The Withering Work of the Spirit
Isaiah 40:6-8
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:…

(with 1 Peter 1:23-25): — Something more than the decay of our material flesh is intended here; the carnal mind, the flesh in another sense, was intended by the Holy Ghost when He bade His messenger proclaim those words. It does not seem to me that a mere expression of the mortality of our race was needed in this place by the context; it would hardly keep pace with the sublime revelations which surround it, and would in some measure be a digression from the subject in hand. The notion that we are here simply and alone reminded of our mortality does not square with the New Testament exposition of it in Peter. Look at the chapter in Isaiah with care. What is the subject of it? It is the Divine consolation of Zion. The Lord, to remove her sorrow, bids His prophets announce the coming of the long-expected Deliverer, the end and accomplishment of all her warfare, and the pardon of all her iniquity. Further, there is no sort of question that the prophet goes on to foretell the coming of John the Baptist as the harbinger of the Messiah. The object of the coming of the Baptist, and the mission of the Messiah whom he heralded, was the manifestation of Divine glory (ver. 5). Well, what next? Was it needful to mention man's mortality in this connection? We think not. But there is much more appropriateness in the succeeding verses, if we see their deeper meaning. Do they not mean this? In order to make room for the display of the Divine glory in Christ Jesus and His children there would come a withering of all the glory wherein man boasts himself; the flesh should be seen in its true nature as corrupt and dying, and the grace of God alone should be exalted. This would be seen under the ministry of John the Baptist first, and should be the preparatory work of the Holy Ghost in men's hearts, in all time, in order that the glory of the Lord should be revealed and human pride be for ever confounded. The Spirit blows upon the flesh, and that which seemed vigorous becomes weak, that which was fair to look upon is smitten with decay. The withering before the sowing was very marvellously fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist. When our Lord Himself actually appeared, He came into a withered land whose glories had all departed. But I am coming to your own ]personal histories. In every one of us it must be fulfilled that all that is of the flesh m us, seeing it is but as grass, must be withered, and the comeliness thereof must be destroyed.


1. Observe that the work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man in withering up that which is of the flesh is very unexpected. In our text even the speaker himself, though doubtless one taught of God, when he was bidden to cry, said, "What shall I cry?" Even he did not know that in order to the comforting of God's people there must first be experienced a preliminary visitation. Many preachers of God's Gospel have forgotten that the law is the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. They have sown on the unbroken fallow ground, and forgotten that the plough must break the clods. Preachers have laboured to make Christ precious to those who think themselves rich and increased in goods; and it has been labour in vain. It is our duty to preach Jesus Christ even to self-righteous sinners, but it is certain that Jesus Christ will never be accepted by them while they hold themselves in high esteem. Wherever there is a real work of grace in any soul, it begins with a pulling down: the Holy Ghost does not build on the old foundation. The convincing work of the Spirit, wherever it comes, is unexpected, and even to the child of God, in whom this process has still to go on, it is often startling. We begin again to build that which the Spirit of God has destroyed. Having begun in the Spirit, we act as if we would be made perfect in the flesh; and then, when our mistaken upbuilding has to be levelled with the earth, we are almost as astonished as we were when first the scales fell from our eyes.

2. Furthermore, this withering is after the usual order of the Divine operation. Observe, the method of creation. There seems to be every probability that this world has been fitted up and destroyed, refitted and then destroyed again, many times before the last arranging of it for the habitation of men. What was there in the beginning? Originally, nothing. There was no trace of another's plan to interfere with the great Architect. The earth was, as the Hebrew puts it, Tohu and Bohu, disorder and confusion — in a word, chaos. So it is in the new creation. When the Lord new creates us, He borrows nothing from the old man, but makes all things new. Take another instance from the ways of God. When man has fallen, when did the Lord bring him the Gospel? The first whisper of the Gospel was, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed. He shall bruise thy head." That whisper came to man shivering in the presence of his Maker, having nothing more to say by way of excuse; but standing guilty before the Lord. If you will pursue the meditation upon the acts of God with men, you will constantly see the same thing. God has given us a wonderful type of salvation in Noah's ark; but Noah was saved in that ark in connection with death; he himself, as it were, immured alive in a tomb, and all the world besides left to destruction. All other hope for Noah was gone, and then the ark rose upon the waters. Remember the redemption of the children of Israel out of Egypt: it occurred when they were in the saddest plight, and their cry went up to heaven by reason of their bondage. As in the backwoods of America before there can be tillage, the planting of cities, the arts of civilisation, and the transactions of commerce, the woodman's axe must hack and hew: the stately trees of centuries must fall: the roots must be burned, the old reign of nature disturbed, — even thus the Lord takes away the first, that He may establish the second. As it has been outwardly, we ought to expect that it would be within us.

