05 January, 2017

Isaiah 26:10—“Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness …”

Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10 KJV).


Revs. Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof

[Source: Sin and Grace (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2003), pp. 214-216]

First of all, we wish to direct attention to the fact that if this text must serve as proof for the doctrine of common grace, it proves far too much. If this is common grace, then it must be viewed in the sense in which we use it. We do not wish to emphasize the fact that the prophet does not state that the wicked are shown grace, but that this is mentioned conditionally ... 

The meaning is obviously this: If the godless man is shown grace, he shall not learn righteousness. We underscore for the moment what has the emphasis in the text, namely, that the godless man learns no righteousness. The prophet does not say he is spiritually improved by it and his sinful deed is restrained. No, the text says he deals unjustly. He carries out the deed, even if he is shown grace. Sin is not restrained by the evidence of grace. 

But this is, according to Kuyper’s repeated presentation, the power of common grace: Sin is restrained by common grace in the consciousness, the will, and the inclinations of the sinner, according to Kuyper. Well now, that is something quite different from Isaiah 26:10. For there the emphasis falls on the fact that the godless one does not improve, that sin is not restrained, that the godless man will continue to deal unjustly in the land of uprightness ...

This is not an incidental thought in the text while the prophet actually wants to emphasize that the godless are shown grace. It is just the opposite. Isaiah’s main thought is exactly that the godless man does not improve, not in his heart or will or inclination, nor in his deed. He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness. If this is the proper text ... in which the word grace appears in that sense, the common grace theory of 1924 will have to be radically reviewed. For here that view is explicitly opposed.

It is not difficult to grasp the thought of the prophet. The wicked one, as usually is true in the prophets, is the wicked Israelite, the child of the covenant who forsakes the path of the covenant and loves and performs unrighteousness. He lives among God’s people, the righteous, in a land of uprightness. In that land of uprightness, Jehovah shows His grace. There He blesses His people Israel. He dwells there with His ordinances. It lies in the nature of the case that the wicked one who lives among the righteous would also enjoy the gifts of God to His people. When that people prosper, he also prospers. In that sense God proves and reveals His grace also to him. Yet unless God actually gives His grace in a subjective sense, grips him in his heart and saves him, all those external evidences, revelations, proofs, and gifts of grace to God’s people do not help that wicked one in the least. They do not change him. He continues to deal unjustly in the land of uprightness. He does not behold the majesty of the Lord.

If you object to this by saying that God, as far as He is concerned, intends it to be different, but that it is entirely the fault of the wicked one that he receives no grace, then you have forsaken the position of our Reformed fathers and our Confession, and have stepped over to the view of Arminianism. Proof for the use of the word grace, in the sense of common grace, cannot be found here.



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

[Source: God’s Goodness Always Particular, (Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA, 1939), pp. 218-222]

If we study the text in Isaiah 26:10, we soon notice that we are here dealing with a beautiful and exalted passage of the Word of God, to which the notion of common grace is quite foreign, and which teaches the very opposite of that which the defenders of the theory of common grace try to elicit from it. In order to see this, we must pay attention for a moment to the context.

What we have here is a “song,” sung by the Church in the day of her victory (v. 1). Her enemies are subjected and she is completely delivered. Moab is destroyed. Babylon is humiliated. God’s people are liberated. When we understand this song in its final and highest significance, we may indeed say, that the people of God here stand upon the height of their final glorification in the day of Christ.  

Of the glory of the redeemed Jerusalem, the Church here sings. It sings of the city that hath foundations, a strong city that has salvation for its walls and bulwarks (v. 1). Only the righteous are inhabitants of this city. They enter in through the gates (v. 2). They are the people that keep the truth, and the Lord keeps them in perfect peace (v. 3). And from the viewpoint of this city and its glory they look back upon the present. The God of this people and of this city brings down the enemies. He lays them low, even to the ground and brings them to the dust (v. 5). And God’s people participate in this judgment, they are co-workers with God. And, therefore, they sing: “Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee; the desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee. With my soul have I desired Thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek Thee early; for when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (vv. 8-9).

The redeemed Church here looks back upon the past. Many judgments have passed over Israel. War, pestilence, fire and sword and famine had frequently been the lot of the people of God in the past. But now the remnant according to the election of grace, that here sings, declares that they had expected and waited for the Lord, that they had looked for Him and His coming in the way of judgments. “Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee.”

This does not merely mean, that they hoped in Him even in the midst of trouble. Nor does it merely express that they had with certainty expected that the Lord would come in the way of judgments over the world. But it means emphatically that they had looked with longing for His judgments. And why? How could they long for the judgments of God? In reply to this question we must remember in the first place that in this chapter there is an expression of strong love to the Lord. This is plain from what the remnant according to the election of grace here declares through the mouth of the prophet: “With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early” (v. 9). There is with this remnant a zeal for the Name of the Lord. “The desire of our souls is to thy name and to the remembrance of thee” (v. 8). It was their deepest desire that their God might be acknowledged, that His majesty might be praised. Their prayer was: Hallowed be Thy Name. The people of God are of His party, and as such they speak here.

