Evaporating holiness

Based on the transcript of a message preached by Rev. Andy Foster on November 14th, 2010 in Penticton Free Presbyterian Church.

I would like to concentrate on the words of Hosea 6:4: “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness [is] as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”

The prophecy of Hosea has as one of its notable features a number of illustrations. Simple, natural pictures that are used by the prophet to convey profound spiritual truth. We have one of those pictures in two parts set before us in the words of our text. Your goodness is (1) as the morning cloud and (2) as the early dew it goeth away. Two natural illustrations are brought together to impress upon his hearers spiritual truth that they needed to pay attention to.

I am sure on occasion you have listened to the weather forecast to be informed that the day will begin cloudy and overcast. But as the sun rises and increases in strength that cloud will be burnt off and we will have clear skies for much of the day. We’ve been encouraged to hear that kind of a forecast! Usually it brings comfort to our heart to think that even though the day may get off to a gloomy start, things are going to brighten up and it will be a pleasant day. Well, that’s that the kind of experience that Hosea is referring to here. Your goodness is as the morning cloud: a morning mist, a morning cloud, overcast – but as the sun rises and in its strength the cloud is gone. The mist is burned off. Or as the dew, maybe we’ve awakened early and because of the cold morning the dew is still there but we know that as the day warms up the dew will disappear. It too will evaporate and be dried up.

For most of us I think it’s true to say that we take encouragement from that kind of natural progress and the warming up of the day. I think, however, from Hosea’s perspective, naturally speaking, there would have been a disappointment with the middle eastern sun rising and becoming strong and the little protection the cloud offered or the little refreshment that the dew brought was soon to evaporate and be gone. You can easily understand how someone in Hosea’s situation would have relished the protection that was enjoyed and the refreshment they would have enjoyed in those early hours of the day before the sun did get strong. You could perhaps understand how there would have been that reluctance to face the blistering heat of the sun when those things were withdrawn. And it is easy to see that there would have been a disappointment, as the sun reaches its strength and those early protections are burnt away and removed. Hosea’s words here certainly – when we look at the spiritual application he is making – convey a sense of disappointment, a sense of dashed hope.

These are sad words. That which seemed hopeful spiritually evaporates. That which seemed promising and encouraging – their goodness – disappeared.

They are sad words because they follow, in the context, words of hope, words of promise. As the Lord deals with the sins of the people he is presenting himself right though this prophecy as the patient, long suffering lover of his people. That, in spite of their sin, he is ready to take them back; ready to forgive; ready to pardon. Glorious promises of grace are set before us in this prophecy! And yet in this text, there appears the great obstacle, or stumbling block, that  robs them of the experience of grace that God had promised. Their goodness never came to anything; their goodness evaporated like the morning cloud and they just went back to sin, back to the old ways back to the ways of wickedness and defiance of God. Those little promising signs that would have encouraged the heart of Hosea and the others to think that ‘maybe now there is a turning to God’ – but no, the goodness evaporates, they go back to their sin. What a disappointment what a discouragement to witness such things.

I want us to consider today a holiness that evaporates; a righteousness that disappears like the morning mist.

First of all, let’s look at the character of this evaporating goodness that the prophet speaks of.

“… your goodness [is] as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” (Hosea 6:4 AV)

What is he referring to? What is this goodness? Well, you will notice in the verse six the statement “I desired mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The word that is there translated “mercy” is the exactly the same word as translated by the word “goodness” in v4. In v6 the word is used to define true religion, true godliness as opposed to that which is merely superficial external religion. What we have is a word here that really indicates holiness, righteousness, piety, a love of God, a love for the things of God. That really is the substance of this word that is translated goodness. God requires this goodness, not just external religion. He is looking for this quality we are told in the v6.

However, when we think of what is stated in v4 we are obviously dealing with a form of piety of holiness, a form of godliness that – rather than be lasting and solid and substantial – is in fact transient and as temporary as the morning mist. What the prophet is describing here is the exactly the same thing the apostle Paul is describing in 2 Timothy 3:5: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” He is describing the condition of religious affairs of the last days in 2 Timothy 3:5 where men will have a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof. He is advising and counseling Timothy that there will be a form of religion abroad that profess to be holiness; that appears as Godliness; claims to be Godliness but there is no substance to it. There’s no power in it; there is nothing in it that is substantial. It is not the product of God’s work in their life. It is merely a form of Godliness. This is what Hosea is describing here: Your goodness, your godliness is just like a morning cloud, it’s just a mist that disappears and evaporates.

Now the particular characteristic of this goodness that the prophet highlights here is its disappearing quality. That is the notable thing about it.  This is what he draws to our attention.   Your goodness is as the morning cloud and as the morning dew it goeth away. It is not a permanent not a lasting feature of life. It is like the mist; it is as variable, as changeable, as intangible and as unsubstantial as the mist or the dew. It is no lasting significance – it is the kind of religion that is just a profession, just an illusion. It might look like something but it has no real substance to it.

