Enjoying God's Best
The above title embodies and expresses our "New Year's Wish" for our readers, that such may be the experience of each of them during 1946. In employing such language, perhaps it needs to be pointed out that we are not here accommodating one of the modern sayings of worldlings when they wish their friends, "All the best." No, indeed, we trust the time will never come when we adopt the slang of the street in these pages. Years before we ever heard that saying of the world's, we were accustomed to wish our friends "God's best." Surely, it should be the earnest longing of every Christian to enter into and enjoy God's best for him, and to diligently guard against everything which would hinder the same. But since the expression is probably new to some of our readers, let us explain what we signify by it. We mean God's best for the soul and for the body—in spiritual things and in temporal. We mean a personal experience of God's approbation, a real enjoying of His favor in grace, in providence, and in nature.
By enjoying God's best, we mean for the saint to have daily communion with Him, to walk in the light of His countenance, to have that "peace…which passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) garrisoning his heart and mind. To enjoy God's best, is for an ungrieved Spirit to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us, making them real and precious to the soul. It is for His Word to be sweet unto our taste, light unto our understanding, strength to the inner man. It is for prayer to be a delight, for answers of peace to be received without intermission, for the channel of blessing to remain unchoked, open. It is to have the mind stayed upon Him, to have a conscience void of offence, to have full assurance of our acceptance in Christ. It is to be the recipients of real and sweet foretastes of the everlasting bliss, awaiting the redeemed on High. It is for our graces to be kept healthy and vigorous, so that faith, hope, love, meekness, patience, and zeal are in daily exercise. That is what we long for ourselves and covet for our Christian friends.
The enjoyment of God's best is not limited to the reception of His special favors in our spiritual lives—but includes, as well, His particular interpositions on our temporal behalf. We have reference now, not to the general course of His providence—though if that is against us, we have good reason to fear we have missed His best, for many of the wicked prosper for a season, both in their bodies and estates. No, we have in mind His unmistakable and signal interventions on our behalf, in a day when His judgments are abroad, or in situations where the use of means brings us to the end of our own resources, when He makes good those promises: "A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. There shall no evil befall you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling" (Psalm 91:7, 10).
So that when an epidemic strikes a community, we are spared; when falling bombs are destroying neighbors' houses, ours is untouched.
But is such a thing possible in this life?
Absolutely so—no; relatively so—yes.
Uninterruptedly so—perhaps not; generally so—without a doubt, yes.
Not a few of God's people experience the reality of it for themselves.
But the mere wishing for, and desiring after, will not bring it to pass. More than that is needed: There are certain requirements we have to meet, specified conditions to be fulfilled. Take the promises cited above: To whom are they specifically addressed? Not unto the whole family of God in general—but to a particular character—namely, "He who dwells in the secret place of the most High" (Psalm 91:1), the one who can truthfully say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress—my God; in him will I trust" (Psalm 91:2). To make this doubly plain, the Psalmist went on to say, "If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent" (Psalm 91:9-10). "If"—for that very reason! Perhaps the writer will be pardoned if he relates here a personal experience by way of illustration.
Some fifteen years ago, a number of cases of small-pox caused quite a scare in the country, and the authorities were urging people to be vaccinated. My wife and I counted upon the Lord to preserve us from infection and declined any medical attention, as we have done since then. But then a more severe trial confronted us. I had received what I felt was a clear and pressing call from my Master to pull up our tent and journey to a distant land. The newspapers repeatedly emphasized the fact that none would be granted a passport, unless they had been recently vaccinated. We spread our case before God and begged Him to undertake for us. And He did: Not only did He preserve us from the disease—but after a full examination by the medical officer, passports were given us and not a question was raised about vaccination! God honored our simple faith in Him, as He has in many other instances since then.
"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him" (2 Chronicles 16:9). That is what we understand by the enjoying of God's best: To have God showing Himself strong in our behalf. But that is conditioned upon having a heart "perfect toward him." A "perfect" heart does not mean a sinless one, for there is none such among the fallen sons of men; rather does it denote a sincere or upright one, one that beats true to Him. Yet that definition is scarcely sufficient. In relation to God Himself, a "perfect" heart is one which loves and reveres Him, which trusts and confides in Him, which has filial fear of Him, which honestly and resolutely seeks to please Him in all things. In relation to sin, a "perfect" heart is one which hates and resists all evil, which mourns over every inward working of it, which penitently confesses each yielding to it. It is not that which is perfect in itself—but which is perfect "toward the Lord," on whose behalf He intervenes, puts forth His might, and delivers from situations from which we could not extricate ourselves.
"No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly." (Psalm 84:11). Observe well, this promise is made to those whose walk befits saints, whose faces are turned Godwards. Unto such, no good thing is withheld. That is enjoying God's best. To be regular recipients not only of His common mercies—but of His special favors: Enjoying the smile of His approval. To be blessed with serenity of mind, a heart that rejoices in the Lord, our every need supplied: To have His blessing upon our lives in all their varied aspects and relations.
Enjoying God's Best, Part 1
In the January and February 1946 issues, we wrote two short articles entitled, "Enjoying God's Best" and "Missing God's Best"; and it must be confessed that we were rather surprised at receiving no criticisms, or at least questions, from some of our Calvinistic readers, for we felt it would be very difficult for them to "harmonize" their contents with what they had been taught. That is not said in any invidious or satirical spirit, for some of our closest and warmest friends are Calvinists, nor is the writer in the least afraid or ashamed to avow himself one, yes, a high Calvinist—though not a "hyper." There is a very real difference between the two, though few today are aware of it.
A "high" Calvinist not only believes in the absolute sovereignty of God, in His having predestinated everything which comes to pass in time, in the unconditional choice of His people in Christ from all eternity, in particular redemption, in the invincible operations and effectual call of the Holy Spirit—but he also believes that God made choice of His elect irrespective of or without any foreview of their fall in Adam; and thus, he is a "supra-lapsarian" regarding God's act as influenced by nothing outside of Himself.
But a "hyper" Calvinist is one who goes beyond the teaching of Scripture—from which alone Calvin, the great Reformer formulated his theology—resorting to reasoning and philosophizing upon various aspects of truth, which leads to his repudiating other aspects thereof. He makes an idol of "consistency". That is, what appears to be consistent to his mind. He attempts to square everything by the rule of logic.
Since he finds that Scripture teaches particular redemption, that Christ obeyed and suffered only in the stead and on the behalf of God's elect—he thus regards the "free offer" of the Gospel to all who hear it as "contradictory."
Since fallen man is totally depraved, dead in trespasses and sins, utterly incapable of performing a spiritual act—he thus deems it "inconsistent" to exhort and call upon the unregenerate to repent and believe in order to their salvation.
Since God is absolute sovereign, working in men both to will and to do of His good pleasure, bestowing or withholding as He pleases—he thus cannot see how that man is, at the same time, fully responsible for all his actions.
Often he fails to perceive the connection which God has appointed between means and ends.
In like manner, since God has foreordained whatever comes to pass, to speak of an enjoying of His best (rather than His second or third best), and missing His best—strikes him as meaningless, if not erroneous, expressions.
Before proceeding farther, let us explain what we intend by "enjoying God's best."
We mean (as we wrote two years ago) for the saint to have daily communion with God, to walk in the light of His countenance.
It is for His Word to be sweet unto our taste, light to our understanding, and strength to the inner man.
It is for prayer to be a delight, for answers of peace to be received without intermission, for the channel of supplies to remain unblocked, open.
It is to have the mind stayed upon Him, to have a conscience void of offence, to have full assurance of our acceptance in Christ.
It is for our graces to be kept healthy and vigorous—so that faith, hope, love, humility, patience, and zeal are in daily exercise. And such should be the experience of every Christian.
By God's "best," we mean a personal experience of His approbation, a manifest enjoyment of His favor in grace, in providence, and in nature. It is not to be limited unto the receiving of His special favors in a spiritual way—but includes as well His interpositions on our temporal behalf. It is to have the blessing of the Lord upon our lives, in all their varied aspects and relations, upon the soul and body alike. It is to enjoy the sense of His approval, and have Him showing Himself strong in our behalf.
Though it does not mean that such a one will be exempted from the ordinary vicissitudes and trials of life—but rather that such will be sanctified unto him and result in increased blessing, for they not only make a way for God to put forth His power in delivering him from them or elevating his heart above them—but they also serve for the developing of his graces and provide opportunities for him to "glorify Him in the fire". Nevertheless, it does mean that such a one will escape those troubles and afflictions in which the follies of so many Christians involve them: it does mean that he will be immune from those sore chastisements which disobedience and a course of backsliding necessarily entail.
Before considering those just requirements of God which must be met, if we are to enjoy His best, let us point out that the particular aspects of truth which is here engaging our attention concerns not the divine decrees—but rather, the divine government: for the one consists solely for the exercise of God's sovereign will, whereas the other is concerned also with the discharge of our responsibility. In no sense whatever is there the slightest failure in God's accomplishment of His eternal purpose—either as a whole, or in any of its parts. But in many respects, God's people fail to possess their possessions and enjoy those privileges and blessings to which the blood of Christ entitles them.
This subject presents no difficulty to the writer, except the findings of suitable language to accurately express his thoughts; nor should it to the reader. The formation and the effectuation of God's eternal decrees are in no way affected by man: he can neither delay nor hasten the same. But the present government of this world by God is, in large measure, affected and determined by the actions of men (His own people included), so that in this life, they are, to a very considerable extent, made to reap according as they sow—both in spirituals and in temporals.
It is not sufficiently realized, that the Bible has far, very far, more to say about this present life—than it has about the future one; that it makes known the secrets of temporal felicity—as well as everlasting bliss. Granted that the latter is of immeasurably more importance than the former—yet the one is the prelude to the other; and unless God is our satisfying portion here—He certainly will not be so hereafter.
In their zeal to tell men how to escape from hell and make sure of heaven—many evangelical preachers have had all too little to say upon our conduct on earth; and consequently, many who entertain no doubts whatever that they will inhabit a mansion in the Father's house, are not nearly so much concerned about their present walk and warfare as they should be; and even though they reach their desired haven, such slackness results in great loss to them now!
The teaching of Holy Writ is the very reverse of the plan followed by many an "orthodox pulpit"! It not only gives much prominence to—but in Old and New Testament alike—its main emphasis is on our life in this world—giving instruction how we are to conduct ourselves here and now. "Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus!" 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2. "Give the people these instructions, too—so that no one may be open to blame!" 1 Timothy 5:7
In like manner, there has been a grievous departure from the Analogy of Faith in the presentation of the attitude of God and His conduct towards men. Few indeed who have stressed the sovereignty of God have given even a proportionate place to His governmental dealings—either with nations or with individuals, the elect or the reprobate. Yet for every passage in His Word which speaks of God's eternal counsels, there are scores which describe His time dealings; and for every verse which alludes to God's secret or decretive will, there are a hundred which describe His revealed or preceptive will.
Blessed indeed is it to ponder God's predestinating grace; equally important is it that we study those principles which regulate His providential dealings with us.
The governmental ways of God—that is, His dealings with us in this life, both in our spiritual and temporal affairs—are determined by something more than an arbitrary sovereignty. God has established an inseparable connection between our conduct and its consequences, and He acts in such a way toward us as to make manifest the pleasure He takes in righteousness, and to give encouragement to those performing it; as He evidences His displeasure against the unrighteous and makes us to smart for the same.
It is a very great and serious mistake to conceive of the sovereignty of God as swallowing up all His perfections, and to attribute all His actions unto the mere exercise of His imperial will. Holy Writ does not; nor should we do so. Instead, much is said therein of God's acting both in mercy and righteousness, for they are the chief principles which regulate His governmental ways. It is true that God's mercy is shown by mere prerogative (Romans 9:18)—but not so with His righteousness. God can no more suspend the operation of His righteousness, than He can cease to be. "For the righteous LORD loves righteousness" (Psalm 11:7); "The LORD is righteous in all his ways" (Psalm 145:17); "Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne" (Psalm 97:2).
It was predicted of the Messiah that "Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist" (Isaiah 11:5); and we are told that since He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, "therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows" (Psalm 45:7). Alas that so many have completely lost the balance between God's sovereignty, and God's righteousness.
It is His righteousness which regulates all His dealings with the sons of men now, as it is "he who will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31) in the Day to come. It is His righteousness which requires God to punish vice and reward virtue; and therefore, does He bless His obedient children and chasten His refractory ones. The central thing which we wish to make clear in this article, and to impress upon the reader—is that God has established an inseparable connection between holiness and happiness, between our pleasing of Him and our enjoyment of His richest blessing; that since we are always the losers by sinning, so we are always the gainers by walking in the paths of righteousness; and that there will be an exact ratio between the measure in which we walk therein and our enjoyment of "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). "I will be careful to lead a blameless life; I will walk in my house with blameless heart!" Psalm 101:2. "Thus you will walk in the ways of good men—and keep to the paths of the righteous." Proverbs 2:20
God has declared "those who honor me—I will honor" (1Sa 2:30), and that expresses the general principle which we are here seeking to explain and illustrate—namely, that God's governmental dealings with us—are regulated by our attitude toward Him and our conduct before Him: for in proportion as we honor the Lord—so will He honor us. But suppose we fail to honor God, suppose we do not obtain from Him that grace which He is ever ready to give unto those who earnestly seek it in a right way—what then? Why, we shall not enter into His best for us; we shall miss it. For as the same verse goes on to tell us, "and those who despise me—shall be lightly esteemed" (1Sa 2:30).
"Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful!" (Joshua 1:8). That expresses in plain and simple language the basis on which we may enter into and enjoy God's best for us. The believer is not to be regulated by his own inclinations or lean unto his own understanding; he is not to be governed by any consideration of expediency or the pleasing of his fellows—but seek to please God in all things, being actuated by a "thus says the LORD" in everything he does. Nothing less than full and constant obedience to God—is what is required of him!
However distasteful to the flesh, whatever sneers it may produce from carnal professors, the Christian must rigidly and perpetually act by the rule that God has given him to walk by. In so doing, he will be immeasurably the gainer; for the path of obedience—is the path of prosperity!
Conformity unto the revealed will of God may indeed entail trial; nevertheless, it will be richly compensated in this life, both in spiritual and temporal bounties. It cannot be too strongly insisted upon, that the path of God's precepts—is the way of blessing. Though the treading thereof incurs the frowns of the profane world, and the criticism of many in the professing world—yet it ensures the smile and blessing of our Master! Those words, "for then you shall make your way prosperous" (Jos 1:8), are from the mouth of "the God of truth" (Isaiah 65:16) and are to be received by us without the slightest quibbling, and treasured in our hearts.
The "prosperity" does not always immediately appear, for faith has to be tried and patience developed; yet in the long run, it will most surely be found that in keeping the divine commandments, "there is great reward" (Psalm 19:11). So Joshua found it: he adhered strictly to the divine Law, and God crowned his labors with success; and that, dear reader, is recorded for our encouragement. Yet if we would prosper as Joshua did, then we must act as he did! That conditional promise made to Joshua was very far from being a special one made to him only—rather does it belong equally to every servant and child of God, for His governmental ways have been the same in all dispensations. From the beginning of human history, it has always been true; and to the very end of history, it will continue so to be, that "no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11).
Long before Joshua was born, Elihu had affirmed, "If they obey and serve him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures" (Job 36:11); and centuries after Joshua's death, the Holy Spirit declared through Zechariah, "Thus says God: Why do you disobey the Lord's commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you!" (2 Chronicles 24:20).
Nor is there any justification to insist that such statements pertained only to the Mosaic economy. If we unhesitatingly apply to our own day that precious word in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet—they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson—they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18), is it honest to refuse taking unto ourselves the very next verse, "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land" (Isaiah 1:19)? The principles which regulate God's providential dealings with His people are in no way altered by any change made in the outward form of His kingdom upon earth.
The teaching of the New Testament is equally express: that "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8); yet the fulfillment of that promise is conditional upon our keeping of the divine precepts, upon our personal piety.
There is a definite proviso on which we are warranted to hope for an enjoyment of God's best. That was announced by Joshua and Caleb when they said unto Israel, "If the LORD delights in us—then he will bring us into this land, and give it to us" (Num 14:8). That term, "delight," has no reference there unto that divine love unto the souls of believers which is the source of their salvation—but rather to His complacency in their character and conduct.
So also is it to be understood in the words used by David when he was fleeing from the conspiracy of Absalom: "Then the king said to Zadok: Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him." (2 Samuel 15:25-26). David certainly could not mean by that language: If God have no love for my soul, I am willing to be forever banished from Him; for such submission is required of none who lives under a dispensation of mercy. Rather did he signify, If God approve not of me as I am the head of His people, let Him take away my life if that so pleases Him.
As we must distinguish between the twofold "will," the twofold "counsel," and the twofold "pleasure" of God (see the "Prayers of the Apostles" article in this issue), so we must distinguish between His eternal love for us—and His present delight in us; between His acceptance of us in Christ—and the acceptableness of our character and conduct unto Him. It is the latter which determines His governmental smile upon us.
If any reader deems that distinction an artificial and forced one, then we ask him, Is no differentiation to be made between those words of Christ unto the Father, "You loved me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24) and His declaration, "Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life… This commandment have I received of my Father" (John 10:17-18)? Is not one of the Father's love of Christ's person—and the other His approbation of His obedience?
So again, must we not avoid confounding "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3) and "For the Father himself loves you—because you have loved me, and have believed that I came from God" (John 16:27)?
Of Enoch, it is said, "before his translation, he had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5); whereas of Israel in the wilderness, He declared, "I was grieved with that generation" (Hebrews 3:10)!
It must not be inferred from what has been said above—that the one who walks in the paths of righteousness brings God into his debt, or that he merits favor at His hands. Not so! for nothing that we can do, profits God anything; and if we rendered perfect obedience unto His every precept, we had merely performed our duty and rendered unto God what is His rightful due.
On the other hand, it is very plain that we profit from and are the gainers by our obedience.
Scripture has not a little to say upon the subject of REWARDS. It goes so far as to teach that the joys of the future—will bear a definite relation and proportion to our conduct in the present—such as obtains between sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-8). If then the future rewarding of the saints according to their work (Rev 22:12) clashes neither with the grace of God nor the merit of Christ—then the present rewarding of them cannot do so, for no difference in place or condition, can make any difference as to the nature of things. Deity does not hesitate to take as one of His titles, "the LORD God of recompenses" (Jeremiah 51:56), and many are the passages which show Him recompensing righteousness, even in this world.
Enjoying God's Best, Part 2
We have already alluded to Psalm 19:11, where we are told of God's statutes and judgments that "in keeping of them there IS great reward"; and we simply call attention now to the tense of that statement: not "shall be," but IS so now. A part of that present "reward" is described in such verses as "Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." (Psalm 119:165); "And the work of righteousness [right doing] shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever" (Isaiah 32:17). Such too is the testimony of Psalm 58:11, "So that a man shall say, Truly there is a reward for the righteous: truly he is a God who judges in [governs, administers the affairs of] the earth." "The righteous [that is the one whose practices conform to the Rule of Righteousness] shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon… To show that the LORD is upright" (Psalm 92:12- 15). That is, to make it evident that He takes notice of and richly blesses such.
"Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth" (Proverbs 11:31). On the other hand, "The LORD… will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him" (Hos 12:2). It is an unalterable law of the divine government, that as we sow—so shall we reap!
That principle is enunciated and illustrated all through the Scriptures. On the one hand, "they have sown the wind—and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hos 8:7); on the other, "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy" (Hos 10:12). "Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8). "Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way" (Proverbs 1:31). "But to him that sows righteousness, shall be a sure reward" (Proverbs 11:18).
Our Lord taught precisely the same thing when He said, "There is no man that has left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake—who shall not receive manifold more in this present time; and in the world to come, everlasting life" (Luke 18:29-30). So too the apostles: "He who sows sparingly—shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully—shall also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6). "And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace—for those who make peace" (Jam 3:18). It is lamentable that such passages are so rarely heard from the pulpit!
It is right here that we have the key to a class of passages which has puzzled and perplexed many—namely, those which speak of the Lord's repenting. To say that such an expression is a figure of speech, God's condescending to employ our language, though true, really explains nothing. But the difficulty is at once removed—when it be seen that the reference is not to the modifying of God's eternal decrees—but rather unto His governmental ways; signifying that when men alter their attitude and conduct toward Him—then the Lord changes in His dealings with them—withholding the judgment threatened, or bestowing the blessing which their sins had kept back.
The general principle is clearly expressed in, "IF at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil—THEN I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And IF at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and IF it does evil in my sight and does not obey me—THEN I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it." (Jeremiah 18:7-10). There is no "if" whatever about the divine foreordination—but there is an "if" in connection with human responsibility. Necessarily so, for in the enforcing thereof, the alternatives of recompense must be stated.
Many of the woes which God pronounces against kingdoms are not declarations of His eternal decrees or infallible predictions of what is about to take place—but rather ethical intimations of His sore displeasure against sin, and solemn threatenings of what must inevitably follow—IF there is no change for the better in those denounced. That is, whether or no those impending judgments are to become historic realities—is contingent upon their readiness to heed those warnings, or their refusal to do so.
The passage quoted above enunciates that basic moral law by which God governs the world—telling us that He approves of obedience and righteousness wherever it be found, and rewards the same; whereas He hates the opposite and punishes it (see Proverbs 14:34). Jeremiah 18 does not set before us God as the determiner of human destiny—but as the dispenser of temporal awards, governing in equity and in accordance with the discharge of human accountability, and showing He is ever ready to prosper the righteous. The same principle pertains unto the individual. "Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments." (1Sa 15:10-11). That does not mean God regretted His former act of enthroning Saul—but that because of his defection, the Lord would reverse it and depose him (1Sa 15:26).
Thus we see that God's governmental actions are determined—in part, at least—by man's conduct. We say "in part," for God does not act uniformly; and some of His ways in providence are "past finding out," as when He allows the righteous to be severely afflicted, and the wicked to flourish like a green bay tree. If righteousness were always visibly rewarded, and wickedness punished in this life—there would be no room for the exercise of faith in God's justice, for the Day of Judgment would be anticipated instead of presaged.
Nevertheless, if we strike a balance and take the history of each nation or individual as a whole, God's moral government is now apparent, for we are daily made to see and feel—that we are the losers by sinning, and the gainers by holiness.
If the balance is to be duly preserved here, and a proper concept formed of God's moral government, then it requires to be pointed out that His justice is tempered with mercy, as well as patience. Therefore does He grant "space to repent" (Rev 2:21), and where that clemency is availed of—God acts accordingly. For as many of those divine promises which respect earthly good—are conditional upon the performance of obedience; so many of the divine judgments threatened—are averted upon a reformation of morals. "Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done" (Jeremiah 26:3).
Perhaps the most remarkable example of that is seen in the case of wicked Ahab, who, when he heard the sentence of woe pronounced, "tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly." And we are told that the Lord said, "Because he humbled himself before me—I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days" (1 Kings 21:20-29).
Let us now consider more definitely a few of those Scriptures which make known what God requires of us—if we are to enter into and enjoy His best. Some of them have already been before us in a general way—but they require to be examined from a more particular viewpoint.
"Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to DO everything written in it. THEN you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:7-8). That is so plain no interpreter is needed.
"Then," first, when our speech is ordered by God's Word, all of our converse being consonant thereto. And why? "The law of his God is in his heart" (Psalm 37:30-31).
Second, in order thereto, it must be made our constant "meditation." It is by daily pondering the words of Scripture that we obtain a better understanding of them, fix the same in our memories, and become more fully conformed to them in our souls.
Third, that our meditation must be with a definite design and practical end: to "do," to walk obediently. "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of those who heart is perfect toward him" (2 Chronicles 16:9). The word generally used for "perfect" (tamim) signifies sincere—but here a different one (shalem) is employed, meaning whole. A "whole heart" is in contrast with a "divided" one (Hos 10:2), which pertains to him who vainly seeks to serve two masters: the "double minded man" who "is unstable in all his ways" (Jam 1:8). Those with a whole heart love the Lord their God with all their mind, soul, and strength (Mar 12:30). They make Him their portion, find their delight in Him, constantly seek to please and glorify Him. Their affections are undivided, their aim in life is one, like Caleb, they " followed the LORD wholly" (Deu 1:36).
And such receive distinctive favors from Him. The "eyes of the LORD" speaks of His knowledge and their running "to and fro throughout the whole earth" (2 Chronicles 16:9) means that He governs this world in infinite wisdom. The reference is to His providential dealings: His eye directs His hand, and both are employed in His giving special supplies and support to those who make Him their All in all.
"And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water—which brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:3). There is what we intend by one's "enjoying God's best." But to whom does the "he" refer? Why, to the "blessed man" described in the context. The one who has completely broken with the world: who "walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful" (Psalm 1:1). Observe that the man whom God pronounces "blessed" is one that is careful about his walk. He refuses to follow the advice of the unregenerate. They will urge him to be broad-minded and warn him against being too strict, and press upon him the maxims of the world—but he heeds them not. He is very particular about his friendships, knowing that those with whom he is intimate will either be a help or a hindrance to him spiritually. "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." And therefore, he refuses to fraternize with the Christless. And so must you, young Christian, if you desire the smile of God to be upon you.
This opening psalm strikes the keynote of the whole psalter, and has for its theme—the blessedness of the righteous—that is those who tread the paths of righteousness; and contrasts the portion and doom of the ungodly. And the first thing emphasized of the righteous one—is that he has turned his back upon the world, for it is at that point, that practical godliness begins. There can be no walking with God, no real communing with Christ, no treading of "the way of peace" (Luke 1:79) until that word is heeded: "Come out from among them—and be separate, says the Lord" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Second, it is said of this blessed man, "But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night" (Psalm 1:2). He is completely subject to God's authority, and makes His revealed will the rule of his life. Nor does he force himself to do so against his inclinations, for his delight is in the same. That is evidenced by its constantly engaging his thoughts, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mat 6:21). The mind is regulated by the affections: what the heart is most set upon—most engages our thoughts—as gold does the covetous. And the one who conforms to the requirements of Psalm 1:1-2, will certainly experience the blessings of Psalm 1:3.
