The Ways of God and Man
May 16th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE WAYS OF MAN AND GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-16-76 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the church bringing the message entitled The Ways of God and of Man. It is an expounding of a text, a passage in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. As we are preaching through the revelation God gave to this great and mighty prophet, we begin reading at verse 6, Isaiah chapter 55, beginning at verse 6:
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: And let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly, aboundingly, pardon.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
This is a paragraph together. It is a section in the prophecy, so the last part has to do with the first part. And as God speaks of His thoughts compared to a fallen man’s thoughts, and as God avows that His thoughts and His ways are higher than our thoughts and our ways, as the infinitude of the heavens are rising above us, what is it that God is speaking of? If we follow the passage and are true to the text, what is God speaking of when He avows that His thinking is not like our thinking, and His ways and responses are not like our ways and responses? [Isaiah 55:8].
Following the text, the Lord is talking about sin and salvation. “Let the wicked forsake his way, the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return unto the Lord. He will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For,” and the thought continues on, “For My thoughts are not like a man’s thoughts, and My ways are not like a man’s ways” [Isaiah 55:7-8]. That is, how a man thinks about sin is not as God thinks about sin and our wrongdoing. And how God responds and how God is toward sin is not as we are and as our response toward sin. And our ideas of salvation are quite different from God’s ideas and thoughts and ways of salvation.
The message therefore will be a comparison of how a man thinks about sin and salvation and how God thinks about sin and salvation. It is easy for us to do that because we are people, and we know our thoughts and we all pretty much think alike. And from the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, we know how God thinks and how God replies and responds to sin and His provision for our salvation.
We compare the two therefore this holy hour. First, about sin, its nature; all of us, all of us are alike. We categorize sin. Some of them we say are little, and some of them are big. Some of them we say are venial and forgiven. Some of them we say are mortal, and they damn us. We categorize them. Some of them are trifles, we think, and are to be overlooked. Others of them are heinous and awesome. That’s how we look at sin. But in God’s sight there are no categories. Sin damns. Sin destroys. And sin is sin. However we may delineate them and compartmentalize them, to God they are all dark and damning.
James, in the second chapter of his book and the tenth verse, describes that. He says though a man keep all of the law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all the rest [James 2:10]. Here is a fine man and a righteous man and a good man, but he sins. And when he sins, it is as though he were guilty of every wrong in the category [James 2:10]. How could such a thing be? That’s why it is that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways [Isaiah 55:8], for we look at sin one way, but God looks at sin in another way.
And this is the way God looks at sin. Though a man may look upon himself as being righteous, and he walks in his own integrity, yet God knows his heart and God knows his life. And there is no man that sinneth not [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36]. And sin brings with it a separation and an alienation from God [Isaiah 59:1-2]. And the man crashes. He falls.
There used to be in this great auditorium about six glass chandeliers on that side and about six on this side. One of them fell, and it crashed to the floor: thanks to God, while the building was empty, for they were tremendously heavy, cast-iron chandeliers. I asked the men to take them out, all of them. And they did. How many links in that chain had to break before that chandelier fell? Every one of them? No. Just one. Just one. And it crashed to the floor. So it is with our lives. We think upon sins as being, well, this can be forgiven; that can be forgiven. God says just one; just one, and we come crashing to the earth [James 2:10].
We differ in our thoughts from God’s thoughts concerning the corollary, the accompaniment that always attends sin. We are like this. Somebody else’s sins may be dark and heinous and damnable, but not ours. All of us have the attitude that, before God, He ought not to be offended particularly by what I do, for there are extenuating circumstances and there are reasons for what has befallen me and what I do. My sins ought to be overlooked. They ought to be categorized as trifling, and, certainly, they ought not to demand a tremendous judgment from God. But what does God do?
These are the thoughts and ways of God. Whatever the sin, it carries with it an inevitable penalty, an unchanging penalty: death and damnation [Ezekiel 18:4]. For you see, the world reflects the character of God. The created universe is but the work of His hands [Psalm 19:1]. He did it. And the world is put together in law, and law carries with it inevitable penalty [2 Corinthians 3:6]. They go together.
