The Ways of God and Man
May 16th, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
THE WAYS OF GOD AND OF MAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-16-76 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing this service on radio, WRR, the city of Dallas. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church bringing the message entitled The Ways of God and of Man. It is an exposition of a passage in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. In our preaching through this great prophetic book we have come to verse 6. And the text is as follows:
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, neither are your ways My 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 passage together. It is a section; it is a paragraph in the prophecy, and therefore it has to do with sin and salvation. Come back to God; let the unrighteous man forsake his wicked ways, and God will have mercy upon him and abundantly pardon [Isaiah 55:7]. So the passage has to do with sin and with salvation.
Then there is an expatiation upon that, an elongation. There is an appeal. There is an argument. “For,” says the Lord, “the fallen man does not look upon sin and salvation as I do. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,” an infinitude above us, “so are My thoughts of sin and salvation, and My ways of sin and salvation higher than your thoughts and your ways” [Isaiah 55:8-9].
It will be easy for us to compare the two because being people, fallen people, men and women, we can speak of us, and through the revealed Word of God we can speak of the Lord. We therefore compare the two; how a man thinks about sin and salvation and how God thinks about it. And they are vastly separate and apart.
First about sin, its nature, what a man thinks about sin. All of us are alike in these things. We categorize sins. There are little ones and there are big ones. There are venial sins, slight sins; and there are mortal sins, damning sins. There are sins that are trifling to us and to be overlooked. There are sins that are heinous and disastrous. When a man looks at sins, he categorizes them. But when God looks at sins, they are all alike, destructive and damning. Isn’t that an amazing thing, the way God looks? His thoughts are higher than ours and His ways are infinitely above us [Isaiah 55:9]. For this is the way that God looks at sin. All of them alike are damning, all of them.
In the second chapter of James and verse 10 the Lord says though a man keep all of the laws, all of the commandments, and yet offend in one, he is guilty of all of them, as though he had broken all of them [James 2:10]. What an amazing revelation of the thoughts of God. Here is a fine, upright, upstanding man. As the rich young ruler, “All of these have I observed from my youth up” [Mark 10:20]. One of the finest men that you could ever meet, upright, a man of integrity and righteousness. But he is not perfect. He offends in some section of God’s commanded law. And the Lord God says therefore, he in the sight of the Lord is as though he had broken them all [James 2:10].
It’s like a great chandelier. We used to have about six of them on each side in this vast auditorium, and one day one of those things broke and fell down, and I asked the men to take them out. Our lives are like that chandelier. You don’t have to break every link in the chain for the thing to crash; just break one link in the chain and it will fall. So with our lives: just be fine and noble; but sin, and in God’s sight we are destroyed [James 2:10]. That’s the way God thinks. How different from the way we think.
Look again: as a man thinks about the penalty, that is always a corollary with sin. This is the way a man thinks. There is no reason why, with me, and all people think that the other fellow sins are black but mine are not, there is no reason, we think, why God should be particularly disturbed about our sins, my sin. Why doesn’t He overlook it? It’s a trifle. It’s a small thing. Why doesn’t God forget it? Why pay attention to my sin?
But this is the way God thinks. All sin carries with it a penalty, namely death [Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23]. All of it. And we just said we categorize them, but not God. And they all carry a penalty with them. That is the character of God Himself. Whenever a law is broken, it carries with it a penalty.
Now law is a reflection of the character of God. That is God. Whenever you see the hand of God in this whole universe, you will see law and penalty. God has all kinds of laws. The whole universe is made up of His laws. There are planetary laws and gravitational laws and chemical laws and astronomical laws. And there are governmental laws and there are civil laws, and there are chemical laws, and there are scientific laws and there are laws everywhere. The whole universe reflects the character of God which is a reflection of His law.
