SEEKING AND FINDING GOD’S FACE
A Sermon by B.H. Carroll
TEXT: If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins. – 2 CHRONICLES 7:14.
This is God’s reply to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple. That prayer is remarkable for nothing more than four things. 1. It distinctly recognizes the fact that all of God’s people will sin. 2. That chastisement will inevitably follow those sins. 3. It assumes that God makes adequate provisions for the forgiveness of those sins. 4. This provision is through the atoning sacrifices of the Temple. These statements involve a vast deal of doctrine. That you may the more clearly see the significance of this doctrine, I wish to enlarge the text by more elaborate restatement.
The first is that Solomon’s prayer distinctly recognizes the fact that all of God’s people will sin. Not that some of them will sin, and not that all of them may sin, but that every one of them will sin, and does sin. The scriptural proof of the correctness of this statement is ample. The prayer of Solomon is twice recorded in the Old Testament: in the eighth chapter of the first book of Kings, and in the sixth chapter of the second book of Chronicles, and in both of these records this precise language is used, “There is no man that sinneth not.”
It is true that he repeatedly commences his statements with an “if.” If a man sin against his neighbor; if he sin against God; it he sin by commission; if he sin by omission. But the “if” in this case does not imply doubt as to the fact of sin. It only implies probability as to the kind of sin, as to the form that the sin will take, but it never implies any doubt that the sin will take some form, whatever that may be. “For there is no man that sinneth not. Then hear thou in heaven and forgive.”
It is reinforced by another declaration of Solomon in the book of Ececlesiastes, and the seventh chapter, where very properly he uses this language, “For there is not a just man upon the earth that liveth and doeth good and sinneth not.” It is utterly impossible to make the language any broader or any stronger; and it harmonizes with the threefold declaration of the apostle John, who says this: “If we say that we have not sinned,” past tense, “we make God a liar, and the truth is not in us.” Second, If we say that we have no sin,” present tense, “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Third, “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
It is also in harmony with that declaration of the apostle Paul in the fifteenth chapter of the letter to the Corinthians. I want to read it to you, commencing with the twenty-fourth verse: “Then cometh the end, when Jesus shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, and when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son himself be subjected unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
This Scripture teaches that the mediatorial kingdom of Jesus Christ shall last as long as man needs a mediator. A mediator is a go-between – one who goes between two parties at issue and as long as there is an atom of difference unsettled you need the mediator. Just as soon as the issue is completely settled, the office of mediator expires by limitation.
Now my point is that if any Christian should ever for one single moment reach a sinless state, in that moment he would not need a mediator. There would be no issues between him and God. He would not need an advocate, for there would be no case at law between him and the Supreme Judge. Whenever any man on this earth reaches a sinless state, he has passed beyond a mediatorial reign.
What I have read informs us that the mediatorial reign of Christ shall last until the last enemy shall be destroyed; and the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death; and until death is destroyed, the realm of the mediatorial kingdom remains; so no man this side of death can claim that he has passed out of it.
Listen to this Scripture, Revelation 21:22. Here is a description of heaven, and of the universe after the mediatorial kingdom is ended. After Jesus Christ has turned over everything to the Father, the twenty-second verse says, in describing the heavenly city, “And I saw no temple therein.” What does that mean? Solomon built a Temple and dedicated it by prayer, and in that prayer he assumes that all of God’s people will sin, and that chastisement will come upon them for that sin, and prays that an adequate provision shall be made for those sins of his people, and the Temple was for that purpose.
As if he said, “O Lord, here is this temple. Here is an altar where sacrifices are offered to atone for sin. Here is a priesthood that takes up the blood of the sacrifice and carries it into the holy of holies, and intercedes for the sinner.” But according to John, when the mediatorial kingdom is ended there will be no temple. No temple! No altar of sacrifice, and no need for one. No priest to offer blood, and no need for one; because there are no issues between God and man. The issues have been settled. The offices of the Temple, whether in its typical or antetypical nature, have been accomplished, and the last enemy has been destroyed, and they are at one with God, and at peace with God. But until you get to that state and condition when no temple is needed, no sacrifices, and no high priest, no man living can say, “I do not sin.”
If this be true, then it settles some things very thoroughly. One is that God, by the sacrifice of a temple, whether typical or antetypical, God, by the ministry of a high priest, whether typical or antetypical, makes provision for the forgiveness of the sins of his people, and makes that provision on the ground that they will and do sin – every one of them. Hence they sin most heinously who say that they have no sin.
Now, let us look at the second point in Solomon’s prayer; for unless you get this point clearly before you, you will not understand the text, which is God’s answer to prayer. The second point is that when God’s people sin, chastisement inevitably follows. It is according to an imperious law. No Christian can sin without being chastised.
Now listen to this Scripture. I read from the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, fifth verse: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” Find one professor of religion whom God does not chasten, and you find a professor of religion whom God does not love. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with children, for what child is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not children. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”
See how this Scripture corroborates the first position: that God chasteneth every one of his children; that if there be one who claims to be his child and who is without chastisement, the absence of the chastisement disputes his claim to the filial relation, because all of his children are partakers of the chastisement. And he chastises to correct; he does not willingly inflict suffering. Then note that the sole object of the chastisement is to make the one chastised a partaker of holiness. Here is a Christian who claims that he does not sin. I put this question to him: “Are you without chastisement?” “Yes.” “Then you are no child of God, for he chasteneth everyone he receiveth.” “Well, I am mistaken about that, I am not without chastisement.” “Then you are chastised because of sin and for your profit, and the object of your chastisement is to make you a partaker of holiness. Why chastise the innocent?” Let us get these points now, right clearly fixed in our minds: That the power of Solomon’s prayer is based upon three things. 1. That God’s own people, after they become his people, every one of them, without any exception, will sin and do sin. 2. That the chastisement of God comes as an inevitable consequence of that sin. 3. A petition that God may make adequate provision for the forgiveness of such sins. And mark you, the petition is that the provision be connected with the temple, with the sacrifice of blood, with the intercession of the high priest, and he particularly says this, “Lord, let thy name be here, and thine eyes here, and thine ears here, and thy power here.” And when God answers that prayer he answers it just exactly that way. He says, “My name shall be there, and mine eyes shall be there, and mine ears shall be there, and my heart shall be there.”
So whenever any one of God’s people anywhere commits a sin, the way to get rid of that sin may be easily understood, and that there may be no delay about it, the very first step that he takes toward seeking remission, God sees it. The very first trembling word, petitioning for forgiveness, God hears it. His ears are there, and his eyes are there. The very first step toward the Father, the heart of God goes out to meet him. “My heart shall be there.”
Now we are prepared to make two statements: that whoever claims to be sinless has passed beyond the mediatorial kingdom of Jesus Christ, has passed beyond the realm of chastisement, if what he says is true. But as the mediatorial kingdom of Jesus Christ lasts until the last enemy shall be destroyed, which is death, and such state where there is no temple, is after the end of the mediatorial kingdom; therefore no man on earth and in time is sinless.
This leads up to the theme: plain directions to Christians who are out of the way, telling them how to get back in the way. What are those directions? Now, let us repeat the text: “My people who are called by my name shall humble them selves – (direction 1); “and pray” – (direction 2); “and seek my face” – (direction 3); “and turn from their sins” – (direction 4); “then will I forgive them.”
There cannot possibly be a subject of greater practical interest to Christian people than this subject. Are you a Christian? Then if the position stated is correct, you are al today out of the way-how far out of the way, I do not know, nor do you. That you are not all equally far out of the way is self-evident; but that every one of you is somewhat out of the way follows from the proposition already established. Now if you are to any extent out of the way, it is all-important, co-extensive with the degree of your departure from God, that you get back in the way. Get back there for peace. Get back there for power. Get back there for strength. And getting back there is a revival.
How important it is to people who are out of the way to have very simple, very plain directions showing how to get back in the way, to know the direction, to know just what to do. In simple language, what am I to do to get back in the way? Now here is God’s answer to it. What is the first thing? – “Humble myself.” As soon as we come to this first direction, we are instantly put upon the definition of humility. How are you to know? If you are to humble yourself, you must know.
What is humility? Listen to this sentence: “God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble.” Here stand two things over against each other and define each other. Humility then is the antipode of pride; just as light is the opposite to darkness, and truth is the opposite to error. So that when we come to define humility, we may not think that we have gotten to the true conception of it, so long as the ground occupied by our definition does not stand squarely opposite to the ground occupied by pride.
Let us get a little nearer the etymology of the word. It is from “humus.” Humus means “ground.” The idea derived from its etymology clings to it always, and we have never gotten a correct definition of humility, when we separate it from its etymological conception-the ground. Humus – the ground – humility. So that in this definition must be the conception of putting one’s self low down on the ground, next to the ground. To humble one’s self then is not to be lifted up, which is pride, but to put one’s self down on the ground.
Let us get it a little more closely. If I were trying to analyze humility, I would state it somewhat negatively this way: A humble man does not over-rate himself, does not put himself up too high. On this point hear Paul in the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Romans: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Whoever then over-rates himself is not humble. Who ever thinks too highly of himself is not humble.
Then he must not over-rate his ability. The Scripture says, “Let not him that putteth on the harness boast as he that putteth it off.” So when you find a man speaking of something which is to be accomplished, an untried experiment, using great swelling words of vanity, over-rating his abilities, priding himself upon his power, that man is not an humble man.
Let us proceed in the analysis. When he over-rates his possessions he is not humble. Hear the Scripture again: “And because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knoweth not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” And now, whenever a man over-rates his possessions, he under-rates his needs correspondingly. If he says, “I am rich, I therefore need nothing,” but if it be true that he is blind, and poor, and miserable, and naked, in order for him to get a conception of his need, he must put himself down where he belongs. Get down on the ground. Get down! Get down lower! Lower yet! Get down until you touch the ground. Humus-humility.
Now it is of vast importance that you notice another point in analyzing humility. It is discovered by what we glory in. You need not ask a man what he glories in. But watch him and you will see what he glories in. If he glories in himself, in his power, in his possessions, in his achievements, if you can see complacency stealing over him, you may know that he isn’t humble. But if he glories in the Lord, that is different: I am well; I glory in him that made me well. I am clean; I glory in him whose blood cleansed me. I am rich; I glory in him who became poor that I might be made rich; by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Now, in that sort of way you may get at the true conception of humility. But, mark you: If humility is analyzed by looking at one’s rating of himself or his, whether he over-rates or under-rates, do you know that when you use that word “rate,” you necessarily imply a standard? Where there is no standard, there can be no rate. Suppose I were to measure that goblet by itself. If I measure it by itself, it is utterly impossible to detect any defect in it, because nothing measured by itself will reveal defects. lf I measure it by another goblet, also imperfect, I never get at a correct result. There must be some fixed and perfect standard by which both are to be measured, and so when a man begins to rate himself in order to determine whether he is humble, he must not measure himself by himself, nor must he measure himself by some other imperfect being, but he must measure himself by the true standard, which is God. And whenever any man, however proud or conceited, however supercilious to superiors or contemptuous to inferiors, though his complacency be as big and as wide as the ocean, can be led to measure himself by the standard, God, you will see him get down on the ground.
Consider Job, how he did, maintaining his integrity and defying his friends when they disputed with him. But when God speaks to him out of the whirlwind, then Job says, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” He got down. He struck the ground that time. Humus. Humility. That right reading of one’s self comes only when we are near to infinite holiness and purity.
Isaiah is another example. He was a sinful man and not much disturbed about it, but when he saw the Lord, whose train filled the temple, he fell as if he was shot. He struck the ground, and striking it, said, “I put my lips in the dust. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among people of unclean lips, and I have seen the Lord of hosts.” So we arrive at the conception of humility. Rate by the Standard, which is God; putting yourself right down on the ground; that is humility. An understanding of the next point is also essential. It would seem unnecessary to discuss it if there were not so many delusions. Humility is not a matter of words and dress. Did you ever read in Dickens’ David Copperfield of Uriah Heep? Uriah and his mother? In words and dress they were the humblest people in England. They got down to the lowest place they could find, so far as words go, but at heart they were consumed with pride and envy.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, look at Mark Antony, apologizing for his very existence. See how humble he stands there. Oh! He only comes to bury Caesar, not to praise him – to honor Brutus, not to censure him. Brutus is an honorable man. These all are honorable men. Oh, how humble! And yet in those words of humility he stirs up the very stones to mutiny. And Shakespeare’s genius failed in only one thing. He should have represented Mark Antony standing with solemn face over the dead body of Brutus, and distributing certificates that he had always said that Brutus was an honorable man. It is not a matter of words.
Take another case. There stands Amasa and here comes Joab. Now watch. See him as he comes. What does he say to Amasa? “My brother Amasa, art thou in health, my brother?” and stabs him under the fifth rib. This necessitates a question: Did the words, “My brother, art thou in health, my brother,” keep that deed from being assassination?
Look again: Yonder in a garden is Jesus, and his enemies are coming. See Judas leading them and hear him: “Hail, Master,” as he kisses him. Did the *”Hail, Master,” and did the kiss prevent that act from being treachery? Did not Jesus pass upon it when he said, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” Hear prophecy foretell that transaction: “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him. But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company.” The words of his mouth were sweeter than honey and smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. His words were softer than oil.
Do be impressed that humility is not a matter of words. What is it then? Listen to the Scripture: “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind and heart.” Nor is it a matter of dress. A man is not humble because he is poorly dressed. He may be as proud as the devil and yet be in rags. Or he may be dressed in broadcloth and yet be humble. Humility is internal.
We started with the proposition that all God’s people will sin. Every one of them does, and you know you do. Then followed the second proposition: That after such sin God will certainly chastise you. There is no escape from it; and the third proposition, that God has made adequate provision for the forgiveness of such sins.
Then comes this text with directions clear and simple. They tell you just what to do. Get back into the way of a Christian, and the first direction is to humble yourself. Now, that is the first. And let me tell you there is a relation between the first direction and the second, an essential and vital relation. I do mean to say that you cannot take the second step first, but must take the first step in order to the second. What is the first? Humble thyself. Second? Pray. For if a man says, “I am rich, I need nothing,” how can he ask God for anything? How can he? But if humility has put him on the ground, and he realizes in his heart, “I have sinned; I am sick; I am needy; I am wretched,” those needs suggest the petition; that first, and therefore the second direction, pray, pray. Whatever the need, wherever the crisis – pray.
Indulge me in a personal reference explaining how to pray. In the great Convention at Marshall one day when everybody else had left the room, I locked the door and humbled myself. In my spirit I got right down on the ground – low down in the dust. And there I felt a need, and that need was transmuted into a prayer to Jesus, and never in my life have I known a prayer to be answered sooner and more certain than that prayer was. There was a crisis in denominational affairs in which I was keenly interested. So much so I distrusted myself. I feared that I might prescribe to the Almighty in my prayers. So, renouncing self utterly, I prayed in agony and tears that the result might be just what the Lord wanted, even if it crucified all my desires. A sweet and holy calm filled my heart. All doubt of the result and all anxiety about it left me completely.
Now you can be revived. I know what you want. I know that your church wants a revival of religion. Surely that is what you want. I am giving you the directions how to get it. First, humble thyself. See the Pharisee and the Publican: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” Look at the other: “Cod, be merciful to me a sinner.” There they stand over against each other in awful contrast. Pride, the mountain; humility, the sweet valley. Humble thyself. That Pharisee felt no need. But the Publican, low down in humility, prayed for mercy. How sweet, and I never knew one so humbling himself to fail to reach the throne of God and fail to get an answer.
