Monday, May 16, 2005

The Freeness of the Gospel Invitation

Rev. John Marshall, Stirling (1795-1833)
This is a sermon which I would like to see reprinted, because it displays an admirable presentation of the gospel.

Isaiah 65:1 (Latter clause) ‘I said, behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name’

In perusing the Holy Scriptures, it is impossible to proceed far without being presented with astonishing illustrations of the condescension of God. These would appear wonderful even if this world had still been in an unfallen state. What Solomon said at the consecration of the temple would have been applicable even although that temple had been reared in paradise, and though the words had been uttered by man in a state of innocence, ‘But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built!’ But when we look at man as a wretched, sinful exile from God, and at this world, nay, even the whole creation, as groaning and travailing in pain, by reason of the rebellion against God by which it is loaded; and when we contemplate the multiplied modes and forms of sin by which the divine government is daily dishonoured; what should we expect from God, if he spoke to sinners at all but demonstrations of unmingled wrath? These, however, are a present only given in measure. The full weight of them is behind, but it is reserved for the day of eternal judgement. Now, however, amidst palpable tokens of the divine displeasure against sin, there are mixed the most encouraging proofs of the divine condescension in warning use from the coming wrath, and offering to us a present deliverance from it. Every promise of God, is a proof of his wondrous condescension. And every promise of God ought to be food to strengthen our readiness to go to him as our deliverer and our life. But such is the waywardness of sinful man, that he staggers at the promise through unbelief, and stays himself not upon it. God condescends to use other methods. Invitation is one of these; and to render the unbelief of man without excuse, he graciously makes the invitation wide, as wide as the habitable globe. ‘Look unto me’, is his language, ‘and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’ And lest the peculiarity which attended the nation of Israel of old should be a stumbling-block to any one of the race of Adam who should read the Old Testament, he says in the words of the text, ‘I said behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name’. Let us consider,

I. The gospel invitation which is here offered.
II. The urgency of it, implied in the repetition of the expression, ‘Behold me, behold me.’
III. To whom it is addressed, ‘To a nation’, saith the Lord, ‘ that was not called by my name.’

I. The gospel invitation. ‘Behold me.’ Brief is this command, but it is awfully important. It enjoins on sinners to turn away their eyes from viewing vanity, and their affections from a world lying in wickedness, and it presents to them in its stead the great God himself. ‘Behold me.’ How strange would this command seem in the view of some angel of light who might be ignorant of a world of sin. ‘What!’ might he exclaim, ‘is it necessary for any creature capable of knowing thee, O God, to be commanded to look at thee? what can this mean? Wherever my eye roams, I see thee, O thou Most high, and cannot but see and adore thy great and glorious name. If I were commanded to look away from thee, I should try in vain, for thou art everywhere. in every object of thy creating power and care, thy presence and glory are beheld.’ How different is it with sinful, inexcusable man! He, too, cannot open his eyes on the fair creation around him without having the divine power and glory spread before him. But he sees them not. Although ‘the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made - even his eternal power and Godhead - so that men are without excuse’, yet they shut their eyes, ‘they glorify him not as God’, - ‘their foolish hearts are darkened;’ and let us never forget, that it is folly and depravity of heart that produce utter darkness in the understanding. Their hearts are alienated from the true God, and they ‘worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is over all blessed for ever.’ Brethren, such is man when the blessed announcement first reaches him, ‘Behold me,’ saith the Lord. I formed you for myself. why have ye sold yourselves to another? ‘Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die!’ but who speaks? It is the Author of every good and perfect gift. this constitutes the grand encouragement, though men are slow to receive it. He who commands us to look to Him by faith, is the only being who can, out of his fullness, give us faith. This should remove many a difficulty that Satan is eager to throw in our path. Do we hesitate still? Let us be aware then: it is not because we have not a sufficient warrant for trusting ourselves in the Lord's hands. He commands us to come to him. ‘This is the command of God, that ye believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.’ ‘Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.’ The command is from the Lord, and the Lord is the object to which our faith is commanded to be directed. But what is there in this object to wean us from the world and sin, and to attract us for ever away from them? There is light in God. ‘Light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun;’ but spiritual light is sweeter far than the light of the loveliest landscape that ever struck our view, - than the fairest morning or evening sky that ever shone on our earth. The light which faith beholds in God, and which it receives from him, is, indeed, while on earth, still ‘a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise on the soul.’ But it is a glorious and peaceful light even here. And what it this light? It is simple ’truth’. ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘the light of the world.’ ‘ He that abideth in me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’. In other words, when man comes to himself and looks to God by faith, he begins to see objects in their real value. he was before ‘walking in a vain show,’ deeming the merest trifles of great value, and reckoning eternally valuable objects as unworthy of pursuit. he was formerly blind to the evil of sin, - to his alienation from God, and to the misery in which it involved him. He now sees all this, because he looks to the Lord, the sun of righteousness, - and in his light he sees light.

