Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Zephaniah 2.1-3

Commentary on

Zephaniah 2.1-3

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

 

In this chapter we have, I. An earnest exhortation to the nation of the Jews to repent and make their peace with God, and so to prevent the judgments threatened before it was too late (Zep 2:1-3), and this inferred from the revelation of God’s wrath against them in the foregoing chapter. II. A denunciation of the judgments of God against several of the neighbouring nations that had assisted, or rejoiced in, the calamity of Israel. 1. The Philistines (Zep 2:4-7). 2. The Moabites and Ammonites (Zep 2:8-11). 3. The Ethiopians and Assyrians (Zep 2:12-15). All these shall drink of the same cup of trembling that is put into the hands of God’s people, as was also foretold by other prophets before and after.

Zephaniah 2:1-3

Here we see what the prophet meant in that terrible description of the approaching judgments which we had in the foregoing chapter. From first to last his design was, not to drive the people to despair, but to drive them to God and to their duty – not to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sins. In pursuance of that he here calls them to repentance, national repentance, as the only way to prevent national ruin. Observe,

I. The summons given them to a national assembly (Zep 2:1): Gather yourselves together. He had told them, in the last words of the foregoing chapter, that God would make a speedy riddance of all that dwelt in the land, upon which, one would think, it should follow, “Disperse yourselves, and flee for shelter where you can find a place.” When the decree had absolutely gone forth for the last destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, that was the advice given (Mat 24:16), Then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains; but here it is otherwise. God warns, that he may not wound, threatens, that he may not strike, and therefore calls to the people to use means for the turning away of his wrath. The summons is given to a nation not desired. The word signifies either, 1. Not desiring, that has not any desires towards God or the remembrance of his name, is not desirous of his favour or grace, but very indifferent to it, has no mind to repent and reform. “Yet come together, and see if you can stir up desires in one another.” Thus God is often found of those that sought him not, nor asked for him, Isa 65:1. Or, 2. Not desirable, no ways lovely, nor having any thing in them amiable, or which might recommend them to God. The land of Israel had been a pleasant land, a land of delight (Dan 11:41); but now it is unlovely, it is a nation not desired, to which God might justly say, Depart from me; but he says, “Gather together to me, and let us see if any expedient can be found out for the preventing of the ruin. Gather together, that you may in a body humble yourselves before God, may fast, and pray, and seek his face. Gather together, to consult among yourselves what is to be done in this critical juncture, that every one may consider of it, may give and take advice, and speak his mind, and that what is done may be done by consent and so may be a national act.” Some read it, “Enquire into yourselves, yea, enquire into yourselves; examine your consciences; look into your hearts; search and try your ways; enquire into yourselves, that you may find out the sin by which God has been provoked to this displeasure against you, and may find out the way of returning to him.” Note, When God is contending with us it concerns us to enquire into ourselves.

II. Arguments urged to press them to the utmost seriousness and expedition herein (Zep 2:2): “Do it in earnest; do it with all speed before it is too late, before the decree bring forth, before the day pass.” The manner of speaking here is very lively and awakening, designed to make them apprehensive, as all sinners are concerned to be, 1. That their danger is very great, that their all lies at stake, that it is a matter of life and death, which therefore well requires and well deserves the closest application of mind that can be. It is not a trifle, and therefore is not a thing to be trifled about. It is the fierce anger of the Lord that is kindled against them, and is just ready to kindle upon them, that devouring fire which none can dwell with, which none can make head against or hold up their head under. “It is the day of the Lord’s anger, the day set for the pouring out of the full vials of it, that you are threatened with, that great day of the Lord” spoken of, Zep 1:14. “Are you not concerned to prepare for that day?” 2. That it is very imminent: “Bestir yourselves now quickly, before the decree bring forth, and then it will be too late, the opportunity will be lost and never retrieved. The decree is as it were big with child, and it will bring forth the day, the terrible day, which shall pass as chaff, which shall hurry you away into captivity as chaff before the wind.” We know not what a day may bring forth (Pro 27:1), but we do know what the decree will bring forth against impenitent sinners, whom therefore it highly concerns to repent in time, in the accepted time. Note, It is the wisdom of those whom God has a controversy with to agree with him quickly, while they are in the way, before his fierce anger comes upon them, not to be turned away. In a case of this nature delays are highly dangerous and may be fatal; they will be so if by them the heart is hardened. How solicitous should we all be to make our peace with God before the Spirit withdraw from us, or cease to strive with us, before the day of grace be over or the day of life, before our everlasting state shall be determined on the other side of the great gulf fixed!

III. Directions prescribed for the doing of this effectually. It is not enough to gather together in a consternation, but they must seriously and calmly apply to the duty of the day (Zep 2:3): Seek you the Lord. That they might find mercy with God, they are here put upon seeking; for so is the rule – Seek, and you shall find. A general call was given to the whole nation to gather together, but little good is to be expected from the far greater part of them; if the land be saved, it must be by the interest and intercession of the pious few, and therefore to them the exhortation here is particularly directed. And observe, 1. How they are described – they are the meek of the earth, or of the land. It is the distinguishing character of the people of God that they are the meek ones of the earth; this is their badge; it is their livery. They are modest, and humble, and low in their own eyes; they are mild, and gentle, and yielding to others, not soon angry, not very angry, not long angry; they are the quiet in the land, Psa 35:20. And they are subject and submissive to their God, to all his precepts and all his providences. Actuated by this principle and disposition, they have wrought his judgments, that is, have obeyed his laws, observed his institutions, have made conscience of their duty to him, and have laid out themselves for the advancement of his honour and interest in the world. 2. What they are required to do; they must seek, which denotes both a careful enquiry and a constant endeavour, that they may know and do their duty. (1.) They must seek the Lord, seek his favour and grace, address him upon all occasions, ask of him what they need, seek him early, seek him diligently, and continue seeking him. (2.) They must seek righteousness. “Seek to God for the performance of his promises to you, and see to it that you abound yet more in duty to him; seek for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to you, for the graces of God’s Spirit to be implanted in you; hunger and thirst after them.” (3.) They must seek meekness. This is a grace they were so eminent for that they were denominated the meek of the land, and yet this they must seek. Note, Those that are ever so good must still strive to be better, those that have ever so much grace must be still praying and labouring for more. Nay, those that excel in any particular grace must still seek to excel yet more in that, because in that most assaults will be made upon them by their enemies, in that most is expected from them by their friends, and in that they are most apt to be themselves secure. Si dixisti, Sufficit, periistiSay but, I am all that I ought to be, and you are undone. In the difficult trying times approaching, the meek will find exercise for all the meekness they have, and all little enough, and therefore should seek it earnestly, and pray that when God in his providence gives them occasion for it he would by his grace enable them to exercise it, to show all meekness to all men, in all instances, that, as the day is, so may the strength be.

IV. Encouragements given to take these directions: It may be, you shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger. 1. “You particularly that are the meek of the earth. Though the day of the Lord’s anger do come upon the land, yet you shall be safe, you shall be taken under special protection. Verily it shall be well with thy remnant, Jer 15:11. Thy life will I give unto thee for a prey, Jer 45:5. I will deliver thee in that day, Jer 39:17. It may be, you shall be hid; if any be hid, you shall.” Good men cannot be sure of temporal preservation, for all things come alike to all, but they are most likely to be hid, and stand fairest for a distinguishing care of Providence. It is expressed thus doubtfully to try if they will trust the goodness of God’s nature, though they have but the it may be of a promise, and to keep up in them a holy fear and watchfulness lest they should seem to come short, and should do any thing to throw themselves out of the divine protection. Note, those that hold fast their integrity, in times of common iniquity, have reason to hope that God will find out a hiding-place for them, where they shall be safe and easy, in times of common calamity. They shall be hid (as Luther says) aut in coelo, aut sub coeloeither in heaven or under heaven, either in the possession of heaven or under the protection of heaven. Or, 2. “You of this nation, though it be a nation not desired, yet, in the day of the Lord’s anger with the neighbouring nations, when his judgments are abroad, you shall be hid; your land shall be preserved for the sake of those few meek ones that stand in the gap to turn away the wrath of God.” It concerns us all to make it sure to ourselves that we shall be hid in the great day of God’s wrath; and, if we hide ourselves in the chambers of duty, God will hide us in chambers of safety, Isa 26:20. If we prepare an ark, that shall be our hiding-place, Gen 7:1.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Comfort for Christians (P1 of 2)

Comfort for Christians (P1 of 2)
By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

Introduction

The work unto which the servant of Christ is called is many-sided. Not only is he to preach the Gospel to the unsaved, to feed God’s people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15), and to take up the stumbling stone out of their way (Isa 57:14), but he is also charged to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression” (Isa. 58:1 and cf. 1 Tim. 4:2). While another important part of his commission is stated in, “Comfort ye, My people, said your God” (Isa 40:1).

What an honorable title, “My people!” What an assuring relationship: “your God!” What a pleasant task: “comfort ye My people!” A threefold reason may be suggested for the duplicating of the charge. First, because sometimes the souls of believers refuse to be comforted (Psa 77:2), and the consolation needs to be repeated. Second, to press this duty the more emphatically upon the preacher’s heart, that he need not be sparing in administering cheer. Third, to assure us how heartily desirous God himself is that His people should be of good cheer (Php 4:4).

God has a “people,” the objects of His special favour: a company whom He has taken into such intimate relationship unto Himself that He calls them “My people.” Often they are disconsolate: because of their natural corruption’s, the temptations of Satan, the cruel treatment of the world, the low state of Christ’s cause upon earth. The “God of all comfort” (2Co 1:3) is very tender of them, and it is His revealed will that His servants should bind up the broken-hearted and pour the balm of Gilead into their wounds. What cause have we to exclaim “Who is a God like unto Thee!” (Mic 7:18), who has provided for the comfort of those who were rebels against His government and transgressors of His Law.

May it please Him to use His Word as expounded in this book to speak peace to afflicted souls today, and the glory shall be His alone.

—A. W. Pink, 1952

Chapter 1

No Condemnation

Rom 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”

“There is therefore now no condemnation.” The eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans concludes the first section of that wonderful epistle. Its opening word “Therefore” (“There is” is in italics, because supplied by the translators) may be viewed in a twofold way. First, it connects with all that has been said from 3:21. An inference is now deduced from the whole of the preceding discussion, an inference which was, in fact, the grand conclusion toward which the apostle had been aiming throughout the entire argument. Because Christ has been set forth “a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Rom 3:25); because He was “delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:25); because by the obedience of the One the many (believers of all ages) are “made righteous,” constituted so, legally, (Rom 5:19); because believers have “died (judicially) to sin” (Rom 6:2); because they have “died” to the condemning power of the law (Rom 7:4), there is “therefore now NO CONDEMNATION.”

But not only is the “therefore” to be viewed as a conclusion drawn from the whole of the previous discussion, it is also to be considered as having a close relation to what immediately precedes. In the second half of Romans 7 the apostle had described the painful and ceaseless conflict which is waged between the antagonistic natures in the one who has been born again, illustrating this by a reference to his own personal experiences as a Christian. Having portrayed with a master pen (himself sitting for the picture) the spiritual struggles of the child of God, the apostle now proceeds to direct attention to the Divine consolation for a condition so distressing and humiliating. The transition from the despondent tone of the seventh chapter to the triumphant language of the eighth appears startling and abrupt, yet is quite logical and natural. If it is true that to the saints of God belongs the conflict of sin and death, under whose effect they mourn, equally true is it that their deliverance from the curse and the corresponding condemnation is a victory in which they rejoice. A very striking contrast is thus pointed. In the second half of Romans 7 the apostle treats the power of sin, which operates in believers as long as they are in the world; in the opening verses of chapter eight, he speaks of the guilt of sin from which they are completely delivered the moment they are united to the Saviour by faith. Hence in 7:24 the apostle asks “Who shall deliver me” from the power of sin, but in 8:2 he says, “hath made me free,” i.e. hath delivered me, from the guilt of sin.