Are you despairing because so far off today? Your distance from God makes no difference. What is distance to Omnipresence? If you will get down – get down on the ground – get down in your spirit, in your mind, in your heart, and then pray, I will know you are coming home. What, without further amplifications, are the directions? “Humble yourself. Pray. Seek my face.” When a man has committed a sin, he does not want to see the one against whom he sinned. When Adam sinned in the garden, he hid when he heard God coming, and it is natural for the offender to skulk out of the way of the offended. But the direction of God to the offender says imperatively: “Seek my face.” Don’t run from God. You never will settle it by going away. You only add to the distance. Turn toward him and keep on going until you meet him.
Do look at that prodigal son and see the whole thing illustrated: “And when he came to himself”; “I will seek his face.” Just look at it. But where do you find God’s face? Beyond the mediatorial kingdom; when you are sinless seek God’s face directly. There will be no go-between, no media tor between you and God. In the New Jerusalem, where is no temple, and no sacrifice, seek God’s face directly. But you cannot seek the Father directly now, because you are a sinner. If you so seek his face, you will die. How then can I? You must seek his face in the Lord Jesus Christ. “I and the Father are one.” “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” Now when you want to see his face, see it in Christ. There is the Sacrifice, and the Substitute. Seek his face in Jesus.
Now the last thing. What has made this issue between you and God? I mean after you became a Christian. Sin. What, then, now concerns you? Get forgiveness for that sin. But can you conceive of being forgiven for it, and yet retain it? Can a man be pardoned and retain the offense?” Shall you ask God to put you back in the way by forgiving your sin, and put your sin back there with you? That would be putting you out of the way. But you want to get back. You say you do, and you want to humble yourself, and you want to seek God’s face.
Then, my brother, what are you to do with the things that made the issue? Meet that squarely. Here is a sin that you have committed. God’s Word says turn from it. Turn away from it. Let him that stole steal no more. Let him that got drunk get drunk no more. Shall a man with maudlin speech ask God’s forgiveness for drunkenness? But you may rejoice that my whole argument is based on the proposition that a man cannot be perfectly sinless. That is true. How do we evade that difficulty? You must turn away from your sin with your heart. In your heart you must hate it. You must turn away from it by putting it on Christ, and that you do by faith.
You say, “Lord, here is an offense of mine. I committed it after my conversion. But now, O Lord, in my heart I loathe it. I turn away from it. I know I am liable again to commit the same offense, but I hate it. I serve God, and I turn away from it, and I take the offense and I lay it right over on the Substitute, Jesus Christ. Now I can turn away from it, can’t I? How do I show that I have turned away from it? Why if I have put the offense on Jesus Christ, it doesn’t crush me. I know that a thing cannot be at two places at the same time, and if it is on him, I am free. I put it upon Jesus by faith. I put it on Jesus and all that offense is gone. In my heart I hate it.
Now, that is what God means by turning away from sin. He does not mean that you ever will in this life become sinless, for then we would need no temple, no priest, no sacrifice. But let us suppose that you have been of the opinion that you are sinless. Now, I ask you to look at this logically. If yesterday you reached the sinless point, then you did not need the High Priest to intercede for you. But the theory is that we need a High Priest without beginning of days or ending of years, who is able to intercede for us. And there is no question that one who claims to be sinless denies the eternal priesthood, denies the presence of the mediatorial kingdom, denies that the city without a temple is beyond the resurrection and the judgment.
Let us all, then, this day, seek God’s face in Jesus Christ. Your pastor would lead you. I get down in the dust with you. Let every one of us obey the fourth direction: Humble thyself. Get down. Get down in your spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are they. Get down to the ground. Humus. Brother, get down today. O O humble thyself before God! Get low down. When down, pray: God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Then seek God’s face in Christ, in Jesus. Pray, and then in your heart turn away from sin. Turn from it, and leave it on Jesus. Leave it there by faith, and walk away from it in the joy of reconciliation.
Lord, we put on our lips, because it comes from our hearts, the prayer of Daniel: “We have sinned and committed iniquity, and have done wickedly and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee; to the Lord our God be long mercies and forgiveness; now, therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant; O Lord, hear!”