There is the less need for us to dwell upon other passages, for they speak for themselves. "The young lions lack, and suffer hunger: but those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing" (Psalm 34:10). That is, those who put Him first (Mat 6:33), who seek Him wholeheartedly (Jeremiah 29:13), who diligently inquire after His will and earnestly endeavor to please and glorify Him in all things—shall not lack any good—which is assured them as an encouragement for obedience.
"No good thing will he withhold—from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). As the Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) pointed out, "Now this choice, this large promise, is made over only to the upright; and therefore, as you would have any share in it, maintain your uprightness!" In his explanation of "them that walk uprightly," John Gill (1697-1771) included, "Who have their conversation according to the Gospel of Christ, and walk in the sincerity of their hearts."
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all those who DO his commandments" (Psalm 111:10). Upon which J. Gill said, "Some understand it 'good success' or 'prosperity,'" and added, "such usually have prosperity in soul and body, in things temporal and spiritual". With this sentiment, we fully concur.
"Let not mercy and truth forsake you: bind them about your neck; write them upon the table of your heart. So shall you find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man" (Proverbs 3:3-4). Was it not so with Joseph in Egypt (Gen 39)? Was it not so with David in Saul's household (1Sa 18)? Was it not so with Daniel and his fellows in Babylon?
"To the man who pleases him—God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness" (Ecc 2:26).
The passages which teach that God deals with men in this life according to their conduct—are too many to cite, and the marvel is that the minds of so few professing Christians of this age are really affected by them. Take that well-known word, which has been illustrated all through history, "I will bless those who bless you [Abram]—and curse him who curses you" (Gen 12:3), which so far from being exceptional, only exemplifies the principle we are seeking to demonstrate.
Take again, "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes" (Psalm 41:1-2).
Consider now some concrete cases. "I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son—I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore!" (Gen 22:15-18). What could possibly be plainer?
So again God said to Isaac, "And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto your seed all these countries—because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments," etc. (Gen 26:4-5).
"Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly—I will bring him into the land" (Num 14:24).
Concerning Phinehas God said, "Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites" (Num 25:12-13).
"Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb… because he wholly followed the LORD God of Israel" (Jos 14:14).
Said David, "The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me" (2 Samuel 22:21). It seems strange that anyone possessed of a spiritual mind, should be perplexed by these words, for if they be understood according to their original and obvious meaning, there is nothing in them to occasion any difficulty. Let them be read in the light of their context, and they are clear and simple. David was alluding to God's delivering of him from Goliath and Saul, and from others of his foes: what had been his conduct toward them? Had he committed any serious crimes such as warranted their hostility? Had he grievously wronged any of them? Had they justly or unjustly sought his life? Read the record of David's history, and it will be found that it contains not a hint that he coveted the throne or hated Saul. As a fact, he was entirely innocent of any evil designs against any of them who so sorely persecuted him.
This is plain from one of his prayers to God, "Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat. Do not let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow" (Psalm 35:19). It was because David had neither given his enemies just reason for the persecution—and because so far from retaliating, he had borne them no malice—that he now enjoyed the testimony of a good conscience. His character has been grievously aspersed and many hideous things laid to his charge—but his conduct had been upright and conscientious to an uncommon degree. "By all his persecutions by Saul, he would not injure him or his party; nay, he employed every opportunity to serve the cause of Israel, though rewarded with envy, treachery, and ingratitude", Thomas Scott (1747-1821).
When we are maligned and opposed by men, it is inestimable consolation to have the assurance of our own heart unto our innocency and integrity; and therefore, we should spare no pains when passing through a season of such trial in exercising ourselves "to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16).
David, then, was not here giving vent to the boasting of a pharisaical spirit—but was avowing his innocency before the bar of human equity. One is not guilty of pride—in knowing himself to be innocent, nor is he so when realizing that God is rewarding him in providence because of his integrity, for each is an evident matter of fact. In saying, "The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness," David enunciated one of the principles operative in the divine government of the world. "Albeit that the dispensations of divine grace are to the fullest degree sovereign and irrespective of human merit—yet in the dealings of Providence, there is often discernible a rule of justice by which the injured are at length avenged, and the righteous ultimately delivered", Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
The statement evinces an intelligent grasp of the viewpoint from which David was writing, namely the governmental ways of God in time, and not the ground upon which He saves eternally. Those declarations of the psalmist had nothing whatever to do with his justification in the high courts of heaven—but concerned the guiltlessness of his conduct toward his enemies on earth, because of which God delivered him from them. It would indeed be most reprehensible for us to transfer such thoughts as are expressed in 2 Samuel 22:20-28, from the realm of providential government, into the spirit and everlasting kingdom; for there, grace reigns not only supreme—but alone, in the distribution of divine favors. On the other hand, a godly man with a clear conscience must not deny his own consciousness, and hypocritically make himself out to be worse than he is.
There are those who would dismiss by a wave of the hand what has been adduced before by the saying, All that is Old Testament teaching, what occurred under the dispensation of Law. But such an objection is utterly pointless, for the principles of the divine government are the same in every era; and therefore, the teaching of the New Testament on this subject is identical with that of the Old. For example: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Mat 5:7). That has nothing whatever to do with "salvation by works," for in those verses, Christ is describing the character of His true disciples. Here He tells us that they are "merciful," and in consequence, they "shall obtain mercy." It is not that God requires the unregenerate to be merciful in order to entitle them unto His saving mercy—but rather that the regenerate are merciful; and according as they act in their true character, so will God order His governmental ways and paternal discipline toward them.
"With the measure you use—it will be measured to you" (Mat 7:2).
On the one hand, "With the merciful—you will show yourself merciful" (Psalm 18:25); on the other, "If you do not forgive men their sins—your Father will not forgive your sins" (Mat 6:15).
That both Christ and the Father act toward Christians in keeping with their conduct is clear from John 14:21, 23—such "manifestations" are withheld from those who fail to walk obediently.
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister" (Hebrews 6:10), which clearly implies that He would be unrighteous, if He did not reward their benevolence. "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:10-11). "We have here an excellent prescription for a comfortable, happy life in this querulous, ill-natured world"—Matthew Henry (1662-1714). To those who follow that prescription, J. Gill said, "Such shall inherit the blessing both here and hereafter."
"And whatever we ask, we receive of him—because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (1 John 3:22)! "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently—I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth" (Rev 3:10).
Enjoying God's Best, Part 3
Having shown at some length in the preceding articles that the Old and New Testament alike teach there is such a thing as entering into and enjoying God's best—that if we meet His just requirements, He will make our way prosperous—we must turn now to the darker side of the subject, and face the fact that it is sadly possible to miss God's best and bring down upon ourselves adversity. God has not only promised "no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11)—but He has also plainly informed us, "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withheld good things from you" (Jeremiah 5:25). Upon which John Gill (1697-1771) said, "These mercies were kept back from them in order to humble them, and to bring them to a sense of their sins, and an acknowledgment of them."
Adversities do not come upon us at haphazard—but from the hand of God; nor does He appoint them arbitrarily—but righteously. God will no more wink at the sins of His people—than He will at those of the worldlings: were He to do so, He would not maintain the honor of his house. As Thomas Manton (1620- 1677) also pointed out on Jeremiah 5:25, "If there be any restraint of God's blessing—it is because of man's sin." "The way of transgressors is hard" (Proverbs 13:15): while no doubt the primary reference there is unto the wicked, yet the principle expressed applies unmistakably to the redeemed as well.
If, on the one hand, in keeping God's commandments there is "great reward," on the other hand, the breaking of them involves great loss. If it be true that Wisdom's "ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:17), certain it is that if we turn from her ways, we shall be made to smart for it. Alas, how often we choke the current of God's favors. It is not only an "evil thing," but a "bitter" one to forsake the "LORD our God" (Jeremiah 2:19). That is why sin is so often termed "folly," for it is not only a crime against God—but madness toward ourselves! Many are the mischiefs caused by our sinning, the chief of which is that we obstruct the flow of God's blessings. Sin costs us dear, for it not only immediately takes from us—but it prevents our future receiving of divine bounties. In other words, willful sinning prevents our receiving God's best for us.
"Believe in the LORD your God, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall you prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20) states the principle clearly enough. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and your souls shall be settled in peace and joy; receive with submission every discovery of His will through His Word and servants, and His providential smile shall be your portion. But, conversely, lean unto your own understanding and allow unbelief to prevail—and assurance and tranquility of soul will wane and vanish; let self-will and self-pleasing dominate, and His providences will frown upon you.
The connection between conduct and its consequences, cannot be broken. Walk in the way of faith and holiness—and God is pleased, and will evidence His pleasure toward us; enter the paths of unrighteousness, and God is provoked, and will visit His displeasure upon us. When Israel's land was laid waste and their cities were burned, they were told, "Have you not procured this unto yourself, in that you have forsaken the LORD your God, when he led you by the way?" (Jeremiah 2:17). Upon which Matthew Henry (1662-1714) said, "Whatever trouble we are in at any time—we may thank ourselves for it, for we bring it upon our own heads by our forsaking of God."
Missing God's best is true of the unsaved. As long as unbelievers are left in this world, opportunity is given them of escaping from the wrath to come. Therefore they are exhorted—in the Scriptures, if not from the pulpit, "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call you upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6). For the same reason, there is a door represented as being open to them, which the Master of the house will one day rise up and shut to (Luke 13:24-25).
Nothing could more clearly express the danger of delay than the language used in such passages. Nor is there anything in them which at all clashes with the divine decrees. As one has pointed out, "All allow that men have opportunity in natural things to do what they do not, and to obtain what they obtain not; and if that is consistent with a universal providence which performs all things that are appointed for us (Job 23:14), why cannot the other consist with the purpose of Him who does nothing without a plan—but 'works all things after the counsel of his own will' (Eph 1:11)."
Slothfulness is no excuse in those who refuse to improve their lot; nor is intemperance any extenuation for a man's bringing upon himself physical, financial, and moral disaster. Still less does either prejudice or indolence release any from his accountability to accept the free offer of the Gospel. "Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he has no heart to it?" (Proverbs 17:16). The "price in the hand" signifies the means and opportunity. "Wisdom" may be understood both naturally and spiritually. The "fool" is the one who fails to obtain what he might well and should procure. The reason he does not is simply that he lacks "a heart" or desire and determination. As Matthew Henry said, "He has set his heart upon other things, so that he has no heart to do his duty, or to the great concerns of this soul."
Such fools the world is full of—they prefer sin to holiness, this world rather than heaven. "He who in his bargains exchanges precious things for trifles—is a fool. Thus do men sell their time which is their money given for eternity, and they sell it for unsatisfying things, they sell themselves for nothing." Thomas Goodwin (1600- 1680); and thereby they miss God's best.
"Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he has no heart to it?" (Proverbs 17:16). God provides the non-elect with spiritual means and opportunities to enforce their responsibility, so that their blood shall be upon their own heads, that the blame is theirs for missing His best.
But it is the Christian's doing so that we have chiefly in mind. Sad indeed is it to behold so many of them living more under the frown of God—than His smile; and sadder still that so few of them have been taught why it is so with them, and how to recover themselves. The New Testament makes it clear that many of the primitive saints "ran well" for a time, and then something hindered them. Observation shows that the majority of believers "follow the Lord fully" (Num 14:24) at the outset—but soon leave their "first love" (Rev 2:4).
At the beginning, they respond readily to the promptings of the Spirit and adjust their lives to the requirements of the Word—until some demand is made upon them, some self-denying duty is met with—and then they balk. Then the Holy Spirit is grieved, His enabling power is withheld, their peace and joy wane, and a spiritual decline sets in. Unless they put right with God what is wrong—repent of and contritely confess their sad failure—the rod of chastisement falls upon them; but instead of being "exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11) some fatalistically accept it as "their appointed lot," and are nothing bettered thereby. Now the Lord has plainly warned His people that if they meet not His just requirements, so far from enjoying His best, adversity will be their portion. "So be very careful to love the Lord your God. "But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them—then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:11-13).
The Jews held Canaan by the tenure of their obedience, and so do those who belong to "the Israel of God' (Gal 6:16) now possess and enjoy their spiritual Canaan in proportion to their obedience. But as God has forewarned, "If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands—then I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness." (Psalm 89:30-33). That passage makes it unmistakably clear that while the chastenings from our Father proceed from both His faithfulness and holy love, yet they are also marks of His displeasure; and that while they are designed for our good—the recovery of us from our backsliding—yet they have been provoked by our own waywardness.
The Father's rod is not wielded by an arbitrary sovereignty—but by righteousness. It is expressly declared, "For he does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Lam 3:33)—but only as we give Him occasion to do so. That important statement has not received the attention it deserves, especially by those who have so focused their thoughts upon God's eternal decrees as to quite lose sight of his governmental ways. Hence the tragic thing is that when chastisement becomes their portion, they know of nothing better than to "bow to God's sovereign will," which is very little different in principle from the world's policy of "seeking to make the best of a bad job," or "we must grit our teeth and endure it." Such a fatalistic and supine attitude ill becomes a regenerate soul; instead, he is required to be "exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11).
Only too often such "bowing to the will of God" is so far from being a mark of spirituality; it rather evinces a sluggish conscience. God bids His people, "Hear the rod" (Mic 6:9). It has a message for the heart—but we profit nothing unless we ascertain what the rod is saying to us—why it is that God is now smiting us! In order to discover its message, we need to humbly ask the Lord, "Show me why you contend with me" (Job 10:2); "cause me to understand wherein I have erred" (Job 6:24); reveal to me wherein I have displeased You, that I may contritely acknowledge my offence and be more on my guard against a repetition of it.
