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Henry commentary Isaiah 50:10-11 – Walking in darkness

March 2, 2013 Comments off

Isa 50:10  Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
Isa 50:11  Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

The prophet, having the tongue of the learned given him, that he might give to every one his portion, here makes use of it, rightly dividing the word of truth. It is the summary of the gospel. He that believes shall be saved (he that trusts in the name of the Lord shall be comforted, though for a while he walk in darkness and have no light), but he that believes not shall be damned; though for a while he walk in the light of his own fire, yet he shall lie down in sorrow.
I. Comfort is here spoken to disconsolate saints, and they are encouraged to trust in God’s grace, Isa_50:10. Here observe, 1. What is always the character of a child of God. He is one that fears the Lord with a filial fear, that stands in awe of his majesty and is afraid of incurring his displeasure. This is a grace that usually appears most in good people when they walk in darkness, when other graces appear not. They then tremble at his word (Isa_66:2) and are afraid of his judgments, Psa_119:120. He is one that obeys the voice of God’s servant, is willing to be ruled by the Lord Jesus, as God’s servant in the great work of man’s redemption, one that yields a sincere obedience to the law of Christ and cheerfully comes up to the terms of his covenant. Those that truly fear God will obey the voice of Christ. 2. What is sometimes the case of a child of God. It is supposed that though he has in his heart the fear of God, and faith in Christ, yet for a time he walks in darkness and has no light, is disquieted and has little or no comfort. Who is there that does so? This intimates that it is a case which sometimes happens among the professors of religion, yet not very often; but, whenever it happens, God takes notice of it. It is no new thing for the children and heirs of light sometimes to walk in darkness, and for a time not to have any glimpse or gleam of light. This is not meant so much of the comforts of this life (those that fear God, when they have ever so great an abundance of them, do not walk in them as their light) as of their spiritual comforts, which relate to their souls. They walk in darkness when their evidences for heaven are clouded, their joy in God is interrupted, the testimony of the Spirit is suspended, and the light of God’s countenance is eclipsed. Pensive Christians are apt to be melancholy, and those who fear always are apt to fear too much. 3. What is likely to be an effectual cure in this sad case. He that is thus in the dark, (1.) Let him trust in the name of the Lord, in the goodness of his nature, and that which he has made known of himself, his wisdom, power, and goodness. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, let his run into that. Let him depend upon it that if he walk before God, which a man may do though he walk in the dark, he shall find God all-sufficient to him. (2.) Let him stay himself upon his God, his in covenant; let him keep hold of his covenant-relation to God, and call God his God, as Christ on the cross, My God, My God. Let him stay himself upon the promises of the covenant, and build his hopes on them. When a child of God is ready to sink he will find enough in God to stay himself upon. Let him trust in Christ, for God’s name is in him (Exo_23:21), trust in that name of his, The Lord our righteousness, and stay himself upon God as his God, in and through a Mediator.
II. Conviction is here spoken to presuming sinners, and they are warned not to trust in themselves, Isa_50:11. Observe, 1. The description given of them. They kindle a fire, and walk in the light of that fire. They depend upon their own righteousness, offer all their sacrifices, and burn all their incense, with that fire (as Nadab and Abihu) and not with the fire from heaven. In their hope of acceptance with God they have no regard to the righteousness of Christ. They refresh and please themselves with a conceit of their own merit and sufficiency, and warm themselves with that. It is both light and heat to them. They compass themselves about with sparks of their own kindling. As they trust in their own righteousness, and not in the righteousness of Christ, so they place their happiness in their worldly possessions and enjoyments, and not in the favour of God. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they last, warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. 2. The doom passed upon them. They are ironically told to walk in the light of their own fire. “Make your best of it, while it lasts. But what will be in the end thereof, what will it come to at last? This shall you have of my hand (says Christ, for to him the judgment is committed), you shall lie down in sorrow, shall go to bed in the dark.” See Job_18:5, Job_18:6. His candle shall be put out with him. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with a fatal disappointment, which will be bitterness in the end. A godly man’s way may be melancholy, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man’s way may be pleasant, but his end and endless abode will be utter darkness.