“There is therefore now no condemnation.” It is not here a question of our heart condemning us (as in 1Jn 3:21), nor of us finding nothing within which is worthy of condemnation; instead, it is the far more blessed fact that God condemns not the one who has trusted in Christ to the saving of his soul. We need to distinguish sharply between subjective and objective truth; between that which is judicial and that which is experimental; otherwise, we shall fail to draw form such Scriptures as the one now before us the comfort and peace they are designed to convey. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. “In Christ” is the believer’s position before God, not his condition in the flesh. “In Adam” I was condemned (Rom 5:12); but “in Christ” is to be forever freed from all condemnation.

“There is therefore now no condemnation.” The qualifying “now” implies there was a time when Christians, before they believed, were under condemnation. This was before they died with Christ, died judicially (Gal 2:20) to the penalty of God’s righteous law. This “now,” then, distinguishes between two states or conditions. By nature we were “under the (sentence of) law,” but now believers are “under grace” (Rom 6:14). By nature we were “children of wrath” (Eph 2:2), but now we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Under the first covenant we were “in Adam” (1Co 15:22), but now we are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1). As believers in Christ we have everlasting life, and because of this we “shall not come into condemnation.”

Condemnation is a word of tremendous import, and the better we understand it the more shall we appreciate the wondrous grace that has delivered us from its power. In the halls of a human court this is a term which falls with fearful knell upon the ear of the convicted criminal and fills the spectators with sadness and horror. But in the court of Divine Justice it is vested with a meaning and content infinitely more solemn and awe-inspiring. To that Court every member of Adam’s fallen race is cited. “Conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity” each one enters this world under arrest – an indicted criminal, a rebel manacled. How, then, is it possible for such a one to escape the execution of the dread sentence? There was only one way, and that was by the removal from us of that which called forth the sentence, namely sin. Let guilt be removed and there can be “no condemnation.”

Has guilt been removed, removed, we mean, from the sinner who believes? Let the Scriptures answer: “As far as the east is from the west so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:12). “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions” (Isa 43:25). “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa 38:17). “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb 10:17).

But how could guilt be removed? Only by it being transferred. Divine holiness could not ignore it; but Divine grace could and did transfer it. The sins of believers were transferred to Christ: “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). “For he hath made him to be sin for us” (2Co 5:21).

“There is therefore no condemnation.” The “no” is emphatic. It signifies there is no condemnation whatsoever. No condemnation from the law, or on account of inward corruption, or because Satan can substantiate a charge against me; there is none from any source or for any cause at all. “No condemnation” means that none at all is possible; that none ever will be. There is no condemnation because there is no accusation (Rom 8:33), and there can be no accusation because there is no imputation of sin (Rom 4:8).

“There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” When treating of the conflict between the two natures in the believer the apostle had, in the previous chapter, spoken of himself in his own person, in order to show that the highest attainments in grace do no exempt from the internal warfare which he there describes. But here in 8:1 the apostle changes the number. He does not say, There is no condemnation to me, but “to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This was most gracious of the Holy Spirit. Had the apostle spoken here in the singular number, we should have reasoned that such a blessed exemption was well suited to this honored servant of God who enjoyed such wondrous privileges; but could not apply to us. The Spirit of God, therefore, moved the apostle to employ the plural number here, to show that “no condemnation” is true of all in Christ Jesus.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” To be in Christ Jesus is to be perfectly identified with Him in the judicial reckoning and dealings of God: and it is also to be one with Him as vitally united by faith. Immunity from condemnation does not depend in any-wise upon our “walk,” but solely on our being “in Christ.” “The believer is in Christ as Noah was enclosed within the ark, with the heavens darkening above him, and the waters heaving beneath him, yet not a drop of the flood penetrating his vessel, not a blast of the storm disturbing the serenity of his spirit. The believer is in Christ as Jacob was in the garment of the elder brother when Isaac kissed and blessed him. He is in Christ as the poor homicide was within the city of refuge when pursued by the avenger of blood, but who could not overtake and slay him” (Dr. Winslow, 1857). And because he is “in Christ” there is, therefore, no condemnation for him. Hallelujah!

Chapter 2

The Christian’s Assurance

Rom 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.

How many of God’s children have, through the centuries, drawn strength and comfort from this blessed verse. In the midst of trials, perplexities, and persecutions, this has been a rock beneath their feet. Though to outward sight things seemed to work against their good, though to carnal reason things appeared to be working for their ill, nevertheless, faith knew it was for otherwise. And how great the loss to those who failed to rest upon this inspired declaration: what unnecessary fears and doubtings were the consequence.

“All things work together.” The first thought occurring to us is this: What a glorious Being our God be, who is able to make all things so work! What a frightful amount of evil there is in constant activity. What an almost infinite number of creatures there are in the world. What an incalculable quantity of opposing self-interests at work. What a vast army of rebels fighting against God. What hosts of super-human creatures over opposing the Lord. And yet, high above all, is GOD, in undisturbed calm, complete master of the situation. There, from the throne of His exalted majesty, He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). Stand in awe, then, before this One in whose sight “all nations are as nothing; and they are counted as less than nothing, and vanity ” (Isa 40:17). Bow in adoration before this “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa 57:15). Lift high your praise unto Him who from the direct evil can educe the greatest good.

“All things work.” In nature there is no such thing as a vacuum, neither is there a creature of God that fails to serve its designed purpose. Nothing is idle. Everything is energized by God so as to fulfill its intended mission. All things are laboring toward the grand end of their Creator’s pleasure: all are moved at His imperative bidding.

“All things work together.” They not only operate, they co-operate; they all act in perfect concert, though none but the anointed ear can catch the strains of their harmony. All things work together, not simply but conjointly, as adjunct causes and mutual helps. That is why afflictions seldom come solitary and alone. Cloud rises upon cloud: storm upon storm. As with Job, one messenger of woe was quickly succeeded by another, burdened with tidings of yet heavier sorrow. Nevertheless, even here faith may trace both the wisdom and love of God. It is the compounding of the ingredients in the recipe that constitutes its beneficent value. So with God: His dispensations not only “work,” but they “work together.” So recognized the sweet singer of Israel—”He drew me out of many waters” (Psa 18:16).

“All things work together for good to,” etc. These words teach believers that no matter what may be the number nor how overwhelming the character of adverse circumstances, they are all contributing to conduct them into the possession of the inheritance provided for them in heaven. How wonderful is the providence of God in over-ruling things most disorderly, and in turning to our good things which in themselves are most pernicious! We marvel at His mighty power which holds the heavenly bodies in their orbits; we wonder at the continually recurring seasons and the renewal of the earth; but this is not nearly so marvelous as His bringing good out of evil in all the complicated occurrences of human life, and making even the power and malice of Satan, with the naturally destructive tendency of his works, to minister good for His children.

“All things work together for good.” This must be so for three reasons. First, because all things are under the absolute control of the Governor of the universe. Second, because God desires our good, and nothing but our good. Third, because even Satan himself cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and then only for our further good. Not all things are good in themselves, nor in their tendencies; but God makes all things work for our good. Nothing enters our life by blind chance: nor are they any accidents. Everything is being moved by God, with this end in view, our good. Everything being subservient to God’s eternal purpose, works blessing to those marked out for conformity to the image of the Firstborn. All suffering, sorrow, loss, are used by our Father to minister to the benefit of the His elect.

“To them that love God.” This is the grand distinguishing feature of every true Christian. The reverse marks all the unregenerate. But the saints are those who love God. Their creeds may differ in minor details; their ecclesiastical relations may vary in outward form; their gifts and graces may be very unequal; yet, in this particular there is an essential unity. They all believe in Christ, they all love God. They love Him for the gift of the Saviour: they love Him as a Father in whom they may confide: they love Him for His personal excellencies – His holiness, wisdom, faithfulness. They love Him for His conduct: for what He withholds an for what He grants: for what He rebukes and for what He approves. They love Him even for the rod that disciplines, knowing that He doth all things well. There is nothing in God, and there is nothing from God, for which the saints do not love Him. And of this they are all assured, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

“To them that love God.” But, alas, how little I love God! I sofrequently mourn my lack of love, and chide myself for the coldness of my heart. Yes, there is so much love of self and love of the world, that sometimes I seriously question if I have any real love for God at all. but is not my very desire to love God a good symptom? Is not my very grief that I love Him so little a sure evidence that I do not hate Him? The presence of a hard and ungrateful heart has been mourned over by the saints of all ages. “Love to God is a heavenly aspiration, that is ever kept in check by the drag and restraint of an earthly nature; and from which we shall not be unbound till the soul has made its escape from the vile body, and cleared its unfettered way to the realm of light and liberty” (Dr. Chalmers).

“Who are called.” The word “called” is never, in the New Testament Epistles, applied to those who are the recipients of a mere external invitation of the Gospel. The term always signifies an inward and effectual call. It was a call over which we had no control, either in originating or frustrating it. So in Rom 1:6-7 and many other passages: “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called saints.” Has this call reached you, my reader? Ministers have called you: the Gospel has called you, conscience has called you: but has the Holy Spirit called you with an inward and irresistible call? Have you been spiritually called from darkness to light, from death to life, from the world to Christ, from self to God? It is a matter of the greatest moment that you should know whether you have been truly called of God. Has, then, the thrilling, life-giving music of that call sounded and reverberated through all the chambers of your soul? But how may I be sure that I have received such a call? There is one thing right here in our text which should enable you to ascertain. They who have been efficaciously called, love God. Instead of hating Him, they now esteem Him; instead of fleeing from Him in terror, they now seek Him; instead of caring not whether their conduct honored Him; their deepest desire now is to please and glorify Him.

“According to His purpose.” The call is not according to the merits of men, but according to the Divine purpose: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to this own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2Ti 1:9). The design of the Holy Spirit in bringing in this last clause is to show that the reason some men love God and others do not is to be attributed solely to the mere sovereignty of God: it is not for anything in themselves, but due alone to His distinguishing grace.

There is also a practical value in this last clause. The doctrines of grace are intended for a further purpose than that of making up a creed. One main design of them is to move the affections; and more especially to reawaken that affection to which the heart oppressed with fears, or weighed down with cares, is wholly insufficient—even the love of God. That this love may flow perennially from our hearts, there must be a constant recurring to that which inspired it and which is calculated to increase it; just as to rekindle your admiration of a beautiful scene or picture, you would return again to gaze upon it. It is on this principle that so much stress is laid in Scripture on keeping the truths which we believe in memory: “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you” (1Co 15:2). “I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance,” said the apostle (2Pe 3:1). “Do this in remembrance of me” said the Saviour. It is, then, by going back in memory to that hour when, despite our wretchedness and utter unworthiness, God called us, that our affection will be kept fresh. It is by recalling the wondrous grace that then reached out to a hell-deserving sinner and snatched you as a brand from the burning, that your heart will be drawn out in adoring gratitude. And it is by discovering this was due alone to the sovereign and eternal “purpose” of God that you were called when so many others are passed by, that your love for Him will be deepened.

Returning to the opening words of our text, we find the apostle (as voicing the normal experience of the saints) declares, “We know that all things work together for good.” It is something more than a speculative belief. That all things work together for good is even more than a fervent desire. It is not that we merely hope that all things will so work, but that we are fully assured all things do so work. The knowledge here spoken of is spiritual, not intellectual. It is a knowledge rooted in our hearts, which produces confidence in the truth of it. It is the knowledge of faith, which receives everything from the benevolent hand of Infinite Wisdom. It is true that we do not derive much comfort from this knowledge when out of fellowship with God. Nor will it sustain us when faith is not in operation. But when we are in communion with the Lord, when in our weakness we do lean hard upon Him, then is this blessed assurance ours: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa 26:3).