There is pardon with God. This is another attraction. Misgivings dark and heavy will arise in the most careless souls, and not till after the conscience has become by long resistance seared will they go utterly away. Mercy is sweet, therefore, to think of, but that vague hope of mercy which multitudes lean on is a frail support. Their trust is as a spider’s web. It is not a vague idea of divine mercy, it is pardon procured and sealed by blood, that can alone speak peace. This pardon is with the Lord, who says , ‘Behold me.’ We require not when we hear this and go to God - we require not to look around for a way of reconciliation. God meets us with an atonement completed - with a law honoured- with divine justice vindicated- with divine holiness not only unblemished by this offered forgiveness, but most awfully shewn forth by it. All things are ready then. The command is, Come and accept. Put out the hand, ‘Be not faithless but believing.’ ‘Behold me;’ pardon is with me. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as snow’.

There is love in God - love glorious, eternal, sovereign, unchangeable. He not only forgives past offences, but adopts into his family, nurtures and defends, comforts, instructs, enriches, and eternally blesses all who have come to take refuge under his wings. ‘Behold what manner of love is this,’ say they, ‘that we should be called the sons of God’. ‘herein, indeed, is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.’ Love is an attractive principle. Divine love surpasseth all the love of creatures in this property. When that love is contemplated in redemption, and shed abroad over the heart, the chains of Satan and the world and of reigning sin are shattered. The loveliness of the divine character rallies the wandering affections, and gives them a sure and glorious resting-place. Both on account of what God is, and of what he ahs done for the soul, it is lifted up in admiration, it is melted into love. Hence it is said, that ‘faith worketh by love.’ From all this we may learn, that faith in a reconciled god through Christ, is drawn forth by right apprehensions of God. The soul weighed down by sin perceives in Him, as revealed in the face of his Son, the most attractive qualities; and such as are exactly suited to its wants and varied circumstances. ‘This is eternal life, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’. Therefore, the invitation of God is, ‘Behold me’. In me is light, pardon, love.

There is, however, a peculiar urgency employed, which is indicated by the repetition of the expression, ‘Behold me, behold me’. This was the II. Particular referred to, the urgency of the invitation. In judging abstractly of the dignity of God, we might, with our weak conceptions, be tempted to think it enough if he simply made the offer once, and withdrew it if it were not accepted. Can it be that the Most High will suffer a worm of the dust, a sinner deserving hell, to refuse him more than once? Shall not his wrath burn as an oven and his fury as flames of fire? Such suggestion, it is not wonderful, should arise. but when we open the Scriptures they are dissipated. The name of God is ‘the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious’.

What greater proof of this can be afforded than in the fact, that a sinner refused an offer of mercy , and yet was allowed to remain on earth, --- that multitudes have done so, and yet been spared for many years afterwards in the land of hope? What stronger proof of it than such a repetition of invitation as occurs in the text, -- ‘Behold me, behold me,’ saith the Lord.
This is the urgency of pity, of power, of holiness. It is the urgency of ’pity’. It reveals God not merely as a stern lawgiver, but as a compassionate Creator. It reveals God not as careless of the creature, and only careful of his own government, but as deeply concerned for the misery which the creature has brought on himself by sin. The command is not coldly uttered. It is not, take mercy if you will, and if you will not, refrain. But it is affectionately given, -- ‘Behold me, behold me’. you turn away from me daily, and deem it a gloomy restraint to think of me; but you wrong me. And you awfully wrong yourselves. You wrong me; for what can you allege with truth against my government, or laws, or providential dealings? The gloom you speak of is in your own unsanctified, unhumbled souls. there is no darkness with me; and none who seek me will abide in darkness. ‘Though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning’. ‘Come, then, and let us reason together. What have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against us.’ ‘Behold me’, I say once, and again I say, ‘Behold me’. ‘Turn ye, turn ye, for wherefore will ye die?’ How awful is his condescending urgency --- how awful if despised! If yielded to, how gracious does it appear to the returning contrite soul! It is the urgency of tender compassion.

