God's Remedy For Sin
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”—Isaiah 53:6
I want to speak, as the Holy Spirit shall enable me, on the great subject of God’s remedy for sin, which is appropriate in view of the Crusade which is to come; it is appropriate in view of this particular season of the year; but most of all it is appropriate because of the constant personal need in every one of our lives. May He so guide me in my speaking and you in your thinking that each of us may be conscious of our own need, and by His grace apply the remedy as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us.
Let me begin with the nature of sin as it is described to us here in this verse, which contains the very heart of the Gospel message. You notice that the human race is pictured for us as a flock of lost sheep, wandering about in stupidity and stubbornness. Like sheep, says the Scripture, not like an ox which knoweth its owner, not like an ass which remembereth its master’s crib, but like a sheep—a creature that is cared for by the shepherd and that is incapable of gratitude to the hand that has been caring for it. It is a creature that has enough initiative to find a hole in the fence somewhere and get off the track and become lost, but it has neither the ability nor the desire to turn against the hand from which it has escaped. Habitually, constantly, willfully, foolishly, we have gone astray, says the Scripture, and we are powerless to return.
I would interject a word at this point: this is a very different picture from that which is given to us these days in modern thinking. Today men stand at the mountain peak and look back over a long time of success and achievement and look forward with tremendous hope, believing that the whole human race is really walking into a wonderful new day. Sin is nothing to worry about, it is merely a relic of the animal from which we have evolved, and as evolution continues its process, it will be eliminated altogether. Yet, in spite of this very light statement and outlook upon the question, nobody will deny that pacts and treaties by the thousand have brought this poor world no nearer the desire of its heart, no nearer to the righting of wrong, no nearer to the healing of its wounds.
I do not think there is anyone who can really face present situations in the world today without recognizing there is something tragically wrong with human nature. The same evil that attacks us now has always attacked us, right through human history. This world has never been free of war or of cruelty, because these things are the outcome of something wrong deep down in the human heart. Every child born into the world carries the infection, and therefore every generation starts again with exactly the same problem.
We do not touch the root of the trouble, however, if we imagine that sin is no more than a disease from which we are the unfortunate suffers. “All we like sheep have gone astray…” But notice the next phrase: “We have turned every one to his own way…” In other words, sin carries personal responsibility and personal guilt. The world is what it is because we are what we are, and the evil from which the whole world suffers has its root in every one of our hearts. You see, in our own little world we behave very much as the rulers do in the big world, if I may put it like that. If they are proud, so are we. If they are unreasonable, so are we. If they are bitter, so are we. If they are unforgiving, all out for selfish ends and personal interests, so are we. The Apostle James puts it like this: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1). The Bible therefore makes it perfectly clear that until our hearts are cleansed and our nature is renewed, we need never expect that the world will be free from strife and bitterness, corruption and sin.
It is very easy, from just a simple statement like that concerning world conditions, to see a little bit of the potency and power of sin in the human heart, but I don’t understand what sin is until I see it at Calvary. If I would know the measure of sin, I must measure it in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ. Supposing a visitor from another planet could come to Chicago today and ask us, “What sort of a world is this?” I think the truest and most relevant reply would be that this is the world which crucified the Son of God when He came to visit it. Such is our sin that we have found the presence of holiness intolerable. Such is the failure, the breakdown, the sinfulness of the human heart that incarnate goodness has to be put away.
I don’t want to elaborate on this, but that is why a lot of people stop coming to church. It is not because there is anything incarnately good in the church, not because there is holiness as there ought to be, but simply that there the message of God’s requirements for our lives is presented to them, and an unbeliever cannot stand in the presence of that demand. Yes, the only adequate measure of sin is Calvary. “This is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
May the Spirit of God allow that truth to sink into our minds so that we might begin to see the hopelessness of our plight. I am not speaking this morning to the unbelieving soul only but to many a Christian who has rejected the light of God somewhere along the journey, who has turned against the cross as it reveals and unmasks the horror of sin in the heart. I am speaking to you just as much as to the unbeliever, as one who has been faced somewhere with the implications of God’s demand for holiness, and the principle of the cross has been rejected. Now this is the nature of sin, that light has come, but men prefer darkness to light because their deeds are evil.
