As we move into the next and
succeeding chapters of Isaiah - being now, as I have said, on the
positive, the resurrection side, the constructive side of the
Cross - we find that one thing comes very much into view: namely,
the recovery of God's testimony in the City and in the nations.
That is the key to this section of Isaiah from chapter 54 onward.
You will notice that Zion is much in view here. If you run
through and circle the words 'Zion' and 'Jerusalem', you will see
that that is the centre, the focal point of the testimony; but
again, the nations are very much in view also. This will come out
more fully as we proceed.
We come, then, first, to
chapter 55, and we notice two things that mark this chapter.
Grace, and God's Sure Word
In verses 1-9, we see the
freeness and the abundance of grace released to the people of God
on this resurrection ground - free and abundant grace. "Ho,
every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath
no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price..." How much of
the New Testament could be crowded into that!
Then, from verse 10 to verse
13, we have God's sure word: "My word... shall
not return unto me void". Nowadays, we usually claim
that promise from the Lord when we are going to give a message,
that His word shall not return to Him void. Of course, the
principle is of general application; we are not wrong at any time
in taking hold of that, provided that it really is the word of
the Lord that we have to deliver. But I want to point out that
that is not the particular meaning of the statement here. You
will notice the sequence in verses 11 and 12: "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. FOR ..."
(you must not stop there) - "FOR ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with
peace: the mountains and the hills...", and so
on. The immediate meaning of the promise of the sure and
effectual word is: This people had been promised by God
deliverance; they had been assured that the Lord was going to
bring them back from captivity. (Compare Is. 35:10; 48:20;
52:12). He had given His word that they should go out with joy
and in peace, in these conditions. That was the word, and that
word was not going to fail.
House of Prayer, and the Need for Meekness
When you come to chapter 56,
you find that everything centres in the House of Prayer for all
peoples. "Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and
make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and
their sacrifices shall be accepted upon my altar: for mine house
shall be called an house of prayer for all peoples" (verse
7). This is still related to the recovery of the Lord's
testimony, and it is to be found in His House - 'My house of
In chapter 57, we find some
further warnings to the Lord's people against any recurrence of
that which had destroyed the testimony before. It seems always
necessary for the Lord to say, and to say again: Be careful of
the coming back of those old things which wrecked your testimony
in the past; the things which (to use Jeremiah's phrase from the
potter's house) 'marred' the vessel of testimony. (See Jer.
18:4.) So He gives here admonition concerning such ever-present
perils. Then, in verse 15, the ground of the Lord's presence and
committal is mentioned. "For thus saith the high and
lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell
in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite
and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to
revive the heart of the contrite ones." These are the
conditions of the Lord's presence, those in which His testimony
will be reconstituted.
Chapters 58 and 59 are full of
more warnings, more admonitions, more instructions, by way of
clearing the skies of the clouds that would obscure the
testimony. Notice chapter 58, verse 8: "Then shall thy
light break forth as the morning..." It is the shining
out of this testimony that is governing everything with the Lord.
These warnings and admonitions are given in order to bring about
the removal of the clouds that are lingering about the sky and
trying to obscure the clear shining.
Shining Testimony Recovered
We are thus led into chapter
60. All that has gone before has prepared the way, always with
this in view: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and
the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." Here,
then, we come to this matter of the recovered testimony; the
shining light of the Church in the midst of dark conditions, in a
very dark world. "For... darkness shall cover the
earth, and gross darkness the peoples: but the Lord shall arise
upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee." That
is the thing that is uppermost in this last section of Isaiah's
prophecies. When the testimony is restored (verse 1), the nations
are affected by it: "Lift up thine eyes round about, and
see: they all gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy
sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be carried in
the arms. Then thou shalt see and be lightened, and thine heart
shall tremble and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea
shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come
unto thee" (verses 4,5).
When the testimony is clear,
when the shining is undimmed, when God has in His House, in His
people, conditions answering to all that the Cross means, then
you have this effect all around: the nations are affected, the
peoples are touched; something happens, and a wealth, an
enrichment, a fulness comes back to the Church itself. If the
Lord has things according to His mind: in other words, if He
really has His testimony in fulness, undimmed, without cloud,
without shadow, in the midst of His people, in the vessel of His
House: then the nations feel the effect, the impact, of it, and
the Church itself is greatly enriched. "Surely the isles
shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy
sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, for the
name of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because
he hath glorified thee" (verse 9).