I think we can all as parents have enjoyed the idea that little ones have concerning the clouds. How fluffy they are! Some of with more vigorous imaginations than others have thought of how nice it would be to get up there and bounce on the cloud – a bit like bouncing on a bed! It looks so solid it looks so nice. Especially looking out on an airplane it looks just as if you can get out and jump about out there. But we know there is no solidity to it. How much more this mist of the morning that the prophet is talking about! How many there are that possess such a religion as this. It is just a mist.

It is interesting that he talks about the morning cloud. Here is something this is worked out on a daily basis: every morning. Every day there was a profession that came to nothing. It burnt up and disappeared. But every day it seemed the day started this way. Promising something looking like it might be a more substantial form of godliness today. How many begin their day like that! Today is going to be different. This week is going to be different. Oh, it is going to be a new start, a new day it is going to be so different. It’s the morning mist! Comes to nothing! There may be a new resolution, a new impression, a new illusion created – and even believed! But it disappears like the mist. Before the day is hardly begun there is no thought of God, there’s no thought of goodness or godliness. The ways of the world and the ways of the wicked and the ways of the ungodly take over and the mist is gone.

By contrast a genuine work of grace always produces that which is lasting, substantial enduring. Whenever I think of this subject there is a phrase in the book of Romans comes to mind. Romans 2:7 Where speaking of the day of judgment and how the lord will reward both his own people and the wicked according to their works he says in Romans 2:7 “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.  By patient continuance in well doing: steadfastness in the course of godliness. That’s how we get to heaven; that show we get to enjoy eternal life. In that phrase you have a definition of those that will be in glory! Those who by patiently continue in well doing. There are many ways we can describe a Christian. We can describe them as born again; those who are redeemed; those who have repented; those who are believers and trust Christ. These are all scriptural expressions to describe a Christian. But here is one that equally defines what a Christian is: “by patient continuance in well doing” – steadfastness in godliness. No, no, no, this is not the morning mist! This is not something like the dew that  appears so abundant and heavy but it’s gone in an hour or two, after the sun rises. This is something different! Patient, continuance in well doing.

In Luke 8:15 where the Lord Jesus is speaking in the context of the sower: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep [it], and bring forth fruit with patience.” There again is the Christian! That’s what it is to have eternal life. Having heard the word keep it and bring forth fruit with patience or endurance. Steadfast obedience! The fruit is not an illusion. It is not a mist that disappears or dew that dries up. It is there on a continuing basis.

Now it’s interesting as we come back to the language and the picture the prophet uses that this goodness disappears as the sun rises. In the natural picture the morning mist and the morning dew is evaporated by the strengthening sun.  As the sun grows warmer and stronger the mist is gone. Now again this ties in very interestingly with the language of the Lord Jesus in the context of that parable of the sower. Can I turn you to Matthew 13. In Matthew’s account of that wonderful parable which details the various responses to the word of God – the seed is the gospel message (Matt 13:19). How do men react to the word of God? In the various ways illustrated by the various types of ground in the parable of the sower! You will see in Matthew 13:5 “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” They came to nothing when the sun was up. Same kind of picture as  Hoses used. Now down to verse 20-21: “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” Or, “by and by he stumbles”.

In other words, what the Saviour is simply describing here is a profession of religion that, when it gets too hard to obey God, is abandoned. It comes to nothing! The sun rises – as an illustration of the heat coming on, the pressure being put upon this professor. Were not told what the circumstances are, but it becomes too difficult to serve God. There’s pressure from friends, acquaintances; there’s pressure from one source or another; and at that point he abandons the profession of faith. It comes to nothing; it’s like the mist; it disappears. It may as well never have been! It goes without a trace it, evaporates and leaves nothing behind it because the sun is risen.

All around Hosea there were multitudes who lived in this very same way – professing to love God, professing to love his word, professing to love the things of God, professing obedience, professing a holiness, claiming to be righteous but when a little pressure was added; when it required something of them; when it began to cost something to be on God’s side, it was gone. The mist was burnt off! Where the gospel has taken root, or as the Saviour put it in the parable, where there is “root in himself”; where the seed of the word of God is a living part of the life and of the soul, fruit is produced. It does not evaporate. What effect did the sun have on the seed in the good ground?  It made it grow it made it strong, it ripened the grain. It was the means of producing a harvest. But in our text there is holiness without a root and it disappears when the sun rises.

Can we move on to notice something else.

In his text you have a solemn question posed by God.