The holiness of God will not tolerate sin in the saints, and when they go on in the same unrepentingly, then He declares, "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns!" (Hos 2:6). Note well "your way"—not "my way." God sets the briars of trials and the sharp thorns of afflictions in the path of His disobedient children. If that does not suffice to bring them to their senses, then he adds, "And make a wall, that she shall not find her paths" (Hos 2:6)—His providences block the realization of their carnal and covetous desires. "But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. "If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." (Psalm 81:11-16).
When we meet with a passage like this, our first duty is to receive it with meekness, and not to inquire, How is it to be harmonized with the invincibility of the divine decrees? Our second duty is to prayerfully endeavor to understand its sense, and not to explain away its terms. We must not draw inferences from it which contradict other declarations of Holy Writ—either concerning the accomplishment of God's purpose or His dealing with us according to our conduct. Instead of reasoning about their teaching, we need to turn these verses into earnest petition begging God to preserve us from such sinful folly as marked Israel on this occasion.
There is nothing in those verses which should occasion any difficulty for the Calvinist, for they treat not of the eternal foreordinations of God—but of His governmental ways with men in this life. For the same reason, there is nothing in them which in any wise supports the Arminian delusion that, having created men free moral agents, God is unable to do for them and with them what He desires without reducing them to mere machines. We should, then, proceed on that which is obvious in them, and not confuse ourselves by reading into them anything obscure.
The key to them is found in verses 11-12: Israel walked contrary to God's will—not His decretive—but His preceptive. They acted not according to the divine commandments—but in their self-will and self-pleasing, determined to have their own way; and in consequence, they forfeited God's best for them. Instead of His subduing their enemies, He allowed the heathen to vanquish them. Instead of providing abundant harvests, He sent them famines (2 Samuel 21:1). Instead of giving them pastors after His own heart, He allowed them to be deceived by false prophets (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). "O that you had hearkened to my commandments! then had your peace been as a river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:18). On which even John Gill said, "Their prosperity, temporal and spiritual, would have been abundant, and would always have continued, have been increasing and everflowing."
Failure to walk in the paths of God's precepts deprives us of many a blessing. J. C. Philpot (1802-1869) said, "If I pay no reverence to such a word as this, 'Be not overcome of evil—but overcome evil with good' (Romans 12:21), I shall fall into bondage, and find my prayer shut out. It will prove a hindrance to my approaches to God, for 'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me' (Psalm 66:18)…If you attend not to the word of exhortation, you will find no end of misery, and the sensible lack of the Lord's presence; you will have no communion with His people, no blessing of God upon the work of your hands."
After describing the sore judgments of God which were about to fall upon the wayward children of Israel, His faithful servant told them plainly, "Your way and your doings have procured these things unto you; this is your wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reaches unto your heart" (Jeremiah 4:18). Upon which J. Gill said, "Those calamities coming upon them, they had none to blame but themselves; it was their own sinful ways and works whereby that this ruin and destruction came on them."
Consider also this passage: "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops." (Haggai 1:9-10). How many a Christian today might trace God's "blowing upon" his temporal affairs unto his putting his carnal interests before the Lord's!
Consider now some individual examples. Do not the closing incidents recorded in the life of Lot make plain demonstration that he "missed God's best"? Witness his being forcibly conducted out of Sodom by the angels, where all his earthly possessions, his sons, and his sons-in-law perished; and when his wife was turned into a pillar of salt for her defiance. Behold his intemperance in the cave, then unwittingly committing incest with his own daughters—the last thing chronicled of him! But "was there not a cause"? Go back and mark him separating from godly Abraham, coveting the plain of Jordan, "pitching his tent toward Sodom" (Gen 13:12). Though "the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly" (Gen 13:13), yet Lot settled in their midst, and even "sat in the gate of Sodom" (Gen 19:1)—that is held office there!
Is it not equally evident that Jacob too missed God's best? Hear his own sad confession near the close of his career: "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been" (Gen 47:9). And is the explanation far to seek? Read his history, and it should at once be apparent that he was made to reap exactly as he had sown.
The chequered life of David supplies us with more than one or two illustrations of the same principle. Few men have experienced such sore social and domestic trials as he did. Not only was David caused much trouble by political traitors in his kingdom—but, what was far more painful, the members of his own family brought down heavy sorrows upon him. The second book of Samuel records one calamity after another. His favorite wife turned against him (2Sam 6:20-22), his daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother (2Sam 13:14), and his son Amnon was murdered (2Sam 13:28-29). His favorite son, Absalom, sought to wrest the kingdom from him, and then met with an ignominious end (2Sam 18:14). Before David's death, yet another of his sons sought to obtain the throne (1 Kings 1:5), and he too was murdered (1 Kings 2:24-25).
Since the Lord afflicts not willingly—but only as our sins give occasion, it behooves us to attend closely to what led up to and brought upon David those great afflictions. Nor have we far to seek. Read 2 Samuel 3:2-5, and note his six wives: he gave way to the lusts of the flesh, and from the flesh he "reaped corruption" (Gal 6:8)! Painful though it is for us to dwell upon the failings and falls of the sweet Psalmist of Israel, especially since in so many respects, he puts both writer and reader to shame; yet it must be remembered that "for whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Romans 15:4)—that we might heed such warnings, and be preserved from similar backslidings.
His grievous offence against Uriah and Bathsheba is prefaced by the fact that he was indulging in slothful ease, instead of performing his duty (2 Samuel 11:1-2)—observe well the ominous "But" at the close of verse 1! Though David sincerely and bitterly repented of those sins and obtained the Lord's forgiveness, yet by them he missed His best; and for the rest of his days, lived under more or less adverse providences, and the "sword" never departed from his house (2 Samuel 12:10).
Nothing could more plainly evince that a holy God takes notice of our actions and deals with us accordingly, or make it manifest that it is our own folly which brings down the rod of God upon us. We read the historical portions of Scripture to little purpose or profit, unless their practical lessons are taken to heart by us. Our consciences require to be searched by these narratives far more than our minds to be informed by them!
Enjoying God's Best, Part 4
Let us now point out that the same principle holds good in connection with the divine government under the new covenant, as obtained under the old covenant. "And he did not many mighty works there—because of their unbelief " (Mat 13:58). What place has such a statement as that in the theology of hyper-Calvinists? None whatever. Yet it should have; otherwise, why has it been placed upon record if it has no analogy today? As Matthew Henry (1662-1714) rightly insisted, "Unbelief is the great obstacle to Christ's favor…The Gospel is 'the power of God unto salvation,' but then it is 'to every one that believes' (Romans 1:16). So that if mighty works be not wrought in us, it is not for lack of power or grace in Christ—but lack of faith in us." That was putting the emphasis where it must be placed, if human responsibility is to be enforced. It was nothing but hardness of heart which precluded them from sharing the benefits of Christ's benevolence.
When the father whose son was possessed by the demon that the disciples had failed to expel, said unto the great Physician, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us," He at once turned the "if" back upon him, saying, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes" (Mark 9:22-23).
That we are the losers by our folly, and that we bring trouble down upon ourselves by unbelief is illustrated in the case of the father of John the Baptist. When the angel of the Lord appeared unto him during the discharge of his priestly office in the temple, and announced that his prayer was answered and his wife should bear a son, instead of expressing gratitude at the good news and bursting forth in thanksgiving unto God, Zacharias voiced his doubts, saying, "How shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years" (Luke 1:18). Whereupon the angel declared, "Behold, you shall be mute, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because you did not believe my words" (Luke 1:20), upon which John Gill (1697-1771) said, "He was stricken with deafness because he hearkened not to the angel's words, and muteness because from the unbelief of his heart, he objected to them. We learn from hence, what an evil unbelief is, and how much resented by God, and how much it becomes us to heed that it prevails not in us." To which he might well have added: and how God manifests His resentment against such conduct by sending adverse providences upon us!
Should it be said that the above incident occurred before the day of Pentecost—a pointless objection— then let us call attention to the fact that at a very early date after the establishment of Christianity, God, in an extraordinary manner, visited with temporal judgments those who displeased and provoked Him. A clear case in point is the visible manner in which He dealt with Ananias and Sapphira (Act 5).
So, too, when Herod gratefully accepted the idolatrous adulations of the populace, instead of rebuking their sinful flattery, we are told, "Immediately, because Herod did not give the glory to God—an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died." (Act 12:23).
God does suit His governmental ways according to the conduct of men, be they unbelievers or believers. Not always so plainly or so promptly as in the examples just adduced, yet with sufficient clearness and frequency that all impartial and discerning observers may perceive that nothing happens by chance or mere accident—but is traceable to an antecedent cause or occasion; that His providences are regulated by righteousness.
"For though I am absent in body but present in spirit, I have already decided about the one who has done this thing as though I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). A member of the Corinthian assembly had committed a grave offence, which was known publicly. For the same, he was dealt with drastically: something more than a bare act of ex-communication or being "disfellowshiped" being meant in the above verses. The guilty one was committed unto Satan for him to severely afflict his body—which is evidently meant by "the flesh" being here contrasted with "the spirit." That Satan has the power of afflicting the body we know from Job 2:7; Luke 13:16, etc. And that the apostles, in the early days of Christianity, were endowed with the authority to deliver erring ones unto Satan to be disciplined by him, is evident from 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10; 1 Timothy 1:20.
Thus we see how a Christian was here visited with some painful disease because of his sins. It is sadly possible for Christians to miss God's best through failure in their home life. This is evident from 1 Peter 3:7, "Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." Incidentally, that verse inculcates family worship, the husband and wife praying together. Further, it teaches that their treatment of one another will have at close bearing upon their joint supplications, for if domestic harmony does not rule—what unity of spirit can there be when they come together before the Throne of Grace?
By necessary implication that also shows how essential it is that they be equally "yoked together" for "what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14). What joint act of worship is possible between a child of God—and a child of the devil, between a regenerate soul—and a worldling? Yet even where both the husband and the wife are true Christians, they are required to regulate their individual conduct by the precepts which God has given unto each of them: the wife that she be "in subjection to" her husband and diligent in cultivating "a meek and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:1-6): the husband that he heeds the injunctions here given; otherwise their petitions will be "hindered," and God's best forfeited.
First, the husband is to act according to his knowledge that his wife is "the weaker vessel," which is not said in disparagement of her gender. As one has pointed out, "It is no insult to the vine to say that it is weaker than the tree to which it clings, or to the rose to say it is weaker than the bush that bears it. The strongest things are not always therefore the best—either the most beautiful or the most useful."
Second, as such he is to "give honor her"—that is, his superior strength is to be engaged for her defense and welfare, rendering all possible assistance in lightening her burdens. Her very weakness is to serve as a constant appeal for a patient tenderness and forbearance toward her infirmities.
Furthermore, he is ever to act in accordance with her spiritual equality, that they are "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7). Not only should the love which he has for her make him diligent in promoting her well-being—but the grace of which he has been made a partaker should operate in seeking the good of her soul and furthering her spiritual interests: discussing together the things of God, reading edifying literature to her when she is relaxing, pouring out together their thanksgivings unto God and making known their requests at the family altar.
Then it is, when those divine requirements are met by both wife and husband, that they may plead that promise, "That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask—it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Mat 18:19). That agreement is far more than verbal or even mental: it is a spiritual one. The Greek word is sumphoneo, and literally signifies "to sound together." It is a musical term, as when two different notes or instruments make a harmonious sound. Thus, there must be oneness of heart, unity of spirit, concord of soul, in order for two Christians to "agree" before the Throne of Grace, for their joint petitions to be harmonious and melodious unto the Lord. It is music in the ear of their Father—when the spiritual chords of a Christian husband and a Christian wife vibrate in unison at the family altar. But that can only obtain as they singly and mutually conduct themselves as "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7), their home life being ordered by the Word of God; everything in it done for His glory—the wife acting toward her husband as the Church is required to do as the Lamb's Wife; the husband treating her as Christ loves and cherishes His Church.
Contrariwise, if the wife rebels against the position which God has assigned her and refuses to own her husband as her head and lord, yielding obedience to him in everything which is not contrary to the divine statutes—then friction and strife will soon obtain, for a godly husband must not yield to the compromising plea of "peace at any price." Equally so, if the husband takes unlawful advantage of his headship and be tyrannical, then, though the wife bears it meekly, her spirit is crushed, and love is chilled. If he treats her more like a servant or slave than a wife, the Spirit will be grieved, and he will be made to smart. If he is selfishly forgetful of her infirmities—especially those involved in childbearing—if he is not increasingly diligent in seeking to lighten her load and brighten her lot as the family grows, if he exercises little concern and care for her health and comfort, then she will feel and grieve over such callousness, and harmony of spirit will be gone. In such a case, their prayers will be "hindered," or, as the Greek word signifies, "cut off "—the very opposite of "agree" in Matthew 18:19! By domestic discord, the heart is discomposed for supplication, and thus, God's best is missed.
From the second and third chapters of the Revelation, we learn that the Lord treats with local churches on the same principles as He does with individuals: that they too enter into or miss His best according to their own wisdom or folly. Thus, to the pastor of the Ephesian assembly, He declared, "I have something against you, because you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent" (Rev 2:4-5)—how many such a "candlestick" has thus been removed!
To the careless and compromising ones at Pergamos, who then allowed in their midst those who held doctrine which He hated, the Lord solemnly threatened, "Repent; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Rev 2:14-16)—those churches which are slack in maintaining holy discipline, invite divine judgment.
While to the boastful and worldly Laodiceans, the Lord declared, "I will spue you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:16)—I will no longer own you as My witness. Writing on the need of members of a local church having "the same care one for another" (1 Corinthians 12:25) and pointing out how that James 2:1-4 supplies an example of a company of saints where the opposite practice obtained, one wrote: "Instead of having the same care, when we make a difference between him 'with a gold ring, in goodly apparel' and him or her with poor clothing, we are being 'partial'… Do not be deceived with the thought that God does not behold such partiality: He will not prosper that church—but the members of the whole body will be made to suffer from this lack of 'the same care one for another.'" And we would point out that this brief quotation is not taken from any Arminian publication—but from a recent issue of a magazine by the most hyper-Calvinist body we know of in the U.S.A.
What we would particularly direct attention to in it is that when such a carnal church is "made to suffer" because of the pride and selfishness of some of its officers or members, then it has missed God's best. How many such churches are there in Christendom today!
"For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:30). Here is a clear case in point where many Christians missed God's best, and brought down upon themselves His temporal judgments because of their own misconduct. "For this cause" refers to their having eaten of the Lord's supper "unworthily" —see verses 20 and 21. When numerous cases of sickness and death occur in a Christian assembly, they are not to be regarded as a matter of course—but made the subject of a searching examination before God and a humbling inquiring of Him. God was not dealing with these Corinthian saints in mere sovereignty—but in governmental righteousness, disciplining them for a grave offence. He was manifesting His displeasure at them because of their sins, afflicting them with bodily sickness— which in many instances ended fatally—on account of their irreverence and intemperance, as the "For this cause" unmistakably shows.
This, too, has been recorded for our instruction—warning us to avoid sin in every form, and signifying that the commission of it will expose us to the divine displeasure, even though we be God's dear children. Here, too, we are shown that our entering into or missing of God's best has a real influence upon the health of our bodies! That same passage goes on to inform us how we may avert such disciplinary affliction! "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11:31). There is a divine judgment to which the saints are amenable, a judgment pertaining to this life, which is exercised by Christ as the Judge of His people (1 Peter 4:17). To Him each local church is accountable; unto Him each individual believer is responsible for his thoughts, words, and deeds.
As such, He walks "in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Rev 2:1). Nothing escapes His notice, for "his eyes were as a flame of fire" (Rev 19:12), and before Him "all things are naked and opened" (Hebrews 4:13). Not that He is strict to impute every iniquity, or rigorous to punish—for who then could stand before Him? The Lord is in no haste to correct His redeemed—but is slow to anger and loathe to chasten. Nevertheless, He is holy, and will maintain the honor of His own house; and therefore does He call upon His erring ones to repent under threat of judgment, if they fail to do so. Not that He ever imposes any penal inflictions for their sins, for He personally suffered and atoned for them; but out of the love He bears them, He makes known how they may avoid His governmental corrections.
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." There are some of the Lord's people who—when they be overtaken in a fault—expect immediate chastisement at His hands; and through fear of it, their knees are feeble and their hands hang down. But that is going to the opposite extreme from careless indifference—both of which are condemned by the above verse. It is a law of Christ's judgment that "if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." That is, if we make conscience of having offended, and go directly to the Judge, unsparingly condemning ourselves and contritely confessing the fault to Him—He will pardon and pass it by.
Though they are far from parallel, yet we may illustrate by the case of Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah. When the prophet announced, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jon 3:4), more was intended than was expressed. He was not there proclaiming God's inexorable fiat—but was sounding an alarm to operate as a means of moral awakening. That "forty days" opened a door of hope for them, and was tantamount to saying, Upon genuine repentance and true reformation of conduct, a reprieve will be granted. That is no mere inference of ours—but a fact clearly attested in the immediate sequel.
"So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth" (Jon 3:5); while the king published a decree to his subjects: "Cry mightily unto God: yes, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" And we are told, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jon 3:5-10). God's "repenting" here means that He altered in His bearing toward them because their conduct had changed for the better, thereby averting the judgment with which He had threatened them.
Now if God dealt thus with a heathen people upon their repentance and reformation, how much more will Christ turn away the rod of chastisement from His redeemed when they truly repent of their sins and humble themselves before Him! For them there is no mere "who can tell if God will turn and repent," but the definite and blessed assurance that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." O what tenderness and divine longsufferance breathe in those words! That even when we have erred—yes, sinned—grievously, a way is opened for us whereby we may escape the rod. Ah—but what divine wisdom and righteousness are also evinced by them! "If we would judge ourselves," we should escape the disciplinary consequences of our sins. And why so? Because the rod is no longer needed by us. Why not? Because in such a case, the desired effect has been wrought in us without the use of it! What is God's design in chastisement? To bring the refractory one to his senses, to make him realize he has erred and displeased the Lord, to cause him to right what is wrong by repentance, confession, and reformation. When those fruits are borne, then we have heard "the rod" (Mic 6:9), and it has accomplished its intended work.
Very well then, if we truly, unsparingly, and contritely "judge" ourselves before God for our sins, then the rod is not required. Having condemned himself, turned back into the way of holiness, sought and obtained cleansing from all unrighteousness, he is brought to the very point—only more quickly and easily!—to which chastening would bring him!
"For if we would judge ourselves": those very words seem to imply there is both a slowness and a reluctance in the saints so to do—a thought which is confirmed in the next verse. Alas, many of those who have left their first love are in such a backslidden and sickly case spiritually that they are incapable of judging themselves. Their conscience has become so dull through the frequent excusing of what they deemed trifling things, their walk is so careless, that they offend their Judge and are virtually unaware of doing so. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knows it not: yes, gray hairs [the mark of decline and decay] are here and there upon him, yet he knows not" (Hos 7:9). Since, then, they are not exercised over their sins, the rod must awaken them; for their holy Lord will not tolerate unconfessed sins in His own. But others, who have not deteriorated to such a sad degree, are conscious of their faults, yet nevertheless do not judge themselves for the same.
Why? What causes such reluctance to humble themselves before God? What—but accursed pride! In such case, His mighty hand will bring them down, and hence it follows: "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:32). Such was the case with the Corinthians. They sinned again and again in different ways, and were unexercised. They were "carnal," and among them were envying and strife—yet they judged not themselves. The Lord gave them space for repentance—but they repented not; until, in the profanation of His holy supper, He was obliged to act, visiting them with bodily sickness and death. Thus, from the words, "when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord," the conclusion is unescapable: we have failed to condemn ourselves.
As it is a rule of Christ's kingdom that when His people own their offences and turn from the same, He spares the rod; so it is equally a rule in His kingdom that when they sin and confess it not—but continue in the same, then He chastens them. And there is infinite mercy in that, for it is that they "should not be condemned with the world." His own wayward children are chastised here in this world—but the ungodly will bear the full punishment of their sins forever and ever in Hell! Sin must be "condemned": either by us, or by the righteous Judge—here, or hereafter. How much better to judge ourselves, and thereby escape His judgment!
Enjoying God's Best, Part 5
In our last article, we considered various cases, both of individuals and corporate companies, who missed God's best, and saw how badly it fared with them. We closed by pointing out how that if we judge ourselves for our sins, we shall escape God's chastening rod.
We now turn to the question: Is it possible for a Christian who has missed God's best—to be recovered to full communion with Him and restored to His providential smile?
Possible—yes. Easy—no. Before we show how that possibility may be realized, let us solemnly ponder what brought that poor soul into such a sorry plight—a plight into which both writer and reader will certainly fall, unless we are ever on our prayerful guard. The grand but simple secret of a healthy and prosperous spiritual life is to continue as we began (Col 2:6): by daily trusting in the sufficiency of Christ's blood and yielding ourselves to His lordship, seeking to please and honor Him in all things. As the believer walks with Christ in the path of obedience, following the example which He has left him, peace will possess his soul and joy will fill his heart, and the smile of God will be upon him.
But unless he, by grace, fulfills those conditions, such will not be his happy portion. IF the believer slackens in maintaining daily fellowship with Christ and drawing from His fullness, if he fails to feed regularly on the Word and becomes less frequent in his approaches to the Throne of Grace—THEN the pulse of his spiritual life will beat more feebly and irregularly. Unless he meditates often on the love of God and keeps fresh before his heart the humiliation and sufferings of Christ on his behalf, his affections will soon cool, his relish for spiritual things will wane, and obedience will neither be so easy nor so pleasant.
If such a spiritual decline be neglected or excused, it will not be long before indwelling sin gains the upper hand over his graces, and his heart will more and more glide imperceptibly into carnality and worldliness. Worldly pleasures, which previously repelled and were perceived to be vanities, will begin to attract him. Worldly pursuits, which had been only a means, will become his end—absorbing more and more of his attention and having a higher value in his eyes. Or worldly cares, which he had cast upon the Lord, will now oppress and weigh him down. And unless there is a humbling of himself before God—he will soon be found in the ways of open transgression.
Backsliding begins in the heart! The case of a backslider is much more serious than that of one who has been "overtaken in a fault" (Gal 6:1). For with him, it is not a matter of a sudden surprisal and a single stumble—but rather of a steady deterioration and definite departure from the Lord. Nor is it, in its early stages, manifested openly; and hence, his brethren may be quite unaware of it. A secret cancer of unwatchfulness and coldness has infected him: he has yielded to a spirit of laxity and self-indulgence.
When first aware of his decline, instead of being alarmed—he ignored it; instead of weeping over it before God—he went on in his carnality, until his graces became inoperative and all power to resist the devil was gone. With such, the Holy Spirit is grieved; His quickening influences are withdrawn; and His comforts are withheld.
There are indeed degrees of backsliding: with some, it is partial; with others, total; yet while one remains in that case, it is impossible for the saint to determine which. Nor is there anything in Scripture which gives a warrantable sense of security unto such a one, or which countenances any man to be easy in his sins; but very much the contrary.
Inexpressibly sad, is the case of one who continues for a season in a backslidden state. He has displeased God and dishonored Christ; and in many instances, he has become a stumbling-block to fellow Christians, especially to younger ones. He has made himself miserable. He has sinned—and repented not; departed from God—and not confessed it. Formerly, he walked in happy fellowship with God, the light of His countenance shone upon him, and that peace which passes all understanding possessed his soul. But now the joy of salvation is no longer his portion. He has lost his relish for the Word, and prayer has become a burden. He is out of touch with God, for his iniquities have separated him from Him (Isaiah 59:2), and he can find no rest unto his soul. He has been spoilt for the world—and cannot now find even that measure of satisfaction in carnal things which the ungodly do!
Wretched indeed is his plight. "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways" (Proverbs 14:14): it cannot be otherwise, for he no longer has any delight in the ways of God. His own backslidings reprove him, so that he is made to know and see what "an evil thing and bitter thing it is," that he has "forsaken the LORD" (Jeremiah 2:19), and thereby miss His best.
Yet, pitiful though his case be, it is not hopeless, for the call goes forth, "Turn, O backsliding children, says the LORD" (Jeremiah 3:14). Nevertheless, response thereto is not the simple matter that onlookers might suppose. It is very much easier to depart from God—than to return unto Him! Not that His terms of recovery are rigorous—but because the soul is straitened. It is difficult for the backslider to perceive the nature and seriousness of his condition, for sin has a blinding and hardening effect, and the more he falls under the power of it—the less does he discern the state he is in. Even when his eyes begin to be opened again, there is an absence of real desire for recovery, for sin has a paralyzing influence, so that its victims are "at ease in Zion" (Amos 6:1).
Even David was insensible of his awful plight when Nathan first approached him; and it was not until the prophet pointedly declared, "YOU are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7), that Satan's spell over him was broken. It is therefore much to be thankful for, when such are awakened from their slumber and made to hear that word. "Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings" (Jeremiah 3:22).
But even then, the soul is reluctant to meet God's terms. If nothing more were required than a lip acknowledgment of his offences and a return to outward duties, no great difficulty would be experienced; but to really fulfill the divine conditions for restoration is a very different matter.
As John Owen (1616-1683) affirmed, "Recovery from backsliding is the hardest task in the Christian religion; one which few make either comfortable or honorable work of." There has to be an asking, a seeking, a knocking, if the door of deliverance is to be opened to him.
As John Brine (1703-1765), whose works were favorably reviewed in the Gospel Standard, wrote to God's people two hundred years ago: "Much labor and diligence are required unto this. It is not complaining of the sickly condition of our souls—which will effect this cure: mere confession of our follies that have brought diseases upon us, though repeated ever so often—will avail nothing toward the removal of them. If we intend the recovery of our former health and vigor, we must act—as well as complain and groan."
Let us now endeavor to point out how God requires such a one to "act." "He who covers his sins shall not prosper: but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13) epitomizes both sides of the case. Sin is a disease of the soul, and by concealing it, we make it increase and become desperate.
As the Puritan, Joseph Caryl (1602-1673), pointed out:
"Sin increases two ways in the concealment of it.
First, in its guilt. The obligation to punishment takes stronger hold upon the soul, and every man is bound the faster with the chains of darkness—by how much more he labors to keep his sins in the dark. The longer a sin remains on the conscience unpardoned, the more does the guilt of it increase.
Second, in the filth and contagion of it. It grows more master, and masterly, and at last raves and rages, commands and carries all before it."
To "cover" our sins is a refusal to bring them out into the light by an honest confession of the same unto God; in the case of our fellows, refusing to acknowledge our offences unto those we have wronged. This is reprehensible hiding of sin—is an adding of sin unto sin, and is a certain preventative of prosperity; and if persisted in, it will cover the perpetrator with shame and confusion forever. To "cover" sin is to hide it within our own bosoms, instead of openly acknowledging it. Thus it was with Achan even when the tribes were solemnly arraigned before Joshua and Eleazar, the high priest: he solemnly maintained silence until his crime was publicly exposed.
Some seek to conceal their sins by framing excuses and attempting a self-extenuation. They may seek to throw the blame upon their circumstances, their fellows, or Satan—upon anything or anyone except themselves! Others proceed to a still worse device, and seek to cloak their sin by a lie, denying their guilt. As did Cain, for when God made inquisition for blood and inquired of him, "Where is Abel your brother?" he answered, "I don't know! Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9). So, too, Gehazi blankly denied his wrong when charged by Elisha (2Ki 5:25). In like manner acted Ananias and Sapphira (Act 5:1-11).
Three things induce men to make coverings for their sins:
First, PRIDE. Man has such high thoughts of himself that when guilty of the basest things—that he is too proud to own them.
Second, UNBELIEF. Those who have not faith to believe that God can and will cover confessed sins, vainly attempt to do so themselves.
Third, SHAME and FEAR cause many to hide their sins. Sin is such a hideous monster—that they will not own as theirs!
"But whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy." Confession of sin is an indispensable part of repentance; and without repentance, there can be no remission of sin (Act 3:19). "I acknowledged my sin unto you, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin!" (Psalm 32:5) The pardon was upon his confession.
Those who are so convicted of their sins as to be humbled and sorrowed by a sight and sense of the same will not hide them out of sight. Nor will their confession be merely a formal one of the lips—but rather the sobbings of a contrite heart. And instead of generalizing, there will be a particularizing; instead of seeking to excuse or gloss over the offence—it will be painted in its true colors and its aggravations frankly owned! There will be an acknowledgment of the fact and of the fault—an unsparing self-condemnation.
The language of David in the opening verses of Psalm 51 will be found most suited to his case. The sin or sins will be confessed sincerely, contritely, fully, with a self-abasement and self-loathing. The cry will be made, "O LORD, pardon my iniquity—for it is great!" (Psalm 25:11).
"And forsakes them." To "forsake" our sins is a voluntary and deliberate act. It signifies to hate and abandon them in our affections; to repudiate them by our wills; to refuse to dwell upon them in our minds and imaginations with any pleasure or satisfaction. It necessarily implies that we renounce them, and are resolved by God's grace to make the utmost endeavor to avoid any repetition of the same.
"We must keep at a distance from those people and snares which have drawn us into instances of folly, which have occasioned that sin which is the matter of our complaint. Without this, we may multiply acknowledgments and expressions of concern for our past sins—to no purpose at all. It is very great folly to think of regaining our former spiritual strength—so long as we embrace and dally with those objects through whose evil influence, we have fallen into a spiritual decline. It is not our bewailing the pernicious effects of sin which will prevent its baleful influence upon us for time to come, except we are determined to forsake that to which is owing our melancholy disease"—J. Brine.
But suppose the saint does not promptly thus confess and forsake his sins—then what? Why, in such a case, he "will not prosper!" There will be no further growth in grace, nor will the providential smile of God be upon him. The Holy Spirit is grieved, and will suspend His gracious operations within his soul; and henceforth, his "way" will be made "hard" (Proverbs 13:15).
Such was the experience of David: "When I kept silence, my bones [a figure of the supports of the soul] waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me: my moisture [or vigor or freshness] is turned into the drought of summer" (Psalm 32:3-4).
Sin is a pestilential thing which saps our spiritual vitality. Though David was silent as to confession, he was not so as to sorrow. God's hand smote him so that he was made to groan under His chastening rod. Nor did he obtain any relief—until he humbled himself before God by confessing and forsaking his sins. Not that there is anything meritorious in such acts which entitles their performer to mercy—but that this is the holy order which God has established. He will not connive at our sins—but withholds His mercy until we take sides with Him in the hatred of them.
"IF my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; THEN will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). This passage shows us:
First, that God sends temporal judgments upon His people because of their sins.
Second, it makes known what they are to do when His rod is upon them.
Third, it contains a precious promise for faith to lay hold of.
Let us carefully note what was required from them:
First, "If my people…shall humble themselves," which is similar to the "judge ourselves" in 1 Corinthians 11:31—but here, when chastisement is upon them. Leviticus 26:41 casts light upon, and illustrates it: "If…they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity," which is the opposite of asking, what have I done to occasion this? "And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that you our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (Ezra 9:13).
David "humbled" himself when he owned, "I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me" (Psalm 119:75). He took sides with God against himself, and acknowledged his unrighteousness. Until the stricken one has humbled himself, it is vain to think of proceeding farther, for pride and impenitence bar any approaches unto the Holy One. But "if" we have duly "humbled" ourselves.
Second, "and pray." Only as we take our place in the dust before Him—can we truly do so. And for what will such a one make request? Surely for a deeper sense of God's holiness—and of his own vileness: for a broken and contrite heart.
Accompanying his "humbling", and as an expression thereof, there will be the penitent confession; and that will be followed by a begging for faith in God's mercy and a hope of cleansing and restoration.
Third, "and seek my face," which goes farther than "and pray": expressing diligence, definiteness, and fervor. The omniscient One cannot be imposed upon by mere lip-service—but requires the heart. There has to be a face-to-face meeting with the One we have displeased: He will not gloss over our sins; nor must we. Hosea 14 should be made use of, for the Lord has there made known the very words which we may appropriately use on such occasions.
"Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.'
"I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them." Hosea 14:1-4
Fourth, "and turn from their wicked ways" (which had brought judgment upon them) has the same force as "forsakes" our sins in Proverbs 28:13.
"THEN will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." Here is the gracious promise. But mark well its opening, "THEN": only when we have fully met its conditions. We have no warrant to look for its fulfillment until its qualifying terms are observed by us.
Note, too, its blessed scope: a hearing from God is obtained, His forgiveness is assured, and His healing is available for faith to claim.
Say, "Lord I have—by Your grace, and to the best of my poor ability—humbled myself, sought Your face, and renounced my wicked ways; now do as You have said: "heal my land"—whether it be my body, my loved one, or my estate. Remove Your rod, and let Your providential smile come upon me again!"
Make a believing use of and plead before God the promises of Hosea 14:4-8! "According to your faith be it unto you" (Mat 9:29) is most pertinent at this point. God is pledged to honor faith, and never does He fail those who trust Him fully; no, not when they count upon Him to work a miracle for them, as this writer can humbly but thankfully testify.
How many Christians live below their privileges! "Jehovah-rophi" ("the LORD that heals you": Exodus 15:26) is as truly one of the divine titles—as "Jehovah- tsidkneu" ("THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS": Jeremiah 23:6)—yet how very few of His own people count upon Him as such; but instead, act like worldlings in such a crisis and put their confidence in human physicians.
Is it possible for one who, through long-continued self-indulgence, has missed God's best and brought down upon himself and family temporal adversity, to be fully recovered and restored to His favor? Who can doubt it in the light of this precious—but little-known, promise: "And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25)! Is not the One with whom we have to do "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10); then who is justified in placing any limitation thereon! Yet, let it not be overlooked that divine grace ever works "through righteousness" (Romans 5:21), and never at the expense of it, as it would if God were to make light of sin and condone our transgressions. And let it also be carefully borne in mind that the divine promises are addressed to faith; and must be personally appropriated by us in childlike confidence, if we are to enjoy the good of them. "All things are possible to him that believes" (Mar 9:23).
Let the reader turn to the prophet Joel and ponder the whole of chapter 1 and the first eleven verses of chapter 2. Israel had sinned grievously and repeatedly, and the Lord had smitten them severely. But at Joel 2:12-13, we read, "Even now, [in view of these chastisements, particularly the plague of locusts] declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity."
Then, because in this instance the whole nation was involved, the Lord gave orders for them to "Sanctify a fast" and to "call a solemn assembly," bidding "ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare your people, O LORD, and give not your heritage to reproach"; assuring them, "Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people"; promising, "I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be satisfied therewith…I will remove far off from you the northern army [His scourge]…Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things" (Joel 2:15-21).
Then follow those blessed words, "Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God…And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten" (Joe 2:23-25). Upon their compliance with those aforementioned requirements of God—that promise was left for faith to lay hold of and for hope to count upon.
And do you think, my reader, that that promise was placed on record only for the benefit of those who lived thousands of years ago? Surely, we have good reason to say, as the apostle did in another connection, "Now it was not written for his sake alone…But for us also" (Romans 4:23-24). Yes, nevertheless, it avails us nothing unless faith lays hold of and makes it our own. Once more we quote that declaration, "According to your faith—be it unto you" (Mat 9:29), reverently reminding the Calvinistic reader that those are not the words of Arminius (1560-1609)—but of God the Son. If ever there is one time more than another when we have need to cry, "Lord, Increase our faith" (Luke 17:5), it is when we are pleading 1 John 1:9; and more especially, when looking to God for a full restoration to His best, and counting upon His fulfilling Joel 2:25 unto us.
Enjoying God's Best, Part 6
Many other passages might be quoted, both from Old and New Testaments, which illustrate the principle and fact which we have demonstrated in these articles, wherein we have shown that if we conduct ourselves contrary to the revealed will of God, we shall certainly suffer for it both in soul and in body; that if we follow a course of self-pleasing, we shall deprive ourselves of those spiritual and temporal blessings which the Word of God promises to those whose lives are ordered by its precepts. The teaching of Holy Writ is too clear to admit of any doubts—that it makes a very real and marked difference whether a Christian's ways please or displease the righteous Ruler of this world: the difference of whether God be for him or against him—not in the absolute sense—but in His governmental and providential dealings.
Sufficient should have been adduced to convince any candid mind that God acts towards His saints today on precisely the same basis as He did with them under the old economy, that His ways with them are regulated by the same principles now—as then. This supplies a solution to many a problem and explains not a little in God's dealings with us—as it furnishes the key to Jacob's chequered life, and shows why the chastening rod of God fell so heavily upon David and his family.
Nevertheless, much of what has been represented in the previous articles is no doubt new and strange to many, if not to most of our readers. Alas, that it should be so, for what can be of greater practical importance than for the Christian to be instructed in how to please God and have his providential smile upon his life? What is more needed today than to warn him against the contrary, specifying what will forfeit the same; and to make known the way of recovery to one who has missed God's best?
How very much better for preachers to devote themselves unto such subjects, rather than culling sensational items from the newspapers or the radio to "illustrate" their vain speculations upon Prophecy. So, too, how much more profitable than for them to deliver abstract disquisitions upon what are termed "the doctrines of grace," or uttering contentious declamations against those who repudiate the same.
The practical side of the truth is sadly neglected today; and in consequence, not only are many of God's dear children living far below their privileges—but they have never been taught what those privileges are, nor what is required in order for them to enjoy the same in this life. Since the ground we have been covering is so unfamiliar to many, we felt it would not be satisfactory for us to close where we left off in our last article: that though what we have advanced is so clearly and fully based upon and confirmed by the teaching of God's Word, yet probably various questions have arisen in the minds of different readers to which they would welcome an answer, difficulties raised in their thoughts which they would like to have removed. It is only right that we should squarely face the principal objections which are likely to be made against what we have said.
Yet, let it be pointed out, first, that no objection brought against anything which is clearly established from the Word can possibly invalidate it, for Scripture never contradicts itself. And second, that our inability to furnish a satisfactory solution is no proof that our teaching is erroneous—a child can ask questions which no adult can answer. In all the ways and works of God there is, to us, an element of mystery: necessarily so, for the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. The wisest among God's saints and servants now "see through a glass, darkly" and know but "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12); and therefore, it is their wisdom to pray daily, "Teach me what I cannot see" (Job 34:32).
Yet, while acknowledging that there is an element of mystery, profound and impenetrable, that is far from saying that God has left His people in darkness; or that they have neither the capacity nor the means of knowing scarcely anything about the principles which regulate the Most High in His dealings with the children of men. If, on the one hand, it be true that His judgments "are a great deep" (Psalm 36:6), that "your way is in the sea, and your path in the great waters, and your footsteps are not known" (Psalm 77:19) to carnal reason; on the other hand, we are told, "he reveals deep things out of darkness" (Job 12:22) and "he reveals the deep and secret things" (Dan 2:22).
While it is true that God's judgments are unsearchable and His ways "past finding out!" (Romans 11:33) by human wisdom; yet it is also true, blessedly true, that "in your light shall we see light" (Psalm 36:9) that "he made known his ways unto Moses" (Psalm 103:7). In His Word, the Lord has been pleased to make known unto us not a little, and it is our privilege and duty to thankfully receive all the light which God has therein vouchsafed us; to attempt to go beyond it, to enter into speculation, is not only useless—but impious.
