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OBVERSE AND OBSERVATION
There are two sides to it. How often does one hear this observation. However, it is normally rather misleading. Someone is sacked, and we hear that there are two sides to it, and that the new industrial legislation in Australia will be challenged in terms of justice.
We are told, perhaps, that there was no notice given, no ground provided for this action, that it was a wanton and tyrannical act; and perhaps, just possibly, the sacked party would rather like one hundred thousand dollars for pacification. At least, that is how some employers have felt about things, in the past.
The reaction sets in. What a shocking and wanton dismissal/attempt to hide the frank negligence of the one dismissed.
There are, according to this or that party, two sides to it. HOW can one employ anyone if he is to be given ludicrous sums because his lawyer plus the cultural twist, combine to provide much for nothing ? On the other side, HOW can anyone feel safe from opportunistic exploitation on the part of an employer, who cynically uses an employe as a mere device for complicated business strategies.
Two sides! cry the lawyers, before both sides, as in Aesop's Fables, lose the 'cheese' which the lawyers constantly pare, in an effort to give to each an equal amount, succeeding only in paying themselves ALL, from the many legal processes.
In fact, it may be, just possibly, that the employe was both an activist, an opportunist and a reasonable worker, whose efforts to stir up trouble in the interests of gain were considerable; thus causing a somewhat quizzical and eventually disenchanted and negative attitude on the part of the employer, who is keen for those who want to co-operate in a vision into which he has possibly sunk all or part of his funds.
It may also be possible that the employe has tended to penalise this worker for his preoccupations, not in an effort to 'fix' him, or discipline him, but because a man naturally will look for someone who can put his heart into a project, and who does not constantly have a heavily intrusive private equation which diminishes co-operation and efficiency.
In that case, there are two sides; but they are not equal.
Sometimes there is a trap, and one party or the other has practised what is called entrapment, deliberately doing something in the hope that the other party will react in an envisaged way, and thus come to be at a disadvantage, allowing gain of some kind by the schemer. Few like schemers, who merely use a situation of one kind, which it ostensibly is, to create a situation of another kind, exploiting patience or organisation to this end.
In this case, there may be only one side: economic gluttony and moral baseness.
There are however regions in which two sides are not questions of fair play and justice, but of functional reality.
Thus in the case of predestination and human will, there are assuredly two sides, not as in a dispute, but as in the two sides if you want to put it that way, of our earth, about its axis, largely North and South. They work together by the nature of the case, without disharmony.
You find this fact and facet gloriously clear and fascinatingly embedded in the texts of Isaiah 6, Matthew 13 and John 12.
In Isaiah 6, we learn that the LORD is going to make the people hearts gross, that they may not see, and that a sovereign divine action will place them under virtual judgment.
In Matthew 13:13-14, at the lips of Christ, we have this put in such a way that it is the PEOPLE who close their own eyes: they are not now said to have them closed FOR them.
In John 12, again, at verse 46, we find that
"He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."
This is exactly and directly attributed to Isaiah.
How then does Matthew in its reference to this Isaianic text, refer to the people wilfully shutting their own eyes ? some may ask.
Naturally, any author can interpret his own work, and does not need to keep to the exact lines in a given place, his thought carrying a burden and a depth which is exposed or expressed in a reference. In fact, in Isaiah, Chapter 6 had been preceded by enormous appeals (as in Ch. 1),
"They have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken any more!"
comes the lament, the exhortation and the appeal. Again,
"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil. Learn to do good.
Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor.
Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
By verse 18 of Ch. 1, it increases in tenderness and entreaty:
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD.
Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Again, we find this:
"If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword."
A time is even envisaged at a future epoch, when
"Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness."
