By Charles Kingsley
ISAIAH lix. 15, 16.
And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment. And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness it sustained him.
This text is often held to be a prophecy of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I certainly believe that it is a prophecy of his coming, and of something better still; namely, his continual presence; and a very noble and deep one, and one from which we may learn a great deal.
We may learn from it what 'salvation' really is. What Christ came to save men from, and how he saves them.
The common notion of salvation now-a-days is this. That salvation is some arrangement or plan, by which people are to escape hell-fire by having Christ's righteousness imputed to them without their being righteous themselves.
Now, I have nothing to say about that this morning. It may be so; or, again, it may not; I read a good many things in books every week the sense of which I cannot understand. At all events it is not the salvation of which Isaiah speaks here.
For Isaiah tells us very plainly, from WHAT God was going to save these Jews. Not from hell-fire--nothing is said about it: but simply from their SINS. As it is written, 'Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from THEIR SINS.'
The case is very simple, if you will look at Isaiah's own words. These Jews had become thoroughly bad men. They were not ungodly men. They were very religious, orthodox, devout men. They 'sought God daily, and delighted to know his ways, like a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinances of their God: they asked of him the ordinances of justice; they took delight in approaching unto God.'
But unfortunately for them, and for all with whom they had to do, after they had asked of God the ordinances of justice, they never thought of doing them; and in spite of all their religion, they were, Isaiah tells them plainly, rogues and scoundrels, none of whom stood up for justice, or pleaded for truth, but trusted in vanity, and spoke lies. Their feet ran to evil, and they made haste to shed innocent blood; the way of peace they knew not, and they had made themselves crooked paths, speaking oppression and revolt, and conceiving and uttering words of falsehood; so that judgment was turned away backward, and justice stood afar off, for truth was fallen in the street, and equity could not enter. Yea, truth failed; and he that departed from evil made himself a prey (or as some render it) was accounted mad.
And this is in the face of all their religion and their church-going. Verily, my friends, fallen human beings were much the same then as now; and there are too many in England and elsewhere now who might sit for that portrait.
But how was the Lord going to save these hypocritical, false, unjust men? Was he going to say to them, Believe certain doctrines about me, and you shall escape all punishment for your sins, and my righteousness shall be imputed to you? We do not read a word of that. We read--not that the Lord's righteousness was imputed to these bad men, but that it sustained the Lord himself.--Ah! there is a depth, if you will receive it--a depth of hope and comfort--a well- spring of salvation for us and all mankind.
You may be false and dishonest, saith the Lord, but I am honest and true. Unjust, but I am just; unrighteous, but I am righteous. If men will not set the world right, then I will, saith the Lord. My righteousness shall sustain me, and keep me up to my duty, though man may forget his. To me all power is given in heaven and earth, and I will use my power aright.
If men are bringing themselves and their country, their religion, their church to ruin by hypocrisy, falsehood, and injustice, as those Jews were, then the Lord's arm will bring salvation. He will save them from their sins by the only possible way--namely, by taking their sins away, and making those of them who will take his lesson good and righteous men instead. It may be a very terrible lesson of vengeance and fury, as Isaiah says. It may unmask many a hypocrite, confound many a politic, and frustrate many a knavish trick, till the Lord's salvation may look at first sight much more like destruction and misery; for his fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather the wheat into his garner: but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.
But his purpose is, to SAVE--to save his people from their sins, to purge out of them all hypocrisy, falsehood, injustice, and make of them honest men, true men, just men--men created anew after his likeness. And this is the meaning of his salvation; and is the only salvation worth having, for this life or the life to come.
Oh my friends, let us pray to God, whatsoever else he does for us, to make honest men of us. For if we be not honest men, we shall surely come to ruin, and bring all we touch to ruin, past hope of salvation. Whatsoever denomination or church we belong to, it will be all the same: we may call ourselves children of Abraham, of the Holy Catholic Church (which God preserve), or what we will: but when the axe is laid to the root of the tree, every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and is cast into the fire; and woe to the foolish fowl who have taken shelter under the branches of it.
And we who are coming to the holy communion this day--let us ask ourselves, What do we want there? Do we want to be made good men, true, honest, just? Do we want to be saved from our sins? or merely from the punishment of them after we die? Do we want to be made sharers in that everlasting righteousness of Christ, which sustains him, and sustains the whole world too, and prevents it from becoming a cage of wild beasts, tearing each other to pieces by war and oppression, falsehood and injustice? THEN we shall get what we want; and more. But if not, then we shall not get what we want, not discerning that the Lord's body is a righteous and just and good body; and his blood a purifying blood, which purifies not merely from the punishment of our sins, but from our sins themselves.
And bear in mind, my friends, when times grow evil, and rogues and hypocrites abound, and all the world seems going wrong, there is one arm to fall back upon, and one righteousness to fall back upon, which can never fail you, or the world. -
The arm of the Lord, which brings salvation to him, that he may give it to all who are faithful and true; which cannot weaken or grow weary, till it has cast out of his kingdom all which offends, and whosoever loveth or maketh a lie. -
And the eternal righteousness of the Lord, which will do justice by every living soul of man, and which will never fail or fade away, because it is his own property, belonging to his own essence, which if he gave up for a moment he would give up being God. Yes, God is good, though every man were bad; God is just, though every man were a rogue; God is true, though every man were a liar; and as long as that is so, all is safe for you and me, and the whole world:- IF WE WILL.