Submission to God
"The Lord gave—and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21
When some painful loss or severe calamity befalls them, there are many who bemoan the fact that they do not have the resignation which was the patriarch's—even under more extreme circumstances—but it is to be feared that few make any serious attempt to ascertain why they are so lacking, or that the right explanation would be arrived at if they did. Probably the majority of the professing Christians would say: "It is because the Lord has not been pleased to give me the necessary grace." Pious as that may sound, in many cases, it would be the language of insincerity—if not of something worse. If that were said by way of excuse or self-extenuation for a spirit of murmuring, it is a wicked slander upon the Divine character! Let it be clearly recognized that the real reason—and the only reason, so far as we are concerned—why God not grant us more grace, is because we have failed to use that which He has already bestowed upon us! Luke 8:18.
Acquiescence in the Divine providence, when God takes from us that which is near and dear, is not some high spiritual attainment which is reached on special occasions. Just as one who is not accustomed to the regular use of certain muscles is incapable of any strenuous exercise of them when put to a real test, so it is with the employment of our graces. The average man who constantly drives around in his car, or the one who sits most for the day in his office and rides on the bus or train to and from his work—would be weary if he walked five miles on a stretch, quite exhausted if it were ten, and utterly unable to hold out for twenty. But a shepherd or farmer who spent most of his life on his feet crossing the moors or walking in his fields, would find it no undue strain to cover a single journey of twenty miles. One who has allowed his mind to wander here and there while engaged in ordinary reading, cannot suddenly concentrate on a good book when he wishes to do so. The same principle obtains in the spiritual realm: There is no such thing as putting forth an extraordinary effort of any grace—if it is not in regular exercise.
Returning to our next text: What was the character of the man who gave expression to those God-honoring words? It is very important to weigh carefully the question, for character and conduct are as inseparably connected, as are cause and effect. The answer is supplied in the context. Those words issued from the heart of one who was "perfect [sincere] and upright, and one who feared God, and shunned evil" (Job 1:1), which is but an amplified way of saying that he was a pious man.
Now, the first characteristic and evidence of genuine piety is an obedient walk; and obedience is doing the will of God from the heart. Or in other words, obedience is a submission to His authority, a conducting of myself according to the rules He has prescribed for me. If—then, I have formed the habit of conforming to God's preceptive will (which necessarily presupposes denying the lusts of the flesh), there will be little difficulty in submitting myself to His providential will. If I am faithful in doing the former, I shall be unmurmuring in acquiescing with the latter. But if I flout the one, I shall rebel against the other.
"The Lord gave—and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." That was the language of one who was accustomed to own the authority of God, as his threefold "the Lord" intimates.
It was the language of one who had surrendered to His righteous claims, and the throne of whose heart was really occupied by Him. It was not the sudden outburst of one who had hitherto followed his own desires and devices—but rather of a genuine saint who had truly been subject to the Divine will. It was the language of one who recognised and owned that God had a perfect right to order his lot and life—just as it seemed good in His sight. It was the language of one who held everything in subjection to the will of Him with whom he had to do. It was not an exceptional spasm of piety—but rather that which made manifest the general tenor of his spirituality. The trials of life neither make, nor mar us, my reader; but instead, they demonstrate what is in us, what we really are: They make manifest the hidden things of our heart.
There is a will of God which we are required to perform—and there is also a will of God in which we should thankfully acquiesce. The former is His preceptive will, which is made known in His commandments; the latter in His providential will, which regulates all our affairs. And the more we perform the former—the easier shall we find it to accept and conform our hearts unto the latter.
Christian submission is, therefore, a twofold thing; or rather, it has respect to two aspects of our duty and has to do with two different relationships which God sustains to us—as our King and our Provider.
The first aspect of submission is to take the Divine yoke upon us, to be in subjection to the Divine authority, to have all our ways regulated by the Divine statutes.
The second aspect of submission is to receive as from God's hand, whatever comes to me in a providential way, with the recognition of His absolute right to take the same away—when He deems that will be most for His glory and my good.
When we pray, as we are bidden to do, "May Your will be done in earth—as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10), the emphasis is to be placed on the word "done."
It is, first, a request that the Divine will may be wrought in us, for we can only work out our "own salvation with fear and trembling," as God is pleased to work in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13); for it is thus that God writes His law on our hearts. Only as His will is wrought in us—are our wayward wills brought into accord with God's.
Second, it is a request that the Divine will may be performed by us. The first is in order to the second. God's will is done by us—when we consciously and voluntarily abstain from and avoid those things He has prohibited, and when we practice those things which He has enjoined upon us.
Third, it is a request that the Divine will may be acceptable unto us, that we may be pleased with whatever pleases Him: That so far from repining, we may thankfully receive whatever God is pleased to send or give us—His chastisements not excepted.
The perfect exemplification of what we have sought to bring out above, is found in our blessed Redeemer.
First, there was nothing whatever within Him which was contrary to God, which was capable of resisting His will. He was essentially holy—both in His Divine Person and in His human nature; and as the God-man, He declared, "Your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).
Second, when He entered this world, it was with the assertion, "Lo, I come to do Your will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7); and so completely did He make that good, He could say, "I always do those things that please Him" (John 8:29).
Third, He never uttered the slightest murur against the Divine providence; but instead, declared, "You have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance" (Psalm 16:5-6). And when the supreme test came, He meekly bowed, saying, "The cup which my Father has given me—shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). When in Gethsemane, He prayed, "May Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42), He included all three things:
May Your will be wrought in Me.
May Your will be performed by Me.
May Your will be well-pleasing unto Me.
If—then, we are to be able to say as Job did when so severely tested, we must emulate his previous conduct and regularly tread the path of obedience. Furthermore, we must "learn to sit loose to all worldly comforts and stand ready prepared to part with everything when God shall require it at our hands. Some of you may perhaps have friends who are as dear to you as your own souls; and others may have children in whose lives your own lives are bound up: All have their Isaacs, their particular delights. Labor for Christ's sake, labor you sons and daughters of Abraham to resign them hourly in affection to God, that when He shall require you really to sacrifice them—you may not confer with flesh and blood any more than the blessed patriarch did." George Whitefield (1714-1770)