By Dr. P. M. Rowell (Luckington, Wilts., 1965).
Isaiah 6, 13 “But yet in it shall be a tenth”.
Having been given a vision of the Lord Himself the prophet says, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”. It is a most humbling vision, it leaves a poor man no room for pride, no room for self-satisfaction, no room for hope in himself. It makes him look again to the Lord and realise, as at the very beginning, that all hope is centred in the Lord Jesus. “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar”, and he hears a voice which speaks unto him “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me”. It is a very humbling vision, but when the Lord humbles His people He also makes them obedient. You cannot talk about humility without obedience, you cannot be really humble if you are in the pathway of disobedienceÂ—neither as a child of God, nor as one called out for this particular work of the ministry. Humility walks hand in hand with the spirit of obedience.
However, the work of a minister is two fold. “And he said, Go, and tell this people. Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed”, and I believe this is one of the most solemn aspects of the work of the ministry. It is one which we may overlook. We look for conversions, we look for chapel seats filled with hungry hearers, we look for souls seeking to know the way into the kingdom of God, and what does Isaiah have set before him? People with their ears shut, their eyes shut, heavy in their sin, lazy in this heaviness into which they have sunk! And what does the Lord say? He says nothing less than this; “make fat”. “This will be the work which you will accomplish. You will, by your preaching of the truth, seal, seal, these people in their sins”. Oh it is a most solemn thing, for you read how the Lord takes these words Himself. “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart: that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them”. Why, why should a minister of the gospel be called to do this? Why should Isaiah, the evangelist, we might call him, of the Old Testament be commissioned to this most solemn work? Because always when the truth is preached, the truth as revealed in Holy Scripture, there is a twofold work. “It is the savour of life unto life” but not to all! It is the very sound of life, it is the message of lifeÂ—it is a life-giving word which is preachedÂ—to someÂ—but not to all. “It is the savour of death unto death” to others. It is an aggravation of their own sin for Jesus said: “If I had not come and spoken unto them they had not had sin but now they have no cloak for
their sin. We come face to face with a most solemn doctrine of God’s word, that there are those who are ordained unto this condemnation. Let us not get so polite in these days that we are afraid of talking about such things. I fear lest we shall. Hell and damnation become words which cause a supercilious smile because no one really believes that there is such a place as hellÂ—no one really believes that people are sent to hell for their sins. No one really believes that God, who is represented now as only a God of love, could ever possibly send anyone to hell for eternity, and even if He did punish them a little in purgatory surely there is some way out in the end! But Isaiah was commissioned to make the heart of his people fatÂ—”Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed”. You see there is a first work, the first work of sin in the heart of an unbeliever under the sound of the gospel and that is a solemn turning away from the truth. Are you among that number who, reading or hearing the gospel, have your hearts hardened? In whose souls there is the working of this awful sin of unbelief, turning away again and again from this sacred truth of the Word of God. Shutting your ears against it, until at last the Lord says, “It is enough. Let those ears for ever be shut to the sound of the gospel, let those eyes for ever be closed to the word of mercy and love”. Never again will they hear the truth nor ever know the power of it. Oh friends, you know the burden that rests upon the apostle. “And who is sufficient for these things? “Oh my dear young friends how is it with you today? I ask you, how is it with you? What effect does the preaching of the gospel have on you? Has your heart been opened to receive the truth? Do you find that it is the joy and rejoicing of your heart or is it something you turn away from? Is it something which arouses within your soul the utmost hatred, is it something which stirs you up into rebellion against God? Does it seem to stir you up to greater endeavours against the Lord? Does it make you struggle harder and harder against His word of command? Oh beware lest you at last find yourself amongst the number here recorded. “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy”. It is a most solemn truth, but it is one very clear aspect of the preaching of the word.