3. We are taught in our text how universal this process is in its range over the hearts of all those upon whom the Spirit works. The withering is a withering of what? Of part of the flesh and some portion of its tendencies? Nay, "All flesh is grass; and all the goodliness thereof" — the very choice and pick of it — "is as the flower of the field," and what happens to the grass? Does any of it live? "The grass withereth," all of it. The flower, will not that abide? So fair a thing, has not that an immortality? No, it utterly falls away. So, wherever the Spirit of God breathes on the soul of man, there is a withering of everything that is of the flesh, and it is seen that to be carnally minded is death. Wherever the Spirit of God comes, our righteousness withers as our sinfulness. There is much more to be destroyed, and, among the rest, away must go our boasted power of resolution. Still the man will say, "I believe I have, after all, within myself an enlightened conscience and an intelligence that will guide me aright. The light of nature I will use, and I do not doubt that if I wander somewhat I shall find my way back again." Ah, man! thy wisdom, which is the very flower of thy nature, what is it but folly, though thou knowest it not? When the withering wind of the Spirit moves over the carnal mind, it reveals the death of the flesh in all respects, especially in the matter of power towards that which is good. We then learn that word of our Lord, "Without Me ye can do nothing."

4. Notice the completeness of this withering work within us. The grass, what does it do? Droop? nay, wither. The flower of the field: does it hang its head a little? No, according to Isaiah, it fades; and according to Peter, it falleth away. There is no reviving it with showers, it has come to its end. Even thus are the awakened led to see that in their flesh there dwelleth no good thing. What dying and withering work some of God's servants have had in their souls! Look at John Bunyan, as he describes himself in his Grace Abounding! For how many months and even years was the Spirit engaged in writing death upon all that was the old Bunyan, in order that he might become by grace a new man fitted to track the pilgrims along their heavenly way. The old nature never does improve.

5. All this withering work in the soul is painful. As you read these verses, do they not strike you as having a very funereal tone? "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth." This is mournful work, but it must be done. Those who experience much of it when they first come to Christ have great reason to be thankful. Persons who come to Christ with but comparatively little knowledge of their own depravity, have to learn it afterwards, and they remain for a long time babes in Christ, and are perplexed with matters that would not have troubled them if they had experienced a deeper work at first.

6. Although this is painful, it is inevitable. Why does the grass wither? Because it is a withering thing. "Its root is ever in its grave, and it must die." How could it spring out of the earth, and be immortal? Every supposed good thing that grows out of your own self, is like yourself, mortal, and it must die. The seeds of corruption are in all the fruits of manhood's tree; let them be as fair to look upon as Eden's clusters, they must decay.

7. This last word by way of comfort to any. that are passing through the process we are describing. It gives me great joy when I hear that you unconverted ones are very miserable, for the miseries which the Holy Spirit works are always the prelude to happiness. It is the Spirit's work to wither. "Because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it." What doth the Lord say? "I kill." But what next? "I make alive." He never makes any alive but those He kills.

II. THE IMPLANTATION. According to Peter, although the flesh withers, and the flower thereof falls away, yet in the children of God there is an unwithering something of another kind. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." "The Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you." The Gospel is of use to us because it is not of human origin. If it were of the flesh, all it could do for us would not land us beyond the flesh; but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is superhuman, Divine, and spiritual. If you believe a Gospel which you have thought out for yourself, or a philosophical Gospel which comes from the brain of man, it is of the flesh, and will wither, and you will die, and be lost through trusting in it. The only word that can bless you and be a seed in your soul must be the living and incorruptible Word of the eternal Spirit. Do you receive it? Then the Holy Spirit implants it in your soul. And what is the result of it? There comes a new life as the result of the indwelling of the living Word, and our being born again by it. A new life it is; not the old nature putting out its better parts; not the old Adam refining and purifying itself, and rising to something better. Wherever this new life comes through the Word, it is incorruptible, it lives for ever.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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:

WEB: The voice of one saying, "Cry!" One said, "What shall I cry?" "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of the field.

The Transitory and the Permanent
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