In the light of what is to be observed among the people, their evaporating holiness/goodness, there is a question now asked. “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee?” Here is a question with sobering implications. Twice God asks them. What am I going to do?

When God asks a question in scripture it’s not because He needs us to supply an answer. It’s not as if He’s canvassing opinion so He can decide what to do! God knows what He’s going to do. He knows from the beginning what He’s going to do. When God asks a question of this kind it is to make men think about what lies ahead. It is to make us think: well, what is God going to do?

What does God do in these circumstances? We better find out. We better give ourselves to understand what God’s response to evaporating holiness is. I think the question has at least two implications that we need to consider:

(1) These questions imply that God could do no more for them than what He had done. It’s as if He is saying: What more could I do to turn you to myself? I couldn’t have been more faithful, loving, gracious. I couldn’t have been more merciful and still you hold out against me. Still you have been unfaithful. I couldn’t have done more. I couldn’t have been more long-suffering, patient. We read the book of Hosea and we see illustrated even in Hosea’s own life how he had patiently borne with his wife’s unfaithfulness and taken her back time and again. And God says, I have dealt with you in mercy.  I have taken you back repeatedly, I have shown kindness, I have shown grace. And still you offer me nothing more than the morning mist. When it comes to obedience, righteousness, holiness – that is what you offer me! What more could I have done. It is a question that throws a very sobering light on man’s responsibility to take make best use of the goodness of God. What more can God have done then what he’s done for you?

In Isaiah 5:3-4 [Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea] you’ll find that this is a theme in Isaiah’s ministry as well. “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” There is a prolonged metaphor here, using the illustration of a vineyard now to express this same fact: I’ve planted this vine; I’ve cared for it; looked after it; and, lo and behold, it doesn’t bring forth good grapes, it brings forth wild grapes! What could I have done more, v4? what could I have done more. There is an implication of that truth in this question. The Lord had done so much for him. He couldn’t have done anything more and still the only return they made on his goodness was a form of holiness that evaporated like the mist.

(2) This question also causes us to consider the divine response in vengeance to their stubborn refusal to obey God. You look at the question in that perspective it’s a chilling one indeed. O Ephraim what shall I do unto thee? What is God going to do? It is a sobering consideration as we look into the word of God to see what the Lord says he will do to those who live in this way. Again you can just you back to Isaiah 5 and read the rest of that parable there.

“And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; [and] break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” (Isa 5:5-6)

God is going to act in vengeance. God’s mercy comest o an end.  And that’s the sobering chilling reality that lies behind these questions: What am I going to do? As we look at the passage we have some indication of what God is going to do because of the statements concerning of what he has already done. Immediately it follows on in the verse 5 “Therefore have I hewed [them] by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments [are as] the light [that] goeth forth.” Through his prophets, God had already revealed the consequences of their actions. Their message had been a cutting word. Indeed it could be described as a fatal word. I have hewed them, cut them – it’s as if the prophet came wielding an ax. Cut them with the word. I have slain them. By the words of God’s mouth – that word coming as a sword. God’s word in such circumstances is indeed a cutting word.

Perhaps you have already called to mind the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:10. Preaching in a nation that really substantially resembled that which Hosea witnessed, John is addressing the Pharisees. So much external religion but no real godliness! He says this: “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” John preached a message of being cut off. There was a crisis point coming in the nation with the emergence of the Messiah. Their response to Christ and their reaction to John’s message was going to be absolutely crucial. It’s as if John is standing at the tree with the ax in his hand and saying that Christ’s time has come and you have to deal with the reality of a genuine godliness not with just these external religious professions. There must be the good fruit; there must be the reality of obedience to God; or the tree will be cut down. In a national sense that of course did happen. To use the language of Romans 11, the natural branches were broken off because of national rejection of Christ. Here is the illustration of what happens when there is goodness that is no better than a morning mist. The word of God is a sword is as the ax that will cut off and slay.

What shall I do?  Well, Just step back and look at what I’ve already said; what I’ve already done through the prophets and their messages of judgment and vengeance; that have cut and hurt; and have been hard, painful messages. That’s what I will do. God never leaves a question unanswered that he poses to men! The answer is right here. What shall I do? Well, consider what I have done. And I am the same, I don’t change, my word doesn’t change. My word is a sword, my word is like the ax that John referred to. And where there is not the good fruit of obedience the tree will be cut down. Cut off. Slain. That’s what God does where there is just the morning mist profession and evaporating holiness.