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Self-righteousness in believers – Jonathan Edwards

July 27, 2012 Comments off

Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon Bringing the Ark to Zion a Second Time, noted the great danger of falling into the sin of self-righteousness as a believer. He explained:

And let particular persons strictly examine themselves whether they hadn’t been lifted up with their particular experiences. I think, according to what observations I have made—as I have had [more] opportunity of very extensive observation than any other person in the town—that is has been a pretty prevailing error in the town, that persons are not sufficiently sensible of the danger of self-righteousness after conversion. They seem to be sensible that persons are in danger of it before they are converted, but they think that when a man is converted, he is brought off wholly from his own righteousness, just as if there was no danger of any workings of self-righteousness afterwards.

But this is from a great mistake of what is intended by a man’s being brought wholly off from his own righteousness when he is converted. ‘Tis not meant that a self-righteous principle is wholly done away, that there is no remains of such a disposition in the heart. There is as much of the remains of that as there is of any other corruption of the heart.

So a man is brought, when converted, wholly to renounce all his sins as well as to renounce all his own righteousness. But that don’t argue that he is wholly freed from all remains of sin. So no more is he wholly freed from remains of self-righteousness. There is a fountain of it left. There is an exceeding disposition in men, as long as they live, to make a righteousness of what is in themselves, and an exceeding disposition in men to make a righteousness of spiritual experiences, as well as other things;…a convert is apt to be exalted with high thoughts of his own eminency in grace.1

1. Jonathan Edwards Bringing the Ark to Zion a Second Time (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003) pp. 255-256 vol. 22

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The Idolatry of Sincerity – J. C. Ryle

June 10, 2012 Comments off

The plain truth is, that “sincerity and earnestness” are becoming the idol of many Christians in these latter days. People seem to think it matters little what opinions a man holds in religion, so long as he is “earnest and sincere”, and you are thought uncharitable if you doubt his soundness in the faith! Against this idolatry of mere “earnestness” I enter my solemn protest. I charge every reader to remember that God’s written Word is the only rule of faith, and to believe nothing to be true and soul-saving in religion which cannot be proved by plain texts of Scripture. I entreat him to read the Bible and make it his only test of truth and error, right and wrong. – J.C. Ryle

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Sound doctrine – Titus 2:1

December 8, 2011 Comments off

“Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.” Titus 2:1

There are but two forms of religion in the world. One is true. The other is false. One is saving. The other is damning. One is “sound doctrine” the doctrine of Holy Scripture, the “doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10). The other is false doctrine, “the doctrine of vanities” (Jeremiah 10:8). Those two forms of religion are free-grace and free-will.

Free-grace declares that salvation is the work of God alone. Free-will declares that salvation is, at least, in part, the work of man. Free-grace declares that salvation is conditioned upon the obedience of Christ alone as the sinner’s substitute. Free-will declares the salvation is ultimately and finally conditioned upon the obedience of the sinner himself. Any doctrine that makes salvation, eternal life, acceptance with God, and the reward of the heavenly inheritance to be dependent upon, or determined by YOU, at any point or in any measure, is contrary to sound doctrine. To receive, believe, or embrace such doctrine will be damning to your soul. (Read Galations 5: 1-4)

Gal 5:1  Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Gal 5:2  Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
Gal 5:3  For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
Gal 5:4  Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

(Shortened version by Pastor Don Fortner) from The Grace Bulletin May-June 2011)

Christ vs. Moralism – John Hendryx

November 10, 2011 Comments off

Death is the wages of sin (Rom 6:23) and Jesus Christ had none (Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5; 2 Cor 5:21). Death, therefore, had no rightful claim on Him thus Jesus died an unnatural death. This means that Jesus, the true remnant of Israel, alone fulfilled the covenant from our side, pleasing God. And all who are united to Him share in His distinction that death has no rightful claim on them (6:23b). So Jesus alone is our focus, our religion, our righteousness. Yet we still, as Christians often get caught up in our own spirituality. That is, we focus incessantly on how we are doing, whether reading the Word, praying, involving myself in a body of like-minded believers, being a witness,. etc. We often do this in a way where we expect to win God’s approval and somehow become more spiritual. While all these things are all good and helpful when done in the right spirit, it is not exactly what is meant by giving oneself fully to the Lord, or being spiritual.

