“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 devoured; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 1:19-20). The context shows that the Lord had very severely denounced His people Israel. Through the prophet Isaiah He had called them rebellious children, a seed of evil-doers, from head to foot totally corrupt. The heads of the people God called men of Sodom. If this characterized the rulers, what must the masses be like? They had rejected the Holy One of Israel. Now He would reject them. He would have none of their worship or sacrifices. He abominated all their religious observances. He fully and flatly condemned their whole moral and religious life. Their case looked hopeless. It was hopeless! There was nothing they could do, nothing, save die in their sins. Such was their condition in itself. But God did not leave His people in their state of sin and misery. No, but according to His plan from all eternity He did covenant to bring them into His grace and deliver them from their sin by the Redeemer of God’s elect. This note of divine deliverance is sounded in the words, “Come now, if your sins were as crimson, they will be made white as snow; if they were red as crimson, they will be (as white) as wool.”
This is the ground on which the willingness and obedience shall be performed. It is on the ground of the efficacious command, “Come now!”, and on the plea of the shed blood, on the ground of pardon through the atoning blood. In the symbolization of the colors here there is gospel mystery. There is the mystery of the beauty of perfection. Here is perfect salvation in the blood. The promise of God to His elect is that their sins shall be “as white as snow.” When we reason truly about our sins we perceive that they have made a deep, a double-dye on our souls. They are as scarlet, red like crimson. We are stained both with original and actual sins. We are sinners by birth and by practice. Twice-dyed in iniquity, yet, mystery of mysteries, we shall be cleansed as white as wool! We have lain long in the dye-vat of sin and death, yet the blood of God cleanseth us from all sin.
The emphasis is on the gospel mystery of it, not in any literalness. Sin is still in our nature (sin is not dead). The sin is still sin; you can’t change sin. Sin does not cease to be sin. So the sins are not in reality made white. There are no white sins. But the persons of sinners are made white. In the book of the Revelation the saints are shown to be clothed in white, in contrast to Babylon, clothed in purple and scarlet. Red in contrast to white is the color of sin, the color of murder (their hands were full of blood!), the color of the Evil One, the Red Dragon, a murderer from the beginning. The saints in contrast to all this are robed in white. Their sins are regarded as nonexistent, and they in their own persons are regarded as the exact opposite of their sins, considered in Christ as washed in His blood, clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne!
What God does here is to save us from the love of sin; He cleanses us from the pollution of sin; He discharges us from the guilt of sin; He frees from the reign of sin; He redeems from the penalty of sin; He will guard against a fatal fall into sin; He will yet deliver from the very presence of sin. Such is the mystery of sins being white as snow! Guilt-laden they are, as “red” and “crimson” portray. But made white as snow expresses the glorious idea that they are forever and entirely blotted out. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions; and as a cloud thy sins: return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee” (Isa. 44:22). To say our sins are made as white wool is to say, in figure, “I, even I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins” (43:25). Then it may be said of all the redeemed people of God, “They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
The Lamb in the decree of God is slain from the foundation of the world. The elect then have forgiveness of all their sins from eternity. They haveforgiveness before they receive it. The gospel is sent “that they may receive the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18). This implies that forgiveness was already prepared before they experienced it. If it were not already prepared before they experienced, it could not be received. The receiving of it implies that the thing received was prepared in Christ, and had an existence in free grace long before our receiving it. It is eternal forgiveness!
So the only ground for reasoning, willingness and obedience is gospel ground. On this ground obedience is ensured. The doing good works is not to be “justified by His blood,” but on the ground that we have been “justified by His blood.” The promise of salvation was made on the ground of the price paid by the Lord in His own blood. He purchased with that precious price all gifts and benefits of salvation. He purchased peace, pardon, forgiveness, the place to draw near to God, the gifts and grace of willingness, obedience and all good works. Willingness and obedience are, therefore, the fruit of His merit on the cross. “Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth . . .” Yet the believer does run: “So run, that ye may obtain” (I Cor. 9:24); and “let us run with patience . . .”That running is of God that showeth mercy. It is a running which mercy activates.
III. The Reward of It. “If ye be willing” was looked at first from the point of view of the activity explained, then the ground of its performance, now its reward. That is seen to be “the land,” in “ye shall eat the good of the land.” This, from Isaiah’s point of view (as also from Peter’s and John’s) is the New Heavens and the New Earth. Canaan is a type not of an earthly, sort of gold-plated kingdom, but of the New Creation, the real golden age itself, where all is gold that glitters. This is that better country, the heavenly country, that which is meant in the expression the “meek shall inherit theearth.” That is not this earth, but the New Earth, the new earth under the new heavens in the new creation.
According to dispensationalism, the land given to Abraham, which extends from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates (Gen. 15:18), is to be restored to the Jews. The promise is interpreted to mean that Abraham and his seed are to be raised from the dead and are to return to and possess this land. Yet the book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham was not seeking an earthly, but a heavenly country. If we take the promise in the natural, rather than the spiritual, sense, then Abraham is to return to earth and possess the land of Canaan for ever! But how can Abraham possess the natural land of his earthly sojournings, if this earth is to be destroyed by fire, and there be formed then the new heavens and the new earth? Matthew Henry is correct when he says the good of the land is “all the blessings of the new covenant, of the heavenly Canaan; all the good of that land.”
This eating in the land is the enjoyment of the actual possession of the New Heaven and New Earth. The elect obtain it. The believers eat of it. The rest are blinded. The reprobate refuse it. If they can’t have thisearth, they will have nothing. But the elect do not refuse and rebel. There is proof of this. It is true at the crucifixion, the elect “all forsook Him and fled,” they denied Him, they even despaired of Him; but they never wished His death; never cried, “Away with! ” never screamed, “Crucify!” never made a covenant with death, nor said, “His blood be upon us!” They shall eat the good, the best of the land. Christ with them shall eat and drink in His Father’s kingdom (Mt. 26:29). Then we shall have the best heaven has to offer.
“If (or even as) ye be willing. . .”* Or, since ye be willing . . ! Does my presence in the enjoyment of’ heaven depend on a little “if”? Not on any shaky, uncertain Arminian “if,” no, but upon nothing but Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Every blessing flows from that blood, the fountain, of all good: forgiveness, willingness, heaven and the best of the New Earth.
* Calvin says “the papists openly maintain that men, by the exercise of their own will are free to choose either good or evil.” Willingness to obey God “is placed in our power.” That is by all other Scripture denied. The question is, or the answer is, that man by his bad will, which is natural to him, moves not from good to evil, but from one evil to another, and from bad to worse. Man by nature does not have the choice of good and evil, but of only evil, that continually. “there is not a glimmer of anything good in the description of the persons to whom this text is addressed.” — Charles H. Spurgeon.