by Joseph Orton
Delivered Lord's day Morning, September 17th, 1876
IF you read this book of Micah you will find what a sad state the people had got into to whom Micah was sent to prophesy. It is against Israel and against Judah, as it says - "which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem." They had got into a very sad state indeed, for they went so far as to forbid the prophets prophesying to them, that they should not take shame - they did not like the reproofs; and more than that, they rose up like an enemy, as it says - "Even of late My people is risen up as an enemy; ye pull off the robe with the garment from them that pass by securely as men averse from war." But with respect to those who prophesied according to their hearts' desire, they were well pleased with them. Though the Lord denounced His judgments against them, they prophesied unto His people, and made them err with their lies. They had got into that wretched state, that at length the prophet says - that through keeping the statutes of Omri, and walking in the ways of the house of Ahab, they had brought themselves to desolation. So they were in a desolate state; eating, but not being satisfied; sowing, but not reaping; treading the olives, but not anointing themselves with oil. And in this chapter, from which I have read the words to offer a few thoughts from, we find the prophet bemoaning their sad estate, and the reproach that was heaped upon them when in this low estate. "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness." (Micah 7:8,9) Then the Lord makes known His gracious purpose by way of promise unto His people, notwithstanding their desolate state, because of the fruit of their doings. He bids them "feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage which dwell solitarily in the wood in the midst of Carmel; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old." Now here comes a gracious promise: "According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I show unto him marvellous things." If you notice, you will find how the Lord brake the yoke of Pharaoh from off them, and His wonderful preservation of them, bringing them through the Red Sea in safety, and then drowning their foes. This is brought to mind: "According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I show unto him marvellous things." So we find in their coming out of the land of Egypt, in their journey through the wilderness, there was the Lord's feeding them and providing for them, notwithstanding their rebellions. It seems they were examples of the Lord's works towards His people in after times, and what are called in the Scriptures "God's terrible acts" which He did in the land of Egypt and at the Red Sea - something dreadful and terrible towards His enemies. He says here: "The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. They shall lick the dust like a serpent; they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee." God's might put forth would thus strike terror into them, as it did into Pharaoh's host; when the Lord took off their chariot wheels, and looked upon them and troubled the host, they said, "Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fighteth for them." Their might, their strength, they found was weakness; so it is said here: "The nations shall see, and be confounded at all their might." Such should be their terror, they should crawl upon the earth, or crouch, or yield a feigned obedience whereby they fall under thee, or submit themselves, which in those countries we find spoken of as falling to the ground; they literally put their mouths into the dust, if so be there may be hope - they put their mouths in the dust in token of a cringing subjection to the mighty power of Jehovah. "They shall lick the dust like a serpent; they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth" - wriggling and creeping as worms do, a little disturbance soon causes them to retreat again, as is expressed in the next words, "The shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee."
The prophet here speaks to the praise and glory of God's rich grace to them. "Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy."
In the first part of the words we have an ascription of praise, or what we might call "Hallelujah!" - sing praise to Jehovah. It means by this an ascription of praise to God. "Who is like unto Thee?" I would thus briefly look at the words as they lie, and make some few observations upon the different parts of them.
First, with respect to the first part: "Who is a God like unto Thee?" If you refer to the book of Exodus, when Moses and the children of Israel sang a song of praise to God at the overthrow of Pharaoh's host, you will find these words (they asked who was like unto Him, what god there was that could be compared to Him): "Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them." Showing forth God's praise and God's glory in His might and in His mercy to us. He goes on to speak of God's leading His people through the Red Sea. It seems as though the prophet stood beholding the greatness of God's might and power, beholding His faithfulness and His truth, beholding His mercy to His own elect, beholding His longsuffering mercy extended towards them, and in due time how He takes vengeance on every foe; He is longsuffering in that, but, in the fullness of time, when their iniquity seems to have reached its climax, He takes vengeance on them. He makes use of them for the chastisement of His own people, for the exercise of their minds, to let them see who and what they are, and what a corrupt state they are in - as we are told, He takes no pleasure in the affliction of His people, He delights not in it; it is not like the pleasure of a father ofttimes in the chastening of his son, but He chastens us for our profit. "They chastened us after their own pleasure" - which is often in anger and fury - "but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." The prophet seems to have this in his eye, as well as God's pardoning mercy. He sees God's greatness, God's might, His terrible majesty, His vengeance upon His foes; and he sees His longsuffering mercy towards His own elect. He sees it, and here he comes to give praise and thanksgiving to God for it. This is an act of worship, an exaltation of Him, a speaking forth His praise, a blessing Him. "All Thy works shall praise Thee, O Lord; and Thy saints shall bless Thee. They shall speak of the glory of Thy kingdom, and talk of Thy power; to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts." (Ps. 145:10-12)
Having thus spoken of God's greatness, stood at a distance and beheld it is measure, for there is no seeing or knowing to perfection that which is infinite to comprehend or grasp it; we only see a little of it. Who can search out the Almighty to perfection? "It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know" (Job 11:7,8) There is no searching out the Almighty to perfection in His Almighty power, in His eternal faithfulness, in His holiness, in His goodness and mercy. But who is like Thee? No mercy, no compassion, no friend that sticks to us, cares for us, and performs for us as Jehovah does. He shows forth the infinite nature of Jehovah in this expression - there is none to be compared to Him - "who is like unto Thee?" Then he notices some parts: "That pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage." Here is the pardoning of iniquity, and the passing by of the transgression of the remnant of His heritage. Both want just a word or two. For when we speak of pardon, we seem as though we had no right conception of what this pardon that the Scriptures speak of really is. It is not a mere saying, "I forgive you." But in the Scriptures the word frequently is a word that signifies "to lift up," "to take off," or "to remove." So that when God is said to pardon iniquity, it comes to what is spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:6) So that word is often used for "to bear iniquity" - "putting it from;" that God actually "bears away" as it were, "takes away from us" our iniquity to put it upon the Person of His Son, who is said to bear them in His own body on the tree. That is how pardon comes, through this transference, the lifting it off from us to put it upon the Person of Immanuel - "God with us" - who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." (1 Pet. 2:24) So when a person is in an unpardoned state he is said "to bear his iniquity." They bare their iniquity forty years in the wilderness, and the light of God's countenance was withholden from them. His blessing, and the fulfilment of His gracious promise in bringing them into the land of Canaan, was withholden forty years, while they bare their iniquity in the wilderness. Thus we see Ezekiel, who is said to bear the iniquity of his people, when he was bid to lie certain days on his side for a sign. So God "bears away" - "takes off us" - our iniquities, and lays them upon the Person of His Son. So we have to look to the blood of Jesus Christ for pardon: "We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins," according to the riches of God's grace. (Eph. 1:7) We may have sometimes a little lightness of heart, a little exhilaration of spirit, and it seems as though our burdens were gone; but, friends that is not the pardon of iniquity. Faith comes to the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ, where our iniquities were laid - they were all laid upon the Person of Jesus Christ, and He, as an atoning sacrifice, shed His blood. It is there we come for the forgiveness of sins, and faith lays hold of it. "Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43) That is the only place, the only way; faith beholds it there, and we receive through faith the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins. And as we behold by faith the transference of our sin by God to His Son, and His Son dying in our stead, so faith mixes with it; for it is revealed by God Himself in His Word, and faith mixes with that Word as the Word of God - as the Apostle says, speaking of his Gospel, "Ye received it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." (1 Thess. 2:13) So faith mixing with this word - that there God placed our sins upon the Person of His Son, and He, by His death, made atonement and satisfaction for them and blotted them out - we through faith receive the forgiveness of sins. That is how we come to the knowledge of this pardon, by God's "lifting it up" - "taking it off" us, and laying it upon His beloved Son.
It is called the mystery of redeeming grace, the mystery of redemption, God's way of doing it. They asked what they were to do for the pardon of sins, how they were to come before the Lord, and bow themselves before the high God; what they were to give for their transgression; whether it was their firstborn for their transgression, the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul. Nothing of the kind. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." (Titus 3:5,6)
"Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?" The "passing by" is something like, as it were, a traveller in his journey. The same word is used to show God's people departures from the Lord - their "passing Him by," their forgetfulness of Him - therefore it is called a transgression, a reproach. Here God says, "Your reproach in which you 'passed Me by' I will 'pass by' and not remember." He "passeth by" the transgression of the remnant of His heritage, as though in passing by He would take no notice of it, but place His foot upon it and not see it, not notice it.
"Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?" As transgression seems more that forgetfulness of His law, that disregard unto it, or setting it at nought; a rending God's command up, as though it were nothing, "passing it by," and a man taking his own way, his own will, his own course - God says, "I will do the same; here is My will and My way - 'I will not deal with you according to your ways, be it known unto you, O house of Israel,' but according to My own mercy." So it is frequently spoken in the Scriptures - "I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy name's sake."
But who is it He is thus said to pass by the transgression of? He "pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage." He had sorely chastised them, and afflicted them; they were but as a remnant left - but they were His people, His portion, His lot. Whatever people may say, and however they may revile God's everlasting, electing love, how the Scriptures speak of it! and where they do not use the words, God's "election," and "elect," they use words of similar meanings, and convey the same meaning to us in a different form of speech. The earth is His, and He made it, and His hands spread forth the heavens. But He has a lot, a portion. And, where it is spoken of, there seems a division made, more than one lot. "The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance." (Deut. 32:9) So it is a portion out of many, as a country out of the world. Here is but a portion, but a lot, and it is a remnant - that which is left or escaped, the remaining portion. He chastised them for a time, but there is a remnant left; like as the Apostle says, there is a remnant among the people of Israel at this day - "a remnant shall be saved." Rom. 9:27) The meaning is, that which is over and above when all others are gone, over and above what has been taken away or consumed; there is something left - God's heritage are left, whether they are a multitude, as considered in the aggregate, or whether few as they are spoken of - to be but a few at any time. See what is spoken of the children of Israel being but a few in comparison with other people; but is speaking of them in the aggregate, from the beginning to the end, a number which no man can number, as the sand of the sea. But at any particular time, when they are spoken of, it is a very small number. "Fear not little flock." There are some over and above the others, that God calls His peculiar heritage; they are His portion, His lot. He "passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage."
There are a good many things in this designation of it we ought to look at, but we must think about instead of looking at it. It is our mercy to know we have a portion in Him; but, when we come to look at the other side of the question, it seems as though it shone quite as bright: that God has a portion in us too, that we are the lot of His inheritance, His heritage, His portion, which descends to Him by right of gift according to the Father's will; that He is the heir who possesses us and who calls us His inheritance. It is our mercy, because His eyes are upon it, His tender mercies are towards it, His heart is fixed upon it, His wisdom is concerned with respect to it, so that all things shall work for good to it. He tills it, and cultivates it, as the Apostle (making use of the same figure) says: "Ye are God's husbandry;" and when speaking of it in another form, he speaks in the same way: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." So that we see His heritage, His lot, His people, are not left by Him, but cared for; and all the gifts that are ever given to any minister, or ever will be, are not for that man's sake, but for His people's sake. All the instruction that is given them, and whatever gifts He may give to any, it is on their behalf; and He does give gifts according to His will, it is that the Lord God might dwell among His heritage, that they might see Him and know Him, and know His care of them. We know that husbandmen, in cultivating land, do not require the same kind of instruments for one kind of land as for another. God uses instruments in the cultivation of His heritage, as He sees they need. And God's heritage is so cared for by Him that He pardons their iniquity, He forgives their sin, He "passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage. He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy." Some people say God changes; His thoughts change not, but He shows His displeasure at our sins, He shows His displeasure at our ways and doings; and as an infinitely wise Jehovah, He chastens, He afflicts, but it is not His pleasure, not His delight. He will correct us for our ways and doings, and it appears as anger; it is His displeasure against sin, His indignation against that - it is not His anger and wrath which He bears against the world at large, upon whom their iniquities lie, and where He is determined to leave them. When he deals with them He does sometimes give evidences of His displeasure before His indignation bursts forth upon them; but He will at last send forth this indignation as a storm, and there is destruction with it. You will find that where He lays iniquity to the charge of a people, and where He visits them for their persecution of His elect, He bursts upon His foes with thunder. But to His elect, He hides His face from them and shows His displeasure.
Some people think if our righteousness and our good deeds cannot influence God that He should show His mercy upon us to our salvation, that He should for them forgive our sins, what good is this righteousness? Why may we not plead it? And as for those who speak of redemption from under the law, what rule of righteousness have they to walk by? I do not know how it is with others, but if there is any person I want to have the favour and friendship of, I like to please them. And if the God of all grace has our hearts, if ever He sheds abroad His love in the hearts of His people, if that is worth anything, we shall not want His frown. He will show His displeasure against sin, and withhold the light of His countenance - that everlasting love of His in its blessed effects and sweet influences will be withdrawn from us. God will be honoured and glorified; so Wisdom says: "I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me." And if God has ever shed His love abroad in our hearts, who that has ever tasted it can say it is nothing? If He opens up His grace in the Person of His Son, showing how that infinite, eternal, almighty God, the God of all grace, how He in infinite wisdom so contrived to show His grace to us unworthy creatures, and did it not only to forgive our sins, but to raise us up from our low estate far beyond what ever a creature was made. Adam in innocency was never raised so high as we are by Jesus Christ. Angels, though exalted high, are never raised so high as the bride of Christ is; whatever they may see, they have not union; whatever they may delight in, they are not heirs of God and joint-heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ; they are not heirs of glory and one with the Son of God. The saints of God are said to inherit all things. Now when God sheds abroad this love, and shows its heights, and breadths, and lengths, and depths, is not that something to know? To find every need supplied, to find an Almighty Friend that is able and willing to save us from every foe, and One that will break every foe to pieces in His own time and in His own way, and show His righteousness and justice in so doing; that they were wilful and desperate in their enmity against Him and His elect, therefore He brings upon them the just reward of their ways and doings, but He bestows unmerited grace upon us - is it not enough to induce delight in Him who bestows unmerited mercy, all that we stand in need of, and more than heart can conceive? If that is not enough to produce love! If it is not thus, woe be to those who so judge of it! "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness?" Well, He says, "He retaineth not His anger for ever." But why - "Because He delighteth in mercy." It is His good pleasure, His delight, His joy. He delighteth in it, it shows forth the riches of His grace. In the destruction of the wicked we have God's holiness and justice shown forth; in the riches of His grace we have all the rich glory of Jehovah shown forth. In the one "a part," in the other "the whole." So we find when God executes His vengeance upon His enemies, He calls it His strange work, His strange acts which He brings to pass.
When He bestows His favours upon His own elect, they are called "the unsearchable riches of His grace." He says, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." But in the exaltation of His grace, there His delight is shown. "This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him." There is God's eternal goodwill and pleasure.
In the destruction of His foes righteousness and justice shine forth; God, a holy God, and His righteous execution of vengeance upon the transgressors of His holy law. Come to His own elect: we find there holiness, and justice, and truth; this righteousness of God shown forth in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. He died for our sins - there God's justice, in His hatred of sin against His holy will, is shown forth.
But here comes in the unsearchable riches of His grace in His kindness towards us by Jesus Christ, where it opens a display for the special goodness and mercy of God to us. There are common mercies, which come to the world at large; and there are special mercies, which come to God's elect, and are peculiar to them. In the making of it known it is not merely being told of it, but actually displayed, actually done; and it is called, "the good pleasure of His will, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:6) We may show some natural faculties and gifts that God has given us, but they do not show our character fully - there wants other faculties drawn forth before it can be seen what we really are. So God would show forth the riches of His grace in Jesus Christ, for there is His glory. He created all things for His own glory. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork." All creation shows forth a glory; but this glory of His grace shines forth through Jesus Christ, and it was His will, His pleasure, His delight. Therefore He says that whilst correction is not His pleasure, He does it for our good. "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us...after their own pleasure; but He for our profit." He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It is not His good pleasure to trample under foot any. He does it "for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." But in the midst of all this "He delighteth in mercy." There He shows forth His honour and glory. Therefore, in speaking of His own elect, we read they are saved "to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved."
"Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy."