Grounds For Confidence
“Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!”—Isaiah 40:9
We are commencing a series of messages taken from the closing section of the prophecy of Isaiah under the general title “Faith for the Times.” Most of you will know that this prophecy is given in three sections. The first is in chapters 1 to 35 and is prophetic, the theme being one of condemnation; the second section is from chapters 36 to 39 and is historic, the theme being confiscation; and the third section is from chapters 40 to 66 and is messianic, and the theme is consolation. In the last century and a half quite a weight of scholarship has come out against the unity of this prophecy, declaring that the closing section of it must have been given by someone other than Isaiah. The reasons given for this are that it was apparent that the writer is saying something to a time which is considerably future to that in which Isaiah lived, and therefore how could he know anything about it? Furthermore, as there is such a change in the theme, how could the same man have written all? I am not entering into that more than to say that those of us who believe in the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit have no question in our mind about the unity of this prophecy. Whenever prophecy is not merely foretelling but forthtelling, when it has always the element of prediction of the future (as so often it has in the Word of God), there is no problem to the student who accepts the authority of Scripture. Moreover, the New Testament gives ample support to the unity of the prophecy of no less than twenty-one references which are made to it in that part of the Word of God. It is this closing section which unites together the whole message of the prophet, whose theme has been that of condemnation, and who now brings to the people the theme of consolation.
You can never understand the ministry of any man unless you see it in relation to world conditions in which he lived. Since the death of King Hezekiah, there had been a moral and spiritual decline in the land of Judah which seemed to be incapable of any turning. Apart from one king, all other kings had proved evil. Some years previously the northing kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by Assyria, and now Babylon had overcome the Assyrian Empire. World power had changed again, and there seems to be nothing to prevent the same fate overtaking the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, and other prophets, Hezekiah and other kings, had all pleaded in vain with this people who had known so much of the blessing of God, but who now stand in the very moment in which Isaiah preached on the brink of apparent disaster and of the chastening, disciplining hand of God as they are about to enter into the captivity of Babylon: they were a people laden with sin, disobedient to the revelation of God’s truth and God’s prophet; a people who, with every facility and every opportunity to repent and turn to Him, are now about to reap the inevitable consequence of disobedience. It was at this moment, poised at the very brink of this period of chastening and captivity, in which the message of Isaiah sounds out “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God.”
I cannot do more than wonder, but I do wonder whether today messengers of God in the pulpits of this country, prophets in evangelism and in other ways, stand to face a people poised at the very same moment in the history of the United States of America. Never since the founding of this country have we met together, assembled in the presence of God, in such a perilous, momentous moment of time. Could it be that the chastening hand of God which has come upon Korea, East Germany, China, and upon the church in many areas of the world is about to come upon this land at this time? I do not know, but this much I do know, that Isaiah’s message was not localized for his day, but is the dynamic, revolutionary, thrilling message for the day in which we live right now. I would remind you of the tremendous sweep of the message in this prophecy, as he stands confronting a people about to undergo the chastening hand of God.
Have you considered in the study of your Bible the tremendous sweep which is taken in this section of Isaiah’s prophecy? This is not my main theme, but I want to point out that the prophecy of Isaiah has sixty-six chapters, the same number as the books of the Bible. The first section has thirty-nine, the same number as the books in the Old Testament, and the last section of the prophecy has twenty-seven, the same number as the books in the New Testament. In the last section of the prophecy, from chapters 40 to 66, there are three main themes and divisions that run through it. From chapters 40 to 48, on the eve of captivity, you have the promise of deliverance. From chapters 49 to 57, there is a revelation of the One Who is coming to deliver and the Deliverer Himself is portrayed to us. From chapters 58 to 66 is the picture of a delivered people, the kind of people they are after they have passed through the refining fires of the chastening of God.
First, the promise of deliverance, and the center verse of the first section of this prophecy is chapter 44:8, “Is there a God beside Me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.” Idols have gone, therefore deliverance is sure. In the second section of the prophecy, as Isaiah portrays to us the Deliverer Himself, the center verse is Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” The Deliverer, the Saviour had come. The last section tells of the people who had been delivered, and the center verse is Isaiah 62:3, “Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.” What an amazing picture that is of the unity of message as God speaks to this people on the eve of their captivity.
