“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.”
The more remote context, as we saw, reveals Jehovah’s people as in an utterly hopeless state of total depravity and spiritual death. In that state they were adjudged unthankful, evil, corrupt and hypocritical. They proudly thought themselves thepeople! After all, they reasoned, they approached God in proper outward form, with religious preciseness and regularly, and without fail performed the rites of purification. Yet the Lord found them vile, filthy, putrifying, stinking in their sins. For with all their proper religiousity, they had no love for God. They had neither the desire nor the ability to love Him. They were too in love with their sins and with themselves. They were too deeply involved in brazen revolt against the Holy One of Israel (how blasphemous!), against the mighty One of Israel, v. 24, (how futile!).
The immediately foregoing context introduces a much brighter picture. It introduces the theme of the salvation of the Lord and the conference He calls to discuss it together with His people. For it is by grace in doing so that sinners are set right in their thinking and doing with respect to pardon and redemption. Scripture calls that redemption “eternal redemption.” They who are redeemed by it are forever the Lord’s purchased possessions. The redeemed, too, according to the word of the Lord here, are a people zealous of good works. Verse 18 tells us that the title and right to salvation are the work and gift of God alone. Verse 19 tells us that the actual possession and enjoyment of that salvation lie in the way of faithfulness to the command of God.
I.The Meaning of the text concerns our willingness. Consider this first of all manward. The Lord had been very reasonable to say to us what He had in v. 18 about full pardon and cleansing from sin. It is just as reasonable now for Him to demand and insist on our being willing from the heart. But certainly it does not follow from this that God enjoins willingness—that, therefore, man’s will is free to will or not to will the will of God. ‘We must not be fooled by the proponents of “free will” and their supposition that man can make himself willing. For though man is a free agent, and his will is free in a certain direction, it is more bound in slavery (to sin) than free. He is free only to do evil; to do good he has no knowledge. So there is a great difference between free agency and free will. An agent is one who acts or has power to act. Man is still a free agent: he still has power to act according to his nature. But the trouble is, that since the fall his nature is sinful and corrupt, and so he is free to act only according to a fallen nature. A dead cat is free to do one thing—decompose! A boulder rolling down the mountain side is free, goes leaping in its freedom, freely speeding and bounding on its way. But it is not free to roll back up again to the top of the mountain. It rolls down, for it is bound to crash down; but it is not free to go back up. So with the will of man ruined by the fall: it is no longer free to good, but to only evil continually. “Free will” is a slave. It is in moral, spiritual and ethical bondage. So when the Lord says, “If ye be willing,” the implication is not that man can make himself willing. For the regenerate are made willing in the day of God’s sovereign power.
Consider this also Godward. Fallen man is not and cannot be willing except as “it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” The Spirit regenerates dead sinners, giving them a new heart and a new will. There is not a word or passage of Scripture that ascribes the renewed act of man’s will to himself, but it is all produced by the mighty power of God. “You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The will to do nothing but sin comes from fallen nature; the will to do good comes from grace. Now notice that here we have an L “if clause—”If ye be willing. . .” If-clause sentences are of two kinds: (1) the conditional if-clause and (2) the non-conditional if-clause. What we have here is a non-conditional if-clause sentence containing (1) a dependent clause and (2) the main clause. It would be a twisting of grammar to make the main clause depend on the dependent clause. This would also be twisting Scripture into its very opposite. Indirect statements may not be used to nullify direct assertions; the subjective may not be used to invalidate the indicative; the conditional sentence to void the absolute; nor may an “if” cancel the force of a positive declaration. When Jesus commanded the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thy hand,” He was not implying that it was within the power of the man to do the impossible. But Christ’s word is a word of power which sends forth with it the power for the fallen sinner to will and to do. No “if’ in Scripture stands in conflict with the truth that God creates in us a new and willing heart, and renews a right spirit within us. Nor is there any contradiction between “if ye be willing and obedient. . .” and “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). For all our willing and obeying is the fruit of the direct agency of the Almighty God alone who works in us to will and to do His good pleasure.
