“Who is among you licit feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye hare of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow.” – Isa. 1. 10, 11.
The Lord himself speaks in each verse above to his chosen people Israel, yet how differently he speaks to the two classes of his people! For to the one the Lord addresses good words of peace and comfort, saying, “Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God;” but to the other class his unfailing word is, “This shall ye have of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow.” Now this not only applied to the people of God then, but it also as truly applies to them now and always; for in this short and very instructive fiftieth chapter, the inspired prophet personated Christ, and spoke of his sufferings and glorious success and kingdom. Let the reader please read the chapter. Isaiah was in a large measure the prophet of Christ – the gospel prophet. So here at the sixth verse the Spirit of Christ in him says, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: * * * and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me. * * * Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?” Thus it is shown that the dear suffering Son of man himself trusted in God, knowing that God his Father would help him and justify him, and that his adversaries should not condemn him, but he should overcome them and triumph in God. The holy man Christ having thus spoken, as the Captain and Leader of God’s people, and as their Brother in adversity and their example, he then in the tenth verse speaks to those of his suffering saints who fear and tremble before the Lord their God, who in their hearts reverently obey the voice of his servant Jesus, and yet who walk in darkness, and have no light, and cheeringly bids them to possess their souls in patience, and trust in the name of the Lord. For the name of the Lord is a strong tower, and the righteous (not the self-righteous) runneth into it, and are safe. Yea, let this poor and helpless one, who mourneth in darkness, “stay upon his God.” What a strong refuge and consolation this one has! The poor soul is sweetly told by the sympathizing and merciful High Priest, to stay or lean or rest upon God. Ah, this poor one needs this strong defense and safe resting place. Here he finds both safety and rest, and though he is in darkness, and has no light, yet his soul makes her boast in the precious name of the Lord. O, give me the lowly and trying lot of this blessed one, to fear the Lord my God, and obey the voice of his righteous and justifying servant Jesus, though it is to walk in dark trials, and to feel that the clouds of affliction shut out the light, and bow my spirit in awe and fear before the Lord; for then it is my blessed privilege to receive the divine comfort of the text. But how remarkable this is, that those who both fear God, and obey the voice of Jesus, should walk in darkness, and have no light! Can there be any mistake about this? No; for the Lord makes no mistakes. Well, then, some who lay claim to remarkable gospel advancement and light are mistaken, for their word is, that the people of God walk in darkness, and have no light, only when they are disobedient, and that the Lord’s obedient people do not thus have to complain of having no light, but they may always have a good time and be happy. For the teaching now is, that it is only the poor sort of the Lord’s people, those who do not fear the Lord, nor obey the voice of the good Shepherd, that go bowed down under clouds of affliction, and are left without light. It is held that the good and obedient always are rewarded with the light of the Lord’s countenance, and that this light and joy of salvation, with all our spiritual blessings in the time of our sojourn on earth, are conditional on our part, and dependent upon ourselves. Those who so hold and contend should be accorded sincerity, and the right of their convictions; but the plain testimony of the Lord, not only in the text, but in the volume of revealed truth, and also in the lives of God’s holy servant Jesus, and the apostles and prophets, do not support this plausible and man-pleasing position or theory.
Now, dear reader, come with me, and let us hastily follow in the footsteps of the people of the living and true God, who filially feared him, and in faith obeyed the voice of their Redeemer and King. Look at the life of Job, of whom God himself said, “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil.” Yet of this eminent servant of God it could truly be said, in the touching words of the text, that he walked in darkness, and had no light, for no other God-fearing servant, except Jesus of Nazareth, ever suffered a darker or longer night of trial and affliction, insomuch that it is heart-touching to read his life. Look at the meek Moses, and who except he was divinely sustained and staid upon God, could have endured all the terrible darkness and perils that he walked through! And Paul said of Moses, that he “was verily faithful in all his house, as a servant” of God. Follow the wandering and darksome pilgrimage of Abraham, “the friend of God.” David, too, “a man after God’s own heart,” for long years was in the midst of darkest perils and trials, as vividly told in his mournful psalms. His soul was often shut up as in a dungeon, and the waves and billows of affliction went over him, so that he was a pathetic type of our spiritual David. Go after the great prophet Elijah, and behold his awful trials, and hear his piteous plaints and cries to God. Bead the lamentations of Jeremiah, a faithful servant of God. Then read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, which recounts a long list of the true followers of God, and how deeply they were baptized in suffering and affliction; yet in all this walking in darkness, and through deep waters of tribulation, these all trusted in the name of the Lord. And now follow with bowed head from the manger to the cross, the man of sorrows, who always pleased God; behold him in the terrible wilderness with the wild beasts, fiercely tempted of the devil; hear his all night prayers to God in a dark, chilly mountain, with strong crying and tears, and was heard in that he feared; witness his groaning and weeping at the tomb; hear him say, “Now is my soul troubled;” hear the heart-breaking cry in the garden, “O, my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, thy will be done.” In all this great company of God’s afflicted and poor people, we have a faithful and touching fulfillment of the text; for through all the dark trials and sufferings of these obedient and persecuted servants of God, they trusted in and staid upon him, and he saved them out of all their distresses and darkness.
