Books

Book Review: Come Down, Lord! by Roger Ellsworth

Come Down, Lord!
Roger Ellsworth

Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988, 56 pages

Since most books on revival are either historical or biographical in nature, it always refreshing to discover a book that is exegetical and expository. Roger Ellsworth’s Come Down, Lord! is one of those rare finds: an expositional study of Isaiah 63:15 – 64:9, which is both exegetically sound and devotionally warm – a book that is as heart-stirring as it is instructional.

In seven short chapters Ellsworth expounds this Isaianic prayer for revival under the headings of: We Miss You (Isaiah 63:15-16), We Need You (Isaiah 63:17-64:2), We Wait for You (Isaiah 64:3-4), We Will Meet You (Isaiah 64:5), We Have Wronged You (Isaiah 64:5-7), We Belong to You (Isaiah 64:8-12), and We Beseech You (Isaiah 64:9).

In chapter one, Ellsworth contends that we are much like the nation of Israel on the brink of Babylonian exile – desperately in need of a fresh visitation of God’s power and blessing. “The church, in order to maintain credibility in the world, has to have the power of God. She is involved in a great spiritual warfare, and only God’s power will enable her to prevail. Human ingenuity and wisdom are simply not equal to the task. Trying to do this kind of work without the power of God is like trying to break huge granite boulders with our bare hands” (11). We need God’s power both for revival in the church and an effective witness in the world (chapter two). And when God comes the mountains flow at his presence (Isa. 64:1). “What an appropriate symbol the mountain is for the sinner!” says Ellsworth. “The sinner is a whole mountain range arrayed against God. He has in his heart mountains of opposition, hardness, stubbornness, unbelief, pride, and blindness erected against the knowledge of God” (19). And “there is only one thing that can melt the mountain . . . and that is the fire of God!” (20).

Therefore, we must wait for him (chapter three). Waiting on God involves the attitudes of expectation, singleness, and patience. We can expect God to come down because “He has come down before. Study the history of the church and you will find it to be true” (23). God has visited his people time and again in remarkable periods of revival. If we are patient in seeking God, surely He will answer. But meeting God when He comes (chapter four) requires both rejoicing in and working righteousness and remembering the ways of God (Isa. 64:5). Living the Christian life requires effort, but “far too many of us want to slip quietly into heaven wearing silver slippers instead of combat boots!” (32)

Chapter five shows how confession and true repentance prepares the way for God to work by both exposing sin and exonerating God. “Repentance is where one stops filling his mouth with arguments against God, and takes his place as the creature before the Creator” (40). Yet joined with confession and repentance must be a deep confidence in God’s goodness (chapter six). We belong to Him – therefore we should honor Him, knowing that He will never disown us.

Finally (chapter seven), we must beseech God. We must pray with intensity of desire, humility of heart, and tenacity of purpose. “By being persistent in prayer we show how highly we prize God’s blessings, and God is more inclined to grant His blessings to those who prize them” (54).

This is a short and simple book; its benefits are two-fold: First, Come Down, Lord! is an excellent model of biblical exposition on the theme of revival. Ellsworth succeeds in taking a biblical passage, grounding his exegesis in the original context, while bridging his application to the needs of the church to day. Pastors committed to expositional preaching who have an interest in preaching on revival could learn much from this book. Secondly, this book is a Word-centered reminder of our desperate need for God’s power and blessing in all that we do. Ellsworth calls us back to dependence upon God for supernatural power in our ministries and warns us not to settle for what man alone can accomplish. In a day when most books on the market are providing ideas and strategies for things we can do in our churches, surely we need more books like this, which remind us of our true source of power.

10 comments:

mwh said...

It's unclear to me--I haven't read the book--does Ellsworth interpret the mountains in Isa. 63-64 as allegorically representing the sinner and his sin?

Brian G. Hedges said...

Yes.