In the second place we see here God’s provision for sin. What is this provision that God has made? “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That is the great central truth of the Gospel, that the Lord Jesus was not merely a great Teacher but He was the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world, Who beareth away the sins of the world: Who bore my sin, your sin, in His body on the tree.
And on His thorn-crowned head, and on His sinless soul our sins in all their guilt were laid, that He might make us whole. Countless multitudes of people have received that truth as the very charter of light and of their salvation, they believe that Christ by His death has made atonement for the sin of the world, and they have applied this by faith to their own personal lives, thereby finding peace with God and deliverance from the guilt of sin. I want you to think about this, because admittedly there is a mystery here, something that baffles explanation. What did the cross mean to Jesus? What did the cross do for the heart of God? What did it accomplish in heaven? Of course, in one sense, this is something beyond our understanding. If it were not too vast for our minds to understand, it would be far too small for our spiritual rest and enjoyment. But this much we can say about the sufferings of our Lord upon Calvary: they were voluntary and were unimposed upon Jesus by some harsh decree. “I lay down my life,” He said, “no man taketh it from Me: I lay it down and I take it again” (see John 10:17–18). It is not a question of an angry God bent on vengeance, Whose wrath can only be appeased at great cost. That is a travesty of the atonement. It is God Who, because of His holiness, has pronounced the sentence of judgment upon sin, and it is God Who has allowed that sentence to fall upon Himself. It was voluntary.
Not only so, but His sacrifice was vicarious: “The Lord has made to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all.” That which was scattered everywhere is brought into a dreadful concentration upon the Lord Jesus, and all the sin of His people is caused to meet upon Him. I have an illustration of this (only a feeble one, because no human illustration can be in any way perfect of this): outside my study here in church, there is a little place that has a flat roof, and occasionally I may be found walking up and down there. Though it isn’t exactly a country view, I find it somewhat relaxing and an opportunity for quiet and meditation. Some time ago, I was so doing on an afternoon about three o’clock. It was very dark, and it was getting much darker. There was a strange stillness about, and as I looked up, not very high above my head were inky colored clouds that seemed to be moving in all directions from north to south and east to west. They were all converging together on one point almost above me, and it became darker and darker, almost like midnight. Everybody working in the church had their lights on, and then the street lights went on as I watched the clouds. I always thought the wind blew in one direction, but not apparently here. The clouds were blowing from every direction, all coming to one focal spot, when suddenly as I looked there was a shattering stroke of lightning, a tremendous clap of thunder, and almost immediately a down pour of rain. The storm had broken. Everything had concentrated upon one spot, and then it all broke.
The Lord hath caused to meet upon Him from every direction—north, south, east and west—the sins of the past and the sins of the future, like a tornado, the sin of us all. It was put on His back like a burden: it was put upon His head as the high priest laid upon the scapegoat all of the sin of the people: God hath caused to meet upon Him the sin of us all. I would remind you that none but Jesus would be capable of a transaction like that. In His divine nature He is “holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts.” In His human nature, in view of His virgin birth, He is free from all original sin: by virtue of His holy life, He is the Lamb of God without spot and without blemish. So on all counts He is the only One Who is capable of standing in the place of guilty men before a holy God.
Oh, let us marvel at that in our hearts! Holy, holy, holy! The Lord of hosts. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin; taking all the corruption of the human heart, yet living a spotless, pure, holy life; and all that together making Him God’s perfect Lamb, the one and only Saviour, Who alone is capable of having placed upon Him the sin of the world. Someone may ask, “I don’t understand why God should demand a sacrifice at all. Why can’t He just forgive us? Surely He has power to do that!” That suggests a shallow view of the atonement and of what sin really is, for His suffering was not only voluntary and vicarious, but it was a victorious cross.