To give oneself to the Lord means that you begin to align yourself with God and his redemptive plan for the world. It means to lose all confidence in oneself and recognize Jesus as the all in all. The gospel remains our only hope as a Christian. All of these other activities don’t make you in any way more pleasing to God. He is already pleased with you in Christ and the covenant he has made with you in Him. When we realize this, these other activities are overflow, not duty driven acts to put on our spiritual resumé. Our delight is in the Lord and the story of His redemptive activity through history culminating in his finished work in Christ on the cross. It is not about our piety … instead we work out of salvation in fear and trembling before the Lord. The more we look at Him the more we are transformed into His likeness (2 Cor 2:18). As long as we view the core of spirituality as some morbid self-introspection and practice of disciplines then we fall into the danger of taking our eyes off of Jesus.

Sinclair Ferguson aptly said,

“from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about itself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So the question often arises to me about how much spiritual activity is enough? The answer is the same every time: what Jesus has accomplished for you is already sufficient. God is as pleased as He can be with you and could not be more pleased with you because of Jesus. Preach this gospel to yourself every day and you will begin to see a new world open before you. You will rest in Christ’s completed work and out of the overflow of the new life you have in Him, you will do all things filled with the Holy Spirit. He becomes greater while you become less. The most mundane, banal activity then becomes spiritual … not simply when you are reading your Bible. You don’t curry God’s favor or earn more points in heaven by your activities. God has set his affection on you. You are his son – this is a reality to those who are in Christ. Recall in the parable of the prodigal son where the older brother is angry with God because he said, “I have worked all my life for you and never given me a slaughtered calf.” He saw his relationship with his father as a servant rather than a son. First, you must know that you are worse than could ever be imagined and are impotent to do anything on your own. Such despairing in oneself is necessary to true spirituality. Yet God is more gracious than you imagined and adopts you as his very own son. When you know you are thus loved then all of what you do will reflect that. You will forgive others, and delight in good works not because God needs to be appeased, but because you are loved by him and that overflows in your life to others. Oh, but how easy it is to forget this and slip back into perfectionism. The Apostle Paul waned against this tendency in Galatians 3:3 when he said, “having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Here we clearly see Paul’s frustration in persons who think that we start with grace in the gospel but then move on to perfection through other means.

A common religion of our time is one of moralism, and many evangelicals tend to moralism without even realizing they are. Moralism seeks to achieve perfection through behavior modification. It often accompanies the religion of “family values” that we hear about each day on the radio. This kind of religion risks self-righteously looking down on unbelievers by putting our supposed morality in a comparison with theirs. It is as if we believe our entrance into Christianity is by grace but that our lives in Christ are due to our maintained by some kind of moralism. Those who believe this fall into the trap of (at least subconsciously) believing that is not grace alone that make us to differ with others. But we must always remember that God’s commands to us to be holy and love our neighbor etc. are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability (Rom 3:19, 20). So instead of spending our time gazing at our navels in the hope that we become more spiritual and can attain some kind of perfection, true Christianity recognizes and faces up to our sinful imperfection. We can never obey God’s commands no matter how hard we try. Anyone who thinks that they could possibly live sinlessly for an hour or a day has not yet come face to face with God and his utter holiness. We flatter ourselves to think this way but the apostolic assertion is that if a man shall keep the whole law and yet offend at one point he is guilty of all.

