PART VII – TRANSACTIONAL ASPECTS OF THE LAMP-STAND MODEL
SUBPART B – SANCTIFICATION
Article 4 – Circumcision
Section (a) – An Issue of the Heart
By Daniel Irving
i. The Way of the Lord
ii. The Blessing of Holy Fear
iii. The Hardening of Heart as the Sign of Stumbling into Judgment
iv. God’s Provision for Receiving His Witness
AN ISSUE OF THE HEART
i. The Way of the Lord
The prophecy of Isaiah expresses the cry of a backslidden Israel in moments of awakening:
Why, O Lord, dost Thou cause us to stray from Thy ways, and harden our hearts from fearing Thee? Return for the sake of Thy servants, the tribes of Thy heritage. Is. 63:17 (NASV)
What are the “ways” of the Lord from which we stray? Are they not the ways preached by the apostles and the course upon which the early church commenced? And is this not the way we ourselves were inclined to walk within at such time that we first believed on the Son of God? We know that the earliest name for the disciples of Christ was “The Way”. This “Way” was certainly the “way of the Lord” that is spoken of throughout the prophets. This is the way from which we stray when falling out of fellowship with Christ through His Spirit.
The prophetic cry of Isaiah 63:17 laments the habit of Israel of falling out of this way through falling away in their heart. They have known the sanctity, the joy, the hope of dwelling for a time in the place of God’s love. But something happened to interfere with their abiding in this holy place; something Isaiah alludes to elsewhere:
But your iniquities have made a separation between you & your God, & your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, & your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken falsehood, You tongue mutters wickedness. Is 59:2-3 (NASV)
Israel is given to keenly sense the loss of access to God through the principle of Sin. Thus we find this cry resonating throughout the Psalms of David:
How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? Ps. 13:1
Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. Ps. 27:9
Stir up Thy strength & save us. Turn us again O God, & cause Thy face to shine; & we shall be saved. Ps. 80:3
Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven,& behold, & visit this vine; Ps 80:14
This mystical “vine” that is the body of Christ is something that God “visits” for salvation. He visits this vine because within the vine is His beloved “Branch”. We are given access to God by placement in His vine by virtue of what Jesus did upon the cross. But if we are to remain, we must find agreement and conformity with God’s holy nature, which is Christ. Thus Israel is given a sense of the great hope, and glory, and comfort, in knowing God. This is even a part of what defines God’s people:
This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah. Ps. 24:6
If Israel is to truly know God, she must be founded in a right apprehension of His nature which cannot abide the corruption of a sinful heart. His glorious countenance does not shine favorably upon iniquity:
The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. Ps. 34:16
Therefore God must show His people their iniquity and gain their agreement through a sense of the reprehension of sin:
My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me, Ps. 44:15
They must also be made to see the glory of God’s righteous standard through the revelation of Jesus Christ. In loving what they see in the image of God, they learn to hate evil not only out of fear of its grievous consequences of separation from God and the storing up of God’s indignation and His wrath, but out of a genuine love of God’s Person that is revealed through Christ.
ii. The Blessing of Holy Fear
The prophecy continues with the lament “Why, O Lord, dost Thou . . . harden our hearts from fearing Thee?” Why do we harden our hearts against the fear of God, when the fear of God is vital to our spiritual life? The elect rejoice in the fear of the Lord because they known to fear the Lord is sanctifying and purifying to their hearts:
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. Ps. 19:9
In fact the fear of the Lord is described as being “sweeter than honey” in the same Psalm. Therefore, we can see that any true worship of God must include this quality of holy fear:
But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple. Ps. 5:7
True worship of God will advance us in the direction of His kingdom and His righteousness. In other words, we shall begin to know His covenant. Therefore David proclaims:
The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. Ps. 25:14
. . . and later, we read . . .
He has given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant. Ps. 111:5
. . . and later in the same Psalm . . .
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. Ps. 111:10
In fact, absent the fear of God, there is no reason for God to reveal His covenant. For His covenant involves His forgiveness and His mercy which is in Jesus Christ. His covenant also involves mysteries that the vast majority of mankind will never know or perceive. But only those that fear God will be made privy to these wonderful truths. Only those that fear the Lord will begin to be endowed with something called the “knowledge of God”. But if we do not fear God, what value can we place on His mercy? Therefore, we read:
Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; Ps. 33:18
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. Ps. 103:11
Why is His mercy so great towards those that fear Him? It is because . . .
The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. Ps. 147:11
He takes pleasure, because He is very tender towards those that fear Him.
Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him. Ps. 103:13
Those that fear God and hope in His mercy shall find deliverance from the bondage to sin. Therefore they shall be spared the wrath of God. Is this wonderful?
The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear him, and delivers them. Ps. 34:7
Therefore we find a nexus between “salvation” and the “fear of the Lord”:
Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Ps. 85:9
We find that in reading some of the modern translations, references to the “fear” of the Lord is diluted to “reverence”. This watering-down of the word reflects the humanism of this age which cannot accept that the Lord is to be feared. But consider the very strong terms that are communicated to us in the 119th Psalm:
My flesh trembles for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments. Ps. 119:120
By the fear of the Lord we can be shown mercy and learn the knowledge of God – a knowledge that is borne within our heart and within our spirits.
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. Prov. 16:6
Therefore, the fear of the Lord brings forth the ability of God to reveal His mercy, and out from His mercy will come something of infinite value:
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death. Prov. 14:27
What then shall we conclude, but that the fear of the Lord is a gift to be prized and valued above anything in the natural. For from this “fear of the Lord” comes a “fountain of life”.
