Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him (Isaiah Si.1,2).
God's children are followers. The Scriptures contain numerous instructions for them to follow. You may be sure that follow they do. They will not follow a stranger for they know not his voice (John 10.5). They will not follow after a multitude to do evil (Exodus 23.2), but rather, like David, follow that which is good (Psalm 38.20).
God's children are sheep. The sheep follow the Good Shepherd, for they know His voice (John 10.4). They also follow the voice of the Lord, for like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, when the voice of the Lord calls them, they leave occupations and family and follow (Matthew 4.21).
The Lord sets the priorities of His children to follow. When they would tarry to bury their dead, or be otherwise occupied with carnal necessities, Jesus says "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead (Matthew 8.22)." Jesus called the publican Levi, or Matthew, and bid him, "...Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him (Luke 5.27, 28)." Most remarkable this was. The tax collector abandoned everything, including his receipts, to answer the call of Jesus. He forthwith became a follower.
THE FOLLOWERS IDENTIFIED
Our text indicates those whom the Lord summoned with a "Hearken to me" were followers after righteousness and they were seeking the Lord. There is positively no indication Jehovah sought to persuade rebel sinners to follow after righteousness. He addressed those that were presently and actively engaged in following and seeking. The self-righteous need not apply.
Before examining the manner and attitude of those that followed righteousness and sought the Lord, let us observe three things at which the Lord commanded them to look. The first of these was the rock from whence they were hewn. That rock was Christ, the Rock of Ages. All that follow after righteousness derive their spiritual existence and life from Him, even before the foundation of the world. We need not inform the reader of the many texts that establish that Jesus was, and is, the Rock. One shall suffice. "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ (I Corinthians 10.4)."
Second was the hole of the pit whence they were digged. Again, there are many texts to identify the pit. We offer one. "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings (Psalm 40.2)." It is apparent that the pit of horrible clay can be no other than the Adamic family. But observe, it was the hole of the pit the followers were to look upon, not the pit itself. To see the hole from where they were extracted gave rise to hope. They no longer have residence there. They have been removed from the pit. Yes, they are set upon the rock observed in the first instance.
Third, they were to look unto Abraham their father and Sarah that bare them. Abraham is the father of the family of faith. Sarah is the mother of the children of promise. "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise (Galatians 4.28)."
Thus are the followers after righteousness identified. They have their origin in Christ the Rock from whence they were eternally hewn (chosen). They have been set apart from Adam's family (the horrible pit) and spiritually born by promise in the family of Abraham, the father of all the faithful. With these thoughts in mind we explore further regarding those that follow after righteousness.
FOLLOWING AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS
To make it perfectly clear that we are not simply looking at an antiquated text from the Old Testament - one that has no bearing on the church of believers today - we give two positive commandments from Paul to Timothy to show otherwise: "But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness (I Timothy 6.11)." "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (II Timothy 2.22)." The texts are complementary. They surely apply to essentially the same persons as Isaiah 51.1. Timothy and others whose hope rests in the imputed righteousness of Christ, must, and do, follow these things, the first of which is righteousness.
We shall not give a lengthy evaluation of what righteousness consists, beyond that found in the following Scriptures: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Romans 10.4)." "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (I Corinthians 1.30)." Through Christ, through Christ only, believers are done with the law. All the stern demands of the law, none of which they were ever able to meet personally, are done away in Him. The weight of that fearful law was fully removed by the perfect life of obedience to it by Christ. He satisfied its requirements in behalf of all the elect family. His righteousness is now theirs by imputation.
Imputation is exactly what Paul wrote of in I Corinthians 1.30, quoted above, where he said Christ was made unto us righteousness. Then to follow righteousness is not a legal attempt to gain favor with God by being "religious." Rather, believers follow after Christ who is Himself their righteousness.
"In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jeremiah 23.6)." How comforting! See here all claims to accepted purity before our Father in heaven in Christ. Nothing other than Christ serving in our behalf will suffice. Solemn too, and fearful, when considered, that multitudes had rather confide in their own personal efforts to satisfy God than trust in Him alone Who satisfied His Father for His little flock (Isaiah 53.11).
