GOD DWELLING WITH THE CONTRITE
A ‘Sermon by the late Charles Calder Mackintosh D.D
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Â— Isa. 57.15.
Some parts of God’s creation declare, more strikingly than do others,
His “eternal power and Godhead.” And so some passages of the Word, with peculiar force and solemnity, impress our minds with their divinity. Surely this is one of them. Often too in the Bible we meet with such encouraging and reviving views of the Divine character as this, just after exhibitions of God’s hatred of sin and of His judgments on
account of it. Such is the connexion of our text with the preceding part
of the chapter. Let us meditate for a little on these great words. The
Lord Himself be our Light and Guide!
“Thus saith the high and lofty One. “
God is infinitely exalted above the highest creatures. They are of yesterday, finite in their nature and in their excellence; He is the self-existent, all-sufficient, and independent One, possessing all possible
perfection in infinite measure. He is the Creator; they are the work of His hands. “All nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity.” He is the fountain of being and of blessedness, in whom all His creatures “live and move and have their being,” and to whose self-moving goodness and power they owe, every moment, everything they enjoy. His glory shines forth in His works; but that glory is unsearchable. He is “the high and lofty One,” “exalted above all blessing and praise,” Neh. 9.5; the goodness of His creatures extends not to Him, Ps. 16.2; it is their highest privilege and their sacred duty to celebrate His praises; but they cannot add to His glory. He is not exalted above all praise, but above the highest thoughts of the highest of His creaturesÂ—I AM THAT I AM; “the King eternal, immortal, invisible; the only wise God, dwelling in the light that no man can approach unto.” It will be the blessedness of holy beings to be growing in the knowledge of God in the ages to come; yet they can never comprehend but in part what God is. What reverence and humility become us then in His presence! How can an unholy creature ever lie low enough before God? How can there be one right thought of God without reverence for His name, and without a sense of our nothingness as creatures, and of our vileness as sinners?
“He inhablteth eternity.”
This is the glory of His being. It is not only that His years shall never fail, His existence have no end; for that is true of His rational creatures, and even we can form some conception of a future never-ending state of being, though our minds soon faint and weary when we think fixedly of a heaven without end, still more of a hell without end; but it is that He is from everlasting, without beginning of days. How utterly overwhelmed are we when we think of a past eternity! How soon do we .discover the littleness of our capacities, when we try to comprehend the being of the infinite One! Let us carry our thoughts back as far as we can to the ages that are past, we are as far as ever from one right apprehension of past eternity. And yet our reason tells us that Jehovah, the self-existent One, must be from everlasting. And all His perfections are vitally connected with the eternity of His beingÂ—more especially His omnipresence. His omniscience, His omnipotence, and His unchangeableness. His eternity is very often exhibited in Scripture as a ground of strong and unspeakable consolation. “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before .thee; and shall say, Destroy them,” Deut. 33.26,27. “LORD, thou hast seen our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God,” Ps. 90.1,2. “Hast thou
not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding,” Isa. 40.28.
“Whose name is holy.”
When the prophet, in vision, saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory,” Isa. 6.1-3. God is holyÂ—possessing all moral excellency in infinite measure. Under the Lord’s own teaching, we can form some right view of His holiness, and speak of it not unbefittingly, in its opposition to sin; but what more is to be understood and learned of it, considered in itself as the peculiar excellence of God, can be better felt than described. He is the Holy One; infinitely worthy of the fear and love and homage and service of all His rational creatures, and able to make them perfectly blessed in being holy, and in the adoring contemplation of His holiness. He is “light,” and He is “love.” therefore He is infinitely and irreconcilably opposed to sin and all moral evil. Evil shall not dwell in Him. It is His glory that He cannot lie, and cannot do anything inconsistent with perfect rectitude and goodness. He is perfect in His attributes, government, and ways; holy in His law, His gospel, and His people. And for this He is unceasingly adored, and thanks are given at the remembrance of His holiness.
