“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins; return unto Me; for I have redeemed you.”
WE noticed, as we read the chapter, the extreme folly of a man attempting to make a god for himself, or to worship anything as God save only the one living and true God. We consider the heathen to be very foolish for worshipping their hideous idols. Yet, you know, to be an idolater a man need not make an image of wood, or stone, or gold, for he can worship his own thoughts, his own notions. And every man whose great objective in life is anything lessthan the Glory of God is really a worshipper of idols. If that statement is true, and I challenge anyone to prove that it is not, London swarms with spiritual idolaters! He who lives to himself, practically worships himself. That, you know, is a very extreme form of idolatry, for even the heathen do not bow down and worship themselves. But there are many who do not call themselves heathen who do that. He who lives only to make money–what is he but a worshipper of the golden calf? And he who cares continually for the opinion of his fellow men–what does he worship but that shameless creature, Fame? He lives upon the breath from other men’s nostrils and counts it worth his while to make himself a slave that he may win the applause of his fellow slaves! If we live to You, great God, we live wisely, for You alone are self-existent, and you can reward us and bless us. But if we live for anything less than You, we live foolishly since, even if we could attain the objectives which we seek, they would soon pass away from us, or else, by death, we should pass away from them. For an immortal spirit, there is nothing worth living for but to please God. “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” is the only worthy end of mortal man!
Now, Beloved Friends, it is strange that this, which seems so simple, is continually being forgotten. Indeed, by the mass of mankind, it is not remembered at all. They go their way and burn their sacrifices and their incense to this idol and to that, but God is not at all in their thoughts. And the worst of this evil is that even His own people have far too great a tendency to this kind of idolatry. Even those who are born-again and who love the Lord, find within themselves an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God and I feel sure that I am addressing many who, to a greater or lesser degree, have been guilty of turning away from the only true God. And it is for them that my text is meant–“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions and, as a cloud, your sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed you.” I am speaking, of course, to those who really are God’s people, but who have lost somewhat of the fervor of their love and who have not been truly faithful to Him. But while I am especially addressing them, I hope that a good many others, who could not yet say that they are the Lord’s people, will, nevertheless, perceive that the door of God’s mercy is also open to them–and that they will enter in even while I am setting it open for the Lord’s wandering children. Remember that if you do get in, you will never be put out! Whether I know that I have a right to go through the gate of mercy, or not–if I once get in, I am in, and I shall never be turned out. If I am only like a dog that goes into a house uninvited, yet, so long as I am once inside, there is no power that can expel me, for the Lord Jesus, Himself, said, “Him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
There are four things in our text that are worthy of notice. First, the dividing medium–a cloud of sins, a thickcloud of transgressions. Secondly,
its complete removal–“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions and,
as a cloud, your sins.“ Thirdly, the tender command–"for I haveredeemed you.” I must speak briefly upon each point.
- First, here is AN INTERPOSING AND DIVIDING MEDIUM–a cloud of sins. A vapor, says the Hebrew and, then, a thick cloud.
God’s people ought always to dwell in fellowship with their God. There ought to be nothing between the renewed heart and God to prevent joyful and hallowed fellowship, but it is not so. Sometimes a cloud comes between, a cloud of sin and, whenever that cloud of sin comes between us and God, it speedily chills us. Our delight in God is no longer manifest–we have little or no zeal in His service, or joy in His worship. Beneath that cloud we feel like men who are frozen and, at the same time, darkness comes over us. We get into such a sad state that we hardly know whether we are God'speople or not. Sin comes between us and our God and all our joy departs. To be near to God is to live in the sunlight, but to sin against God soon brings us under very heavy gloom. We are like men in a thick London fog–we can scarcely see our own hands and we have, sometimes, to stand still in utter astonishment and ask, “Where am I, and what am I doing? I thought I was a child of God, but if I were to die just now, where would I go?” Sin is the cloud which comes between us and God–and chills and darkens us.