This is not only Isaiah’s message for his day; it is God’s message to your heart and to mine in our day. Here is the tremendous sweep of it. Here is the subject of it outlined for us in chapter 40. There is a message of deliverance, there is a message of One Who is coming to deliver and, as the result of having been delivered, there is a complete transformation in the character of the people of God. They become a diadem in the hand of our God.
What then is the subject of this prophecy? What is God saying to a people who stand on the very verge of captivity? There is a voice which speaks, and it comes not with condemnation but as a tremendous message of consolation and comfort as He speaks “Comfort ye, my people, saith your God.” “Speak ye,” not comfortably as the Authorized Version has it, but “speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem,” not to her mind or conscience only, but speak to her heart.
Now I believe in this day in which we live, it is the tremendous privilege and task of the minister of God’s Word to do just that very thing, whatever the future may hold for us and God alone knows, but He is upon the Throne and it is in His hand. We stand in a place of great peril and danger, but God has a message for His people today, and His voice speaks to us from this passage of Scripture. His first word is one of forgiveness: “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
I want to pause to reflect upon this rather startling verse: “She hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Does this mean that the Lord is being so severe with her that He has punished her twice over? Of course, it doesn’t. The Bible is an eastern book, and the illustrations therefore are taken from the eastern way of life. In those times, if a man was hopelessly in debt and unable to make payment of his debt, it was the custom for his creditor to write out a statement of his indebtedness, which he would nail to the door of the debtor’s house, and therefore all who passed that way would know that here was a man who was bankrupt and unable to meet his obligations. The extent of the debt was there for all to see, for it was written on the parchment, and here was a man who was literally through, bankrupt. But if it should be that the debtor had a wealthy friend, or someone who would come to pay his debt for him and assist him meet his obligations, he would then go to the creditor and say to him: “I am prepared to accept responsibility for this man’s indebtedness and pay you now fully and will give you the money.” So immediately the creditor would go to the house of the debtor and cancel the amount of the debt on the parchment by folding it over double and sealing it to the door, for that man has received “double” for all his indebtedness.
In the hour of testing and terror, say to Jerusalem: “She hath received of the Lord double for all her sins.” Immediately this great evangelical prophet introduces us to the cross of Calvary where the Lord Jesus was made sin for us that we may never have sin imputed to us: for “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). If I speak to someone in this tremendous hour of history, and in your own personal life there is a guilt complex, a sense of the burden of sinfulness weighing heavily upon you, of personal bankruptcy and failure, and you know that apart from the grace of God you are through, then the message of God to you is to tell you that you have received double, not for some, not for a few, but for all of your sins.
This is the first word that came to a people on the verge of their captivity. Mark you, the natural consequences of sin would usually remain. The punishment has to be taken. The man reaps what he has sown. David was forgiven for the tragedy of the affair with Bathsheba, but the sword of the Lord in chastisement was never to be taken from his home and children. To his dying day he knew forgiveness and cleansing, he knew all the pardon of God, but he lived for the rest of his life to bear the consequences of his sinfulness. And a sinful nation, such as Israel and Judah, must reap the consequences of their disobedience, and nothing can stop the captivity for seventy years and nothing can prevent the chastening hand of God being upon them. But through all the years of their captivity there came ringing into their hearts and consciences, “We have received pardon, we have received double for all our sins!” Though the chastening hand of God was upon them, and it may often have been heavy, the prophet had said, “Speak ye to Jerusalem, not only that her iniquity is pardoned, but that her warfare is accomplished.” There was coming a time when God’s chastening hand would be taken off, when the punishment would have suited the crime, when God would set them free and bring them back, “Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare is ended, therefore because you have received double for all your sin, speak this word of authority and of comfort to My people.”