II.The Duty: “If ye be willing and obey.” Consider this obedience as to its nature. If ye be willing, the promised blessing will follow. The conditional particle does not signify a penance to be performed for former inconsistencies and stubbornness, as though man by his own will and works can voluntarily suffer punishment for his faults and so render satisfaction for them. The meaning is that the Lord exhorts men to throw down the weapons of their warfare against Him, bow to His scepter and take His yoke upon them. He demands no less than unconditional surrender to His will. Only so can we walk in obedience to Him. Nor is it correct here to say that the Lord does not demand perfect obedience, but only willing obedience. For the fact remains that God everywhere in His word demands personal, perfect and perpetual obedience. We are held accountable to the supreme standard of perfect obedience and perfect willingness. It is, however, all too true that even though regenerate, we do not render to God all His due. But “if there be a willing mind, (i.e., one with the spirit and principle of obedience) it is accepted.”
Consider this obedience as to its purpose. It is to teach us to listen to God, that when He speaks to us through His Word we may immediately respond. For the word comes from the verb “to hear.” But we are by nature so distracted by the things of the flesh and of the world that we do not always hear wisdom crying aloud in the streets. But by obedience we learn to hear, to give our attention to the Word of the Lord. By nature we are like the deaf adder which cannot be aroused though it be charmed ever so wisely. The redeemed must first be enabled to all holy obedience, and then go on to exercise themselves in it and practice it. It takes practice. Insofar as we are out of practice so far does the voice of our Redeemer become dimmer, fainter. By obedience we keep in touch with God, we keep short accounts with Him, we hear Him, heed Him. By nature we are children of disobedience, and like the heathen, from God afar off, not even within calling distance. But if we really and spiritually hear His most holy Word we will not simply be saying, “Lord! Lord!”, but we will be doing the things which He says.
Then follows a warning against disobedience. “But if ye refuse and rebel, by the sword ye shall be eaten; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it” (Is. 1:20). This is fulfilled in God taking vengeance on them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Thess. 1:8). It is more than a threat or warning; it is a sure prediction of judgment. Exemption from the terror of judgment comes not merely in the way of professing the gospel, but in obeying the gospel. Paul said, “‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” and the gospel, contrary to the way it is with many others, was not ashamed of him, for he lived according to the gospel, and, principally, according to the whole moral law as adopted into the New Covenant in the words, “the grace of God . . . teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world” (Tit. 2:11, 12). This judgment the mouth of the Lord, not man’s mouth, hath ordained. The word of Jehovah so decreed. Judgment falls on all disobedient to the gospel. Faith implies obedience. “But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah saith, ‘Who hath believed our report?'” (Rom. 10:16). “Unto you (the Church) it is given . . . to believe on Him” (Phil. 1:29), and to the Church it is given to know the mysteries of the gospel (Mt. 13:11), and those mysteries are made manifest for the-obedience of faith (Rom. 16:26). The judgment comes by the sword consuming the rebellious and disobedient, the sword of divine justice and wrath in the form of the sword of their enemies used as God’s battle-axe and weapons of war (Jer. 51:1, 20). This shows the end of going on in sin without repentance. It especially came to pass when the Jews, refusing and rebelling against their Messiah, were devoured with the sword of the Roman armies under Titus in the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 A.D.
The promise is, “Ye shall eat the goodness of the land,” or the best of the earth. Materially this is so, not in the sense of crass materialism, but the promise is of a land, the land of promise, of a new heaven and new earth. The meek shall inherit the earth. This will not be an ethereal “beautiful isle of somewhere,” but the physical universe regenerated and glorified in the restitution of all things in the Day of God. The atheist likes to deride the Christian faith by calling it a “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die-by-and-by” fantasy. The truth as to that pie is that we begin slicing it now! For God the Father hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heaven in Christ (Eph. 1:3), and for this we “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). We have right and title to the New Earth. We look forward in faith to actual possession-day. For we declare plainly that we seek that country. For we desire a better country than that which this world affords, namely, a heavenly country, wherein is that metropolis which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God! All the best of that country is ours: all its beauty—and Christ is its loveliness and perfection; all its gladness—and the Song of Moses and of the Lamb is its joy; all its prosperity—for our happiness and wellbeing thereshall be constant and full in the riches of His grace.