A striking exemplification of our text is supplied by the history of Jacob—one whom in several respects each of us closely resembles. Heavy and dark was the cloud which settled upon him. Severe was the test, and fearful the trembling of his faith. His feet were almost gone. Hear his mournful plaint: “And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” (Gen 42:36). And yet those circumstances, which to the dim eye of his faith wore a hue so somber, were at that very moment developing and perfecting the events which were to shed around the evening of his life the halo of a glorious and cloudless sunset. All things were working together for his good! And so, troubled soul, the “much tribulation” will soon be over, and as you enter the “kingdom of God” you shall then see, no longer “through a glass darkly” but in the unshadowed sunlight of the Divine presence, that “all things” did “work together” for your personal and eternal good.

Chapter 3

Sufferings Compensated

Rom 8:18  For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us

Ah, says someone, that must have been written by a man who was a stranger to suffering, or by one acquainted with nothing more trying than the milder irritations of life. Not so. These words were penned under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and by one who drank deeply of sorrow’s cup, yea, by one who suffered afflictions in their acutest forms. Hear his own testimony: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2Co 11:24-27).

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This, then was the settled conviction not of one of “fortune’s favorites,” not of one who found life’s journey a carpeted pathway, bordered with roses, but, instead, of one who was hated by his kinsmen, who was oft-times beaten black and blue, who knew what it was to be deprived not only of the comforts but the bare necessities of life. How, then shall we account for his cheery optimism? What was the secret of his elevation over his troubles and trials?

The first thing with which the sorely-tried apostle comforted himself was that the sufferings of the Christian are but of brief duration—they are limited to “this present time.” This is in sharp and solemn contrast from the sufferings of the Christ-rejector. His sufferings will be eternal: forever tormented in the Lake of Fire. But far different is it for the believer. His sufferings are restricted to this life on earth, which is compared to a flower that cometh forth and is cut down, to a shadow that fleeth and continueth not. A few short years at most, and we shall pass from this vale of tears into that blissful country where groans and sighs are never heard.

Second, the apostle looked forward with the eye of faith to “the glory.” To Paul “the glory” was something more than a beautiful dream. It was a practical reality, exerting a powerful influence upon him, consoling him in the warmest and most trying hours of adversity. This is one of the real tests of faith. The Christian has a solid support in the time of affliction, when the unbeliever has not. The child of God knows that in his Father’s presence there is “fullness of joy,” and that at His right hand there are “pleasures forever more.” And faith lays hold of them, appropriates them, and lives in the comforting cheer of them even now. Just as Israel in the wilderness were encouraged by a sight of what awaited them in the promised land (Num 13:23, Num 13:26), so, the one who today walks by faith, and not by sight, contemplates that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, but which God by His Holy Spirit hath revealed unto us (1Co 2:9-10).

Third, the apostle rejoiced in “the glory which should be revealed in us.” All that this means we are not yet capable of understanding. But more than a hint has been vouchsafed us. There will be:

1. The “glory” of a perfect body. In that day this corruption shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal, immortality. That which was sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory, and that which was sown in weakness shall be raised in power. As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (1Co 15:49). The content of these expressions is summarized and amplified in Php 3:20-21 : “For our conservation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”

2. There will be the glory of a transformed mind. “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1Co 13:12). O what an orb of intellectual light will be each glorified mind! What range of light will it encompass! What capability of understanding will it enjoy! Then will all mysteries be unraveled, all problems solved, all discrepancies reconciled. Then shall each truth of God’s revelation, each event of His providence, each decision of His government, stand yet more transparently clear and resplendent than the sun itself. Do you, in your present quest for spiritual knowledge, mourn the darkness of your mind, the weakness of your memory, the limitations of your intellectual faculties? Then rejoice in hope of the glory that is to be revealed in you—when all your intellectual powers shall be renewed, developed, perfected, so that you shall know even as you are known.

3. Best of all, there will be the glory of perfect holiness. God’s work of grace in us will then be completed. He has promised to “perfect that which concerneth us” (Psa 138:8). Then will be the consummation of purity. We have been predestinated to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29), and when we shall see Him, “we shall be like him” (1Jn 3:2). Then our minds will be no more defiled by evil imaginations, our consciences no more sullied by a sense of guilt, our affections no more ensnared by unworthy objects.

What a marvelous prospect is this! A “glory” to be revealed in me who now can scarcely reflect a solitary ray of light! In me—so wayward, so unworthy, so sinful; living so little in communion with Him who is the Father of lights! Can it be that in me this glory shall be revealed? So affirms the infallible Word of God. If I am a child of light—through being “in Him” who is the effulgence of the Father’s glory—even though now dwelling amid the world’s dark shades, one day I shall outshine the brightness of the firmament. And when the Lord Jesus returns to this earth. he shall “be admired in all them that believe” (2Th 1:10).

Finally, the apostle here weighed the “sufferings” of this present time over against the “glory” which shall be revealed in us, and as he did so he declared that the one is “not worthy to be compared” with the other. The one is transient, the other eternal. As, then, there is no proportion between the finite and the infinite, so there is no comparison between the sufferings of earth and the glory of heaven.

One second of glory will outweigh a lifetime of suffering. What were the years of toil, of sickness, of battling with poverty, of sorrow in any or every form, when compared with the glory of Immanuel’s land! One draught of the river of pleasure at God’s right hand, one breath of Paradise, one hour amid the blood-washed around the throne, shall more than compensate for all the tears and groans of earth. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” May the Holy Spirit enable both writer and reader to lay hold of this with appropriating faith and live in the present possession and enjoyment of it to the praise of the glory of Divine grace.

Chapter 4

The Great Giver

Rom 8:32  He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

The above verse supplies us with an instance of Divine logic. It contains a conclusion drawn from a premise; the premise is that God delivered up Christ for all His people, therefore everything else that is needed by them is sure to be given. There are many examples in Holy Writ of such Divine logic. “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you?” (Mat 6:30). “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat 7:11). So here in our text the reasoning is irresistible and goes straight to the understanding and heart.

Our text tells of the gracious character of our loving God as interpreted by the gift of His Son. And this, not merely for the instruction of our minds, but for the comfort and assurance of our hearts. The gift of His own Son is God’s guarantee to His people of all needed blessings. The greater includes the less; His unspeakable spiritual gift is the pledge of all needed temporal mercies. Note in our text four things:

1. The Father’s Costly Sacrifice.

This brings before us a side of the truth upon which I fear we rarely meditate. We delight to think of the wondrous love of Christ, whose love was stronger than death, and who deemed no suffering too great for His people. But what must it have meant to the heart of the Father when His Beloved left His Heavenly Home! God is love, and nothing is so sensitive as love. I do not believe that Deity is emotionless, the Stoic as represented by the Schoolmen of the middle ages. I believe the sending forth of the Son was something which the heart of the Father felt, that it was a real sacrifice on His part.

Weigh well then the solemn fact which premises the sure promise that follows: God “spared not His own Son”! Expressive, profound, melting words! Knowing full well, as He only could, all that redemption involved—the Law rigid and unbending, insisting upon perfect obedience and demanding death for its transgressors. Justice, stern and inexorable, requiring full satisfaction, refusing to “clear the guilty.” Yet God did not withhold not the only suitable Sacrifice.

God “spared not His own Son,” though knowing full well the humiliation and ignominy of Bethlehem’s manger, the ingratitude of men, the not having where to lay His head, the hatred and opposition of the ungodly, the enmity and bruising of Satan—yet He did not hesitate. God did not relax ought of the holy requirements of His throne, nor abate one whit of the awful curse. No, He “spared not His own Son.” The utmost farthing was exacted; the last dregs in the cup of wrath must be drained. Even when His Beloved cried from the Garden, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” God “spared” Him not. Even when vile hands had nailed Him to the tree, God cried “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts; smite the Shepherd” (Zec 13:7).

2. The Father’s Gracious Design.

“But delivered him up for us all.” Here we are told why the Father made such a costly sacrifice; He spared not Christ, that He might spare us! It was not want of love to the Saviour, but wondrous, matchless, fathomless love for us! O marvel at the wondrous design of the Most High. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Verily, such love passeth knowledge. Moreover, He made this costly sacrifice not grudgingly or reluctantly, but freely out of love.

Once God had said to rebellious Israel, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” (Hos 11:8). Infinitely more cause had He to say this of the Holy One, His well-beloved, the One in whom His soul daily delighted. Yet, He “delivered Him up”—to shame and spitting, to hatred and persecution, to suffering and death itself. And He delivered Him up for us—descendants of rebellious Adam, depraved and defiled, corrupt and sinful, vile and worthless! For us who had gone into the “far country” of alienation from Him, and there spent our substance in riotous living. Yes, “for us” who had gone astray like sheep, each one turning to “his own way.” For us “who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” in whom there dwelt no good thing. For us who had rebelled against our Creator, hated His holiness, despised His Word, broken His commandments, resisted His Spirit. For us who richly deserved to be cast into the everlasting burnings and receive those wages which our sins so fully earned.

Yes, for thee fellow Christian, who art sometimes tempted to interpret your afflictions as tokens of God’s hardness; who regard your poverty as a mark of His neglect, and your seasons of darkness as evidences of His desertion. O, confess to Him now the wickedness of such dishonoring doubtings, and never again question the love of Him who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.

Faithfulness demands that I should point out the qualifying pronoun in our text. It is not God “delivered him up for all,” but “for us all.” ‘This is definitely defined in the verses which immediately precede. In v. 31 Rom 8:31  the question is asked, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In v. 30 Rom 8:30 this “us” is defined as those whom God did predestinate and has “called” and “justified.” The “us” are the high favorites of heaven, the objects of sovereign grace. God’s elect. And yet in themselves they are, by nature and practice, deserving of nothing but wrath. But yet, thank God, it is “us all” —the worst as well as the best, the five-hundred-pounds-debtor equally as much as the fifty-pence-debtor.

3. The Spirit’s Blessed Inference.

Ponder well the glorious “conclusion” which the Spirit of God here draws from the wondrous fact stated in the first part of our text, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.” How conclusive and how comforting is the inspired reasoning of the apostle. Arguing from the greater to the less, He proceeds to assure the believer of God’s readiness to also freely bestow all needed blessings. The gift of His own Son, so ungrudgingly and unreservedly bestowed, is the pledge of every other needed mercy.

Here is the unfailing guaranty and talisman of perpetual reassurance to the drooping spirit of the tried believer. If God has done the greater, will He leave the less undone? Infinite love can never change. The love that spared not Christ cannot fail its objects nor begrudge any needed blessings. The sad thing is that our hearts dwell upon what we have not, instead of upon what we do have. Therefore the Spirit of God would here still our restless thoughts and quiet the ignorant discontent with a soul-satisfying knowledge of the truth; by reminding us not only of the reality of our interest in the love of God, but also of the extent of that blessing that flows from that love.

Weigh well what is involved in the logic of this verse. First, the great Gift was given unasked; will He not bestow others for the asking? None of us supplicated God to send forth His Beloved; yet He sent Him! Now, we may come to the throne of grace and there present our requests in the virtuous and all-efficacious name of Christ.

Second, the one great Gift cost Him much; will He not then bestow the lesser gifts which cost Him nothing save the delight of giving! If a friend were to give me a valuable picture, would he begrudge the necessary paper and string to wrap it in? Or if a loved one made me a present of a precious jewel, would he refuse a little box to carry it in? How much less will He who spared not His own Son, withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly.

Third, the one Gift was bestowed when we were enemies; will not then God be gracious to us now that we have been reconciled and are His friends? If He had designs of mercy for us while we were yet in our sins, how much more will He regard us favorably now that we have been cleansed from all sin by the precious blood of His Son!

4. The Comforting Promise.

Observe the tense that is used here. It is not “how has he not with him also freely given us all things,” though this is also true, for even now are we “heirs of God” (Rom 8:17). But our text goes further than this: “How shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?” The second half of this wondrous verse contains something more than a record of the past; it supplies reassuring confidence both for the present and for the future. No time-limits are to be set upon this “shall.” Both now in the present and forever and ever in the future God shall manifest Himself as the great Giver. Nothing for His glory and for our good will He withhold. The same God who delivered up Christ for us all is “without variableness or shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17).