The good news is that we do not need to ascend to God via human effort (an impossible supposition) because He has descended to us. The philosophy of the age, even among Christians who should know better, is to focus on what we human beings can do to be saved. True Christianity, I believe, teaches that there is nothing we can do… we must despair of ourselves, because what we could not do for ourselves, Christ has done for us. Unfortunately a large percentage of Christians think moralism, avoiding wrongdoing of every kind, is what Christianity is all about, (otherwise why so much effort to get our morals put into law) not realizing that we need to repent of trusting in our good deeds and bad ones. Paul, says to the Philippians that all his good works are but rubbish compared to Christ. But even though we know this, our remaining corruption still deceives us sometimes into thinking that God wants something from us other than Christ. It is easy to see that much of Christianity has slipped into this error because the barriers and differences with Roman Catholicism seem to be coming down everywhere I look. Even in Peter Jennings interview with member’s of Ted Haggard’s church people were saying that they don’t see that much difference anymore. I am not saying that unity would not be a good thing, but this unity is not based on truth but on family values, political alliances and morality, all of which are not the gospel.

But none of us can live up to the high standards we impose upon ourselves and often hide it when we fail, thinking that we must put on a good face to other Christians. That is called hypocrisy. Our many attempts at perfection often lead to immoral behavior, especially when it makes us feel superior to others. Rather, we should lead with our weaknesses and admit our sinfulness which points each other and the world to Christ. The world would believe us much more if we simply stopped pretending and boasting about being so much more moral than we really are. Real humility would go a long way in opening eyes for the problem with humanity is not simply our committing various sins, but with our very natures which we desperately need to be delivered from, something only Christ can do, not only at the beginning of our salvation, but each day. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be good, it is God’s command, but when we are honest, not one is able to even come close to achieving this goal.

All ways which consist of human effort to reach God, whether it be through the will, intellect or emotions, are futile. We have no hope to reach God this way, for not only do we utterly fail to live up to God’s holy law, but we have no desire to do so, except by God’s grace. True Christian piety begins with God’s decent to us in Christ and our ascent to Him through Christ. This leaves zero room for human pride. It is all about what God does for us. Only Christ fulfilled the covenant and achieved the moral perfection that a holy God justly requires. And his death bore the punishment for our willful rebellion and sinful passions. The Scripture requires perfection of you, but you don’t have the moral ability to do it. God commands us to be righteousness then turns around and says that we have none (Isaiah 64:6). All self-righteousness is, therefore, out the door. We are guilty of sin against a holy God and therefore, justly deserve God’s wrath. Agreeing with this reveals that the Holy Spirit has begun doing a work of grace in you and is the first step in conversion. God law, therefore, must be preached to the proud but the gospel to the broken-hearted, as Martin Luther says. When the Law breaks our pride, autonomy, self-sufficiency and the belief in the utter impotence to save ourselves, then and only then does the gospel become good news (and understandable). Any pulpit or gospel presentation that leaves out God’s wrath presents an incomplete and incomprehensible “gospel”, but many are doing it. Only in Christ are God’s holy demands toward us fully satisfied. The Scripture testifies that believing that this is accomplished, not by our will, but by the grace of God (Rom 9:16; John 6:65). The preachers job, therefore, is to continually place the law and the gospel before Christians.

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Self-righteous John Bunyan meets “three or four poor women talking about the things of God”.

January 14, 2011 Comments off

35. Another thing was my dancing; I was a full year before I could quite leave that; but all this while, when I thought I kept this or that commandment, or did, by word or deed, anything that I thought was good, I had great peace in my conscience; and should think with myself, God cannot choose but be now pleased with me; yea, to relate it in mine own way, I thought no man in England could please God better than I.

36. But, poor wretch as I was, I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ, and going about to establish my own righteousness; and had perished therein, had not God, in mercy, showed me more of my state of nature.

37. But upon a day, the good providence of God did cast me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion, but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach, for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil. Moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular; and told to each other by which they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief; and did contemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.

38. And methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world, as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours (Num. 23.9).

39. At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be  naught; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth did never enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the Word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them; neither did I understand what Satan’s temptations were, nor how they were to be withstood and resisted, etc.

40. Thus, therefore, when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them, and went about my employment again, but their talk and discourse went with me; also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words, both because by them I was convinced that I *wanted the true tokens of a truly godly man, and also because by them I was convinced of the happy and blessed condition of him that was such a one.

41. Therefore I should often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people, for I could not stay away; and the more I went amongst them, the more I did question my condition; and as I still do remember, presently I found two things within me, at which I did sometimes marvel, especially considering what a blind, ignorant, sordid, and ungodly wretch but just before I was; the one was a great softness and tenderness of heart, which caused me to fall under the conviction of what by Scripture they asserted; and the other was a great bending in my mind to a continual meditating on it, and on all other good things which at any time I heard or read of.

42. By these things my mind was now so turned, that it lay like a horse leech at the vein, still crying out, Give, give (Prov. 30.15); yea, it was so fixed on eternity, and on the things about the kingdom of heaven, that is, so far as I knew, though as yet, God knows, I knew but little; that neither pleasures nor profits, nor persuasions, nor threats, could loosen it, or make it let go his hold; and though I may speak it with shame, yet it is in very deed a certain truth, it would then have been as difficult for me to have taken my mind from heaven to earth, as I have found it often since to get it again from earth to heaven.

* “want” = “lack”

Source: Grace abounding to the chief of sinners

Judicial hardening – M Lloyd-Jones

October 5, 2010 Comments off

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway. – Romans 11:7-10

In these solemn verses the Apostle sums up what he has previously said in this chapter. We certainly are entering into the realm of ultimate mystery. Let us therefore ‘take off our shoes from off our feet, for the place on which we stand is holy ground’. This is a passage that must be approached with reverence, with humility and with care. It does indeed hold us face to face with some of the most mysterious elements of biblical teaching, and of Christian teaching in particular. Let us bear in mind what the Apostle says at the end of the chapter. It is very applicable at this point — ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’

Now that is the spirit and the way in which we must approach this. We are dealing with the mind and the ways of God and we must therefore anticipate that we shall not be able to understand it fully. But a man who rebels because he does not understand the mind of God is one who puts himself immediately into the very category, I say, of these Jews whose tragic case and condition we are considering. Let us be careful. We are all too ready to speak our opinions and when we do not understand the mind of God we say that something seems to us to be wrong. That was the whole trouble with the Jews. God forbid, therefore, that we should be guilty of the terrible thing of which they were.

First of all, let us get clearly in our minds the basic point which the Apostle is making. He starts off by saying, ‘What then?’ — which means, ‘What therefore?’ In other words, ‘What is the position in the light of what I have been saying?’ His answer is that ‘Israel’ — that is to say the nation as a whole, ‘Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for’.

The word ‘seeketh’ is most important because it means ‘earnest seeking’. The Apostle fixed a preposition to the word that he used in order to give it emphasis. It was not a casual ‘looking at’ but ‘an earnest and persistent seeking’. In addition, he uses the present tense to indicate that Israel was still doing so. What was being sought? Well, there is no question but that it must be ‘righteousness’. They wanted to be right with God.

But he says that though they were ‘earnestly and persistently seeking that, they had not got it, whereas, on the other hand ‘the election hath obtained it’. Now here is a most interesting expression. He does not say ‘the elect’ have obtained it but ‘the election’. Why? If he had said ‘the elect hath obtained it’ we would tend to think of the elect as individuals, and we might fall into the error of thinking that it was as the result of what they were in themselves and what they had done. But in order to obviate any such possibility the Apostle refers to them as ‘the election’. This brings out the great point that it was because of what someone else had done that they had obtained it. This term emphasizes the one who ‘elects’ rather than any choice made by the people and so all the glory is to be given to God alone. The term also describes people corporately rather than individually and that is relevant to the whole argument.