Chapter 2 exposes the wonder of this scene of judgment, near the finale of the history of an Age to come, when many nations will come to Jerusalem for spiritual reasons, when many will hide under rocks in the mounting tide of judgment, when the Lord alone will be exalted. Isaiah 3 dwells on the contemporary sins in detail and with disgust. Isaiah 4 looks via symbolic figure in 4:6, to the reality of the Messiah as in 32:1-4, or 11:1-10. Here is the final cure for all the symptoms of sin, all judgment and the entire provider of spiritual joy at its zenith (as in Isaiah 51:11), through His own vicarious sorrows and sacrifice (Isaiah 49-55), making peace free and salvation for no price (except to Himself!).
Chapter 5 of Isaiah brings out a startling parable. Israel is a wonderfully prepared and equipped vineyard, where the care and nurture has been so neglected by the tenders of the property, that only judgment can come. What tenderness, care and concern went into its construction. How carefully was the vineyard made and established!
Moving to the point of the parable, the LORD declares that when He "looked for justice", what did He find ?
"Behold the oppressor."
He looked for "righteousness, but behold a cry."
Whatever the proud or greedy exploiters of the property may have intended, the LORD heard the cry of those who were exploited. He was not lulled by the words of the 'wise' who misused the land.
By the time we reach the relevant chapter for our present purpose, Isaiah 6, we find a vision of the glory of God, in which angels appear, and from the fires burning on the altar, one messenger takes live coals, and touches the lips of Isaiah. In this way, there is symbolised the removal of sin from his lips, from dominating his life, so that he becomes ready to be a prophet for the Lord.
The message then comes, and it includes, as in John's citation of it, in John 12, the point that in a final judgment on the land, which has been so entreated, so provided for, so watched over, so exhorted, so drawn to tender mercies and utter renewal, cleansing and justice, beauty of holiness and restoration, as we have seen: there is to come a strange result. At least, so it may seem at first. The eyes of the people are to be CLOSED, their hearts are to be made fat or full, lest they should hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.
It is more than apparent that this is a consequential judgment, following hundreds of years of neglected appeal, disused exhortation, the initial gift of the 'vineyard', the constant care and attention of God, and the utter refusal of the people to respond to multiplied divine caresses, entreaties and offers.
SINCE they have so obstructively, obstinately and pertinaciously, indeed so contumaciously rejected the divine grace and pity, now their time is past for this, and only judgment comes. Their ears, misused like those of some today who repeatedly listen to music far too loud, will become deafened. Clinton, former US President apparently has ear trouble from such a cause. It is not so uncommon. Hard sounds can be detrimental at length to the very instrument of hearing!
If, then, to return to the point at issue, you abuse liberty, mock love, reject even justice, oppress and wilfully betray all love and kindness, all provision and pity, then a time comes when your spirit as in Isaiah 57:15 would fail before the Lord. There is only so much that the human soul can stand, only so much wear, only so much traffic. Harden your heart to a certain point and it becomes like a cancer, with only death in tow.
This then is that result. When therefore Christ refers to this area of Isaiah, He takes out the preliminary contexts, and sees it whole and clear, making MOST APPARENT the CONSEQUENTIAL side of things, but placing in sight the actual CLOSING of their OWN eyes by their OWN wilfulness, which led on to the judgment in Isaiah.
That then, it is the OTHER SIDE!
It is not, however, that there is so much room for divine sovereignty, which will 'kick in' at a certain point, and so much for human freedom, which in strongly pathological cases, may be stretched too far and ... break. That would be a merely superficial approach to the symptoms and the divine diagnosis in Isaiah, Matthew and John (for God is providing in the New Testament, nothing less than a commentary on this passage in the Old Testament, a fascinating opportunity for us to see the divine mind at work in such a field! on His own work).
Rather the case is this. The Lord, like man, is personal. He is patient, longsuffering and gracious and shows and says so (cf. Micah 7:19ff., where mercy is maximised, Exodus 33, where sovereignty is insisted on, and Exodus 34:8, where the divine panorama of peace and grace comes into view acutely). Yet He is no fool, is not able to be gulled, does not become miffed, that is, does not respond in intemperate rage because of some sore point. He is just and He is gracious, delighted in mercy, but not remitting sin for the impenitent.