But this language presents also the urgency of ’power.’ It is not the cry of unavailing compassion which is heard by a sinner when Jesus speaks in the gospel. It is the gracious invitation of a mighty saviour, who is able to save to the very uttermost all who come unto the Father through him. It is the command, and the offer, and the invitation of Him who ‘giveth power to the faint, and who increaseth strength to him who has no might.’ A man standing on the shores of the sea, and beholding the horrors of a shipwreck in a storm, may have all his compassion aroused for the sufferers; but he may be totally unable to yield nay effectual relief. His cry is one of pity, not of power. he dare not rush in to the billows; or if he did it would be unavailing. but the Lord, who beholds human souls perishing in their sins, rushes in among them, and stretches out the arms of deliverance. He walks not along the shore of this world's troubled ocean, viewing with indifference the shipwrecks which everywhere present themselves; but he leaves the shore – he walks amid the storm. He holds out salvation. He urges acceptance. he comes as the mighty god, and yet as the Prince of Peace. He says to the sea, be still. He says to the dead soul, live. But such is the wondrous beauty and wisdom of his arrangement in redemption, that while his power is changed without any violence being done to it. The sinner is led to choose the deliverance presented to him. He ventures in to the arms of the Saviour. He flies by faith to lay hold on the refuge thus set before him. He becomes willing in a day of divine power.
Let us never forget then that the urgency which the Lord uses in the passage before us, when he says, ‘ Behold me, behold me’, is not merely the cry of pity but of power. It issues from him who is ‘mighty in working’ as well as ‘wonderful in counsel’. And to all who listen and believe, it will become matter of joyful experience, that Christ is ‘ the power of God’ as well as ‘the wisdom of God’.

It is not only , however, the urgency of power that is here manifested, but also that of ’holiness’. It is the cry of a Being who will not be mocked with impunity. It is the offer of mercy by Him to whom the sin he offers pardon for is most abominable and atrocious, - of Him whose government throughout this wide dominions is upheld by holy laws - whose perfections are most holy -- who, though proffering pardon now, will, ere long, be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of his Son’. ‘ Consider this, ye that forget God,’ and neglect his invitation. It is not because God thinks lightly of sin that he provided for its pardon. he is not the unconcerned or indisciminating spectator of you actions and principles that you fondly imagine. he has not taken pity on you, because he only saw in you slight failings or excusable follies. These terms he recognises not. Al sin he hates; and the very first workings of it in the heart he has denounced as condemning. Think not the n it is your wretchedness merely that he looks at, and that, amidst his sympathies for that, he has lost his hatred of your sin. Ah no! This cannot be. He regards your greatest calamity as ’sin’. And ’because’ he hates your sin, he has provided for your deliverance from it. But he has so arranged the mode of deliverance, that his holiness is stamped on every step of it. He made a holy Saviour to suffer on the cross. A holy sacrifice has been offered. a holy obedience has been rendered. The Holy Ghost has come into our world to apply it. and provision is made for the fruits of holiness being produced in all who obey the gospel invitation. It is then not only the urgency of pity and of power, but of holiness also, thatis presented to us when we hear the Lord's voice saying, ‘Behold me, behold me’.
And to whom III. is this invitation given? It is declared to be ‘ to a nation that was not called by my name.’ This the apostle Paul refers to the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles. The Jews were for a season the peculiar people of God, set apart as a visible emblem of the true church. ‘They shall put my name on the children of Israel’. But they were ‘not all Israel that were of Israel;’ and their repeated and continued provocations were visited by a removal of their privileges, The Gentiles had no external designation to the Lord. His name was not written on them. Yet to them the gospel offer is made as freely as to the Jews. But why should we think merely of the Gentiles, in opposition to Israel being addressed by the Gospel? By those who have not the name of God on them, may be also meant such as make no profession of religion, such as have no reverence for divine ordinances, and therefore do not even give them the customary deference of others around them. Notwithstanding all their perverseness, and folly, and stout heartedness, still to them the kind invitation of the text reaches. ‘Now’, even to them ‘ is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation’. And when, in this thoughtless career, any word of scriptural truth by any means whatever reaches them, and when any gracious offer of mercy at any time falls on their ear, the offer is as free, and the blessings offered as abundant, as to others. Nay even to the very outcasts of society the invitation extends. ‘Ho! every one that thirsteth, and he that hath no money, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.’