The statement goes on to say ‘and the rest’ which means all in the nation apart from those chosen, ‘were blinded’. We must look at this word ‘blinded’ because all the commentators point out that it really should be translated ‘hardened’. While that is so, the Authorized Version translators had a good reason for translating it as ‘blinded’ as they did in 2 Corinthians 3:14, a parallel chapter, where we read, ‘But their minds were blinded’. I think we can justify this rendering in Romans by pointing out that in the quotation which the Apostle immediately adduces there is a reference to blindness: ‘According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see’. It means, you see, that a callous mask has come over the eyes, and prevented their seeing. Why should there not be an opacity in the eye as well as hardening of the heart? There is, and he goes on from his quotations to elaborate that point. But the thing for us to notice is that this verb is in the passive voice, they ‘were blinded’. We will have to come back to this.

In verses 8 to 10 the Apostle substantiates his basic statement and he does a most extraordinary thing. In the eighth verse he takes a number of quotations from the Scripture and out of them he produces one fresh kind of statement. Here again is another instance of the divine inspiration of the Apostle. The same Spirit who had indited the original statements is here governing this great Apostle, and He is bringing the same meaning out of the three in the form of this one composite declaration. The verses quoted are Isaiah 29:10; Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 6:9.

Now what does Paul say? He says that ‘God hath given them the spirit of slumber’. This means that God had produced a kind of torpor or numbness in them. The meaning of the word he uses refers to an inability to use one’s faculties. If you are under the influence of a drug, you will be dimly aware of things happening around you, but you will not be able to understand them. You are not completely unconscious but you are not fully conscious either and it is the highest faculties of seeing, hearing, and understanding that are affected.

What the Apostle is saying is this: Israel has been in this condition before. We have these examples of it even in the time of Moses and the time of Isaiah, and it was still happening in Paul’s day. He says there was nothing new about this; and unfortunately, it is still happening. It is the explanation of the fact that the majority of the nation of Israel, all indeed apart from the remnant according to the election of grace, are refusing the gospel and are outside the Christian church.

He quotes from Psalm 69 verses 22 and 23 in verses 9 and 10 which read, ‘And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway’. Now here again is a most important, and, at the same time, difficult statement. David refers to their table which of course means the things that are on it and not the table as such. They have a table laden with food and drink, everything that could be desired. David says let all that become a trap to them, and here, of course, he uses illustrations that an agricultural community would understand so well, the gins and the traps used for catching birds and other animals. These traps would be set and the poor animal would go along unsuspectingly, and suddenly the trap or the snare would catch them. There is no point in going into the distinction between the two words. They are used in order to bring out the imagery in its fulness.

But the significant word is ‘recompence’ rather than trap’ or ‘snare’, or even ‘stumblingblock’. A recompence means that what is happening is by way of a reward for evil done. In other words, what is in view is that they might reap the consequences of their own recalcitrance and obduracy towards the truth of God. What David was praying was that the very benefits that they were receiving from God might become a punishment and a hindrance to them.

Now what does he mean by the table? Well I think this is most important for us. He is saying something like this. Confronted with this kind of condition, David asked God to turn His blessings into a curse. The table stands for the material benefits and spiritual blessing.

There are terrible instances of this very thing in the Old Testament. One reads like this: ‘And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul’. That is found in Psalm 106:15, where the psalmist was reviewing the long story of the children of Israel. ‘They believed his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert’. This was the cry for meat, you remember, and the quails were sent to them and so on, but this is how he sums it up — ‘He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul’. He gave them prosperity. Their bodies became fat but their souls became lean.

Now that is a part of this statement before us, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them’. Now I do not think that we can confine this only to the material benefits associated with God’s taking of them into the land of Canaan, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’. Their table was loaded. But it became a curse to them.

But God had given them spiritual blessings. As Paul has said, they were given God’s ‘lively oracles’. Indeed, he had given them ‘the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises’ [Rom. 9:4-5]. All that is included too. And David’s petition is, that these things which they have abused and misused ‘may become a snare and a trap’ and a kind of evil recompence to them. And this is the very thing, of course, that was true of the children of Israel. It had been partially fulfilled in the past but the Apostle’s point is that the real fulfilment was in his day.