When therefore a certain situation, as in Isaiah 6, arrives, then He WILL bring in judgment at His own discretion. The decision of the judge is final. However, how often as in Jeremiah, He seeks yet further, even when it is hard to see how more mercy could be compressed into the vile and rebellious scenario provided by the Israel of the day. You see that in Jeremiah 17, with this staggering new offer about the day of rest. You see the same attitude which so riled Jonah, at the end of that prophetic work. Jonah knew there would be some way of getting mercy through: for God is like that...even to Nineveh, of all places. And He did! It was not till hundreds of years later that the axe fell, and if ever a nation was warned, this was it! It did not make judgment more palatable, but more understandable. When it came, as Nahum describes it, there is little left to the imagination.
As to God, none will tell HIM, when and whom to judge, or how. Yet He pleads as we have seen, with passion to avoid it. In Amos 4, you see just this: and here is a sequence of mercies, reminders, minor disciplines and obstinate ignorings of them on the part of Israel. AN END then comes: Prepare to meet your God! He declares.
All this is not in the least difficult to understand, since we also are persons, and this is personal conduct, in this case, of the infinite God who made us persons, and who has marvellous self-control, patience, tenderness of heart and no ability to be taken for a ride in the countryside or pleasantness, by those who merely pretend. HE KNOWS (Psalm 11).
Thus, as for the divine sovereignty, it is absolute, whether in Exodus 34 or Romans 9. As for the mercy, it is passionately intrusive, as in Micah 7:19ff., Ezekiel 33:11, Luke 19:42ff., Matthew 23:37ff., Jeremiah 13:23, 51:8-9, and so on. As to Babylon, as in the last verse just noted, God declares that intensive solicitude to the end:
"we would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed."
Indeed, in the preceding verse, you see the
"Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed. Wail for her! Take balm for her pain, perhaps she may be healed."
The side of man, in sin, it is this. He has NO merits, NO grounds for pride, NO store of merit, since perfection is the pass score, and whatever is less, does not sit well in the heaven of profound peace, or before the scorching fires of eternal truth and justice (Isaiah 33:14ff.).
That may seem harsh, but it is realistic FOR THE REALM in view.
On the other 'side', God in mercy seeks by all right mans (cf. Hosea 12:10,II Chronicles 36, II Kings 17), to bring mercy to those whose follies make it hard, like trying to introduce molten elastic into a box of powder, in order to improve the texture...
The sovereignty is indeed His own; the awareness of who is receiving and deceiving, whose heart seen before all time, is open for air-lift to heaven, and whose is not (in a pre-fall condition where no sin is present, so that no merit is differential). Discerned in His foreknowledge (Romans 8:29ff.), this too is His own. He chooses His own. He does it with the revealed principles in view, as stated and shown by Christ, as seen in some of the texts above, and in the Old Testament alike. The Christ of history, in character and attitudes, was present always (John 8:58) in all phases of divine action, and so in the foreknowledge and predestination, the very One from whom came the words now recorded in Luke 19:42ff.. With His Father, He wills one will (John 5:19-23, 10:30, Matthew 11:27, John 6:65).
No one is to advise or counsel Him on this point. He KNOWS what He is doing and is plighted to keep His own principles. Therefore if you do not TRUST Him, you find nothing. If, however, in terms of the mercy and truth model provided, you do, then there is nothing at all to be concerned about, if truth is your quest, love is your domain, mercy is your target and the glory of God is your aim. If not, then you go to your own place, as Christ said of Judas.
OUR side is that we are sinners; HIS side is that He would like to bring us to His own most blessed peace, truth and love. His is to give; ours is to receive. His is to provide, ours is to accept. His is the largesse, ours is the meanness, the littleness, the exposure.
Two sides ? You COULD say this, but as far as credit, goodness and mercy is concerned, in the relationship between us sinners and the divine Lord, there is only one GOOD side!