Sermon preached at Rye Lane Chapel on Sunday morning, 14th April, 1929.
"For thus saith the high and Mighty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy: Idwell 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." Isaiah 57:15
THE thought of this chapter is quite clear. The prophet condemns the idolatry of his times, which is making both religion and life an agony to the people. The religion is based on idolatry, issuing in immorality and the consequent cheapness of woman and child life, characterised by a self-satisfaction of heart created by the observance of forms and ceremonies which are detestable to Jehovah. So He declares He will expose their so-called righteousness, for it is of no value whatsoever. Rather His joy, the joy of this Holy One Who inhabits eternity, is to dwell in the man of humble and contrite spirit. How the assertion impressed those who heard this message we cannot say. They must have felt some confusion in their thoughts as they tried to understand a God Who at once dwelt in the High and Holy Place and yet at the same time, indwelt the humble and contrite heart.
There are, of course, many interesting contrasts and comparisons between the Old and the New Testaments. Among them we should have to give a prominent place to the respective revelations concerning the relative experience of God. For the Old Testament presents Jehovah as the High and Holy One, standing apart from and independent of the world, but the New Testament presents God indwelling the human heart.
The distinction is not of course absolute, as the text clearly shows, but indwelling is a premonition in the Old Testament as apartness is an assumption in the New.
The thought of God as being within or without the universe has been a battlefield of discussion in various forms and under changing names through the generations. Some have thought of Him as being so apart from His world that He has been virtually banished from it. Others have seen Him so much a part of it as to be imprisoned in it. In this matter the mind, spiritually enlightened, may take its choice of perplexity and quandary. Crudest of all ideas in this spiritually uninstructed realm is the idea that God conforms to our thought of Him, that we are the potters and He is the clay, so that ultimately He ceases to be a Divine Reality and is become an anthropological phenomenon!
Some think of Him as "the logical glue holding all multiplicity together,"
whatever that may mean. But Professor Julian Huxley finally solves the matter
by declaring "we may reason that there is an Absolute God behind the universe
and our idea of it. But we have no proof of this statement, and such an Absolute
God is, as Spencer pointed out, an Unknowable, and accordingly no concern of
"No concern of ours! Surely the waif in the gutter feels that the question of his parentage is some concern.
So absolute does He become as to be an abstract interest only. Yet if we turn to those who have ever believed in the immanence of the Divine in human life, we find either the conception of an all-prevailing Spirit using the human as a passive instrument of His power, or else so completely identified with the human as to make the two indistinguishable. It is difficult indeed to differentiate between the consciousness of Divine indwelling and some exalted state of human consciousness exhibited in what may be, called pure feeling. And religion, which finds its ideation in emotional states, is unreliable and unstable.
How are we Christian people today to delineate our conviction in this matter? The text sums up for us an apparent contradiction which the human mind cannot solve. But if we look at the question from the standpoint of the revelation of the New Testament, while the final mystery remains, light is thrown upon the understanding, and in that light our minds find adequate rest. The two truths are reciprocal in the revelation of the New Testament.
1) The Transcendent God.
The revelation of the Scriptures on this point is quite unmistakable. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Vast as those heavens are, how vast the mind cannot comprehend, God conceived of them and God caused them to be. He is independent of them, they exist only at His will. There is an article in this week's Radio Times entitled, "This Inhuman Universe." Let me advise you to read it carefully and then to read Colossians 1. 16-17: " For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things and by Him all things hold together." And remember Paul is here speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We do believe in the transcendent God, One apart from us in His holiness, for the world has seen Him and God has raised Him from the dead to vindicate Him to mankind. He was manifested in our flesh, yet men felt that in His matchless purity and love He stood apart. None could convict Him of sin. He could declare as none other: "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me." We believe that now He still lives, the Man Christ Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, unique and unapproachable in the sovereign glory of that exaltation, which by His redemptive sacrifice is forever His. God is distinct from His universe!
