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THE WITHERING WORK OF THE SPIRIT

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, September 16, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).


“The voice said, Cry.” What voice was this that spoke thus to the prophet? It was “the mouth of the Lord,” spoken of in verse five. The voice of God spoke to him and said, “Cry.” Dr. Gill commented that, “It is the Lord’s voice to the prophet, or rather to any and every Gospel minister, giving them an order to prophesy and preach” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the Old Testament in Six Volumes, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume 5, p. 222).

Then Isaiah said, “What shall I cry?” That is the question which comes before a preacher’s mind as he prepares to deliver the sermon each Sunday – “What shall I cry?” The Hebrew word for “cry” is qârâ. It carries the idea “to call out,” “of accosting [confronting] a person met,” according to Strong (#7121). It is the same Hebrew word used in Isaiah 58:1,

“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).

Every Gospel preacher is thus commanded to use a certain method and style in his preaching. It is not the method and style so common in our day. But it was the method and style of Isaiah, and of all the prophets of the Old Testament. It was the method and style of John the Baptist, the great forerunner of Christ. The Baptist referred back to these very verses in Isaiah when he said, “I am the voice of one crying” (John 1:23). John was the mouthpiece of God, and it was God who was thus crying through him, as God did through the prophet Isaiah, whom John quoted,

“[John] said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…as said the prophet Esaias” (John 1:23).

The Greek word translated “crying” is bǒaō. It means to “halloo; i.e. [that is] shout…cry” (Strong, #994). Thus, from the Hebrew word for cry, we learn that it is to “cry aloud” (Isaiah 58:1). It means that the preacher must speak out loudly as the mouthpiece of God, to shout as one crying “halloo,” “shouting and crying out” to sinners lost in the wilderness of this world.

That method of loud preaching was used by the prophets, who cried out the message of God, as Isaiah and John the Baptist did, “calling out” to them, “accosting [confronting]” their hearers with the Word that God had unveiled to their hearts. But, as I said, that is not the popular style of preaching in our day. There is now a fundamental disobedience to the Bible on the matter of preaching, for we are told prophetically,

Preach the word…For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:2-3).

I can’t think of a prophetic verse in the Bible that better describes most modern “preaching.” There is constant teaching in our day, teaching without urgency and fire, for such modern “preaching” does not have its source in the One who said to Isaiah, “Cry aloud, spare not,” nor is the source of such modern preaching the voice of God who spoke to Isaiah, “Cry;” nor is it like the voice of God speaking through Jesus in the seventh chapter of John, when the Lord “cried…in the temple” (John 7:28); nor is it like Christ in that same chapter, when He “stood and cried” (John 7:37). Nor is it the style of the preaching of Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, who cried and “accosted [confronted]” his hearers, shouting the words that God had given him, for many have failed to understand that,

“Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them…” (Acts 2:14).

So, we must not fail to notice what many modern preachers (particularly in America and Europe) have overlooked, the fact that there is a sense of “crying” out and “accosting [confronting]” the hearers with the message of “the voice” of God through a faithful pastor’s preaching. That is real Gospel preaching! Nothing short of it can be used of God to move dead hearts and sluggish minds! Nothing less can do that! No wonder there are so few real conversions in our day in American and Europe!

Then Isaiah asked, “What shall I cry?” As I said, that is the preacher’s dilemma as he works on his Sunday sermons: “What shall I cry?” One young man heard a seminary professor say that a six-month plan of sermons should be prepared in advance. I utterly abominate the idea of a man doing such a foolish thing! Spurgeon, the greatest of all Baptist preachers, never did that. He waited on the Lord to give him the messages every week. Thus, the preacher should ask God for his sermons.

“What shall I cry?” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

What is the message? It is that “such as I have” [Acts 3:6], it is limited to that. This is what I have received…I have received this, it has been handed to me. I do not bring my own thoughts and ideas…I deliver to them what has been given to me. I have been given it, and I give it to them. I am a vehicle, I am a channel, I am an instrument, I am a representative (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan Publishing House, 1971, p. 61).

Dr. Timothy Lin said,

Among all pastoral duties, the most difficult and most important task is to know, without doubt, the message God intends for him to preach each Lord’s day (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, FCBC, 1992, p. 23).

That is what we have here in Isaiah forty, verse six: “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry?” It is the message of an evangelistic sermon. And it may be divided into three main points.

I. First, we preach on the brevity of life.

Please stand and read Isaiah 40:6 aloud.

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).

You may be seated.

“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness [loveliness and glory] thereof is as the flower of the field.” That is an important part of our message. All of us are like grass, or like flowers that shoot up in a field after it rains in the springtime. Soon life passes away. How very soon this happens! It seems as though it will go on forever, but it passes so quickly. I look back at my own life of nearly seven decades, and it seems to have passed in seven months! And so it will be with you. The summer sun comes up ever so quickly. The grass turns brown. The flowers wither and die. Life is transitory, fleeting, temporary, brief, short lived. The Apostle James used this passage in Isaiah to show the foolishness of focusing one’s life merely on career advancement and the accumulation of material things.

“But the rich…is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways” (James 1:10-11).

Very few people ever have that insight. They reach and grasp to advance in this world, without being struck by what one would think is an obvious fact – it will end sooner than you think! C. T. Studd (1860-1931) was one of the few to see that. He inherited a large fortune, but gave it all away and went as a missionary – first to China and then to Africa. And it was he who said,


Only one life,

   ‘twill soon be past;

Only what’s done for Christ

   will last.


How I wish that every young person would read, and seek to emulate, the life of Charles T. Studd! And why not, since “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field”? Ah, if only you would see the truth of that!

