Come you now, and argue together, saith Jehovah: if your sins were made as crimson, as snow they will be made white; if they were caused to be red as crimson, as wool they will be. If ye be willing, and hear, the goodness of the land ye shall eat. But if ye refuse and rebel, by the sword ye shall be eaten: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah opens with the old heavens and earth, and closes with the new heavens and the new earth. It treats of the whole intervening history of the church from the beginning of time to its end and to eternity. The book has a very sad and dark beginning, exposing the ingratitude, and incorrigibility and criminal immorality of the rulers and people. But Isaiah foretells a blessed end of glory and covenant fellowship in the New Creation.
The picture is so deplorable because Israel belonged to the Lord more than their cattle belonged to them. Yet Israel did not serve the Lord nearly so well as their cattle served them. Their sins had degraded them to a lower than animal level. The cup of iniquity had filled up to nation-wide extent: “Ah, sinful nation!” and had developed in the line of continued corrupt generations until the whole nation was a seed of evildoers. Now the point is reached where the Old Testament church, for the most part, is beyond the means of reformation. The work of reformation in the midst of the churches is always a good sign. However, in the case of many churches today, there has been no reformatory movement for generations, there is no sign of such at present, and because of so much ingrained corruption in both leaders and people, there is no possibility that there will be!
But we can be thankful that true reformation proceeds in the line of the very small remnant, and that we have our portion in the remnant of the election of grace. God’s people have ever been a very little flock. In the time of the Flood it was Noah and his family. In the destruction of Sodom, it was Lot and his. In the captivities, it was “Shear-Jashub,” “a remnant shall return.” It was always like this. Multitude was never a mark of the true church. The multitudes of Isaiah’s day were members of Sodom and Gomorrah, that is, Jerusalem, which spiritually is Sodom. All is not Israel which is of Israel. There are two seeds in Israel: the seed of evildoers, and the holy seed (6:13). All through this prophecy these two are related as light is to darkness. Jehovah speaks to both. Read the prophecy without keeping that in mind, without seeing that there are two seeds, and confusion results. The confusion appears in Jehovah declaring that He will rescue and save His people, and in the very next breath saying that He will destroy them. Therefore, the book cannot be understood except from the point of view of divine, absolute predestination, with its two parts, election and reprobation. This is precisely the case with the text before us. Verses 18-20. Keeping in mind the two seeds we may then easily answer the question: what part speaks He to His elect, and what part to the reprobate?
I. The Activity Explained. “If ye be willing. . .”
First, in the light of humanistic views, this is not a request for man’s consent. It is not God making an attractive offer of terms to which He would have all men accede. That would put God in the place where He would have to wait for man to act. What is it in man on which God is dependent? Is it man’s sense of politeness? Does God wait for man’s innate courtesy to be expressed, as in a sort of “gentlemen’s agreement”? But Scripture does not picture man as a natural gentleman. Spiritually, he is enmity against God; he is dead to God. An offer to him would be useless. He has no ability to comply with an offer, nor does an offer have any enabling qualities about it. What man needs is a promise of that ability.
Nor is this a divine contrivance with conditions. According to the generalizing tendencies of Arminianism, in Scripture there are promises merely this-worldly, having nothing to do with salvation. For example, there is the promise that the disciples should find a colt tied and ready for their use (Mk. 11:2); and the promise that the men on board ship with Paul would be safe if they remained aboard (Acts 27). Beside these so called promises, so the claim is, God even promised life to the reprobate Ahab. The truth is that Jehovah merely predicted that judgment would not fall in his day; and not life, but death was predicted for him (I K. 22:28). Such error would not persist if distinction were maintained between predictions and promises. God makes predictions to the reprobate, but promises never. He makes exhortations to the reprobate, but never the promise which corresponds to the exhortation. For example, He says to the reprobate, “walk in My ways,” but never promises the reprobate, “I will cause you to walk in My ways.”
But, it is argued, the promise here, “ye shall eat the good of the land,” is conditional, because the stipulation is there laid down, “If ye be willing and obedient,” and the promise made here does not include the willingness and obedience. There is a “good” promised, and there is a condition demanded. The demand must be met before the promise can be enjoyed. The answer to this is that then the promise will never be realized, for who will or can perform the conditions? Conditional promises are of no value, and are no gospel, to dead sinners.
