A Ministry Which Must Be Exercised
“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundation of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”—Isaiah 58:12
On the eve of the Crusade which is about to commence in this city I believe we stand poised on the brink of what might well be the greatest event in all the history of the church in Chicago. We have considered on two previous Sundays the message that we are to proclaim, the miracles that we must expect, and now I want to say a word in the Master’s Name concerning the ministry that each of us must exercise.
I trust that we all recognize how much depends upon the individual life and ministry of every Christian for the ultimate success of any evangelistic effort. The test is not so much what happens during any crusade (although this is, of course, important) but what transpires a year from hence: what will have happened to the many thousands of people who will undoubtedly make response to the message? Have they gone on with the Lord? Have they become a vital part of the testimony of the church in this city? That is what matters. And the responsibility for this lies upon the shoulders of every one of us who name the Name of Christ. For to us, I believe, is given a wonderful privilege of exercising a God-given ministry which is absolutely strategic and which is of priority importance.
I could not overstate the urgency of this in my own soul, for I do not think that time is on our side; time is running out fast. I believe it is highly improbable that another such opportunity will be given to the church in Chicago before the Lord returns and history ceases to be.
Not only do I feel the pressure of this in my own spirit as far as the church is concerned, I feel it in terms of the responsibility of my own life, and I trust that it is shared in your own sense of responsibility, too. You know that everything is being done to preserve and strengthen the evangelical testimony of the church in this city, and that the Gospel will be preached in all its purity and simplicity. You know that everything possible is being done to follow up those who make any profession of faith, that they may grow in the Lord and be linked to the fellowship of the church. Therefore this matters to me more than anything else in the world, and for that one reason—apart from any others—I want to be where God is working.
At a ministers’ meeting recently Mr. Blinco, who is an associate evangelist, was telling us about a crusade he was conducting under the auspices of the Billy Graham Association in one particular city and, of course, as usual there were some who were not in favor of it. One particular individual—I believe he was a minister—had given his reasons for not wishing to cooperate or support the Crusade. However, one evening during the Crusade the 19-year-old son of this minister came to the Crusade meeting and was gloriously converted. The following day Mr. Blinco met the minister, looked him full in the face and said, “Where were you last night? The night when the most wonderful thing in all the world, in all of life, happened to your son, you weren’t there because you wouldn’t cooperate.” Oh, the tragedy and the sadness of it!
Yes, I believe this is priority for each of us. We don’t know if the Lord would ever give us such a privilege again in a lifetime. We heard of a young student 25 years of age who prayed with one of the evangelists with the Billy Graham Team last Saturday, eagerly looking forward to coming to Chicago to work in the very thick of this Crusade. He’s in heaven now, killed in the air crash on Wednesday. None of us know how long we have to witness for Christ, and none of us know if this opportunity will ever come again.
What, then, is the ministry that we must exercise? I don’t preach to you so much as talk to my own heart in the presence of the Lord about this, and as I turn therefore to this passage of Scripture I ask you to notice in the first place the preciousness of the fruit of our ministry: “Thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” Of course, in its immediate context the prophet is saying that, in their return to Jerusalem from captivity, Israel would rebuild the old waste places and reconstruct their shattered cities so that they would be known as “the repairer of the breach and the restorer of paths to dwell in.”
Now in the New Testament sense of the word, that’s exactly the preciousness of the fruit of our ministry. We live in a broken world, in a broken city. In every direction around us there are breaches that are wide, there are broken hearts and broken homes by the thousand in Chicago. The things that were once shared in life are now waste places in many lives these days. Whereas there was once a carefully guarded fence of sanctity around family life and sex life, now in multitudes of instances this is only a waste place, the wall of protection is in ruins, and life for thousands has lost its meaning. Unless these breaches are healed I don’t think civilization as we know it can go on much longer. The free world cannot possibly remain free for long if it’s held in captivity by its own inner breakdown and sinfulness. The answer to this is not legislation, good as that may be, but the message of the Gospel which alone can create a clean heart, restore and renew a right spirit, and mend a broken heart. Whatever the breach may be, whatever the tragedy of home failure or of suspicion between people and nations, or of prejudice among races, all of them have part in this city’s life at this time. All of them stem from one fundamental breach, the greatest of all, and that is the breach of relationship between man and God.
Let us remind ourselves that we are made in the image of God, created for fellowship with Him, to enjoy His presence, and therefore to find true happiness here. But man is alienated from God by his sin; and this sin is not so much one of behavior—it leads to that—but primarily a sin of disposition which leads to sins of behavior. It is the sin of setting up his own kingdom within his own life and rejecting the kingdom of God, and all of us are—or have been—guilty of this. A man will train himself, educate himself, and even sacrifice himself, but he won’t yield himself—even if he lands in “skid row” one day, he still won’t yield himself. He is still his own little king in his own little world, and he still insists on his own little piece of sovereignty in the little bit of territory he calls “himself.”
