There are many lights in which we can see sin, and our perception of sin very much depends upon the light in which we look at it. Sin is very terrible by the blaze of Sinai, when the mountain of Law and terrors is altogether on a smoke. It is a dreadful thing to look at sin when God speaks in thunder and all the earth trembles before Him. More terrible, still, will it be to see it by the light of the Judgment Day. When Abraham rose up early in the morning and looked towards Sodom, it was a lurid light that met his gaze as he saw the guilty cities blazing and smoking up towards Heaven like a vast furnace. To see sin in that light is a solemn thing. To see sin by the light of God’s Love, to read its awful character by the light of the Cross—beholding Christ bleeding and dying—is the way to see sin. Nothing makes us feel sin to be so vile and guilty a thing as when we realize that it was perpetrated against the God of Infinite Love.
Let us set our sin in the light of God’s eternal Love and if the sight should break us down, so much the better. If it should send us away humbled and ashamed, so much the better. And if it should make us praise eternal love beyond anything we have ever done before, so much the better. Let Isaiah 43:1-4; 22-25 set before us the contrast between God’s action towards His people and His people’s usual action towards Him.
The first contrast lies in THE CALL. Let us read Isaiah 43:1: “I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name”. Now read verse 22: “But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob”. God has had much converse with those of us who are His people. We are not strangers to the sound of His voice and that method of communication from God came forth toward us even before we knew anything about it, for He has called us out of nothing. Blessed be God for our being, because it is followed by our well-being! Blessed be God for our first birth, because we have also experienced a second birth! We praise the Lord that it pleased Him to make us to be His people!
Our Lord has done more than make us, for He has educated us. We are still like the unfinished vessel in the potter’s hands—the wheel is yet revolving and God’s fingers are still at work upon us, moulding and shaping us as He would have us to be. “Thus says the Lord that created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel.” Israel is the “formed” Jacob. By God’s Grace, Jacob grows into Israel. Let us think for a minute of all the sweet experiences of God’s forming and fashioning touch that we have had. Sometimes it has been a rough stroke that was necessary for the moulding of our clay. Only by affliction could we be made to assume the shape and pattern that the Lord had determined for us. At other times it has been the touch of very soft fingers. Divine love and kindness and tenderness have moulded us. As David said to the Lord, in his Psalm of Thanksgiving, so can each true child of God say, “Your gentleness has made me great” (Psalm 18:35). “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:3).
Think what wonderful dealings He has had, next, in consoling us, for the Lord goes on to say, “fear not.” Oh, how often He has cheered us up when our spirit was sinking! With the Psalmist, we have been able to say, “My flesh and my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). When it has been very dark with us, the Lord has lighted our candle. When we have been quite alone, then we have not been alone, for He has been with us. Friends have sometimes failed to cheer us, but our Best of Friends has always comforted us. There are many who call themselves comforters, to whom we can truly say, “Miserable comforters are you all.” But what a Comforter is the God of All Comfort! He knows how to comfort those that are cast down. He takes care that His comforts are given to us just as we need them and that they always come to us in the best possible way.
So we have had from God the blessings of creation, formation, and consolation. But that is not all, for the Lord has also called us and conversed with us in the matter of redemption. How sweetly it runs, “for I have redeemed you.” Yes, blessed be God, whether we are poor, or sick, or obscure, we who believe in Jesus are bought with His precious blood!
The Lord has done even more than that for each of His children. He has given a special nomination— “I have called you by your name.” You know what your name was, once, but, blessed be God, He has given you a new name, and He has called you to Himself by name as much as Mary of Bethany was called, when her sister Martha said to her, “the Master is come and calls for you,” or when Mary Magdalene turned herself and said, “Rabboni,” because her beloved Master had called her by her name, “Mary.” The Lord delights to call His people by their name, just as mothers and fathers do, but especially as mothers do when they repeat the child’s pet name which they have given it—some fondling name which is the mother’s own particular register and mark upon the child. “I have called you by your name.” Then comes this blessed appropriation, “You are Mine.” Dear child of God, your Heavenly father says to you, “You are Mine. You do not belong to the world, now, much less to the devil. You do not even belong to yourself. I have made you. I have formed you. I have consoled you. I have upheld you. I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name, you are Mine and I will never part with you.”
In contrast, verse 22 says: “But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob”. That may not mean that there has been literally no calling upon God on our side, but it does mean that there has been too little of it. Come, Brothers and Sisters, let us put this matter to the test. What about our prayers? Are there not some of us who spend very little time in secret prayer with God? Just a few hurried words in the morning, a few more at night, when we are tired out and half asleep, but few, if any prayers all day long? True as this is of our prayers, I am sure that it is still truer of our praise. How little praise does the Lord get from us! “Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” we sing in church, but how often do we praise Him at home!
I am also afraid that sometimes, in our trouble, we do not call upon God as we should. It is always a wise thing, when we are getting into the deep waters of trouble, not to battle, worry, and fret, but just to say, “O God, my God, I do invoke You! I put this case into Your hands. Please come to my aid!” Whenever Christians can act like this in time of trouble, or in time of service, then they do well. But the Lord still has to say to many of His people, “I have been speaking to you in love, and mercy, and tenderness, but you have not called upon Me.” If this accusation touches our hearts, let us pray for forgiveness and begin, from this time on, to call upon the name of the Lord.
