Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power - This verse has been wofully perverted. It has been supposed to point out the irresistible operation of the grace of God on the souls of the elect, thereby making them willing to receive Christ as their Savior. Now, whether this doctrine be true or false it is not in this text, nor can it receive the smallest countenance from it. There has been much spoken against the doctrine of what is called free will by persons who seem not to have understood the term. Will is a free principle. Free will is as absurd as bound will, it is not will if it be not free; and if it be bound it is no will. Volition is essential to the being of the soul, and to all rational and intellectual beings. This is the most essential discrimination between matter and spirit. Matter can have no choice; Spirit has. Ratiocination is essential to intellect; and from these volition is inseparable. God uniformly treats man as a free agent; and on this principle the whole of Divine revelation is constructed, as is also the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. If man be forced to believe, he believes not at all; it is the forcing power that believes, not the machine forced. If he be forced to obey, it is the forcing power that obeys; and he, as a machine, shows only the effect of this irresistible force. If man be incapable of willing good, and nilling evil, he is incapable of being saved as a rational being; and if he acts only under an overwhelming compulsion, he is as incapable of being damned. In short, this doctrine reduces him either to a punctum stans, which by the vis inertiae is incapable of being moved but as acted upon by foreign influence; or, as an intellectual being, to nonentity. "But if the text supports the doctrine laid upon it, vain are all these reasonings." Granted. Let us examine the text. The Hebrew words are the following: חילך ביום נדבת עמך ammecha nedaboth beyom cheylecha, which literally translated are, Thy princely people, or free people, in the day of thy power; and are thus paraphrased by the Chaldee: "Thy people, O house of Israel, who willingly labor in the law, thou shalt be helped by them in the day that thou goest to battle."
The Syriac has: "This praiseworthy people in the day of thy power."
The Vulgate: "With thee is the principle or origin (principium) in the day of thy power." And this is referred, by its interpreters, to the Godhead of Christ; and they illustrate it by John 1:1; : In principio erat Verbum, "In the beginning was the Word."
The Septuagint is the same; and they use the word as St. John has it in the Greek text: Μετα σου ἡ αρχη εν ἡμερᾳ της δυναμεως σου· "With thee is the Arche, or principle, in the day of thy power."
The Ethiopic is the same; and the Arabic nearly so, but rather more express: "The government, riasat, exists with thee in the day of thy power."
The Anglo-Saxon, "With thee the principle in day of thy greatness."
The old Psalter, With the begynnyngs in day of thi vertu. Which it thus paraphrases: "I, the fader begynnyng with the, begynnyng I and thou, an begynnyng of al thyng in day of thi vertu."
Coverdale thus: "In the day of thy power shal my people offre the free-will offeringes with a holy worship." So Tindal, Cardmarden, Beck, and the Liturgic Version.
The Bible printed by Barker, the king's printer, 4th. Lond. 1615, renders the whole verse thus: "Thy people shall come willingly at the time of assembling thine army in the holy beauty; the youth of thy womb shall be as the morning dew."
By the authors of the Universal History, vol. iii., p. 223, the whole passage is thus explained: "The Lord shall send the rod, or scepter, of thy power out of Sion," i.e., out of the tribe of Judah: compare Genesis 49:20, and Psalm 78:68. "Rule thou over thy free-will people;" for none, but such are fit to be Christ's subjects: see Matthew 11:29. "In the midst of thine enemies," Jews and heathens; or, in a spiritual sense, the world, the flesh, and the devil. "In the day of thy power," i.e., when all power shall be given him, both in heaven and earth; Matthew 28:18. "In the beauties of holiness," which is the peculiar characteristic of Christ's reign, and of his religion.
None of the ancient Versions, nor of our modern translations, give any sense to the words that countenances the doctrine above referred to; it merely expresses the character of the people who shall constitute the kingdom of Christ. נדב nadab signifies to be free, liberal, willing, noble; and especially liberality in bringing offerings to the Lord, Exodus 25:2; Exodus 35:21, Exodus 35:29. And נדיב nadib signifies a nobleman, a prince, Job 21:8; and also liberality. נדבה nedabah signifies a free-will offering - an offering made by superabundant gratitude; one not commanded: see Exodus 36:3; Leviticus 7:16, and elsewhere. Now the נדבות עם am nedaboth is the people of liberality - the princely, noble, and generous people; Christ's real subjects; his own children, who form his Church, and are the salt of the world; the bountiful people, who live only to get good from God that they may do good to man. Is there, has there ever been, any religion under heaven that has produced the liberality, the kindness, the charity, that characterize Christianity? Well may the followers of Christ be termed the am nedaboth - the cheerfully beneficent people. They hear his call, come freely, stay willingly, act nobly, live purely, and obey cheerfully.