I recognize that this is something far beyond our own human understanding, but let me suggest to you that the judgment of God upon sin is not primarily the punishment of sin, but the establishment of His absolute holiness. You see, there was a cloud between God and men which made salvation impossible until His holiness is acknowledged and confessed in the judgment of sin. I can only be justified by faith in God Who first of all has justified Himself, and He has justified Himself as being utterly holy; and He has set up holiness at any price, even that of His well-beloved Son. True, the cross passes judgment upon the foulest sin; but the cross does much more than that, it establishes the eternal righteousness of God.
This past week I was taken by a minister friend into Forest Lawn Cemetery in California, and I saw that amazing picture conceived, I believe, by Paderewski, of the Crucifixion. There it faces you, twenty stories high if it was up on end. As you watch and listen to the tape-recording explaining the picture your heart is gripped, as mine was, by one thing. That picture, as you know, does not show Christ on the cross. It shows Him standing at the moment before His crucifixion. Around Him are the priests and the soldiers, the women, Mary, Peter, in the distance, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and there in the background, the city wall. Behind Him are the two thieves ready to be nailed to their crosses. There is the cross of Jesus flat upon the ground and standing beside it is the Lord. Somehow the artist has captured the look of victory, of quiet, calm, majesty, of purity and holiness, that seems to shame everything around it. When I saw that picture I caught in my heart again the thrill of the victorious cross: not simply punishing sin—true, He was made sin for us, not made a sinner or sinful, but identified with all human sin and guilt, and there it was judged and condemned—but ah, more than that, for at the cross as Jesus hung there upon the tree, He was confessing to God God’s absolute holiness, His absolute authority and total power, and He was establishing eternal righteousness. He was not just letting into heaven people who had gone into sin by some kind of cheap way out, ushering them in the back door, forgiving them and saying, “It’s going to be all right!” No, but by establishing absolute righteousness and making it possible for all men to come to Him on that day. This is the cross, that is God’s provision. Ah, but now, something more important than either of those things, in the third place, is the cleansing of sin. We have been thinking about two objective facts, the first of them, the nature of sin; the second, God’s provision for sin. But how does this affect you and me? How do these two objective facts fit together, and how do I find my place in them?
Before I take a third and last brief look at our text, let me ask you a question: Do you imagine that Christianity is merely human nature at its best, brought under the influence of religion and self-sacrifice? Everything else in the world apart from the church is built upon the lines of what you call brotherhood, humanity, goodness and so on, but not the church or the Christian Gospel—that is a total contradiction to the Christian message. You see, Christianity is not human nature deified but it is God, God Himself, coming down to deliver human nature. It is not we who attain to our most wonderful state because of the example of self-sacrifice at the cross, it is God in Jesus Christ delivering us from ourselves. Let me show you this by illustration. Conjure up in your mind some great deed of heroism. There are many of them recorded almost every week in the press, such as someone who has done something tremendously brave that has resulted in the saving of many lives, and we all thrill with a sense of what we owe to that person who has paid the price of his life perhaps. He has become a victim in order that he might save others, but is that the cross? No. Supposing you add together every deed of heroism that has ever been committed in all history, would that all be the cross? No. Everybody thrills to the story of a hero. Nobody thrills to the message of Calvary.
There is something within human nature which leaps to respond to an act of heroism and thinks it wonderful, and so it is; but there is nothing within us that is capable of responding to Christ upon the tree. “While we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.” While we were without power, while we were without feeling, while we were utterly dead, Christ died for the ungodly. We are not asked to respond to heroism. No, it is a response to God’s deliverance from ourselves, the judgment of sin in our lives and to His holiness.