There is no law without a penalty in its violation. And the whole world, including us in it, are enmeshed and representatives of those laws in the character of God. There are planetary laws, gravitational laws, mechanical laws, thermodynamical laws. There are typical laws. There are physical laws. There are governmental laws. There are anatomical laws. There are civil laws. The whole universe is put together in the hands of God, and law is grounded in His character. And law always carries with it a penalty in its violation; always. God did that [Deuteronomy 27:26, 28:15].
For example, gravitational law: here is a man who says, “Gravitational law?” And he smiles and sneers and walks off of a ten-story building into blank space. He comes down in splattered death. He doesn’t break the law; he just illustrates it, for there is no such thing as breaking God’s law. Or take again, an anatomical law: our body has to follow certain chemical lines. So here’s a man who smiles and sneers and ridicules God’s laws of anatomy. “Bring me that vial of strychnine,” and he takes it, and he dies in horrible convulsions. I have seen that. It is unspeakable.
There are civil laws, governmental laws: that’s God. The Bible plainly says that government and law is of God [Romans 13:1]. Society is impossible without it. And anarchists actually believe in the destruction, the suicide, of the human race. So, here’s a man who stands before the judge, and he says, “I realize I have broken the law, but it is a trifle. It is nothing. And I am expecting to be dismissed.” And the judge sternly replies, “But, sir, I must uphold the law, and you must obey the law. For without my upholding the law and your obeying the law, we would be swept away by terror, and murder, and rape, and robbery. For that’s what the law is. It carries with it a penalty.” So it is with God’s moral law. When we break God’s moral law, it carries with it an inevitable penalty, for the Lord God welded the two together. However a man may think, God doesn’t think like a man.
Look, we sometimes, with eyes of our modern Christian ethical standards, judge those people who lived thousands of years ago, and that’s not correct; for they lived according to a norm in their day. Now let me tell you one of the norms. One of the norms in those days, let’s say in the days of David, who lived a thousand years before Christ—one of those norms was this: an Oriental monarch was absolute. He did as he pleased. He was above the law, and above the people, and above all criticism or castigation. That was the norm; the Oriental monarch did as he pleased. So David, when he saw Bathsheba bathing, took her [2 Samuel 11:1-5]. He was an Oriental monarch; he can do as he pleases. And when Uriah, her husband, was returned from the war, David sent him into the heart of the battle that he might be slain [2 Samuel 11:6-17].
Now look how a man thinks. David did absolutely as he absolutely had absolute right to do. He was an Oriental monarch and could do as he pleased. When the story, therefore, is told about Bathsheba and about Uriah, the next sentence says, “But God!” [2 Samuel 11:27]; well, isn’t that something? The norm says he had a right to do as he pleased. The accepted procedures of government said that the monarch Oriental in those days could follow whatever path he chose. But God says, “Think again” [2 Samuel 12:1-12].
Jezebel said to Ahab, “So you want Naboth’s vineyard? I will get it for you.” And they had a legal trial. And Jezebel produced witnesses [1 Kings 21:9-10], and Naboth was condemned to death and was stoned and the ground drank up his blood. And Ahab went down to Naboth’s vineyard to possess it [1 Kings 21:5-16]. Why? Legal; witnesses; trial; judgment; a man’s judgment, what they said and what they thought.
Then the story follows. “But God, but God, but God appeared to Elijah the prophet and said, ‘Get thee up and go down to Naboth’s vineyard’” [1 Kings 21:17-18]. And Elijah confronted Ahab, who went down to Naboth’s vineyard to possess it. And Ahab the king looked at Elijah and said, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” [1 Kings 21:20]. Isn’t it a something, a come-to-pass, when a man so gets himself until God is his enemy? And Elijah said, “In the place, in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood [1 Kings 21:19]. And Jezebel, your wife and queen, who brought those witnesses and caused the condemnation of that righteous man, dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” [1 Kings 21:23].
Isn’t that something? How do you escape God? “For My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts are not your thoughts” [Isaiah 55:8]. So the man says, and I’ve heard him say it a thousand times, “How harsh! How judgmental! Damnation and hell. A good God would not do that. He is too, could I say, soft; He is too putty-like. He is too pusillanimous. God wouldn’t do that: judge, condemn, death, hell, damnation, no!
“But My ways are not your ways, saith the Lord” [Isaiah 55:8]. For the purpose of the law is that we might be brought to Jesus [Galatians 3:24], that we might know the wrong of our sin [Romans 3:20]. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: O, turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways: for why will you die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].
A child, “Honey, fire burns. Fire burns, don’t touch the flaming stove. Fire burns.” And the child must learn. “Sweet little thing, a fall hurts. You mustn’t fall over the banister or fall off the porch, or fall from the cabinet or the chair, the high chair. Fall hurts.” A pin sticks. A pin sticks, and the child learns the penalty; pinches the youngster. So it is when we go down the road of life. There’s a flashing red sign, and there is a bell ringing, ringing. There is a great express train coming! The railroad company is not my enemy to flash the sign and to ring the bell. It’s that I might be saved. Or going down the road, the bridge is out. And the highway department builds a barricade across it. And there’s a sign there: the bridge is out. The highway department is not my enemy, that it places that barricade there and that sign lest I be destroyed, lest I kill myself. And if I pass through the barricade, I bring disaster for myself and those who journey with me.
So it is with God. Somebody said there are five hundred references in the New Testament to hell. That is, there are five hundred signs that God has placed along our road saying, “This road, this way, leads to hell. Look, stop! Consider.” That’s God. When the man disregards them, there is nothing left but judgment and death and damnation. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways” [Isaiah 55:8].
We must hasten. How God thinks about sin, and how we think about it. How God thinks about salvation, and how we think about it. Now here’s the way a man will think about salvation, always. Unless you are taught by the Holy Spirit and brought into the marvelous revelation and truth of God, all mankind, all of it, thinks this about salvation. This is a man’s thoughts: “On this side, what I’ve done that is bad. And on this side, what I have done that is good. And in the great judgment, there’ll be a way. And if the good outweighs the bad, I’ll be saved. I’ll walk into the kingdom. If the bad outweighs the good, I’ll be lost.” So the man thinks, “I must do good. I must add to the side of the scale. I must do better.”
So the man reforms. “This is what I will do: I’m going to cut out this and I’m going to quit that. I’m going to save myself. I’m going to do better.” Or, sometimes he has the persuasion that, “I am going to be philanthropic and altruistic. Some of this money I have, I’m going to do good with it. And some of these times that I have, I’m going to do good with them. And I’m going to be generous and philanthropical and altruistic. I’m going to do good. I’m going to save myself.”
And then sometimes he will come to the place where he will do penance. And he will fall into self-flagellation, discipline of the harshest kind, like Martin Luther. In order to commend himself to God, Martin Luther beat himself; flagellation, beat himself, beat his body, beat his body trying to get rid of the sin and trying to commend himself to God.
And finally, the man will come into all kinds of religious rituals to save himself. He’ll believe in baptisms, and in masses, and in communions, and in confessions, and into vestments, and into chants, and into Te Deums. And he’ll go through all kinds of genuflections. And he’ll have candles, and altars, and vestments, and ornaments, and rituals, and a thousand, thousand other things to commend him to God, to save himself. That’s a man. That’s a man.
Now what does God think about and how is God? This is the thought of God. Number one, as we shall come to when we preach through Isaiah, God says all of your righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. I wish I could translate that as it is in the Hebrew, but I cannot do it in a nice company. “All of your righteousnesses are as filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6]. That is, there is no thing I can do that does not have with it the overtone of my fallen nature. I am not only fallen in my physical body and am dying, but I am fallen in all of my faculties. I am fallen in my mind. And I’m fallen in my emotions and will. I cannot pray aright. Even in my prayers there is lack. And I cannot love fully. Even in my love to God, there is always lack. And I cannot worship correctly. Even in my highest worship there is also the drag of my carnal and fallen nature. God says all of my righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight [Isaiah 64:6]. They have with them an accompaniment of the taint of sin.
God says another thing: that I am dead, and we are dead, in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. I have helped funeral directors prepare the body of the deceased: comb the hair, prepare the face, place on the woman a beautiful dress or on the man a fine-looking suit; but the corpse is dead. And however you dress it, it is dead; and a corpse cannot raise itself to life, it cannot quicken itself. Neither can a man quicken himself who is dead in trespasses and in sins. We can try. Here is a poor man, and he’s a sinner. And he becomes affluent; then he’s a rich sinner. Here is a man who is uneducated; he’s an uneducated sinner. We send him to school; now he’s an educated sinner. Here is a man who lives in a slum or a ghetto, and he’s a sinner; he’s a ghetto sinner, he’s a slum sinner. We believe in better housing, so we place him in a finer house; and he’s a finer house sinner, but he’s still a sinner. That is, God says that the changing of the clothes and the changing of the house and the changing of the bank account does not change the man: that’s God’s thoughts.
Take again: how do I wash the stain of sin out of my life, how do I? How can I? From this moment on I shall live perfectly and above sin—if that were possible—what shall I do with my years that have already passed and I have done wrong? [Romans 3:23]. How do I wash the stain of wrong out of my life, out of my soul?
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know
These for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring—
either of personal righteousness or of money—
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[from “Rock of Ages,” Augustus M. Toplady]
Wonder of wonders, God’s thoughts about salvation. How can God save us and at the same time uphold His law? How—and this is what the Bible would frame it—how can God justify the ungodly and at the same time be just? [Romans 4:1-5]. How can God honor the law and uphold the law, and at the same time abundantly pardon us and have mercy upon us? That is called in the Bible the euaggelion, the evangel, the good news, the gospel. And it is this: that God Himself, God Himself took our sins and bore our iniquities and paid the penalty in His own body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. God became incarnate [John 1:1, 14], and as the incarnate Prince of glory, because of who He was, He was able to bear all of the penalties for all of our iniquities [Hebrews 10:4-14].
I cannot bear it; I’m a dying man. My father was a good man: he could not bear it; my father faced inevitable death. My loved and sainted mother could not do it; she also faced age and senility and death. These are they who love us, who would give their lives for us; they cannot save us. The only One who was able and mighty to save is God incarnate [John 1:1, 14]. “And the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all [Isaiah 53:6]; and by His stripes we are healed and made well” [Isaiah 53:5]. It is an atonement for our sins, that is, a payment, a ransom, a redemption for our sins in Him [Colossians 1:14]. He paid for every one. He bore the penalty for every one [1 John 2:2], and for His sake God pardons and forgives us [Ephesians 1:7].
Not that I am lovely, I am unlovely; not that I am worthy, I am unworthy; not that I am good, I am not good; but God pardons me and saves me and forgives me for Jesus’ sake [Romans 3:24]. For Jesus’ sake, God says, “Welcome”—sinner though I am—“Welcome.” For Jesus’ sake I am given a new hope, and a new prayer, and a new vision, and a new dream, and a new day, and a new glorious tomorrow [2 Corinthians 5:17], and finally a home in heaven [John 14:3]; for Jesus’ sake. And that’s why when we come to the assembly of the saints and God’s people are gathered together, for us to sing a song about praising one of us would be unworthy and unfitting. But for us to stand and praise Jesus, O God, how wonderful does it fit, how seemly and correct is it! And for this choir to stand up with the orchestra and to sing a glorious hymn praising Jesus, how marvelous do all of us feel in our hearts. That is right. That’s what it will be when we get to heaven.
Do you remember this song? “And they sang a new song, saying, Unto Him who loved us, and washed our sins in His own blood . . . to Him be glory and dominion and power forever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. Amen.
It’s all of the Lord. It’s from His gracious hands; it’s what God hath done for us. And the issue of my life is just to praise His name: “O bless God, what the Lord has done for me! O praise His name, what Jesus has given to me!” That is the Christian life, and that is God’s thoughts and God’s ways.
We must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Today, pastor, I decide for Christ [Romans 10:8-13], and here I am, here I come.”
“This is my family; all of us are coming this day. My wife and my children, here we are.” Or just a couple, or just one somebody you, if you’re on the last row of that top balcony, there is time and to spare, come. As the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life [Romans 10:9-10]. Do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.