Let us now come to our own time, and here as well we shall find that the most God-fearing, faithful and spiritual of the Lord’s people have been those who have walked most in the lowly and dark valley of tribulation and affliction; who have had a painful realization of their own insufficiency, sinful unworthiness, weakness and felt dependence upon the Lord and his grace. These are little and lowly in their own esteem, and one will hear them complain of their own coldness and darkness, doubts and fears, and of the hidings of the dear Lord’s countenance. These are the broken in heart on account of their sinful flesh, and the contrite in spirit, to whom the Lord says he will look. David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word,” saith the Lord. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: blessed are they that mourn: blessed are the meek,” are the precious words of our Lord. Not they that were thus in the past, but they that are thus in the present. Standing in the midst of the vast assemblage of the Jews, at the great feast of tabernacles, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” So in the text, the Lord calls out the poor and needy from among the people of Israel, those who were in darkness and affliction, and spoke words of comfort to them, bidding them trust in him, their everlasting salvation, strength and light. For God “hath respect unto the lowly; but the proud he knoweth afar off.” So to the others of Israel the Lord says, “Behold,” that is, consider it, “all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled.” The Lord here gave them up to their own hearts’ lusts, to have their own way, and to do their own religious service and work. They had become impatient and tired of the old way of walking in lowly paths of darkness, and of trusting in and waiting upon the Lord; and so they resolved in their boasted free will and ability to move up on higher ground, that they might be more prosperous, and have a popular revival and a good time, like their worshiping neighbors around them. Yes, and they succeeded to their hearts’ content, for they were so zealous in their worship that they ascended up to the high hills of Judea, where they built altars or places of worship, and there they kindled fires, from which the sparks went up in the sight of their worshiping neighbors, and they walked rejoicingly in the light of their fires, and gloried in their works. What a big revival they did have, to be sure, and how they could then jeer and gibe their lowly brethren, who contritely feared and served the Lord, but were in affliction and darkness, and could only hope and trust and stay on him, longing, watching and praying for him to come and drive back the darkness, bid the Sun of righteousness arise unto them with healing beams, revive and bless them. But those on the high places, who in their fervor were kindling fires and rejoicing in this great religious prosperity, doubtless blamed them for the darkness and affliction they were in, and taunted them for trusting wholly in the name of the Lord, and staying simply on the God of Israel, like dependent little children. They would be disposed to say to them, “Why do you grieve and afflict your souls on account of what we are doing? Why don’t you join with us, and get up out of the low and dark places you are in? You are too particular, close and peculiar, and quite too old fashioned. Look up at us, and see the light of our fires, and then kindle fires in yourselves, as we are doing, and have a happy and good time. We are the children of Abraham, as well as yourselves, but we think it is high time to get out of the old ruts of our fathers, and accept the good things and more congenial ways of our neighbors’ religion and worship, And in doing so, we are far more influential and popular with them, and are gaining proselytes from them, for not a few of their sons and daughters are joining in with us, and walking in the light of our fires.” It is a true saying, “History repeats itself.” For the above two sorts of worshipers are among the people of Israel today, and the two verses of the text at the head of this humble sermon are very appropriate to the two classes. But whether those Israelites that kindled fires of their own, and were so zealous and active in walking in the light of their own fires, derisively called their poor brethren who trusted in the name of the Lord, “Can’t help its,” does not appear, but the strong probability is that there is a more modern Ashdod term of reproach. I have a very distinct recollection of often hearing it spoken against all the Old Baptists in my youth, but the religious people who thus derided our people then were known as conditionalists, as opposed to our salvation from beginning to finish being all of the Lord, and by grace alone. So they believed that, as salvation is partly of the Lord, and partly of man, the thing for them to do was to kindle up religious lires of their own, and compass themselves about with showers of sparks, and walk in the light of their own works. And they did it, much to their own glorification, and heralded abroad through their publications their grand success in gathering in large numbers to the help of the Lord. That they might better kindle their fires to a great flame, they got up protracted meetings, and to blow up the sparks, much loud and excited and sympathetic singing was indulged in, and when the fires thus kindled flamed high, many would run over with zeal, and not a few would fairly dance and shout. O, how different this is from the old way of walking in darkness, “faint, yet persuing,” and trusting in the name of the Lord. Here are the two ways, and these are all. Let us see how they each end. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” And to stay on God is blessed; for, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” How shall it be with the other religious people, who do so much for themselves and the Lord, to dispel the darkness? Shall he not bestow upon them a full reward? For all those religious workers, who claim that so much “depends upon themselves,” believe that the Lord will bless and reward them for their religious service, and they serve for “the pay there is in it,” or for the reward. This is a very selfish motive, to say the least, but it holds good as applied to the religious world the world around. It is cause for grief and mourning that any of our Old Baptist people should join in with the religious world in this claim. For to those of Israel who are thus kindling fires, and depending upon themselves, and promising themselves a large reward for all this zeal and service, the Lord himself fixes their certain reward, saying, “ This shall ye have of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow.” There is no escaping this. One or the other of the two verses of the text applies to the whole house of Israel.
Crawfordsville, Ind., March 1, 1898.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 66., No. 12.
JUNE 15, 1898.