We might therefore look at the “fear of God” as the material for producing something of infinite value. That something of infinite value is eternal life. Therefore as the fear of God enters into one side of the heart, something is emoted from the other side. For God’s altar is sanctified by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Therefore fear gives way to love by virtue of the comfort bestowed upon us by the atonement made by Jesus Christ.
iii. The Hardening of Heart as the Sign of Stumbling into Judgment
Isaiah’s prophecy asks the question. “Why, O Lord, do You . . . harden our hearts from fearing Thee?” This is a difficult question because it seems to implicate our Creator in our own tendency to backslide and to harden our hearts. In consideration of this question, we might first look to Paul’s letter to the Romans wherein he explains the sovereignty of God’s election and how it is simply not within our own power to save ourselves. He writes:
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, & I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, & THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, & He hardens whom He desires. Rom. 9:14-18
This is a difficult truth to work into our understanding. For in our hearts, we always believe that we retain the ability and the autonomy to come unto Christ for salvation. This simply is not true. Neither do we even have positive control over our own hearts, therefore we should walk in the fear and obedience to the Lord as much as we can:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Prov. 4:23
The world shall be condemned in the same manner that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, ie. by the same process. That process is their stumbling through unbelief. Unbelief is itself destined for the lake of fire because it constitutes the common denominator of evil works. Therefore, in its most basic sense, the world is not condemned for what it does. Rather the world is condemned for what it does through a more fundamental principle that is its spirit of unbelief.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, But that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; He who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. & this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, & men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. John 3:17-19
Thus the great debate over whether we are saved by faith or by works has its reciprocal argument of whether we are condemned by our works or by our unbelief. Notice that the Lord does not draw a direct line between evil works and judgment. Rather He draws the direct line between unbelief and judgment. This places a fascinating perspective on the principle of redemption. For just as we are justified by faith, wherein belief is counted to us for righteousness, so are we condemned by unbelief, wherein unbelief is counted to us for sin. This provides resolution of the contradiction posed by Paul’s reference to Pharaoh’s hardening of heart as a type for those condemned. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened in something that already existed within him, ie. a condition of unbelief intensified through the rejection of Divine light as it dawned in the world through the witness of Christ. Therefore this will be the world’s condemnation; unbelief in the face of God’s illumination of Himself to the world. This is expressed by Christ when He says:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, & men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19
The revelation of Person and purposes of God that is Christ is what constitutes the advent of the kingdom of God. But there is a remarkable aspect of this revelation given to mankind; men become empowered for righteousness because they become empowered in things spiritual. Therefore there is also a counter-principle that as the kingdom of God is revealed, so does the potential for extraordinary transgression come with it. Where there is light there is also the potential for sinning against light; which is the condemnation.
iv. God’s Provision for Men’s Reception of His Witness
When Christ walked among the Jews, they were ill-prepared for His witness. Why was this? Their stumbling came as an issue of the heart. That prophetic lament over why the hearts of God’s people continually harden away from the fear of God was brought profoundly to bear upon them.
There is a very direct answer for why our hearts harden against God; ie. Sin. We share the nature of our first father Adam, with the rest of the world; a nature that is corruptible, is corrupt, and is corrupting. The progress of our Adamic nature does not lead us nearer to our Creator; but rather further away. That which we suppose would bring us nearer to God – the Law – is a governing and spiritual principle that tends to deceive us. The Law actually drives us further away into hardness of heart. To enter the kingdom of God requires a new of heart:
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. Luke 18:17
To enter the kingdom of God requires we see the kingdom of God. We must see the kingdom of God if we are to sell all for it. What God places before the eyes of our heart, is His “pearl of great price” that is union with Himself through the Person of Christ. This is that which is so wonderful that he . . .
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went & sold all that he had, & bought it. Matt. 13:46
This is why the kingdoms of this world occupy such a firm contrast and antagonism in relation to the kingdom of God! They constitute the bribe that would steal away the true kingdom God has prepared for men! Adam will prefer the earth from whence he came. Thus Paul writes:
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, & the Spirit against the flesh; & these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would. Gal 5:17
Therefore what is the perspective of the believer in Christ to the normal and natural proclivities of his/her flesh? The flesh and its proclivities are the enemy of God, and therefore we align our own mind in like-posture against the flesh and its works.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Rom 8:7
When Christ walked among the Jews – rather then being raised in salvation by His witness – they stumbled. They were ill-prepared. They had not received the witness that the prophecy of Malachi promised would be sent prior to the Lord’s coming. In the case of the Jews, that was the witness of John the Baptist declaring the Messiah that was to come. In our case, that would be the true testimony of the Church concerning the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Having failed to act upon and to receive the truth held forth by this advance witness, the Jews were not convinced of their own sin while in the very presence of holiness. Neither were they convinced that the righteousness of God was something infinitely beyond their own:
And all the people that heard him, & the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees & lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. Luke 7:29-30
Therefore they stumbled tragically when they had the true witness of God walking in their midst. They blasphemed even in the presence of God. They did this even though Jesus Himself warned them not to marvel at the works of God in their midst. And as they stumbled in His presence, the Lord Himself pointed to the basic cause of their stumbling when He said to them; “Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision”.
Why did the Lord point out circumcision as a provision? A provision for what? It was a provision to allow them to receive rather than to stumble over the true and spiritual witness of Christ! Had they been true Jews-inwardly, they would not have stumbled unto perdition. How did they relate to Christ:
The people answered & said, “Thou hast a devil”. John 7:20
They blasphemed the Holy Spirit, leaving them without the provision of God’s atonement. And so the Lord says to them; “Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision”, ie. had you believed Moses and allowed the witness of the Law to testify against you, you would have known the true circumcision God provided for your care and keeping. But when they saw the power of God, all they could do was “marvel”.
Thus circumcision is that provision of God through which God prepares men to receive the Light of the World that it is holy Person; the Lord Jesus Christ.