Rev. G. G. Hutton
This sermon, now edited and somewhat abridged, was preached by Mr Hutton, as retiring Moderator of the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, on Tuesday, 23rd May, 2000, at the opening of the annual meeting of the Synod.
Text: “Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people” (Isaiah. 62:10).
E would draw your attention to the words at the end of this verse: “. . . lift up a standard for the people.” We see that this duty is incorporated with others that are set before us in the verse. In the 60th chapter the prophet predicts glorious days of outstanding blessing for the church of God. In this 62nd chapter, God sets before His servants the responsibilities and duties they are to engage in, and which will contribute to the bringing to pass of those glorious days. Therefore, the servants of God were not just to sit back and think, “We have the Lords promise and we shall rest upon it. We believe that what God has promised He will do, and we shall wait until He does it.” This they certainly believed, but they also appreciated that God purposed to make his servants instruments for bringing about, according to His decree, that time of blessing for His Church.
That, I believe, is the context in which God is saying to the prophet, “Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people,” saying, as it were, “You are to be concerned for the people whom I have purposed to draw, in whose hearts I am going to work, and who will become living stones in the glorious spiritual temple. Go through the gates, prepare the way for them, gather out the stones, take away the stumbling blocks, lift up a standard in order to rally them to it, according to the purpose of God.”
So we shall consider these words, “Lift up a standard for the people”, as words by which the Lord Himself is directing His ministering servants to their duty and responsibility. We shall note first, the duty that is to be performed, “Lift up a standard.” Secondly, we shall consider the divine purpose for which this duty is to be engaged in, that is, “for the people” for their sakes. Thirdly, we may consider some of the characteristics of those who would engage in this duty, performing it according to the mind of God.
First, the Lord is directing His servants to this duty: “Lift up a standard.” When the prophet Isaiah wrote these words it was around 698 B.C. He lived and laboured in and around Jerusalem, and had witnessed many distressing changes. The whole world of Isaiah was changing. With regard to the nations around him their politics, their economies, and society in each of them, were changing dramatically. At the same time there were great changes in Israel and in Judah. Isaiah had seen the northern kingdom of Israel destroyed. He had witnessed King Hoshea imprisoned by the Assyrians, the people of Samaria destroyed, and the people of Israel taken away by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, and settled in various parts of his great domain. When the Assyrians captured a people they took them away from their own land and settled them here and there in other lands, mixing them with the various peoples, for the purpose of causing them to lose their identity and forget their history.
Back in 722 B.C. Isaiah had witnessed the fall of Samaria. Twenty-one years later, in 701 B.C., and not long before Isaiah wrote these words of our text, Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem the very place in which the Lord had established His name, His house and His worship, and where He had manifested His glory. When King Hezekiah cried to the Lord, his prayers were answered, and for a season Jerusalem was delivered. But Isaiah knew only too well that the hearts of the people were hard. In their hearts they had departed from God, not giving heed to the solemn warnings they had received from the dealings of God with the northern kingdom and His people there.
A hundred years after Isaiah wrote this 62nd chapter, Jerusalem fell, and the people of Judah were carried away to Babylon. God demonstrated His anger at their idolatry and their apostatising from Him. It seemed the house of David had come to an end. The covenant made with Abraham the covenant made with David what had become of it? The tribes were scattered, the house of God was laid in the dust, the gates of Jerusalem were burned, the worship of God was no longer maintained in the city. As Isaiah wrote this chapter he was aware, we believe, of those sad things that were going to happen a hundred years later, but in the chapter he prophesies those wonderful things which the Lord directed him to say.
Here, in chapter 62, are amazing words. Regardless of what is going to happen however severe the judgements of God will be, however hopelessly lost His cause might appear to be, however impossible its recovery may seem to be these are the words of the Lord to Isaiah: “For Zions sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalems sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth” (verse 1). Some, of course, think that these are the words of Isaiah only but it seems to me (having compared them with other parts of the prophecy, and indeed with what is written in the rest of this chapter) that it is God Himself who is speaking. It was not in Isaiahs power to say, for example, as we read in verse six, “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night.” It is therefore, in my opinion, Jehovah, God Himself, who says: “For Zions sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalems sake I will not rest.”
