Seasonable Seeking after God
William Nicholson, 1862
"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon!" Isaiah 55:6-7
There is nothing that so much concerns men, as having a saving interest in the favor of Almighty God, whose "favor is life, and whose loving-kindness is better than life," and whose displeasure includes all the horrors of eternal damnation.
But, alas! if we look abroad into the world, and observe the conduct of mankind, we shall find them pursuing empty vanities and fleeting shadows — the mere delusive appearances of what they fondly call and estimate as 'happiness.' Some are contriving how they may pass away their days in luxury and vain amusements; and the only use which they make of their time is to study how they may lavish it away in the most foolish and unprofitable manner. Others are endeavoring to climb the steep ascent of worldly honor and grandeur, and others are intoxicated with an intense desire to accumulate what the world calls wealth.
But where is he who inquires, "Where is God, my Maker?" Job 35:10. The majority of mankind are inquiring where is: wealth — profit — prestige — possessions — mirth — pleasure, etc.
Life, however, will soon be done; all will soon enter upon an eternal scene. The value or worthlessness of all human pursuits will be known then. It is well for us that the Gospel is proclaimed, that the invitations of Mercy are given repeatedly, that we may secure our present and eternal happiness. See verses preceding the text.
The subject of the text is, Seasonable Seeking after God; the purpose of the exhortation is equivalent to that which, in New Testament language, is called "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks, that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus." Acts 20:21
I. Seeking God Implies That Mankind Have Lost Him.
1. This loss is caused by sin. "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you!" Isaiah 59:2; "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way!" Isaiah 53:6.
Sin has offended the Divine Lawgiver. Hence there is an infinite moral distance between him and us. God is holy, and utterly opposed to all sin. As, therefore, we have trampled upon his law and despised his authority — the "face of the Lord is against those who do evil." He is "angry with the wicked every day." Both "them and their ways, does God's soul hate," and he has shown his displeasure in threutenings and in judgments. Witness . . .
Sodom and Gomorrah,
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in Numbers 16:31-33,
many of the Israelites, etc.
Witness the lightnings and thunderings of Sinai. "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law!" Galatians 3:10
While man was holy, he had communion with God; but can the infinitely Pure One commune with an unholy transgressor? No! Man is an alien, a stranger, far off by wicked works. Like the Prodigal, he has wandered far from his father's house. He has lost . . .
2. This loss is the precursor of infinite and eternal loss. The sinner is not only "without God, and without hope" in this world, but if he remain incorrigible, that calamity will be perpetuated forever:
an alien forever;
without God forever;
the victim of God's wrath and anger forever;
no joy, no bliss, no hope forever.
3. This loss, therefore, is immense. Who can fully estimate it?
An infinite loss sustained by the soul;
the loss of God, the fountain of all goodness;
the loss of Heaven, eternal bliss, etc.
What is the loss of worldly honor, rank or station — compared with this? What the loss of a fortune, estates, a kingdom, or crown — compared with this!
4. It is a loss which no human resources can repair. Moral virtues, as they are termed, alms, penance, vows, pilgrimages, sacrifices, the most costly offerings — avail nothing here. They cannot restore to the soul the favor of God. Vain is . . .
the gold of Sheba,
the topaz of Ethiopia,
the pearls of Ormus,
the most costly gems —
to procure salvation!"
"With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Micah 6:6-7
The Jews sought Divine acceptance through the law, but failed. Romans 9:31, 32.
II. Seeking God Implies That a Way Has Been Devised by Which the Divine Favor May Be Regained.
That way is through the mediation of the Son of God. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." 2 Corinthians 5:19. He has "so loved the world," etc. John 3:16. He has set him forth to be "a atoning sacrifice ," etc. Romans 3:25, etc. We have now "access to God by faith," etc. Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12. Hence Christ said, "I am the way." "No man can come unto the Father, except by me"
Formerly, the Lord was sought through sacrifices, by the sinful, in the age of the patriarchs and prophets. But all those sacrifices were typical of the great One Sacrifice offered up on Mount Calvary. Those harbingers of the cross are now no more. A Divine Victim has bled, and the way of salvation is through Christ. "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him." Hebrews 7:25
III. Seeking God Implies Total Renunciation of All Human Methods of Salvation.
"Man was made upright, but he has sought out many inventions" by which to be saved. He has denied the depravity of his heart, and gloried in his imagined goodness. In order to merit Heaven, he has scattered the gifts of his bounty. He has been rigid in the performance of social duties. He has strictly adhered to religious form and ceremonies. He can relate many instances of goodness, indicative that he is more excellent than his neighbor. His honesty, his love of justice, his sobriety, the philanthropy of his heart, are unquestionable. All this, he makes his Savior.
