August 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 16
The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (3)
In the last two issues of the News and in this issue and the
next, we are considering this glorious prophecy of Isaiah:
“Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that
seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to
the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham
your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him
alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the Lord
shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places;
and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert
like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found
therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (51:1-3).
In last month’s News, we drew attention to the word “alone”
in Isaiah 51:2: “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto
Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed
him, and increased him.” In order to understand the
significance of the little word “alone,” let us consider the
life of Abraham as recorded in Genesis 11-25, in connection
with God’s covenant with the patriarch and his seed.
Abraham was an idolater in Ur of the Chaldees (Josh. 24:2).
There were many idolaters in that city, but Isaiah 51:2
states that God “called him alone.” “But what about Terah,
Abraham’s father?” someone might object. Abraham was the one
who was principally called (Acts 7:2-3) and his father
merely accompanied him. Terah never even reached the
promised land, for he died in Haran (Gen. 11:32). “But what
about Lot, Abraham’s nephew?” Though he made it to Canaan,
Lot left Abraham (Gen. 13; 19).
God promised Abraham that He would multiply his seed, so
that they would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens
and the sand on the beach. Jehovah would make of Abraham a
great and mighty nation, and all of the families of the
earth would be blessed in him.
There was just one problem! Abraham was an old man—too old
to beget children—and Sarah was an old woman—too old to bear
Yet whom did God call out of Ur? Just one man—not many
men—and that when he and his wife were past having children.
As Romans 4:19 puts it, “his own body [was] now dead” (as
regards having children) and there was also the barrier of
“the deadness of Sara’s womb.”
The rest of the Abrahamic narrative develops this theme.
Time and time again, God repeats His promise to Abraham of a
vast number of children as his descendants. We read of
Abraham’s unbelieving and sinful arrangement with Hagar and
the birth of Ishmael, with all the grief that caused (Gen.
16). Finally, Abraham and Sarah have a boy! She was 90 and
he was 100. They called their son, Isaac, which means
Even then, God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice,
in order to test and purify the old man’s faith (Gen. 22).
Later, Abraham’s servant goes to great lengths to obtain a
godly bride for Isaac, lest he marry a pagan girl from
Canaan (Gen. 24).
Let us now think of this narrative and subsequent history in
terms of numbers. Abraham and Sarah are first introduced as
two dry sticks, as you might say. After many years and
various wrong turns, the chosen son, Isaac, is born, of whom
God said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Rom. 9:7;
Gen. 21:12; Heb. 11:18). Later, elect and beloved Jacob is
born to Isaac and Rebekah, along with his twin, reprobate
Esau, whom God hated (Rom. 9:13). Jacob has twelve sons.
When they marry and have children, his family numbers
seventy. At the time of the exodus from Egypt, Israel
consists of more than two million. In the reigns of David
and Solomon, Abraham’s descendants are even more numerous.
Now we can understand the text: “look unto the rock whence
ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged”
(Isa. 51:1). That is, consider your origin, consider your
origin historically, consider your origin historically
Abraham and Sarah: “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto
Sarah that bare you” (2).
Now think about the three verbs in the remainder of verse 2:
“for I called him alone, and blessed him, and
him.” God “called” Abraham with the effectual call to
salvation in Jesus Christ in the promised land. Jehovah
“blessed” him with covenant blessings according to His
covenant promises. The Almighty “increased” Abraham so that
that one man’s seed grew to seventy and even to millions.
This is a wonder of grace! The whole inspired narrative
underscores repeatedly and in vivid ways the amazing truth
that God alone did it and not man, to whom this was
Thus the message to Isaiah’s readers, heart-broken over the
smouldering ashes of Jerusalem, is that God has multiplied
His people from very small beginnings before. He can do it
again and He will do it again!
Those who believe this promise are the true children of
Abraham (for they follow in their father’s footsteps) and
chips off the old block, so to speak, for God “is able of
... stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9).
Just like us believing Gentiles!
This then is the connection between verses 1 and 2 of Isaiah
51: “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn” (1), that is,
“Look unto Abraham your father” (2). This is not in conflict
with looking to the living God in Jesus Christ, as we are
commanded to do in Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye
saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is
none else,” for six chapters later we are also exhorted,
“Look unto Abraham your father” (51:2).
