Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:Sin As Separation From God
We cannot fathom the mystery of sin; we may not even ask the questions, How? and Why? But we may contemplate the terrible fact, and remind ourselves of what it is.
All sin, in its degree, separates the soul from God: and whatever separates from God is sin.
I. All sin in its degree separates the soul from God, 'and sin, when it is perfected, bringeth forth death'. For as the separation of the body from the soul is the death of the body, so the utter separation of the soul from God is the death of the soul. Absolute separation from God must be eternal death. Every hope of restoration, every prayer for pardon, every upward glance to God as the soul's true good, is based on, and is the proof of, the fact that the soul is not yet altogether separated from God.
II. Sin is the great separation of the sou! from Him Who is our Life. We talk of degrees of sin, of little sins and great ones, of sins mortal and sins venial. And though there is a sense in which all sins are mortal and all sins are venial, yet the distinction is a real one. Some sins tend more directly than others to widen the breach between the soul and God. We call them mortal because they have more power to weaken the will, and to blind the conscience; or because they imply a greater rejection of God's love, or estrange us more entirely from holy things, or bow us down more closely to the earth. And yet the little sins play a more terrible part than we know in the soul's tragedy. A great sin often brings its own visible punishment, its own recoil. We see its loathsomeness. But the little sins are so little we hardly notice them. They are like the drizzling rain which wets us through before we think of taking shelter.
III. And as sin is primarily the act by which the soul turns away from God, so the revelation of God's Love in Christ is primarily a Reconciliation, an Atonement; in the old sense of that word, an At-one-ment. Christ healed us, paid our debt, bought us with a price, satisfied the Law—all that He did; but they were all parts of the work of reconciliation. And that reconciliation is always in the Bible, a reconciliation of man to God. In the Incarnation the restoration of human nature is begun. On Calvary the work of Atonement is complete.
God in creation willed that man should serve Him with a willing love, and man refused. God wills that all should be reconciled to Him in Christ, and men reject His love.
IV. Sin is the unutterable mystery of our lives. We cannot solve it; but this we know—it is man's work, not God's. Not one soul shall be separated from Heaven which has not rejected the appeal of love: 'Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life'.
—Aubrey L. Moore, Some Aspects of Sin, p. 65.
The Tragic Schism
It is said that sometimes the ridge of rock or the sand-bank separating the island from the mainland to which it was once joined may be walked across at low tide, or at least traversed by one who will consent to wade. And so when the floods of passion ebb we may see traces of connecting pathways between ourselves and God and prove that converse with His presence is not a lost possibility of our history.
I. It was thus with Israel in the days of humiliation and reproach. Its people could look back to times of memorable intimacy with the Most High when God seemed to be very near and the prayers of prophets and righteous men possessed an efficacy that had perished from the formal service of recent years. There may possibly be in us and in the communities to which we belong a like experience of decline. Restraints and reservations, which we call the spirit of the age, have wedged themselves in between our souls and God. There was once a union that seemed to be vital, but much has come between us. God's resources can never verge on exhaustion. It is only a moral impediment of the most portentous character that can keep God and the children of His household apart. Sin is the tragic schism, the great divide, parting off worlds in which God hides His face from those in which He reveals the glory of His loving kindness. And this is the paramount condemnation of sin; it bereaves the human spirit of God—its one essential good.
II. The conditions of modern business life are sometimes adduced as an excuse for the waning spirit of prayer and the outfading consciousness of Divine help. God, however, can make Himself known to men under all conditions but those of wilful sin, and if He has fixed your vocation and there is something in it that puts God far from you, that barrier is what you have perversely built up, and not what God has placed there by the determinative act of His Providence.
III. We are sometimes ready to put down this tragic schism to the progress of scientific thought. God is desiccated, systematized into a scheme of mechanics, turned into an ingenious automaton conditioned by His own methods. Perhaps we may one day see that the modern argument against prayer is the cast-off garment of the old theological fatalism, turned and remade with a few scraps of science to trim it into the fashion.
IV. The inscrutable methods of God's sovereignty are sometimes adduced to explain away this ominous separation referred to by the Prophet. More often than not it is sin which veils God and His goodness from the sad breaking, woebegone heart, and we shall not get out of the gloom by closing our eyes to the explanation and assuming that this terrible silence of the Most High, this apparent indisposition to help at the mere thought of which the heart sickens ana faints, is one of the decrees of His unsearchable sovereignty. This separation is often veiled from us by the illusion of the senses and the pomps of this present evil world. If sin is ignored, unconfessed, unforsaken, if unflattering truths are obstinately disguised, we shall find at last that our capacity for communion with God is lost and our doom is an abyss from which there can be no uplifting.
—T. G. Selby, The Unheeded God, p. 24.
The Prophet Isaiah has laid hold on the idea, now a commonplace of our thought, that all character is a web. And from our text we wish to look at one or two methods of character-weaving which are doomed to miserable failure when the web of life is spun.
I. Half-done Duties.—To find a man who confesses that he does not do his duty is as rare as to find one who admits he has not got common sense. But experience shows us that multitudes perform their duty in such a way that it is but half-done. In the ordinary routine of life they are always a little late, and consequently have to work with haste—a small thing in itself did we not consider that this habit forms itself into a character which is discounted in the eyes of God and man. Or take the higher duty of man to love God and keep His commandments. There are moments of Pisgah vision, but what weary leagues of plain are there unredeemed by any thought of God! This half-done duty is life's shuttle plied with a palsied hand, and the fabric of character is such as in the end will put the weaver to the blush.
II. Half-conquered Temptations.—Many a man is conquered who does not fall. Such grace may be given that a man is able to stand, but if Satan can leave behind one little thought of evil he reckons it as a triumph. Our Saviour was tempted as other men, but when the tempter was gone there was not one spot of evil upon the pure lustre of our Redeemer's mind.
III. What is the Secret of Duties half-done, of Temptation half-conquered?—The secret is half-consecrated lives. If all the provinces of the soul do not obey the Divine mandate, we need not be astonished if rebellion sometimes shows its head. What we want is enthusiastic piety. The enthusiast spares no pains, counts no cost, deems no labour too much. Once let a soul be fired with the love of God, and body, soul, and spirit will be laid on the altar, a living sacrifice.
IV. When we have done our best to weave, we are not to go to heaven in our own garments. Christ has provided raiment for His people, woven on the cross and dyed there in colours more enduring than Tyrian purple. We have to weave as those who have to prove their calling, not win it.
—J. Wallace, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 279.
References.—LIX. 6.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 174. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 157. H. W. Morrow, ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 381. LIX. 9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 884. LIX. 16-21.—Ibid. vol. xlv. No. 2617. LIX 17.—Ibid. vol. xiv. No. 832. LIX. 19.—Ibid. vol. xii. No. 718. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 71. F. B. Meyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 407.
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.
We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us.
For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them;
In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.
And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.
For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.
According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.
So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.
And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.
As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.