But if the name of God is to be hallowed and glorified, His judgments are inevitable. For when God comes to judge He empties the vials of His wrath over the ungodly. And then the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. This last does not necessarily mean that under the pressure of God’s judgments the inhabitants of the world will “repent and walk in righteousness.” But they certainly learn to see and know and acknowledge the righteousness of God, and to behold the majesty of the Lord. When the judgments of God have been fully executed, then all the inhabitants of the world will acknowledge that He is righteous, and even the damned in hell will behold and acknowledge the majesty of Jehovah.

That this may be realized is the strong desire of God’s people. They long for the day in which the ungodly shall be no more and when the majesty of Jehovah will be universally acknowledged! And, therefore, they long for God’s judgments, and “in the way of judgments” they expect the Lord (v. 8).

Now, it is in this connection that the tenth verse appears in contrast with verses eight and nine. Judgments must come. To show favour to the wicked is of no avail! Let us notice that in the tenth verse we do not read that grace is actually shown to the wicked, that God is actually graciously disposed toward him. The text reads: “Let favour be shown to the wicked; if grace is to be shown to him.” And the meaning is: this would be of absolutely no avail. If grace were shown to the wicked, it would not help. He would not learn righteousness. Judgments must come, if ever he is to acknowledge the majesty of the Lord! 

We notice, therefore, that the text teaches the very opposite of what is implied in the theory of common grace. For common grace, according to Kuyper and the Synod of 1924, teaches that if the ungodly is only shown some grace, some common grace, he will at least be somewhat improved and learn some righteousness. But the Scriptures here teach the very contrary. There is only one way in which even the ungodly learns to know and acknowledge the righteousness of God, and this is the way of God’s judgments, by which the ungodly are destroyed.

That no manifestation of favour or grace will teach the wicked righteousness is very evident. He lives in the land of uprightness. He dwells in the land of a righteous people. Thus it was among Israel. Thus it still is with the carnal seed of the Church. And in that land he beholds the grace of God over His people. He perceives that God is gracious to the righteous. He hears the proclamation of this truth. And he also hears and beholds that God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11). And in that land of uprightness he is also witness of the fact that the righteous acknowledge the majesty of the Lord, that they fear Him and love Him. Does all this reform the wicked? Does it change him in the least? Does it at all induce him to imitate the people of God, and also to practice righteousness? Not whatsoever! In the land of uprightness he deals wrongfully. Thus the text teaches very emphatically. And, therefore, let the Lord come in the way of judgments; for if favour or grace be shown to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness; he practices ungodliness and iniquity in the midst of the righteous, and deals unjustly in the land of justice and wickedness.

And thus it is always. The ungodly does indeed perceive that God is gracious over His people, for He dwells in the midst of them. But this grace is not common. This grace is indeed shown him, so that he perceives it, but never so that he could draw the conclusion that God is gracious to him as an ungodly man. He stands outside of the scope of this grace, and is very well aware of this. But in spite of all this, he refuses to repent, he will not become righteous, and he cannot be persuaded to acknowledge the righteousness of the Lord. The latter he will only be compelled to do when God comes in the way of judgments.

Such is the clear meaning of the text if explained in the light of its context.



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal  (vol. 2, no. 1 - December, 1968)]

Apart from the context the future clause means “favor is shown.” But even a superficial reading of the entire text reveals very plainly that the clause may not be translated in this manner. It is a hypothetical clause, the protasis of a conditional sentence, the apodosis of which is “yet will he not learn righteousness.” The meaning is that even if favor is shown to the wicked, it will do him no good; he will not learn righteousness. The same construction appears in Nehemiah 1:8, where the original reads literally, “Ye shall trespass, and I will scatter you abroad among the peoples,” but where the meaning is plainly that of a conditional sentence. Hence the text does not present it as a fact that grace is shown to the wicked.

What is the meaning of Isaiah 26:10? Does Isaiah mean to grant the possibility that the wicked man receives grace? The opposite is true. He means to assert that the wicked man is not at all receptive to grace. Even though he lives right in the midst of the manifestations of God’s grace, yet he does not receive them. This is plain from what follows: “yet will he not learn righteousness.” This is still more evident from the last part of the text: “in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD.” The meaning is clear. The wicked man lives in the land of uprightness. In that land God reveals the tokens of his grace, in this instance the punishments of Jehovah. In verse 9 the prophet had said, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” But in verse 10 he singles out the wicked as an exception to this rule. He does not learn righteousness, even though he lives under Jehovah’s punishments and judgments. Although Jehovah’s majesty through these judgments becomes very evident, he will not behold it.

The passage expresses that even though you place the wicked in the midst of the outward manifestation of God’s grace, yet he receives no grace—exactly what I contended in my last paper. I do not deny that the wicked live in the land of uprightness. But I deny that they receive grace. By not heeding the manifestations of grace in the land of uprightness, he is cursed by these very manifestations.



More to come! (DV)

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