Rend Thy Hearts and Not Thy Garments

In the prophetical book of Joel, the grain and drink offerings that accompanied the sacrificial offering had been neglected and withheld from the LORD. Those offerings of wine and grain upon the sacrifice served to fragrance that aroma that was pleasing to God, which in the New Testament would be fulfilled in the reality of faith. “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all,” Philippians 2:17.

The importance of the grain and drink offerings is emphasized in Joel 1:8-9, “Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD.” And it seems a thing more deep in truth, that due to the sin of the Israelites, God not only commissioned a nation to come up against Israel, but by that nation destroyed the ground from which the grain sprung, and the vine from which the wine was drawn, and so God’s people became a reproach and a byword among the nations. It was a Divine judgment against the people that the source of their offerings were taken away, because they were commonly apt to abuse the fruit for worship.

The mercy of God is seen in the midst of His great anger, which I am inclined to believe, Israel would not have so appreciated His mercy without the appropriation of and the continual truth of His wrath. But in the heart of His storm, He makes room for unmerited safety, and the decree is “repent or likewise perish.” The harshness of its tone is tempered by the contemplation of the fruit of repentance, that within the command to repent is the safety and enjoyment of God’s Sovereign benignity or purest love.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster,” Joel 2:12-13.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.” It was a common thing in the Old Testament to find penitent saints ripping their garments as a sign of their turning. Confronted by God’s law, or Truth, they would, if repentant, tear their garments, mourn, weep, and lay in the ashes (put on sackcloth). The tearing of the garments was the sign of an internal reality. The implication in Joel, is that this sign had become hypocritical, a type of lip service unto God which He abhorred. It is one thing if the thing done is the overflow of the internal condition of the soul; another if the thing done is the overflow of human pride and self-righteousness. As with much of the law, the Jews had externalized it as a matter of ritual rather than a matter of the inward parts wherein God desires truth.

Repentance is oft forgotten in the Church, as if it were something done once and never to be returned to again. The world needs to repent from sin and come to Christ, but the Church, who has come to Christ, must daily recognize their need for Christ and a clinging unto Him, or sanctification, of which a continual putting off (repentance) of the old and a putting on of the new (faith) is essential in the life of the Church. We say, “oh, I repented at a point in time?” But what of your life now? What sin do you oft return to from your former life when you did not know Christ? We say, “well, I have felt really bad about some of the things I’ve done!” But have you killed the thing at once so that it is crucified upon its untimely arrivals? Or perhaps, “I prayed for repentance!” And that is well and good, but having prayed for it, have you also sought the thing itself in pursuit of true godliness, or have you been irresponsible with thing you “so desired”. Do we find ourselves falling into the same idolatries, bringing unclean vessels into the house of our God, saying “Yes, Lord” with our mouths, but “No” in our souls? Like the Israelites, have you gotten into the pattern of doing things externally to convince yourself that you are “ok” internally? And so doing, neglected the soul? If so, you are in a great danger!

Listen to the words of John the Baptist to those Jews who had adopted the externalities of religion to the neglect of the internal need for repentance: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” Matthew 3:7-10.

Now what of this? Genuine repentance is the root of godly fruit. If there is no root, then whatever external fruit that is offered as proof of the root, does not come from the God-given root (2 Timothy 2:25) of repentance, but of the sinful root and delusion of self-righteousness. It is bad fruit and the end of that tree is to be cut down and thrown into the fire. But the primary fruit of authentic repentance is a knowledge of the truth – of personal and eternal guilt, of consequence, and of the right Way, Jesus Christ and all that accords with Him. Moreover, repentance is an inward reality of the soul, wrought by God, and not a claim of heritage (Abraham). The one who engages in initial repentance unto faith will continually engage in the practice of the repentance of the faith, and this daily repentance, when truly wrought, will transform the affections away from the thing repented of, while creating the realization of and passion for the object that one has turned unto, namely, God and His command of obedience, so that when the one comes again, it has been done away with not only because of a crucifying of the thing itself, but also because of the greater enjoyment in and love of its counterpart, which is God.

Oh, Church, “Rend your hearts and not your garments!”

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