Monday, August 20, 2012
A Divine Quest - The Doctrines of Grace in Isaiah 6
Almost forty years ago I heard Malcolm Smith speak on the Blood Covenant at Perrow Presbyterian Church. For me this was like the breaking of the dawn of a new day inexorably drawing me out of the darkness of legalism’s illegitimate claims. Yet with having no sense of fully arriving I can concur with the words of Ed Silvoso: “The Process is the product.” As I remarked to Pastor Jack Dabney recently via Face Book message, I have been Reformed theologically since then, but have only recently begun to realize it.
As for me this has been and continues to be a safari; let’s embark on the journey of a brief excursus into the application of the sovereign grace of God in Isaiah’s life all the while keeping in mind our own state.
The seraphim - fiery beings - declared what Isaiah was seeing: And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 6:3 This served to convict the prophet of his utter depravity: "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." 6:5 At this point he becomes very aware of whom he is and his current condition. This marks the beginning point of God’s dealings with man–repentance. We know that we are desperately insufficient in ourselves and unless God intervenes we are at a total loss.
Yet Isaiah is not without hope and neither are we. “God does not reveal himself to destroy us, but to redeem us.” If we come to the Father with one iota of merit, then we are unworthy of His redemptive plan in the Son of His Love. Somewhat of a conundrum is it not? It is fitting that these heavenly messengers are ablaze with the jealous righteousness of Almighty God - purging us of the last vestige of self-righteousness.
And he (the seraphim) touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this (the burning coal from the altar of the Lord) has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." Isaiah 6:7 This is all of grace. God has chosen - elected - Isaiah based on no condition whatsoever. It is all of Him, and to Him - and for Him. Otherwise, it would not be holy - but unclean. “So it is by fire, the fire of God’s own purity, that the repentant are made like himself.” R.C. Sproul writes: “You can hear the flesh sizzle and burn, the muffled scream of Isaiah. His guilt was taken away. Never talk to Isaiah about cheap grace. He cauterized the lips of his servant. And forgave his sins.”
Does this take the form of a general call to all? No, it is limited to Isaiah alone. To believe otherwise would be the folly of presumption. We might as well start trudging up the stairs of the temple toward its pinnacle preparing to cast ourselves into utter oblivion. Even the focus of it is limited to a specific people. Though there are things here for all to hear–there is no hint of universalism.
In his autobiography The Spirit Bade Me Go, David du Plessis who came to be known as Mr. Pentecost, entitled one chapter “God Has No Grandsons.” His point was that we cannot live on the experience of those before us. Our Sovereign Father is more than capable of creating a new and refreshing revelation of Himself in each one of His children. It has also been said this way, “One man’s experience becomes another man’s doctrine.” Unfortunately the shelves of our Christian bookstores are lined with a plethora of books whose basic premise is, “If you will buy my book and do the same things I did you will be blessed just like I was.” Paul has encouraged us to pay attention to the traditions that we have been taught - yet we are not to get stuck there which results in traditionalism.
We are reminded also of Christ’s call of His disciples: "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain,...” John 15:16 Even in His great High Priestly Prayer He did not pray for all: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9 ESV
God has remained silent until now: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" There is a bit of the rhetorical here for though it seems to be addressed to the divine beings - for which it had no relevance - it is unequivocally intended for the ears of Isaiah. In this sense it is limited - also in this sense it is irresistible. “Having received an unsought for, and unmerited, complete cleansing, what else would he rather do than hurl himself into God’s service?” This is an interesting statement by the commentator in that irresistible grace seems to exist in cooperation with volition. The finite wisdom of man is categorically unable to grasp such a concept. It can only exist in the unfathomable wisdom of the Sovereign God. From Paul gleaning from Isaiah: ‘but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM."’ 1 Corinthians 2:9
John Wimber tells of his conversion experience in a home group something like this. “At one moment I was sitting in my chair and the next I was on the floor crying out to God. Now, I do not know whether I got down there on my own or was pushed. I have now come to understand that is significant.”
Perseverance of the Saints
Isaiah’s readiness to serve speaks to divine motivation - the perseverance of the saints. He would be kept on course the rest of his life. Gratitude is the factor that would keep Isaiah going, even when he would cry out: “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” Isaiah 53:1 Once again from the commentator: “Such a grateful offering of themselves is always the cry of those who have received God’s grace after they have given up hope of ever being acceptable to God.” R.C. Sproul: “The only thing that qualifies us to minister is the knowledge of our forgiveness. And that we know the sweetness and majesty of the God who has cleansed our lips.”
I recently asked Nancy what she thought about the possibility of falling away from such a merciful God. Her succinct answer was: “Why would I want to?” After having seen what Isaiah saw - why would he want to? In one of the most difficult passages of Scripture in the New Testament - the interpretations of which are from horizon to horizon - I believe the writer to the Hebrews addresses this very issue. Most are quick to call to mind when this topic is broached: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,...If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. Hebrews 6:4, 6 KJV I would like to note here that the word “If” is vital to our understanding of this passage, for following is: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Hebrews 6:9 KJV Once again we have a vital word here “persuaded” for it calls to mind Paul’s exhortation to his young disciple Timothy: “for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12b KJV It is with this confidence that Paul looked toward the Roman arena. Also here the readers are addressed as “beloved” and it is the love of God that cannot fail. I am convinced that persuade trumps if on any day. For our purposes here we will conclude with: “Enough said!”
Isaiah did not question the ways of the Lord. His final words in this chapter speak to the enduring purpose of God: “Then I said, ‘How long, O Sovereign?’” Isaiah 6:11 The life he was called to live out would be one of worship - the true worship of the One and Only God. He is the source of true life. “Unless that experience issues in some form of lived-out praise to God, it will turn upon itself and putrefy.”
This stark pericope concludes - within the context of judgement - a germ of redemption. “But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down, so Israel's stump will be a holy seed." Isaiah 6:13b NLT This imperishable hope passes through the Cross into the New Covenant and we read: He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16b
The purpose of our Sovereign will be accomplished - in His way and in His time. We can have this confidence: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;...” Romans 8:29 There is nothing that can come our way that is outside of the bounds of this promise.
A genuine vision of the sovereignty of God cannot possibly engender fatalism...it certainly did not in the life of Isaiah. Instead, he was divinely propelled forward. Motivation is a personal quest - the search is in itself motivating.
Divine election is not manipulation. It is transformation. “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2:14
Richard Phillips writes: “So where did Isaiah gain these peculiar views in which God is truly God? The answer is that Isaiah learned of God’s sovereignty through his personal experience of the Lord.”
We can tell people they must have a vision of God - but it cannot be conjured. It must come from God and God alone. Our requirement may be to come to an end of ourselves as seen in Habbakuk who was expecting to be reproved. “And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.” 2:1b That must say something about his heart attitude. Then the answer of the Lord came: "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” 2:3 As a result of the enduring Word of the Lord the prophet was empowered to persevere.
This foundational truth is carried forth into the New Covenant for John writes: ‘For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.’ John 12:39-41 And then once again hope springs forth as a holy seed out of a decaying stump which provides the environment necessary for the bursting forth of the new sprout: “And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me.” John 12:45 The prophet also speaks of the Messianic lineage and hope: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1 NIV
There is no greater declaration of the sovereign purpose of God than that which He declares through Isaiah concerning Himself:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
With this we do not conclude, but continue...