The Gospel Neglected!
William Nicholson, 1862
"Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Isaiah 53:1
This chapter narrates the circumstances of Christ's sufferings so exactly, that it forms rather a history of his passion, than a prophecy of them. And it is so undeniable a proof of the truth of Christianity, that the mere reading of it, comparing it with the records of the evangelists, has converted some infidels.
The prophet, at the close of the preceding chapter, foretells the favorable reception which the Gospel should have among the Gentiles; that nations and their kings would bid it welcome, etc. In the text, he foretells with wonder the unbelief of the Jews, and their rejection of the Divine Messiah.
I. The Nature of The Gospel Report.
The word "report" may be rendered doctrine. The doctrine of the Gospel reported by the prophet, in the close of the preceding chapter, and which he so beautifully develops in this. Here we have the substance of the Gospel; its great fundamental truths, which angels have thought it their highest honor to report to the universe.
1. It is a report of man's lost and ruined condition.
That he is fallen, become vile, disobedient, condemned, accursed. See verse 6. The language of the prophet, from verse 3-9, implies awful guilt on the part of the sinner. See the evil and bitter nature of sin in the "sorrows," "grief," "despite," "smitings," "wounds," "bruises," "chastisement," "stripes" — which afflicted and oppressed the Redeemer. Sin is so heinous to Infinite Purity, that he is necessitated to hurl upon it, his vengeance either on the perpetrator, or an adequate substitute.
2. It is a report of the helplessness of man.
It is a report of the futility of all human attempts to emancipate man from the direful effects of transgression. It says:
you cannot break your fetters,
you cannot unbar the gates of your prison-house,
you cannot raise yourself from the pit of darkness.
You are sick — but you can not heal yourself.
You are vile — but you cannot purify yourself, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil!" Jeremiah 13:23
You are cursed — but you cannot turn the curse into a blessing!
You are at variance with your Maker — but you cannot reconcile yourself to him. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?"
3. It is a report of the devisings of infinite love for man's salvation.
God knew that man would fall. Before this orb was created, man as a lapsed, rebellious, and vile sinner, stood before the eye of Jehovah. Then he made him the object of his infinite commiseration, by devising the plan of redemption, to be carried out by his only begotten Son — the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
4. It is a report of the actual accomplishment of the purposes of divine mercy for man's salvation. These purposes had been revealed to Adam; to the patriarchs, prophets, etc. "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons!" Galatians 4:4-5
It is a report . . .
of his incarnation;
of his perfect obedience to the law;
of the manifestations of his Divinity;
of his ignominious sufferings and death;
of his glorious resurrection and triumphant ascension, etc.
It is a report that his sufferings and death were sacrificial, and accepted by Jehovah as . . .
magnifying the law,
satisfying Divine justice,
and reconciling man to God.
It is a report of the rich blessings of his Sacrifice. Pardon for the vilest. Peace for the distressed, etc., etc.
5. It is the most interesting report ever delivered.
It is "glad tidings of good things" to all people. Tidings of the best, the richest, the most necessary of blessings! The report of discovered treasures; of important inventions; of successful schemes; of decisive battles, splendid victories, and established peace, may be interesting — but they are base when compared with the "glad tidings of salvation."
Saints delight in it.
Angels view it with rapture.
Demons regard it with envy.
6. It is a true report. "A faithful saying." "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
It is not merely notional, nor romantic fiction, nor "a cunningly devised fable" — but "a sure word of prophecy."
Every article of the Gospel history was a fulfillment of some ancient prediction and prophecy, which gave a wonderful confirmation of its truth. And the numerous miracles which Christ performed, crowned with his promised resurrection from the dead, left no room to doubt the truth of his Gospel. The apostles confirmed this report by "infallible signs," for they healed the sick, and raised the dead. And the continual efficacy of the Gospel in all succeeding ages in converting sinners, and in sanctifying and comforting believers — is a conclusive evidence that this report is true.