It is that which has alienated man from God; but we are here in the name of the Lord to heal this fundamental breach, and to bring God and man together. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” In other words, give up your kingdom, surrender the throne rights of your life to Jesus Christ. This is our message; this is our Gospel. It is the Gospel of the Atonement, or if you like, the Gospel of the at-oneness. We are here to proclaim to Chicago that the great obstacle to reconciliation with God has been removed at the cross where Jesus gave up His throne rights for us, and to receive Him as Lord and Master is to receive His atonement and therefore to end this rebellion. “The repairer of the breach”: that is what we are here for, and the thrill of this message is that it goes right down to the roots.
Again, our text says, “The restorer of paths to dwell in.” Nobody can live without lines of communication. In wartime it is always the primary strategy of the enemy to destroy lines of communication and break them up. These have got to be maintained at all costs, or you cease to exist. Because of the breach between our hearts and God, the line of communication with heaven has been broken. There is no way through for a rebel to the Throne of God. There is no way through for the sinner in his sin to the living Lord. The path of peace and joy, of blessing and comfort have all been destroyed by enemy fire. You shall be the repairer of the breach and the restorer of the paths. “There is a way back to God” is the message of our Gospel, and it is paved by the blood of Jesus: “And there is a highway and it’s the highway of holiness and the unclean shall not pass on it, but the redeemed shall walk there” (Isaiah 35:8).
Here then is the precious fruit of the ministry of the Christian. He is to be the repairer of the breach, the restorer of a path to walk in, so that our spiritual children, those who come to Jesus in these tremendous days, shall build up the old waste places. Oh, what a precious ministry is to be ours! There is nothing remote about it, nothing secondary. It is relevant, in that it goes right down to where people are, restoring relationship with God, the path of prayer and fellowship with Him.
See further the power of our ministry. You might be asking, “How can I exercise a ministry like this?” Well, let me say it doesn’t depend so much upon education as it does on attraction, the sheer attractiveness of our Christian character. Isaiah 58:11, “the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” What a wonderful picture of the blessedness of a Christian’s life!
I don’t think there is so much wrong with our doctrine, but sometimes there is an awful lot wrong with our attractiveness. That is our basic need, for we as Christians are unattractive to people. But here is the promise of a guided life, “the Lord shall guide thee continually.” Here is the promise of a satisfied life, “the Lord shall satisfy thy soul in drought.” When everything is barren and dry around, the Lord will satisfy your soul. Here is the promise of a fragrant life, “like a watered garden.” Here is the promise of a freshly-sustained life, “like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” This is the preciousness, the power, the attractiveness of our Christian testimony.
It is no good trying to be a repairer of the breach or a restorer of the path unless this is the attractiveness of our lives as we live them for Christ. What tremendous power of attraction there is in a life like that! You don’t need to preach much about it, it is just living like that that matters. And it has become like that simply because the breach with God has been repaired, and the paths of communication with Him have been restored. In other words, the message that we preach to other people is vital and real to us, throbbing and thrilling our hearts. It is not just a theory, but something that is so real that it grips us every moment of the day.
Let us pause and ask ourselves if this is so. In your life, is the breach with God repaired? Is the kingdom of your heart really yielded? Frances Ridley Havergal wrote:
Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love,
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice and let me sing ever only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for Thee,
Take my silver and my gold, not a mile would I withhold—
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store—you are getting a bit nearer, but you are not there yet—
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
You are there now! Only then is the breach with heaven repaired and reconciliation with God complete. Only then will I cease to be my own stupid little king as I say to Him, “Lord, take my self, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee,” and the kingdom is yielded.
What about the paths that are to be restored? Have you been along the path of prayer in your life much lately? Is it well trodden down, or is it neglected, with weeds upon it? It is amazing in how many ways Satan can keep the child of God from his knees.
What about the path of holiness, is it in good order or is it deserted? Have you left it for some side track, for some bypass meadow? Only if this is real in your life is there the power and the attractiveness of Jesus, and only then can you go out to be a repairer of the breach and a restorer of paths to dwell in.
Finally, there is a price that lies at the very root of this ministry. You see, the kind of ministry that God wants from us cannot be undertaken easily, and if you would be a blessing then there is a price to be paid deep down in your soul, and this is a principle that is inescapable. It is that of which Christ spoke when He said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” John 12:24. This is pictured for us in the early verses of this chapter in the context of a promise of the life that is guided, satisfied, fragrant and constantly fresh. What is behind it all? Well, I notice that it is given to the people of God in reply to a complaint they were making to Him: “Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” (Isaiah 58:3). You see, the precious experience of verses 11 and 12 were not real to them, and it seemed that they were always fasting but never feasting; “always observing what God required but never enjoying God’s blessing. So they complained about it, and you will notice that the prophet was told to speak very clearly and with no uncertain sound, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (v. 1). Please observe this little phrase: “my people, the house of Jacob.” The prophet was to speak first to them, to show their transgression. And while they were acknowledging how good they seemed to be, it was to be the ministry of Isaiah to show them how bad they really were. They had to be shown, you see, that the only way through to blessing was by the forsaking of sin.