Soon you will pass from this earth and your soul will stand before the Judgment Bar of God. You will take nothing with you but your soul. But you will not even keep that if you are not born again. In the plainest possible words, Jesus said,

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

It is absolutely necessary for you to be born again. Otherwise you will lose your very soul for all time, and for all eternity. “But,” someone says, “there are many important things I must do.” As one girl put it, “Life was calling.” To you I must quote Christ’s two great questions:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
      (Mark 8:36-37).

“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).

II. Second, we preach on the withering work of God’s Spirit.

Please stand and read verse seven aloud.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

You may be seated. Dr. Gill said,

At conversion the spirit of the Lord blows a blast upon all the goodliness of man…and these cause a withering in men’s goodness; the spirit of God shews that their holiness is not true holiness; that their righteousness has only the appearance…before men; and their religion and goodliness [are] a mere form; and their good works [are] insufficient to justify and save, and bring [them] to heaven; upon which they fade away and die in their [self] esteem, who now reckon them but loss and dung (Gill, ibid., p. 223).

This is what Spurgeon called “The Withering Work of the Spirit” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1971 reprint, volume XVII, pp. 373-384). As did Dr. Gill, Spurgeon said that Isaiah 40:7 speaks of the Holy Spirit withering you, so that your soul dries up and sees its helplessness, sin and hopelessness without the Saviour.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

Spurgeon said,

The Spirit of God, like the wind, must pass over the field of your souls, and [your] beauty to be seen as a fading flower. He must so convince [you] of sin…that [you] shall see [your] fallen nature is corruption itself (Spurgeon, ibid., p. 375).

That is the withering work of the Holy Spirit! It is that work of the Spirit of God, which dries up your false hopes, shows you the horrible deadness and corruption of your own nature, blasts away all hope from your mind, and makes you see that your only real hope lies in Jesus, your bleeding substitute.

When the Holy Spirit “withers” your soul, you will see that your so-called “goodness” is nothing but filthy rags. You will see that all the religious things you are doing are mere hypocrisy; that none of the good things you do can justify you in the sight of a holy God; that nothing you have done so far can make you acceptable before God in His holiness; that your belief is nothing but a mental agreement with the words of the Gospel; that none of these things can justify you in God’s sight; that all you have done, and tried to do, cannot save you from the fire of judgment in the day of God’s wrath.

All of these things become clear to a sinner as he passes through the withering work of the Holy Spirit. One girl said, “I felt so disgusted with myself.” Shortly afterward she was converted. Another girl said, “I am displeased with myself.” She got nowhere. Dr. Cagan and I counseled her that she must feel more than “displeased.” Like the girl who was converted, she must feel “disgusted.” Until she feels, deep down inside, that she is totally disgusted with herself, she will not yet have experienced the true withering and inner turmoil usually experienced by those that “strive to enter in at the strait gate.”

The word “wither” is very important. You must know what it means if you want to understand what is beginning to happen to you. The word translated “withereth” in Isaiah 40:7 comes from a Hebrew word which means, “to be ashamed…to dry up (as water) or wither (as herbage)…be ashamed…be confounded…wither away” (Strong’s Concordance #3001).

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

That must happen in your heart. The Spirit of God must wither your false hopes and the confidence you have in yourself. God’s Spirit must shrivel, sear, dry up your self-confidence, until your heart wilts like a dying flower – until you are “confounded,” perplexed, embarrassed, and “ashamed” of your own depraved nature. As that girl said, “I felt so disgusted with myself.” That is the withering work of the Holy Spirit, not that she was “displeased” with herself, but that she was “disgusted.” That is what happens in true awakening, in real conviction.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it…” (Isaiah 40:7).

Iain H. Murray said,

Dealing with the conscience must come first, ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ (Romans 3:19). This being true, the conclusion of J. H. Thornwell has to follow, ‘The most successful method of preaching is that which aims at thorough and radical convictions of sin’ (Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, p. 7).

“What shall I cry?” What shall I preach? I shall preach on the brevity of life. I shall preach on the withering work of God’s Spirit. That is the work of an evangelist. That is the work of a preacher. But there is one more point, which I can only touch briefly.

III. Third, we preach the Gospel of Christ.

Stand and read aloud the last verse of our text, Isaiah 40:8.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8).

You may be seated.

The Apostle Peter quoted from this verse. He said,

“But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (I Peter 1:25).

The eternal, everlasting Word of God, the divinely inspired Holy Scriptures, point the withered sinner, by the Gospel, to our Lord Jesus Christ.

When you are disgusted with yourself, then come to Jesus! Then will you become part of His flock. Then will He gather you up in His arms and carry you away from your sin to Himself. Then will He say to you,

“I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).

Then will He wash away every stain of your sin “in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5). Then will you see why Jesus died on the Cross – to pay for your sins, which now disgust you. Then will you turn to Him who has ascended to the right hand of the Father. Then will you be saved for all time and for all eternity, world without end. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I Peter 1:18-25.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove” (by Dr. Isaac Watts, 1674-1748;
to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me”).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE WITHERING WORK OF THE SPIRIT

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).

(Isaiah 40:5; 58:1; John 1:23; II Timothy 4:2-3;
John 7:28, 37; Acts 2:14; 3:6)

I. First, we preach on the brevity of life, Isaiah 40:6; James 1:10-11;
John 3:3; Mark 8:36-37.

II. Second, we preach on the withering work of God’s Spirit
, Isaiah 40:7; Romans 3:19.

III. Third, we preach the Gospel of Christ, Isaiah 40:8;
I Peter 1:25; John 10:28; Revelation 1:5.