Mark the manner in which God gives: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” God does not have to be coaxed; there is no reluctance in Him for us to overcome. He is ever more willing to give than we are to receive. Again; He is under no obligations to any; if He were, He would bestow of necessity, instead of giving “freely.” Ever remember that He has a perfect right to do with His own as He pleases. He is free to give to whom He wills.

The word “freely” not only signifies that God is under no constraint, but also means that He makes no charge for His gifts, He places no price on His blessings. God is no retailer of mercies or barterer of good things; if He were, justice would require Him to charge exactly what each blessing was worth, and then who among the children of Adam could find the wherewithal? No, blessed be His name, God’s gifts are “without money and without price” (Isa 55:1), unmerited and unearned.

Finally, rejoice over the comprehensiveness of this promise: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The Holy Spirit would here regale us with the extent of God’s wondrous grant. What is it you need, fellow Christian? Is it pardon? Then has He not said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9)? Is it grace? Then has He not said, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2Co 9:8)? Is it a “thorn in the flesh”? this too will be given “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh” (2Co 12:7). Is it rest? Then heed the Saviour’s invitation, “Come unto Me . . . and I will give you rest (Mat 11:28). Is it comfort? Is He not the God of all comfort (2Co 1:3)?

“How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Is it temporal mercies that the reader is in need of? Are your circumstances adverse so that you are filled with dismal forebodings? Does your cruse of oil and barrel of meal look as though they will soon be quite empty? Then spread your need before God, and do it in simple childlike faith. Think you that He will bestow the greater blessings of grace and deny the lesser ones of Providence? No, “My God shall supply all your need” (Phil. 4:19). True, He has not promised to give all you ask, for we often ask “amiss.” Mark the qualifying clause: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” We often desire things which would come in between us and Christ if they were granted, therefore does God in His faithfulness withholds them.

Here then are four things which should bring comfort to every renewed heart. (1) The Father’s costly sacrifice. Our God is a giving God and no good thing does He withhold from them that walk uprightly. (2) The Father’s gracious design. It was for us that Christ was delivered up; it was our highest and eternal interests that He had at heart. (3) The Spirit’s infallible inference. The greater includes the less; the unspeakable Gift guarantees the bestowment of all other needed favors. (4) The comforting promise. Its sure foundation, its present and future scope, its blessed extent, are for the assuring of our hearts and the peace of our minds. May the Lord add His blessing to this little meditation.

Chapter 5

The Divine Rememberer

Psalm 136:23  Who remembered us in our low estate: for His mercy endureth forever

“Who remembered us.” This is in striking and blessed contrast from our forgettings of Him. Like every other faculty of our beings, the memory has been affected by the Fall and bears on it the marks of depravity. This is seen from its power to retain what is worthless and the difficulty encountered to hold fast that which is good. A foolish nursery-rhyme or song heard in youth, is carried with us to the grave; a helpful sermon is forgotten within twenty-four hours! But most tragic and solemn of all is the ease with which we forget God and His countless mercies. But, blessed be His name, God never forgets us. He is the faithful Rememberer.

We were very much impressed when, on consulting the concordance, we found that the first five times the word “remember” is used in Scripture, in each case it is connected with God. “And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark” (Gen 8:1). “And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth” (Gen 9:16). “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt” (Gen 19:29), etc. The first time it is used of man we read, “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (Gen 40:23)!

The historical reference here is to the children of Israel, when they were toiling amid the brick-kilns of Egypt. Truly they were in a “low estate”: a nation of slaves, groaning beneath the lash of merciless task-masters, oppressed by a godless and heartless king. But when there was none other eye to pity, Jehovah looked upon them and heard their cries of distress. He “remembered” them in their low estate. And why? Exo 2:24-25 tells us: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto it.”

Our text is not to be limited to the literal seed of Abraham: it has reference to the whole “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). The saints of this present Day of salvation also unite in saying, “Who remembered us in our low estate.” How “low” was our “estate” by nature! As fallen creatures we lay in our misery and wretchedness, unable to deliver or help ourselves. But, in wondrous grace, God took pity on us. His strong arm reached down and rescued us. He came to where we lay, saw us, and had compassion on us (Luk 10:33). Therefore can each Christian say, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psa 40:2).

And why did He “remember” us? The very word “remember” tells of previous thoughts of love and mercy towards us. As it was with the children of Israel in Egypt, so it was with us in our ruined condition by nature. He “remembered” His covenant, that covenant into which He had entered with our Surety from everlasting. As we read in Tit 1:2 of eternal life “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world was. Promised to Christ, that He would give that eternal life to those for whom our covenant Head should transact. Yes, God “remembered” that He had “chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), therefore did He, in due time, bring us from death unto life.

Yet this blessed word goes beyond our initial experience of God’s saving grace. Historically, our text refers not only to God remembering His people while they were in Egypt, but also, as the context shows, while they were in the Wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. Israel’s experiences in the desert but foreshadow the saints’ walk through this hostile world. And Jehovah’s “remembrance” of them, manifested in the daily supply of their every need, adumbrated the rich provisions of His grace for us while we journey to our Home on High. Our present estate, here on earth, is but a lowly one, for we do not now reign as kings. Yet, is our God ever mindful of us, and hourly does He minister to us.

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Not always are we permitted to dwell upon the mount. As in the natural world, so in our experiences. Bright and sunny days give place to dark and cloudy ones: summer is followed by winter. Disappointments, losses, afflictions, bereavements came our way, and we were brought low. And ofttimes just when we seemed to most need the comfort of friends, they failed us. Those we counted on to help, forgot us. But, even then, there was One “who remembered us” and showed Himself to be “the same yesterday and today and forever,” and then did we prove afresh that “His mercy endureth forever” (1Ch 16:34)

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” There are some who may read these lines that will think of another application of these words: namely, the time when you left your first love, when your heart grew cold, and your life became worldly. When you were in a sadly back-slidden state. Then, indeed, was your estate a low one; yet even then did our faithful God “remember” thee. Yes, each of us has cause to say with the Psalmist “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psa 23:3).

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Still another application of these words may be made, namely, to the last great crisis of the saint, as he passes out of this world. As the vital spark of the body grows dim and nature fails, then too is our “estate” low. But then also the Lord remembereth us, for “His mercy endureth for ever. Man’s extremity is but God’s opportunity. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is then that he “remembers” us by making good His comforting promises, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” (Isa 41:10).

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Surely this text will furnish us with suitable words to express our thanksgiving when we are at Home, present with the Lord. How we shall then praise Him for His covenant faithfulness, His matchless grace, and His loving kindness, for having “remembered us in our low estate! Then shall we know, even as we are known. Our very memories will be renewed, perfected, and we shall remember all the way the Lord our God hath led us” (Deu 8:2), recalling with gratitude and joy His faithful remembrances, acknowledging with adoration that “His mercy endureth for ever.”

Chapter 6

Tried by Fire

Job 23:10  But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold

Job here corrects himself. In the beginning of the chapter we find him saying: “Even today is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning” (Job 23:1-2). Poor Job felt that his lot was unbearable. But he recovers himself. He checks his hasty outburst and revises his impetuous decision. How often we all have to correct ourselves! Only One has ever walked this earth who never had occasion to do so.

Job here comforts himself. He could not fathom the mysteries of Providence but God knew the way he took. Job had diligently sought the calming presence of God, but, for a time, in vain. Behold I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him. On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him” (vv. 8, 9). But he consoled himself with this blessed fact—though I cannot see God, what is a thousand times better, He can see me—”He knoweth.” One above is neither unmindful nor indifferent to our lot. If He notices the fall of a sparrow, if He counts the hairs of our heads, of course “He knows” the way that I take.

Job here enunciates a noble view of life. How splendidly optimistic he was! He did not allow his afflictions to turn him into a skeptic. He did not permit the sore trials and troubles through which he was passing to overwhelm him. He looked at the bright side of the dark cloud—God’s side, hidden from sense and reason. He took a long view of life. He looked beyond the immediate ‘fiery trials” and said that the outcome would be gold refined. “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Three great truths are expressed here: let us briefly consider each separately.

1. The Divine Knowledge of My Life.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” The omniscience of God is one of the wondrous attributes of Deity. “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings” (Job 34:21). “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Pro 15:3). Spurgeon said, “One of the greatest tests of experimental religion is, What is my relationship to God’s omniscience?” What is your relationship to it, dear reader? How does it affect you? Does it distress or comfort you? Do you shrink from the thought of God knowing all about your way? perhaps, a lying, selfish, hypocritical way! To the sinner this is a terrible thought. He denies it, or if not, he seeks to forget it. But to the Christian, here is real comfort. How cheering to remember that my Father knows all about my trials, my difficulties, my sorrows, my efforts to glorify Him. Precious truth for those in Christ, harrowing thought for all out of Christ, that the way I am taking is fully known to and observed by God.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” Men did not know the way that Job took. He was grievously misunderstood, and for one with a sensitive temperament to be misunderstood, is a sore trial. His very friends thought he was a hypocrite. They believed he was a great sinner and being punished by God. Job knew that he was an unworthy saint, but not a hypocrite. He appealed against their censorious verdict. “He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Here is instruction for us when like circumstanced. Fellow-believer, your fellow-men, yes, and your fellow Christians, may misunderstand you, and misinterpret God’s dealings with you: but console yourself with the blessed fact that the omniscient One knows.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” In the fullest sense of the word Job himself did not know the way that he took, nor do any of us. Life is profoundly mysterious, and the passing of the years offer no solution. Nor does philosophizing help us. Human volition is a strange enigma. Consciousness bears witness that we are more than automatons. The power of choice is exercised by us in every move we make. And yet it is plain that our freedom is not absolute. There are forces brought to bear upon us, both good and evil, which are beyond our power to resist. Both heredity and environment exercise powerful influences upon us. Our surroundings and circumstances are factors which cannot be ignored. And what of providence which “shapes our destinies”? Ah, how little do we know the way which we “take.” Said the prophet, “O Lord I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jer 10:23). Here we enter the realm of mystery, and it is idle to deny it. Better far to acknowledge with the wise man, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Pro 20:24).

In the narrower sense of the term Job did know the way which he took. What that “way” was he tells us in the next two verses. “My foot hath held his steps. his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:11-12). The way Job chose was the best way, the scriptural way, God’s way—”His way.” What do you think of that way, dear reader? Was it not a grand selection? Ah, not only “patient,” but wise Job! Have you made a similar choice? Can you say, My foot hath held his steps. his way have I kept, and not declined?” (Job 23:11). If you can, praise Him for His enabling grace. If you cannot, confess with shame your failure to appropriate His all-sufficient grace. Get down on your knees at once, and unbosom yourself to God. Hide and keep back nothing. Remember it is written “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). Does not Job 23:2 verse 12 explain your failure, my failure, dear reader? Is it not because we have not trembled before God’s commandments, and because we have so lightly esteemed His Word, that we have “declined” from His way! Then let us, even now, and daily, seek grace from on high to heed His commandments and hide His Word in our hearts.

“He knoweth the way that I take.” Which way are you taking?—the Narrow Way which leadeth unto life, or ‘the Broad Road that leadeth to destruction? Make certain on this point, dear friend. Scripture declares, “So every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12). But you need not be deceived or uncertain. The Lord declared, “I am The Way” (Joh 14:6).

2. Divine Testing

“When he hath tried me.” “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts” (Pro 17:3). This was God’s way with Israel of old, and it is His way with Christians now. Just before Israel entered Canaan, as Moses reviewed their history since leaving Egypt, he said, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, and to know what as in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no” (Deu 8:2). In the same way God tries, tests, proves, humbles us.