This, then, is the first voice that comes to us down through the centuries from this passage of Scripture to our hearts. To many a person in whose heart there I is that sense of complete failure and bankruptcy, with a sense of breakdown and utter frustration and futility in their own lives, and the word that comes with authority from the Book is, “You have received double for all of your sin.” It may be you are a Christian who is suffering the chastening hand of God and taking the natural consequences of some failure in your life from which there is no escape, then I would bring this word of comfort to you and say that your warfare is accomplished. He knows when to release the pressure. He knows when to stop the chastening, for the voice of forgiveness is immediately followed by a voice of deliverance.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all refer to Isaiah 40:3 concerning John the Baptist as the voice of one who is to come to prepare a highway for our God. But here is the word of deliverance: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” See the background against which the prophet is preaching: in a comparatively short time they were going into a period of captivity; they would lose the song and the joy they once had, for there would be no song by the waters of Babylon. There they were under the chastening hand of God and furthermore, they were under the hand of an oppressor who seemed to be absolutely all-powerful and far too strong for them. The situation must have seemed totally and completely hopeless, but when God speaks to the heart a word of forgiveness, it is only the prelude to an experience of His deliverance.
Forgiveness is not the end of Christian experience, it is only the beginning. His name was called Jesus, not that He might save us in our sins, but save us from our sins. The way back from Babylon to Judah was covered by at least a thirty-day journey through desert, over mountains, down valleys. The journey must have seemed absolutely impossible, but when God takes a hand and steps in to deliver, the message of the prophet was that every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.
If it could be that you know something of the chastening hand of our God upon you, and you say in your heart, “There are so many crooked places that I can never get them straightened out, so many mountains that I could never possibly get through, so many valleys that it’s all too dark; this could never be, there’s too much of a tangle, too many complications, too many problems!” God has been allowing you to go through His chastening because of past failure, and the result seems that everything is so complicated and bewildering. But when God steps in to deliver every mountain is laid low, every crooked place is made plain, and all the rough places are made smooth. The promise that echoed into the captivity of the people of Isaiah’s day was that there would be a day when God would deliver with His mighty power and they would be set free. Have you experienced His forgiving power and His delivering mercy? Has God stepped in to straighten out the crooked, to smooth out the rough, to lay low the mountain, and to exalt the valley? When God forgives, He does it in order that He might completely deliver.
However, the prophet did not leave them with just a word, he left them with an assurance, for the word of forgiveness is followed by the word of deliverance, and the word of deliverance is followed by the word of promise and assurance. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever (Isaiah 40:8). The situation seemed to be so impossible. All their prophets were slain, all their cities were in ruins. There was no hope at all of any human victory or deliverance, but the word of the Lord through the prophet that came to them in their captivity was just to remember that all flesh is as grass that withers, but the word of our God endureth forever. God is not dependent upon men and He is not dependent upon methods, and there has never failed one word of all His good promise. The authority of God’s Word is that upon which you can rest your heart in absolute assurance and confidence that the God Who forgives and delivers will never break His promise.
The word of forgiveness is followed by a word of deliverance and God’s word is just like that to your heart. The word of deliverance is always accompanied by a word of assurance, the bedrock of Scripture. But then it is all followed necessarily by a word of testimony. Verse 9: “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” The thrust of this word to the hearts of God’s people was not for them simply to listen to what God had to say but to believe it, appropriate it, and make it personal. As a result they were to blaze it abroad, for there was a responsibility placed upon each one of them who had been delivered and forgiven, and who had the assurance of the word, to spread around the glad tidings. There was to be no apology for the message. There was to be no concern about suiting it to popular opinion: they had to lift up their voice with strength and not be afraid. They had to speak with conviction, assurance, authority, with no apology and no excuse, that our God is the great God of victory and deliverance, and His word never fails.
I am afraid so often that many Christians today have lost confidence in our message and I will tell you why. We’ve lost it partly, not mainly, because it seems to so many people that Christianity is fighting a losing battle, and we are just on the way out. Every other faith is experiencing revival except the Christian faith. You would be amazed at the number of Buddhist churches in Chicago, and at the way in which the spread of heathen religions is taking place throughout the whole world, while Christianity seems to be apparently a losing force with no vitality. Therefore we are a little bit ashamed and apologetic for our message. But that is not the main reason. The main reason for our soft-pedalling the word of God, for our fear to spread it abroad (may I say this lovingly and firmly to all of you as God’s people), is that so often the message is not real and vital and gripping in our own lives. Have you heard His word of forgiveness? Do you look up into His face today as a sinner but, bless God, a forgiven sinner? Do you know that you have received double for all your sins? There is not a record or sign of any record anywhere, but we live just as though it had never happened. Is that true of you? Then if it is true, has that message been accompanied in your life by a real, vital, thrilling, transforming experience of the delivering power of the Holy Ghost setting you free from the grip of sin? Not just a forgiven sinner, but a victorious saint; not just a forgiven soul, but a man living in the reality of the experience of deliverance from indwelling sin.