"Imputed righteousness is strange,
Nor will with human fancies range;
We guess the lurking motive well,
And Paul the hateful truth shall tell.
The lofty heart can not submit
To cast itself at Jesus' feet;
It scorns in borrow'd robes to shine,
Though wrought in righteousness divine.
Proud nature cries with loathing eyes,
'This imputation I despise;
And from it she will pertly start,
Till grace has broken down her heart.
O give me, Lord, thy righteousness,
To be my peace and wedding dress;
My wounds it heals, my shame it hides,
And makes me dutiful besides."
Berridge - Beebe Hymnal, - Number 314
PAUL AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
A text of considerable significance pertaining to righteousness is Philippians 3.6-17. There Paul's reckoned up his past claims of personal righteousness, and his hope of future righteousness by faith of Christ. When a Pharisee, Paul (then Saul) asserted "touching the righteousness which is in the law, [he was] blameless (Verse 6)." A careful reading of these verses show Paul was not at the time he wrote to the Philippians boasting a righteousness derived from law keeping. He was writing of his standing prior to the revelation of Christ to his soul. It was Paul before his Lord struck him blind on the road to Damascus that considered himself blameless.
What Paul revealed next is the naked truth about Arminianism laid bare. It is professed by all Arminian religionists - those who believe that by works they attain unto righteousness - that the more they work the more benefits they accrue before God. Work, work, and more work. Gain, gain, and more gain. Admitted or not, Arminians delude themselves that the more they work, the more God will be pleased with them. It follows then, if they could work to perfection, or as Paul put it, rise to blamelessness, then God would be obliged to be perfectly satisfied with them.
That was exactly - and enthusiastically - what Paul believed and what he practiced. But, Paul was more honest, more consistent, and far, far more dedicated to his enterprises than is our present lot of legalist work-mongers. To Paul the legalist, life was a competition, a deadly serious competition, not with other believers, but with Christ Himself! How so? Hear Paul describe the engagement between himself and Christ. "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3.7)." The zealot Paul would be satisfied with nothing less than total victory. This is plain language. It is a frightful but stark appraisal of his determination! There is no reason to mistake its meaning or deny its force. Only a despiser of truth would dare. Paul considered himself blameless touching the righteousness of the law. Just so long as he could maintain that standard, it would, in his view, add to his religious stature and diminish the glory of Christ at the same time. Like a religious accountant, Paul thought in terms of loss and gain. Paul works, and it is added to his ledger under accumulated righteousness. At the same time it subtracted from Christ. At least that was the way Paul counted these things. At that dreadful stage in Paul's life he was a follower of self. He would derive righteousness through his efforts and at the same time rob the Lord of all His value.
It is an indisputable fact, from both the Bible and history; Paul was a brilliant man. He was vitally aware of the person, Jesus of Nazareth. He was cognizant of Bible prophecies relating to the Christ to come. The events of the life, crucifixion and parallel activities of Jesus could not have escaped his notice and studied contemplations. We shall not attempt to multiply proofs. It is sufficient to say, Paul had taken inventory. He surveyed the market of human opinions, claims, and disputations relating to Jesus. Paul counted up the cost. The self righteous Pharisee would win at all cost. He determined the time and circumstance were right. So he brutally pursued his goals. The market was ripe for the plunder.
Paul aggressively promoted the agenda of Paul the Pharisee. With equal aggression and fanaticism he did all within his power to make the name of Jesus unspeakable, and rout His disciples from the field.
One conclusion only may be reached concerning the activities of Paul in relation to Jesus; he hated Jesus with an awful, blasphemous hatred. Remember, in the same verse (six) where he stated with unclad candor "Touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" he also forthrightly confessed "Concerning zeal, persecuting the church." This was Paul's standing ground prior to the Lord turning him from his madness. Gain for Paul; loss for Christ. This was his acknowledged attitude, practice, and goal. We add, he was quite successful in the enterprise for a time.