“When he hath tried me.” If we realized this more, we should bear up better in the hour of affliction and be more patient under suffering. The daily irritations of life, the things which annoy so much—what is their meaning? why are they permitted? Here is the answer: God is “trying” you! That is the explanation (in part, at least) of that disappointment, that crushing of your earthly hopes, that great loss; God was, is, testing you. God is trying your temper, your courage, your faith, your patience, your love, your fidelity.

“When he hath tried me.” How frequently God’s saints see only Satan as the cause of their troubles. They regard the great enemy as responsible for much of their sufferings. But there is no comfort for the heart in this. We do not deny that the Devil does bring about much that harasses us. But above Satan is the Lord Almighty! The Devil cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and when he is allowed to disturb and distract us, even then it is only God using him to “try” us. Let us learn then, to look beyond all secondary causes and instruments to that One who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). This is what Job did.

In the opening chapter of the book which bears his name we find Satan obtaining permission to afflict God’s servant. He used the Sabeans to destroy Job ‘s herds (Job 1:15): he sent the Chaldeans to slay his servants (Job 1:17 ): he caused a great wind to kill his children (v. 19). And what was Job’s response? This: he exclaimed “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job looked beyond the human agents, beyond Satan who employed them, to the Lord who controls all. He realized that it was the Lord trying him. We get the same thing in the New Testament. To the suffering saints at Smyrna John wrote, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried” (Rev 2:10). Their being cast into prison was simply God trying them.

How much we lose by forgetting this! What a stay for the trouble-tossed heart to know that no matter what form the testing may take, no matter what the agent which annoys, it is God who is “trying” His children. What a perfect example the Saviour sets us. When He was approached in the garden and Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the Saviour said, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Joh 18:11). Men were about to vent their awful rage upon Him, the Serpent would bruise His heel, but He looks above and beyond them. Dear reader, no matter how bitter its contents, (infinitely less than that which the Saviour drained) let us accept the cup as from the Father’s hand.

In some moods we are apt to question the wisdom and right of God to try us. So often we murmur at His dispensations. Why should God lay such an intolerable burden upon me? Why should others be spared their loved ones, and mine taken? Why should health and strength, perhaps the gift of sight, be denied me? The first answer to all such questions is, “O man, who art thou that repliest against God?”! It is wicked insubordination for any creature to call into question the dealings of the great Creator. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). How earnestly each of us need to cry unto God, that His grace may silence our rebellious lips and still the tempest within our desperately wicked hearts!

But to the humble soul which bows in submission before the sovereign dispensations of the all-wise God, Scripture affords some light on the problem. This light may not satisfy reason, but it will bring comfort and strength when received in child-like faith and simplicity. In 1Pe 1:6 we read; “Wherein (God’s salvation) ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (or trials): That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Note three things here. First, there is a needs-be for the trial of faith. Since God says it, let us accept it. Second, this trying of faith is precious, far more so than of gold. It is precious to God (cf. Psa 116:15) and will yet be so to us. Third, the present trial has in view the future. Where the trial has been meekly endured and bravely borne, there will be a grand reward at the appearing of our Redeemer.

Again, in 1Pe 4:12-13 we are told: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings: that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” The same thoughts are expressed here as in the previous passage. There is a needs-be for our “trials” and therefore we are to think them not strange—we should expect them. And, too, there is again the blessed outlook of being richly recompensed at Christ’s return. Then there is the added word that not only should we meet these trials with faith’s fortitude, but we should rejoice in them, inasmuch as we are permitted to have fellowship in “the sufferings of Christ.” He, too, suffered: sufficient then, for the disciple to be as his Master.

“When he hath tried me.” Dear Christian reader, there are no exceptions. God had only one Son without sin, but never one without sorrow. Sooner or later, in one form or another, trial-sore and heavy—will be our lot. “And sent Timotheus our brother . . . to establish you, and comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1Th 3:2-3). And again it is written, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). It has been so in every age. Abram was “tried,” tried severely. So, too, were Joseph, Jacob. Moses, David, Daniel, the Apostles, etc.

3. The Ultimate Issue

“I shall come forth as gold.” Observe the tense here. Job did not imagine that he was pure gold already. “I shall come forth as gold,” he declared. He knew full well that there was yet much dross in him. He did not boast that he was already perfect. Far from it. In the final chapter of his book we find him saying, “I abhor myself” (Job 42:6). And well he might: and well may we. As we discover that in our flesh there dwelleth “no good thing,” as we examine ourselves and our ways in the light of God’s Word and behold our innumerable failures, as we think of our countless sins, both of omission and commission, good reason have we for abhoring ourselves. Ah, Christian reader, there is much dross about us. But it will not ever be thus.

“I shall come forth as gold.” Job did not say, “When he hath tried me I may come forth as gold,” or “I hope to come forth as gold,” but with full confidence and positive assurance he declared, “I shall come forth as gold.” But how did he know this? How can we be sure of the happy issue? Because the Divine purpose cannot fail. He which hath begun a good work in us “will finish it” (Php 1:6).How can we be sure of the happy issue? Because the Divine promise is sure: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psa 138:8). Then be of good cheer, tried and troubled one. The process may be unpleasant and painful, but the issue is charming and sure.

“I shall come forth as gold.” This was said by one who knew affliction and sorrow as few among the sons of men have known them. Yet despite his fiery trials he was optimistic. Let then this triumphant language be ours. “I shall come forth as gold” is not the language of carnal boasting, but the confidence of one whose mind was stayed upon God. There will be no credit to our account—the glory will all belong to the Divine Refiner (Jas 1:12).

For the present there remain two things: first, Love is the Divine thermometer while we are in the crucible of testing—”And he shall sit (the patience of Divine grace) as a Refiner and Purifier of silver,” etc. (Mal 3:3). Second, the Lord Himself is with us in the fiery furnace, as He was with the three young Hebrews (Dan 3:25). For the future this is sure: the most wonderful thing in heaven will not be the golden street or the golden harps, but golden souls on which is stamped the image of God—”predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son!” Praise God for such a glorious prospect, such a victorious issue, such a marvelous goal.

Chapter 7

Divine Chastisement

Hebrews 12:5  Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou are rebuked of him

It is of first importance that we learn to draw a sharp distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement: important for maintaining the honour and glory of God, and for the peace of mind of the Christian. The distinction is very simple, yet is it often lost sight of. God’s people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins, for God has already punished them at the Cross. The Lord Jesus, our Blessed Substitute, suffered the full penalty of all our guilt, hence it is written “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jn 1:7). Neither the justice nor the love of God will permit Him to again exact payment of what Christ discharged to the full. The difference between punishment and chastisement lies not in the nature of the sufferings of the afflicted: it is most important to bear this in mind. There is a threefold distinction between the two. First, the character in which God acts. In the former God acts as Judge, in the latter as Father. Sentence of punishment is the act of a judge, a penal sentence passed on those charged with guilt. Punishment can never fall upon the child of God in this judicial sense because his guilt was all transferred to Christ: “Who his own self bear our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pe 2:24)

But while the believer’s sins cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned (Rom 8:3), yet he may be chastised. The Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he is a member of the Family of God. The relationship which now exists between him and God is that of parent and child; and as a son he must be disciplined for wrongdoing. Folly is bound up in the hearts of all God’s children, and the rod is necessary to rebuke, to subdue, to humble.

The second distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement lies in the recipients of each. The objects of the former are His enemies. The subjects of the latter are His children. As the Judge of all the earth, God will yet take vengeance on all His foes. As the Father of His family, God maintains discipline over all His children. The one is judicial, the other parental.

A third distinction is seen in The design of each: the one is retributive, the other remedial. The one flows from His anger, the other from His love. Divine punishment is never sent for the good of sinners, but for the honoring of God’s law and the vindicating of His government. But Divine chastisement is sent for the well-being of His children: “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Heb 12:9-10).

The above distinction should at once rebuke the thoughts which are so generally entertained among Christians. When the believer is smarting under the rod let him not say, God is now punishing me for my sins. That can never be. That is most dishonoring to the blood of Christ. God is correcting thee in love, not smiting in wrath. Nor should the Christian regard the chastening of the Lord as a sort of necessary evil to which he must bow as submissively as possible. No, it proceeds from God’s goodness and faithfulness, and is one of the greatest blessings for which we have to thank Him. Chastisement evidences our Divine son-ship: the father of a family does not concern himself with those on the outside: but those within he guides and disciplines to make them conform to his will. Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests. Look beyond the rod to the All-wise hand that wields it!

The Hebrew Christians to whom this Epistle was first addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably were they conducting themselves. They were the little remnant out of the Jewish nation who had believed on their Messiah during the days of His public ministry, plus those Jews who had been converted under the preaching of the apostles. It is highly probable that they had expected the Messianic Kingdom would at once be set up on earth and that they would be allotted the chief places of honour in it. But the Millennium had not begun, and their own lot became increasingly bitter. They were not only hated by the Gentiles, but ostracized by their unbelieving brethren, and it became a hard matter for them to make even a bare living. Providence held a frowning face. Many who had made a profession of Christianity had gone back to Judaism and were prospering temporally. As the afflictions of the believing Jews increased, they too were sorely tempted to turn their back upon the new Faith. Had they been wrong in embracing Christianity? Was high Heaven displeased because they had identified themselves with Jesus of Nazareth? Did not their suffering go to show that God no longer regarded them with favour?

Now it is most instructive and blessed to see how the Apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their own Scriptures! He reminded them of an exhortation Found in Pro 3:11-12, and applied it to their case. Notice, first, the words we place in italics: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you. This shows that the exhortations of the Old Testament were not restricted to those who lived under the old covenant: they apply with equal force and directness to those of us living under the new covenant. Let us not forget that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2Ti 3:16) The Old Testament equally as much as the New Testament was written for our learning and admonition. Second, mark the tense of the verb in our opening text: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh.” The Apostle quoted a sentence of the Word written one thousand years previously, yet he does not say “which hath spoken,” but “which speaketh.” The same principle is illustrated in that sevenfold “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith (not “said”) unto the churches” of Rev. 2 and 3. The Holy Scriptures are a living Word in which God is speaking today!

Consider now the words “Ye have forgotten.” It was not that these Hebrew Christians were unacquainted with Pro 3:11-12, but they had let them slip. They had forgotten the Fatherhood of God and their relation of Him as His dear children. In consequence they misinterpreted both the manner and design of God’s present dealings with them, they viewed His dispensation not in the light of His Love, but regarded them as signs of His displeasure or as proofs of His forgetfulness. Consequently, instead of cheerful submission, there was despondency and despair. Here is a most important lesson for us: we must interpret the mysterious providences of God not by reason or observation, but by the Word. How often we “forget” the exhortation which speaketh unto us as unto children: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.”

“Unhappily there is no word in the English language which is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here. “Paideia” which is rendered “chastening” is only another form of “paidion” which signifies “young children,” being the tender word that was employed by the Saviour in Joh 21:5 and Heb 2:13. One can see at a glance the direct connection which exists between the words “disciple” and “discipline”: equally close in the Greek is the relation between “children” and “chastening.” Son-training would be better. It has reference to God’s education, nurture and discipline of His children. It is the Father’s wise and loving correction.

Much chastisement comes by the rod in the hand of the Father correcting His erring child. But it is a serious mistake to confine our thoughts to this one aspect of the subject. Chastisement is by no means always the scourging of His refractive sons. Some of the saintliest of God’s people, some of the most obedient of His children, have been and are the greatest sufferers. Oftentimes God’s chastenings instead of being retributive are corrective. They are sent to empty us of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness: they are given to discover to us hidden transgressions, and to teach us the plague of our own hearts. Or again, chastisements are sent to strengthen our faith, to raise us to higher levels of experience, to bring us into a condition of usefulness. Still again, Divine chastisement is sent as a preventative, to keep under pride, to save us from being unduly elated over success in God’s service. Let us consider, briefly, four entirely different examples.

