April 2016 • Volume XV, Issue 24
Fearing Man and Forgetting God (1)
“I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that
thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the
son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the
Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and
laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared
continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor,
as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the
oppressor?” (Isa. 51:12-13).
The practical importance of these inspired words rests upon
three facts. First, we are tempted to fear, to fear man.
Second, we are sinfully inclined to forget, to forget God.
Third, we are tempted to fear man and forget God because of
Babylon. Over a century after Isaiah’s prophecy, Israel was
taken captive to Babylon. We too live in the Babylon of this
evil world, which in 1,001 ways encourages and commands us,
“Fear man! Forget the Lord!”
We also need to understand that the verses quoted above
constitute part of Jehovah’s response to Israel’s earnest
prayer for God to “awake” and wield His mighty arm to redeem
His people, as He did when He destroyed the Egyptians at the
Red Sea (9-10). Not only does Jehovah promise to ransom His
beloved church (11) but He also addresses their fears. Our
gracious Father is very practical here, showing His care for
His children. He knows that His people’s request for
deliverance is mixed with some sinful fear of man, for He
sees the hearts of all.
Thus God provides Israel with a twofold comfort. First, He
promises to redeem them (a direct answer to their stated
request). Second, He addresses their fears (an important
response to their unstated struggle).
Various lessons arise out of this for us today. We see here
that true believers can and do struggle with the fear of
man, to varying degrees and at certain times. You must not
think like this: “There is some fear of man in my heart.
Therefore, I am not a Christian.” Just look at Israel here.
In Isaiah 51, the saints make a powerful and persuasive
prayer (9-10), yet God detects some unbelieving fears in
their hearts (12-13).
We also learn from this passage that our prayers, even godly
prayers, may arise in connection with our fears. So do not
think like this either: “There is some sinful fear in my
heart. Therefore, God will not hear my prayers.” For what do
we learn regarding Israel in Isaiah 51? That Jehovah
answered their requests (11-16), despite the fact that their
prayers were mixed with some fear of man.
All this encourages us to go to our heavenly Father when we
are troubled and fearful. Jehovah alerts Israel to her fears
and helps her against them (7-8). Israel prays for
redemption (9-10). God promises to ransom her (11) and
reasons with her about her fears (12-13). He works in a
similar fashion with us too!
When we are afraid or anxious, we must not be reticent in
approaching His face or in admitting our unbelieving fears
to Him (and seeking His forgiveness and strength to overcome
our fears). By His grace, He pardons us and sanctifies us
and comforts us. From your reading, singing and meditating
upon the Psalms, you know of the many times the Psalmist did
this and found relief in his God. We must heed the blessed
exhortation: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne
of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help
in time of need” (Heb. 4:16)!
It is easy to understand how the Jews were tempted to fear
ancient Babylon. Theirs was the army that destroyed Judah
and Jerusalem. Babylon was possessed of military power, an
imposing legal system and hugely impressive buildings.
Babylon was confident in, and proud of, its achievements and
abilities. This ethos was evident throughout its mighty
empire. This is not unlike the modern Babylon of the world
in our own day!
Yet the prophet’s question to Israel is devastating: “who
art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall
die” (Isa. 51:12)? For all his pomp, man, even at his best
and his most powerful, is mortal. All men have died or are
going to die. The great Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has
mouldered for over 2,500 years. Likewise, the grave awaits
all those who frame ungodly laws to advance their sins and
their power. Even the richest and most outwardly prosperous
children of Adam are subject to weakness and sickness, pain
and ageing—the precursors of death and the everlasting hell
that awaits all those who remain impenitent in their sins,
and do not seek mercy and forgiveness in the cross of Christ
From the playground bullies to the leaders of our age who
misrepresent or mock the Christian faith, and all the wicked
who are so highly praised and extolled in our day, as well
as the ungodly legislators and rulers of our wicked
world—all are mortal and will one day have to stand before
the glory of God manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ in order
to be judged for every thought, word and deed.
Isaiah 51:12 adds that they “shall be made as grass.” The
ungodly are fragile and transient, like grass which is cut
down and withers away in the desert heat (Ps. 90:5-6),
unlike the Word of our God which stands for ever (Isa.
This is man, fallen and frail man, who is a “son of man”
(51:12), just like his father and his father before him:
weak, mortal and under God’s wrath. So do not fear him, even
if he is rich, attractive and powerful. “Fear God” instead (Ecc.
12:13)! Rev. Stewart
“Listen and Wake Up!” 10 sermons on Isaiah 51:1-52:12, in a
handsome box set (CD or DVD), is available from the CPRC
Bookstore for £12/set (inc. P&P). Free videos and audios of
these sermons can also be found on the CPRC website and
The Theodicy (2)
“We are often rightly told that God will not remember our
sins and has removed them from us to an infinite distance
(as far as the east is from the west) and buried them in the
deepest sea. So how can those same sins be brought out into
the open on the judgment day, with every believer being
rewarded according to his works? Are our sins not to be
brought up again as they are all atoned for and simply our
works judged? Because surely the quality of the works will
expose the sin inherent in them?”