Whatever happens however dark the day may become, however desolate Zion may be this is absolutely certain: God will never rest in connection with His cause. He will be active, He will be bringing to pass what He has decreed from all eternity concerning His cause. He declares, “I will not hold my peace,” as if to say, “Men may become slothful, they may lose heart, they may seek even to destroy Zion, but I, the great God of eternity, whose arm is not shortened that it cannot save, whose ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalems sake I will not rest.”
What an encouragement! What a glorious truth for Isaiah to take heart from with regard to the remnant of the godly, grieving among the desolations of Zion and thinking at times, “How will it ever be recovered? The cause is lost!” But now they hear from heaven that God is at work; Zions cause is His cause; He will not rest. He declares, “I will not be at peace until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory.” He says as it were, “I will not rest until that takes place! Then thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name” (verses 1 and 2). A new day was to come for Zion, a glorious day. Though Jerusalem, the place of Israels solemnities, would be laid low to the ground, the godly were not to think that God had forgotten His cause, or ceased working. He would be fulfilling His purposes regardless of the activities of men, wicked or righteous. Because this is so, the Lord says to His servants, “Lift up a standard.”
What standard was that? The word standard, sometimes translated as banner or ensign, basically means that which is elevated something that is lifted up so that men are able to see it. The prophet himself knew what God meant when He said, “Lift up a standard.” In this same prophecy he was directed to write of that standard, “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:10-12).
In these words God was speaking of a day when a banner would be set up, when a standard would be raised, to be the rallying point. It would have a drawing effect upon men dispersed throughout the nations of the earth, divided one from another scattered by the Assyrians throughout the nations of the great Assyrian empire the Jews separated one from another, the children of Judah scattered here and there, the tribes of Israel divided and not knowing where they were one from another but God had a purpose.
Therefore, because He had promised good for His people and had a purpose to bless His cause, God laid this duty upon His servants: “Lift up a standard for the people.” They were not to conclude, because of what the Babylonians had done, that the cause of the Lord was lost and finished forever, but they were to lift up a standard in the name of the Lord as the Psalmist said in Psalm 60, “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth” (verse 4). So it was the responsibility of the servants of God to be instrumental in reviving hope among the scattered remnant of the godly, and it was their duty to raise a standard that would draw and rally men, however far scattered to the four corners of the earth they would be.
What was the standard? It was the very one that the prophet Isaiah wrote of in chapter 45. There we find the Lord saying: “Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth” (verse 22) as if He were saying, “Look unto me! I am the standard! I am the ensign!” Jesus Himself says, as we read in John 3, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (verses 14-15). However lost the cause might appear to be, however hopeless the case of scattered, lost men might be, they would look to Him and be enlightened, as the Psalmist wrote of others, “They looked to him, and lightened were” (Psl. 34:5). This was the duty of the servants of God: to be setting up the standard of another kingdom.
What do we see emblazoned on the standard which the Lord directs His servants to lift up? It is Jehovah Tsidkenu the LORD our righteousness because it would be a standard raised to men and women who had sinned against the God of Heaven and brought His judgements upon themselves. Their kings, their priests, their prophets had sinned; the people had sinned; and now they were scattered in judgement; but this banner was to be raised in the sight of poor sinners who are reaping death because of their sin. Christ was to be exalted before them. His kingdom is not of this world, as He said to Pilate. The kingdom of Israel has come to an end, the kingdom of Judah has perished, it seems, and now the kingdoms of men are exalted. The great Assyrian empire rules the world, so it thinks, but God said to His servants, as it were, “Let men know that there is a God in heaven who still reigns and rules, and that His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Raise the standard of His kingdom wherever you go. Go through the gates and exalt Christ to poor, perishing men.”
Now, secondly, what is the purpose for which the servants of God are to engage in this duty of lifting up the standard? It is this: that the people would be blessed. “Lift up a standard for the people.”
We may note that in this prophesy of Isaiah there is a division a period of time between the writing of chapters 56 and 57. In chapter 56, Isaiah describes the state of affairs in the nation: “All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, everyone for his own gain, from his own quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant” (verses 9-12). It is believed that Isaiah wrote these words about 712 B.C.
