"Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1)
THIS solemn question might have been put to God himself; for no human being in existence is capable of answering it; for though, in the dispensations of the Lord's providence, God's ministers are now and then encouraged by hearing of one and another having been brought under their ministry to believe their report, yet there may be hundreds of others of whom they may never hear. And then again, they may be so distressed, through unbelief, as to cry out, "Unto whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? What hath believed our report?" But, though we do not see the works of the arm of the Lord, our blindness shall not in any wise hinder God's work. He is ever faithful, and cannot deny himself.
If believing in and coming unto the Lord depended upon my management, I should fall far short. Some, indeed, speak about short comings; but if God were not to reveal himself to me, I should never come at all. I should not take one step towards him. Nay, I should go farther off still; therefore, whatever comings to God I have, they are not mine, but God's, who comes unto me, reveals himself to me, and thus draws me nearer to him.
1. Then, let us consider what is this report.
2. What is the design of the arm of the Lord being revealed?
1. Who hath believed our report? None of themselves have savingly done so. This is couched in the 6th verse: "All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." There is here no exception--all, both God's elect and the rest; all have gone into sin, and the paths of destruction. All have, by nature, made a league with Satan. Not a soul, by nature, can truly believe this report; for the carnal mind is enmity against God. And if hell were to blaze before your eyes, it would not make you spiritually believe. "Then," say you, "we are excused." But, no; for, suppose a man, by dissipation, had so marred his constitution that he was not fit for work, would not this be the effect of his vileness? Has he not aggravated his crimes and driven himself from all hope of recovery by so doing? Then we are just in this awful state. We stand on the brink of an awful precipice; and, if God does not reveal his arm unto us, sink we must, and none can help.
God gave his Son; but even his own people abhorred him, scorned him, and trampled upon him: "We hid, as it were, our faces from him. He was despised, and we esteemed him not." And why? Because, as we are told in the 2nd verse, "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty in him that we should desire him." He had nothing attractive to our fleshly views. He did not come in pomp and splendor, as a popular character; for though the Jews were looking for his coming at the time, yet, because of his humility, they rejected him. They said, "As for this man, we know him; he is the son of Joseph, the carpenter." But they were deceived; for they neither knew him nor his Father.
There is, in our day, a great anticipation of Christ's second Coming, when he shall sit upon a throne, as King, and all his subjects be princes; but what I look for is that Christ may come and dwell in my heart, and let me enjoy his presence, and that I may not be deceived by vain imaginations. "Who hath believed our report?"
There are, according to what is generally preached, few in this so-called Christian country who do not believe this report; for they are taught in their infancy to say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth," etc., and also to repeat the Lord's prayer; and then are they said to be Christians and to believe this report. But until God burns up these prayers in your heart, and makes you feel that from merely learning these prayers by rote you cannot address God as your Father. Until he strips you of all power in self and of self, and blesses you with vital faith in him, you cannot truly believe this report. But when God thus sends his Spirit into your heart, you then do believe his report.
God has laid the iniquity of his church upon Christ. He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was, as it were, pounded in a mortar, until his soul was mangled with the heavy load of our guilt, until he cried out, "My soul in exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." Yes, "he poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors." Yea, he suffered the billows of Divine wrath to be poured upon him, that we might be saved. But who hath believed our report?
He has justified his people: "He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied." But could he be satisfied if part of his purchase were taken from him and lost? "He shall bear their iniquities." There are none charged upon the sinner; he is irreprovable and without rebuke, through the atonement of Christ. There is more glory in justification than even in pardon. For instance, at this present time, there are petitioners to her majesty to pardon three men who have been condemned to death; and suppose the queen were to pardon them, that would not justify them. No. they might escape the gallows, but they would still be guilty. But this is one branch of the report,--that in Christ's righteousness shall his people be justified and exalted. Here is the difference,--though the queen can pardon a man, she cannot justify him; she cannot make a guilty man innocent. But the sinner, to whom the righteousness of Christ is imputed, is, in the sight of God, as free from sin as if he had never sinned. There is not even a blemish upon him. (Eph. 5:27) This is a wonderful mystery,--one which even angels cannot understand. Strictly speaking, pardon, abstractedly considered, would not give a sinner a title for heaven. He must be made holy; for "without holiness no man can see God," and this can only be by Christ's holiness being made the sinner's; for the best of human holiness is sin. This was Christ's design in coming to dwell with us; not only that he might satisfy law claims, so that our salvation might not be by works of righteousness which we could do, but according to his sovereign mercy; but also that by his perfect obedience we might be holy in his holiness. It is on this ground that the apostle said, "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1) "Yes," say you; "we have it in that passage. It is not to them who walk after the flesh, but to them who walk after the Spirit." It is so. But which way does the Spirit go? He has promised to convince of sin, to blast our false hopes, and to convince of righteousness and of judgment. He shall take of the things of Christ and show them unto us. He shall strip us of self; and cause us to walk after Christ. This is walking after the Spirit.