The natural pride of his heart, which grace alone can subdue, prompts him to "go about to establish his own righteousness, not submitting to the righteousness of God."
But all this must be abandoned, and Christ must be all. How did the Apostle Paul act? Mark his language: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith!" Philippians 3:7-9
What though you could from this time forth embody in your life all moral excellencies; what though you could collect and include all the moral virtues that have characterized all those who have lived before you; what though you possessed a world, and unsparingly gave your goods to feed the poor; what though you could breathe a martyr's spirit, and give your body to the flames?
All this would be nothing, yes, worse than nothing in the procuration of your salvation: for your sins would be still unatoned for, and you would die without hope.
Listen, proud sinner, listen: "Other foundations can no man lay, than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus the Lord." "For there is none other name given by which a man can be saved." Cast away your pride, therefore, and go with the simplicity of a little child, and sit at the feet of the Redeemer's cross. Acknowledge him, and you shall be saved. "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. Isaiah 55:1-3
IV. Seeking God Implies Submission to the Divinely Appointed Plan of Salvation, by the Use of Those Means Scripturally Specified.
This implies —
1. A deep conviction of the awful loss sustained.
Loss of God. The conviction of the Prodigal when "he came to himself." Luke 15. A feeling that we cannot be happy until we have found him. A conviction of helplessness combined with that renunciation of self-righteousness previously mentioned. Acts 2:37.
2. "Seeking" implies diligent inquiry and attention. "Where, and by what means can the Lord be found?" "What shall I do to be saved?" The convinced sinner is anxious after salvation. He investigates it by hearing and reading the word of God. He "searches the Scriptures." Such knowledge is the foundation of true faith. "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent!" John 17:3
3. Faith in Christ and earnest prayer. The penitent approves of Christ. He beholds him as his atoning sacrifice. He finds him to be just such a Savior as a guilty and ruined sinner needs. He "calls" upon God through Christ the Mediator: I have sinned, O Jehovah, and you have hidden your face from me. I have lost your favor, and deserve to be the victim of your eternal wrath. I come unto you full of godly sorrow. I abhor myself as in dust and ashes. I renounce all claim to goodness and merit. My righteousness and merit are in Christ. He has lived and died for me. I therefore "call upon you" from my heart. O hear me for his sake! God be merciful to me a sinner. Lord, save me — or I perish."
This is the prayer of faith, and it shall succeed; for "Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved."
V. Seeking the Lord Requires Immediate Attention.
"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near." We are prone to procrastinate with Felix, "As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said: That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." Acts 24:25.
Some say they are too young to seek the Lord, and others are so engrossed with earthly cares that they cannot find time, or they would attend to it. Thus life is spent in futile resolutions, like the man in the parable who said, "I go, sir! But he did not go."
1. The Lord may be more easily found in early life. While the heart is tender, and the mind is vigorous. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come." Ecclesiastes 12:1. "I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. Proverbs 8:17.
What bright examples of early piety are given in the sacred oracles! "Josiah, while he was yet young, began to seek God." 2 Chronicles 34:3. But the season of youth is rapidly passing away, and then those facilities for seeking God, will in a measure be gone. He may be found, and he is near.
2. Under the preaching of the Gospel. If you sit under it, then before "your eyes Jesus Christ is evidently set forth crucified." Galatians 3:1. He is preached to you as the way, the truth, and the life. By hearing his Gospel, by believing in him, for "faith comes by hearing," you may be saved. But if you continue careless and indifferent, your heart may become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; the promises, invitations, and overtures of the Gospel will then be powerless. Instead of being a "savor of life unto life," the Gospel will become a "savor of death unto death."
3. When under conviction produced by the Spirit of God, the Lord may be readily sought and found. Then he comes near indeed. He touches the conscience. He knocks at the heart. But you may stifle these convictions, and promise yourself a more propitious season for following them — a season, alas! that may never arrive! "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth." Proverbs 27:1
4. The privilege of seeking the Lord is limited to this present life. At death, all opportunity will cease. The Gospel to us will be preached no more. The Spirit will strive no more. Ministers and friends will beseech us no more. "As the tree falls — so it lies." "He who if unjust — let him be unjust still."