At the PCA Historical Center, we’ve been preparing an author-title index to the THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, the official publication of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, an organization formed by Dr. J. Gresham Machen and others in 1933. THE BULLETIN was first issued in January of 1936 and continues to this day as the primary newsletter of that organization. Moving through the early issues of THE BULLETIN, I was particularly struck with the thought expressed by the editor in the opening comments for this article (in bold type).
GOD’S KEY-MEN IN WORLD SITUATIONS
His Provisions and Equipment
by Miss Frances Brook
…In this article Miss Brook emphasizes the thought that God’s key-men are “even His witnesses that He is God.” It was precisely because missionaries failed to realize that it is a greater privilege, and a greater obligation, to witness to God than to lead a soul to Christ, that there was so much evasion of that primary obligation in the Japanese Empire. Missionaries and Christians alike failed to realize that in trial comes priceless opportunity, and therefore, save for a very few, missed a glorious opportunity to testify to the very highest officials in Japan that Jehovah alone is God.
How intimately God speaks in all these passages to His prostrate servant, the captive people in Babylon, the one who is heir to this situation, the people for whom it has been created. What loving personal words, to rouse him from his indifference and apathy! “But thou, Israel,” 41:8. “But now, saith the Lord” 43:1. “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant,” 44:1. And is He any less intimate with us? True power of intercession lies in such close heart intercourse with God!
These verses, Isa. 44:1-8 bring the promise of Pentecost, but not without the foundation of Calvary. How consistent God’s Word is in its oft-repeated revelation. Gal. 3:13 and 14 is the New Testament counterpart, Calvary, thence Pentecost. We must look back at chapter 43:22-28 to get the background of this love appeal, this promise. Verses 18-21 have preceded with their gracious foreshadowing of Pentecost, “a new thing,” a spontaneous, God-given outburst of new life; refreshment and satisfaction just where it might least be expected—”in the wilderness.” Is there anything as “new” as a Pentecostal manifestation of the Spirit? Verses 22-28 describe the spiritual wilderness in which this Pentecostal change is to be enacted. “Things as they are!” A God-weary, God-wearying people. “But thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.” No wonder then they had not called, vs. 22.
What a heart-breaking statement for God to make, God the Eternal Lover! Has He never had to say it of us, as He looks down upon our prayerlessness, our apathy? The heart-broken appeal of these verses reminds us of Jer. 2:31. “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel?. . . Wherefore say my people . . . we will come no more unto Thee?” Is it really God speaking? And how tenderly He adds in Isaiah, “I have not wearied thee.” Prayerlessness, lack of devotion, lack of love, how these things go to God’s heart. Verses 23 and 24 bring this out. God misses our love-tokens. “No water. No kiss. No ointment.” This is its New Testament counterpart, Luke 7:44-46. And from whence did the love gifts come that gladdened our Lord? From the woman whose sins were many and were forgiven. We turn back to Isaiah 43. “But thou has wearied Me with thine iniquities.”
God’s love cannot stay on that dismal, heart-breaking scene, it goes on, it must go on to Calvary. “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake and will not remember thy sins.” Sin that has been borne by the broken-hearted sinless One can be blotted out, no more remembered. God invites us to meet Him there. Verse 26 speaks of this. We can put Him in remembrance of the Sacrifice, acknowledge our transgression and be justified. The curse, the reproaches, the devastated Sanctuary, vs. 27-28, all point to a heart condition that has left God out! Sins, sins, sins! No love, no prayer, “Yet now, hear, O Jacob.” Into this dismal scene God sends the promise of Pentecost, but Pentecost based on Calvary. The outpoured Sacrifice is complemented by the outpoured Spirit. To those who have received the first, the second comes as God’s own answer to the one perfect and sufficient Sacrifice for the sin of the whole world. Calvary looks toward Pentecost. And Pentecost alone can heal God’s heart-break over your sin and mine. “Yet now.” God goes back in these verses, 1 and 2, to His original purpose for His people. It can be attained, it shall be attained. “Fear not, I will pour my Spirit.”
For uttermost need, uttermost dryness of soul—Pentecost! God will pour Himself out. The curse absorbed in Calvary’s love-transaction, what is left to give but blessing? Gal. 3:13 and 14. Thus verses 4 and 5 picture the spontaneity of Holy Ghost life to the soul that listens. They picture Spring as it breaks forth from Winter barrenness and hopelessness. And now (contrast 43:22-24) there is deliberate response to the Divine Giver. Can any response be more simple, more safe, more satisfying than the one for which He has so long waited, “I am the Lord’s!” All Heaven is waiting for the soul that is the Lord’s. I Cor. 3:21-23. But why call himself by the name of Jacob? Can any good thing belong there? No, it is the heart confession of failure, utter failure. “What is thy name?” said the Divine Angel to Jacob at his life crisis when God wrestled with him to change him. “And he said, Jacob,” and God said, “Thou shalt no more be called Jacob, but Israel.” Israel could not be super-imposed on Jacob. Jacob could not grow into Israel. It is necessary to be perfectly honest in our dealings with God. “I am Jacob” with all it stands for—all the weary plotting and maneuvering to outwit and outreach another—all the failure to attain the thing for which I was made and which God was waiting to bestow—I am Jacob. “Thy name shall be called . . . Israel.” “One with whom God has power.” This is the true interpretation of the Hebrew. Hence Jacob’s power with God and men.
Here we come upon the secret by which prayerless self-lovers can be made into “the new sharp threshing instrument having teeth,” into God-lovers who can turn other men’s failures into victory. No real change is possible in the situation till there is this change in us. How quickly it followed in Jacob’s case when God had His way with him. Gen. 32:26-28 and 33:1-4. Is not this “subscribing with his hand unto the Lord?” I expect from God what heretofore I have looked for from myself. I sign my checks in His name, I am the Lord’s and have the Bride’s privilege to draw on all that is His. So I use it now, and over against Jacob, my heart confession of failure, I dare to write Israel, my new name, the man who at last has room for God, and expects all from Him. Paul says the same in Phil. 3:3, “rejoice in Christ Jesus . . . no confidence in the flesh.” This fits the Divine assurance of 44:6 aas an empty socket gives play to the joint, fulness working in emptiness. John saw the same at Patmos and fell at His feet as dead, and He said, “Fear not; I am the first and the last.”
And so the God-appointed people come at last to their God-appointed end, verse 7. They are even His witnesses that He is God, verse 8. They live to show forth His praisem, 43:21. They are formed for Himself and in no other way can they reach their End. In all helplessness and utter weakness we receive Him. This is Pentecost. And it means a changed people.
“I take the promised Holy Ghost
I take the power of Pentecost
To fill me to the uttermost
I take, He undertakes.”
Pentecost is God’s cure for prayerlessness; God’s answer to Calvary; the place where God meets the man who is resting in the Sacrifice, and life is changed.