Vol. IX — No. 22 June 2, 1968
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sewer, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
In Christ Jesus, who would have us call upon Him for salvation, Fellow Redeemed:
When the time for the preaching comes, we have—as again this day—completed the chief part of our liturgical service. Some of our members and also some of our visitors, who come from non-liturgical churches, may have difficulty in following the liturgical Service until they become accustomed to it. And then they may wonder just what the reason and the purpose of the liturgical portion of the service is. Just a casual examination of the liturgy will reveal that it is chiefly a prayer service. It begins with a confessional invocation: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This God we pray to; this God we look to for help; besides this God there is no other! It is of utmost importance that every worshiper, those that worship regularly in our midst and the visitor who comes to our service, knows and confesses the one true God, for otherwise our worship would be but a futile exercise in idolatry.
As soon as we have confessed our God, the one God of our and all men’s salvation, We are exhorted to turn to Him in prayer, beseeching salvation: “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart, and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to grant us forgiveness.” We pray for forgiveness. And wherever the gift of forgiveness is given, there is life and salvation. We pray for forgiveness in Jesus’ Name, that is, trusting and believing in Him as the Son of God who came down from heaven and became one of us to live for us in righteousness and to die because of our unrighteousness so that His Father in heaven might grant us the forgiveness, for which we pray.
This opening prayer for forgiveness is basic to our entire worship, yea basic to our existence as children of God. Sunday after Sunday we appear here as sinners—guilty, yet praying for a portion of that grace and mercy that forgives. Our text this morning gives us an opportunity to meditate more fully upon our opening prayer for forgiveness, which is—
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” There is an urgency in these exhortations. Seek and call upon the Lord—“while he may be found” and “while he is near.” There may come the time when He may not be found and when He is afar off. Our Lord wants to be found and He wants to be near. But if an individual or a group or a nation again and again turns a deaf ear to the pleas of the Lord, there may come the time When the Lord departs with His grace. Then the opportunity for salvation is lost.
The tragic individual example of this is King Saul. He started his career so wonderfully, filled with the Spirit of God. But slowly he began to go his independent way. He turned from the Lord, and his egg heart became hardened. At the end of his life when he called upon the Lord, there was no answer. We live in an age of opportunity. All of us who are members of this congregation and all visitors who come to our services have even greater opportunities, for the Lord in His mercy has granted unto us the revelation of His saving Word and Hill. The ecumenical Gospel of unconditioned grace—free for all without any “ifs,” “buts,” or “ands” is proclaimed among us. If any of us maintains membership in this congregation or participates in the services or visits our service without heeding the exhortation to call upon the Lord for salvation in his heart, that person is playing with fire, eternal fire. Delay not, delay not! Today His mercy Calls you! Today the Lord is near, in our very midst. He wants to be found, and He wants you and you and you to to find Him. If any one of us delays calling upon the Lord in his heart, the Lord may say to us: “You’ve had your chance. If you prefer your sin to my forgiveness, if you prefer your private idolatry to worship of Me, then perish in your folly. I’ll give someone else your opportunity.” Oh, let each one of us seek the Lord while He is near and while He may be found!
Individuals can lose opportunities, so also can groups, whole church bodies. Church history is filled With examples of congregations and church bodies who were once entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation, but then grew weary of it and suffered the loss of it. Many church bodies are experiencing that today. They have grown weary of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus; they have exchanged it for the gospel of social reform. If all the social problems of the whole world were solved—which will never happen—not one single sinner would thereby be led to call upon the true God for salvation. Many churches today have entered the declining phase of their existence, which could be labeled “Opportunity Lost.” It is the phase before judgment. Let us beware lest this happens to us in our congregation!
“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13. That is God’s promise. So—
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” One of Satan’s devices is to get the sinner to despair of God’s grace and mercy. The power of Satan in this area can be observed in the case history of Judas, who had every opportunity to learn to know the depth and “height and the breadth of his Lord’s love but who ended his life in despair.
