Four Contrasts

“But now thus says the Lord that created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel, fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior: I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you. Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honorable, and I have loved you: therefore will I give men for you, and people for your life. But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought Me the small cattle of your burnt offerings; neither have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not caused you to serve with an offering, nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, neither have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices: but you have made Me to serve with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins.”

Isaiah 43:1-4; 22-25

Beloved Friends, there are many lights in which we can see sin. And our perception of sin very much depends upon the light in which we look at it. Sin is very terrible by the blaze of Sinai, when the mountain of Law and terrors is altogether on a smoke. It is a dreadful thing to look at sin when God speaks in thunder and all the earth trembles before Him. It is an awful thing to see sin by the light of your dying day. More terrible, still, will it be to see it by the light of the Judgment Day. When Abraham rose up early in the morning and looked towards Sodom, it was a lurid light that met his gaze as he saw the guilty cities blazing and smoking up towards Heaven like a vast furnace. To see sin in that light is a solemn thing. But of all the lights that ever fall upon sin, that which makes it, “like itself appear,” is that which falls upon it when it is set in the light of God’s Countenance. To see sin by the light of God’s Love, to read its awful character by the light of the Cross–beholding Christ bleeding and dying–is the way to see sin. Nothing makes us feel sin to be so vile and guilty a thing as when we realize that it was perpetrated against the God of Infinite Love.

I am going to speak at this time mainly concerning God’s own people. They are to be the direct object of my talk, and I want to set their sins in the light of God’s Love to them. I mean, Beloved, your sins and my own. Let us set our sin in the light of God’s eternal Love and if the sight should break us down, so much the better. If it should send us away humbled and ashamed, so much the better. And if it should make us praise eternal love beyond anything we have ever done before, so much the better. My one objective will be to set before you the contrast between God’s action towards His people and His people’s usual action towards Him. He is all Love, but I fear that some of us who love Him from the bottom of our hearts do not always show it in our lives–and we give much cause for Him to set our conduct in direct contrast to His own.

I pray, dear Brothers and Sisters, that your consciences may be wide awake while I am preaching, and that you will not so much listen to me as make heart-searching inquisition into your own spiritual state and your own behavior towards your God. I do not want so much to preach to you, as just to help you while you take the candle and the broom and sweep the house. There may be some piece of silver that you have lost which you will find very speedily by that process. It may be that you will learn to love the Savior better after you have thoroughly searched yourself and seen the contrast between His action towards you and yours towards Him.

  1. The first contrast lies in THE CALL. Please open your Bibles at the first verse, and read with me–“I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name.” Now read in the 22 nd verse–“But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob.”

We will begin by speaking of God’s call to us. God has had much converse with those of us who are His people. We are not strangers to the sound of His voice and that method of communication from God came forth toward us even before we knew anything about it, for, first, God called us out of nothing. See how He begins this chapter–“Thus says theLord that created you, O Jacob.” Our creation is entirely due to God. An ungodly man can hardly bless God for having made him, for his end may be terrible. But you and I can bless the day of our birth and praise the Lord that we ever were created to be His sons and His daughters and to enjoy so much, as we already do, of His infinite love and mercy. Blessed be God for our being, because it is followed by our well-being! Blessed be God for our first birth, because we have also experienced a second birth! We praise the Lord that it pleased Him to make us to be His people!

Our Lord has done more than make us, for He has educated us. He has continued the fashioning of us. We are stilllike the unfinished vessel in the potter’s hands–the wheel is yet revolving and God’s fingers are still at work upon us, molding and shaping us as He, Himself, would have us to be. “Thus says the Lord that created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel.” Israel is the “formed” Jacob. By God’s Grace, Jacob grows into Israel. Let us think for a minute of all the sweet experiences of God’s forming and fashioning touch that we have had. Sometimes it has been a rough stroke that was necessary for the molding of our clay. Only by affliction could we be made to assume the shape and pattern that the Lord had determined for us. At other times it has been the touch of very soft fingers. Divine love and kindness and tenderness have molded us. As David said to the Lord, in his Psalm of Thanksgiving, so can each true child of God say, “Your gentleness has made me great.” “The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” He has had wonderful dealings with us in creating us and in forming us!