The call to look at Abraham does not mean that he is the
object of our faith, as if we are saved by believing in the
patriarch. Rather, we look at Abraham to see what God did
for him in Jesus Christ. This is a standing lesson to the
church, for just as Abraham was once numerically small, so
God blesses His church by increasing her.
Next time, we will conclude our study of Isaiah 51:1-3 by
looking more closely at the beautiful promise of verse 3 and
how the whole passage is fulfilled. Rev. Stewart
The Work of the Holy Spirit (2)
In 2008, the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) held its
tenth biennial conference at the Share Centre on the shores
of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, N. Ireland. The subject
was “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” Later, the speeches and
sermons were published in book form. One reader recently
asked me a series of questions about the contents of the
book, wanting to have the answers included in the News.
His second question reads, “What is the difference between
the Spirit now as the Spirit of the risen Christ rather than
just the Spirit of Christ? You mention that the Spirit could
not work the reality of salvation because all he had to use
was a picture book [The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 34].
Could you expand on that? I think the footnote on page 35
goes a long way to answering that—the anointing teaches you
all things (I John 2:27). The Spirit of truth ... and more
truth than before! On the next page you say it was difficult
for Old Testament saints to pray and impossible for them to
call God ‘Father.’ But nevertheless many examples can be
found and there are instances where Israel calls God
These are good questions: apparently my presentation at the
conference was not as clear as one could wish. I appreciate
the opportunity to expand on these things further.
I must, however, make one correction. I did not distinguish
between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the risen
Christ. Rather, I distinguished between the work of the
Spirit in the church of the old dispensation and the work of
the Spirit that was given to Christ at the time of His
exaltation (Acts 2:33).
It is true, though, that there was a certain manifestation
of the Spirit of Christ in the old dispensation but then the
same is true of Christ Himself, who appeared in the old
dispensation as the Angel of Jehovah. So also the Old
Testament prophets could not have spoken in such an (almost)
New Testament way (e.g., Isa. 53) without speaking in the
church of the knowledge given to them by the Spirit, who
revealed to them the things of Christ.
However that may be, and without going into the question in
detail, there are especially two ways in which the work of
the Spirit in the old dispensation differed from the work of
the Spirit in the new dispensation. The first is that the
Holy Spirit always does His work in the hearts of the people
of God through the Word! It is never any different. He binds
Himself in an unbreakable bond to the objective Word of God
and always works through it. But in the old dispensation,
the Word of God came to the church through types and
shadows. Christ had not yet come. All the church had were
pictures of Christ and His wonderful works.
As everyone knows, as nice and as accurate as a picture may
be, it is not the reality. I cherish a picture of my wife,
but I would far and away rather have her with me. So it was
with the Old Testament church. The Word that came through
pictures, which the Holy Spirit used, was subject to the
same limitations as a picture always is.
In the new dispensation, with the work of Christ and the
reality embodied in the New Testament Scriptures, the Spirit
gives us a much clearer understanding of the great mystery
of godliness, God become flesh (I Tim. 3:16). We see the
reality, not a picture.
The second difference between the work of the Spirit in the
old dispensation and the new was that God’s people did not
hold the office of believers. I do not say that they were
not believers, for they were. Read Hebrews 11. But they did
not hold the office of believers.
That office of believers had three aspects to it: the
offices of prophet, priest and king. No believer held these
offices in the old dispensation. The result was that these
offices were held by individuals who were chosen by God,
anointed with oil and given their assigned work by Him.
If an Israelite wanted to know the will of God, he had to go
to a prophet. If the nation wanted to worship God, they had
to go to a priest who would make the necessary sacrifices.
And when there was no king in Israel, every man did that
which was right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25).
Each saint in the new dispensation, through the work of the
Spirit of Christ, is, in his own right, a prophet (I John
2:27), a priest who can worship God anywhere and at any time
(I Pet. 2:5), and a king who rules his own life under
Christ, as one who knows and does God’s will (Rev. 1:6).
These are fundamental differences. And we ought to be
thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit, who brings us the
reality of Christ and all He did through the infallible
Scriptures. Prof. Hanko
Westminster Confession VII: “5. This covenant was
differently administered in the time of the law, and in the
time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by
promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal
lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people
of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were
for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the
operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect
in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full
remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the
Old Testament. 6. Under the gospel, when Christ the
substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this
covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the word, and the
administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s
Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with
more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is
held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual
efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is
called the New Testament. There are not therefore two
covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the
same under various dispensations.”
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