Isaiah then says, “Lord, how long?” How long shall I be engaged in this solemn work? How long shall I have to preach to a people who but harden their hearts and are left at last to final impenitence? “How long?” and the Lord says, “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate”. We are not far from that friends, the land will soon be utterly desolate, unless the Lord returns with power. Oh but you see the mercy of the word of the text do you lot? “But yet”Â—”but yet”Â—oh does that come like some sweet word to your soul? There is hopeÂ—”but yet”! Is there someone here tonight who must sadly confess that this has been their
position for a long time? They have been hardening themselves against the word. They have been striving with that witness of the truth against their own soul. There was a time when, for month after month, I was striving to harden myself under the gospel. The gospel was having a powerful effect upon my soul. I was moved at times to tears of which I was ashamed. When Christ in His love and mercy was set before me there was something within which seemed to be drawn towards Him and then there was that wicked part which turned against it. I was ashamed of the tears. I tried to stifle the effects that the gospel had upon me. I tried to harden myself in my sin. But blessed be God, the time appointed rolls on when He will call His people out of their sin. He will break down all rebellion and we shall know the truth of this wordÂ—”Yet in it shall be a tenth”. To the ministers of the gospel it may sometimes seem as though there is the utmost confusion. They labour on week by week and their words seem to fall to the ground. There seems to be no really gracious effect, no turning away from sin.
Now, what is the word of the Lord? “But yet”Â—”but yet”. I believe that gave me hope. It is the only hope that the minister of the gospel has. “But yet”. In the midst of all the rejection of God’s Holy Word, in the midst of all the rejection of God’s Holy Person, which we read of in the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel, “But yet”Â—”but yet”, there shall be these, a tenth, a few. Are you amongst that few, that remnant? “A remnant small of precious souls”. Yes! they are precious souls but they were rebels like the rest, just the same, nothing to distinguish them. You know, if you examine the case to the bottom, if you really get down to the situation as it stands before God there is nothing to distinguish them except one thing; that the Lord has said “But yet in it shall be a tenth”. It was so in the history of the children of Israel, there were the few, the few who had not bowed the knee to Baal, the few who waited for the Messiah, the few who rejoiced in His appearing, the few who were really His disciples. I do not mean those who followed Him just for the bread and the miracles which he worked, but those who followed Him, those who when they were tested by His own Holy Doctrine did not go back and follow no more after Him, but followed Him closely. There were a few who were His disciples. Now, how it is today? I believe the truth stands. “But in it shall be a tenth”. They are not all Israel which are of Israel you know. They are not all Christians who take the name of Christ upon their lips, many of them are blasphemers. They know not whose name they take upon their lips. They know nothing of His gracious work on their behalf. They know nothing of Him as a true Saviour from sin, and the slavery which sin exerts on the souls of men and women. What a mercy that the Lord still has a people, that He has those whom He has eternally chosen, those whom He has loved from before the foundation of the world, those who are His, those who, though they have been rebels, are brought to the obedience of faith. “But yet in it shall be a tenth”.
Now let us come a little closer. When you hear these truths
set before you what is the effect? What goes on in your mind? Oh that there were true terror in your soul regarding this word for it is a terrible thing to be cast into hell at last. It is a terrible thing to have upon your conscience for all eternity the fact that you heard the gospel and turned from it. Yes, it is a terrible thing. You know there were those who turned away from the Lord Jesus. They turned upon His person, they persecuted Him, they hated Him, they hated His word and He says they that hated Him hated His Father also. But He says “I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak”. You know, to turn away from the word of the gospel, to harden your heart against this is to turn away from the only hope of life everlasting. It is the only hope that has ever been set before sinners. There is no life anywhere else. You can never enjoy everlasting life at the hands of anyone else. It is Christ who must give life.
Now what is it that goes on in your heart? A solemn turning away, a solemn knowing rejection of the Word of God’s truth? A solemn impenitence when you hear the word preached? A rejection of the word of His law? No sorrow for sin? Is that what goes on? or is there tonight a solemn searching of heart, a real grief in your spirit, a real sense of your dreadful condition before God? You know, to those who are hardening their hearts, to those who go away hardened and impenitent there is but one wordÂ—”Make the heart of this people fat”. It is a process you seeÂ—it goes onÂ—gets fatter and fatterÂ—”Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy”. Till, at last, their ears are absolutely insensitive, they hear nothing, their eyes are at last fast closed. Divine judgement shuts them from mercy.
“Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered. Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate”. And in the midst of that desolation what do we see? “A tenth”Â—”a tenth”. Those who are quickened, those whose hearts are now sorrowful, those who are grieved in spirit, those who are cut to the very soul with the word of the Lord. The word of God, you know, is like a sword, it enters in, it searches out those who are walking on in sin. Has the word of God begun to enter in and examine you? To question your thoughts, your motives, your hopes and desires? To question your actions? Yes! I believe the word of God questions every aspect of our lives. It puts us into the balances. Have you ever seen those words written down very solemnly for our instruction. “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting”. How shall we be weighed? You cry unto the Lord in your sorrow and grief. Is this the burden of your soul. “Oh show to me the way of forgiveness, grant to me the pardon and forgiveness of my sins. Let me not be amongst those who go down to final sorrow, eternal sorrow but oh, Lord save meÂ—save me”!
“But yet in it shall be a tenth”. You know, the mark which marks out “the tenth”, I believe, is the mark of sorrow of heart,
They are penitent. What makes them penitent? Why, I believe it is the Holy Spirit of God who grants them this precious gift of true sorrow. It springs up under the truth and under the influence of God’s Holy Word and makes them grieve and sorrow. Then it brings them further and further on to see there is but one way of hope, the “Valley of Achor shall be a door of hope” to these people. Those who mourn and sigh and groan in Zion. Those souls oppressed with a sense of their sin and guilt before God. The sin of years and years under the gospel which they have turned away from. Years and years under the preaching of the word in which they have lived in sin and enjoyed what they could. Oh! what does it do? it brings them sorrowful, weeping, it is a place of death, the Valley of Achor, death to all hope in anything else and any other way. There is death in the soul when it realises there is a sentence of death passed against the sinner. Are you dead to all hope? Does it seem as you read these words that all the ways of hope and mercy have been shut up to you? But there is one and one only. “But yet in it shall be a tenth”. Yes they shall be brought to believe, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They shall trust in Him. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is”.
The tenth are those who trust in the Lord. A believing remnant. They are sorrowful, penitent, grieved, condemned, shut up to any other way of hope and mercy, but there is hope even in that very sorrowful condition. There is hope set before them, they are a precious tenth for the Lord sets before them His loving-kindness. The tenth shall remain, for their substance remaineth, so the Holy Seed shall be the substance thereof. Why? because there is life in the soul. The gift of life! Has there been some beginning? This inward sense of conviction, this sorrow, this grief, this awful sense of the Lord’s judgment which comes upon you, this fear lest there shall be no way of mercy. What is it? It is life, part of the work of the Spirit. It is a forerunner of a great blessing “but yet in it shall be a tenth”, they shall live. He says, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish”. That is what He does for the tenth. Oh blessed few who have in their hearts this gift. “Marvel not”, says the Lord, “that I said unto thee. Ye must be born again”. You must be. It must be God’s work. “You must be born again” if you are ever to see the kingdom. Blessed be God there are still those few, a remnant who know the love of Christ.
Now what does the love of Christ do? For the apostle, it constrained him. When you see the Lord Jesus set before you as Isaiah saw Him, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” “He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”, and “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”, you see Him as a sheep led to the slaughter, dumb before His shearers, you see something of the “travail of His Soul” you realise that the Father looks upon Him, He sees the travail of His soul and is satisfied. What does it
do? What effect does it have? Is there something there that draws your very being toward Him? “And I if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me”. Oh are you amongst the “all men” who are drawn unto Him? Where will you end? What is the future for you? Oh, I believe that when there is that powerful attraction in your soul, when the Lord Jesus is set before you and affection springs up in your heart, then there is the tenth manifest Â— the remnant, according to the election of grace, the souls who are allured by the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious”.
