You will remember that we heard God’s gracious command to seek Him from Isaiah 55:6. We considered the words, “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” God calls sinners, sinners who are wicked and unrighteous, to seek Him. Sinners who have been given to know their thirst, their need, and the emptiness, who understand that they have nothing in themselves which could in any way distinguish them before God. God urgently calls sinners to seek Him, to seek His face.
And that He calls us to seek Him we understood to mean that when the word of the gospel is before us in Jesus Christ, God may then be found. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. God comes before us in His Word, and in the preaching of the holy gospel. Jesus Christ is set forth in His Word and in the preaching. Then, before that Word of God, comes the call urgently and graciously: Seek ye the Lord, call ye upon Him.
We also noted that the call of God is made very powerful in the hearts of His children. By a work of the Holy Spirit they hear that call in their heart and they urgently cry out to the Lord.
Now Isaiah, in chapter 55:7, goes on to explain how we are to seek the Lord. That is the topic for our message today: Seeking the Lord in the way of repentance, in the way of forsaking our evil way and our own evil thoughts.
The Word of God in Isaiah 55:7 reads as follows: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Verse 7 stands connected to verse 6. In verse 6 we are called to seek the Lord. But how are we to do that? Verse 7 supplies the answer. You see, God not only tells us what we must do, but He also tells us how we are to seek Him and how we are to call upon Him. In what way are we to have personal dealings with God? Are we simply, perhaps, to fold our arms across our chests and sit in a yoga position and wait for an emotional charge down from heaven? No. No, the grace of God which alone can cause us to seek God also causes us to seek Him in the way of repentance, in the way of a deep and thorough repentance.
The substance of the whole doctrine of repentance is given in verse 7 of Isaiah 55. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD.” Let the wicked forsake his way and his thoughts. Repentance, then, is to forsake your own way and your own thoughts. There can be no repentance in your life unless that is true for you. Understand, now, our repentance is not a price that we present to God for His mercy and salvation. The prophet Isaiah is not teaching us here that the act of repentance earns salvation or is something that we give to merit, to earn, God’s attention and favor. That is contrary to the whole Bible.
Then Isaiah would contradict himself in the space of only seven verses. For in verse 1 of Isaiah 55 we read: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, by wine and milk without money and without price.” The blessings of God cannot be purchased by anything we do or could do. And our repentance before God does not earn anything with God. No, our repentance is also His gift. But that repentance is the gift of God through which He gives us to experience His love, His presence, and His favor. We will know the Lord and seek His face and live before Him only through the way of a gracious, thorough, heartfelt repentance. In the way of repentance the blessings of salvation will be experienced in our souls.
Repentance, now, as I mentioned a moment ago, is described in its profound depths in the words of Isaiah. He describes it first of all negatively, then positively.
Negatively, we read, “Let the wicked man forsake his way.” What is a man’s way? According to the Bible, a man’s way is simply the path of his life. We say of a person from time to time, Well, that’s his way. What do we mean? We discern a certain pattern of behavior in that individual. And we say, That’s the way he is. The pattern of his behavior is his way. Now God says, The sinner must forsake his way, his pattern of life, his path of life. The sinner must forsake his pattern of life under the dominion of sin: his selfishness, his pride, his rebellion, his independence of God, his indifference to the law of God in the Ten Commandments. Everything that belongs to our life that stands in disobedience to God, everything of our life that stands in defiance of God and of His law is our way, our wicked way. And we must forsake it, leave it behind, detest it, turn from it. We must not simply choose one or two or ten things that belong to our wicked way. But we must forsake the way. You and I cannot and will not enjoy the refreshment of water and wine and milk from God, spiritual refreshment and joy and nurture from God, in any other way than in the way of forsaking the way of our sinful rebellion and self-indulgence. That is repentance. Repentance is the inward change of the heart by the Spirit of God whereby one sees that evil way for what it is.
More, repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart whereby one now, out of the love of God, detests that evil way, seeks to be delivered from it, is bothered by it, and wants to turn away from it. Forsake your wicked way.
But more, repentance is also described this way: and the unrighteous man his thoughts. What does that mean?
That does not mean that repentance is something that bypasses our minds. It does not mean that. There are many today who think that the optimum Christian experience is some kind of mindless, mystical experience that one cannot define. That is, they define the Christian experience primarily in terms of emotions, and then emotions which bypass the mind or the understanding, emotions which somehow, in some way, catch you up and do something to you. That is not biblical repentance. Biblical repentance never bypasses your mind.
What, then, does it mean that we must “forsake our thoughts.” It does not mean: Don’t think. In fact it means that the person who is forsaking his own thoughts is doing some very serious thinking, some very serious meditation about his life. To forsake our thoughts is to repudiate the purposes and the intentions of our sinful hearts at the deepest level. To forsake your thoughts means that we will not only deal with our way, that is, the outward pattern of our life, the things that we do. No, we will go to the taproot, to the springs which produce that sinful way. God says to us in this word that He is not only interested in the external, in the outward way of life that can be seen by the eyes of men. But He is interested in that which touches the deepest springs of the heart: our thoughts! Forsake those unrighteous, those wicked thoughts.
Now those two are never separated in biblical repentance. Both the inward and the outward, both the inward change of thought – forsaking those thoughts and desires which in sin were pleasurable – and forsaking the outward walk of life, those two go together. If we confess that by the grace of God we have repudiated sin in the heart, in our thoughts, then we will also bring forth the fruits of that in our pattern of life. But if the pattern of our life is not changed, if we continue in that sinful way, then all of our profession of a transformation of our heart is deceptive.