Quote: "Isaiah employs three metaphors to convey what is involved in making God known. First, he speaks of the mountains flowing down. What an appropriate symbol the mountain is for the sinner . . . Isaiah also mentions the coldness of water. So frigid is the heart of the sinner that every spiritual influence is soon chilled and dies. Fire to melt the ice and make the water boil is his overwhelming need. Then Isaiah also makes mention of brushwood . . . The thing we associate with brushwood is 'tangledness.' ANd what a tangle the sinner's heart is! . . . These images should reinforce for us the truth that sinners are in the most dreadful and deplorable condition imagninable . . . There is only one thing that can melt the mountain, boil the water, and consume the brush of a sinner's heart and that is the fire of God!" (p. 19-20).

mwh said...

Do you think Isaiah intended the mountains to represent the towering sins of man's heart (as Ellsworth interprets it)? The same question could be asked for the water and the brushwood.

Brian G. Hedges said...

I need to study the text some more to give a definitive answer. Thanks for the thought-provoking question. What do you think?

mwh said...

Ellsworth's interpretation raises many questions, one of which has already been asked: Did Isaiah intend the mountains to represent the towering sins of man's heart? I'm shooting from the hip here, not having any exegetical tools in front of me, but I'll offer my suspicion. I doubt that Isaiah intended the mountains to represent the towering sins of man's heart. I suspect that what Isaiah is doing is simply drawing upon stock imagery for God, common to the preachers of Israel. [A number of such examples (e.g. Psa. 18:7-15; Isa. 5:24-25; Psa. 96-11-13; Psa. 98:7-8, etc...) dealing with mountains, rivers, trees, seas, heavens, etc... could be given, but one of my personal favorites is Psa. 68.] An initial, cursory reading of Isa. 63-64 doesn't give me any indication that Isaiah had sin/sinners in mind when we spoke of the mountains quaking--or that his audience would have understood it as such.
With that being said the next question to ask is, "Does that mean Ellsworth's interpretation is wrong?" I think this question is still worth asking given (in my opinion) the free-spirited way in which NT writers "exegete" the OT (e.g., Eph. 4:7, I Cor. 10:1-5, Mat. 2:17-18?? and possibly Jude 5 following the ESV). Isaiah may not have intended the mountains to represent sinners, but that doesn't a priori rule out Ellsworth's interpretation. Nevertheless, I think Ellsworth's interpretation misplaces the force of the imagery. It appears as if Isaiah intended to reflect something about God not about the sinner. In other words, "God's presence is such that is causes the mountains to quake." "God is like a hot fire, immediately bringing water to boil and consuming the ephemeral brushwood." I don't even think Isaiah was describing something literally (mechanistically/causatively??) about God (although that may be true also). But rather I think he was probably trying to use gripping imagery to communicate something about the magnitude of God’s presence. The repetition of the refrain in verse 3 further indicates that this was probably a literary convention.
Therefore, with only the first pass at it, I would say that probably, from a literary standpoint, Ellsworth's interpretation does not mesh with Isaiah's usage. Given that the imagery should probably be taken in another (more forceful) way, I would say Ellsworth's interpretation is not the best exegesis/exposition of the text.
Some moderations should be offered though, in fairness to Ellsworth. First of all, I’ve not read his book: he very well may have a better defense for his interpretation than I have for mine. Second, I don’t know how representative this little excerpt is of his whole book or his hermeneutic. This may be his only digression of this sort. He may have simply been drawing a “devotional” analogy of his own, fully aware that this was not what Isaiah intended. On the other hand, if this is representative of his handling of the whole text and/or of his hermeneutic, it should be pointed out that he’s not alone. This type of discourse is quite common, quite Puritanical. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s wrong, but I must acknowledge that he stands in the midst of a broad, deep, ancient stream of thought. There have been many that have espoused this approach in the past and continue to do so today. So Ellsworth shouldn't be picked on too much for this.
And of course, all this assumes that what I said is valid--which it may prove to be even less so than Ellsworth.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Thanks for a very lucid post. I think you are probably on the right track. I do think that Ellsworth stands in the Puritan stream in his basic hermeneutical approach and that this is common throughout his book. Thanks for making me think.

mwh said...