Now law always carries a penalty if it is violated. Gravitational law: here is a man that smiles and spurns it and steps off of a ten-story building. But God says every infraction of His law carries with it a judgment. And the fellow falls to his death. He’s just illustrating the unviolability of God’s law. Or anatomical laws, laws that govern our body: here is strychnine. And the fellows smiles and sneers. “I don’t obey God’s laws. Give me the strychnine,” and he takes it, and he dies in horrible convulsions. I have seen that. It is indescribable and unspeakable. That’s God.
Or civil law: here is a man who has fractured it. He’s violated it, civil law, our laws, which the Bible says is a reflection of the character of God, government. And the man stands before the judge and he says, “I realize that I have broken the law. But it’s to be overlooked. It’s a slight thing.” And the judge sternly would look at him and say, “But the law must be obeyed, and the law must be upheld, and when you break the law it carries with it a penalty. Otherwise,” the judge would say, “the whole earth would be filled with murder, and rape, and robbery, and violence.” There is no such thing as government without law and penalty.
So it is with God’s moral laws. The same Lord God that made that law of gravity and the same Lord God that made that law of anatomy and the same Lord God that established the law of government is the same Lord God that establishes moral law. And there is no possibility of a man violating moral law, spiritual law, without a penalty.
I think of David. You know we don’t realize when we read the life of David is that we are looking from a Christian vantage point back to a time of about 1000 BC. And in that long ago day of monarch, an Oriental monarch was absolute. He did as he pleased. And when the absolute monarch wanted Bathsheba, there was nothing to keep him from taking Bathsheba [2 Samuel 11:1-5]. And when he sent Uriah, her husband, into the forefront of the battle that he might be killed, there was nothing that an Oriental monarch could not command. And that was in order. So he killed Uriah, had him murdered [2 Samuel 11:6-17]. And he took Bathsheba [2 Samuel 11:27]. And that is perfectly all right in that day of the absoluteness of an Oriental monarch. But when that story is told, do you remember the next verse? “But God, but God!” [2 Samuel 11:27]. That might be all right in the sight of a man, as a man thinks, as those Orientals thought. But God doesn’t think that. And God sent Nathan, the prophet, to confront David [2 Samuel 12:1-12].
All right, take again. What Ahab did about Naboth’s vineyard, under the aegis of Jezebel, his wife, was perfectly all right. It was a legal trial. And Jezebel had her witnesses. And they stoned on Naboth and his blood ran out on the ground. And Jezebel said to her husband Ahab, “Arise and possess” [1 Kings 21:5-15]. And Ahab stood up and went down into Naboth’s vineyard to possess it [1 Kings 21:16]. Then the next verse: “But God.” God said to Elijah, “Go meet him and say to him, In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, shall the dogs lick up your blood [1 Kings 21:17-19]. And Jezebel shall be eaten by the dogs,” on the wall, near the wall of Jezreel [1 Kings 21:23]. And Elijah, the prophet of God, walked into the vineyard when Ahab came to possess it [1 Kings 21:16-18]. And Ahab looked at him and said, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” [1 Kings 21:20]. Isn’t that an awful thing to make an enemy of God?
That’s the Lord. Now, this is the way the man thinks regarding the judgment of that penalty. “That’s so harsh. That’s so strident and stringent. That’s so damning and judgmental. Surely God wouldn’t do that.” I’ve heard that ten thousand times ten thousand times. “A loving God wouldn’t do that.” That’s the way a man thinks. But this is the way God thinks. God says, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: O turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].
And the Lord teaches us that the purpose of the law is that we might be saved, that we might be brought to Christ [Galatians 3:24]. That we might see the awesomeness of our violation. Look, here is a child. And the child has to be taught. What does the child have to be taught to live? The child has to be taught fire burns. Burns! Burns! Fire burns. And a fall hurts. You just can’t fall off. A fall hurts. Or a pin sticks! A child has to be taught these things. And God is teaching us by His laws and the penalty that goes with it that sins destroys and damns! [James 1:15].
