God Dwelling with the Contrite
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place — and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
There is nothing more remarkable in scripture than its perfect suitability to our needs. It seems to meet us in all our frames of mind, and to adapt itself to all our circumstances. We never go to the Bible for comfort, without finding something to suit our case.
For instance, what can be more cheering to one who is downcast in heart, than these words of the text? They are just what he needs. No human words could so exactly meet his feelings. Considered even as mere words — they are full of comfort. How much more, when we think of them as the words of God!
Yet at first sight there seems something very solemn here, rather than comforting. "Thus says One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity." God is here set forth in His greatness. Can such a one care for a man — a worm of the earth? The next words seem even more discouraging: "whose name is holy." If holy, must He not be displeased with me, a sinner? Can I, as unworthy as I am, hope to be looked upon with favor by the holy God? Thus, to the humble and contrite, these opening words seem to bring anything but hope or comfort.
The same may be said of the words that follow, in which the Almighty begins to speak in His own person: "I dwell in the high and holy place." "Ah, yes!" unbelief and despondency may reply, "in the high and holy place — far out of my reach, in that high place to which I can never attain, in that holy place which such as I cannot enter." To one cast down under a sense of sin — contrite, humble, desponding, these words seem to place God at an infinite distance, and to make Him indeed "a God far away" (Jeremiah 23:23).
But now mark what follows. See how these feelings are met and how God turns the very thought of His power and holiness — into a thought of comfort to the contrite: "I dwell in the high and holy place … and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite."
The greatness and holiness of God are set forth here not to terrify — but to cheer. He, the high and lofty and eternal, "whose name is holy" — is not far off, but near. True, He dwells "in the high and holy place," in the Heaven of heavens, where countless angels worship Him and do His bidding — but He dwells also with the contrite and humble soul. The high and holy place is not more the place of His abode, than is the heart of the meek and contrite. The same word says that He inhabits both.
Take the case of some person deeply humbled under a sense of sin, conscience-stricken, truly penitent, earnestly desiring mercy, hardly daring to hope — yet still feebly looking to Christ. That poor downcast heart — what is it? The very palace of the King of kings! He dwells therein. He makes that humble heart the place of His abode. The eye of faith may be so dim that it cannot see Him — yet He is there. He says so: "Also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit." He does not say, "With the holy and good." He does not even say, "With him who is strong in faith, with him who is able to grasp the promises." In His grace and mercy, He goes lower than this — and declares that He abides with the contrite and humble.
Is not this cheering? Does it not raise your drooping spirit, to be assured that God knows you, cares for you, dwells with you? And that notwithstanding all your fears, your despondency, your conscious nothingness, your deep sense of unworthiness — yes, even because of them.
Are you but contrite for sin, deeply humbled, casting away all self-righteousness and self-dependence, and trying to look to Jesus alone? Then God is with you — the great and holy God. For He says that He dwells with the contrite, and by His grace you are such.
But the words that follow are more comforting still. Why does God dwell with the contrite? For what purpose, and with what effect? "To revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." It is not His will that you should go on always as you are. He would have you always be humble — but not always desponding; always contrite — but not always downcast. He comes to cheer you, to raise you from your despondency, to comfort and revive you.
And that not outwardly, but inwardly. To revive your spirit, your heart — just where your trouble lies and where your despondency is felt. Those fears and misgivings which try you so greatly — He comes to take away. Those doubts of the reality of your religious impressions, those suspicions of your own sincerity — He comes to answer. He comes to speak, by the Spirit — pardon, hope, and peace. He comes to encourage you in Christ. He comes to lead you to know and embrace His love.
Do not refuse to be comforted. Shut not your heart against His gracious presence. Try to open every feeling and affection to welcome Him. Lay your sins on Jesus. Believe that He takes the burden from you. Listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking within you. Believe that God is with you, that He is watching over you, that He cares for you and wills your happiness, that He is blessing and will bless you.
What made the disciples in the boat afraid, though Jesus was with them? He was there, whom winds and waves obey; no harm could happen to them while He was near; yet they were afraid and cried out in their terror, "Save us, Lord — we are perishing!"
Why did they fear? Because their faith was weak. They were safe, but they did not believe in their safety. And you are safe if you have cast in your lot with the Lord Jesus as they had. He will bless you and keep you and save you. Believe this. Though God has compassion on the weak in faith and gives them many a gracious word of encouragement — yet be not satisfied with "little faith." For Jesus, though He helped the disciples — yet gently rebuked them, "Why are you so afraid, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 8:23-27).
Aim at being strong in faith. Realize your Savior's presence, power, and love. Trust Him fully. So you will be not only safe in Christ — but happy in Him too. So you will be able to look up continually to a reconciled Father — and to believe that He is with you. And even your deep sense of sin and your strong self-reproaches will not drive you from God or make you doubt Him — but will rather draw you nearer to Him as your only comfort, rest, and strength, your stronghold in the day of trouble. And this comfort you may have, not only when downcast about spiritual things — but also under all troubles whatever. The humble and contrite, with whom God dwells — have in Him an unfailing friend.
Many and various are the troubles of life. Many are the causes which make us anxious, fearful, and desponding. The humble believer may have recourse to God in them all. When family griefs or fears press heavily, when friends are unkind, in sickness or weakness, in lowness of spirits, at times when a cloud seems to have come over all earthly prospects and the joy of life seems gone — then the believer may cast his burden on the Lord and find relief. No tongue can tell how God can comfort those who are cast down — what peace He can give to the troubled spirit — what rest, even now, to the weary.
How precious is prayer at such times! The soul draws near to God — and God draws near to it. The trouble, the fear, the secret thought of apprehension, is told to God; and even in the act of telling it, an answer of comfort seems to come, and it is felt anew that "the high and lofty One" does indeed dwell with the humble and contrite who seek Him.
The proud and self-righteous, the careless and impenitent — can know nothing of this. For these are blessings for the contrite — and for them alone. Yet the contrite were impenitent once — and the humble were once proud and haughty. It is the sovereign grace of God alone which has changed them and brought them down. The same grace can humble and change those who are proud and careless now. And this is the gracious object of God in many of His dealings with those who are at present far off from Him. Losses, disappointments, and trials; pain of body, and grief of mind — what are they in numberless instances? Judgments? No, mercies — mercies in disguise, the best of mercies, sent by the God of all long-suffering, in order to bring down pride, and soften hardness of heart, and lead the sufferer to Christ in penitence and faith; that so He may visit him and bless him and cause him to know His redeeming love.