The last question, then, that has to be asked (independent of Ellsworth and his tradition), is would you espouse this as a good hermenuetic? It's probably obvious from my comments, that this is not my approach; but hopefully it is also obvious from my comments that you would not be alone if you do so. Good men--men of God--obviously use this hermenuetic, but I was curious what your take is (i.e., the hermenuetic that you approve). You seem to be favorable towards his work: "exegetical and expository," "exegetically sound,' "...an excellent model of biblical exposition on the theme of revival. Ellsworth succeeds in taking a biblical passage, grounding his exegisis in the original context..." Given your most recent blog about Goldsworthy and the OT, it really hightens the question as to what is your developing OT hermenuetic? For myself, I lack a good understanding of how to approach OT genres--a problem that I think is more accute than in the NT due to the greater separation of time and culture. So I'm very curious about the rule with which you find best to measure.

Cordially.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Well, yes and no. I do think that Ellsworth understands the big picture of Isaiah 63-64 in its original context (impending Babylonian invasion) even if some of the application may be a stretch. His opening paragraph is: "Isaiah was given a preview of his people's future. He could see the Babylonians coming in, ravaging the land, taking the people into captivity, and leaving their homeland utterly desolate and barren. He could see the people languishing in captivity and yearning for their home as year after dreary year passed away. Finally, he could see the people restored to their land, and he could see that restoration as a symbol of the coming Messiah who would establish an everlasting kingdom." (p. 7). That seems to encapsulate the larger context fairly well.

The strength of Goldsworthy is his relentlessly Christ-centered biblical theology. He understands and applies redemptive-historical hermeneutics well and that is where he has helped me. Goldsworthy says that "the gospel is the hermeneutical key" to Scripture, meaning that we can only understand an isolated part of the Bible when we relate it to the person and work of Christ. I agree with this and think that Goldsworthy models this very responsibly (more so than many in the Puritan tradition, I might add).

As I reflect on whether Goldsworthy would approve of Ellsworth, I think perhaps he would think Ellsworth a bit too pietistic at points. Your remarks have made me think harder about my own comments re: Ellsworth. Perhaps I overstated my appreciation for his sound exegesis. What I was thinking of when I wrote that was his appropriately grounding everything in the original context of the exile. He does this repeatedly and then bridges to our own situation, drawing parallels between God's judgment on Israel and her pleas for mercy and restoration and God's judgment on his backslidden people today and our need for revival. I am fairly comfortable with that application. I am less impressed with his handling of some of the actual details of the text.

But I also think that given the way in which NT writers use the Old (as you alluded to in your third post), that Ellsworth has some justification for applying the text as he does.

As far as my own views are concerned, they are - quite obviously - still evolving. And I'm still connecting the dots. I've read stuff like Ellsworth for years and I can see that I will have to train myself to think critically after reading people like Goldsworthy.

I don't know whether to thank you or not for pushing me against the wall on this one!

mwh said...

No, you should probably not thank me. Nobody likes to be pushed against a wall.

In light of your last comment and a review of my comments, I should apologize for pushing the issue so hard--it probably did not do you, Ellsworth, or me any service by doing so. It was not my conscious intent to press you against the wall, but in the end that was the net effect. I'm sorry, Brian; please forgive your brother.

I would--in closing, I promise--like to give assent to Ellsworth's comments about the exile and his use thereof. As to Goldsworthy, I look forward to hearing the more that is to come. I have not had the privilege of reading any books such as these by Goldsworthy, and the genre & big picture/OT questions have been bouncing around in my head--unanswered--for a couple of years now. I anticipate learning more from you on this issue in the (maybe not so distant) future.

Thanks for the dialogue and again I apologize for the shoulder.

Brian G. Hedges said...

My "complaint" was more or less tongue-in-cheek, so don't feel bad! It's good for me to get challenged. So, no hard feelings.