What value do you set upon Him? Has He any value, has He any value in your soul? Be honest about it, friends, because it is time the question was answered, honestly and faithfully before God. What value has Christ for you? You know, those who have their ears heavy, their eyes shut, they have no right estimation of the value of Christ. Says one affected with that love which is manifest in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ for Sinners” He is the chiefest among ten thousand”, “He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend”. Ah! you see there is a value placed upon Jesus. Would you value a word from Him, more than all the conversation you could ever have on this earth? More than a word from those you count nearest and dearest to you? A word from His lips. A word of love and mercy. Jeremiah had a word from the Lord, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”. He was one of the tenth, “And in it shall be a tenth”. “Therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee”. You know it is part of the work of the Spirit of God so to set before you the person of the Lord Jesus Christ that you are drawn, powerfully drawn, to Him. Do you love Christ? Do you love Him for what He is? Do you love Him for what you have been led to see in Him or do you just admire Him as a great man? This is different. You can admire a person but you will not give anything to go and see him, no! You might admire a person but you will not give up anything to follow him, no!
There are many who will be able to say something about the value of Christ and perhaps amaze you by the things they say about how they value Christ but it is devastating to find their life denies their words. They prove by their actions and behaviour that they are no true followers of Him. You know, the followers of the Lord Jesus take up their cross daily and follow Him. Though tested by the Word, though examined by the doctrines of God’s Holy Word, though brought down very low before Him yet they follow Him. Is that how you feel towards Him? “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him”. It seems as though His word has gone out against you “yet I will trust in His Name”. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is”. Is there such an attraction in your heart for the Lord Jesus that you would take up your cross? That you would forsake all if necessary and follow Him? Oh you know it is one thing to talk about Christ, one thing to talk about following Him, but it is another thing to know it in daily experience.
There were those who loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. They seemed to have come so farÂ—many believed on Him but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.
Now the tenth, spoken of here, are never very much admired by men. They are never very much esteemed by the men of the world. The nine tenths who are destroyed despise the few. How about you? Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season”. What about the test? Now the Lord’s people, this tenth spoken of in this verse cost Jesus His life. That was the price. His life’s blood was poured out on their behalf. His soul was afflicted that they might go free. How much did it cost Him? And how much does it cost us to follow Christ, to be His disciples, to be His ministers, to be humble followers of a meek and lowly Jesus? How much does it cost you?Â—”Too much” say most, for they love “the praise of men more than the praise of God”. But you gain the praise of a man and it will end, it will end when that man is laid in the grave, but you gain the approval of JesusÂ—”Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” and then what do you have? You have joy eternal. Yes that is the reward which is set before His people; the joy of being with Him: the joy of His presence: the joy of His love: the joy of communion. Yes, it is an eternal joy which is set before the meek, lowly, despised followers of One who was pre-eminently meek, lowly, and despised, who did not think it beneath Him to be Â“despised and rejected of men” but was willing to be despised and rejected that He might save His people from their sins. He was willing to suffer in His Holy Soul to such an extent that He cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Oh what solemn words are those. But here is forgiveness with Christ, here is that free forgiveness where every sin is put away, all sins are blotted outÂ—even that awful inward turning away, that awful inward spirit of rebellion, that spirit that was in Ephraim when he was joined to idols and the Lord let him alone. That awful spirit which will, the Lord says, destroy him. “Oh Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help”. Yes, it seems as though everything is destroyed in yourself, but there is hope. “But yet in it shall be a tenth”.
This is true I believe in intimate personal experience. “Yet in it”, in your soul, there shall be this part which is brought through the fire. It is only a fraction of what you thought was your religion which is real, and the Lord very mercifully, very graciously sets before us what is real by bringing us through those things which take away the unreal: “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness”, which is acceptable unto Him. “But yet in it shall be a tenth”. Do you feel in your heart sometimes
as though all your profession is lying shattered around you, seems like a tumbled building? All that you perhaps had thought was real seems to be questioned. And what does the Lord say? Â“There is hope”. “But yet in it shall be a tenth”. It may seem to be desolation in your soul “But yet in it shall be a tenth”. The Lord loves His people so much that He will have them to be with Himself. He loves them so much that He will not let them rest in anything short of Himself. He will bring them into such experiences that they will despair of ever finding hope in any except Him. Yes! they shall trust in the Lord “at all times”. This is the mercy of the gospel. The Lord will cause His people to put their trust in Him. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LordÂ”.