Vol. IX — No. 33 August 18, 1968


Scarcity in the Midst of Surplus!

Jeremiah 23:16-29

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. They say still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord. I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

In Christ Jesus, who bids us continue in His Word and hearken unto those who proclaim His Word, Fellow Redeemed:

“Famine in the midst of feasting!” “Hater water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!” These well-known quotes give expression to a common experience of man—that there may be an extreme scarcity in the midst of great surplus. There are pockets of famine—of malnutrition and starvation—in the midst of great surpluses of food commodities and general feasting in our country. So it is in other parts of the world and in other areas of human life.

So it is also in the area of the spiritual. There has always been a surplus, a glutting surplus, of unbelievers in the world, for the road is broad that leads to eternal damnation, and the traffic is heavy. But there has at the same time always been a scarcity of believers, for the road that leads to eternal life is narrow and traveled but by a few. The same surplus and scarcity can be found in every age in the area of spiritual leadership. False prophets are always in over-supply; true prophets of the Lord are scarce. In the days before the flood Noah walked the earth as a preacher of righteousness—of judgment sure to come and of salvation through faith in the promise. He was supported and sustained in his preaching by a very small congregation of his own family. It was almost one lone voice against the entire population of the world at that time. In the dramatic duel between Elijah and and the false prophets of his day Elijah found himself pitted against 450 prophets of Baal and an additional 400 prophets of the groves. The odds were 850 to 1. That was scarcity in the midst of surplus! So it has been in every age—a lone prophet of the Lord raising his voice against a host of false prophets. So it was also in the days of the lone and lonely prophet of judgment and hope, Jeremiah. In this twenty-third chapter he writes of that experience which children of God of every age have had to endure—a surplus of false prophets glutting the spiritual marketplace and an extreme scarcity of prophets who speak the word of the Lord faithfully. Isn’t this an accurate description of our day—the age of ecumenical apostasy? We live in the age of mass production. Theological schools and seminaries seem to mass produce false prophets. But what a scarcity there is of true prophets! Let us look at our age in the light of Jeremiah’s description both of his and our age. We find that there is—


There has always been a surplus of—

I. The false prophets who speak a vision of their own heart—not out of the mouth of the Lord.

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.” Here is the difference between the false prophet and the true prophet! The message of the false prophet originates in himself: in his own mind, in his own feelings, in his own personal experiences, in his own prejudices. True it is that the false prophet will attempt to camouflage the fact that he is the originator of his own message by a distortion of or a quotation out of context or an interpretation of some word of the Lord. But his message remains “a vision of his own heart.” It is “not out of the mouth of the Lord.”

This is precisely the characteristic of modern theology, whether it be the theology of the “God is dead” people or the theology of the secular social reformers or the fundamentalists who refuse to be bound by every word out of the mouth of God. In church history this is called the “I” theology. The individual propounds his own thoughts, his own experiences, his own prescription of how the Word of God ought to be, his own view of life, his own theory for world peace or social improvement as though his own private message were the word of the Lord. Whereas, in fact, it is a vision from his own heart. How can you tell the difference between a vision from someone’s own heart and a message out of the mouth of the Lord? Try the spirits! Test and retest, compare and compare again, check and recheck what the prophet or preacher says with what is written and recorded for all time in the Word of the Lord—the Bible.

The false prophets are further described as those who tell people what they want to hear—not what the Lord wants them to hear.

“Theysay still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.” The prophet pictures the false prophets as condoning the opinions and the speech and the ways of those that despise the Lord. So it was centuries ago and so it is today yet. We are living in an age of social revolution. There are social injustices in our age and in our society as there have been in every society since the beginning of time and as there shall be to the end of time. But in no society has there ever been greater opportunity for the removal of social injustices through peaceful means and methods. But we have segments of our society that prefer illegal and violent means. And they practice the same—sniping, looting, arson and so on. what do we find as a reaction to this? We find our great surplus of false prophets—one group after another—condoning civil disobedience, advocating social revolution and putting these vision of their own hearts on the spiritual market as words of the Lord. What are these false prophets doing? They are simply telling their audiences—who despise the Lord in His Word—what they want to hear, not what the Lord wants them to hear.

What defence do you hear when you ask congregation members and clergymen about the continual introduction of false doctrines and heresies into the church? They cry, “Times change, and the church must change with the times!” What is that but a confession of the leaders, repeated by the laymen, that they give the people what they want, not what they should have.

