MISSING GOD’S BEST
Having shown at some length that the Old and New Testament alike teach there is such a thing as entering into any 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 them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11),
but He has also plainly informed us
“Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you” (Jeremiah 5:25).
Upon which John Gill 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 acknowledgement 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 honour of His house. As Manton 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 stand in our own light and 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 ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye 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 suffer 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
“Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when He led thee by the way?” (Jeremiah 2:17).
Upon which M. Henry said, “Whatever trouble we are in at any time, we may thank ourselves for it, for we bring it upon our own hands by our forsaking of God.” “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2). 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 ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye 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 be consistent with a universal providence which performeth 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 worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
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.
“Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?” (Proverbs 17:16).
The “price in his 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 M. 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 his 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 things unsatisfying, they sell themselves for naught” (Thomas Goodwin); and thereby they miss God’s best.
“Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?” (Proverbs 17:16).
After interpreting those words first as natural wisdom and knowledge, and “the price” as the worldly substance which a foolish man spends on riotous living, instead of purchasing useful books for the improvement of his mind, none other than John Gill said upon its higher application: “or spiritual wisdom and knowledge: the means of which are reading the Word, frequent opportunities for attending on a Gospel ministry...conversation with Gospel ministers and other Christians; but instead of making use of these he neglects, slights and despises them. And it is asked, with some degree of indignation and astonishment, why or to what purpose a fool is favored with such means? seeing he hath no heart to it? to wisdom: he does not desire it, nor to make use of the price or means in order to obtain it; all is lost upon him, and it is hard to account for why he should have this price when he makes such an ill use of it.” But Gill created his own difficulty: 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” (Numbers 14:24) at the outset but soon “leave their first love.” 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 they balk. Then the Holy Spirit is grieved, His enabling power is withheld, their peace and joy wane, and a spiritual decline sets m. 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. “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God. Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them and they to you: Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath 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” (Galatians 6:15) now possess and enjoy their spiritual Canaan in proportion to their obedience. But as God has forewarned,
“If His children forsake My Law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail” (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 doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 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.” 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 ye the rod” (Mich. 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 God is now smiting us! In order to discover its message, we need to humbly ask the Lord “show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (Job 10:2); “cause me to understand wherein I have erred” (Job 6:24); reveal to me wherein I have displeased Thee, 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 thy way with thorns” (Hosea 3:6). Note well “thy 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 suffices not to bring them to their senses, then he adds “and make a wall that she shall not find her paths”—His providences block the realization of their carnal and covetous desires.
“But My people would not hearken to My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them up unto their own heart’s lusts: they walked in their own counsels. Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me, Israel had walked in My ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned My hand against their adversaries... He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat, and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (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 endeavour 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 accomplishments 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 in 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 suffered them to be deceived by false prophets (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11).
“Oh that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:18).
On which even Gill said, “their prosperity, temporal and spiritual, had been abundant, and would always have continued, have been increasing and ever-flowing.” Failure to walk in the paths of God’s precepts deprives us of many a blessing. In his review of The Life and Letters of the late James Bourne (Gospel Standard, October 1861), Mr. Philpot said, “There is deep truth in the following extract”—a sentence or two of which we here quote: “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 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,
“Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee: this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thy heart” (Jeremiah 4:18).
Upon which 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 come on them.” Consider also this passage:
“Ye looked for much and lo, it came to little: and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of host” (Haggai 1:9).
This searching question was put for their sakes, “that they might be made sensible of it, and in order to introduce what follows: ‘because of mine house that is waste’: which they suffered to lie waste, and did not concern themselves about the rebuilding of it; this the Lord resented, and for this reason blasted all their labours; and ‘ye run every man unto his own house’” (Gill). 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” (Genesis 13:12). Though “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly,” yet Lot settled in their midst, and even “sat in the gate of Sodom” (Genesis 19:1), i.e. 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 my life been” (Genesis 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 (6:20-22), his daughter Tamar was raped by her half brother (13:14), and his son Ammon was murdered (13:28, 29). His favorite son, Absalom, sought to wrest the kingdom from him, and then met with an ignominious end (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 flesh, and of the flesh he “reaped corruption”!