The questioner who wrote the above question is especially
concerned with the problem of the public revelation of our
sins on the judgment day. Why should they be made known
before all when they were paid for by Christ’s atonement?
The question is rather narrow and really not all that
important in itself. It takes on significance only in the
broader context of the judgment of the nations in the
I am not even altogether sure what the questioner means by
“simply our works judged.” To what works does he refer? The
good works done by God’s grace? Those works are God’s works
in and through us.
I took the liberty, therefore, of broadening the question
into a discussion of the most fundamental aspect of the
judgment of God in and through Christ of all men who ever
lived: the theodicy, God’s justification of Himself in His
reward of the righteous and His eternal punishment of the
wicked. This theodicy is the one great reason for the
How does God justify Himself in all that He does? How does
He, as the sovereign Lord, justify the eternal punishment of
the wicked? How does He justify His salvation of some of the
human race who are equally sinners with those who go to
This question of the justification of God in all His works
is the stumbling block to countless theologians who cannot
stomach the truth of God’s sovereignty. Their objections are
legion. They say, for example, that an absolutely sovereign
God takes away the sovereignty of man, limited as it might
be; that God cannot sovereignly choose His people in what
seems to them an arbitrary fashion; that somehow man makes
himself worthy of salvation by choosing Christ, letting Him
into his heart and accepting Him as his Lord; that God is
too gracious and merciful to send anyone to hell
everlastingly; that hell, therefore, cannot be a reality;
that God loves everyone, wants everyone to be saved and will
punish only those who have had a chance to be saved but
rejected it; that it is unspeakably cruel to send those who
never had a chance to accept Christ to be saved. The litany
from puny theologians goes on and on and on.
Thus proud man, thinking himself wiser and more merciful
than God, makes his own answers and convinces himself that
they are better answers than God Himself gives! But
Scripture is concerned with the glory of God, not the moans
God justifies Himself in all His works, also in election and
reprobation. He does so in such a way that no one, ever
again, questions God’s sovereignty. The wicked will all say,
“We deserve what we get.” The righteous say, “Blessed be God
for His grace to us!”
The first and most fundamental point that has to be made is
the point that I underscored in the previous issue of the
News. I quoted Romans 9 and I referred to God’s answer to
Job in his suffering. God is God, and all the nations of the
earth are less than dust on a balance or a drop of a bucket.
One who is created by God, upheld by His providence and
sustained day by day by His power has no right to question
God’s ways. Can a spider demand a man to justify the man’s
destruction of his web? Can an ant demand of a man a reason
why the man broke up his ant hill? “O man, who art thou that
repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:20). That is the first
answer. When the glory of an infinite holy God is revealed
in the judgment day, all men and devils will cower in fear
God will manifest Himself as the holy God who hates sin and
must hate sin to maintain His own infinite holiness. Any
attack on God’s justice or anger or hatred of the wicked is
an attack on His holiness. Those who speak of a loving God
who cannot punish any wicked creature smear His holiness and
detract from God’s own blessed glory. When Isaiah, at the
time of his installation as a prophet, saw the glory of God
that made the seraphim hide their faces with their wings,
all he could say was, “Woe is me!” (Isa. 6:5). As the bright
sunlight reveals the flaws and dirty spots on a garment, so
God’s holiness so shines upon man that all his wretchedness,
weakness, sin, guilt and hideous rebellion are clearly seen
in all their evil.
In the judgment, God will make every sinner and demon admit
that he alone is to blame for what sin he committed. After a
lifetime of denial, he will confess that he wanted to sin,
he hated God and His law, he deliberately mocked God, and he
sneered at His just and righteous commands. In admitting his
sin, each will confess that God is God, righteous and true.
There is no more room for the wicked to blame God or for
excusing sin. Unbelieving thieves, adulterers, abortionists,
homosexuals, brutes, murderers, philanthropists, as well as
the Antichrist and Satan, etc., will all finally “confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11).
This is the real point. Every man will be asked this one
important question: “What did you do with Christ?” This is
the issue. Did you honour Him as the Son of God? Did you
believe in Him so that you sought all your salvation alone
from Him? Never mind the ten million pounds you gave for a
hospital. Never mind your unflagging concern for clean air
and water. Never mind that you were a preacher. What did you
do with Christ? This is the question that rings from the
great white throne.
Did you take up your cross, deny yourself and follow Him?
Were you willing to give up everything you have in
faithfulness to Him? Did you flee to the cross to confess
your sins and seek pardon in His bleeding body? What did you
do with Christ?
Woe to them who denied Him, who chaffed under His
providence, who sheared His sheep and scattered them instead
of feeding them, who crucified Him again by their mockery of
His work as the Son of God.
God will be justified in all He did on the last day. This is
the theodicy. We still have to deal with God’s people but
that will be next time, DV. Prof. Hanko
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