Let us consider another contrast which is equally striking—upon the matter of THE CONVERSATION between the Lord and His people. Notice, first, God’s side of it, as it is given in the second verse—“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.” Now read the other side, in the 22nd verse—“But you have been weary of Me, O Israel.” Notice how God is with His people in strange places. Wherever they are, He will not leave them. He will go right through the waters with them. God also keeps close to His people in dangerous places, fatal places as they seem—“When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.” There is God keeping pace with His people through fire and through water, never leaving them, but always making this cheering message to be the comfort of each one of them, “I am with you! I am with you! I am with you!” Our faithful God always keeps close to His people. Is it not perfectly wonderful how close Christ has kept to His Church? Even when she had sinned, He would not leave her. When she had fallen and was ready to perish, He would not desert her. He cannot be separated from His people—to every one of them He has given the personal promise, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5).
Now listen to our side of this matter of conversation with God—“But you have been weary of Me, O Israel.” Has it not been so with regard to private prayer? A very little of that is quite enough for us, for we soon get tired of it! We actually fall asleep in the middle of our prayers. Is it not so? Is it not the same, often, with our reading and hearing of the Scriptures? Possibly, there are some things in which each one of us has failed to take that delight in God which we ought to have taken. We have not been half as delighted with God as He has been with us. And we have not been so willing to converse with Him as He has been willing to go with us through the floods and through the flames.
Next, let us briefly notice the contrast in THE SACRIFICE. Turn to the third verse—“I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you.” Now read in the 23rd verse—“You have not brought Me the small cattle of your burnt offerings; neither have you honoured Me with your sacrifices. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, neither have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices: but you have made Me to serve with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities”.
Here is God giving up everybody else for the sake of His people! Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba were great nations, but God did not choose the greatest. We are nothing in particular and there are mighty men, learned men, men of rank and station, yet He has passed them by. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: that no flesh should glory in His Presence” (1 Cor 1:26-29). That is a very wonderful declaration on God’s part—“I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you.” That is to say, “I passed others by, and chose you.”
We may see another meaning in these words, for God has given us His choicest Gift. Christ is infinitely more precious than Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba, though they were lands of great abundance of wealth. God had but one Son, yet He gave Him up that He might die for us and that, through His death, we might live! There can be no gift equal to this, for that Son of God was God’s own Self—and in the death of Christ, it was God Himself who came to earth for our redemption!
Now look at the other side. Are we generous towards God? Have we brought Him the small cattle of our burnt offerings? The Lord adds, “You have bought Me no sweet cane with money.” Not even the smallest offering has been given to the Most High by some who profess to have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ! How little is given by the most generous of us! As if His Words ought to touch our consciences, the Lord says, “I have not caused you to serve with an offering, nor wearied you with incense”—as much as to say, “I have left it entirely up to you what you would bring. I have not demanded anything, I have not fixed any rate, and I have not taxed you. And this voluntary principle—has it failed? I have not put you under the Law and said that you shall give just so much—I have left it wholly to your love.” I believe that the natural effect of Grace upon any true heart is to make the man feel that if God has done so much for him, it is his joy and his delight to do all that lies in his power for God and His cause.
I close with one more contrast, which refers to THE HONOR given by God and the honour given to God. Let us read verse four—“Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honourable, and I have loved you.” Then here is the contrast, in the 23rd verse—“neither have you honoured Me with your sacrifices.”
In the Church of God in general, we take in those who have been the vilest of the vile. And if they have but new hearts and right spirits, they are our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and they are honourable among us, and the Lord says to each one of them, “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honourable.” All God’s people are honourable people for He has made them so! They are honourable as to their new nature, for that is holy and they seek after holiness. They are honourable as the sons of God, for they are of the blood royal of Heaven. They are honourable as wedded to Christ, for He becomes their Husband. They are honourable because of their inheritance, for they can sing “This world is ours, and worlds to come! Earth is our lodge and Heaven our home.” They are honourable as to their station throughout eternity, for they shall dwell forever at the right hand of God. Even those who were once so dishonourable that we could not have associated with them, then, are brought near by the blood of Christ and God makes them honourable.
I think that if you and I, poor creatures that we are, are made honourable by God, the very least thing we can do is to honour Him in return. Have we honoured God by our lives, dear Brothers and Sisters? Have we honoured God by our confidence in Him? Have we honoured God by our patience? Have we honoured God by defending His Truth when it has been assailed? Have we honoured God by speaking to poor sinners about Him? Are we trying every day to honour Him? Surely, it is the very least thing we can do who have been— “Chosen of Him before time began,” and then redeemed with the heart’s blood of the Son of the Highest. It is the least we can do, to make every faculty we possess subordinate to this end of honouring and glorifying God! It is for this He has created us, for this He has called us, for this He has redeemed us, for this He has sanctified us! Therefore let us set about it at once and think and plan within our hearts what we can do for the glory and honour of Him who has redeemed us unto Himself.
Let the song “You Are Mine” help us see things from God’s perspective, and hopefully by His grace we will experience a conversion of the heart: