|Faith Strengthened||Chapter 23||Part 1|
Isaiah 64:5 (in the English Version, verse 6), "And we are all as an unclean man, and all our righteousnesses are as a rotten garment and as a leaf, and our iniquities take us away like a wind." A Christian once addressed me in the following terms:—"That there is not one man on the earth who does good and sinneth not. Yea, ye must know well that there is not one man capable of observing all the commandments prescribed in the laws of Moses; and that your righteous acts have not enabled you to attain the end you seek. How inefficient, then, must the prayers and the actions of the wicked prove?"
Reply—We must certainly admit that no man can obtain salvation through his own acts alone; but man must combine with his piety a total submission to the mercy and loving-kindness of the Lord. Jeremiah announces it clearly (chapter 30:21), "And I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me, for who is he whose heart is emboldened to approach unto me?"
The Psalmist says, in the same manner (Psalm 65:5), "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to be near unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts." Therefore, he prays (in Psalm 79:9), "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the sake of the glory of Thy name, and deliver us and forgive us our sins, for the sake of Thy name." In Psalm 25:11, the sacred poet says, "For the sake of Thy name forgive us our iniquity, for it is great." Again in Psalm 115:1, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for the sake of Thy mercy, and for the sake of Thy faithfulness." Again in Psalm 143:11, "For the sake of Thy name thou shalt quicken me; for the sake of Thy righteousness thou shalt bring my soul out of trouble." In Psalm 44:27, he exclaims, "Arise and deliver us for the sake of Thy loving-kindness, in the greatness of Thy mercy blot out my transgression." And in Psalm 80:4, he implores the Almighty, "Return unto us, O God, and cause Thy countenance to shine (upon us) and we shall be saved." Thus says, also, the prophet Jeremiah 14:7, "If our iniquities testify against us, then grant, O God, for the sake of Thy name;" and further [Jeremiah 14:21], "For the sake of Thy name do not rebuke us." In the Lamentations 5:21, he says "Cause us, O Lord, to return unto Thee and we shall be turned." Daniel, in his prayer, 9:18-19, uses similar language, "For not on account of our righteousness we pour out our supplications before Thee; but on account of Thine abundant mercies, O Lord, hear them; O Lord, forgive us; O Lord, hearken and grant them; delay not, O God, for Thine own sake, for Thy name is called upon Thy city and Thy people." Numerous other passages might be quoted all conveying the same idea.
Hence the Almighty has given us the assurance, through His prophets, to deliver us from our captivity, and to blot out our sins and iniquities, not for our sake but for His own sake. Thus Isaiah says, (48:11), "For my sake, for my own sake will I do it." In chapter 43:25, the same prophet says, "I, even I, am he who blotteth out thy transgressions for my own sake, and thy sins I will not remember." This is expressed, also, by Ezekiel, 36:22, "Not for your sake, O House of Israel, am I dealing thus, but for my holy name." We find in the same book, chapter 20:44, "And ye shall know, that I am the Lord, by my dealing for the sake of my name, and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt actions, O House of Israel, saith the Lord God." We may cite here, also, the words of Jeremiah 31:37, "Thus saith the Lord, If the heavens above shall be measured, or the foundations of the earth be searched, I will also rebuke the seed of Israel for all they have done." This divine declaration clearly confirms our opinion that our salvation does not solely depend on our imperfect individual merit and righteousness, but on the mercy of the faithful God, who will never change although we may be found undeserving before him.
The expression of the prophet, "We are all unclean, and all our virtues are like a rotten garment," has reference to such religious works as are performed through vain-glory and selfish motives, in order to create envy among our neighbors, it is evident enough that the best actions must displease the Almighty when they originate from base motives; "For the Searcher of hearts," say our sages, "regards the intentions only." Hence the admonition in Deuteronomy 15:10, "Thou shalt supply him liberally, nor shall thy heart be vexed while thou givest." And in chapter 28:47, we read, "Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God in joy, and with a cheerful heart." The above passage, "We are all unclean, and all our righteousness is like a rotten garment," relates, therefore, to the objectionable conduct and impure intentions of those who selfishly labor in the cause of the Almighty, and, as the leaves dropping from the tree are carried away by the wind, so we, in consequence of our sins, are dispersed throughout all the quarters of the globe.