Think what wonderful dealings He has had, next, in consoling us, for the Lord goes on to say, “fear not.” Oh, howoften He has cheered us up when our spirit was sinking! With the Psalmist, we have been able to say, “My flesh and my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” When it has been very dark with us, the Lord has lighted our candle. When we have been quite alone, then we have not been alone, for He has been with us. “A Syrian ready to perish,” was a true description of Israel going down into Egypt, but the Lord did not leave him to perish–and He has not left us to perish, and He never will! Friends have sometimes failed to cheer us, but our Best of Friends has always comforted us. There are many who call themselves comforters, to whom we can truly say, “Miserable comforters are you all.” But what a Comforter is the God of All Comfort! He knows how to comfort those that are cast down. He takes care that His comforts are given to us just as we need them and that they always come to us in the best possible way.

O Beloved, the Lord has had strange dealings with some of you which you could never tell! You could not even recount them to yourself in quiet soliloquy. You have lost, one after another, those who were dear to you, and yet you have not been permitted to sink down into despair. You have been brought into great straits, yet you have not been deserted by your God. You have been cast down, but not destroyed. You have gone through fire and through water, yet you have been brought out into a wealthy place and your soul has had to extol the Lord who has dealt with you in loving kindness and tender mercy!

So, you see, we have had from God the blessings of creation, formation, and consolation.

But that is not all, for the Lord has also called us and conversed with us in the matter of redemption. How sweetly itruns, “for I have redeemed you.” Yes, blessed be God, whether we are poor, or sick, or obscure, we who believe in Jesus are bought with His precious blood! I would give up my eyes rather than give up that thought, “I am bought with the precious blood.” I would give my hands, arms and every sense I have, sooner than give up that inward delightful confidence, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me. Upon the Cross of Calvary, when He was paying down His life-price, He gave Himself a ransom for me and I am a sharer in the effectual purchase of His redeeming blood.” Beloved, has not the Lord also told you that, sometimes, in His Word and by His Spirit? Has he not made it come home so blessedly to you that you have cried out with joy, “It is true, it is verily true, the Lord says to me, ‘I have redeemed you’”? this is a choice way in which God has spoken to you, cheering and comforting your heart by a sense of His redeeming Love.

The Lord has done even more than that for each of His children. He has given a special nomination– “I have calledyou by your name.” You know what your name was, once, but, blessed be God, He has given you a new name, and He has called you to Himself by name as much as Mary of Bethany was called, when her sister Martha said to her, “the Master is come and calls for you,” or when Mary Magdalene turned herself and said, “Rabboni,” because her beloved Master had called her by her name, “Mary.” The Lord delights to call His people by their name, just as mothers and fathers do, but specially as mothers do when they repeat the child’s pet name which they have given it–some fondling name which is the mother’s own particular register and mark upon the child. “I have called you by your name.” Then comes this blessed appropriation, “You are Mine.” Dear child of God, your Heavenly father says to you, “You are Mine. You do not belong to the world, now, much less to the devil. You do not even belong to yourself. I have made you. I have formed you. I have consoled you. I have upheld you. I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name, you are Mine and I will never part with you.”

This is the way that God talks to us! You recognize that Divine language, do you not? You have heard it many a time. You are, perhaps, hearing it now. Then turn with me to the other side of the question–the neglected call on our part. Listen again to this sad sentence from the 22 nd verse. “But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob.” That may notmean that there has been literally no calling upon God on your side, but it does mean that there has been too little of it. Come, Brothers and Sisters, let us put this matter to the test. What about our prayers? I have no wish to judge anybody,but I know that there are some who, I trust, do love the Lord, who have so little of the spirit of prayer that, broadly speaking, this accusation is true, “You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.” Are there not some of you who spend only a very little time in secret prayer with God? Just a few hurried words in the morning, just a few more at night, when you are tired out and half asleep, but few, if any prayers all day long? Now, I consider brief, pious prayer to be the very best form of prayer. I do not think that length in prayer often ministers to strength in prayer, but those breathings of the soul’s desire during the day–

“The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.”

That sigh, that “Ah!” “Oh!” “Would that!” “O God!”–that is the style of supplication which reaches the Throne of God! Yet are there not some of you who forget to present these brief prayers? Thus there is much less prayer than there ought to be, and the Lord has to say, “You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.”

Some who do, I trust, love the Lord, are very lax about prayer with their Brothers and Sisters. I think that next to united praise, united prayer is the most delightful thing that can ever occupy the human mind. I believe that our Monday evening gatherings and our other Prayer Meetings are among the sweetest enjoyments that Christians can have this side of Heaven! Yet there are some who never come to them at all–and to them the Lord seems to address the language of the text, “You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.”

True as this is of our prayers, I am sure that it is still more true of our praise. How little praise, my Brothers and Sisters, does the Lord get from us! Our “Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” we sing here, but how little of singing is there usually in our own houses! I will not blame you if you cannot sing vocally, but how little is there of that heartmusic which is the very heart of music, that praising with the soul without any words, when we sit still and bless the Lord, and all that is within us magnifies His holy name! Is there not too little of this heart-music? The revenue of praise paid into the Divine exchequer is so sadly little that I am sure that the Master is robbed. We do not send in a fair estimate of our income of mercy and we do not pay unto the Lord that portion of praise that is due to Him and, therefore, He is obliged to say to us, “You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.”

I will tell you what I think this sentence further means, and that is that there are many with whom God has dealt well, who do not venture to call upon Him for special help in His service. They keep plodding along the old roads andmostly in the old ruts, but they do not dare to invoke the aid of the Lord for some novel form of service, some fresh enterprise upon which they can strike out for God. It has been my lot, in years past, to call upon God to help me in what men judged to be rash and imprudent enterprises, but oh, how grandly the Lord always answers to the holy courage of His people if they will but do and dare for Him! Yet, too often, He has to say, “You have not called upon Me, O Jacob.”

I wish we would put God to the test and see what He is both able and willing to do for us and by us. There are the promises, but they are often like locked-up boxes. They lie like that mass of coin which the German Emperor is said to be storing up in a fortress–keeping it all idle and useless–to come in handy, I suppose, one day, for blood and iron. But, meanwhile, it is doing no service to anybody. Let us not keep God’s mercies locked up after that fashion, but let us utilize them wherever we can!

I am also afraid that sometimes, in our trouble, we do not call upon God as we should. I may be addressing a Christian here who is in deep trouble and who has, in vain, tried 50 ways of getting out of it, but he has not yet tried what calling upon God would do. They have in Jersey, as you may know, the habit, when they think they are being wronged, of calling, “Ha! Ro! Ha! Ro! Ha! Ro!” and straightway, having called upon the prince, according to the feudal custom, to come to their defense, all action must be stopped, for the prince is supposed to intervene to take up the quarrel of his subjects. And it is always a wise thing, when you are getting into the deep waters of trouble, not to battle, worry, and fret, but just to say, “O God, my God, I do invoke You! I put this case into Your hands. This man has slandered me, but I will never answer him. You shall answer for me, O God! I am being wronged, but I shall not go to law. I will bear this burden, O God, until You, who are the Judge of the oppressed, shall see fit to right me!” Whenever Christian men can act like this in time of trouble, or in time of service, then they do well. But the Lord still has to say to many of His people, “I have been speaking to you in love, and mercy, and tenderness, but you have not called upon Me.” If this accusation touches the heart of any Believer, here, let him pray for forgiveness and begin, from this time on, to call upon the name of the Lord.

II. Now, secondly and more briefly, let us consider another contrast which is equally striking–upon the matter of THE CONVERSATION between the Lord and His people.

Notice, first, God’s side of it

, as it is given in the second verse–“When you pass through the waters, I will be with

you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.“ Now read the other side, in the 22 nd in strangeplaces. Wherever they are, He will not leave them. He will go right through the waters with them. God also keeps close to His people in dangerous places, fatal places as they seem–"When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned;neither shall the flame kindle upon you.” There is God keeping pace with His people through fire and through water, never leaving them, but always making this cheering message to be the comfort of each one of them, “I am with you! I am with you! I am with you!” Our faithful God always keeps close to His people. Is it not perfectly wonderful how close Christ has kept to His Church? Even when she had sinned, He would not leave her. When she had fallen and was ready to perish, He would not desert her–

“‘Yes,’ says the Lord, ‘with her I’ll go
Through all the depths of sin and woe!
And on the Cross will even dare
The bitter pangs of death to share.’”

He cannot be separated from His people–to every one of them He has given the personal promise, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

Now listen to your side of this matter of conversation with God–“But you have been weary of Me, O Israel.” Has it not been so with regard to private prayer? A very little of that is quite enough for you, for you soon get tired of it! Youactually went to sleep, the other night, in the middle of your prayers. Was it not so? Well, I am not going to blame you too much, but it is truly sad if this is the case with you.

Is it not the same, often, with your reading of the Scriptures? When you have taken your Bible to read a portion,have you not had to school yourself to do it? It has been quite a task for you. Did you ever hear how Hone, the author of The Every Day Book, who had been an infidel, was brought to the Savior’s feet? He was in Wales, one day. He never read the Bible, or thought of God, but he saw a girl, sitting at a cottage door, reading her Bible. He said, “Oh, the Bible?” “Yes, Sir,” she answered, “it is the Bible.” He said, “I suppose you are getting your task.” “Task?” she enquired. “Task?” “Yes, my dear, I suppose your mother has set you so much to read.” “Mother set me so much to read?” “Yes,” he replied, “I suppose you would not read the Bible, otherwise. It is a task, is it not?” “Task?” she said, “Oh, no! I only wish I could read it all day long. It is my joy and my delight, when my work is done, to get a few minutes to read this precious Book.” That simple testimony was the means of converting the infidel and of bringing him to trust the Savior for himself! I am afraid that there are many who could not have said what that girl did, for they have been weary of God’s Word and weary of God, Himself!

When they have come up to God’s House, they have been weary of hearing the Word. Look at many, many, manyprofessors. I trust that they are God’s children–but, oh, they like very short sermons–and if they do attend to what the preacher says, he has to be very careful to put in plenty of illustrations and striking sayings. Then they will listen, butif he does not preach so as to please them, they say, “Well, you know, it was very warm, and I could not help just dropping off into a doze.” Yes, I know. I know. “He that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,” but poor Israel, himself, often sleeps, to his own serious loss! And the Lord has to say to him, “You have been weary of Me, O Israel.”

Are there not some, also, whom God loves, who get weary of their work? They used to be Sunday school teachers,but, you see, they now live out in the country, and they need the Sabbath day’s quiet, so they cannot teach any longer. They used to preach at the corner of the street, or in a room somewhere, or do anything that they could for Christ, but they are getting old, they say, and so they must just do a little less. They used to give generously to the cause of God, but their means are reduced, and they are obliged to draw in–so they draw in first in the matter of giving to God! They begin to pinch God’s cause before they pinch themselves! So the Lord has, again, to say, “You have been weary of Me, O Israel.” Possibly, there are some things in which each one of us has failed to take that delight in God which we ought to have taken. We have not been half so delighted with God as He has been with us. And we have not been so willing to converse with Him as He has been willing to go with us through the floods and through the flames.

III. Now, next, and very briefly, indeed, I want you to notice the contrast in THE SACRIFICE. Turn to the third verse–“I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you.” Now read in the 23 rd verse–“You have not broughtMe the small cattle of your burnt offerings; neither have you honored Me with your sacrifices. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, neither have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices: but you have made Me to serve with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities.”

Here is God giving up everybody else for the sake of His people! Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba were great nations, but God did not choose the greatest. Is it not an extraordinary thing that the Lord should ever have loved some of us? We are nothing in particular and there are mighty men, learned men, men of rank and station, yet He has passed them by. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: that no flesh should glory in His Presence.” That is a very wonderful declaration on God’s part–“I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you.” That is to say, “I passed others by, and chose you.”

We may see another meaning in these words, for God has given us His choicest Gift. Christ is infinitely more preciousthan Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba, though they were lands of great abundance of wealth. God had but one Son, yet He gave Him up that He might die for us and that, through His death, we might live! There can be no gift equal to this, for that Son of God was God’s own Self–and in the death of Christ, it was God Himself who came to earth for our redemption! Will you just try, dear child of God, to think over that great fact, for you know that it is true!

Now look at the other side. Will any of you to whom this applies, remember the charge God here makes? “You have not brought Me the small cattle of your burnt offerings.” I wonder how little some people really give to God! I believe, in some cases, not as much as it costs them for the blacking of their boots. If you were to set it all down, there are some professors whose sacrifice to God might be put–I was about to say, in their eyes–but certainly they would not feel it if it were put in their mouths, for it is so little. “I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you; yet you have not brought Me the small cattle of your burnt offerings.”