The day of Christ's power is the time of the Gospel, the reign of the Holy Spirit in the souls of his people. Whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached in sincerity and purity, then and there is the day or time of Christ's power. It is the time of his exaltation. The days of his flesh were the days of his weakness; the time of his exaltation is the day of his power.
In the beauties of holiness - קדש בהדרי behadrey kodesh, "In the splendid garments of holiness." An allusion to the beautiful garments of the high priest. Whatever is intended or expressed by superb garments, they possess, in holiness of heart and life, indicative of their Divine birth, noble dispositions, courage, etc. Their garb is such as becomes the children of so great a King. Or, They shall appear on the mountains of holiness, bringing glad tidings to Zion.
From the womb of the morning - As the dew flows from the womb of the morning, so shall all the godly from thee. They are the dew of thy youth; they are the offspring of thy own nativity. As the human nature of our Lord was begotten by the creative energy of God in the womb of the Virgin; so the followers of God are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but by the Divine Spirit.
Youth may be put here, not only for young men, but for soldiers; - so the Trojana juventus "the Trojan troops," or soldiers, in Virgil, Aen. 1: ver. 467; - and for persons, courageous, heroic, strong, active, and vigorous. Such were the apostles, and first preachers of the Gospel; and, indeed, all genuine Christians. They may be fully compared to dew, for the following reasons: -
Saw ye not the cloud arise,
Little as a human hand?
Now it spreads along the skies,
Hangs o'er all the thirsty land.
Lo, the promise of a shower
Drops already from above;
But the Lord will shortly pour
All the spirit of his love.
The heavenly dew is dropping every where from the womb of the morning; and all the ends of the earth are about to see the salvation of God.
Thy people - All who are given to thee; all over whom thou art to rule. This verse has been variously translated. The Septuagint renders it, “With thee is the beginning in the day of thy power, in the splendor of thy saints, from the womb, before the light of the morning have I begotten thee.” So the Latin Vulgate. Luther renders it, “After thy victory shall thy people willingly bring an offering to thee, in holy adorning: thy children shall be born to thee as the dew of the morning.” DeWette, “Willingly shall thy people show themselves to thee on the day of the assembling of thy host in holy adorning, as from the womb of the morning, thy youth (vigor) shall be as the dew.” Prof. Alexander, “Thy people (are) free-will offerings in the day of thy power, in holy decorations, from the womb of the dawn, to thee (is) the dew of thy youth.” Every clause of the verse is obscure, though the “general” idea is not difficult to perceive; that, in the day of Messiah‘s power, his people would willingly offer themselves to him, in holy robes or adorning, like the glittering dew of the morning; or, in numbers that might be compared with the drops of the morning dew. The essential ideas are:
(1) that he would have a “people;”
(2) that their subjection to him would be a “willing” subjection;
(3) that this would be accomplished by his “power;”
(4) that they would appear before him in great beauty - in robes of holy adorning;
(5) that they would in some way resemble the dew of the morning; and
(6) that to him in thus subduing them there would be the vigor of youth, the ardor of youthful hope.
Shall be willing - literally, “Thy people (are, or shall be) willing-offerings.” The word rendered “willing” - נדבות nedâbôth - is in the plural number; “thy people, ‹willingnesses.‘” The singular - נדבה nedâbâh - means voluntariness, spontaneousness: and hence, it comes to mean spontaneously, voluntarily, of a willing mind. It is rendered a “willing offering,” in Exodus 35:29; “free offering,” in Exodus 36:3; “voluntary offering,” in Leviticus 7:16; “free-will offering,” in Leviticus 22:18, Leviticus 22:21, Leviticus 22:23; Leviticus 23:38; Numbers 15:3; Numbers 29:39; Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 23:23; 2 Chronicles 31:14; Ezra 1:4; Ezra 3:5; Ezra 8:28; Psalm 119:108; “willingly,” in 2 Chronicles 35:8; “plentiful,” in Psalm 68:9; “voluntary, and voluntarily,” in Ezekiel 46:12; “freely,” in Hosea 14:4; and “free-offering,” in Amos 4:5. It does not occur elsewhere. The idea is that of “freeness;” of voluntariness; of doing it from choice, doing it of their own will. They did it in the exercise of freedom. There was no compulsion; no constraint. Whatever “power” there was in the case, was to make them “willing,” not to compel them to do a thing “against” their will. That which was done, or that which is here intended to be described as having been done, is evidently the act of devoting themselves to him who is here designated as their Ruler - the Messiah. The allusion may be either
(a) to their devoting themselves to “him” in conversion, or becoming his;
(b) to their devoting themselves to his “service” - as soldiers do in war; or
(c) to their devoting their time, wealth, talents, to him in lives consecrated to him.