Paul was guilty of the very thing he would later accuse the blind Israelites of: "For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10.2,3)."
Deluded Armimans practice their scheme to gain rewards for personal righteousness. Where, however, is the Arminian that is able to confess with Paul they do it to discredit Christ? But so they do, confessed or not. Our Lord accomplished righteousness for His chosen. He imputes that righteousness to them. God His Father is fully satisfied with His righteous work. Nothing may be added to it. Nothing may be taken away, Paul the Pharisee, and Arminians notwithstanding.
It is a truth from the Word of God - no man can serve two masters. He will love the one and hate the other. "Oh, no! We do not hate Christ. We serve Him with our good works," exclaims the Arminian. Then, we ask, why do you seek to gain favor with God by doing what Christ has already done for His children? Do you think your works of righteousness will complement those of Christ? Will they improve on what He has done? Shall God be more satisfied with you, by your doing, than He is satisfied already with what Christ has done?
The fact is this; if God is not already satisfied with you; if your name was not recorded in the book of life of the Lamb from before the foundation of the world, God will never be satisfied with you. The more you work to gain righteousness the more you prove your eternally destitute condition. We shall not say that you aggravate your condition for it is already as bad as it can get. Moreover, despite all claims, you are not a follower of Christ.
Fallen man follows works to gain righteousness. The reason is because he loves self. Self is his real god. Fallen self is to be secured by fallen self. Absurd isn't it? It is not a love of Christ that motivates sinners to follow works for a blameless righteousness. It was not a love to Christ that drove Paul. It was then, and is today, just the opposite. Self love; self satisfaction; selfishness. Darling self is the genuine (false) god of all Arminians. The unhumbled Arminian follows works for righteousness, not nearly so much to gain heaven as to save self from the eternal flames. Not a love of Christ is driving him; it is love of self. Remember, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6.24)." Mammon is anything in which one greedily places his confidence, and we may add, that mistakenly. There is nothing a sinner, estranged from God, places more confidence or value in than self, rotten self. Thus, loving self, he actually hates God. It matters not whether he is aware of it. It really makes no difference. Man, without imputed righteousness, despises God. He loves self. That is man's condition today; that was Paul's condition prior to a revelation of Christ to his soul. Neither Paul then, nor Arminians today, follow after true righteousness.
When Jesus walked among the Israelites they despised and rejected him. They esteemed Him not. They hated Him without a cause. No man pitied Him. And who were these miscreants who treated the Son of God so despicably? None other than the pious Jews, probably the most zealous religious people on earth. But they would not have this man to rule over them. "Away with Him" was the consensus. The Scriptures read "every man turned [followed] after his own way." That is, they preferred self to Jesus.
Is the cankered vine of modern religionists somehow superior to Israel of that day? Do they bring forth better clusters of fruit more fit for the wine-press of God? We think not. They too follow self rather than Jesus.
Returning now to Paul's account in Philippians, we pass from his statement "...what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." This was Paul's past standing. View where Paul stood as he wrote this letter. Diametrically opposite from his past standing, Paul (by grace) became as devoted to Christ as he was once opposed to Him. This can at once be clearly seen by simply looking at the tense of the key word. "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Past tense! This was where Paul stood relative to Christ in the past. "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ (Philippians 3.8)." Blessed, blessed! Paul, that great religious accountant, was yet counting up gains and losses, but now his ledger had been reversed. Under the name of Christ, in the gain column, he wrote in all Paul's losses. Those things so highly prized by Paul before, now became dung. His fervent pleasure was to deplete his own assets. In time past they were his blameless standing. Now they were dung to be washed away in the blood of the Lamb. They were his net worth. Now they became his losses and the wonder is, Paul was thankful to be rid of them. He had learned it was all a pitiful delusion. Everything he thought was of great value to himself had become worthless before the vaults of God's wealth. His losses became his treasures. His heart and his treasures were both in the bosom of Christ. Here he placed his real and lasting values. Marvel and behold. The lion has lain down with the Lamb.
"Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss." Paul was changed. There was then no doubt about this one thing; "I count all things but loss." He did not dare, he did not desire, to secret away a portion to idolize. All must go. "Why" one may ask, "did Paul so freely abandon all things (count them dung)?" "For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Think of the blessed exchange. Pause in amazement. What trafficker in materials, what banker or investor ever engaged in an exchange that repaid them with such opulent benefits? And at what cost?
The blameless and righteous Pharisee had been a madman. Selfish beyond description, cruel surpassing emotions, blinded with zeal, the self righteous Pharisee laid waste the church. Suddenly (at the appointed time) Paul was visited by the Light of the world. For three days after he was blind to all that was outward. After his eyes were opened he saw the immense wealth and bounty his Lord possessed within Himself. This was an excellency for which Paul must, and would, abandon all. It was the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord for which Paul counted all things dung. Volumes more might be written here but we pass on to the remainder of his accounting.
"For whom I have suffered the loss of all things." Mark well, Paul spoke freely of counting all things dung, but the expectation and the deed are often brought together only after considerable struggle. This is the man that called himself wretched because of his body of death. This is the man that would do good but found evil was present (Romans 7). To count all things dung would be a mighty struggle, no matter the joy at the conclusion. Paul suffered the loss of all things. This was the will of God (I Peter 4.19). "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen settle you (I Peter 5.10)."
WHERE PAUL HOPED TO STAND
"That I may win Christ." The apostle had told where he stood when a Pharisee; he strove to gain for himself and thus diminish Christ. He told us next where he stood after his spiritual awakening; "I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ." But now - gazing ever forward - Paul eyed the prize. Using another metaphor, Paul aimed to win (as if in a contest of the highest magnitude) Christ. This was the supreme gain; the ultimate prize of which he would further address in verse 14. He determined to forsake all else to follow this course. Notice, he would, without question, press toward this mark, for failing here, nothing else would matter.
Paul was now a follower after true righteousness.
We come to the heart of Paul's aims: "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Verse 9)." The once proud Pharisee, now rid of his own filthy-rag righteousness, covets that union with Christ that requires no personal righteousness. This righteousness Paul sought is that which we addressed in our text from Isaiah 51.1 and Paul was now among those humble followers that desired it above every treasure of earthly comfort. It is clear to all with spiritual eyes, neither those addressed by Jehovah in Isaiah, nor Paul here, possessed that bed-rock assurance of union with Christ so haughtily bragged about among the Arminian camps.
"That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3.10,11)." The mighty opposer of all truth and spiritual righteousness is finally stirred to think in terms of the future. "That I may." It was not, "That I do" but that I may. Having said all, he gave his sound reasoning: "If by any means I might attain unto...." He was following toward a particular attainment, which is conclusive evidence that he had not yet arrived.
"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3.12)." "lam not there yet" is the argument of Paul. "I am not yet perfect" he adds. "But I follow after." Here is the bond between our text in Isaiah 51.1 and what Paul is saying. He is looking for a city. He seeks a better country. He would ascend Zion's summit or lie down beside the still waters. "Lead me blessed Saviour, and enable me to follow." This is Paul, and this is all others that have been called from darkness to light and given a heavenly mind to follow after Christ our righteousness.
As if to establish that he was not exaggerating, Paul winds up his summary of events in his life by saying, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3.14)." Paul was pressing, which is only another way of saying he was a determined follower. It was toward a mark. He could see it afar off and by grace he would not take his eye off it. It was a prize; the ultimate prize! Christ and His righteousness at the end of this dark journey. But go he must, for this was a high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Finally, in verse 17 Paul says, "Brethren, be followers together of me." Paul coveted the company of other followers. False followers abound. He says they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. What does that mean? It means that they determined to follow God with the same self righteousness Paul followed until God curbed his madness. They despised the righteousness that comes by the cross. They despised it for they preferred what self could do for them. "Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you (Acts 13.41)."
James F Poole
Volume 12, No. 5 - September-October, 1998