Every preacher knows how easy it is to produce tears. Tell some stories about children who have died in agony and some terrible fire escape, and you’ll get a response and have the people in tears. Then, of course, on that basis you could make a lovely evangelistic appeal and flock the aisles with people, but you would be doing the work of the devil. The cross does not call for our admiration or enthusiasm. It does not call for us to put up the cross and follow after Jesus as a great adventure. It calls for us to be on our face in repentance. It calls for our shame and for our guilt and for our acknowledgment of utter, complete sinfulness.
The cross of Jesus Christ has to turn the man who is an enemy into a friend. It does not touch some spark of life within us—heroism does that. It does not touch some spark of friendship for God that is asleep. Oh no, the cross has to start a new creation for Him. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.” The cross is not to do with our dullness but with our hostility. Therefore, you see, wherever the cross of Christ is preached and this message is sounded out clearly it creates antagonism, because we all want to cling to the last rags of our self-respect. Tell me, how much self-respect do you think the Apostle Paul had when he met the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus? He just hadn’t any. It was stripped from him completely.
Everyone will welcome the hero, but only very few will welcome Jesus. For when He comes to grips with a man’s heart, he has to come down from his pedestal, he has to be literally pulverized that He might create in him a new nature from the wreck of his self-respect. That is the cross. It brings to an end all self-confidence and it starts a new principle of life altogether. Puritan preachers used to say long ago that the congregation needed to be shaken over the pit. Maybe we do, to realize that the Lord has plucked us from a fearful pit and from the miry clay and set our feet upon the rock. In the light of that take a last look at our text: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” With a hatred of God and a hatred of truth and a hatred of spiritual things which has been brought about by God’s absolute holiness, we have turned to our own way. Crowds will respond to a sentimental approach to the cross, but when I understand there is a revelation of God’s judgment of sin, a confession of God’s absolute holiness, then I see the cross is either a savor of life or of death, and that is the whole implication of our text.
Listen to it again: “All we like sheep have gone astray (that is general confession); we have turned every one to his own way (that is personal repentance).” It is always a mark of genuine repentance of heart when it gets me out from the crowd, and in the loneliness of my own soul, I say, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is the essence of repentance. It takes up a place of utter loneliness before God. Every one of us has sinned in a way that no one else has, peculiar to ourselves, unknown to other people, and you will observe from this text there is no syllable of excuse, there isn’t a word of self-justification. Merely to say, “we have sinned” means nothing, but to acknowledge “I have sinned and I am guilty” and we stand with our weapons of rebellion taken from us and shattered in pieces, that is what the cross does for us. That is the first step that makes us ready for the remedy of God for sins of our lives.
Has your repentance been personal? Have you stood in the loneliness of your heart in the presence of God and said, “Lord, against Thee and Thee only have I sinned?” It doesn’t mean much to say when you come to church, “Forgive us our sins.” It doesn’t mean much to say that on your own in prayer. Ah, but in the loneliness of your soul before God, “Lord, I have sinned,” there is utter loneliness of spirit. This is where God’s remedy is applied, only here.
The second step that leads a man to the application of the remedy is not merely the step of personal aloneness in repentance, but it is a personal step of faith. Listen to the language of Romans 8: “If God be just, who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” How can He condemn and at the same time justify, justify the sinner and then condemn him? Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who sitteth at the right hand of God (See Romans 8:33–34). Here then, are the two requirements for the application of the remedy: a personal lonely repentance, a personal living faith. This message has tremendous relevance to the Christian today. How many have turned their back upon the light in some part of their life, and have followed a course which has cut them off from fellowship with God! I quote to you a very solemn verse, Hebrews 10:26, 29, “If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be throught 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?”
If I speak to one who has been a professing Christian yet you have shut your ears to the Word and your eyes to the light, you have turned your back upon the truth and are following a course today that you know is wrong (though you try and make Scripture to prove it) then I would warn you of these solemn words of Scripture. You need a lonely repentance, you need aloneness with God. This is the way back into fellowship. You need a living faith, that when you confess your sin alone to Him, He is so gracious to forgive.