Then the Lord adds, “You have bought Me no sweet cane with money.” Not even the smallest offering has been given to the Most High by some who profess to have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ! How little is given by the most generous of us! How little, even, by those who live nearest to God! As if His Words ought to touch our consciences, the Lord says, “I have not caused you to serve with an offering, nor wearied you with incense”–as much as to say, “I have left it entirely up to you what you would bring. I have not demanded anything, I have not fixed any rate, I have nottaxed you. And this voluntary principle–has it failed? I have not put you under the Law and said that you shall give just so much–I have left it wholly to your love.”

I read somewhere that in the Roman Catholic times, men were very generous because they thought that they could purchase salvation by their alms and their gifts to the church. And it is said that the doctrine of Free Grace makes people stingy! I do not believe that it is so–I believe that the natural effect of Grace upon any true heart is to make the man feel that if God has done so much for him, it is his joy and his delight to do all that lies in his power for God and His cause. At any rate, dear Friends, let us be sure to make it so in our case. I am not going to press this matter upon you, but I want you to take it home to yourselves, as I take it home to myself. Let not the Lord have to say to any one of us, “I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you…but you have bought Me no sweet cane with money.”

IV. I close with one more contrast, which refers to THE HONOR given by God.

Read with me in verse four–“Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honorable, and I have loved you.” Then here is the contrast, in the 23

rd verse–“neither have you honored Me with your sacrifices.” The words seem to an

swer to each other in the declaration of God’s love to His people and in His lamentation for the lack of their love to Him! “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honorable.” This is a very wonderful passage and it is blessedly true that God gives great honor to those whom He saves. I have known persons who, before their conversion, were unclean intheir lives–men who had been everything that was despicable and women who had lost all honor–and when they have been converted, they have joined a Christian Church and, in the society of God’s people, they have become honorable! They have been taken into the fellowship of the saints just as if there had never been a fault in their lives! Nobody has mentioned the past to them–it has been forgotten. If ever any professed Christian has spoken of it, it has been a disgrace to him to do so, but in the Church of God in general, we take in those who have been the vilest of the vile. And if they have but new hearts and right spirits, they are our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and they are honorable among us, and the Lord says to each one of them, “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honorable.”

All God’s people are honorable people, they are the true “right honorables,” for God has made them so! They are honorable as to their new nature, for that is holy and they seek after holiness. They are honorable as the sons of God, for they are of the blood royal of Heaven. They are honorable as wedded to Christ, for He becomes their Husband. They are honorable because of their inheritance, for they can sing–

“This world is ours, and worlds to come!
Earth is our lodge and Heaven our home.”

They are honorable as to their station throughout eternity, for they shall dwell forever at the right hand of God. Even those who were once so dishonorable that we could not have associated with them, then, are brought near by the blood of Christ and God makes them honorable.

I think that if you and I, poor creatures that we are, are made honorable by God, the very least thing we can do is to honor Him in return. This is the highest honor that God can put upon us, that He fixes His love upon us–“You have been honorable, and I have loved you.” Drink in that nectar if you can. I cannot preach about it. I always feel as if, when I get to that theme, I must just sit down and think over this great wonder, that God loves me! “I have loved you–I, the Great, the Infinite Jehovah, have loved you!” Well, then, the very least thing we can do is to honor with our whole heart and soul Him who has so greatly honored us!

Now, Beloved, have you honored God? He says in our text, “Neither have you honored Me with your sacrifices.” Have you honored God by your lives, dear Brothers and Sisters? Have you honored God by your confidence in Him? Have you honored God by your patience? Have you honored God by defending His Truth when it has been assailed? Have you honored God by speaking to poor sinners about Him? Are you trying every day to honor Him? Surely, it is the very least thing we can do who have been–

“Chosen of Him before time began,”

and then redeemed with the heart’s blood of the Son of the Highest. It is the least we can do, to make every faculty we possess subordinate to this end of honoring and glorifying God! It is for this He has created us, for this He has called us, for this He has redeemed us, for this He has sanctified us! Therefore let us set about it at once and think and plan within our hearts what we can do for the glory and honor of Him who has redeemed us unto Himself. The Lord bless this message to all here present, for Jesus' sake! Amen.