The Barrier Between
June 6th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE BARRIER BETWEEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-6-76 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Barrier Between. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to the last two verses in chapter 57 and the first two verses in chapter 59. This is the reading of God’s Word, Isaiah 57:20-21: “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no rest, saith my God, to the wicked.” And the first two verses in chapter 59:
Behold, look, behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save;
neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God,
and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.
There are three things in this prophetic message from Isaiah that describe our most holy faith, the Christian religion. Number one: it is first and above all, moral and ethical. Its religion is grounded in the character of Almighty God whose name is qadosh, holy, separate from sin. For me to say that today is trite. It is usual. It is understood. But to have said a word like that in the ancient world would have been to make an astonishment, an unbelievable announcement, for in the ancient world, religion was separated from morality; the two were divorced.
For example, suppose you had come with me and together we visit a temple in ancient Egypt. Around it would be a wall and inside, the court. As we entered the outer court, there before us would have been an altar where the sacrifices were burned. Just beyond would have been a laver where the priest washed his hands, and just beyond would have been the naos, the sanctuary, with its door into a holy place. As we enter in, there would have been the sacred furniture, and just beyond the veil. Taking my hand, I pull aside the veil in the ancient temple in Egypt, and there would I have found a sacred ark. But when I look at the ark, I am astonished at what I see—the object of worship and adoration of the ancient pagan. For there in the sanctum sanctorum, in the holy of holies, in the very heart and center of their religion, I would have found a sacred ibis, a heron, a stork. I would have found a sacred crocodile. I would have found a sacred cat. I would have found a sacred cow. This was the heart of the religious faith of the ancient world.
Come with me now to the great temple of Jehovah God in Jerusalem. Around it you would have found a wall and on the inside the court. That’s familiar. We’ve seen it before. In the outer court, there we would have found the altar. That’s familiar, we’ve seen it before. Beyond the altar, we will have found a laver where the priest bathed and washed his hands. Most familiar, we’ve seen it before. Just beyond is the naos, the great sanctuary, and the inner door. We go inside, and there is the Holy Place with its beautiful furniture. Most familiar, we’ve seen it before. And just beyond is the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Most familiar, we’ve seen it before. I take my hand and pull aside the veil, and there is an ark—the holy center of the religious faith. Very familiar, we’ve seen it before [Exodus 26:31-34]. But when I look in the ark of the Holy of Holies in the great temple of Jehovah God in Jerusalem, do I see an ibis, or a crocodile, or a cat, or a sacred cow? No! I see the Ten Commandments of the living God, written by His finger on two tables of stone [Exodus 31:18]. The heart of the religion of Almighty God is ever and always moral and ethical; it has to do with righteousness and godliness.
A second thing I learn about our most holy faith from the prophetic message: it is also a presentation of a God of mercy and of pardon, of salvation and forgiveness. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” [Isaiah 59:1]. Our great God is able to save and He is able to answer prayer. He does save and He does answer prayer. The heart of God, in mercy and in pity, is open to the sons of men. The message is always one of returning, of repentance, of forgiveness and salvation. Isaiah begins his great prophecy in the first chapter and verse 18: “Come now—come now, and let us reason together . . . though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” [Isaiah 1:18]. Or as Ezekiel in chapter 33, verse 11: “‘As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye . . . for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].
The great, righteous and holy God in heaven, who cannot bear to look on impurity and iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13], is a God of salvation and of answered prayers [Romans 10:9-13]. Then why are we not all saved? Why are so many of us lost? And why is it that our prayers are not answered, and God does not hear us? “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” [Isaiah 59:1-2]. And that’s the third thing I learn about our sacred faith: it is also judgmental. There is in it a penalty and a judgment when we turn our backs on God, and when we defy the sacred commandment.
Wouldn’t you suppose that a man who chose to say no to God, who chose to be defiant of the laws of God—wouldn’t you suppose he chooses so because there is something better? He finds in it a greater reward, and of the alternatives—to choose God or to choose his own defiant and recalcitrant way—he chooses his own way. And he defies God and breaks the commandments of God because he finds in it something better. But the great Lord God Himself in heaven says, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, and whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” [Isaiah 57:20-21]. When a man turns from God and in defiance follows his own sinful way, there’s no rest, there’s no peace. There is nothing abiding but trouble, trouble, trouble, like the waves of the sea that cast up mire and dirt.
We shall speak first of open and flagrant transgression, of carnal and gross sins. The man turns his back upon God and he follows his own willful way. With what judgment God says, “No peace.” No rest but trouble, trouble, trouble. Here is a man who gives himself to greed and to avarice. Wealth, money, affluence, success, reward; and he sets himself goals, and he thinks, “If I can just have this much, then I’ll be satisfied.” And he gains it; he finds it ceases to be wealth. And then he sets his goal for this much, then for this much, and for this much, and he’s never satisfied, and he’s never at rest, and he’s never at peace. And finally, if he owned the world, he’d covet the moon and the stars besides. There is no rest, there is no peace; God says no rest and no peace [Isaiah 57:20-21].