Besides that, it threatens us. A great black cloud over one’s head makes us wonder what may be in it. It may becharged with tempest and may burst upon our devoted heads. Backslider, when you get away from God, I do not wonder that you begin to be in distress and alarm! The thought of death distresses you. At one time you could have met death with a calm countenance, but you could not do so now. You begin to have thoughts of judgment and of eternal wrath and destruction from the Presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. You know you do, for he who is under the frown of God because of sin never knows what woe may come out of that dark cloud! He is full of alarm and distress and has no true rest of heart. Affliction seems to be the judgment of God upon you who are in this sad state! And your present distress of mind, great as it is, seems to be nothing compared with what you think will come upon you. You fear that you will be utterly deserted, that God’s mercy will be taken from you forever and that He will be favorable to you no more. It is your sins that look so black upon you–you have the dark side of them turned to you and can you wonder that it is so if you have been getting away from God, loving the world and acting like a fool in forsaking the Most High?
Remember, dear Friend, if you are in that condition, that clouds are earth-born things. There is not a drop of waterin the cloud yonder but what went up, first of all, from the earth or the sea! And so your present darkness and distress have all arisen from your sins. You say that you go to the House of God and get no comfort. Remember the times when you used to go there and pay but little attention? And when you used to go home and pick holes in what you had heard, finding fault with your spiritual food, like naughty children do with food for the body when they have no appetite and cannot eat this, and do not like that? Like they, you need to be put on “short commons” till you get your spiritual appetite back again!
Do you remember how it used to be with you? You once had bright days and happy times, but then you used to be very careful of your walk and conversation. At that time you were almost afraid to put one foot before another, for fear you would not tread in your Lord’s footprints! You used to watch your words. You were very particular as to the company you kept. You would not consort with worldlings, then–but now you can do, without compunction, a thousand things which you would not have done then! Things for which you have severely censured others, you now tolerate in yourself. And now you say, “There is a thick black cloud over my sky.” Do you wonder that there is? With all those bogs and morasses of sin, is there any marvel that the mists of doubt and fear should have arisen around you? Your iniquities have come between you and your God!
Ah, there are some of you who used to be very fervent and earnest in Divine things. You used to speak of Christ to others and you were even the means of bringing some souls to Jesus. But now you have yourselves turned aside from Him! Oh, it is a sad thing when one who used to be a Sunday school teacher has forgotten the lessons he taught to his boys, or when the man who was once a street preacher, or even the pastor of a Christian Church has himself become a profaner of the Sabbath! Yet such things do happen.
I will mention only one more thought under this head, a very encouraging one. It is this–though your sins are like clouds which chill you and darken you–and though those clouds are of your own making, yet remember that the sun isnot affected by the clouds. Though hidden for a while, it is still shining! This is a most comforting truth, but be careful not to pervert it. The everlasting love of God to His people is not changed even by their wanderings and their sins. The child thinks that the clouds have destroyed the sun, but high up above the clouds it is as bright as ever–always glowing like a mighty furnace are you, O sun! And our damps and fogs quench not your brilliance! And, Backslider, the love of God, the Grace of God, the mercy of God, the power of God to bless–and the willingness of God to receive you back again remain just the same as ever they were, notwithstanding the density of these horrible vapors of sin and transgression! Do not, I pray you, make an ill use of this great Truth of God. If you do so, you will give sure evidence that you are no child of God, but a base hypocrite! But if there is any spiritual life within you, this blessed Truth will tend to bring upon you compunction of conscience to think that you should be offending against a God whose love is still the same, notwithstanding all your backsliding–and who does not turn aside from His Covenant, nor cast away His people whom He did foreknow!
II. Now, secondly, we are to consider THE COMPLETE REMOVAL OF THIS BARRIER–“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins.”
Nobody but God can get at the clouds and drive them from the firmament of Heaven. There they are, floating high above our heads, and no known human power can remove them. So it is with your darkness and doubts–if you havefallen into sin, you cannot get rid of them. You may sit down under them in despondency and weep–and be almost in despair–but there they are and there they will remain. You may go to the so-called priests, if you like, as the poor African goes to the pretended rain-maker and asks him to bring rain when he needs it. And the priest can do just as much for you as the rain-maker can do for the African–certainly not any more. He and the rain-maker are a couple of deceivers, so do not be duped by either of them! There is no one who can forgive sins save God, only, so do not be deluded into the belief that there is any other forgiver in the whole universe!