It came to my ears recently that the Pastor of The Moody Church preaches eradication. That is not true: I do not preach eradication, for I do not believe in the eradication of an old nature. I wish I did! Somebody was once asked: “Do you believe in eradication?” “Well, no I don’t,” he said, “but I believe it for my wife.” Yes, very suitable! I do not believe in eradication. I do not teach that the old nature has been extracted and I do not teach it because the Book does not teach it. How convenient it would be if it were true that the flesh has somehow been taken out of us and is no longer there! But I do preach the absolute, total, complete corruption of everything that I am, apart from God’s intervening grace. And I do say that Jesus Christ has come into my life, not to leave me a creeping, crawling, weak, sinful creature, but to make me holy by His blood. I am persuaded that the vast majority of Christian people live their lives forgiven but beaten. Examine your own testimony by that statement. A forgiven sinner, knowing all the answers, but with God nothing more than the patron of your systematic theology instead of Jesus Christ the very lifeblood of your soul. It may be very convenient to set up Jesus as your “patron saint”—you don’t do it intentionally—but what a mighty miracle takes place in a man when Jesus Christ becomes His life! Instead of the thorn there comes up the fir tree, and instead of the principle of the life of sin there is the principle of the life of holiness.
Lift up your voice, speak to the people, don’t be ashamed of your message, preach it! But you can’t preach it unless you live it and know it. That’s why we go around so ashamed; that is why the church says so little; that is why we have no vital, vibrant, thrilling testimony because we don’t know Jesus Christ in reality as our indwelling life in God. Of course, we know doctrine, we know the Bible (or so we think we do), but we don’t know Him. O God, in these days, may we know Thee! Christ our life; Christ the One Who has come to transform us into His likeness; Christ Who has come to deliver His people that one day we too might be a diadem in the hand of our God.
What are we to say? Well, what does the Book say? It says: “Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come.”
Picture this message =etting into the captive country of Babylon to a people suffering from the chastening of God because of their sins and they are told to say, “Look for your God, He is coming to deliver you!” Imagine them expectantly watching for some great warrior coming at the head of a mighty army, some dazzling spectacle that would thrill all their hearts, and what do they see? “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” What a paradox is the Gospel!
We believe that Jesus is coming as King of kinds and Lord of lords, and before Him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. The day is coming soon when this poor world, that has tasted all the bitterness of chastening and suffering, will taste the blessedness of the glory of the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet the message of the captive people was not only that, but it was to the point to a weak, suffering Man upon a cross, to the blood that streamed from His hands and His side, to the crown of thorns upon His brow and say, “Behold your God!” Look at Him, there He is, crucified in weakness, raised up and declared to be the Son of God horizoned before the whole world by His resurrection from the dead! If you want to see God as you want to know Him, you will see Him and know Him at Calvary. Paul declared this paradox when he said, “Though He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4).
If in your life there is a desperate sense of failure in spite of all your professions of Christ and of faith and religion, there comes to you this word of forgiveness: “Comfort ye….You have received double for all your sins!” You have received forgiveness. The Lord your God shall come, and every mountain shall be laid low, every valley exalted, the crooked places straight, and the rough places plain. He will do this for you if you will meet Him at Calvary today. There is a word of deliverance because it is based upon the assurance of the Book, and therefore it fits you, get out and without shame or fear, speak to the people and say, “Behold your God!” If you have been soft-pedalling your Christianity and have played up the social instead of the spiritual, the entertainment instead of the dynamic, revolutionary power of the Holy Ghost, then get to the cross where you may behold your God and see Him, the living, victorious, mighty, risen Son of God, Who is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.