Painful though it be 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
“whatsoever 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 be informed by them!
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.
“And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 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 rightly insisted,
“Unbelief is the great obstacle to Christs favour.... The Gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation,’ but then it is ‘to every one that believeth’ (Romans 1:16). So that if mighty works be not wrought in us it is not for want of power or grace in Christ, but want 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 Thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us,” He at once turned the “if” back again upon him, saying,
“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (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 would bear a son, instead of expressing gratitude at the good news and bursting forth in thanksgiving unto God, Zacharias voiced his doubts. saying, “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” Whereupon the angel declared,
“Behold thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words” (Luke 1:20),
upon which Gill said, “He was stricken with deafness because he hearkened not to the angel’s words, and dumbness 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 (Acts 5). So too when Herod gratefully accepted the idolatrous adulation’s of the populace, instead of rebuking their sinful flattery, we are told,
“And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten with worms” (Acts 12:23).
God does suit His governmental ways according to the conduct of men, be they unbelievers. 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 I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (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 “disfellowshipped” 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, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel, and as 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 a close bearing upon their joint supplications, for if domestic harmony does not obtain, 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 hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 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 be 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” (verses 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 sex. 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 honour to her”: that is, his superior strength is to be engaged for her defence 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.” Not only should the love which he has for her make him diligent in promoting her wellbeing, 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,
“If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 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,” 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 he tyrannical, then, though the wife bear it meekly, her spirit is crushed, and love is chilled. If he treat her more like a servant or slave than a wife, the Spirit will be grieved, and he will be made to smart. If he be selfishly forgetful of her infirmities, especially those involved in childbearing, if he be 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 against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (2:4, 5)
—how many such a “candlestick” has thus been removed! To the careless and compromising ones at Pergamos, who then suffered in their midst those who held doctrine which He hated, the Lord solemnly threatened,
“Repent or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against thee with the sword of My mouth” (2:14, 15)
—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 thee out of My mouth” (3:16)—I will no longer own thee as My witness.
Writing on the need of members of a local church having “the same care of one 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 and goodly apparel’ and him or her with vile or 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 for one 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” or unbecomingly — 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” (Revelation 2:1). Nothing escapes His notice, for “His eyes are as a flame of fire” and before Him all things are naked and opened (2:18). 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 loth to chasten. Nevertheless He is holy, and will maintain the honour 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. “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 be 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” (Jonah 3:4), more was intended than was expressed. He was not there proclaiming God’s inexorable fiat, but was sounding an alarum 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” (verse 5);
while the king published a decree to his subjects: “Cry mightily unto God: yea, 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 1-le would do unto them; and He did it not” (verses 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, yea, 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” (Micah 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 knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs [the mark of decline and decay] are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not” (Hosea 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:
“For when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (verse 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 inescapable: 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 for ever 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!
RECOVERY OF GOD’S BEST
We have considered various cases, both of individuals and corporate companies, who missed God’s best, and saw how ill it fared with them. We pointed 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 (Colossians 2:6): by daily trusting m 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, fulfil 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 oft 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 ere 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. 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 be a humbling of himself before God (and His providence hinder), 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” (Galatians 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 canker 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 and 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, dishonored Christ, in many instances 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 confessed it not. Formerly he walked in happy fellowship with God, the light of His countenance shone upon him, and that peace which passeth all understanding possessed his soul. But now the joy of salvation is no more 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 and bitter thing it is to depart from the Lord his God” (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, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:14). Nevertheless, response thereto is not the simple matter that lookers-on 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.” Even David was insensible of his awful plight when Nathan first approached him, and it was not until the prophet pointedly declared
“Thou art the man” that Satan’s spell over him was broken. There is therefore much to be thankful for when such are awakened from their slumber and made to hear that word “Return, ye 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 fulfil the Divine conditions for restoration is a very different matter. As John Owen 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 (whose works were favorably reviewed in the Gospel Standard) wrote to God’s people two hundred years ago, “Much labour and diligence are required unto this. It is not complaining of the sickly condition of our souls which will effect this cure: 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 endeavour to point out how God requires such a one to “act.”