A doctor said to his friend, a surgeon, “So you have no time for God, and your Sundays are spent in your profession in order to make money? Well, the more surgical patients that you minister to, the greater your income, and you’re making money and you’re making money and you’re never satisfied. You’re making money, and money and money and more money.” And the doctor said, “Sir, you shall be the richest surgeon in the cemetery.” He soon died of a heart attack. He’s there buried, the richest surgeon in the cemetery. There’s no rest, there’s no peace; the man who gives himself to greed and to avarice wants more and more and more and more, and he’s never satisfied. So with one who gives himself to selfish ambition, to rise, to rise over others, trample on others, rise on others, disregarding love and friendship and kindness and compassion—ambition, ambition! There’s no end. There’s no rest. There’s just trouble. There’s no peace. God says, “There is no peace” [Isaiah 57:21]. No peace. No peace.
There is one who covets praise: praise. It sounds like music to his ear to be praised, to be praised, to be praised, to be praised. And a little praise breeds a covetousness for more praise, and that praise seeks other praise and it desires praise and praise and praise. There’s no peace, there’s no rest. There’s no satiation, there’s no satiety, it’s forever. Here’s one who gives himself to lust, to lust; to evil and burning passions, to lust. And there’s no peace and there’s no rest. But there’s trouble like the waters of the sea, casting up mire and dirt [Isaiah 57:20]. He has intimate relationships with this one, not satisfied; then with that one, unhappy. And with this one, not satiated; and with that one, not finding satisfaction. And it’s from one to the other, to the other, to the other, and he gives himself to a life of lust and evil passion. There’s no rest, there’s no peace. God says it is like the grave; it is never filled [Proverbs 30:15-16]. Here’s one who gives himself to anger. Angry, angry bitterness, bearing a grudge, remembering a slight or a hurt or a wrong; hatred, anger, and there’s no rest, and there’s no peace. And like the troubled waters of the sea, casting up mire and dirt [Isaiah 57:20], the heart and the life are destroyed. God says, “Let not the sun go down on your wrath” [Ephesians 4:26]. Make it right that day before you offer; before God be reconciled. But to hate and to be full of anger and recrimination, to pay back in the coin of revenge—God says there is no rest, there is no peace; trouble, like the waters of an angry sea casting up mire and dirt [Isaiah 57:20-21].
Envy, jealousy, unhappy; someone else praised; someone else more money; someone else more success; someone else more anything. More, more, more everything, filled with envy and with jealousy; no rest, no peace, like the troubled sea [Isaiah 57:20]. Great towering king of Israel, Saul, heard the women of Israel, returning from the battle against the Philistines, singing, “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” [1 Samuel 18:6-8]. And from that moment on, Saul eyed David, and he was jealous of him and envious of him and bitter toward him [1 Samuel 18:9]. And he never found rest or peace, and the last years and years of his reign were destroyed by envy and by jealousy. And the Bible says, “And the Spirit of the Lord left Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” [1 Samuel 16:14]. Like the troubled sea whose waters cast up mire and dirt, there’s no peace. There’s no peace. There’s no peace. “There is no peace!” [Isaiah 57: 21], saith God, but a life of troubled restlessness.
So with pride, when one lifts himself up in his self-esteem, and he thinks more of himself than he ought to think [Romans 12:3], and he’s proud, he’s easily wounded. He’s easily slighted, and he’s easily hurt, and he’s proud. So in the twenty-eighth chapter in the Book of Ezekiel, it was pride that lifted up the heart of Satan [Ezekiel 28:17], and God cast him down to hell [Isaiah 14:15]. There’s no peace, there’s no rest when one lifts himself up in his self-esteem.
Drugs and drink: there’s no end, there’s no rest, and there’s no peace. This much—but to get a kick, it has to be that much more and then this much more, and then this more, and then this more, and then this more, and then this more, and there’s no rest; there’s no satiation, there’s no end. No peace! Troubled, like a restless and angry sea casting up mire and dirt. “There is no rest, saith the Lord, to the wicked” [Isaiah 57:21].
Psalm 7:11 says “The Lord is angry with the wicked every day.” The holiness of God burns against sin. The Lord has a war declared against iniquity forever. There’s never an armistice. And the one who gives himself to the defiance of God breaks the great order of God’s universe, and violates the great character of the Almighty, and he consigns himself to trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble; restlessness, unhappiness. “Ah, but I’ll find rest and happiness in pleasure!” God says there is no peace, there is no peace, there is no peace [Isaiah 57:20]. “But I will find my rest in indulgence!” God says there is no peace, there is no rest, there is no peace. “But I’ll find it in drink, or in drugs, or in sin, or in the world!” God says there is no rest, there is no peace, there is no quiet. “But the wicked are like the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” [Isaiah 57:20-21].