Then 14 years later, at around 698 B.C., when chapter 62 was written, chapter 57 was also written. Listen to Isaiah speak in chapter 57, verse 1, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.” Isaiah knew that the evil days were coming, but he also knew why they were coming. He was the servant of God, and knew full well what God declared: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”
During those 14 years Isaiah no doubt reflected upon the sad state of the nation, and thought about Gods coming judgements. He pondered the state of the shepherds of Israel, the attitudes of the princes of Israel, the low state of the Lords cause, and that the righteous were perishing. And now he writes that no man even cares; no man lays it to heart. Why are the people scattered? It is because the shepherds did not care for them. The princes, the priests and the prophets in Israel and Judah had no concern for them; they were taken up with eating, drinking and exploiting the people as Isaiah said, “They are all greedy dogs, they are dumb dogs.” The people were perishing and the shepherds did not care! The situation is so awfully bad that the Lord says to Isaiah, “Lift up a standard for the people.”
The prophet Ezekiel, in his own day, was directed by the Lord to speak of the Lords controversy with the shepherds of Israel. God was angered because His flock was scattered by the shepherds neglecting it. He says in Ezekiel 34, “Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock” (verses 7-8). The Lord shows how they scattered His flock: they fed themselves, they were taken up with their own interests. There were no true shepherds, apart from a tiny minority. Now and again a king like Hezekiah arises and there is a little period of reviving, or there is a prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah who truly declares the Word of God, and perhaps a godfearing priest is occasionally found here and there, but in general the prophets prophesied falsely, the priests ruled unjustly, and the kings introduced idolatry. The people are scattered and perish because of the unfaithful kings and priests and prophets. The prophets were saying, “Peace, peace,” when God was saying that there was no peace. Because of the awful apostasy and unfaithfulness of those who had the responsibility of caring for the Lords flock, the flock was scattered throughout many countries. Therefore the Lord said to His servants, “Lift up a standard for the people.” The standard to be lifted up was that of Immanuel, the glorious Redeemer who is the great King of kings, the true Priest and faithful Prophet. He is the Prophet raised up like unto Moses, of whom Moses said, “Him shall ye hear” (Acts 3:22). He is the faithful High Priest after the order of Melchisedek. The glorious King Himself lifts up His standard through His servants! He calls the poor, perishing people who have suffered as a result of the unfaithfulness of those who should have cared for them. “Lift up a standard, for I have a care for them!” Lift up a standard; tell them of Immanuel, and He, when He is thus lifted up, will draw them. This is the divine purpose in His standard being lifted up. God purposed to gather His ancient people to recover His cause; and also to gather a people from the Gentiles in all the lands, north, south, east and west. He commands, “Lift up a standard for the people perishing people, lost and ruined. I have a mind and purpose to draw them with the cords of love and by my power, and to cause them to see the One to whom they are to be drawn One who will not fail, One who will succeed, One who will never forsake them, One who will be a true shepherd, One who will gather the lambs in His arms, One who will lead them aright, One who will shepherd them, and One who will carry them and never lose them. They are to become the sheep of the true Shepherd.”
Thirdly, what are the characteristics of those who would engage in this duty of lifting up a standard for the people? We see these characteristics in the Apostle Paul as he lifted up the standard. We see him going into Asia and beyond, going through the gates of this city and of that city, and raising the standard. And this is his determination: “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), as if he said, “My message is Christ Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Jehovah Tsidkenu: that is the standard that he raised in the midst of paganism, heathenism and idolatry among men ruined and perishing in their sins; men lost under the curse and condemnation of the law. Paul raised this standard for the people, and it was always this: “We preach not ourselves, but we preach Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5).
The first characteristic we would mention of those who would engage in this duty is faith. When things looked lost, the prophet in his mind would no doubt walk among the ruins of Jerusalem. The gates are burnt down, homes are destroyed. He remembers the glorious days of the past. Will they ever, ever, be recovered? Will anything ever appear in the future that could even resemble the blessed days of the past? But the Lord directs him to go through the gates. “Go through the gates by faith; prepare ye the way of the people. Lift up the standard for sinful people, lost people, ruined people! Ah, you cannot draw them, you cannot recover them but you can lift up the standard, and I will do the drawing; you prepare the way for them and I will draw them. Cast up, cast up the highway, for many will be coming. Gather out the stones, lift up a standard for the people.”
