vine in a fruitful field. With tenderest care He nourished and cherished it, that it might bring forth the fruits of righteousness. His language is: “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” But this vine of God's planting has inclined to the earth and entwined its tendrils about human supports. Its branches are extended far and wide, but it bears the fruit of a degenerate vine. The Master of the vineyard declares: “When I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” 5T 240.2

The Lord has bestowed great blessings upon His church. Justice demands that she return these talents with usury. As the treasures of truth committed to her keeping have increased, her obligations have increased. But instead of improving upon these gifts and going forward unto perfection, she has fallen away from that which she had attained in her earlier experience. The change in her spiritual state has come gradually and almost imperceptibly. As she began to seek the praise and friendship of the world, her faith diminished, her zeal grew languid, her fervent devotion gave place to dead formality. Every advance step toward the world was a step away from God. As pride and worldly ambition have been cherished, the spirit of Christ has departed, and emulation, dissension, and strife have come in to distract and weaken the church. 5T 240.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 117

Brother ----- is joined to the church, but not to the Lord. He has a dyspeptic religion. He is not right with God; he is filled with self. He has lost much by uniting with individuals who have not the spirit of Christ. He is lacking in almost every grace. He is useless to himself, and a great stumbling block to the church. Dear brother, Satan has controlled you to a great extent; your thoughts are unsanctified, your actions are not in accordance with the spirit of a true Christian. You have brought on your own disease; you must be your own restorer through the help of the divine Physician. Your moral powers are weak for want of nourishment. You are starving spiritually for Bible truth—the bread of life. You need to draw daily nourishment from the living Vine. The church receives no strength from you and in your present condition would be better off without you, for now, if anything arises to cross your track and you cannot control matters, you settle back with stubbornness, a dead weight on the church. You bear no burden or weight of the cause. God has borne long with you, but there is a limit to His forbearance, a line beyond which you may venture, when His Spirit will no longer strive with you, but leave you in your own perversity, defiled with selfishness, and debased with sin. 5T 117.1

Brother ----- does not possess a right spirit. His disposition to lead hurts him, for he is not fitted for any such work. He can act a good part in the church if self is not made prominent. More meekness and lowliness will make his efforts a blessing to the church instead of a burden. 5T 118.1

Brother and Sister -----, I saw opposite your names also, in the heavenly record, the word, “Wanting.” You need to be emptied of self and the soul temple cleansed. Both of you have ability to do good, but it is unsanctified. You are greatly deficient in the simplicity of godliness. Were the church left to be molded by your standard of religion, it would be demoralized into a worldly, unconsecrated form. You might have been a great blessing to the church, but you have greatly failed. Jesus bids you come out from the spirit of the world. Sister -----, I am alarmed for you and for those who are brought in contact with your influence. You reach a low standard. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” By your words and actions you are now casting the seed. You are either sowing to the flesh or to the Spirit. In the day of final reckoning everyone must take the sickle and mow down the crop his own hand has sown. 5T 118.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 123

The spirit, wisdom, and goodness of God, revealed in His word, are to be exemplified by the disciples of Christ, and are thus to condemn the world. God requires of His people according to the grace and truth given them. All His righteous demands must be fully met. Accountable beings must walk in the light that shines upon them. If they fail to do this, their light becomes darkness, and their darkness is great in the same degree as their light was abundant. Accumulated light has shone upon God's people; but many have neglected to follow the light, and for this reason they are in a state of great spiritual weakness. 2T 123.1

It is not for lack of knowledge that God's people are now perishing. They will not be condemned because they do not know the way, the truth, and the life. The truth that has reached their understanding, the light which has shone on the soul, but which has been neglected or refused, will condemn them. Those who never had the light to reject will not be in condemnation. What more could have been done for God's vineyard than has been done? Light, precious light, shines upon God's people; but it will not save them unless they consent to be saved by it, fully live up to it, and transmit it to others in darkness. God calls upon His people to act. It is an individual work of confessing and forsaking sins and returning unto the Lord that is needed. One cannot do this work for another. Religious knowledge has accumulated, and this has increased corresponding obligations. Great light has been shining upon the church, and by it they are condemned because they refuse to walk in it. If they were blind they would be without sin. But they have seen light and have heard much truth, yet are not wise and holy. Many have for years made no advancement in knowledge and true holiness. They are spiritual dwarfs. Instead of going forward to perfection, they are going back to the darkness and bondage of Egypt. Their minds are not exercised unto godliness and true holiness. 2T 123.2

Will the Israel of God awake? Will all who profess godliness seek to put away every wrong, to confess to God every secret sin, and afflict the soul before Him? Will they, with great humility, investigate the motives of every action, and know that the eye of God reads all, searches out every hidden thing? Let the work be thorough, the consecration to God entire. He calls for a full surrender of all that we have and are. Ministers and people need a new conversion, a transformation of the mind, without which we are not savors of life unto life, but of death unto death. Great privileges belong to the people of God. Great light has been given them, that they may attain to their high calling in Christ Jesus; yet they are not what God would have them to be and what He designs they shall be. 2T 124.1

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Ellen G. White
Lift Him Up, 216.4

If this is not enough, what more could heaven do for the fallen race than has been done? “What more,” says Christ, “could I do for My sheep than that I have done?” What more? Will He have to let us go? He will unless you change your attitude toward God, for He has done all He could to save us. According to the light that we have received, so is our accountability before God. Walk in the light as He is in the light.... LHU 216.4

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Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 232.2

This parable is of great importance to all who are entrusted with responsibilities in the Lord's service. God selected a people to be educated by Christ. He brought them into the wilderness to be trained for His service, and there gave them the highest code of morality—His holy law. To them was committed God's lesson book, the Old Testament Scriptures. Enshrouded in the pillar of cloud Christ led them in their wilderness wandering. By His own power He transplanted the wild vine from Egypt to His vineyard. Well might God ask, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?” (Isaiah 5:4). UL 232.2

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