He then adds to that this picture: ‘Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see’ — this is spiritual blindness; and then, ‘bow down their back alway’ — this is the picture of an old man, bent, having lost his strength.

Now then what does this mean? The principle that he is putting before us is this; if we do not obey God, God’s very blessings will become a curse to us. Is not that a part of the explanation of the state of the church and of this country at the present time? The Christian church became big, important and wealthy in the nineteenth century and was no longer a despised little sect. I believe that became a curse to her and that we are inheriting something of the consequences of that. The terrible thing is this — that even God’s blessings, if you look at them in the wrong way and abuse them, they will become a curse to you. That is why tradition is something about which we always ought to be most careful. You look at the long history of the church and you will generally find this, that places which at one time enjoyed unusual blessings are today some of the most barren places in the universe.

Now I happen to know particular instances of that. I was brought up in a place where a mighty man of God was preaching two hundred years ago, the great Daniel Rowland of whom Bishop Ryle said that he was the greatest preacher since the Apostles. Daniel Rowland preached there for fifty years and that place used to experience heaven upon earth, Sunday by Sunday and on other occasions. Now I find it very difficult to think of any place known to me at the present time that is so spiritually dead, and I have no doubt that the explanation is that they tended to live on the tradition. I could name you other places. This has happened to many individual chapels. They have been blessed, God has loaded the table, but the very blessing has become a curse to them, even though the blessing has been the Word of God — the law, the gospel, God’s own Word!

So you see it includes all that. The ‘table’ may mean not only material gifts and blessings from God, it may mean God’s own Word, God’s richest blessing — that can become a curse to the people. These were the very people to whom the ‘oracles of God’ were given, yet they were much more blind than the Gentiles who did not have them and were without any knowledge or instruction whatsoever. This is the terrible thing that is being taught here! And I think this is a word to modern evangelical people. God forbid, my friends, that when God chooses to revive his work again evangelicals should be the people who should be by-passed because they are living on a tradition rather than on a living experience of God; because they have become proud of their knowledge of the Scriptures but have lost the Spirit; because they have enjoyed a kind of affluence, material as well as spiritual.

This is an appalling thought! Is the decline, the declension in this country today not due largely to these things? Our very affluence may be the greatest curse. The danger with an affluent society always is to be content and to slacken, and the poorer nations are working hard. While we become slack they are putting energy into it and so our very blessing becomes a curse to us. I think this has been seen since the last war. The recovery of Germany has been a phenomenon, an amazing phenomenon. She is one of the leading industrial nations. Why? Well, because she was so down that she had to work, whereas the other nations, the more prosperous nations, tend to rest upon their oars. That is the principle that is involved here. And it can happen to a church, it can happen to a Christian individual; and it can apply, I say, not only to material benefits and blessings and affluence, it can even apply to an understanding of the Word and the possession of the truth. The moment we begin to rest upon it and to take pride in it and to think that ‘we are the people’, we have fallen into this very error that brought down this terrible calamity upon the children of Israel.

Now it is important that we should grasp this because our Lord himself said this very thing in his teaching. It is seen in the Parable of the Vineyard in Matthew 21:42 and in the judgment announced in Matthew 23:24. Stephen did the same when he stood before the Sanhedrin. He took them through their whole history and said: ‘Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it’ [Acts 7:51]. And that is the very thing that the Apostle is saying here. This had been the tendency of this people from the very beginning, but now the final calamity has come upon them. All that had been predicted and prophesied has come to a head. They were but suggestions of what was coming. It has now come.

And so, you see, this statement helps us to understand the whole of the teaching of the Old Testament. The whole of the Old Testament is, in a sense, a prophecy of this climactic point when the Son of God came and the chosen people did not recognize Him but crucified Him, preferring Barabbas to Him. So, the judgment of God comes down upon them. And the terrifying thing about that is that it all happened to them because they were the people of God, because they did have the promises when nobody else had them, because they alone had the ‘oracles’, the Word of God, and all the ceremonial and the temple and all that it taught and suggested. These very blessings that God had given to them were the things that had blinded them to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.