Look. Here is a railroad track, and there is a fast express freight that is coming. And that bell rings, ring, ring, ring, ring. And that red light flashes and the red light flashes. A man looks at that and says, “The railroad company is my enemy. Look at that light and look at that noise.” No, the railroad company is your friend. There is a fast express train coming. Look out! Watch. Or there is a bridge out. And there is a barricade across the road and maybe a red lantern and maybe a sign. And the fellow says, “Why, the highway department is my enemy,” and he burst through the barricade. The bridge is out. It’s a kindness of the highway department.
So it is in that New Testament. There are five hundred references to hell. They are five hundred signs that God has placed along the road of life saying, “This road leads to hell. Look! Stop!” That’s God. How God looks at our sin and how a man looks at it. “For My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts are not your thoughts” [Isaiah 55:8].
Now we turn to salvation: how does a man look at salvation? I can tell you exactly how he looks at it. Unless he has been taught by the Holy Spirit and brought to the true knowledge of God, this is how a man will think about salvation. “You know what,” he says, “I admit that I do wrong. I am not perfect. I am a sinner. I admit that. But I am not all bad. There is a lot of good in me, and I have done this and this and this.” So he thinks, the man thinks, he thinks when I stand in the great assize and before the judgment bar of Almighty God, the bad will be on this scale. And then the good will be on this scale. And if, in the great balance, the good overweighs the bad, then I am all right. I will be saved.
Now in keeping with that thought, and in keeping with that persuasion, you know what the man will do? He’ll do all kinds of things. Let me show you what he will do. He’ll do all kinds of things to reform. You know, “I am going to cut this out. It’s bad. And I’m going to quit that. That’s bad.” That’s one thing he will do. All right, another thing he will do. He will be altruistic and philanthropic. “I’ll do some good with my money, and I’ll do some good with my time. And I am going to do good. And that’ll be to my account.” And then sometimes he will go through all kinds of disciplines in order to present himself as worthy in the sight of God. He’ll do penances, and he’ll do all kinds of things to deny himself. And ultimately, sometimes, he will chasten himself like Martin Luther. He beat himself and he beat himself because of the struggle against sin in his life.
And then finally he will come to all kinds of religious rituals and genuflections and ceremonies before God in order to save himself. He’ll believe in baptisms and in communions, and in confessions, and in flagellations, and in penances, and in confirmations, and finally will do it with rituals and chants and Te Deums and vestments and candles and altars, and the Lord only knows what all the man will do to commend himself to God. Now that is the way a man thinks.
All right, how does God think about how we are saved? What are the thoughts of God as the Lord looks at us? There are several of them. Number one, and we will get to this in the Book of Isaiah a few chapters a long. Number one, God says, “Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6]. And Dr. Patterson, I wish I could translate that as it actually is, but I cannot do it in nice company. It is an expression in the Hebrew. In God’s sight all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6].
That is, even in my prayers I don’t pray correctly or perfectly. There is lack in them. Even in my repentance I don’t repent perfectly. There is a lack in it. And even in my worship of God there is lack in it. I am not only fallen in my physical life, but I am fallen also in all of my faculties. My mind is fallen. My emotions are fallen. My responses are fallen. And God sees it. In God’s sight I am a lost sinner [Romans 3:23]. And all of these things by which I commend myself to God, in them themselves there is lack and shortcoming.
All right, another thing, how God looks upon us. God says in Ephesians 2:1 that we are dead in trespasses and in sins. And no corpse can quicken itself and raise itself. And all we do is dress it up. Have you ever been to a funeral? Have you ever watched the funeral director? The corpse is beautifully decorated. There is not anything that human hand can do that they don’t do in that funeral parlor. They will comb the hair. They will prepare the face. They will get a beautiful suit or a beautiful dress and they will place it in a beautiful casket. But it is dead. It is a corpse. And that’s what God says about us. We are corpses; we are dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1].
