Enjoying God's Best
by Arthur Pink, January, 1948
In the January and February 1946 issues of 'Studies in the Scriptures', 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.