“I dwell in the high and holy place. “
He is present in every place, and thoughout His entire universe there are evidences of His being and His rule; but He especially manifests himself for the contemplation and enjoyment of holy beings in the high and holy place. Heaven is a locality, as is hell; though it is a truth of vast importance that it is the state of the heart that makes heaven to be a place of blessedness to its inhabitants, as it is the state of the heart that makes hell to be such a place of torment to the lost. Heaven is a high and holy place; a fitting palace for the great King, prepared by Him before the foundation of the world, and furnished with all that is needed to secure the complete and uninterrupted blessedness of His children. It is a holy place filled with holy beings, and nothing that defileth can enter it. There are many there who were once unholy; but they have been washed and sanctified and justified, and are now perfectly like ChristÂ—light and love.
The Lord dwells there
In the high and holy place He displays His glory, in a way we cannot understand, for the adoring perception of His creatures. When Moses,
favoured above all Old Testament saints in the nearness to God which he obtained, offered up the prayer, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory,” supplicating such a spiritual apprehension of the Divine excellencies as he had not yet enjoyed, the LORD said, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee;
and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” But He added, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live;” by which (namely, seeing the face of God) we understand such a discovery of the Divine glory as awaits God’s people in another world, but which in this life they are incapable of enduring. And He further added, “Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not be seen,” Exod. 33.18-23. In Christ, the Mediator, the Father is revealed. In the mellowed lustre of His Person and work and love a sinner may behold a holy God and live, yea, rejoice with trembling. It is a beautiful and not unnatural conjecture, that the death of Moses, Deut. 34.5-7, while is yet his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated, was occasioned by his receiving the full answer to the prayer which he offered at this time; that the earthly house gave way under the surpassing glory which disclosed itself to him, and his ransomed spirit passed into the immediate presence of God. When the apostle Paul speaks of the privileges of the New Testament Church consequent on the manifestation in the flesh of God’s eternal Son, and on His death and resurrection, he says, “We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord,” 2 Cor. 3.18. And yet in another place, in reference to the glory to be revealed, he says, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known,” 1 Cor. 13.12. And so, when the apostle John is speaking of the glory of heaven, it is said, among other things, “They shall see his face,” Rev. 22.1-4; which cannot mean His essence, but His glory beheld directly, and not through the medium of ordinances as in this life. The heart being altogether pure, there being no “spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” and the intellectual eye being purged and strengthened with all might, God is seenÂ—we dare not say, and ought not to say, in the mystery of His beingÂ—but yet in the splendour of His perfections and character and government and ways, as the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, the God of glory, the Creator, the moral Governor, the Redeemer, the Triune God, the God of salvationÂ—in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is the remark of the eminent Dr. Love, (Sermons, vol. 2. p.42), “There was a time when, with respect to the objective display of the
Divine glory, it might be truly said that earth was richer than heaven. When Jesus was visibly in this world, it contained a more precious measure than was to be found in the highest heaven.” Following out this thought, may we not say that heaven was enriched beyond all that the minds of saints or angels could conceive previous to its realization, when the King of glory, after finishing His work of humiliation, passed hither amid the acclamations of the heavenly host:Â— “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” A new help was given them to see God, in the lamb that was slain; a new and boundless field was opened up, to be raversed untiringly through the ages to come, in making fresh and increasing discoveries of the riches of the glory of the Divine perfections as manifested in the work of redemption.
God delights in His holy creatures, the work of His hands;Â—the angels excelling in strength whom He has kept in their integrity, and the redeemed above whom He has made His own at such a cost. He holds fellowship with them, and they walk with Him and serve Him. And here, there is the “pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb:” and “in the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, is there the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him.” “And there shall be no light there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Word God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever,” Rev. 22.1-3, 5. Can we hope to be admitted to that glorious place, to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever? This question will, in some measure, be answered, by considering the words that follow.
“With him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit. “
What a change or descent this from the high and holy place! Yet not so wonderful in being a descent from heaven to earth; Â—for the condescension of Jehovah is equal to His majesty; He clothes the grass of the field; He hears the young ravens when they cry; not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him; the misery of the meanest of His national creatures upon earth moves His compassion;Â—but the descent, in this case, is from the holy place to the heart of a sinner. This is something too great to be believed, unless something more wonderful till were also true, that the second Person in the glorious Godhead came down from heaven to Bethlehem and Calvary in order that God might again have a dwelling-place in the hearts of sinful men. God the Father sent HimÂ—such was His love,Â—and He came in the likeness of sinful fleshÂ—such was the love of the SonÂ—to expiate human guilt, the guilt of banishing God from the heart; that it might be consistent with
the glory and the holiness of the High and Holy One to put forth His power in cleansing the heart and preparing it again to be His temple.