And that is, here is a man who is a sinner in rags. Dress him up, and he will be a sinner in beautiful garments. Here is a man who is as poor as a sinner. Give him riches, and he will be a rich sinner. Here is a man who lives in a ghetto. He is a ghetto sinner. He is a slum sinner. Give him better housing, and he’ll be a better housed sinner. Here is a man who is uneducated. He is a sinner. Educate him and he will be an educated sinner. The clothes and the house and the bank account don’t change the man. He’s still the same, God said.
And then the Lord says all of our efforts are not able to wash the stain of sin out of our souls [Isaiah 64:6]. If I were to live perfectly from this moment forward, what shall I do from this moment back? For I have sinned, and come short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].
Could my tears forever flow?
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin cannot atone.
Thou must save and Thou alone.
I cannot save myself.
In my hands no price—
no bribe, no worthiness—
do I bring.
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[from “Rock of Ages,” Augustus M. Toplady]
And that leads me to the tremendous way of God. How can God forgive a man and at the same time uphold His law? For the law carries with it penalty. Sin carries with it death [Ezekiel 18:4]. How can God forgive a sinner and the same time uphold His law. Or as the Bible says it, how can God be just, and the justifier of the ungodly? [Romans 3:26]. How can He do both?
And this is the thing that angels desired to look into [1 Peter 1:9-12]. It was an amazing mustērion in the heart of God [Colossians 1:26]. This is what God did. He gave Himself, made in fashion as a man [Philippians 2:8]. And as a man incarnate [John 1:1, 14], and as God in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16], God heaped all of the sins of the world upon Him [John 3:16]. He made Him to be sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21], and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all [Isaiah 53:5-6], and every penalty that should have come to us fell upon Him [1 Peter 2:24].
And the reason He was able to bear the iniquity of the world [1 John 2:2], was because of who He was. I could not. I perish under my own sins. My godly father could not. He also was a dying man. My sweet and sainted mother could not. She also faced age and death. Who could save us, bear our iniquities for us? None other than the Prince of Glory, the Son of God. And that’s God’s way of salvation. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. And He paid the penalty for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He died in our stead [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21]. By His stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5].
And the glorious gospel now is no longer, nor ever has been, “do and be saved.” But the gospel always is “look and live” [John 3:14-15]; “believe and be saved” [Acts 16:30-31]; wash and be clean” [Revelation 1:5; 1 John 1:7; 2 Kings 5:10-14]. Praise God out of the fullness of your heart for what He has done for you.
I’m not saved because I am lovely; I am unlovely. I am not saved because I am worthy; I am unworthy. I am not saved because I am good; I am not good. I am saved for Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:21]. The Lord looks upon Him, and when I come to Him, the Lord looks at my sin and my unworthiness through the beauty and the worthiness of the Lord Jesus [1 Corinthians 1:30]. And when He sees me through Him, I am forgiven. I am pardoned. I am a child of the King. For He said, “And let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” [Isaiah 55:7].
That’s why when we come to the church and assemble in the house of God, for us to praise men doesn’t seem right. And for us to exalt one another doesn’t seem appropriate. For we are all lost sinner alike [Romans 3:23]. But when we come to the house of God, we are to sing praises to Jesus, oh, how fit. And for a man to stand up and say, “Thank God for the mercy and abounding forgiveness in Christ,” we all in our hearts say “Amen.”
For is it not but the song of ages: “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. Amen. So, let’s sing it again. And let’s praise God again. And let’s exalt His name again. And let us rejoice in Him again. For it is He who hath bound us in chains of love to the grace and glory of God.
As we sing our hymn, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, today, this day, I see that. I see that. I know what I have thought and do think. And I know now what God thinks and how He is. And I am coming in praise and in confession to the Lord” [Romans 10:8-13]. If you are in that topmost balcony on the last row, there is time and to spare. Come, come, come. Down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. This day I have decided for Christ. This is my family. All of us are coming.” Or just you; may the angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.