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The Necessity of Conversion

The Necessity of Conversion

From Redeemed With Judgement: Volume 2, by Homer C. Hoeksema, page 30-34.


Isaiah 1:13–17

Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.


God’s Attitude
All the ecclesiastical piety that the text describes is an abomination to the Lord. This is very strongly expressed in the text, as well as in the context. “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” (v. 13). God uses very graphic language. The text really means, “Your oblations and incense, your new moons and sabbaths, your calling of assemblies make me puke! They are trouble unto me! I am weary to bear them!” Allow me again to express this in New Testament language: “Don’t come to church. Don’t baptize your children. Don’t come to the Lord’s supper. Keep your money; don’t bring it to me. I hate it when you come to church with a pious face and a Sunday suit. I can’t stomach your services; I can’t stand your singing and your praying.”

What is abominable about all of this? What accounts for the Lord’s strongly condemnatory language?

The answer is that all the aspects of worship that the text mentions are only a means to the life of holiness and righteousness before the Lord on the part of God’s people. They are only means to the real life of lowliness and humility before the Lord. If you take the means—which is intended to be only a means—and put the means into the place of the purpose that it is intended to serve, and through outward ecclesiastical exercises and services try to cover up a life of wickedness, then you have the most abominable hypocrisy! There is no truth in such worship.

Understand well the awful character of Judah’s sin. Its dreadful character is not that men try to deceive other men, which is bad enough. Its dreadful character is that when men conduct themselves in this way, they are really acting as if they can deceive the Lord. That is much, much worse. They attempt to get the Lord to cooperate with them and to put his divine stamp of approval upon their wickedness. They want the Lord to be a crony, a cohort, of a band of thieves and murderers.

Once again to express the situation in New Testament terms: You come to church; you pray, you sing, you preach, you listen, you celebrate baptism and the Lord’s supper with wickedness in your right hand. And then you say, “Lord, go along with this! Cooperate with it! Put thy divine stamp of approval on it! Accept my offerings from these filthy, sinful, murder-laden hands!”

But the testimony of the Lord is that he refuses to cooperate: “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear” (v. 15). Spreading forth the hands is basically the same as prayer; it is the symbol of supplication, the symbol of expressing need, of crying for help. The people and their leaders multiply prayers: they pray much, they pray repeatedly, they pray in need, and they pray in thankfulness.

Their prayers, however, are an abomination to the Lord: “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you.” That is, “I do not hear; all your prayers are pure vanity.” This language is very plain. Prayer is communion with God. When a man prays, he says, “Lord, I want to have communion and fellowship with thee.” But when God says, “I will hide mine eyes from you,” he says, “I have no fellowship with your ungodliness.” Prayer is the expression of the desire to enjoy God’s favor. But when God says, “Yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear,” he says, “Never will you enjoy my favor. There is no communion between light and darkness. There is no fellowship between Christ and Belial. There can be no relationship of fellowship and communion between me, the Holy One, and the wicked.”

The Necessity of Conversion
God’s response leads to the necessity of conversion, which is expressed in the command, “Wash you, make you clean” (v. 16).

Washing and making clean refer to justification and forgiveness—not to outward ceremonial washing, but to washing and purification from the sins that the people have committed. Washing and purification from their sins can take place only through reconciliation, which can take place only through atonement. Atonement can take place only through the complete satisfaction of God’s righteousness. The complete satisfaction of God’s righteousness can and does take place only through the cross of Jesus Christ. The application of the power and merit of his justifying blood gives forgiveness. Only in this way can the wickedness of their deeds be removed from God’s sight.

From a spiritual, subjective viewpoint, this washing and being made clean, this forgiveness, can be received only in the way of heartfelt sorrow over sin. It can be received only in the way of self-humiliation in dust and ashes, according to which a man cries out, “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

This is the message that the hut in the vineyard must hear always and again. God’s word is, “Wash you, make you clean. Get on your knees in heartfelt sorrow over sin. Humble yourself in dust and ashes.” God will receive you, not because you get on your knees or because you humble yourself in dust and ashes. What good will that do as far as God’s forgiveness is concerned? No, God will receive you because of the cross of Jesus Christ and his atoning blood.

Ungodly Sodom must hear this word, too, although it will never turn; the word must be a testimony against the ungodly. But first and foremost the elect kernel must hear it, because by nature we are not one whit different from godless Sodom. As we are by nature our sins are not any less than Sodom’s. The old nature that is the source of those sins of Sodom and Gomorrah is still with us, and against it we must always fight.

Moreover, the hut in the vineyard must hear this word of the prophet in order that those who are asleep in the midst of Sodom’s corruptions may be jarred awake and come to repentance. Finally, the hut in the vineyard must hear this because those who are awake and watching need comfort. When God’s word testifies with them against the wicked, they enjoy the comfort of forgiveness and cleansing that can be received only in the way of sanctification.

Verses 16 and 17 speak of sanctification: “Cease to do evil; Learn to do well.” The content of this learning to do well the text also spells out: “Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” The life of sanctification manifests itself in defending and doing good to the oppressed and the downtrodden, to the helpless widow and orphan.

There is a close connection between forgiveness and sanctification, between washing and learning to do well, because there is no upright seeking and finding of forgiveness and justification, except justification reveals itself in a life of sanctification. The two are inseparable.

Then all the other aspects of worship mentioned in the text are placed into their proper context. The offerings, feast days, and ceremonies are not per se condemned by the Lord. Our services, sacraments, preaching, singing, and praying are certainly not condemned by the Lord, but they must be viewed in their proper places as means to a real life of righteousness, holiness, humility, lowliness, and sanctification.

Only then will it go well with the church. Only then will God incline his ear to the prayer of the remnant. To Sodom and Gomorrah the word of the Lord is, “There is no peace ... to the wicked” (Isa. 57:21). But Zion will be redeemed through justice, and her converts through righteousness. He who confesses and forsakes his sin will certainly enjoy the favor of the Lord. Therefore, wash you, and make you clean; cease to do evil, and learn to do well.


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