The atoning and redeeming work of God’s Incarnate Son is the greatest above all measure of God’s works. But next to it in greatness and in the grace manifested (though we see it not till we become its subjects) is the work of the Holy Spirit in the defiled, stony, and proud heart of a sinner, so renewing it as that it is fitted to be the habitation of God. This work in which the exceeding greatness of God’s power, as well as the exceeding riches of His grace, is gloriously displayed, Eph. 1.19; 2.1-7. He takes the veil away; He takes the stony heart away; He shows us in His fiery law His righteousness and His anger against sin;
He lets in the light of that law on our hearts; He throws it back on all that we have ever done; He makes us sensible of the insupportable load of the guilt of sin. Then we feel His word to be as the “fire and the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.” But this is not enough. He shows us His grace, His majestic grace, revealed in His SonÂ—stooping from the high and holy place to rescue sinners from going down to the pit. He causes us to hear the voice of that graceÂ—the grace which we have been despisingÂ—saying, “Come now, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Then it is that true humility, a sense of utter unworthiness, a disposition to humble ourselves and to exalt God, is wrought in the heart. The sense of spiritual need is met by the discovery of the fulness that is in Christ, and the fears of wrath are removed by faith in His atoning blood; but with growth in the knowledge of God and in the experience of His grace, and growth in the knowledge of sin and of the plague of the heart, there is growth in humility. He who says, “I am less than the least of all saints,” will join the sinner at God’s footstool in also saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner! It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” Humility is thus the right disposition of heart in a fallen yet redeemed creature,Â—a view of God’s majesty, holiness, and grace, and a sense of his own emptiness and unworthiness, leading him to exalt God and to glory only in Him. And where there is humility in its prime and chief exercise towards God, there will be humility towards fellow-creatures and brethren in the Lord; not only because humility has love as its sister graceÂ—love leading one to honour all men, but especially the brethrenÂ—but because every Christian knows his own obligations, shortcomings, and sins, as he cannot know those of others.
With him that is of such a spirit God dwells. Humility is the fruit of His own grace; it is precious to Him on this account. There is much of God to be seen in it; it is the disposition which fits one for valuing mercy, for seeing the glory of the Saviour, for holding fellowship with and enjoying God. Therefore do we read, “The heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word,” Isa. 66.1,2. “This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” Luke 18.14. “Be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time,” 1 Pet. 5.5,6. The humble heart is a congenial dwelling place to the high and lofty One, as surely as is the high and holy place; as truly so, though sin remains in that heart; for sin in the contrite heart, as mourned over and hated, testifies of sin as atoned for and condemned in the precious death of Christ. Therefore can a holy God dwell with him that is of a humble spirit, though he is still a sinner.
And, just in proportion to the condescension manifested in this indwelling, may we expect great and precious fruits. When God becomes man, His holy creatures may look for consequences to follow, worthy of such a manifestation and such expenditure. When a holy God comes to dwell in the heart of one who is still a sinful man, we may expect evidences of His presence there, and evidences that a great work is being wrought by Him there. And such a work is the cherishing of the bruised reed and smoking flax till judgment is sent forth to victory; the purifying of the heart more and more; the preserving of the soul from falling away; the preparing of the contrite heart for the services of a holy heaven and for being the eternal habitation of God by His Spirit.