Ah, the unbelieving might think, What is the purpose of it? What will it accomplish? Who will be interested? We are so small, so weak, so insignificant. Isaiah had seen so many changes in society and in the world of his day, and it seemed that the things of God meant very little to very few. But those who believed the Word of God who believed in the drawing power of Christ, and had faith and confidence in the glorious promise of God would go at His bidding. By faith they would go into the territory of the enemy. They would go through the gates of the cities of the heathen and raise the standard, because God had a purpose: that Christ, Immanuel, would draw men to Himself.
Another characteristic must be courage. Lift up a standard that was a courageous thing to do. It is the standard of a King unwanted. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 2, verse 1, “The heathen rage, the people imagine a vain thing”. They will not have the Lords King in Zion. Their mind is, “Let us break their bands from us, we want freedom from the yoke of God Jehovah; we do not want to serve Christ, nor do we want His standard raised in our society and among our gods.” The Apostle Peter says of Christ, the great foundation stone, “Disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious” (2 Pet. 2:4). “Lift up a standard.” Ah, but it is disallowed of men; they dont want it; they are opposed to it; they will threaten; they will persecute. Yes, but lift up a standard for the people.
You remember the famous words of Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Into Luthers darkened soul the light of divine truth had shone and his eye met that glorious truth emblazoned on the standard, “The Lord our righteousness” justification by faith alone. Then he felt the burden of responsibility to lift up a standard for perishing men who were under the yoke of popery and priestcraft who were bound and fettered by superstition and idolatrous ignorance. When Luther wrote against it and was then brought before the Diet of Worms in 1521, he was asked, “Dr. Luther, are these your writings?” When he owned them, he was pressed to recant what he had written. Luther boldly declared, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Why did Luther stand where he stood? Because he felt the burden to lift up the standard for perishing men to tell them of Christ, the glorious Saviour. They needed Christ. He was the standard that Luther sought to raise by the grace of God.
Athanasius of Alexandria was brought before the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., when there was the great dispute about the deity of Christ, the Son of God. When Athanasius stood alone before the Council in defence of that doctrine he was told, “Athanasius, the world is against you.” Athanasius replied, “If the world is against Athanasius, then Athanasius is against the world.” The deity of Christ the Son of God was a vital matter take that away and there was no standard to lift up before men. It was a day of crisis, and therefore that courageous man of God stood firm by divine grace, and raised the standard, “Jehovah Tsidkenu”. This is what is required in our day. Men today disallow Christ, the very foundation of the Church, but “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We as a Synod, fathers and brethren, have the duty to courageously exalt Christ, to raise up Christ in our pulpits, to lift up this standard for poor sinners wherever we go wherever God in His mercy opens the door for us.
The third characteristic in those who would lift up a standard for the people is this: they are men with heart a heart for the people, a heart for poor, perishing men. Go through the gates, lift up a standard for the people. That is what we as a Synod must have that is what we as ministers and elders need to possess a heart for poor perishing sinners, ruined by the fall and lost, wherever they are to be found scattered across the face of the earth. Perhaps the cry of their heart is that of the Psalmist: “No man cared for my soul” (Ps. 142:4). Let that never be said where there is a Free Presbyterian pulpit, where there is a Free Presbyterian witness! Let men know that we are a Church, and a people, with a heart going out with feeling, with desire and with compassion to poor, perishing men.
Finally, I would mention the characteristic of vision. Unless those, who believe God, can see with the eye of faith the future that God has promised, they will not think it worth while to lift up a standard for the people. But when they see beyond the darkness and present circumstances, and see that glorious day that God has promised, they are encouraged. That view inspires them to persevere in lifting up a standard for the people. Those who persevered in the past, however many obstacles stood in the way, had a vision that was real, because they had their eye upon the Saviour who loved them and gave Himself for them. It was the love of Christ that constrained them. And this is what we need: the love of Christ constraining us to lift up Christ for perishing sinners.
We may feel as a Synod that we are small and weak, but let it be true of us that we desire the exaltation of Christ, and that we desire that multitudes of those who are slaves to sin would be brought by the power of the drawing of Christ to know that liberty of which Christ spoke: “The truth shall make you free. . . If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8: 32,36). Lift up a standard for the people that is our duty, that is our responsibility. May we not fail.
May the Lord bless His Word.