1. How is it possible for any person to "miss God's best," since He has foreordained everything that comes to pass (Romans 11:36), and therefore, has eternally appointed the precise lot and portion of each individual? That, we think, is a fair and frank way of stating the principal objection which Calvinists are likely to make. Our first reply is, Such an objection is quite beside the point, for in these articles, we are not discussing any aspect of God's sovereignty—but rather are treating of that which concerns human responsibility. If the rejoinder be made, "but human responsibility must not be allowed to crowd out the essential and basic fact of God's sovereignty;" we readily grant this point.
Nor, on the other hand, must our adherence to God's sovereignty be allowed to neutralize or nullify the important truth of man's responsibility. One part of the truth must never be used to nullify another part of it: both Romans 11:36 and Galatians 6:7 must be given their due places. When we attempt to philosophize about God's sovereignty and human accountability, we are out of our depth. They are to be received by faith, and not reasoned about. Each of them is plainly taught and enforced in the Scriptures, and both must be held fast by us, whether or no we perceive their "consistency." Nothing is easier than to raise difficulties and objections.
If our minds are dominated by and our outlook upon life narrowed down to a consideration of the inexorableness of the divine determinations, then a spirit of irresponsibility will necessarily ensue. It is with the revealed will of God—and not with the secret will of God we need to be concerned. "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed [in His Word] belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deu 29:29). It is the divine precepts and promises which are to engage our attention. "According to your faith—be it unto you" (Mat 9:29) said Christ, not "according unto the divine decrees."
Are we intimating that faith can set aside the divine decrees or obtain something superior to them? Certainly not! Instead, we are pointing out where the great Teacher placed His emphasis. We must not resolve all of God's dealings with us into bare sovereignty: to do so is to lose sight of His righteousness. The unbalanced teaching of hyper-Calvinism has produced a most dangerous lethargy— unperceived by them—but apparent to "lookers on." Those who dwell unduly upon the divine decrees are in peril of lapsing into the paralysis of fatalism.
There were times when even Mr. J. C. Philpot (1802- 1869) felt that, as the following quotations from his writings will show: "However sovereign the dispensations of God are, no one who fears His great name should so shelter himself under divine sovereignty as to remove all blame from himself. When the Lord asks, 'Have you not procured this unto yourself?' (Jeremiah 2:17) the soul must needs reply, Yes, Lord, I surely have! This is a narrow line—but one which everyone's experience, where the conscience is tender, will surely ratify. Though we can do nothing to comfort our own souls, to speak peace to our own conscience, to bring the love of God into our hearts, to apply the balm of Gilead to bleeding wounds, and summon the great Physician to our bedside—we may do many things to repel this moment what we should seem to invite the next…We cannot make ourselves fruitful in every good word and work—but we may by disobedience and self-indulgence bring leanness into our souls, barrenness into our frames, deadness into our hearts, and in the end, much guilt upon our consciences" (Sermon on Jeremiah 8:22).
The same writer when exposing the error of non-chastisement said, "It nullifies the eternal distinction between good and evil, and makes it a matter of little real importance whether a believer walks in obedience or disobedience." Then let those who have succeeded him devote more of the endeavors into pressing God's precepts upon His people, and stressing the necessity, importance, and value of an obedient walk; and in faithfully showing the serious losses incurred by disobedience.
2. To affirm that our having God's blessing upon us is the consequence of the Christian's pleasing of Him, may appear unto some as derogatory unto Christ, as militating against His merits. They will ask, Does not the believer owe every blessing to the alone worthiness of his Surety? Answer: that is to confound things which differ. We must distinguish between:
God's sovereign will as the originating cause,
the work of Christ as the meritorious cause,
the operation and application of the Spirit as the efficient cause,
and the repentance, faith, and obedience of the Christian as the instrumental cause.
Keep each of those in its order and place, and there will be no confusion. If that is too abstruse, let us put it this way. Is not Christ most glorified by them when His redeemed follow the example which He has left them and walk as He also walked (1 John 2:6)? If so, will not the governmental smile of God be upon such? Conversely, would God be honoring His beloved Son if His providences were favorable unto those who act in self-will, rather than in subjection to their Master? Further, if God's present rewarding of our obedience impugns the merits of Christ, then equally so will the future rewarding He has promised, for neither time nor place can make any difference in the essential nature of things.
It is so easy for us to mar the fair proportions of truth and destroy its perfect symmetry. In our zeal, there is ever the tendency to take on aspect of truth and press it so far as to cancel out another. Not only so in causing God's sovereignty to oust human responsibility—but to make the merits of Christ bar God from exercising His perfections in the present government of this world. Some have gone so far as to blankly deny that God ever uses the rod upon His children, arguing that Christ bore and took away all their sins, and therefore, God could not chasten them for their transgressions without sullying the sufficiency of His Son's atonement, thereby repudiating Psalm 89:30-32 and Hebrews 12:5-11.
Here too we must distinguish between things that differ. It is important for us to see that while the penal and eternal consequences of the believer's sins have been remitted by God, because atoned for by Christ, yet the disciplinary and temporal effects thereof are not cancelled—otherwise, he would never be sick or die. God never chastens His people penally or vindictively—but in love, in righteousness, in mercy, according to the principles of His government: rewarding them for their obedience, chastening for their disobedience, and thereby and therein Christ is honored and not dishonored.
3. Since all God's actings unto His people proceed from His uncaused, amazing, and super-abounding grace, how can it be maintained that He regulates His dealings with them according to their conduct? Easily, for there is nothing incompatible between the two things: they are complementary, and not contradictory. As all the perfections of God are not to be swallowed up in His sovereignty, neither are they all to be merged into His grace. God is holy as well as benignant, and His favors are never bestowed in disregard of His purity; divine grace never sets aside the requirements of divine righteousness. When one has been truly saved by grace, he is taught to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; and if he fails to do so, then the rod of God falls upon him.
David was as truly saved by grace through faith, apart from any good works, as was the apostle Paul; but he was also required to be "holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Peter 1:15) as are the New Testament saints; and when he failed to be so, severe chastening was his portion. And it was grace, though holy and righteous grace, which dealt thus with him, that he "should not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:32). The Christian needs to be viewed not only as one of God's elect, one of His high favorites; and not only as a member of the Father's family, and as such, amenable to His paternal discipline—but also as a human being, a moral agent, a subject of God's government; and therefore, he is dealt with accordingly by the Ruler of this world.
As such, God has appointed an inseparable connection between conduct and the consequences it entails; and therefore, He is pleased to manifest, by His providences, His approbation or His disapprobation of our conduct. It is not that the one who walks in the paths of righteousness thereby brings God into his debt—but that He condescends to act toward us according to the principle of gracious reciprocity. No creature can possibly merit anything good at the hands of God—for if he rendered perfect and perpetual obedience, he has merely performed his duty, and God has profited—essentially considered—nothing whatever.
Moreover, the recompense itself is a free gift, an act of pure grace, for God is under no compulsion or obligation to bestow it.
4. When pointing out in connection with "he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief " (Mat 13:58), that "Unbelief is the great obstacle to Christ's favors"—Matthew Henry (1662-1714), and that they closed the door upon His deeds of mercy, it may be thought by some that we are approving the horrible impiety that the creature has the power to thwart the Creator. And when we emphatically deny any such idea, objectors are likely to ask—but how can you escape such a consequence? Easily: faith is God's own prescribed ordinance, and therefore, He is in no wise checkmated when He refuses to act contrary to His own appointed way. Obviously, He is by no means obliged to set a premium on unbelief or countenance contempt of His means. Mark 6 expresses it more strongly: "He could there do no mighty work," etc. (Mar 6:5).
When it is said God "cannot lie" (Ti 1:2) and "cannot be tempted with evil" (Jam 1:13), so far from signifying any limitation of His power, the perfection of His holiness is intimated. So with Christ. Among a people who were "offended in him" because they regarded Him as "the carpenter" (Mat 13:55, 57), no moral end had been furthered by His dazzling their eyes with prodigies of His might, and therefore, He cast not His pearls before swine.
5. Another class of readers, namely, those who have imbibed the poison of "Dispensationalism," will complain that our teaching in these articles is legalistic, confounding the old and new covenants, that God's dealings with Jacob, David, and the nation of Israel furnish no parallel with His conduct toward us in this era. But that is a serious mistake. There is far more of essential oneness between the administration of those two economies than there was incidental divergencies, as John Calvin (1509-1564) long ago demonstrated in his Institutes of the Christian Religion—see his chapters upon "The Similarity of the Old and New Testaments" and "The Difference of the Two Testaments."
The principal difference between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations was neither in "the way of salvation" (Act 16:17), the spiritual portion of God's children, nor the principles of His government; but rather that spiritual things were presented to their view largely under types and shadows, whereas we have the substance itself openly set before us. Beneath all the trivial contrasts, there is a fundamental unity between them, and it betrays a very superficial mind which delights in magnifying those contrasts, while ignoring or denying their basic oneness. But, as we have shown, the New Testament teaching on our present subject is identical with that of the Old, "knowing that whatever good thing any man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph 6:8) is both an echo and summary of the Law and the Prophets. The underlying unity of the two Testaments is plainly intimated in that divine declaration, "Whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Romans 15:4). But what could we "learn" from God's dealings with His people of old if He is now acting according to radically different principles? Nothing at all. Nay, in such a case, it would follow that the less we read the Old Testament, the better for us, for we should only be confused.
The fact is that the principles of God's government are like Himself— immutable, the same in every age. "Righteousness and judgment" (Psalm 97:2) are just as truly the "habitation of his throne" today as when He cast out of heaven the apostate angels, and as when He destroyed the antediluvians—which was long before Moses! That God now deals with Christians on precisely the same basis as He did with the children of Israel, is unequivocally established by 1 Corinthians 10:6, where, after describing the privileges they had enjoyed and God's overthrowing them in the wilderness because of their unbelief, we are told, "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted": that is, they are real and solemn warnings for us to take to heart, specimens of those judgments which will befall us if we emulate their sinful conduct.
Nay, Scripture requires us to go yet farther. So far from the higher blessings of this Christian era lessening our responsibility, they much increase the same. The greater our privileges, the greater our obligations. "For unto whoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48), as the one who received five talents was required to yield more than those who received but one or two. "He who despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God"! (Hebrews 10:28-29). The principle of that verse clearly signifies that the more light we have been favored with, the deeper are our obligations, and the greater the guilt incurred when those obligations are not met.
"But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:4). Yes, "feared" and not trifled with, by giving free rein to our lusts. A true apprehension of divine mercy will not embolden unto sin—but will deepen our hatred of it, and make us more diligent in striving against it. Those who "[know] the grace of God in truth" (Col 1:6)—in contrast with the ones who have merely a theoretical knowledge of it—so far from being careless of their ways and indifferent to the consequences, will be most diligent in endeavoring to please and glorify Him who has been so good to them.
Enjoying God's Best Part 7
6. Some are likely to complain that our teaching is too idealistic and impractical, that we have presented an unattainable standard, arguing that in our present condition, it is impossible to enjoy God's best — if that be dependent upon our daily life being well-pleasing unto Him. We shall be reminded that only one Perfect Man has trod this earth, and that while the flesh indwells the Christian, failures and falls are inevitable.
Nor should we be surprised at fault being found with that which rebukes the low level of Christian experience in this decadent age: those who are at ease in Zion do not welcome anything which searches the conscience and is calculated to arouse them from their deplorable apathy! But the One with whom each of us has to do declares, "Be holy — for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16), and therefore does He bid us, "Awake to righteousness, and sin not!" (1 Corinthians 15:34), "Put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof " (Rom 13:14), "He who says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6).
But we have not said that our enjoyment of God's smile is dependent upon our actually measuring up to that standard, though nothing short of it must be our constant aim and earnest endeavor. There is a great difference between a relative falling short of that standard — and a life of defeat; between daily trespasses — and being the slave of some dominant lust.
Had we said that one must lead a sinless life in order to enter into God's best, the above complaint would have been pertinent. But we have not. If our heart is true to God, if it is our sincere desire and diligent effort to please the Lord in all things — then His approbation and blessing will certainly be upon us! And if such really is our intention and striving — then it will necessarily follow that we shall mourn over our conscious failures in missing that mark, and will promptly and contritely confess the same — it is by that we may test and prove the genuineness of our sincerity. It is not the sins of a Christian, but his unconfessed sins, which choke the channel of blessing and cause so many to miss God's best!
What has just been stated is clearly established by "he who covers his sins shall not prosper" (Pro 28:13). It is always an inexcusable and grievous thing for a saint to commit any sin, yet it is far worse to refuse to acknowledge the same: that is to "add sin to sin" (Isa 30:1); yes, it evinces a spirit of defiance. So far from such a one prospering — he closes the door against God's favors (Jer 5:25).
