Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Isaiah 1:18 -- "Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet"

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

This is one of my very favorite scriptures.  Is there any more beautiful expression of the miracle of the Atonement and the hope it brings to each of us?

The Lord petitions us to come reason with Him.  D&C 50:10 says: "And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand."

The Lord wants us to truly understand this doctrine of forgiveness, in fact it is the most important topic in chapter one of Isaiah.

This chapter is laid out in a chiasmus, which is defined in the dictionary as "a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form."  This pattern is found repeatedly throughout the writings of Isaiah and often takes this pattern: a, b, c, d, d, c, b, a --where each letter represents a different theme.  The central point, or d, is the most important point to be made. Chapter one is an example of this literary construction and verse 18 is the central point, even repeating the theme within the verse: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though the be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

In the previous verses of chapter one, the Lord has been condemning and chronicling the wickedness of His people. But what is the Lord's true purpose in this chapter?  We discover this in verses 16-18.  He wants to entreat them to turn to Him and be clean again.  His purpose is to make them understand that even though they have committed horrible sins, He will forgive them.  The point of the construction of this chapter is to say that all those things won't matter, if you will come to Him and let Him make you clean.

In Ezekiel 18:21-22 it says:
     "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
     "All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live."

I love the analogy of our sins, being as scarlet, becoming white as snow.  Anyone who has tried to clean a red stain out of white carpet knows how formidable a task and an often impossible one it is.  We may look upon our sins in much the same way.  The sins we commit may seem too great, the way back may seem too hard, it may appear impossible that we can ever be clean again.  Certainly, if the task were up to us to make ourselves clean, it would be impossible.

But that is what is so beautiful to me in this verse.  It is not impossible through the Atonement of Christ.  Even the reddest of red can be made white again.  This is the hope the Lord desires to give us.  This is the purpose of the Atonement, indeed the purpose of our life here on earth.  We will sin and fall short, but He has provided a way to be clean and white and pure again.  It is only accomplished when we turn to Him and accept the gift of His Atonement and seek to walk in His ways.  But when we do, we have this promise:

"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." 
(D&C 58:42)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Isaiah 1:16-17 -- "Wash You, Make You Clean"

16.  "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17.  "Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."

After condemning the sins of His people, the Lord now instructs them in verses 16 & 17 on how to correct themselves.  By instructing them to wash and make themselves clean, he is commanding them to repent and be baptized.  He tells them to put away their evil doings and give up their sins.

The commandment to repent and be baptized is repeated throughout scripture for it is the gateway to eternal life.  In 2 Nephi 31:17-18 we read:

"Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter.  For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

"And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive."

I like the phrase, "Learn to do well" in Isaiah 1:17.  To me, it shows the patience and mercy of the Lord.  "Learn to do well" seems to me to imply that doing well will take time.  We may not get it immediately.  It may take time to learn to truly be obedient, but our continued effort and repentance is what is necessary.

How do we learn to do well?  The Lord has said, " learning, even by study and also by faith."  (D&C 88:118)

2 Timothy 3:15-16 says:

"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 

I believe we learn to do well as we study the scriptures.  We come to know the doctrine and have it written in our hearts, which leads us to want to do those things we are instructed to do.  It is only through the spirit that we can truly learn and change.  Studying the scriptures not only teaches us how we should act, but brings the spirit into our lives so that we can have the strength and ability to do well.

The scriptures, as Timothy teaches, are also a wonderful tool to show us our mistakes.  They reprove us and correct us, helping us recognize when we have erred.  This recognition is important as we "learn to do well."  This knowledge is gleaned through experience as we turn from our mistakes and choose to do better.

Continuing in Isaiah 1:17, "seek judgement" means to seek justice, and the footnote referenced for "judge the fatherless" states, "give a just verdict to the fatherless," in other words, defend their cause, "plead for the widow."  In verse 17, the Lord is telling us to be proactive in comforting and defending those who stand in need of our help.  This reminds me of a verse: D&C 58:27:

"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;"

"Anxiously engaged," as well as all the action verbs in Isaiah 1:17, indicate to me that doing well is not just about not sinning, but is about actively doing good, seeking out the needy, coming to their aid.  As the Lord states in the previous verse (D&C 58:26):

"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward."

Isaiah 1:16-17 shows the progression we must make to become like Christ.  As we repent and turn from our sins, we enter into the gate through baptism.  We learn to do well through study and experience, requiring continued repentance when we make a mistake.  As what we learn becomes written in our hearts, we are changed and will seek to turn our faith into action, actively seeking to do good beyond what we've been commanded.