Now this, we know, is Old
Testament prophecy. We recognise that the prophet was saying more
than he knew - that his utterances contained and combined two
interwoven elements. On the one side, as far as Israel was
concerned, there was history in the making; but on the other
side, all the way through this, there was (as in chapter 53) a
pointing on to the Messiah - to the Lord Himself; to the Cross,
and to all that was to follow the Cross in resurrection. There
was the temporal and the passing, but there was also the
spiritual and the eternal, which the Holy Spirit always saw and
had in view in history.
Thus, in every connection, as
we have seen, we are so to speak 'handed on', by these
prophecies, to the New Testament. And the New Testament
counterpart of what we have been seeing in Isaiah about the
recovered testimony is found particularly in one of Paul's
letters, namely, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians.
Second Letter to the Corinthians
The great issue of both the
letters to the Corinthians was that of the testimony of the
Church in the city of Corinth and in the world. When we read
these letters, of course we become very much taken up with all
the details: in the First Letter, with the miserable details; the
many things that are being dealt with. It is, for the greater
part, not a happy or pleasant letter to read: perhaps you have
given it up many times before you have got to the end, not
understanding very much, and not liking a good deal more. But we
need to stand back from it, and ask: What is it all about, after
all? Let us not upset ourselves about all the details, for the
moment; they all go to make up one particular issue. What is the
Well, as I have said, the issue
of the letters to the Corinthians is the Lord's testimony in the
Church, in the city and in the nations. Let us be clear about
that. In the First Letter, there is, as you know, very much said
about the world, and how the church in Corinth was failing to
overpower the world, because the world had already overpowered it
from the inside. The testimony was destroyed from within, and
therefore there was no real impact upon the world. The natural,
the carnal man had found his way into the church, and the church
had therefore lost its testimony. It will always be like that. If
anything of the natural man and the carnal man makes inroads, in
any locality, into the church, that will be the end of the
testimony in that church, and in that locality, and, so far as
that company is concerned, in relation to the world. When the
natural man comes in the testimony goes out.
Destroyed by Carnal Elements
In the First Letter, then, the
whole question was one not merely of local conditions, but of the
local conditions destroying the testimony of the Church in the
city. And therefore all those conditions had to be dealt with,
had to be exposed, uncovered, and brought to the Cross of Christ.
Of course, what we have in 1 Corinthians is Satan's second great
strategy toward paralysing the Church's testimony. His first
strategy, his first line with the Church, was open persecution,
to try to destroy, to obliterate the Church's testimony in the
city of Jerusalem and in the nation. As we know, it failed! But
now Satan comes back along a second line of strategy: that is, he
insinuates, into the very ranks of the church, men according to
his own mind - carnal elements - the natural man, the carnal man.
They serve the Devil's purpose so well; they effect the very
thing he is after. When he finds he cannot succeed by open
persecution, he comes round, as it were, to the back entrance,
and introduces carnal and natural elements in by that door - and
that has done it! The testimony goes out; it is destroyed.
But in between these two
letters to the Corinthians, something happened. In chapter 7 of
the Second Letter we read: "Now I rejoice, not that ye
were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance: for
ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss
by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto
salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret" (7:9,10).
The Apostle has a good deal to say about what had evidently taken
place after his first letter. There was repentance; there was
judging of themselves and of the conditions; there was, as he
said, 'a clearing of themselves' (v. 11). There was a real
distress and exercise about their condition, and this had taken
place between the two letters. We may say that they had brought
the situation to the Cross, and that had changed everything. And
now that things had been dealt with on the inside, the whole
matter of the testimony to the world, in the city, could be
reconsidered, and a counter-attack could be made by the church
upon the enemy.
So that is what is in this
Second Letter - the recovery of the testimony in the locality and
out to the world. It all brings out into very clear relief the
constituents of effective testimony - or, to use Isaiah's figure,
the shining forth of the light. Let us look at some of the things
that Paul says about this.
Value of Triumphant Love
"For out of much
affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears;
not that ye should be made sorry, but that ye might know the love
which I have more abundantly unto you" (2 Cor. 2:4).