“Jesus sinners doth receive.” So we sing, and so the Gospels bear witness. The Lord received the very respectable religious leader of the Jews, Nicodemus who came by night. He received him though he was so spiritually undiscerning and though he was so fearful. Our Lord did not shrink from talking with the woman at Jacob’s well, even though she was a Samaritan. He did not fear to have His reputation tainted because He talked most earnestly and intimately with her. He held before her, social outcast though she was, the water of life. When His enemies brought before Him the woman caught in adultery—to see what He would do with her—He received her in forgiving love and sent her away with the grace of forgiveness and the exhortation to sin no more. The publicans and sinners flocked to Him. He turned none away, for divine mercy covers all sin. He was unashamed to acknowledge the penitent thief as a citizen of His Kingdom.
The grace of God forgives all sin, but that same grace of God is repulsed by slavery both to sin and to one’s own righteousness. The wicked must forsake his way and the unrighteous man, who imagines himself to.be righteous, his thoughts. That is a call to repentance with an implied promise of mercy. But the slave to his own righteousness, the old and the new Pharisee, imagines that he has no need of the forgiving love of God in Christ. He destroys himself because he rejects as unnecessary that which his God offers him. Let us guard both against self-righteousness and despair, for God’s mercy would replace self-righteousness and remove despair.
No one is to despair of the Lord’s mercy. On the contrary—
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Usually these well-known words are applied to God’s providence and governance of the world at times in our lives when we ask the question, “Why, O Lord?” Why does a child have to be taken, a father from his children, a mother from her little ones? Why, oh why? It is true also in these matters the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, even as the heaven is higher than the earth.
But the specific point here is that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are so very superior to man’s in regard to the wicked and unrighteous. God created man holy and innocent. He had every opportunity. He was morally equipped to keep all of God’s commands. He could have been confirmed in his righteousness and in his immortality. what did man do? He threw it all away. One could expect that God would have turned His back upon man, saying, “You’ve made your bed. Now sleep in it.” But God’s ways are not as our ways. His thoughts are not like man’s thinking. God knew that man had plunged himself into a mess for which there was and is no human solution. God knew that man had ruined himself. God knew that He had to come to the rescue. He didn’t hesitate. He announced the plan that had been formed already in eternity—the plan that finally led to God forsaking His own Son that He might be able to receive the wicked and the unrighteous. The thoughts and ways of God are thoughts of peace and love, forgiveness and acceptance of the sinner for Christ’s sake.
When we pray for salvation for ourselves and for others, we are bold so to pray because of the assurance that our God has forgiven us, that He harbors no thoughts of vengeance upon man who has turned his back upon Him, but rather that all His ways and thoughts are directed towards the salvation of man.
There is yet another encouragement for our prayers—
“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sewer, and bread to the eater: So shall my word he that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Nature sheds light upon grace. Even as the snow and rain achieve their divinely ordained purpose of watering the earth, so the Word shall achieve the divine purpose of bringing sinners to repentance and faith.
What an encouragement for our prayers! He may be praying for a lost son or daughter. The situation may seem hopeless. As parents we may have done our best to train our child in the fear of the Lord. We may have taught hmm to know the Lord, to call upon Him for salvation. But when that child became an adult, he may have seemed to forget everything that we taught him. Yet we continue to pray. And pray we can with hope, for the Herd is an effectual power unto salvation. The Word which many a Christian parent has planted in the heart of a child may lie there dormant for years, but then may come to life and bring forth fruit unto salvation.
About a year ago your pastor and his family were making preparations for their move to the South. The doctrinal problems that faced the congregation were known. The general atmosphere of liberalism that pervaded the religious life of the community was also known. That there would be difficulties was clearly realized. Then why leave the security of the known for the unknown in which there were so many known difficulties? Because there was also another known—the effectual power of the Word. We came in the strength of that power. We have prayed for blessing upon the Seed of the Word sown from the pulpit, in the various classes and in the bulletin in the confidence that the Word would not return void, but that it would accomplish that which the Lord pleased. The Lord has fulfilled His promise. True it is that in some cases the Seed fell on hard ground or on stony ground or among the thorns, but much seed fell on ground that the Lord made good and has brought forth fruit. So it is that we continue our work praying for success in the confidence that the Lord will make His Word prosper in the places and in the measure that pleases Him. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.