I want to suggest to you that the only adequate conception of such a God is one that believes that such a Wonderful Person will, because transcendent, be also an intervening God! Is it true to say that mankind is progressing like the tide, receding for a time, then coming in a little farther and so in the course of the centuries, making steady, if chequered progress? Now the greatest factor in the history of man is man. Personality has always been the most vital factor in history, and if the steady procession upwards is a true theory then every century should be producing more outstanding personalities and Jesus Christ of 1,900 years ago should have been left far behind! But the fact is that evolution, that wearisome process of millions of years in the past and millions of years yet to come, can tell us absolutely nothing of the extraordinary phenomenon of personality. Illustrations abound, but I select one haphazard from outside the realm of religion as such. It is said of Beethoven that " he displayed such wonderful precocity that at nine he had to be placed under more accomplished teaching. At twelve years of age he occasionally acted as deputy for the court organist, and at thirteen published his first composition." Evolution cannot explain that! The fact is that personality is the insistent evidence, not of evolution but of Divine intervention in human affairs.
The transcendent God is an intervening God, and it has been abundantly demonstrated at Bethlehem and we believe it will be abundantly demonstrated again at Olivet. When He Who came once will come again and intervene to rescue this present age out of its world-wide disorder, misery and pain. He will break the bars of the tomb and gather to Himself, in regnant power, His Church for which He died and through which His purpose through the ages will be established. The Living Christ is the absolute assurance of the Intervening Christ, for God's work upon the world has ever been, not through the grinding out of machine-like processes, but by the gift of inexplicable personalities!
At the same time the New Testament also proclaims:
An Indwelling and Imparting Spirit.
Here let us acknowledge the mystery, a mystery the truth of which will be confirmed to us in experience as we thrust ourselves out on the full confidence of the glorious revelation. The gift of the Transcendent Christ He has clearly indicated is the Holy Spirit. It was expedient that the Visible Christ should be withdrawn into the Heavenlies that the Invisible Spirit might indwell the redeemed. " And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us." So it is true to revelation and experience that He Who dwells in the highest heaven also dwells in the lowest hearts.
The Indwelling Spirit is the eternal Seal unto the day of our Redemption. His Presence within, His glorious ministry to the Spirit is the eternal assurance that the promises of God in Christ will be fulfilled to each man or woman whom He indwells. We know that He is coming because the Holy Spirit is already here indwelling.
And it is this glorious ministry of inspiring hope that is the portion of the indwelt believer. It is the delight of the Spirit to give patience to the fainthearted, to revive the spirit of the humble. The fainthearted man is he who sees the avalanche of evil in the world, the utter confusion of things political, social and spiritual, the nerveless message preached from the modern pulpit, with its ethical opinings almost bereft of redemptive power and barren of any advent hope.
When the child of God finds himself in such a world, he is apt to become fainthearted and to lose patience. How terrible is the temptation to impatience with those who are blind leaders of the blind! " Be ye also patient, brethren, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Keep your own heart humble, says James, that at least one heart may be ready for Him. For the heart indwelt by the Holy Spirit is the heart ready for Him at His appearing.
Like that furnished room to which our Lord turned His steps for the Passover feast. It furnished and clean, yet two disciples went ahead to get it ready, ready for His Coming. So the Holy Spirit indwells the redeemed believer, that He may be ready, ready at His appearing, ready because patient.
And He indwells to revive the heart of the contrite ones. The Septuagint translates that "giving life to the broken-hearted." I know of no greater ministry than this, for this is a world of broken-hearted people turning in their sorrow some to drink, some to drugs; and increasing numbers to spiritism. How profound is their need! Yet His Holy Spirit indwells to give life to the broken-hearted. That life that the glorious Spirit seals to the child of God revealing the unspeakable beauties of the truth of resurrection and the redemption of the body. And in the deeps of the nature the agelong promise is renewed: "And if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye, may be also."
I thank God for this glorious vision unveiled by the Spirit through the word, He is coming again to give life to the broken-hearted, for presently "the dead in Christ shall rise first and we which remain shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
May that day speedily appear, but in the meantime may the tears of the mourner be dried and the broken-hearted have life by His indwelling Spirit. What therefore was perhaps a mystery to Isaiah is made clearer to us in this dispensation. We believe in the Transcendent Christ, ever glorious, living in His exalted and wonderful body into the likeness of which one day we hope to be changed, and we enjoy, thanks be to God, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart. God in us, sealing to us the promises in Christ, and quickening us with hope and peace.
Thanks be unto God that the Living Christ dwells on high, thanks be unto God that the Holy Spirit, by His grace, dwells within!
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