The first thing that we see is
the value of triumphant love. That is a constituent of effective
testimony, of clear shining. This clearly had its two sides in
the Apostle. If ever a man might have found his love exhausted,
the Apostle might well have been that man, as far as these
Corinthians were concerned; for he did say: "If I love you
more abundantly, am I loved the less?" (12:15). Surely that
is enough to put any man off - to find that all his outpouring
and outgoing and giving in love only means that love is being
withdrawn; that less and less love comes back. What a situation
he had to meet! yet his love triumphed. But it seems to have had
an effect in them too: something of what he had written in his
First Letter, chapter 13, seems to have come about. Yes, the
triumph of 1 Corinthians 13 can be traced in this Second Letter
to some very real degree - the love that "suffereth long,
and is kind", and so on - the quality of triumphant love.
That, we might very well say,
is the first and primary factor in effective testimony. The Lord
Jesus said that: "By this shall all men know... if ye have
love one to another" (John 13:35). This is the testimony;
this is how it will be known - if we have love one for another.
It matters very much whether the world is affected by what it
sees. We cannot close the doors on ourselves, and say: 'Oh, well,
the world in any case is inimical, it is always hostile, it is
always unsympathetic; why take any account of it? Let us shut
ourselves in and get on with our job.' You cannot do that; you
cannot ignore the world. We are here to affect the world - that
is one of the chief reasons why the Lord leaves us here. We are
not just to live here, cloistered and closed in, indifferent to
the world, coldly detached from it.
Moreover, the world is going to
find out, sooner or later, what is happening inside the church -
what is happening in your local assembly! Make no mistake about
it. The world will know the condition of the church: you cannot
close doors and windows on that, and keep it in! All around will
know; it will become known. And I repeat - it is a most important
thing that the world should be affected, not by what it hears us
say, but by what it sees in us. And the only thing it can really
see, that will affect it, will be the mutual love which we have
one for another. "By this shall all men know... if ye
have love one to another." One of the most effective
ways of testimony is - not preaching, but - loving! If
that is there it will do far more than our preaching. But it will
at least give a great backing to our preaching. All our preaching
must be supported by this one thing - a strong triumphant love in
the midst of the Lord's people.
Value of Suffering With Christ
The second thing in testimony
is the value of suffering with Christ. There is much about this
in the Second Letter to the Corinthians. For instance: "The
Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforteth us in
all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are
in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are
comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us,
even so our comfort also aboundeth through Christ" (2 Cor.
First of all, suffering with
Christ brings a wonderful return in our discovery of the
consolations of Christ.
It is a very important thing,
in a world like this, that we should have some comfort to give.
Both in the Church and outside of the Church, there is a great
need of a ministry of comfort. You come back to Isaiah:
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God" (Is.
40:1). But you cannot fulfil a ministry of comfort in mere
platitudes; by coming into difficult and troubled situations and
just saying nice things. If people are in real trouble, in real
distress, and you begin to talk to them, the first thing they
have a right to say to you is: 'Well, what do you know about it?
Have you ever been in my position, my condition? have you ever
had any deep, deep suffering? What do you know about it?'
Perhaps, therefore, it is one
of those sovereign, providential ways of God, that He allows His
people to know much suffering, so that they may derive this
wonderful value of the consolations of Christ, in order that they
may have that with which to comfort or encourage others - the
tried, the suffering, the sorrowing. And what have we to give?
Well, the word is: "that we may be able to comfort...
through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of
God." And if there is anyone reading these lines, who is
having a painful, suffering time, going through a 'dark patch',
as we say, might I try to transfigure it for you, in this way.
Just look at it like this. Say to yourself: 'This gives me an
opportunity to make a discovery of the Lord which will be
stock-in-trade for future service. In my distress and trouble I
can find comfort and help from the Lord, which may be tremendous
value to some others in the future.'
Made Through Experience of Resurrection
For that is how ministry is
made. The man or the woman who is ambitious to be 'in the
ministry' - to be speaking and preaching, going about taking
meetings and all that sort of thing - but who has not gone
through deep places, and found the Lord there, and brought up
some treasure from the depths, some 'pearl of great price': that
one's ministry is not real; it is artificial, it is merely
professional. The true minister of Jesus Christ will be taken
down to the depths, to discover there, right down there, and to
bring up thence, these pearls, these precious things, for the
sake of the Church. Did you notice that phrase in Isaiah
"the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee"
(Is. 60:5)? Yes, but the sea can be a very deep place, a very
dark place, a very terrible place: and yet there are treasures
there. That is the way of testimony.