In the area of the spiritual the essentials never change! Each generation is born in sin! Each individual is guilty of committing sin! Each man must die and face the Judge of all flesh! Each man needs help from above. That help came and is available in only one place and only one person—in Jesus Christ, God’s Son and mankind’s Saviour. Repentance and faith are the unchanging message for a world that changes not, except for the worse as the end draws high. Instead of preaching the unchanging message of sin and grace, the false prophets adjust their message to the wants, not the needs, of the people and tell them what they want to hear instead of what God wants them to hear.

In so doing the false prophets reveal themselves to be people that promise peace when judgment is impending.

“Ye Shall have peace,” they comforted the Lord-despisers. So they said in Jeremiah’s day. And Jeremiah said, “Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked.” It did. The Babylonians cane and destroyed Jerusalem and carried the entire nation into captivity.

So also in our day. If an automobile manufacturer puts a defective car on the market, it may cost some driver his life. If a contractor makes a mistake on a home, the home owner will have to live with it. If a doctor makes a mistake in diagnosis or on the operating table, it may cost the patient his life. If a clergyman preaches false doctrine or condones when he should be condemning, comforts when he should be warning, it may well cost his parishioner his soul. The clergyman may preach a flowery funeral sermon. He may praise the dead man and speak comfortingly of his eternal repose—while the soul of the dead person is already suffering unspeakable agony in hell. The false prophet keeps crying “Peace” to the sinner who despises the Lord, but is willing to pay some clergyman to tell him that his sinful way of life is acceptable to the Lord. In the same situation the true prophet would have to be warning that a whirlwind has gone out from the Lord and will consume for time and eternity.

Our text is rich and too long to be considered thoroughly in the brief amount of time allotted to us. We leave the surplus of false prophets—that glutted marketplace of Satan—and turn to a more pleasant picture, a picture indeed of scarcity—for there has always been a scarcity of—

II. The true prophets who speak the Word of the Lord faithfully.

“The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.” If a clergyman has a private opinion concerning some matter, let him express it as just that—his own private opinion. But let him not pass it off as the Hard of the Lord. I have my opinions about matters political, about social conditions in our country, about economic matters, about legitimate “open questtions,” about interpretations of difficult Bible passages. In such instances I take care to make it clear that I am expressing but my own opinion. But when the Lord speaks clearly on any given subject, then it is my duty to proclaim that Word of the Lord loudly and clearly. What is the chaff to the wheat? Man’s opinions—my opinions, your opinions, anyone’s opinions on matters settled in God’s Word—are all chaff. What is important is the wheat—the Word of the Lord! That is to be proclaimed faithfully.

“He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” Let’s apply that to a matter of immediate concern—our communion service this morning. Our members know, but our visitors may not know, that we practice what is known as “Close Communion.” That means that we restrict communion to those who have publicly confessed their agreement in doctrine and practice with us. The common and almost general practice in the area is “Open Communion,” that is, the practice of inviting anyone and all present in the service, or at least anyone who professes himself to be a Christian, to come to the Lord’s Table.

Which practice conforms to “speaking the word faithfully”? Two weeks ago a seminary student from the Lutheran Seminary across town stopped in for a visit. I asked him about this practice of “Open Communion.” He defended the practice by saying in effect, “We don’t presume to judge those attending communion.” That Sound extremely pious, does it not? But it actually covers either a lack of understanding of the Word of the Lord or a failure to distinguish between judging that is forbidden and judging that is commanded. Hearts we are forbidden to judge; confessions we are under obligation to judge!

Permit me to illustrate. We have had the confession and absolution. I take for granted, judging the confession but not the hearts, that all those attending communion today are truly penitent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If anyone is feigning penitence and faith while still living in some pet sin or while haboring hatred in his heart against a neighbor or while trusting his own righteousness instead of the righteousness of God, he will be given communion and will receive the true body and blood of the Lord—but as a judgment against himself, not as a seal of divine forgiveness. This I can’t judge—only the individual knows and the Lord. But if there are in the audience people belonging to Reformed churches, I know that the confession of those churches denies the real presence of Christ’s body and blood under the bread and wine and claims that the bread and wine are but symbols of the absent body and blood of the Lord. To accept such a one would be to make myself and the congregation partaker of leading him into sin against the body and blood of the Lord, “for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” I Cor. 11:29. To admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not declared his agreement with us in doctrine is to violate the Scriptural principle that such agreement is a prerequisite for fellowship. This is faith preaching of this particular part of God’s Word—which is reflected in our communion practice, commonly known as “Close Communion.” Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - August 4, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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