As the hiding of a disease prevents any cure — so to stifle convictions,
seek to banish them from the mind, and then try and persuade ourselves that
all is well — only makes bad matters worse. None but the penitent confessor
can be pardoned (Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9). In the great majority of cases,
the chief reason why believers miss God's best — is because they fail to
keep short accounts with Him. They do not make conscience of what the world
regards as innocent blemishes and which empty professors excuse as
"trifling faults." And the result is, that . . .
the conscience becomes comatose,
laxity is encouraged,
the Holy Spirit is grieved,
Satan gains increasing power over him, and
his unrepented sins hide God's face from him (Isa 59:2).
7. It may be inquired: How do you harmonize your teaching that God's frown is upon His people while they follow a course of self-will and self-gratification — when it is written, "He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10)?
Answer: There is nothing to harmonize, for the two things in no way conflict. That Scripture is not speaking of God's present governmental dealings, but of what took place at conversion, when the penal consequences of all our sins were remitted. That is clear from what immediately follows, for after extolling the exalted character of God's mercy, the Psalmist declared, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:11-12). God has not dealt with the one who savingly believes the Gospel "after his sins," because He laid them upon his Surety and dealt with Him accordingly; and being infinitely just, the divine Judge will not exact payment twice. Therefore, instead of rewarding him according to his iniquities — he recompenses him according to the merits of his Redeemer. If that were not the meaning of Psalm 103:10, we would make the Scriptures contradict themselves — an evil against which we need ever to be upon our guard. Psalm 89:30-32 shows that God does deal with His disobedient children according to their sins — in a disciplinary way, in this life — expressly declaring that "Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes!" (Psalm 89:32). And yet there is a very real and blessed sense in which the principle of the former passage applies here too.
For, first, God is not severe and rigorous in marking every offence: if our love is warm, and the general course of our conduct pleases Him, He passes by our non-willful sins.
And, second, God does not chasten immediately when we offend Him, but graciously grants us space for repentance, that the rod may be withheld.
Third, He does not chasten us fully, according to our deserts, but tempers His righteousness with mercy. Even when plying the rod upon us, "his compassions fail not," and therefore, "we are not consumed" (Lam 3:22). God dealt so with His people under the old economy: Ezra 9:13; Psalm 130:3!
8. Notwithstanding what has just been pointed out, the objection is likely to be made: Such teaching as yours is calculated to afford very "cold consolation" to some of God's afflicted people; you are acting only as a "Job's comforter" to them. Nor is such a demur to be wondered at in a day when the clamant cry of an apostate Christendom is "speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits!" (Isa 30:10). Though that is the language of the unregenerate, yet when Christians are in more or less of a backslidden condition, only too often that becomes the desire of their hearts also; and when the rod of God is upon them, they crave pity and sympathy, rather than love's faithfulness. What such souls most need is help — real help and not maudlin sentimentality. To give soothing syrup to one needing a bitter purgative, is not an act of kindness. The chastened one requires to be reminded that God "does not afflict willingly," then urged to "search and try His ways, and turn again to the LORD" (Lam 3:33, 40), and assured that upon true confession — that he will be forgiven.
9. But it may be objected, Did not David deeply repent of, contritely confess, and sincerely forsake his sins in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah — yet God's rod was not removed from him and his family! That is admittedly, a more difficult question to answer. Nor should we look to the absolute sovereignty of God for its solution, for rather would that be cutting the knot instead of endeavoring to untie it.
It should be evident to all, that David's was no ordinary case, and that his sins were such as the Mosaic Law called for capital punishment. Moreover, his iniquities were greatly aggravated by virtue of the position which he occupied: as a prophet, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, and their king. Crimes committed by those in high civic or ministerial office are far more heinous and involve graver consequences than do those same crimes when committed by private persons. Therefore, though the Lord "forgave the iniquity of his sin" (Psalm 32:5), yet He declared "the sword shall never depart from your house" (2 Samuel 12:10). The guilt and penal effects were remitted, but the governmental consequences remained.
"Howbeit, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto you shall surely die!" (2 Samuel 12:14). And though he "besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the ground," it was in vain; the sin of the father was visited upon the son, to show that God was "no respecter of persons" — even where a monarch, and one beloved by Himself, was involved. And "the sword" never did depart from his house, for one after another of his sons met with a violent end.
Such transgressions of Israel's king received no ordinary chastisements from God, to show that He would not countenance such actions, but vindicate His honor by manifesting His abhorrence of them. Thus, the governmental consequences of David's sins not being remitted upon his repentant confession, is to be accounted for on the ground of his public character.
Another example or illustration of the same principle is found in the case of Moses and Aaron, who because of their unbelief at Meribah, being Israel's leaders, were debarred from entering Canaan (Num 20:12, 24).
10. As our readers have pondered the foregoing articles, it is probable that not a few have reverted in their minds to the experiences of Job, and wondered how it is possible to square with them the substance of what we have been writing. Obviously, it is quite outside our present scope to enter upon anything like a full discussion of the book which describes the severe trials of that holy patriarch. Four brief statements must here suffice.
First, that book presents to our notice something which is extraordinary and quite unique, as well as profoundly mysterious, namely, the position which Satan there occupies and his challenge of the Lord (Job 1:6-12).
Second, it is therefore unwarrantable for us to appeal to the experiences of Job in this connection, for his case was entirely unprecedented. That which was there involved was not any controversy which God had with Job, but rather His contest with Satan in evidencing him to be a liar, disproving his charge that Job served God only for the benefit which he derived from Him for the same. Satan's attack was not upon the patriarch, but was aimed at the Lord Himself, being tantamount to saying, You are incapable of winning the confidence and love of man by what You are in Yourself: deal roughly and adversely with him, and You will find that so far from him delighting in You and remaining loyal to You — that he "will curse you to your face" (Job 1:11, 2:5). Thus the excellency of the divine character was thereby impugned and His honor challenged.
The Lord condescended to accept Satan's challenge; and in the sequel, demonstrate the emptiness of it by delivering His servant Job into His enemy's hand and permitting him to afflict him severely in his estate, his family, and in his own person. The central theme and purpose of the book of Job is not only missed, but utterly perverted, if we regard its contents as a description of God's chastening of Job for his sins (or "self-righteousness"), rather than a vindicating of His own honor and giving the lie to Satan's accusation by the making of Job's love and faith evident. So far from his cursing God, Job said, "Blessed be the name of the LORD," and after Satan had done his worst, "Though he slays me — yet will I trust in him" (Job 1:21, 13:15).
Third, before Satan was allowed to lay a finger on him, the Lord expressly declared of Job, "There is none like him in the earth, a perfect [sincere] and an upright man, one that fears God, and eschews evil" (Job 1:8). Thus, at the outset, all ground for uncertainty of Job's moral condition is removed. The very fact that the first verse of the book contains such an affirmation renders it quite excuseless for anyone to conclude that in what follows, we see the Lord dealing with Job on the ground that he had done something which displeased Him. Instead, no other saint in all the Scriptures is more highly commended by the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, it should be carefully borne in mind that the book closes by informing us that "the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before," that "the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:10, 12, 16). Thus so far from conflicting with or contradicting our thesis that the righteous prosper, that the providential smile of God rests upon those whose ways please Him, the case of Job is a striking proof of the same!
11. The sufferings of our blessed Lord prior to the cross may present a difficulty unto a few in this connection. There was One who "has set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8) and who could aver "I do always those things that please him" (John 8:29). How then are we to account for the fact that He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa 53:3) that from the hour of His birth into this world unto His death, trial and tribulation, suffering and adversity, was His portion? Surely that should not occasion a problem or call for much elucidation.
All of Christ's sufferings were due to sin: not His own, but his Church's. God would not allow an innocent person to suffer, much less His beloved Son to be unrighteously afflicted at the hands of the wicked. We never view aright the ill-treatment and indignities Christ experienced — both before and throughout His ministerial life — until we recognize that from Bethlehem to Calvary, He was the vicarious Victim of His people, bearing their sins and suffering the due reward of their iniquities. He was "made under the law" (Gal 4:4), and as the Surety of transgressors was therefore born under its curse. At the moment of His birth, the sword of divine justice was unsheathed and returned not to its scabbard until bathed in the blood of our Savior.
12. Others may ask: What about the severe and protracted sufferings of the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). They were neither extraordinary, like Job's, nor vicarious like Christ's! True, and that leads us to make this important observation: let none conclude from these articles that all suffering is to be regarded as retributive. That would be just as real a mistake as the one made by those who go to another extreme and suppose that all the suffering of saints is remedial, designed for purification and the development of their graces — which has provided a welcome sop for many an uneasy conscience! The subject of suffering is a much wider one than what has been dealt with in these articles, wherein but a single phase — the retributive — has been dealt with. It would take us too far afield to enter upon a systematic discussion of the whole problem of human sufferings, yet it is necessary for us to point out several important distinctions.
Some suffering is to be attributed to the sovereignty of God (John 9:2-3), yet we believe such cases are few in number.
Some suffering is due to heredity (Exo 20:5): the whole of Achan's family were stoned to death for their father's sin (Jos 7:24-25), and the leprosy of Naaman was judicially inflicted upon Gehazi and his children (2 Kings 5:27).
Much suffering is retributive, a personal reaping of what we have sown.
Some suffering is remedial or educative (2 Corinthians 4:16-17; Jam 1:2-3), fitting for closer communion with God and increased fruitfulness.
Other suffering is for righteousness' sake, for the Gospel's sake, for Christ's sake (Mat 5:10- 11), which was what the apostle experienced, and which the whole "noble army of martyrs" endured at the hands of pagan Rome, when Christians were cast to the lions, and equally at the hands of Papal Rome, when countless thousands were vilely tortured and burned at the stake, and which would be repeated today if the pope and his cardinals had the power, for "simper idem" (always the same) is one of their proud boasts.
We must distinguish sharply then between "tribulation" or persecution (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12) for righteousness' sake, and divine chastisement because of our sins. There is no valid reason for why the Christian should be confused in his mind by the above distinctions: nor will he be if he notes carefully the Scripture references given to them. Our purpose in drawing them was not only for the sake of giving completeness to these articles, and to supply preachers with a rough outline on the wider subject of "suffering," but chiefly in order to point a warning. It is entirely unwarrantable for us to conclude from the sight of an afflicted saint — that he or she has missed God's best and is being chastised for his or her offences, though very often such is undoubtedly the case. But in our own personal experience, when God's providential smile is no longer upon us, and especially if the comforts of His Spirit be withdrawn from us — then it is always the wisest policy to assume that God is manifesting His displeasure at something in our lives, and therefore should we definitely, humbly, and earnestly beg Him to convict us of wherein we have offended, and grant us grace to contritely confess and resolutely forsake the same.
The two forms of suffering most commonly experienced by the great majority of Christians are retributive — for their faults; and honorary — for the truth's sake: though where there is much of the one, there is rarely much of the other. Nor should there be any difficulty in identifying each of them, except that we must not mistake as the latter that coldness and estrangement of friends which is due to our own boorishness, for not a few pride themselves they are suffering for their faithfulness — when in reality, they are being rebuked and ostracized for their uncharitableness, or "as a busybody in other men's matters" (1 Peter 4:15).
Close and humble walking with God, an uncompromising cleaving to the path of His commandments, is sure to stir up the enmity and evoke the opposition of the unregenerate, especially of empty professors, whose worldliness and carnality are condemned thereby. But whatever persecution and tribulation be encountered for that cause is a privilege and honor, for it is a having fellowship with Christ's sufferings (1 Peter 4:13), and such should be "rejoicing that they are counted worthy to suffer shame for his name" (Act 5:41). It is the absence of this type of suffering which evinces we are hiding our colors in order to avoid being unpopular.
To sum up. Surely it is self-evident that the attitude of a holy God will be very different toward "a vessel wherein is no pleasure" (Hos 8:8) and one who is "a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and fit for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21).
As we pointed out in an earlier article, an enjoyment of God's best will not exempt from the common trials and vicissitudes of life, but it will ensure having them sanctified and blessed to him, as it will also deliver from those troubles and afflictions in which the follies of many Christians involve them. "Say to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings" (Isa 3:10), on which the Puritan, Joseph Caryl (1602-1673), said, "They shall have good for the good they have done, or according to the good which they have done. If any object: But may it not be ill with men that do good and are good? Does the Lord always reward to man according to his righteousness? I answer, first, It is well at present with most that do well. Look over the sons of men, and generally you shall find that usually the better they are, the better they live. Second, I answer, It shall be well with all that do well in the outcome, and forever!"
Finally, we again urge upon young Christians to form the habit of keeping short accounts with God, to promptly confess every known sin unto Him, even though it be the same sin over and over again. There is no verse in all the Bible which this writer has made more use of and pleaded so frequently as 1 John 1:9. Failure at this point is a certain forerunner of trouble. Only too often Christians, particularly in seasons of temporal prosperity, will not take the time and trouble to search their hearts and lives for those things which displease the Holy One. Hence, it is that God so often has occasion to take His refractory children apart from the world, laying them upon beds of sickness, or bringing them into situations where they will "consider their ways" (Hag 1:5). If they then refuse to do so, they shall "suffer loss" (1 Corinthians 3:15) eternally. It is greatly to be feared that not a few who will, by grace, enter the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shall, through their own follies, fail to have an abundant entrance thereunto (2 Peter 1:11). O that neither writer nor reader may be among those saints who will be "ashamed before him at his coming" (1 John 2:28). We shall not, if we put everything right between our souls and Him in the present!