“With him that is of a contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
Those who are made humble in spirit need Divine consolation and support, under a sense of their sinfulness, unworthiness, barrenness, and spiritual helplessness. In the remembrance of sin, or under present experience of the power of sin, or amid the peculiar trials to which they are subjected, they need to be kept from despondencyÂ—which is no friend to humilityÂ—and from the sorrow of the world which worketh death. And their God is the “God of all comfort,” who “comforteth those that are cast down,” and “healeth the broken in heart” 2 Cor. 1.3;
7.6; Ps. 147.3. How soon would the wounded spirit fail under a sense of guilt and in the remembrance of all that has been done against infinite glory and infinite grace, unless relief were to come from on high, and the hand which wounded should heal! For the Lord “will not contend for ever, neither will he be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before him, and the souls which he hath made,” Isa. 57.16. Are there those who need, not the comfort which anything worldly can give,
but which a hope and a sense of pardoning mercy inspires? The Lord can and does revive them by the powerful application of such words as these, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Are there those who need to be revived under a sense of the hardness of their hearts, their unaffectedness by what taught to keep them in a habitually melted, tender frame of spirit? The Lord can revive such by sending His own word of promise to them with power, and helping them to trust in Him for its fulfilment:Â— “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” Are there those who need to be revived under a sense of spiritual decay (a sad and solemn discovery to the child of God), and who, while tumbled, are all but overwhelmed by the discovery, while they say, ‘Oh that it were with me as in months past, in the days when God preserved me!” Is there no reviving power in the promise, “I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from them. I will be as the dew unto Israel”? Are there those circumstanced as Paul was when he said, “I am carnal, sold under sin;” ‘For what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I;” “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Rom. 7.14,15,24Â—striving in every service after conformity to the spiritual and holy law, and yet never reaching it, nay, it may seem, becoming more and more unconformed to it; never believing as they would, or praying as they would, or loving as they would, but iniquity prevailing against them? There is consolation for such where Paul found it, “So then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” ‘I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Or are there those who are ready to sink under the pressure of sore trialÂ—for the flesh is weakÂ—or because they are so blind to the hand of God, or because they see anger and not love in His holy dealings with them? Yet He supports them. How many of His people have had it to testify, “When their foot slipped. His mercy held them up!” He teaches them true and absolute subjection to the Father of spirits; nay more. He shows them love as mixing the bitter cup, and as handing it to them with the promise, “My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness.” ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.”
Thus does God comfort His people in all their tribulations, till at length He wipes away every tear from their eyes; and till walking in white in a better world, they tell one another of the way by which He led them, and how He did all things well.
I shall not dwell on the important general application to be made of this subject;Â—the light which it is intended to cast on the character of Jehovah as glorious in holiness and glorious in grace, the instruction with which it furnishes us in regard to what religion much consists in, namely, humility and (especially in this world) contrition of spirit, agreeably to Christ’s teaching in the days of His flesh, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant;” and therefore the warning, so much needed in our day, which it gives against the religion which dispenses with repentance and deepening humiliation because of sin on the part of the accepted and adopted believer.
But let me specially apply the subject with reference to the sacrament of the Supper:Â—
1. As an ordinance of special fellowship or communion with God. And such it is. It is sitting with Him at His table. As only the contrite in heart can have communion with a bruised Saviour in the gospel, so only they can have communion with Him in the sacrament. The deeper the sense of sin, the more precious is the balm of the covenant; the deeper the humiliation, the more glorious is grace in the soul’s view. Besides, the more the Lord humbles Himself in the exercise of His adorable graceÂ—and in no ordinance is this so much to be seen as in the ordinance of the supperÂ—the louder the call to His people to put their shoes from off their feet. If, therefore you would have nearness to and fellowship with God in His ordinance, seek after contrition and humility of spirit; and seek it in the Lord’s way, through the Holy Spirit bringing sin to your remembrance and showing you sin in the cross.
2. As an ordinance for special consolation, through the help afforded in it for realizing the glory of the one sacrifice for sin and the unchangeableness of the love which passeth knowledge; an ordinance for consolation, in order to a closer walk with God, and to a hopeful and vigorous following after holiness. If you need deliverance from a doubting of your personal interest in the Saviour, that you may give yourself with a heart freed from killing fear to the great work of purifying yourself; if you need some blessed token for good that to you belongs the promise, “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” so that in the strength of grace and in the hope of victory you may be engaged in the conflict with sin that dwelleth in you; if under a painful sense of past unfruitfulness or past declensions you seek earnestly to know how you can be kept in time to come, how you can cleave to the Lord and redeem the rest of short life for that work which cannot be done in the grave; or if, under sore personal trial or painful bereavements, you need that peace which Christ gives, that you may be enabled in truth and from experience to speak well of His name and His ways, then hear the Lord’s voice, saying, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it;” and take encouragement to pour out your heart before Him, that He may
manifest Himself to you in another way than He does unto the world, and give you so to appropriate the strong consolation which He hath provided for the “heirs of promise,” as that you shall, to the end, follow them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.