David. In his case the rod was laid upon him for grievous sins, for open wickedness. His fall was occasioned by self-confidence and self-righteousness. If the reader will diligently compare the two Songs of David recorded in 2 Samuel 22 and 23, the one written near the beginning of his life, the other near the end, he will be struck by the great difference of spirit manifested by the writer in each. Read 2Sa 22:22-25 and you will not be surprised that God suffered him to have such a fall. Then turn to chapter 23, and mark the blessed change. At the beginning of 2Sa 23:5 there is a heart-broken confession of failure. In 2Sa 23:10-12 there is a God-glorifying confession, attributing victory unto the Lord. The severe scourging of David was not in vain.

Job. Probably he tasted of every kind of suffering which falls to man’s lot: family bereavements, loss of property, grievous bodily afflictions came fast, one on top of another. But God’s end in it all was that Job should benefit therefrom and be a greater partaker of His holiness. There was not a little of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness in Job at the beginning. But at the end, when He was brought face to face with the thrice Holy One, he “abhorred himself” (Job 42:6). In David’s case the chastisement was retributive, in Job’s corrective.

Abraham. In him we see an illustration of an entirely different aspect of chastening. Most of the trials to which he was subjected were neither because of open sins nor for the correction of inward faults. Rather were they sent for the developmen of spiritual graces. Abraham was sorely tried in various ways, but it was in order that faith might be strengthened and that patience might have its perfect work in him. Abraham was weaned from the things of this world, that he might enjoy closer fellowship with Jehovah and become the “friend” of God.

Paul. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2Co 12:7). This “thorn” was sent not because of failure and sin, but as a preventative against pride. Note the “lest” both at the beginning and end of the verse. The result of this “thorn” was that the beloved apostle was made more conscious of his weakness. Thus, chastisement has for one of its main objects the breaking down of self-sufficiency, the bringing us to the end of our selves.

Now in view of these widely different aspects chastenings (retributive, corrective, educative, and preventative), how incompetent are we to diagnose, and how great is the folly of pronouncing a judgment concerning others! Let us not conclude when we see a fellow-Christian under the rod of God that he is necessarily being taken to task for his sins. In our next meditation we shall consider the spirit in which Divine chastisements are to be received.

AW Pink (1886-1952): Comfort for Christians (P2 of 2)

Comfort for Christians (P2 of 2)
By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

Chapter 8

Receiving Divine Chastisement

Hebrews 12:5  My Son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him

Not all chastisement is sanctified to the recipients of it. Some are hardened thereby; others are crushed beneath it. Much depends on the spirit in which afflictions are received. There is no virtue in trials and troubles in themselves: it is only as they are blest by God that the Christian is profited thereby. As Heb 12:11 informs us, it is those who are “exercised” under God’s rod that bring forth “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” A sensitive conscience and a tender heart are the needed adjuncts.

In our text the Christian is warned against two entirely different dangers: despise not, despair not. These are two extremes against which it is ever necessary to keep a sharp look-out. Just as every truth of Scripture has its balancing counterpart, so has every evil its opposite. On the one hand there is a haughty spirit which laughs at the rod, a stubborn will which refuses to be humbled thereby. On the other hand, there is a fainting which utterly sinks beneath it and gives way to despair. Spurgeon said, “The way of righteousness is a difficult pass between two mountains of error, and the great secret of the Christian’s life is to wind his way along the narrow valley.”

1. Despising the Rod.

There are a number of ways in which Christians may “despise” God’s chastenings. We mention four of them:

a. By callousness. To be stoical is the policy of carnal wisdom: make the best of a bad job. The man of the world knows no better plan than to grit his teeth and brave things out. Having no Divine Comforter, Counselor or Physician, he has to fall back on his own poor resources. It is inexpressibly sad when we see a child of God conducting himself as does a child of the Devil. For a Christian to defy adversities is to “despise” chastisement. Instead of hardening himself to endure stoically, there should be a melting of the heart.

b. By complaining. This is what the Hebrews did in the wilderness; and there are still many mumurers in Israel’s camp. A little sickness, and we become so cross that our friends are afraid to come near us. A few days in bed, and we fret and fume like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. We peevishly ask, Why this affliction? What have I done to deserve it? We look around with envious eyes, and are discontented because others are carrying a lighter load. Beware, my reader: it goes hard with murmurers. God always chastises twice if we are not humbled by the first. Remind yourself of how much dross there yet is among the gold. View the corruptions of your own heart, and marvel that God has not smitten you twice as severely. “My Son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.”

c. By criticisms. How often we question the usefulness of chastisement. As Christians we seem to have little more spiritual good sense than we had natural wisdom as children. As boys we thought that the rod was the least necessary thing in the home. It is so with the children of God. When things go as we like them, when some unexpected temporal blessing is bestowed, we have no difficulty in ascribing all to a kind Providence. But when our plans are thwarted, when losses are ours, it is very different. Yet, is it not written, “I form the light and create darkness. I make; peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isa 45:7)?

How often is the thing formed ready to complain, “Why hast thou made me thus?” We say, I cannot see how this can possibly profit my soul. If I had better health I could attend the house of prayer more frequently! If I had been spared those losses in business I would have more money for the Lord’s work! What good can possibly come of this calamity? Like Jacob, we exclaim: “All these things are against me. What is this but to “despise” the rod? Shall thy ignorance challenge God’s wisdom? Shall thy shortsightedness arraign omniscience?

d. By carelessness. So many fail to mend their ways. The exhortation of our text is much needed by all of us. There are many who have “despised” the rod, and in consequence they have not profited thereby. Many a Christian has been corrected by God, but in vain. Sickness, reverses, bereavements have come, but they have not been sanctified by prayerful self-examination.

O brethren and sisters, take heed. If God be chastening thee “consider your ways (Hag 1:5), “ponder the path of thy feet” (Pro 4:26). Be assured that there is some reason for the chastening. Many a Christian would not have been chastised half so severely had he diligently inquired the cause of it.

2. Fainting Under It.

Having been warned against “despising” the rod, now we are admonished not to give way to despair under it. There are at least three ways in which the Christian may “faint” beneath the Lord’s rebukes:

a. When he gives up all exertion. This is done when we sink down in despondency. The smitten one concludes that it is more than he can possibly endure. His heart fails him; darkness swallows him up; the sun of hope is eclipsed, and the voice of thanksgiving is silent. To “faint” means rendering ourselves unfit for the discharge of our duties. When a person faints, he is rendered motionless. How many Christians are ready to completely give up the fight when adversity enters their life. How many are rendered quite inert when trouble comes their way. How many, by their attitude, say, God’s hand is heavy upon me: I can do nothing. Ah, beloved, “sorrow not, even as others which have no hope’’ (1Th 4:13) . ‘‘Faint not when thou art rebuked of Him.” Go to the Lord about it: recognize His hand in it. Remember thine afflictions are among the “all things” which work together for good.

b. When he questions his sonship. There are not a few Christians who, when the rod descends upon them, conclude that they are not sons of God after all. They forget that it is written “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psa 34:19), and that “we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). One says, “But if I were His child I should not be in this poverty, misery, pain.” Listen to Heb 12:8: “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Learn, then, to look upon trials as proofs of God’s love purging, pruning, purifying thee. The father of a family does not concern himself much about those on the outside of his household: it is they who are within whom he guards and guides, nurtures and conforms to his will. So it is with God.

c. When he despairs. Some indulge the fancy that they will never get out of their trouble. One says, I have prayed and prayed, but the clouds have not lifted. Then comfort yourself with this reflection: It is always the darkest hour that precedes the dawn. Therefore, “faint not” when thou art rebuked of Him. But, says another, I have pleaded His promise, and things are no better. I thought He delivered those who called upon Him; I have called, and He has not answered, and I fear He never will. What, child of God, speak of thy Father thus! You say He will never leave off smiting because He has smitten so long. Rather say He has now smitten so long I must soon be delivered. Despise not: faint not. May Divine grace preserve both writer and reader from either sinful extreme.

Chapter 9

God’s Inheritance

Deuteronomy 32:9  For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance

This verse brings before us a most blessed and wonderful line of truth, so wonderful that no human mind could possibly have invented it. It speaks of the mighty God having an “inheritance,” and it tells us that this inheritance is in His own people! God refused to take this world for His inheritance—it will yet be burnt up. Nor did heaven, peopled with angels, satisfy His heart. In eternity past Jehovah said, by way of anticipation, “My delights were with the sons of men” (Pro 8:31).

This is by no means the only scripture which teaches that God’s inheritance is in His saints. In Psa 135:4 we read, “For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure.” In Mal 3:17 the Lord speaks of His people as His “special treasure” (see margin)—so “special” that the highest manifestations of His love are made to them, the richest gifts of His hand are bestowed on them, the mansions on High are prepared and reserved for them!

The same wondrous truth is taught in the New Testament. In Ephesians 1 we behold the apostle Paul praying that God would give unto His people the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of their understanding being enlightened that they might know “what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). This is a truly amazing expression; not only do the saints obtain an inheritance in God, but He also secures an inheritance in them! How overwhelming the thought that the great God should deem Himself the richer because of our faith, our love and worship! Surely this is one of the most marvelous truths revealed in Holy Writ—that God should pick up poor sinners and make them His “inheritance”! Yet so it is.

But what need has God of us? How can we possibly enrich Him? Does He not have everything—wisdom, power, grace and glory? All true, yet there is something that He needs, yes, needs, namely, vessels. Just as the sun needs the earth to shine upon, so God needs vessels to fill, vessels through which His glory may be reflected, vessels on which the riches of His grace may be lavished.

Mark that God’s people are not only called His “portion,” His “special treasure,” but also His “inheritance.” This suggests three things. First, an “inheritance is obtained through death: so God’s inheritance is secured to Him through the death of His beloved Son. Second, an “inheritance” denotes perpetuity—”to a man and his heirs forever” are the terms often used. Third, an “inheritance” is for possession, it is something which is entered into, lived upon, enjoyed. Let us now consider five things about God’s inheritance:

1. God purposed to have such an inheritance: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance” (Psa 33:12). The “nation” here is identical with the holy nation,” the “chosen generation, royal priesthood, peculiar people” of 1Pe 2:9. This favored people was chosen by God to be His inheritance: it was not an afterthought with Him, but decreed by Him in eternity past. Ere the foundation of the world God fixed His heart upon having them for Himself.

2. God has purchased His people for an inheritance. In Eph 1:14 we are told that the Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.” So again in Acts 20:28 we read of “the Church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.” God has not only redeemed His people from bondage and death but for Himself.

3. God comes and dwells in the midst of His inheritance: “For the Lord will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance” (Psa 94:14) —a clear proof that these scriptures are not referring to the nation of Israel after the flesh. Just as Jehovah tabernacled in the midst of the redeemed Hebrews, so He now indwells His church, both collectively and individually. “Know ye not that ye (plural) are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1Co 3:16). “Know ye not that your body (singular) is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1Co 6:19).

4. God beautifies His inheritance: Just as a man who has inherited a house or an estate takes possession of it and then makes improvements, so God is now fitting His people for Himself. He who has begun a good work within His own is now performing it until the day of Jesus Christ (Php 1:6). He is now conforming us to the image of His Son: each Christian can say with the Psalmist, “the Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psa 138:8). Nor will God be satisfied until we have been glorified. The Lord Jesus Christ “shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Php 3:21). “When he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1Jn 3:2).

5. And what of the future? God will yet possess, live upon, enjoy His inheritance. In the unending ages yet to be, God will make known the “riches of his glory” on the vessels of His mercy (Rom 9:23). The glory which God shall ever live upon—as upon an inheritance—shall rise out of His people. What a marvelous statement is that which is found at the close of Ephesians 2, where the saints are likened unto a building “fitly framed together (which) groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord,” of whom it is said, “in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

A. wonderful and glorious is the picture presented before us in Revelation 21: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing; and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev 21:1-3).