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13)
epitomizes both sides of the case. Sin is a disease of the soul, and (like a bodily one) by concealing it, we make it increase and become desperate. As the Puritan, Joseph Caryl, 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 labours 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, in the strength and power 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 reprehensible hiding of sin is an adding of sin unto sin, and is a certain preventative of prosperity, and if persisted in will cover the perpetrator with shame and confusion for ever.
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 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 thy brother?” he answered “I know not.” So too Gehazi blankly denied his wrong when charged by Elisha (2 Kings 5:25). In like manner acted Ananias and Sapphira. 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, he is too self-opinionated 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 they will not own it as theirs.
“But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Confession of sin is an indispensable part of repentance, and without repentance there can be no remission (Acts 3:19).
“I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest 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 them, 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 selfabasement and self-loathing. The cry will be made
“O Lord, pardon mine iniquity font is great” (Psalm 25:11).
“And forsake 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 endeavour to avoid any repetition of them.
“We must keep at a distance from those persons and snares which have drawn us into instances of folly, which have occasioned that disorder which is the matter of our complaint. Without this we may multiply acknowledgments and expressions of concern for our past miscarriages to no purpose at all. It is very great folly to think of regaining our former 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 that 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” (John Brine).
There must be a complete break from all that poisons the soul. 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. ‘[he Holy Spirit is grieved, and will suspend His gracious operations within his soul, and henceforth his “way” will be made “hard.” 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 Thy 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 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 which 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 7:24).
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 it: “if... they accept the punishment of their iniquity,” which is the opposite of asking, What have I done to occasion this?
“After all that is come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great trespass, seeing that Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve” (Ezra 9:13)
illustrates. David “humbled” himself when he owned,
“I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75).
He took sides with God against himself, and acknowledge 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 fervour. 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 14:2, 3, should be made use of, for the Lord has there made known the very words which we may appropriately use on such occasions. Fourth, “and turn from their wicked ways” (which had brought judgment upon them) has the same force as “forsake” 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 Thy grace, and to the best of my poor ability humbled myself, sought Thy face, and renounced my wicked ways; now do as Thou hast said: “heal my land” — whether it be my body, my loved one, or my estate. Remove Thy rod, and let Thy providential smile come upon me again. Make a believing use of and plead before God the promises of Hosea 14:4-8! “According unto your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29) is most pertinent at this point. God is pledged to honour 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 healeth thee”: Exodus 15:26) is as truly one of the Divine titles as “Jehovah-tsidkneu” (“the Lord our righteousness”: Jeremiah 23:5), 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 favour? Who can doubt it in the light of this precious, but little-known promise,
“I will restore to you the years the locusts hath 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 believeth” (Mark 9:23).
Let the reader turn to the prophet Joel and ponder the whole of chapter 1 and the first eleven verses of 2. Israel had sinned grievously and repeatedly, and the Lord had smitten them severely. But at 2:12, we read, “Therefore [in view of these chastisements, particularly the plague of locusts] also now, saith the Lord, turn ye to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Himself of the evil.” 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 “the ministers of the Lord weep before the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine 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 ye shall be satisfied therewith... I will remove the northern army [His scourge]... Fear not O land, be glad and rejoice for the Lord will do great things” (2:15, 21).
Then follow those blessed words, “Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God... I will restore to you the years that the locusts hath eaten. 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 think you, my reader, that the 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,
“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, reverently reminding the Calvinistic reader that
those are not the words of James Arminius, but of God the Son. If ever
there is one time more than another when we have need to cry “Lord, increase
our faith” 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.