But what a mercy it is that God can remove these clouds of sin! He can do it and do it effectually. How quickly Godsweeps the sky clear of clouds! Sometimes, in this fickle climate, we have all sorts of weather mixed up together so that we experience spring, summer, autumn and winter in the course of a few hours. You have seen the clouds hanging thick and heavy all over the sky. You have gone into your house and said, “It will be a very wet day.” But you have hardly gone indoors before there has been a clear blue sky above you, with not a cloud the size of a man’s hand to be seen anywhere! Thus can God quickly sweep away the clouds and He can just as quickly take away sin. Before you can even get out of this building, you who are groaning under a sense of sin may be completely delivered from it! You who now see the clouds of your transgressions and iniquities hanging black above your heads, may, in a moment, be able to see the clear sky of God’s forgiving love with not a trace of your transgression and iniquity!
The mercy is, that when God drives away these clouds from us, though we may see other clouds, we shall never seethose black ones anymore. When the Lord takes away His people’s sins, they are gone and gone forever! They shall not be remembered against them anymore, forever. Whenever I get upon this topic, I feel as though I should like to keep on speaking upon it and go no further. The glorious forgiving love of God is an indescribable theme and it is altogether inexhaustible! We may continue to talk about it year after year, but we shall never get to the end of it. Yes, even throughout eternity we shall never be able to tell all the splendors of the pardoning mercy of our gracious God. O Backslider, He can take away all your sin this very moment! He can shine forth upon you like the sun in its strength and, then, every shadow and cloud shall be driven from your soul!
Now I am getting near to the very heart of the text, but I have not quite reached it yet, for the glory of it is that theLord has already done this great work of Grace. blot out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions.“ Nor, "I will –fullydone, forever done! Did you hear this, poor wanderer? Perhaps you say, "I cannot come back to God, for I have been so long a wanderer from Him and my sins still lie heavily upon me.” But, my Brother, my Sister, the Lord has forgiven you all your sin! He says, “Think no more about it, for I have blotted it all out.” If you are, indeed, a Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are like a child who has offended his father and run away from home, perhaps. In a distant land, in sin and sorrow, that son is longing to return and he gets a message from his father saying, “All is forgiven. Come home!” It is so with you, you wandering child of God–if you have repented of your wanderings, all is forgiven! Even the guilt of this backsliding of yours was laid upon Christ. If you are believing in Him, that is the clearest possible proof that all your transgressions were laid upon Him and that He has made a full and complete Atonement for them all.
Even while you are coming back to Him, all your sin is forgiven through the superabundant mercy which moves Him to run to meet you even as the father of the prodigal ran to meet his son! And before He falls upon your neck, before you have begun to confess your transgressions in His ear, He has already blotted them all out! What say you to this wondrous display of Sovereign Grace which He, Himself, bids us proclaim to you? He knows whether He has forgiven your sin, or not, and it is He who says, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins.” Often and often have I mused upon this great Truth of God! The Lord has loved me with an everlasting love and He has washed me in the precious blood of Christ–and forgiven me all my transgressions–and whenever I think of that, I feel my heart drawn still more closely towards Him.
Unbelief will never bring you rest of heart, but faith will. I am speaking now to any of you who have wandered quite a long way from Christ. I may be even addressing some member of the Tabernacle who has not lately been very regular in hearing the Word. You have fallen into a very lean, sad state, my Brother. You are finding fault with other people, but it is yourself who ought to be blamed. Many things do not suit you, now, as they used to do, and you lay upon others the blame which you ought to bear yourself. You could sit on any hard seat once, but you need a soft cushion now. You could stand in any hot place to hear the Gospel in those days, but you are too grand a gentleman to do that now. I do not know what we can do to get you into a good temper, for, after all, you are the one who is wrong! You know it is so, yet, notwithstanding that, I want to whisper in your ear that your Father is still your Father, that Christ is still your Savior, that the Holy Spirit is still your Guide and Teacher! So, come home! Stay no longer away because you fear your Father’s frown. You have grieved Him, you have vexed His Holy Spirit, you have dishonored His Son, yet He has not changed! Still does His heart yearn for you, still does He cry, “How can I give you up?” And He will not. Come back to Him, for it is His mercy that is calling you!
III. I have already passed into the third division of my subject almost before I was aware of it. We have already seen that there is a barrier between some souls and God and that the Lord can clear that barrier. Now we are to consider THE TENDER COMMAND–“Return unto Me.” “The great barrier that separated us is removed–so let us not be divided from one another any longer.”
Perhaps, my Brother, you have thought that God had left off loving you, but He has not. You have begun to quarrel with God because you imagined that He had a quarrel with you, but it is not so, for He loves you still. It was your sin that He hated. Kindness is in His heart and words of Infinite Love are on His lips, still. Surely, if you know that the sin which has come like a great mountain chain between you and Him is regarded by Him as mere vapor–a cloud which He has removed by the power of His Almighty Grace–you will give heed to Him when He cries to you, “Come back. Come back. Come back. Bygones shall be bygones. The guilt of all your wanderings I have laid on the great Scapegoat’s head. I have drawn My pen through the record of your sin in My Book of Remembrance and have struck it all out. Come back. Come back!” When, in your soul, you hear God speak to you thus, do not your hearts at once respond, “Lord, since You have taken away the barrier that separated us, we will come back to You and we will come back this very hour”?
When He says, “Return,” He means that He wants you to give up that which has grieved Him. You cannot comeback to God, you know, bringing your love of sin with you. Some of you professors, who are, I hope, still the Lord’s people, fall into various evil ways which grieve the Holy Spirit. And then the black clouds form a great barrier between you and your God. He requires you to give up that which has caused the dark clouds to cover your sky. What is it that has brought about this sad result? I have known some professors fall into a sad state through keeping evil company. They have associated with some very fascinating person who has been able to greatly amuse them, but who certainly could not edify them, for he knew nothing savingly of the things of God!
I have known some professors go, by degrees, into very gross sin as the result of giving way to the habit of tippling. They would not like to be called drunks, but I am sure I do not know what other name I could give them. And some nominally Christian trades people do things in their business which they would not like to have generally known. They seem to forget that God sees them and knows all about them. Now, any sin that is known and tolerated, will soon separate a Christian from his God as to any conscious enjoyment of His Presence. Be very careful, then, dear Brothers and Sisters, as to anything which is grieving your God. And though it should be a loss or a cross to you to give it up, do not hesitate a moment, but give it up and come back to your Heavenly Father. Nothing can compensate for the loss of His Presence and you cannot have His Presence as long as you continue to hug your sin! Therefore, give up the sin which He hates, especially as He has forgiven you in the past.
If a young man has left his father’s house in anger, but his father writes to him, and says, “William, the trouble is all over. My Boy, I fully forgive you, so come back to me,” will he still stay away? Let us hope not and, dear child of God, your Father says to you, “Return unto Me, for I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and as a cloud, your sins.” So, give up your sin, seeing that God has blotted it all out.
The Lord’s gracious invitation, “Return unto Me,” also means, “ Come back, and love Me. See how I have loved you?I have already forgiven you your sin, you who are, indeed, My child, but whose faith has almost disappeared. Though you have provoked Me by your sin, I still love you. Though there is nothing lovely about you, yet I still love you. For My name’s sake and for My Son’s sake, will you not love Me?” After such pleading, can you keep on in this cold-hearted state toward your God? Some of you professors make us weep when we think of how you live and how far you get away from your God. I do pray that He may cast the cords of His Almighty Love about you and bind you to Himself, so that you cannot escape from Him if you would and would not if you could.
The Lord also means, when He says, “Return unto Me,” “ Return again to your old joys.” Oh, you who have gotaway from the sunlight through making your sins into a thick cloud, come back into the sunlight! I would like to refresh the memories of some of you who are here as to the happy times you once had. Ah, then you were the people who loved the Prayer Meeting! How sweet the gatherings of the saints were to you! Do you not also remember your little room where, kneeling by your bedside, you had such communion with God that although you are very cold, now, you never can quite forget that holy fervor? You were not a hypocrite, were you? You know you were not! Oh, how your feet used to trip along as you went up to the House of God with the multitude that kept holy day! How earnestly you used to tell others of the joys of true religion!
Possibly you say, “Do not remind us of that joy, for we have lost it.” Yes, but you can have it all back again! God can give you, once more, the years which the locusts have eaten. Those wasted days, those joys which have been starved to death, you shall have them back again and you shall yet lift up your voice with the sweet singer of Israel and praise the Lord that His mercy endures forever! Yes, though you feel like guilty Peter, when he denied his Lord, you may yet come back like Peter and be all the stronger for your past bitter experience. Your Heavenly Father bids you return and I, your Brother in Christ, would stretch out my hand to you and say, “Come, my Brother. Come, my Sister–
‘Come let us to the Lord our God,
With contrite hearts return.’"
IV. My last point is THE SACRED CLAIM WHICH BACKS UP THE GRACIOUS INVITATION–“Return unto Me,” said the Lord, “ for I have redeemed you.”
I do not know whether you see the meaning of this, but I think I do. It is this–“I have loved you so much that I redeemed you with the blood of My dear Son and, having loved you so much in the ages past, I still love you. Come back to Me. I did not make a mistake when I first loved you, through which I shall have to change the object of my choice. I knew all about you from eternity–all that you ever would be or could be, I knew–I saw it all with My foreseeing eyes and yet I loved you, and bought you with the precious blood of Jesus, My only-begotten and well-beloved Son. And I love you still. Therefore return unto Me–return, return!”
But even that does not convey the full force of this gracious invitation. It further means this–“ I have a right to you.I have bought you. You are Mine and you shall not go away from Me. Come back to Me, for Redemption’s sign, the blood-mark, is upon you.” Many of you bear in your very bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus, for you have been immersed in water, in the name of the Sacred Trinity, on profession of your being dead to the world and alive unto the Christ. It is utterly impossible for you to get that watermark off you! It is upon you forever! And Christ has marked you as His own with His own blood and He will not let you go! Listen to what He says about the matter–“Behold these wounds on My head, and hands, and feet, and side. I bought you with the very blood of My heart, so do you think that I will lose you? Did I bow My head in unspeakable agony and cry, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ and shall I lose those whom I purchased by My death?”
Who is he that shall snatch out of the hands of Christ those whom He has bought with His own blood? Shall the arch-enemy come and steal away the sheep of Christ? Shall the lion of Hell devour even one stray lamb out of His flock? No, verily, our Greater David shall tear him in pieces, first, and deliver every one of the innumerable souls that His blood has redeemed! Buy them with His death and then leave them to be damned? I find no such sham redemption in this blessed Book, nor would I care the turn of a farthing for the value of it! But that Redemption which Jesus Christ has worked is a Redemption that does redeem! He has paid too great a price for His people for Him to ever lose those whom He purchased with His blood!
So He says to each one of you who have believed in Him but who have gone astray from Him, “Return unto Me, for I have redeemed you and I will have you. Your league with Hell is broken and your covenant with death is no more! Come back to Me. Come back to Me. You will never find rest anywhere else. You may go into sin, but you shall never find pleasure in it, neither shall you be content with it. If you were one of the swine, you might fill your belly with the husks that they eat, but you are My child and you must starve till you come back to My table. For you there shall be no mirth, no music, no feast, no robe, no joy until you come back to Me. I have redeemed you and I will hedge up your way with thorns until you return to Me! I will not let you go. I will turn you out of your wicked paths. I will beat you as with blows of a cruel one. I will smite you with affliction upon affliction, but I will have you–I will not allow you to perish! Return ere this rough treatment is meted out to you. Return at Love’s gentle wooing and with Mercy’s tender voice, for I have redeemed you. ‘It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.’ I have you in hand and I can do with you as I please–and you shall, after all, be drawn back among the rest of My people.”
Go, poor dove, and fly over the wild waste of waters. Look North, South, East, West, but you shall never see a log floating on the waves upon which you can rest. That foul raven, out yonder, can light upon a corpse and both rest and feed upon the carrion, but you cannot. Fly where you will, O dove, there is but one rest for you and Noah, alone, can tell you where it is! It is within the ark! But do you refuse to return to that ark? Do you still fly, and fly, and fly till your wings are weary, and you can scarcely keep yourself above the flood? Fly on, on, on, till your pinions, at last, cannot bear you up any longer! But, oh, if you will be wise, fly with your failing pinions to yonder ark and hide yourself there, for there, alone, is rest to be found. You shall go there, you must go there for there is rest for you nowhere else!
Ah, young man, you did not think of this when you came in to this service? You scarcely know why you came, for you meant to go with evil companions! But if Christ has really bought you with His blood, He will have you! So, in His name, I do arrest you and bid you trust in Him–
“Thus the eternal counsel ran
‘Almighty Grace, arrest that man!’”
You are arrested in the name of the great King! Pause and turn to Him and live!
Perhaps you remember how Colonel Gardiner, on the very night when he had made a sinful appointment, was convicted of sin, brought to the Savior and became one of the most earnest followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. My dear Lord, with His sorrowful Countenance, looks into the faces of some of you. I do not know who it may be, but He does and, lifting up His pierced hand, He lays it upon one here, and another there, and He says, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed you.” The Lord bless you, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.