Notice what Paul writes at the
beginning of his letter. "For we would not have you
ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in
Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power,
insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have
had the answer of death within ourselves, that we should not
trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2
Cor. 1:8). This is how ministry is made - when you have a real
experience of and testimony to the power of His resurrection.
When everything seemed hopeless in your own personal situation;
when everything seemed hopeless in your company of believers; and
the providence of God led you to make a discovery of the power of
His resurrection, 'that you should not trust in yourself but in
God who raises the dead': this is a constituting of ministry. If
you have gone that way, you are a true 'minister'; you need not
take the name, you need not be set apart or anything. If you have
a knowledge of the mighty power of His resurrection, you are a
minister; you have something which is most greatly needed.
Value of Brokenness
The third thing in effective
testimony is the value of brokenness and weakness.
"But we have this
treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the
power may be of God, and not from ourselves; we are pressed on
every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet of not unto
despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not
destroyed; always bearing about in the body the putting to death
of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our
body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for
Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our
mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you"
(2 Cor. 4:7-12).
We should continue reading down
to verse 18. You will notice that this section has as its real
message the tremendous value of the quality of brokenness and
weakness. That is a vital thing in effective testimony. We,
perhaps, do not naturally put much value on brokenness and
weakness; but here, very much value is put upon it. "We have
this treasure in vessels of fragile clay." What the Apostle
is saying, in effect, is this: 'We are broken men; we are weak
vessels. The one thing about us, more than anything else, is our
capacity for being broken - it seems that we have just been made
to be broken.' And then he is saying that there is an infinite
value attached to that.
In the First Letter to the
Corinthians, the church was not broken. It was hard; it was
trying to hold itself intact; it was proud; it was judging; it
was cruel; it was unkind; it was anything but broken. But now,
as we read this Second Letter, we find there is about the church
a softness. It is soft - it is melted - it is broken! You can talk
about 'ministry' now; you can talk about 'testimony' now; you
could not do so before. No: until the vessel is broken, nothing
can flow out; if anything is to flow out, it will only do so when
the vessel is broken. The Apostle is saying that that was how it
was with him personally (and of course he is, by inference,
passing it on to the church in Corinth). Our weakness, our
brokenness, is of the greatest importance and value, for it is
only then that the real treasure can be manifested.
Do you talk about 'the
testimony'? have you got a phraseology of 'testimony'? Do you
talk about 'ministry'? have you got ideas about 'ministry'?
My dear friend, the Holy Spirit would say, both to you and to me,
that testimony and ministry are only real when they come from
broken men and women. Let us make no mistake about it. I know it
is the hard way, but it is the only way. You and I have no right
to minister, no right to talk about 'the testimony' or about 'the
Church' or about 'the vessel ' or any such things, unless we know
something of this brokenness, this weakness.
You see how true this is to
what we read in Isaiah. The Lord says: "Mine house shall be
called an house of prayer for all peoples" (Is. 56:7); -
"Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,
whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him
also that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Is. 57:15).
You find Him at humbled Corinth, chastened Corinth. There is
something new in this second letter - something that was missing
from the first. You feel the unction of the Spirit, the beauty of
the Lord. Yes: the Lord is here now, because they are broken.
That unction of the Lord is only found with men and women who
have really had a weakening, a breaking, an emptying, who have
lost all "confidence in the flesh", whose own
self-strength has all gone. That is the way of the shining; that
is the way of recovered testimony.
Way of Enlargement
There is one more passage to
which I would like to refer you.
"Our mouth is open unto
you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened
in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections. Now for a
recompense in like kind (I speak as unto my children), be ye also
enlarged" (2 Cor. 6:11-13).
What was the cause of the lost,
broken-down testimony in Corinth? They were too small; they were
too little. Paul said that he had to treat them like babes - they
were peevish! Children can be like that, can they not? Trifles
have far too much importance. Paul says: 'Be enlarged, be
enlarged! Let your hearts be enlarged! Be bigger people -
be too big to come down to all these mean things. Have big
thoughts, have big feelings - of course without self-importance
or self-inflation; have a large heart - a heart of love!'
What does love do? Love
"rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the
truth". Love "believeth all things": it takes a
large heart to do that, does it not? It is never ready to believe
an unfavourable report, but always ready to believe that there
may be something that can be set off against it - that there may
be another explanation. Love rejoices not when one who has
committed a wrong suffers for it - that is paltry. This is where
David is such a rebuke to us. Just consider him: what a life Saul
gave him during those years! He hunted him, he said, like a flea,
like a partridge (1 Sam. 24:14; 26:20); chased and pursued him
from rock to rock, from cave to cave, in the wilderness, if only
he might get him and destroy him; gave him no peace day or night.