What a marvelous statement is that in Zep 3:17: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” The great God will yet say, “I am satisfied: here will I rest. This is Mine inheritance that I will live upon forever, even the glory which I have bestowed on redeemed sinners.” Surely we have to say with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psa 139:6). May Divine grace enable us to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.

Chapter 10

God’s Securing His Inheritance

Deuteronomy 32:10  He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about. He instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye

In the previous verse we have the amazing statement that the Lord’s “portion” is His people, and that there may be no misunderstanding, the same truth is expressed in another form: “Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” Here in our text we learn something of the pains which God takes to secure His heritage. There are four things to be noted and feasted upon.

1. Jehovah Finding His People.

“He found him in a desert land.” It needs hardly to be said that the word “found” necessarily implies a “search.” Here then we have presented to our view the amazing spectacle of a seeking God! Sin came in between the creature and the Creator, causing alienation and separation. Not only so, but, as the result of the Fall, every human being enters this world with a mind that is “enmity against God.” Consequently, there is none that seeketh after God. Therefore, God, in His marvelous condescension and grace, becomes the Seeker.

The word “found” not only implies a search but, when we consider the sinful character and unworthiness of the objects of His search, it also tells of the love of the Seeker. The great God becomes the Seeker because He set His heart upon those whom He marked out to be the recipients of His sovereign favors. God had set His heart upon Abraham, and therefore did He seek and find him amid the heathen idolators in Ur of Chaldea. God set His heart upon Jacob, and therefore did He seek out and find him as a fugitive from his brother’s vengeance, when he lay asleep on the bare earth. So too it was because He had loved Moses with an everlasting love that the Lord sought out and found him in Midian, at “the backside of the desert.” Equally true is this with every real Christian living in the world today: “I was found of them that sought me not; I was manifest unto them that asked not after me (Rom 10:20).

Has God “found” you? To help you answer this question, ponder the remainder of the first clause of our text: “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness.” Is that how this world appears unto you? Do you find everything under the sun only “vanity and vexation of spirit”? Are you made to groan daily at what you witness on every hand? Do you find that the world furnishes nothing to satisfy the heart, yea nothing to even minister to it? Is the world, really, a “waste howling wilderness” to you?

Let a second test be applied: when God truly “finds” one of His own He reveals Himself. He imparts to the soul a realization of His sovereign majesty, His awe-some power, His ineffable holiness, His wondrous mercy. Has He thus made Himself known unto you? Has He given you, in any measure, a vision of His Divine glory, His sovereign grace, His wondrous love? Has He? “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the 0ne true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (Joh 17:3).

Here is a third test: If God has revealed Himself, He has given you a sight of yourself, for in His light we “see light.” A most humbling, painful, and never-to-be-forgotten experience this is. When God was revealed to Abraham, he said, “I am but dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27). When He was revealed to Isaiah, the prophet said, “Woe is me for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5). When God revealed Him-self to Job, he said, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6)—note, not merely I abhor my wicked ways, but my vile self. Is this your experience, my reader? Have you discovered your depravity and lost condition? Have you found there is not a single good thing in you? Have you seen yourself to be fit for and deserving only of hell? Have you, truly? Then that is good evidence, yea, it is proof positive that the Lord God has “found” you.

2. Jehovah Leading His People.

“He led him about.” The “finding” is not the end, but only the beginning of God’s dealings with His own. Having found him, He remains never more to leave him. Now that He has found His wandering child He teaches him to walk in the Narrow Way. There is a beautiful word on God “leading” in Hos 11:3: “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms. Just as a fond mother takes her little one, whose feet are yet too weak and untrained to walk alone, so the Lord takes His people by their arms and leads them in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Such is His promise: “He will keep the feet of His saints” (1Sa 2:9). There is a threefold “leading” of the Lord:

Evangelical.—The Lord Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). But again He said, ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” Joh 6:44). Here then is how God leads: He leads the poor sinner to Christ. Have you, my reader, been brought to the Saviour? Is Christ your only hope? Are you trusting in the sufficiency of His precious blood? If so, what cause have you to praise God for having led you to His blessed Son!

Doctrinal.—The Lord Jesus declared, “When He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all the truth” Joh 16:13). We are not capable of discovering or entering into the Truth of ourselves, therefore do we have to be guided into it. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom 8:14). It is He who makes us to lie down in the “green pastures of Scripture and who leads us beside the “still waters” of His promises. How thankful we ought to be for every ray of light which has been granted us from the lamp of God’s Word.

Providential.—“Thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to show them light, and the way wherein they should go” (Neh 9:19). Just as Jehovah led Israel of old, so today He leads us step by step through this wilderness-world. What a mercy this is. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delighteth in his way” (Psa 37:23). Yes, every detail of our lives is regulated by the Most High.

All my times are in Thy hand,
All events at Thy command,
All must come and last and end,
As doth please our Heavenly Friend.

3. God Instructing His People.

“He instructed him.” So He does us. It was to instruct us that God, in His great mercy, gave us the Scriptures. He has not left us to grope our way in darkness, but has provided us with a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Nor are we left to our own unaided powers in the study of the Word. We are supplied with an infallible Instructor. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things . . . the anointing ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you” (1Jn 2:20, 1Jn 2:27).

Right views of God’s truth are not an intellectual attainment, but a blessing bestowed upon us by God. It is written, “a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (Joh 3:27). No matter how legibly a letter may be written, if the recipient be blind he cannot read it. So we are told, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co 2:14). And spiritual discernment is imparted only by the Holy Spirit.

“He instructed him.” How patiently God bears with our dullness! How graciously He repeats “line upon line and precept upon precept”! (Isa 28:10) Yet slow as we are, He perseveres with us, for He has promised to perfect that which concerns us (Psa 138:8). Has He “instructed” you, my reader? Has He taught you the total depravity of man and the utter inability of the sinner to deliver himself? Has He taught you the humbling truth “Ye must be born again,” and that regeneration is the sole work of God—man having no part or hand in it (Joh 1:13). Has He revealed to you the infinite value and sufficiency of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, that His blood cleanses “from all sin”? Then what cause you have to be thankful for such Divine instruction.

4. God Preserving His People.

“He kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deu 32:10) A religion of conditions, contingencies, and uncertainties is not Christianity—its technical name is Arminianism, and Arminianism is a daughter of Rome. It is that God dishonoring, Scripture-repudiating, soul-destroying system of Popery—whose father is the Devil—which prates about human merit, creature-ability, works of supererogation and a lot more blasphemous rubbish, and leaves its blinded dupes in the fogs and bogs of uncertainty. Christianity deals with certainties which originated in the purpose and love of an unchanging God, who when He begins a good work always completes it.

“For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved forever (Psa 37:28). How blessed is this! Did Jehovah “forsake” Noah when he got drunk? No, indeed. Did He “forsake” Abraham when he lied to Abimelech? No, indeed. Did He “forsake” Moses for smiting the rock in anger? No, indeed, as His appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration abundantly proves. Did He “forsake” David when he committed those sins which ever since have given occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme? No, indeed. He led him to repentance, caused him to confess his awful wickedness, and then sent one of His servants to say, “The Lord hath put away thy sin” (2Sa 12:13).

“The Lord is thy Keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from ‘this time forth and even for evermore” (Psa 121:5-8). Here are the covenant verities of our faithful God: here are the infallible “shall’s” of the triune Jehovah: here are the sure promises of Him who cannot lie. Note there were no “if’s” or preadventure’s, but the unconditional and unqualified declarations of the Most High. No circumstances can ever place the believer beyond the reach of Divine preservation. No change can alter or affect this Divine certainty. Wealth may ensnare, poverty may strip, Satan may tempt, inward corruptions may annoy, but nothing can ever destroy or lead to the destruction of a single sheep of Christ; nay, all these things only serve to display more manifestly and more gloriously the preserving hand of our God.

We “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Pe 1:5). The rage of heathen monarchs, with their den of lions and fiery furnace, may be employed to try the faith of God’s elect, but destroy them, harm them, they cannot. O brethren in Christ, what cause we have to praise the finding, instructing, and preserving, Triune Jehovah!

Chapter 11

Mourning

Matthew 5:4  Blessed are they that mourn

Mourning is hateful and irksome to poor human nature. From suffering and sadness our spirits instinctively shrink. By nature we seek the society of the cheerful and joyous. Our text presents an anomaly to the unregenerate, yet is it sweet music to the ears of God’s elect. If “blessed” why do they “mourn”? If they “mourn” how can they be “blessed”? Only the child of God has the key to this paradox. The more we ponder our text the more we are constrained to exclaim, never man spake like this Man” (Joh 7:46)! “Blessed (happy) are they that mourn” is at complete variance with the world’s logic. Men have in all places and in all ages, deemed the prosperous and the gay the happy ones, but Christ pronounces happy those who are poor in spirit and who mourn.

Now it is obvious that it is not every species of mourning that is here referred to. There is a “sorrow of the world which worketh death” (2Co 2:10). The mourning for which Christ promises comfort must be restricted to that which is spiritual. The mourning which is blessed is the result of a realization of God’s holiness and goodness which issues in a sense of our own wickedness—the depravity of our natures, the enormity and guilt of our conduct and the sorrowing over our sins with a godly sorrow.

We shall consider the eight Beatitudes as arranged in four pairs. The first of the eight is the blessing that Christ pronounced on those who are poor in spirit, which we took to mean, they who have been awakened to a sense of their own nothingness and emptiness. Now the transition from such poverty to mourning is easy to follow, in fact, it follows so closely that it is rather its companion.

The mourning which is here referred to is manifestly more than that of bereavement, affliction or loss. It is mourning for sin. ‘It is mourning over the felt destitution of our spiritual state, and over the iniquities that have separated between us and God; mourning over the very morality in which we have boasted, and the self-righteousness in which we have trusted; sorrow for rebellion against God, and hostility to His will; and such mourning always goes side by side with conscious poverty of spirit” (Dr. Person).

A striking illustration and exemplification of the spirit upon which the Saviour here pronounced His benediction is to be found in Luk 18:11-12. There a vivid contrast is presented to our view. First, we are shown a self-righteous Pharisee looking up toward God and saying, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” This may have been all true as he looked at it, yet this man went down to his house in a state of condemnation. His fine garments were rags, his white robes were filthy, though he knew it not. Then we are shown the publican, standing afar off, who, in the language of the Psalmist was so troubled by his iniquities that he was not able to look up (Psa 40:12). He dared not so much as lift up his eyes to Heaven, but smote upon his breast, conscious of the fountain of corruption within, and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” Luk 18:13 and that man went down to his house justified, because he was poor in spirit and mourned for sin.

Here then are the first birth-marks of the children of God, and he who has never come to be poor in spirit, and has never known what it is to really mourn for sin, though he belong to a church and be an office-bearer in it, has neither entered nor seen the kingdom of God. How thankful the Christian reader ought to be that the great God condescends to dwell in the humble and contrite heart! Where can we find anything in all the Old Testament more precious than that?—that He, in whose sight the heavens are not clean, who cannot find in any temple that man ever builded for Him, however magnificent, a proper dwelling place, has spoken Isa 66:2 and Isa 57:15 to us!

“Blessed are they that mourn. Though the primary reference be to that initial mourning, usually termed ‘conviction of sin,’’ it is by no means to be limited to this. Mourning is ever a characteristic of the normal Christian state. There is much that the believer has to mourn over—the plague of his own heart makes him cry, O wretched man that I am”; the unbelief which “doth so easily beset us” and the sins which we commit that are more in number than the hairs of our head, are a continual grief; the barrenness and unprofitableness of our lives make us sigh and cry; our propensity to wander from Christ, our lack of communion with Him, the shallowness of our love for Him, cause us to hang our harps upon the willows. But this is not all. The hypocritical religion prevailing on every hand, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof; the awful dishonor done to the truth of God by the false doctrines taught in countless pulpits; the divisions among the Lord’s people, the strife between brethren, occasion continual sorrow of heart. The awful wickedness in the world, men despising Christ, the untold sufferings around, make us groan within ourselves. The closer the Christian lives to God, the more will he mourn over all that dishonors Him. With the Psalmist he will say: Psa 119:53; with Jer 13:17; Jer 14:17; with Eze 9:4.