“Whatever” there is as the result of his dominion over them is “voluntary” on their part. There is no compulsion in his religion. People are not constrained to do what they are unwilling to do. All the power that is exerted is on the will, disposing people to do what is right, and what is for their own interest. No man is forced to go to heaven against his will; no man is saved from hell against his will; no man makes a sacrifice in religion against his will; no man is compelled to serve the Redeemer in any way against his will. The acts of religion are among the most free that people ever perform; and of all the hosts of the redeemed no one will ever say that the act of his becoming a follower of the Redeemer was not perfectly voluntary. He chose - he “professed” - to be a friend of God, and he never saw the time when he regretted the choice.
In the day of thy power - The power given to the Messiah to accomplish the work of his mission; the power to convert people, and to save the world. Matthew 28:18; Matthew 11:27; John 17:2. This implies
(a) that “power” would be employed in bringing people to submit to him; and
(b) that there would be a fixed time when that power would be put forth.
Still, it is power which is not inconsistent with freedom. It is power exerted in making people “willing,” not in “compelling or forcing” them to submit to him. There “is” a power which may be exerted over the will consistent with liberty, and that is the power which the Messiah employs in bringing people to himself.
In the beauties of holiness - This power will be connected with the beauty of holiness; or, holiness will be manifested when that power is put forth. The object is to “secure” holiness; and there will be beauty in that holiness. The only power put forth in the case is to make people holy; and they will, in their lives and conduct, manifest all the beauty or attractiveness which there is in a holy and pure character. The word rendered “beauty” is in the plural number, and the allusion may be to the raiment of those who are referred to. They would appear in pure garments - in sacerdotal vestments - as priests of God. Compare Leviticus 16:4. The idea may be that they would be a “kingdom of priests,” clad in priestly vestments (Exodus 19:6; compare the notes at 1 Peter 2:5, notes at 1 Peter 2:9), and that they would be adorned with “robes” appropriate to that office. This may refer, however, to their actual, internal holiness, and may mean that they would, when they were subjugated to him, appear as a holy or a righteous people.
From the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth - Margin, more than the womb of the morning, thou shalt have, etc.” The expression here is evidently designed to refer to the source of the dew - the dew of the early dawn - as having its “birth” then, or as seeming to be “born” then. The morn is represented as the “mother” of the dew. The figure is highly poetic and beautiful. The ground of the comparison may be either
(a) that the “beauty of holiness” - the beautiful array of the saints - “is more than” that produced in the womb of the morning; or
(b) that the dew of youth is more beautiful than the dew produced in the morning. As the word “dew,” that on which the comparison must turn, occurs in the last member of the sentence, it is probable that the second of these interpretations is the true one, as indicated in the margin: “More than the womb of the morning (more than the morning produces) thou hast the dew of thy youth.” That is, “as the young morning - the youth of the day - has its beauties in the abundance and luster of the dew-drops, so shall the dew of thy youth be - the beginning of thy glorious day.” May there not be here also an allusion to the multitudes that would be among his “people” - numerous as the dewdrops of the morning, and as beautiful as they - on his going forth to the world with all the beauty of a bright dawn?
The meaning of the whole, I apprehend, is, “Thy reign shall be like the day - a long bright day. Thy coming - the morning of that day - shall be like the early dawn - so fresh, so beautiful, made so lovely by the drops of dew sparkling on every blade of grass. More beautiful by far - more lovely - shall be the beginning of the day of thy reign; - more lovely to the world thy youth - thy appearing - the beginning of thy day.” Thus understood, the verse is a most beautiful poetic description of the bright morning when the Messiah should come; the dawn of that glorious day when he should reign. Compare Isaiah 9:1-3.