Also it is sometimes argued that where there is failure to meet the conditions, that then the promise is forfeited, and so cancelled out. The demand, “be willing,” and the threat, “but if ye refuse,” suggest that it is in man’s power to accept the proposition, or reject it. If this is true, then isn’t it also true that there is the possibility (according to this Arminian thinking) that none might be willing, and that all might refuse? Then the promise of God would be frustrated. But this shall never be. The threatening, “if ye refuse and rebel,” puts the situation on an “either-or” basis: it is either Christ or destruction! Either one bears the mark of the Christian, the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, or the mark of anti-Christ, the scarlet robe of Babylon. To refuse is the mark of the reprobate. God warns him, but makes no promise to him, no promise of cleansing under that shed blood. That promise goes to those who bear the marks of His elect, the marks of faith and obedience.
Nor is there a contradiction when the Lord says, “If ye be willing,” and “it is not of him that willeth or runneth,” not of man’s fulfilling conditions, “but of God that showeth mercy.” “So then, it,” that is, electing mercy (Rom. 9:11,15) is “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God.” Men have no power to run, except that “their feet run to evil” (Isa. 59:7).
Next, in the light of Scripture, consider the promise, which is not in verse 19, to be exact, but in verse 18, and it is absolutely unconditional. Following the promise is an enlargement on it, and that enlargement takes in the whole range of the promise, from the forgiveness of sins to The Land—- the New Earth (18-l9). The promise is enlarged upon with an exhortation to willingness and obedience. But the whole of Scripture, with its promise-content, sets over against its exhortations the heartening feature of corresponding promises. There is the exhortation, “walk in My statutes,” and the corresponding promise, “I will cause you to walk in My statutes.”‘ (cp. Ezek. 20:19with 36:27, and Dt. 10:6 with 30:19). There are three elements in the text, “willingness,” “obedience” and “goodness;” really but two: good works and reward. Is the one a prerequisite to the other? Impossible; for both are gifts. (cp. Eph. 2:8-10). Man’s willingness is the work of God. In proof of this, such texts as the following should immediately come to mind merely on reading their references. (Psm. 110:3; Jn. 1:12-13; Phil. 2:13;Tit. 3:5;Jas. 1:18).
As for the obedience demanded, the promise makes it possible. Isaac was the child of promise. But there could be no obedient Isaac if there were no promise. Just so, no Abraham who believed God, if no promise of faith; and no willingness, nor obedience, if no promise of either! Why talk about the activity of faith when it is only to divorce it or abstract it from that which produces it? Both the being of faith and the power of faith must remain unseparated from its source, the fountain of election. But why do some want the flowing stream, without the fountainhead? Why do they want the light of day without the sun? Why do they call the children of the promise beautiful and well-behaved, but have no praise for their mother? If men loved these virtues as much as they pretend they do, they would love the sovereign election which produces them.
II. The Ground of Its Performance. “Come now!”The performance of that willingness is on the ground of an efficacious summons, and not a mere suggestion left optional, for man to give his approval or disapproval of it. This is not a mere opportunity to come to the Lord to be regenerated or not to be regenerated. It is not an “invitation,” followed by a “condition,” a contingency dependent on a contingency! There are no such humanistic boastings. But this summons is the plea of the shed blood of Christ. “Come now,” enter into court and begin the trial, argue the case. Not that man, a gnat of a summer’s day, may or can quarrel with God. There is no quarrel possible with the Almighty, nor does man have a legitimate case to sue out in God’s court. There is no reasoning with God at the bar of justice. If He should mark iniquity in strict justice, none could stand before Him. There is no arguing (of condemnedcriminals!) with God on the basis of justice. Therefore, to reason together with Jehovah means to draw near to Him, mindful of the breach our sins have made between Him and us, but, nonetheless, to come, “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.” This means that the sinner does the only reasonable thing; he throws himself on Christ’s just mercy and on His merciful justice. There alone is discharge from God’s court with pardon and acquittal!