But why should we confine our view to any section of our fallen world? Has not the whole race lost the name of God? Originally they bore it; for man was formed in the very image of God. The name of his heavenly Father was written on his soul. But ‘man living in honour did not abide’. He lost his name; he lost the love of the true God, and ‘he did not like to retain the knowledge of him’. He no longer belongs to the heavenly family. He knows not his Father’s voice. He is a vagabond from his Father’s home. He acknowledges him not. ‘The ox knoweth his owner, the ass his master’s crib, but this people do not know, neither do they consider’. Even multitudes of the Israelites who bore externally the name of God, as well as multitudes of persons professing Christianity in every age, have merely ‘a name to live, but are spiritually dead’. They have not sought after or recovered the divine image. Whose name, then, do we by nature bear? The name of Satan. Unbelieving persons are described in Scripture as belonging to the synagogue of Satan. To unbelievers in the days of his flesh the Lord said, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father ye will do’. ‘They are led captive by Satan at his will’. ‘They walk according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’. Satan is the leader of a rebellious world; and as with other leaders, his followers bear his name. Yet behold the loving kindness of God. He will not upbraid with their great unworthiness any who come from Satan to himself. He will not say, ’Ye belong to the ranks of my greatest enemy, and therefore to whomsoever I give mercy, it will not be to you’. No; he saith, ‘Behold me! Behold me’ even to you who are not called by the name of God, but by the name of the great adversary. That adversary he has condemned eternally. For your leader, ye unbelievers, there is no mercy; yet God does not involve you in the same hopeless doom. You are condemned, but not irrevocably. The sentence will be wiped away, and will no longer stand against you the moment you betake yourselves to the Lord by a living faith. Satan, indeed, your present leader, will tell you a different matter. He will bias you, if he can, against God. He will make the world, self, and sin seem desirable, and God’s ways and truth repulsive. Which, then, will ye believe? Will you listen to the devil rather than God? You do so if you close not with the invitation of God, ‘Behold me! Behold me!’ You declare yourselves not only to have been of the ‘nation that are not called by the name of God’; but to be of those who prefer the name and the slavery of Satan. Ye are they who ‘love darkness rather than light, your deeds being evil’.

Such then, is the gospel invitation, ‘Behold me, saith the Lord’, - its urgency, ‘Behold me, behold me’; - the persons addressed – those who bear not the name of God, including the whole family of fallen man. Let God’s people learn from this what God expects from them – that they shew forth the name of the Lord upon their character. ‘The Lord’, it is true, ‘knoweth them that are his’, but he would have the world to know it too, and therefore he says, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity.’ ‘They are one’, one in aim and trust, and holy obedience, ‘that they may know’, saith Christ, ‘that thou, Father, hast sent me’. ‘Be ye then followers of God as dear children’. Be ye ’living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men’.

Let those who seek Christ learn from this, to beware of keeping themselves back, by vain efforts to bring something meritorious with them in their hands. Mark the invitation, ‘Behold me, to a people who are not called by my name’. Come, then, without delay. If you wait till you make yourself more acceptable, you dishonour Christ; you shew that you are ignorant of his righteousness. Take him, then, as a free gift, and be healed, pardoned, and saved. Amen.