II. That the Publication of this Report is Accompanied with Divine Energy."The arm of the Lord is revealed."
The arm and the hand are emblems of power. Hence the expressions refer to the creative and saving power of God. Jeremiah 32:17; Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 33:2. Christ's arm is his saving power, mercy, and love.
The ancient warriors made bare their right arm when closely engaged in battle; in allusion to which, God is said to make bare his arm, when in a very remarkable manner he exerts his mercy and power for the deliverance of his people, and the destruction of his enemies — or when he reveals his Son to men, as the power and wisdom of God. Isaiah 52:10.
The power of God accompanies the preaching of the Gospel. "The arm of the Lord is revealed." This is done by the influence of the Spirit which he promised to his disciples, "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment!" John 16:8.
In this way "the arm of the Lord "was revealed on the day of Pentecost. The word came "in demonstration of the Spirit." Paul may plant, Apollos may water — but only God can cause the growth! "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds" 2 Corinthians 10:4. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ!" 2 Corinthians 4:6.
The success which attended the ministry of the Apostles is ascribed to the "hand of the Lord being with them," giving efficacy to the word of his grace. The Spirit is . . .
The revelation of the arm of the Lord is absolutely necessary, if we consider,
1. The ignorance of the sinner.
2. The apathy and obstinacy of his mind.
3. His supreme attachment to sin and worldly objects.
4. His subjection to Satanic influence — a miserable captive of the devil, etc.
5. His helplessness.
III. That the Gospel is Announced to Be Believed and Enjoyed."Who has believed?"
Hence the commission of Christ, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him!" John 3:36. The Gospel was preached to the nations for "the obedience of faith."
Believing implies —
1. An acquaintance with the nature of this report. The Gospel must be understood — or we cannot believe it.
2. A deep conviction that we need a saving interest in the great doctrines which it proclaims:
that as sinners, we need a saving interest in atoning love;
that as guilty, we need pardon;
that as outcasts, we need adoption;
that our spiritual necessities are vast;
that a saving interest in Christ is indispensable.
3. An application to God through Christ for a saving interest in the rich and everlasting blessings of the Gospel. All self-dependence — all self-righteousness is abandoned. The language now is, None but Christ! Hence there is a reliance upon Christ as the atoning sacrifice, etc.
And should not this report be believed? "It is worthy of all acceptance."
It is true;
it is a rich display of infinite love;
it is the sovereign remedy for all our woes;
it is the revealer of immortal bliss, of a kingdom, and a crown;
and it invests us with a title and a fitness for their enjoyment.
IV. That Notwithstanding its Glorious Import, and the Divine Energy Connected with it, it is Frequently Despised and Rejected.
1. This was the case with the Jews. "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him!" John 1:10-11. See John 12:38; Romans 10:16. The reason is assigned by the Prophet, verse 2, 3. They were prejudiced against his person. His preaching and teaching were powerful to them, but they would not espouse his cause, because he had "no loveliness, that they should desire him," no splendid retinue, no pompous parade, etc. etc.
The Gospel was also opposed to their formality, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy. "The word did not profit them, not being mixed with faith."
2. It is the case now. Considering the nature of this report, and man's condition as a sinner — it might be expected that it would be favorably received. But he is still "despised and rejected by men." Some do not so much as give the Gospel a hearing, but make light of it. Some violently oppose it, and prevent those who would embrace it. Some pervert it, and so destroy its efficacy. None receive it but such as are born again, and they alone believe to the saving of the soul.
Therefore this contempt arises from:
ignorance of its nature and value,
apathy and indifference to spiritual happiness,
the love of the world,
lack of prayer for Divine energy — to enlighten, convince, quicken, and incline to the reception of this report.
3. The rejection of the Gospel will involve fearful consequences. Look at the Jews — they were cut off through unbelief. It is the rejection of Heaven's only plan for the salvation of guilty men. It is a despite of God's Spirit, or his revealed arm.
Have you believed the Gospel report? Do you enjoy it, finding it accompanied with the revelation of God's arm?
The contempt of this report should lead us to humility, to prayer and zeal.
Let sinners remember that there is no other scheme adequate to the demands of human necessity, or which can give a title to everlasting bliss!