What are the lessons taught here? I suggest there are four of them. First: the great lesson about the wrong way of seeking God’s blessing; secondly: judicial blindness; thirdly and fourthly, how to understand the Imprecatory and the Messianic psalms respectively.

First of all: Why is it true to say that ‘Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for?’ The whole answer is because they were not seeking it in the right way. It is because of their complete misunderstanding of the law and the Prophets and especially of the Messiah in His character and His work when He did come. The Apostle has really said this at the end of chapter 9 where we read: ‘What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingblock: As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and a rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed’. Their whole tragedy was due to the fact that they did not seek the thing they were seeking in the right way. What they were seeking was right; but here is the terrible lesson, you can be seeking the right thing and yet miss it entirely because you are not seeking it in the right way.

Are we all clear about this? This is where the danger of religion comes in. There are very genuine people who say, ‘I want to know God, I want to be blessed of God’ — but they do not know Him, and if they remain as they are they never will. But they are zealous, they are keen, they read their Bibles, they pray, they do good works, they will do almost anything, some of them make great sacrifices; but they do not know Him!

Now let us not forget what the Apostle has said about these people. ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. I bear them record that they have a zeal for God’. They did have it. They really were seeking intensely, persistently, energetically. The Pharisee was not a man who merely said ‘I fast twice in the week and give a tenth of my goods to the poor’. He did it. It was true. That was the whole tragedy of these people. It is the tragedy of all people who trust to their own religion, or their own seeking of God, or their own good works. There is only one way in which this blessing can be obtained. It is entirely by faith. The tragedy of Israel is that she did not seek it ‘by faith’. She thought she could keep the law; she felt that she could obtain righteousness and get the blessing of God by the possession of the temple and attendance there and the possession of the law and her works. That is why Stephen had to say to them, Do not tell me, ‘We have got the Temple’; God does not dwell in temples made with hands. They thought every time they went into the temple that they were getting a blessing. They did not realize that you could have a heart of stone even in the temple, and the moment you look at the temple in this wrong way. And people are still doing it in their religious life, in their great cathedrals which they think is the worship of God. ‘This mountain’, as the woman of Samaria said, which was Gerizim; the Jews said ‘No, in Jerusalem’. Our Lord says, Neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The time cometh, and now is, when the Father shall seek the true worshippers. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

If you are relying upon the fact that you have a Bible or that you are a church member or that you go to a particular building or that you are doing certain good works, you are like the Jews. You are outside, you are blind and you have not got it, and you will never get it along that line. There is only one way of salvation — this is the message of the whole Bible — it is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is simple faith in Him, nothing else. If you bring anything else in you have not got it, you will never obtain it. You may get great personal satisfaction, as the Jews had, but the test is this: How do you react to the preaching of justification by faith only? Are you annoyed or irritated by it? Do you feel it is unfair to you? If so, you are like the Jews. That is the tragedy of this people.

I believe we are witnessing something like this at the present time. It is a terrible thing to say, but is it not true that the greatest hindrance to true knowledge of God in Christ and salvation in this country today is the so-called Christian church? It is the greatest hindrance to the people because she is representing a false Christianity. Those who still believe in justification by faith are a very small remnant. Thank God there are still ‘seven thousand who have not bowed the knee’. But we are a remnant and there is no question but that the official church, ‘Christendom’, as it is called, is today the greatest hindrance to the true faith not only in this country but in the whole world. It is a terrifying thing, but it has been true in the past and I believe it is true today.

But let us also be careful if we believe that we belong to the remnant not to boast. We all need to examine ourselves and to be careful. There is only one safe position and it is when we can say honestly, ‘I am nothing. Thou art all’. Here is this terrible lesson of this nation of Israel. She has not obtained it. Why? Well, ‘because she had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge’. And the knowledge is, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. May God have mercy upon us all and give us understanding in these great mysterious matters.