Why does God respond that way? Why should it not be that God turns a blind eye to reality and just accepts the profession. You know, that’s becoming more and more the trend of society. You just take something at face value even though you know its just a front, just a pretense, its too much trouble to deal with the consequences of exposing that fraud, so we’ll just live with it. Why doesn’t God work that way? Because He cannot! It is contrary to his nature. God cannot tolerate a lie; He cannot tolerate a fraud; He cannot tolerate a deceit. It is either genuine godliness or He must act against it. And you’ll see that from verse 6 – the kind of holiness that he is actually looking for. “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The Lord Jesus cites these two verses on two occasions (Matthew 9:13, 12:7). God has certain requirements that must be met. As he uses this word mercy and this word goodness, I think we could bring in the words of the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 22:37-39 “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Here is this goodness, here is this mercy here is this love that God requires. A love first for God, and a love for fellow man.

As Paul put it in Romans 13:10 “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law.” Hosea 6:6 refers to a righteous that fulfills the law of God. A love for God and a love for men as set down in God’s moral law. Thats what the Lord is looking for and since that is what He’s looking for, no morning mist religion is going to satisfy Him instead. He demands a righteousness that is in line with his law.

On one of the occasions when the Lord Jesus quotes these words in Matthew 9, He blasts the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and says “But go ye and learn what [that] meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Learn the secret of these words and you will learn you are a sinner and you will learn you need Christ! You can have all the religion in the world that you can possibly have – like the Pharisee – it will be nothing more than the morning mist, it is not what God is looking for. You need to learn what God is looking for. A righteousness that satisfies his justice and that righteousness is only found in Jesus Christ. Learn what God is looking for and you’ll learn that the morning mist profession will not do, and that nothing but salvation through Christ alone will satisfy.

Can I, in closing, point out the implications of an evaporating goodness.

There is a present reality that has to be faced by those whose goodness evaporates. The natural question is, Where does that person stand with God? Really, where do they stand with God? That gets us right to the heart of the issue. Where does that person stand with God who makes a profession of holiness and righteous that doesn’t ever come to anything? It never leads to works of holiness and godliness. It doesn’t lead anywhere but it just wilts and withers and disappears no matter how many times it is insisted upon or professed. No matter how many new resolutions are made, it never comes to anything. WHERE does that person stand with God? That’s the key issue.

We are not left with any doubt here! Look at verse 7: And I would like you to pay special attention to (the statement in the margin cause that is) the literal translation of the words. I’m going to read them that way, “But they like ADAM have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.”

I ask the question again, Where does the man stand who has a morning mist profession? The answer is: Where Adam stood when he fell. That is where he stands. He stands where Adam stood as a sinner before God. That is where he is. He is still in Adam. He is still represented by Adam as a fallen man. He is not in Christ he is in Adam. And you read those wonderful passages in Paul’s epistles particularly in the book of Romans, in Galatians, I Corinthians and in other places  where you have those wonderful relationships spoken of. Either a man is in Adam or he is in Christ; either he is in the old man or he is in the new. IF your goodness is as a morning cloud you are not in Christ, you are in Adam. You are not a new creature, you are not a new man. They like Adam have transgressed the covenant. Look at the verses of the chapter here as it closes and the prophet speaks of abounding depravity on every side. Wickedness, lewdness, blood, murder, idolatry and all kinds of apostasy – all springing out of Adam’s sin! That’s where those sins all come from – they are the result of the fall. And the morning mist profession is of no more use to cover sin than Adam’s little apron of fig leaves.

V7 also tell us that those with ‘morning cloud’ godliness are in rebellious treacherous defiance of God: “they have dealt treacherously against me.” What’s a traitor? A traitor is someone who claims to be on one side when in reality he is on the other. A traitor is one who claims to be seeking the interests of one side while all along living to promote the interests of the other. Here’s the morning mist profession again! “Oh, I’m on the Lords side but I’m going to live like the devil.” I’m on the Lord’s side – but as soon as the sun rises and it gets a little difficult, and holiness becomes challenging, and righteousness demands more than the flesh is willing to pay, there is a backing off and it all evaporates and they stand on the devil’s side and with the devil’s crowd. A traitor inevitably exposes himself and shows which side he’s really on. Not by what he says but by what he does. There can be no mistaking the reality that is here. A vague mist like profession of a form of godliness that produces nothing but sin and disobedience is to be under condemnation before God. For any man or woman to be in that position described in Hosea 6:4 is to be in the position that Adam stood in as a sinner before God.

Where do you stand today? That’s the question for us all. Where do we stand? Are we still on the same ground before God that Adam stood on in the wake of the fall? Does our goodness/our holiness/our righteousness amount to no more than a mist? Do we have a holiness a Godliness and righteousness evidenced in patient continuance in well doing? That 24/7, 365 days of the year we are determined to do what’s right. A true Christian must certainly acknowledge their sin and their folly, but the general rule of their life is patient continuance in well doing. IF they fall they get up and go on. It’s not just a morning mist, there is a reality and substance to a life of holiness.

May the Lord write His word on our hearts for Jesus’ sake.

An audio version of this message can be heard here.

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