Come now, and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…
"Cease to do evil," etc. "Come now," etc. As early as the time of Isaiah we find the doctrine of the reformation of character dependent on forgiveness of sin distinctly taught. God's remedy for sin is the same in all ages. More prominence perhaps was given to the observance of the law in the olden times, but not to the exclusion of grace; while in the New Testament grace appears the more prominent, but surely not to the exclusion of law. Neither in the one nor in the other was the law the condition of life. Both represent rather two different stages in the same covenant of grace — the one preparatory to the other.
I. THE DEMAND HERE MADE.
1. The nature of the demand. It is for reformation of practice. "Wash you, make you clean," etc. This is the one Divine call to fallen man. In it everything is summed up. Made in sundry times and in divers manners, it ever remains substantially the same. The essence of moral beauty is goodness. Now goodness is not a quality deposited in the heart and there shut up; nor yet a something to put on as a garment at will. Rather it is the fruit of well-doing — the outgrowth of a righteous life. This is what God requires. This is to be the outcome of His redeeming love. But it cannot be accomplished without the cooperating activity of the human will. While the hands are besmeared with blood — the token of an immoral life — all natural refinements are of very little value in His sight. God is uncompromising here. Our greatest happiness is to do good. By doing good we shall find the highest good. This then is the great lesson of life — "Cease to do evil; learn to do well."
2. The word "learn" suggests a further thought, namely, the ground of this demand for reform. Man is evil and does evil. Even those who take the most sanguine view of human nature admit that there is something wrong in man's moral constitution.
3. To estimate rightly, however, this cause, we must consider the justice of the demand. It is God who makes it. But He could not have made it unless it were just to do so; nor would He have made it unless it were possible for man to meet it.
II. HOW TO MEET GOD'S DEMAND. Where is the power to come from? Two answers only are possible: either it is inherent in man — this is the answer of nature or it is supplied from without — this is the answer of grace.
1. The answer of nature. The belief in the ability of man to reform himself is founded either on ignorance of the real nature of his moral condition, as was the case in the pagan world, or on a deliberate refusal to recognise the truth when it is presented concerning that condition, as was the case in Judaism, and is the case at the present day with those who persuade themselves to a belief in the infinite intrinsic capability of human nature. Such is the pride of man, that he is ever slow to admit his own weakness. No, says the modern enthusiast: I regret the new light, for the demands it makes upon me are far too humiliating; I see no reason why a man, given the necessary favourable environments, should not, by a little effort, become perfectly good. Neither the religion of the pagan world, nor the philosophy of the Greeks, nor the power and civilisation of the Romans afford much ground for this belief in human nature. Wisdom then, under the most favourable circumstances, has failed to supply the necessary power to reform the World. Neither the enactments of a Roman senate, nor the Acts of a modern Parliament, nor any power of law, can make man good or even moral. Justice by itself, no more than wisdom, can remove the evil. But nowhere is the inadequacy of wisdom and of law to draw forth the power there is in man to reform his own character, better illustrated than in the case of the chosen people of Israel. They could boast of a wisdom more divine than that of the Greeks, a system of law superior to that of the Romans; while in virtue of their peculiar privileges as a nation they were in an incomparably more advantageous position than any other people, to succeed in their own strength, since they had a will to it. The very possession of their superior privileges, when they abused them, brought upon them a severer punishment.
2. The answer of grace. A power from without is absolutely necessary to enable man to meet the demand for reform. This power is God's forgiveness. "Come now, let us reason together," or better, "let us end the dispute": "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Although the demand precedes the offer of forgiveness, we are not to suppose that the work of reforming is to precede the enjoyment of the Divine gift. That indeed were impossible. As every duty of man is summed up in the command to reform, so all the riches of grace are summed up in the gift of pardon. But what peculiar virtue or power does pardon possess for producing a change of life?
(1) It is an inducement to repentance, which is the first step in the reformation of character. It induces the resolution to referrer then becomes a power in the penitent man to help him to carry out his resolution. Pardon thus bridges the chasm which exists between a knowledge of duty and the doing of it..
(2) Another function of pardon, and, perhaps, the most important of all in the reformation of character, is that it removes, or rather is itself, as its name implies, the removal of sin. Pardon will convert the criminal into a saint. The pagan world knew nothing of this. It is "the power of God unto salvation."
(R. E. Morris, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.