“The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come,” Isaiah 57:1.
Reading this verse today, it occurred to me that little real thought has been given to the meaning of this verse and its clear implications.
Every true believer is concerned with the very obvious decline in the number of those who adhere faithfully to the Word of God and openly stand for righteousness. The word ‘perisheth’ in our text carries the figurative meaning of ‘vanishing away’. Christians are ‘vanishing’ from society. The believer can plainly see this taking place. They are not deceived by the swelling ranks of those who ‘profess’ godliness but recognise it as a religion that can easily set aside any portion of God’s Word which they consider inappropriate and unsuited to them.
That is not the religion of Jesus Christ! “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,” Isaiah 8:20.
Now while there undoubtedly is an increase in the ranks of such false and empty ‘Christianity’, I believe we must acknowledge that there is a very obvious decline in the numbers of those who seek to believe the whole Bible and witness to others of its message.
The above verse deals with that which we see before us today, Christian.
I. THE IGNORANCE OF MAN AS TO WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND HIM
Isaiah says: “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.” Note the words “no man layeth it to heart” and “none considering”. What is happening is not noticed by mankind generally.
Indeed, we know that the decline in the numbers of true believers and the sad silencing of a faithful witness to Bible truth is something which the world rejoices in. But there is no true consideration or paying attention to this phenomenon on the part of ungodly men. “No man layeth it to heart”!
1. Worldly men are too busily occupied with the affairs of ‘time and sense’ to give attention to the things of God.
Christians are warned against such preoccupations with the affairs of this life.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” Matthew 6:19-34.
Let us ever remember the words of rebuke the Saviour addressed to the devil. “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” Matthew 4:4.
2. As well as that, unregenerate man is ‘blind and deaf’ to the things of God. They are like the men accompanying Paul on his mission of persecution, when the Lord spoke to him from heaven. “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man,” Acts 9:7. “And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me,” Acts 22:9.
The men heard the sound but could not understand what was said. The Greek word which is in both verses, ἀκούω — ak-oo’-o, is broad in its meaning, carrying both the meaning of hearing a sound only and also of understanding what is heard. Thus the same word appears in Acts 2:37 — “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” — and obviously carries the meaning of understanding and heeding what was heard.
An example of the ability to read but not understand is given in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch.
“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?” Acts 8:26-34.
Seeing, reading but not understanding!
3. What our text speaks of is a most startling occurrence yet it goes unnoticed by men. A like set of circumstances did take place on one other occasion which to a large degree, was a forerunner of this day in which we live. I am referring to the days of Noah. There would have been the same ‘inattentiveness’ amongst the population of the earth to the fact that the number of the righteous was dwindling. I believe that in the one hundred and twenty years that stretched from the Lord announcing the coming flood to Noah until it came (Genesis 6:3) the Lord took home the righteous inhabitants of the earth one by one, until in the year that the last one, Methuselah, died and the flood came.
It is commonly believed that the name ‘Methuselah’ carried the meaning, ‘When he dies it shall come’. John Gill says of Genesis 5:21 which records the birth and naming of Methuselah: “Enoch being a prophet gave him this name under a spirit of prophecy, foretelling by it when the flood should be; for his name, according to Bochart, signifies, ‘when he dies there shall be an emission’, or sending forth of waters upon the earth, to destroy it.”
His name was a forewarning of the flood. It was obvious that the Lord held back His judgment until the last of His saints were removed from the earth.
Of course, Noah and his family remained and were on the earth when the flood came. They portray for us those that Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” There will be upon the earth a remnant when the Saviour comes but like Noah and his family, they will be lifted up above the judgment which will accompany the Saviour’s return.
I believe that there will be only a small remnant alive on the earth when the Saviour returns, as there was only the family of Noah before the descent of the rains of judgment. The Saviour tells us of the size of His Church when He returns. “I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8. It is clear from these words that the remaining saints will be small in number at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. THE ENTERPRISE IN WHICH THE LORD IS ENGAGED
He is engaged in taking the righteous away. We may understand the words ‘taken away’ as meaning ‘gathered together, collected’.
1. It is a foreshadowing of that great separating of the sheep from the goats. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” Matthew 25:31-34.
2. God’s people have always been a ‘separated’ people. “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine,” Leviticus 20:26. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine,” Exodus 19:5. “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.
What was said of the people of God in the Old Testament was said also of the New Testament believer. This is plainly stated by the Saviour. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you,” John 15:19.
It was emphasised by the apostles. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy,” 1 Peter 2:9-10.
It has ever been God’s will for His people to be separated from the ways and wickedness of the world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” 1 John 2:15.
3. It is wholly in keeping with God’s purpose for His people that as the world descends into the darkness of the last days with their antichristian rebellion, that He remove them from such. What the Saviour said to the church at Philadelphia will again be true of the last generation of believers. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth,” Revelation 3:9-10.
I find these word particularly comforting. As my days draw to a close I cannot but think on my family that I will leave behind to face the increasing wickedness that is coming upon the world. But, as He has kept me amidst the evil of my day, so He will ever keep His flock from the wolves of apostasy. He will ‘also will keep’ our loved ones in the midst of the midnight that is approaching.
III. THE EVIL TIME THAT IS APPROACHING
“The righteous is taken away from the evil to come.”
The word evil here depicts not just the moral decline that surely we all see enveloping the world around us, but something more. The word signifies, ‘adversity and trouble’. It is so rendered in Psalm 10:6 and also Psalm 27:5.
“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity,” Psalm 10:4-6.
“For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock,” Psalm 27:5.
That which the Lord will ‘take’, ‘remove’, His people from that is ‘adversity’, that ‘trouble’ which will undoubtedly follow man’s rebellious actions of today.
Apostate ministers, blind and deceived politicians and deluded and unconcerned sinners generally may think that there is no judgment, no retribution, no giving of an account to God for all the defiance of Him and His law that they have engaged in, but they are wrong!
There is ‘evil to come’.
1. Such a truth is part of the gospel message. For this reason Paul spoke of it to Felix the governor. “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee,” Acts 24:25. It is a mark of today’s departure from truth that this element of the gospel message is both deleted and decried!
2. It was a prominent part of the Saviour’s message. Here is one example of the many that could be quoted. “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day,” Matthew 11:23. The Saviour referred to hell many more times than he did to heaven!
3. It is a truth that forms part of the comfort of the troubled people of God and aids them to patiently endure. “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day,” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. How many today in our land wait for justice, following the murder of loved ones! They wait, but in truth, there is little if any hope of them receiving justice!
Not so the afflicted people of God. When the Lord Jesus returns it will be to dispense justice so pure and true.
4. The Bible ends with the revelation of the day spoken of by God’s servants since the fall of Adam into sin. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire,” Revelation 20:11-15.
That day will dawn most assuredly. All who have rejected the gospel and lived in the darkness of sin will be gathered before God to receive the due consequences of their sin.
Christians can rejoice that they will not be there but they must strive to press upon all they meet the need to urgently “flee from the wrath to come,” Luke 3:7.
If there should be anyone reading this article who has not yet turned in repentance and faith to Christ we can but plead with you, for the sake of your eternal soul, to do so today.
“As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” Ezekiel 33:11.
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
25th June 2022