There is a certainty of all God's people entering into this salvation. It is not a chance of salvation. If we have no better hope than chance we had much better have no hope at all. How encouraging it is when we can trace this report for ourselves, and therein find our security. "My sheep hear my voice and follow me." (John 10:27) Christ does not say they shall not experience any hurricanes or troubles. He himself experienced them, and so must they, as followers of him. "Who hath believed our report?"
2. The design of the arm of the Lord being revealed. The Lord makes bare his own arm, as also does a warrior when he is about to enter into battle, that he may go unshackled, and have freedom of his limbs, not being encumbered with unnecessary appendages of dress; and the Lord has done gloriously--and his own right arm has gotten him the victory. Christ is the ground of our victory; by his blood are we cleansed, by his righteousness are we justified. I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth. (Rom. 1:16) Christ has wrought out a complete salvation. In his Person, in his character, in his obedience, in his agonizing death, he has made us perfect. He who was without sin took upon him our nature, and became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21) And all this to satisfy justice. Without Christ there is no salvation. There is none other name given under heaven whereby we can be saved. Take away Christ and God could not save a soul. His holy law forbids it; holiness forbids it; justice forbids it. Christ is the all and in all of a sinner's salvation. Talk about cleansing your own heart and saving yourself! Why, as I often say, if you had all the holiness in the world, separate from Christ, it would not save you. God demands a perfect obedience; and in Christ alone is there that perfect obedience found. He is our Surety; and, though a debtor were not able to pay one mite of his just debt, yet if his surety pays it he would be free. Therefore Christ's people are free.
Who reveals the arm of the Lord? Christ himself by the Holy Spirit. He is revealed in the conscience of every heaven-born soul. He revealed himself to Saul of Tarsus, as he was journeying to Damascus. He spoke with power to his conscience, saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" And with this revelation Saul was pricked in the heart, and, in humble submission to his will, cried out, "Who art thou, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." Did Paul then set about patching up his own righteousness? No; yet, according to the letter of the law, he was blameless. The Lord said to Ananias, "Behold, he prayeth!" Behold! Why did he never pray before? He was one of those who loved praying,--standing at the corners of the streets, and in the highest places in the synagogue; but he never prayed until now. The Lord had revealed himself unto him; and now, behold, he prayeth! But Ananias seemed not to believe the report, though the Lord himself spoke to him. It was as though he said to the Lord, "Ah, Lord! I have heard of this man. I believe he has said tons of prayers; but thou knowest he has come here to put us all to death." "Aye," answered the Lord; "but go thy way; he is a chosen vessel unto me." I can imagine how quickly Ananias started up after this, and went to Saul, and called him his brother,--"Brother Saul!" (Acts 9) Ah, brethren! You and I stand as much in need of this revelation as Paul did; for, "we are gone out of the way; we are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one." And without this divine revelation in the conscience, we cannot enter into the spirit of this report.
"It is not in word only, but in power." (1 Thess. 1:5) Has your mouth been stopped? Have you been in hopeless despondency? For nature cannot produce this divine revelation in your hearts. Have you heard a voice behind you, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." Have you then been in great straits, not knowing which way to turn, to know if he had taken away your sins? Have you been in those trials and difficulties, and could not make a way? Have you not felt as though you sank a thousand fathoms in a moment? And then has Christ spoken to your conscience, and said, "I am the way." This, then, is the divine revelation; and there is no faith in Christ without it, as God tells us in Eph. 1:17-23, "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." And, if you are brought to believe, it is the exceeding greatness of his mighty power, his arm being revealed, that you are in such a state. You will feel and acknowledge that without him you can do nothing. Do you believe this report?
May God the Spirit reveal Christ to your souls, the hope of glory. Amen.