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July 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 15


The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (2)

“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” (Isa. 51:1-3). This is the Word of God that we are studying in the News.

Those who are addressed in Isaiah 51:1-3 are described not only as those “that follow after righteousness,” as we saw in the last issue, but also as those “that seek the Lord” (1). They seek the Lord exclusively—no idols! They seek the Lord by faith alone, in the Messiah. They seek the Lord in His Word, in prayer and in His church. They seek the Lord with all their hearts, continually, sincerely, earnestly. They seek the Lord for all their salvation and peace.

This is what the Lord says to such people: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord” (1). Jehovah is saying, in effect, “Listen to Me, for you alone are the ones who are troubled by the desolation and fewness of the church, and you alone will be comforted by what I say to you in My Word. The ungodly, who lack faith, will not be consoled by My promises, but you who seek Me and My glory and righteousness will be.” This is true, beloved, not only back then when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, but also for us now who are grieved for the weakness and smallness of the true church in our day.

Isaiah begins to pour in the comfort by taking them to a quarry, of all places: “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (1)! I say “quarry” because this verse speaks of a “pit” or, more precisely, “the hole of the pit” from which comes a “rock” which is “hewn.” A “pit” that contains “rock” which is “hewn” is called a quarry.

But you understand that this is not a literal, physical quarry, for the text says, “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (1). People are not manually chiselled from a flinty rock dug from a quarry on the side of a hill.

So what is this picture getting at? Origin! Let us say that you see a stone bust of an important person or an obelisk made of smooth marble. Where did these materials come from? What is their origin? A rock, a rock from a pit or quarry.

The phrase is almost proverbial in English: “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (1). “Look back to where you came from! Consider your origins! This will help you, O My people,” says the Almighty.

So what was the origin of Israel? We are not here referring to their sinful and shameful beginnings. Ezekiel 16:3-5 describes that graphically: “Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born.”

Titus 3:3 is a portrait of us before our conversion to Christ: “For we ourselves also were sometimes [i.e., once or formerly] foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” Ephesians 2 described us as “dead in trespasses and sins” (1), walking after the ungodly world and Satan (2), and “fulfilling the desires” and “lusts” “of the flesh and of the mind” (3).

We are not here speaking either of the origin of Israel in Jehovah’s eternal decree, whereby He elected Israel in Jesus Christ before the world began, and loved and pitied her in His sovereign grace (Deut. 7:6-7; Ps. 135:4-6).

The origin of Israel here is her origin in history (not in her original sin or eternal election). Where did it all start? What was the quarry from which she was hewn in history? Abraham and Sarah! “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you” (Isa. 51:2). “O, My afflicted people, you should go back to Genesis,” says the Lord, “back to Genesis 11-25, back to Genesis for the genesis (or beginning) of Israel in father Abraham to comfort you in your present distress.”

But what is the key thing said about Abraham here? Remember that the Abrahamic narrative is lengthy—some 15 chapters. It contains many important points or lessons.

What is the one crucial aspect that unlocks this Word of God in Isaiah 51? Is it justification: “[Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6)? This is vital: vital for the whole gospel and vital for the Reformation. The Apostle Paul elaborates on this truth, especially in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. However, it is not the idea here.

What about circumcision? It was given to Abraham and his seed in Genesis 17, explained theologically in Romans 4 and Colossians 2, and replaced by baptism in the New Testament era (Belgic Confession 34). But the connection between Abraham and circumcision is not the idea in Isaiah 51.

Our text does not even highlight Abraham’s faithfulness, as an example to us, or his life of pilgrimage, important though this is (Heb. 11:8-10, 13-16).

Read Isaiah 51:2 very carefully: “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” There is one word that is crucial here. Do you know what it is? It is the little word “alone.” But this will have to wait for explanation in the next issue of the News. Rev. Stewart

The Work of the Holy Spirit (1)

In 2008, the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) held its tenth biennial conference at the Share Centre on the shores of Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland. The subject was, “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” Some time after the conference, the speeches and sermons delivered by Lough Erne were published in book form. Many of the readers of the News have read that book. One reader recently came with a series of questions about the contents of the speeches and sermons delivered at that conference, and asked to have the answers included in the News. I propose to do this in the next few issues.

We will take these questions one by one as they appear in the letter sent to me. Question 1: “First, can you expand upon the idea that the Spirit was poured out on the church in heaven and what that accomplished?”

The reader refers to a statement I made in one of my speeches in which I mentioned the fact that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole church, that is, the church already in heaven as well as the church here on earth. Apparently, the idea is new to him.

It is true that there is no direct proof in Scripture that Christ gave His Holy Spirit to the saints already in heaven, as well as to the church as it existed in Jerusalem on Pentecost. The church there at that time consisted of one hundred and twenty followers of Jesus, including the eleven apostles and Matthias. But the proof that the Spirit was given to all the saints is firmly established by the meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit. The most wonderful part of the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost is, in my opinion, not so much that the Spirit was poured out on the church in heaven, which we would expect, but that Christ also gave His Spirit to the church on earth.

Consider the fact that not all of God’s people were present in Jerusalem on Pentecost. There were proselytes throughout the Mediterranean basin who, while people of God, had not, prior to Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is given to all God’s people, everywhere in the world. And Christ continues to give His Holy Spirit to the church throughout the new dispensation, who, possessing the Holy Spirit when they go to heaven, would certainly not meet people there in heaven who did not possess the Spirit of Pentecost merely because they died in Old Testament days.

The Spirit whom Christ gave to His church is the One through whom Christ unites believers to Himself. As our Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully puts it, in insisting that, spiritually, we do eat the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and drink His blood: “What is it then to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ? It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to His sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are notwithstanding flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone; and that we live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul” (Q. & A. 76).

We are united to Christ by the bond of faith. This is true of all the saints. All, therefore, receive all the blessings of salvation from Christ to whom they are united. This is true of the saints in heaven as well as the saints upon earth.

According to Revelation 22:17, “the Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Not only does the church on earth pray for Christ’s coming at the end of this age but this is also the prayer of the saints in heaven. That the saints in heaven also pray for Christ’s coming is evident in Revelation 6:9-10: “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” If the Holy Spirit works this prayer in the hearts of the saints on earth (as He does), He works it in the hearts of the saints in heaven as well.

The Holy Spirit works in such a way that we receive all that Christ earned for us from the Holy Spirit. We are not Arminians who proudly think they can do good works of one kind or another by their ability and, therefore, they do not need the Holy Spirit for everything. With a strange insistence on their arrogant assertion that they do something to save themselves, they claim that the Holy Spirit comes to them only when they pray for Him. But we know that even our prayers are the Spirit’s work and not ours. All, and I mean ALL, our blessings, even the blessing of the privilege of prayer, come to us by the work of the Holy Spirit. Even the desire to do good works—and the spiritual ability to perform them—comes from Christ who works in us by His Holy Spirit. God works in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). He works in us both to will and to do good works because it is, as this Scripture says, His good pleasure for us and in us.

Finally, John writes of the church in heaven, at the time of the ascension of Christ, proclaiming, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10). They were, of course, saved before this but, with Christ’s ascension, He who earned salvation for them came to them and by His Spirit unites even the saints in heaven to Himself.

And this answers the second part of the question above: What did the outpouring of the Holy Spirit accomplish with regards to the saints in heaven?

But that question involves the question of what the Holy Spirit, given on Pentecost, gave the church that it did not have before? Or, more particularly, what did the saints in heaven receive from the Spirit that they did not have before Christ’s ascension?

We will answer that question in a later News, Lord willing. Prof. Hanko

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