Perhaps a person says, “I have this transformation in my heart. I am a repentant sinner.” And yet his life continues in flagrant, open, rebellious deeds of sin, living unto himself. That profession is not worth anything.
It is also possible to have the outward without the inward. Jesus said that it is possible to make clean the outside of the cup. The Pharisees were very good at that. Outwardly one really could not point to anything in their life by which they were breaking the Word of God. But Jesus said that the inward was full of the filth of sin. God said that both will be found in true repentance.
Repentance, negatively, is to forsake your way. And it is to forsake your own evil thoughts.
Positively, it is to return to the Lord. That is the heart of it. A returning to the covenant fellowship of the living God. The word “covenant” means: a bond of love and fellowship. Christ has died to bring us into that fellowship of God. Christ died to deliver us from our sins, yes. But Peter also says in I Peter 3:18 that He has died, the Just One for the unjust, in order to bring us to God. He died to bring us unto God. He died so that we might be pricked in our hearts, moved by grace, directed by the Holy Spirit unto God, so that we hear the command, Seek ye the Lord. And the grace of God powerfully works and brings us back to God. It brings us to the water of His Word, to the wine of His Word, to the milk and nourishment of His Word. It brings us to confess Him, to cling to Him.
Isaiah concludes this verse with a wonderful encouragement. A wonderful encouragement to seek the Lord, a wonderful encouragement to seek the Lord in the way of a true repentance. We read, “And he (that is, God) will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
That encouragement is expressed in two wonderful promises: And He will have mercy upon him, and He will abundantly pardon. The offended God will have mercy, compassion. No matter how deep our sin, no matter how much we feel that we fit the description of being a wicked man and an unrighteous woman; those who come to God by Jesus Christ, those who seek Him and call upon Him, those who come, by His grace, in the way of a true repentance, those who forsake their thoughts, renounce their sins, cry out in love for the living God – God will have mercy upon them.
Surely we cannot help but think of the parable told by our Lord, the parable of the prodigal son, which you will find in Luke 15. Perhaps that parable could better be called the parable of the “Gracious or Merciful Father.” The parable that Jesus spoke was of a son who had wickedly left his home, the government of his father, the fellowship of a righteous father, and had spent his substance in the ways of sin. But then he came to himself and said, “I will arise and go to my father and say to my father, I have sinned.” And yet, when the son was a great way off we read that the father saw him with compassion and ran out to meet him and to kiss him. He was filled with compassion. The father did not look upon him with disgust. Surely there was much in the son to disgust him. His son had spent his living with harlots. He had wasted it. He had ended up in the pig trough. But the father, seeing him in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, is filled with compassion, and runs out and kisses him.
There is enough in what you and I are as sinners to disgust the holy God and to fill Him with abhorrence. Yet He is filled with mercy in Jesus Christ. In the gracious pardon which He has given, in the cross of Jesus Christ, He sees us in the righteousness of Christ and He is filled, as God, with tender pity and compassion. He will have mercy upon us.
“And to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” That is the second encouragement. Literally, we read, He will multiply pardon. The words “multiply pardon” emphasize the sheer magnitude of the pardon, the profuseness of God’s heart. You get a look at your own sin and you begin to say to yourself, “That’s too much. That’s too often. That’s too gross. If a person really saw the inside of my heart as I see it he would be filled with loathing and disgust. We begin to think that, perhaps, our sins are so great that they cannot possibly be pardoned. But God says, “I will have mercy and abundantly pardon.” A pardon which goes beyond all expectation, all imagination.
What keeps us back from seeking God? The sinner in whom the grace of God has worked often is hesitant to come to God because of the shame of the sin, perhaps, with the suspicion that God could never forgive him for all that he has done. When God takes you to His Word, and He shines His Word into your heart and gives you to know what you really are, then you think of sin and all that it deserves. And you begin to say, How can I draw near to God? Isaiah knew this. He says in chapter 33:14, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” Then the devil whispers, “You can fool others, but God knows. And God will never receive the likes of you.”
Yet, God says He will abundantly pardon. He says to us, “Look upon the cross.” There you see God who is a consuming fire. But He burns up our sins in His own Son. Why? Because He is filled with mercy and the abundance of pardon. And He works in you and you are emboldened to go to your God and to say, “Oh, Lord, though I know I am nothing but a sinner, deserving only wrath, yet, by Thy grace, I believe and trust Thy promise in Jesus Christ.”
You see, it is all based on the blood of Jesus Christ. All the promises of God are soaked in the blood of Jesus Christ. God’s promises are not empty promises. It is not a promise which you will ever find broken or faithless. He will have mercy. He will multiply pardon. Because He has given the Son of His love to die for us.
What greater encouragement could there possibly be? Seek ye the Lord, call ye upon Him. Come in the way of repentance. Forsake your way and your thoughts. Turn from your sin. Return unto the living God and you shall experience the rich grace of God. No one ever came to God by the working of His Spirit in grace, in the way of repentance, and found this promise to be false. This is our refuge. This is our hiding place. He has promised us the sure mercies of David.
Do you hear?
Not simply words, but do you hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you powerfully in your heart: Come to Me.
Do you heed? Does your heart cry out, Oh Lord, by Thy grace I come to Thee, for Thou hast drawn me in repentance.
Do you see your sins as a loathsome and horrible thing? Be of good cheer. He will have mercy and He will multiply pardon. You may be sure of this. He will in no wise cast you out.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we thank Thee for the gospel. We thank Thee for the Word of Thy tender mercy, Thy powerful grace. We thank Thee for the Word of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to make us sinners clean. We pray then that our lives, more and more, may be directed unto Thee, turning our back upon every way of wickedness in order that in this way we might experience the sweetness of Thy favor and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.