We turn now from gross and carnal sins to respectable transgressions. “I am no violent murderer. I am no drug addict. I am no pusher of heroin. And I am no gross sinner living out there in a promiscuous world.” He is a respectable transgressor. God says to repent [Matthew 4:17]. He doesn’t repent. God says to have faith in Christ [Acts 16:31]. He doesn’t believe in Christ. God says to give his heart in faith to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], and he doesn’t. And he turns his back upon the overtures of grace, and he spurns the blood of the covenant that sanctified our Savior, and he does despite to the wooings of the Spirit of the Christ, and he follows his own way [Hebrews 10:29]. God says there is no rest. There is no rest. There is no rest. There is no peace. The man sins against light, and he sins against the Holy Scriptures, for God says, “Come” [Matthew 11:28] and the Holy Spirit says “Trust.” And he says, “No, no!” And he’s troubled, and he lives a life without rest and without peace [Isaiah 57:20-21].
“But you see, I’ll go to church. I’ll attend the services.”
“No peace,” says God, “No peace.”
“But I will take the sacraments. I’ll genuflect. I will bow.”
“No peace,” says God, “no rest.”
“You don’t understand; I will walk as an upright citizen.”
God says, “No peace, and no rest” [Isaiah 57:20-21].
“But I’ll go even further. I’ll take part in the fine philanthropic civic enterprises of my community, and I’ll make my contribution, and I will walk in and out before the people as an upstanding man.” But God says there’s no rest; there’s no peace; there’s trouble, like the troubled waters of an angry sea casting up mire and dirt [Isaiah 57:20-21]. For you see, outside of Christ, he’s troubled, and his heart finds no peace. Yesterday, he buries one of his best friends. And as he turns from the open grave, his heart cries within him, “That day will come for me, and I’m not ready to die. I have not made peace with my God, and when that hour comes, will it be triumphant for me? Is it a day and hour of salvation?” And he’s troubled. And he’s troubled. And the day before that, he buried one of his friends, and he lives in a world where he grows old. And the days multiply and the tokens of an ultimate knocking at his door inevitably appear; there are crow’s feet around his eye, there’s gray in his hair. And he loses the strength and the zest of young manhood, and he’s troubled. “What shall become of me, and what shall become of my soul, and when I stand before God, what shall I say?” There’s no peace! There’s no rest. He has spurned God’s great salvation.
Some of you, had I asked you twenty years ago—ten years ago, had I said to you, “Twenty years from now, will you still say no to God?” you would have replied, “Oh, by then, by then I shall have become a Christian. By then I shall have accepted Christ. For I am just putting it off until some other time, some more convenient season, but I shall, and I intend to. I don’t plan to be lost. I don’t mean to be damned. I’m going to be saved!” He’s just almost in the kingdom. He’s almost persuaded. Then he turns aside. Oh, how tragic and how sad! A man who’s “almost” honest is a liar and a rogue. A man who is “almost” saved from the fire is burned. The man who’s “almost” healed is dead. The man who was “almost” reprieved is in the gas chamber or in the electric chair or in a hangman’s noose. The man who’s “almost” a Christian is not a Christian. And the man who’s “almost” saved falls into damnation. “Almost” cannot avail, “almost” is but to fail; sad, sad, sad! That bitter way, “almost,” but lost.
O God, bless this work. “Behold, behold!” I say, “Look, behold, mark it!”
The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God,
and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.
God is able to save, God is ready to hear. It is just that I must come [Matthew 11:28], I must bow in His presence, I must confess my sins, I must ask God to forgive me my sins, I must open my heart heavenward and God-ward. I must receive the pardon of His love and of His grace. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” [Isaiah 1:18]. “Turn ye, turn ye . . . for why will you die?” [Ezekiel 33:11] Here is peace and rest, and pardon and forgiveness, and answered prayer. Come, come, come [Isaiah 55:1-3; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 22:17].
In this moment we sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, walking down this stairwell, front and back on either side. “Here I come, pastor, here I am.” Into one of these aisles on this lower floor, “Here I come, pastor, I make it now. I have decided for God and here I come. He knows I am a sinner, I know it. He knows I’m lost, I know it. He can save, I know it, too [Romans 10:8-13]. And here I come. May God write my name in the Book of Life in heaven [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15], may God save me in the hour of my death. May God give me victory and peace and rest in my heart. I’m coming.” The family, the couple, or just you, on the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.