“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins,” Isaiah 58:1.
TO SHEW GOD’S PEOPLE THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS IS A VITAL PART OF THE FAITHFUL MINISTER’S DUTIES!
1. Here is the supreme directive to preachers. It overrules all attempts to suppress the exposure of sin amongst God’s People, be those attempts made by councils, parliaments, presbyteries, synods or any other body that thinks that they can overrule the only King and Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul said to Timothy: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables,” 2 Timothy 4:1-4.
There are few, if indeed any, Free Presbyterian ministers have been ordained without these words being read to them!
God is on the side of any who, like Elijah of old, “have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts,” and that because, “the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,” 1 Kings 19:10.
This command was given to Isaiah, and divinely recorded for it is a directive for ALL servants of God who find themselves in the circumstances in which Isaiah found himself.
The day in which Isaiah ministered is described for us from the very beginning of his book.
“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah,” Isaiah 1:1-9.
Any who cannot see the parallel to the situation here in Ulster and much further abroad, is suffering from a stupidity that exceeds the mentality of the donkey and bovine stupidity, to quote the Lord as he rebukes those He was angry with back some 2800 years ago!!
Is not our Province, at least in a measure, as was Israel back then? Our ‘country is desolate, . . . cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.’ Ulster in 2023 is far removed from the Ulster into which I was born 80 years ago! Protestant and Bible principles were largely to the fore in our national affairs. Now we live under the dictates of the supporters, the instigators, of IRA terrorism. The Protestantism and the Unionism of our forefathers has given way to time-serving, self-seeking weaklings, who in truth know little if anything of the beliefs and stand of our Loyalist forebears!
2. In such a time as this, there comes this command from God for the voice of His servants to be heard in the land. Their voice is to be heard, not merely in the pulpits and within the walls of their church buildings. No, they are commanded to ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet’. They are to open their mouths wide and not hold back, for that is the meaning of the words at the beginning of our text.
If there is one thing the worldling hates it is the sound of God’s Word being sounded so as to interrupt his thoughts and activities. Something of this spirit is to be found in the attempt by the Belfast City Council to curb the open-air preachers in the city centre.
Now it may well be said that some of those engaged in this activity would well to spend more time becoming acquainted with what the Bible actually teaches and the manner of the Saviour’s preaching, however that does not justify any attempt to stop someone publicly witnessing to Christ’s mercy and saving grace.
3. The nature of this exhortation by the Lord to His servant Isaiah may suggest a reluctance to act as is here demanded. To boldly stand in the face of the nation and declare its sin is no easy task. There is a reluctance in the best of men to so place themselves open to reproach and criticism and castigation. It is contrary to our being to so attract such abuse upon ourselves. That great and faithful soul, Jeremiah the prophet, baulked when the Lord set this before him when he was first called as a prophet.
“Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant,” Jeremiah 1:4-10.
These words have special significance for me for Dr Paisley preached from this passage at my ordination back in April 1968. I have never forgotten his application of them to me and what it was I was called to do as a minister.
Jeremiah suffered reproach for his faithfulness above what might be called normal for any faithful preacher. That was because he was called to preach God’s Word in a day when it was, almost without exception, despised and rejected throughout Judah. Indeed, he preached God’s Word on the very brink of God’s judgment, which he was sent to warn of, falling on that rebellious nation. Under the burden of abuse and persecution he faltered for a brief period.
“Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks.
Then said Jeremiah unto him, The LORD hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magormissabib. For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword. Moreover I will deliver all the strength of this city, and all the labours thereof, and all the precious things thereof, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies, which shall spoil them, and take them, and carry them to Babylon. And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies,” Jeremiah 20:1-6.
That is a very powerful and personal and public denouncing of a prominent religious personage and a plain declaring of the judgment that was soon to befall him. That was not an easy task to perform!
Little wonder then that the great prophets, doubtless stressed and in an agony of mind and physical sufferings, stumbled as it were. There follows this passage in Jeremiah chapter 20.
“O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay,” verses 7-9.
For a time the prophet was for quitting and ceasing to preach God’s Word. But he could not for, God’s Word “was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” At his calling by God, as we have already in Jeremiah’s own telling of the event, the Lord had “put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth,” Jeremiah 1:9.
Such a man may indeed falter but that touch he received will remain to strengthen and recover him from his weakness and set him once more on the path of faithfulness.
In his faltering, Jeremiah felt that the Lord had misled him. “O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived,” 20:7. I would concur with Dr John Gill’s comments on these verses.
‘O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived, &c.] What follows from hence to the end of the chapter is thought to have been said by the prophet, when in the stocks, or in prison, and shows a mixture of grace and corruption in him; a struggle between flesh and spirit, and the force of a temptation under which he laboured, arising from difficulties and discouragements in his work; and he not only complains to God, but of him; that he had deceived him, when he first called him to be a prophet, by telling him that he should be set over nations and kingdoms, to pull them down, Jeremiah 1:10.’
Jeremiah may well have thought that the promises given him by God of divine protection would mean he would escape any trouble or strife arising from the message he had to preach, whereas he met with nothing but disrespect and trouble and he was now delivered into their hands, and used in the most reproachful manner. But this was all a mistake of the prophet, and no deception of God.
Yes, the Lord promises His people generally and His faithful servants particularly, divine protection as they seek to live according to His will. But let us recall the words of Paul to the Hebrews.
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment,” Hebrews 11:32-36.
It is not only our faithful service that we honour the Lord. Sometimes it is by our sufferings, even by our death! Remember what is said of the Saviour’s informing Peter of his death.
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me,” John 21:18-19.
Jeremiah was spared martyrdom, but in his life he gloried God in his suffering for His honour. Let us remember these words. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together,” Romans 8:17. Let us ever remember the Saviour’s words. “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. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also,” John 15:19-20.
4. Sparing sin is one temptation preachers face. ‘Turning the blind eye’ has its appeal when the sin in question is that of a prominent member of the congregation or the child of one who is such, or someone importance in society! I have heard it said of men that they will denounce the sins of ecumenical and liberal preachers but they are inclined to say nothing of the wrong-doing of some within their congregation, because of their prominence and influence.
The Lord will hold our actions to account one day. Paul wrote to the Hebrew believers that they should, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you,” Hebrews 13:17. He was referring to the ministers and elders who one day must ‘give account’! He repeated this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”
It is always good to keep that day in mind for it will enable us to be faithful to our calling and to ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
I always keep in mind the Saviour’s parable in Matthew 25. It refers to events just before the return of the Saviour. This is indicated in the words: “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him,” verse 6.
That arousing cry just before the return of Christ has an immediate and wonderful impact upon His saints who have been asleep and neglectful of their duties, prior to the cry. “Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps,” verse 7. Trimming their lamps, setting forth the light that had been allowed to grow dim and taking up again the duties they had greatly neglected during their slumbering and sleeping, denotes a reviving of God’s people just prior to His return.
I have often noted that Israel left Egypt, not as a bunch of stragglers but rather “it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies,” Exodus 12:51. There was order, a keeping of rank and a submission to commands amongst them.
To that state may the Lord be pleased to arouse us all in these last days of apostasy and rebellion. The first appearance of the word ‘song’ in the Bible is at the Exodus. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. . . . . ” Exodus 15:1-19.
May a day of upheld, brightly burning lamps and of singing, marching saints, come again amongst us!
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
4th December 2023