I would remind you that the operation of the grace of God in man’s life is never in conflict with the demands of God’s holiness. Do we understand that principle? If I forsake the demands of God’s holiness, then I have cut off the line of God’s grace altogether (1 John 3:22). This is not legalism, it is practical Christianity, and the gateway to blessing of fruitfulness and fragrance and all that is promised here is obedience, which is barred and bolted against all who are not prepared to come that way.
Somehow “obedience” takes on a new significance in this passage because it is linked with a word that is not very popular these days, but which is essentially part of Christian experience, “fasting.” Look at the context in verse 2: what a fine show of religion these people were making! “They seek me daily, they delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.” They weren’t conscious of sin of which God would speak to them. Until God faced them with it here they were saying the sort of thing that so often we say: we pray daily, we have our devotions, we’re regular at church, we like to listen to the Word of God. Outwardly they appeared to be all right, and everybody assumed they were. They even complained that in spite of all this God didn’t seem to listen to them or answer their prayers. What’s the good of praying, what’s the good of church, what’s the good of anything if God doesn’t answer? But you see, none of the things that they did touched the reality and depths of the sin of their heart. And as long as they remained like that, God says that they were mocking Him and deceiving themselves. “Behold, ye fast for strife and debate. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high” (v. 4). In other words, “there’s something wrong with your approach to Me,” says God, “therefore your prayer is unanswered. You won’t fast like that if you want to be heard.” And God was calling them to a different kind of fast altogether: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (v. 6).
Now this is the price of blessing, something that goes to the very root of the fruitfulness of our ministry. For fasting is not an absence simply from food, but it is separation from sin and positive right living. The aim of it is to take a man right away from self altogether, for true fasting is an estrangement from evil. Just as so many Christians through the years have always become estranged from God because of familiarity with sin, now fasting means a reverse of this altogether. There is an estrangement from sin that leads to a familiarity, if I may use the word, a communion, a sweetness, with God. It’s the giving up of anything which may hinder the greatest business of the whole of my life till I meet God face to face, and that is to be an instrument in the Master’s hands for His use.
The Apostle Paul wrote in this connection: “if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:13). And there is the whole principle of fasting. It is denying myself the thing that is legitimate, saying “no” to that which may be perfectly harmless, lest I cause my brother to stumble. In other words, the rule of Christian living is not, “Is this right or is it wrong?” but “Will it cause someone else to stumble?” Will it make it harder for someone else to find the reality of Jesus Christ in my life if I do this thing? That becomes a principle of action.
Reading a book on the early days of Church history, I read this comment on the lives of Christian people in the early centuries of the church: “They abstained from all impurity in the hope of recompense to come in another world. They sought to persuade all others to become Christians because of the love they felt towards them. And when they responded, they called them brethren regardless of the race or color from which they came. They do not worship strange gods, they walk in kindness and humility. Falsehood is never found among them, they love one another. When they see a stranger they bring him into their dwellings and rejoice over him as a true brother. If any of their number are oppressed or in prison for the sake of the Gospel, all of them provide for his need. And if there is one among them without necessities of life they fast two or three days in order to give him what he needs.” Do you see that principle?
The preciousness of the fruit of our ministry comes from the power of its attractiveness, and that in turn stems from a price that is being paid at the root of a man’s life, the outcome of self-discipline in the presence of God. The Christian is eager to exercise a fruitful ministry but he therefore will not simply pray in order that he might be strengthened, but in order that he might receive from the Lord that which he might impart to others. He won’t read his Bible just to receive instruction or even to build up his own life, but he will read it in order to be built up in the things which will make him effective for God. He will come to church and attend the Lord’s Table not simply to become a stronger Christian, but that he may have a firmer grip upon the things that are unseen, so that he may go out into the world as an effective witness for Christ. If I might bring all this right down to where you are today, to answer your question as to what it means, I would say in the words of the great Augustine, “To myself, a heart of steel. To my fellow men, a heart of love. To my God, a heart of flame.” This is the principle of Christian living.
It was God’s complaint with a church once that they were neither hot or cold but lukewarm, and so He was going to spit them out of His mouth. God loves you and me today with a love like flame, and if you learn day by day to stay near that fire, you will soon get hot too as you catch its glow and power. The Lord Jesus said, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” “Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”