He was determined, implacably determined, that David should die.
And the day came when, in one of these pursuits, Saul, with his
3,000 chosen men - an army to catch a man! - arrived in a certain
place at night, and lay down to sleep. And, unknown to him, David
was very near, right on the spot (I don't think he would have
slept if he had known!); and David came with his men and looked
on him; and David's men said: 'Now is your chance - the Lord has
given him into your hands!' (1 Sam. 24:4).
You know, if only we can
imagine we have got Divine support for something, that is all we
want. We only want someone to say, 'It is the Lord's will', and,
if it is something that serves our own interests, something that
we would naturally very much like, how we will go for it! It is a
very strong temptation, is it not, when it appears to be
supported by the Lord?
But here, David - as on another
such occasion, when his companion said: 'God has delivered your
enemy into your hands this day; now is your chance! Let me smite
him, and I won't have to smite him twice! One blow, and I will
finish the whole thing for you!' (1 Sam. 26:8) - David replied:
'No, no; God forbid that I should touch the Lord's anointed!' Ah,
that is bigness; that is real greatness. He forebore, to his own
hurt. He knew not how many more years of suffering he would
have, but he accepted them. He could have ended all that at one
blow, but he said: 'No, I must not touch the Lord's anointed. I
may be in the right, and the Lord's anointed may be altogether in
the wrong: nevertheless, it is not for me to touch him. I leave
him with the Lord; I must not lift my hand against him. God
forbid that I should touch the Lord's anointed.' I repeat: that
is bigness, that is spiritual greatness! And so Paul appeals to
the Corinthians: "Now for a recompense in like kind... be ye
also enlarged." The Lord make us big people, in this
Constituents of Recovered Testimony
Let us now try to summarise the
constituents of recovered testimony, whether that testimony be
local or to the world.
It must be born, firstly, as we
have seen, out of what we know of Divine comfort in suffering.
Secondly, it must be born out
of what we have known of resurrection (whether individual, or
collective and local), when all has seemed to be hopeless.
Thirdly, it must be born from
what we have learned of Divine love through our own failure. I am
sure that this was a great factor in Corinth. How deeply they
recognised their failure! They went down, right down in the dust,
under the sense of what a miserable failure they had been as a
local company. And then, smitten with this realisation of their
own failure, they discovered that there was love pouring to them,
through this Apostle, from the heart of God; and that discovery
constituted their new testimony.
Fourthly, it must be born from
the brokenness and enlargement of heart that comes through the
consciousness of weakness. I suppose, if any people ought to have
been conscious of their own weakness, it was those people at
Corinth. There are, in fact, indications in this Second Letter
that they came almost to the point of despair about themselves. I
think this realisation of their own fallibility and
untrustworthiness just overwhelmed them, overflowed them. But
through it they came to this enlargement of heart. If you and I
are groaning under the consciousness of our own failure, we are
not going to be petty and mean toward the failures of other
people; we are going to be very much more patient, very much more
understanding - altogether larger of heart. We are going to say:
'Well, I have had to walk very carefully myself, just there. But
for the grace of God, there goes myself!' That is largeness of
heart, true brokenness.
Fifthly, and finally, what
utterness for the Lord should result from a sense of
responsibility for His honour in the locality and in the world. I
think that is what arises here. If that is not present, then all
the other means nothing. It must have been brought home to the
Corinthians that they were letting the Lord down in the locality.
Their condition, the situation among them, was just bringing
dishonour to Him. And that provoked a sense of responsibility:
'Oh, we cannot afford to let the Lord down! For the Lord's sake,
for the sake of the Name of the Lord, we must put things right
amongst ourselves, whatever it costs.' There is much in Isaiah's
later chapters about the Name of the Lord in Zion, when
recovered. And so, in the church at Corinth, this sense of
responsibility for His Name and for His honour, in that vicinity
and in that city and in the world, produced a new utterness for
We come back to our question:
"To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Well, to
those, such as we have seen, who accept the implications of the
Cross. This is all the outcome, the outworking of the Cross. This
all comes out of Isaiah 53. Recovered testimony of this kind can
only be as the result of the Cross. The Cross is the basis of
everything in all testimony.