“They shall be comforted.” This refers first of all to the removal of the conscious guilt which burdens the conscience. It finds its fulfillment in the Spirit’s application of the Gospel of God’s grace to the one whom He has convicted of his dire need of a Saviour. It issues in a sense of free and full forgiveness through the merits of the atoning blood of Christ. This Divine comfort is the peace of God which passeth all understanding filling the heart of the one who is now assured that he is “accepted in the Beloved.” God wounds before healing, abases before He exalts. First there is a revelation of His justice and holiness, then the making known of His mercy and grace.

“They shall be comforted” also receives a constant fulfillment in the experience of the Christian. Though he mourns his excuseless failures and confesses them to God, yet he is comforted by the assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses him from all sin. Though he groans over the dishonor done to God on every side, yet is he comforted by the knowledge that the day is rapidly approaching when Satan shall be removed from these scenes and when the Lord Jesus shall sit upon the throne of His glory and rule in righteousness and peace. Though the chastening hand of the Lord is often laid upon him and though “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous,” nevertheless, he is consoled by the realization that this is all working out for him “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Like the Apostle, the believer who is in communion with his Lord can say, “As sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” He may often be called upon to drink of the bitter waters of Marah, but God has planted nearby a tree to sweeten them. Yes “mourning” Christians are comforted even now by the Divine Comforter, by the ministrations of His servants, by encouraging words from fellow Christians, and when these are not to hand, by the precious promises of the Word being brought home in power to his memory and heart.

“They shall be comforted.” The best wine is reserved for the last. Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. During the long night of His absence, the saints of God have been called to fellowship with Him who was the Man of Sorrows. But, blessed be God, it is written, “If we suffer with Him we shall also be glorified together.” What comfort and joy will be ours when shall dawn the morning without clouds! Then shall “sorrow and sighing flee away” (Isa 35:10). Then shall be fulfilled the saying of Rev 21:3-4.

Chapter 12

Hungering

Matthew 5:6  Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled

In the first three Beatitudes we are called upon to witness the heart exercises of one who has been awakened by the Spirit of God. First, there is a sense of need, a realization of my nothingness and emptiness. Second, there is a judging of self, a consciousness of my guilt and sorrowing over my lost condition. Third, there is an end of seeking to justify myself before God, an abandonment of all pretences to personal merit, a taking of my place in the dust before God. Here, in the fourth, the eye of the soul is turned away from self to Another: there is a longing after that which I know I have not got and which I am conscious I urgently need.

There has been much needless quibbling as to the precise import of the word “righteousness” in our present text. The best way to ascertain its significance is to go back to the Old Testament scriptures where this term is used, and then turn on these the fuller light furnished by the New Testament Epistles.

“Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I, the Lord have created it” (Isa 45:8). The first half of this verse refers, in figurative language, to the advent of Christ to this earth; the second half to His resurrection, when He was “raised again for our justification. “Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory” (Isa 46:12-14). “My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arms shall they trust” (Isa 51:5). “Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed” (Isa 56:1). “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). These passages make it clear that God’s “righteousness” is synonymous with God’s “salvation.”

The above scriptures are unfolded in the Epistle to the Romans where the “Gospel” receives its fullest exposition, see Rom 1:1. In Rom 1:16-17, we are told “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” In Rom 3:22, Rom 3:24 we read, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe, for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In Rom 5:19 the blessed declaration is made, “for as by one man’s disobedience many were made (legally constituted) sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made (legally constituted) righteous.” While in Rom 10:4 we learn, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

The sinner is destitute of righteousness, for “there is none righteous, no not one.” God has therefore provided in Christ a perfect righteousness for each and all of His people. This righteousness, this satisfying of all the demands of God’s holy law against us, was wrought out by our Substitute and Surety. This righteousness is now imputed—legally placed to the account of the believing sinner. Just as the sins of God’s people were all transferred to Christ, so His righteousness is placed upon them, see 2Co 5:21. Such is a brief summary of the teaching of Scripture on this vital and blessed subject of “Righteousness.”

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Hungering and thirsting express vehement desire, of which the soul is acutely conscious. First, the Holy Spirit brings before the heart the holy requirements of God. He reveals to us His perfect standard, which He can never lower. He reminds us that “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” Second, the trembling soul, conscious of its own abject poverty, realizing his utter inability to measure up to God’s requirements, sees no help in self. This is a painful discovery, which causes him to mourn and groan. Have you done so? Third, the Holy Spirit now creates in the heart a deep “hunger and thirst,” which causes the convicted sinner to look for relief and seek a supply outside of himself. The eye is now directed to Christ, “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jer 23:6).

Like the previous ones, this fourth Beatitude begins in the unconverted, but is perpetuated in the saved sinner. There is a repeated exercise of this grace, felt at varying intervals. The one who longed to be saved by Christ now yearns to be made like Him. Looked at in its widest aspect, this hungering and thirsting refers to that panting of the renewed heart after God (Psa 42:1), that yearning for a closer walk with Him, that longing for more perfect conformity to the image of His Son. It tells of those Inspirations of the new nature for Divine blessing which alone can strengthen, sustain and satisfy.

Our text presents such a paradox that it is evident no carnal mind ever invented it. Can one who has been brought into vital union with Him who is the Bread of Life, and in whom all fullness dwells, be found still hungering and thirsting? Yes, such is the experience of the renewed heart. Mark carefully the tense of the verb: it is not “Blessed are they which have, but “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst.” Do you, dear reader? Or are you content with your attainments and satisfied with your condition? Hungering and thirsting after righteousness has ever been the experience of God’s saints: (see Psa 82:4; Php 3:8, Php 3:14, etc).

“They shall be filled.” Like the first part of our text, this also has a double fulfillment—an initial and a continuous. When God creates a hunger and a thirst in the soul it is that He may satisfy them. When the poor sinner is made to feel his need of Christ, it is that he may be drawn to and led to embrace Him. Like the prodigal, who came to the Father as a penitent, the believing sinner now feeds on the One figured by the “fatted calf.” He is made to exclaim “surely in the Lord have I righteousness.”

“They shall be filled.” Not with wine wherein is excess, but “filled with the Spirit.” “Filled” with “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.” “Filled” with Divine blessing to which no sorrow is added. “Filled” with praise and thanksgiving unto Him who has wrought all our works in us. “Filled” with that which this poor world can neither give nor take away. “Filled” by the goodness and mercy of God, till their cup runneth over. And yet, all that is enjoyed now is but a little foretaste of what God has prepared for them that love Him. In the Day to come we shall be “filled” with Divine holiness, for we shall be “like him” (1Jn 3:2). Then shall we be done with sin forever; then shall we “hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (Rev 7:16).

Chapter 13

Heart Purity

Matthew 5:8  Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God

This is another of the Beatitudes which has been grossly perverted by the enemies of the Lord; enemies who have, like their predecessors the Pharisees, posed as the champions of the truth and boasted of a superior sanctity to that confessed by the true people of God. All through this Christian era there have been poor deluded souls who have claimed an entire purification of the old man, or who have insisted that God has so completely renewed them that the carnal nature has been eradicated, and in consequence that they not only commit no sins but have no sinful desires or thoughts. But God tells us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jn 1:8). Of course such people appeal to the Scriptures in support of their vain delusion, applying to experience verses which describe the legal benefits of the Atonement. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” does not mean that our hearts have been washed from the corrupting defilements of evil, but that the sacrifice of Christ has availed for the judicial blotting out of sins. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2Co 5:17) refers not to our state in this world, but to the Christian’s standing before God.

That purity of heart does not mean sinlessness of life is clear from the inspired record of the history of all of God’s saints. Noah got drunk; Abraham equivocated; Moses disobeyed God; Job cursed the day of his birth; Elijah fled in terror from Jezebel; Peter denied Christ. Yes, perhaps someone will exclaim, But all these were before Christianity was established. True, but it has also been the same since then. Where shall we go to find a Christian of superior attainment to those of the apostle Paul? And what was his experience? Read Romans 7 and see. When he would do good, evil was present with him (Rom 7:21); there was a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin (Rom 7:23). He did, with the mind, serve the law of God; nevertheless, with the flesh he served the law of sin (Rom 7:25). Ah, Christian reader, the truth is that one of the most conclusive evidences that we do possess a pure heart is the discovery and consciousness of the impurity of the old heart dwelling side by side within. But let us come closer to our text.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” In seeking an interpretation to any part of this Sermon on the Mount the first thing to bear in mind is that those whom our Lord was addressing had been reared in Judaism. As said one who was deeply taught of the Spirit: “I cannot help thinking that our Lord, in using the terms before us, had a tacit reference to that character of external sanctity or purity which belonged to the Jewish people, and to that privilege of intercourse with God which was connected with that character. They were a people separated from the nations polluted with idolatry; set apart as holy to Jehovah; and, as a holy people, they were permitted to draw near to their God, the only living and true God, in the ordinances of His worship”. On the possession of this character, and on the enjoyment of this privilege, the Jewish people plumed themselves.

“A higher character, however, and a higher privilege, belonged to those who should be the subjects of the Messiah’s reign. They should not only be externally holy, but, ‘pure in heart’; and they should not merely be allowed to approach towards the holy place, where God’s honour dwelt, but they should ‘see God,’ be introduced into the most intimate intercourse with Him. Thus viewed, as a description of the spiritual character and privileges of the subjects of the Messiah, in contrast with the external character and privileges of the Jewish people, the passage before us is full of the most important and interesting truth.” (Dr. John Brown).

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” Opinion is divided as to whether these words of Christ are to be understood literally or figuratively; whether the reference be to the new heart itself received at regeneration, or to the moral transformation of character which results from a Divine work of grace being wrought in the soul. Probably both aspects of the truth are combined here. In view of the late place which this Beatitude occupies in the series, it would appear that the purity of heart upon which our Saviour pronounced His blessing, is that internal cleansing which accompanies and follows the new birth. Yet, inasmuch as no heart purity exists in the natural man, what is here affirmed by Christ must be traced back to regeneration itself.

The Psalmist said, “Behold Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Psa 51:6). How far this goes beneath the outward renovation and reformation which comprises such a large part of the efforts now being put forth in Christendom! Much that we see around us is a hand religion—seeking salvation by works—or a head religion, which rests satisfied with an orthodox creed. But God looketh on the heart—an expression which appears to include the understanding, the affections and the will. It is because God looketh within that He gives a “new heart” (Ezek. 36:26) to His own people, and “blessed” indeed are they who have received such, for it is a “pure heart.”

As intimated above, we believe this sixth Beatitude contemplates both the new heart received at regeneration and the transformation of character which follows God’s work of grace in the soul. First, there is a “washing of regeneration” (Tit 3:5) by which we understand a cleansing of the affections, which are now set upon things above, instead of things below; this is parallel with “purifying their hearts by faith” (Act 15:9). Accompanying this is the cleansing of the conscious—”having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Heb 10:22), which refers to the removal of the burden of conscious guilt, the inward realization that being justified by faith we “have peace with God.”

But the purity of heart commended here by Christ goes further than this. What is purity? Freedom from defilement, undivided affections, sincerity and genuineness. As a quality of Christian character, we would define it as godly simplicity. It is the opposite of subtlety and duplicity. Genuine Christianity lays aside not only malice, but guile and hypocrisy. It is not enough to be pure in words and in outward deportment; purity of desires, motives, intents, are what should, and do in the main, characterize the child of God. Here then is a most important test for every professing Christian to apply to himself: Are my affections set upon things above? Are my motives pure? Why do I assemble with the Lord’s people?—to be seen of men, or to meet with the Lord and enjoy sweet communion with Him?

“For they shall see God.” Once more we would point out how that the promises attached to these Beatitudes have both a present and a future fulfillment. The pure in heart possess spiritual discernment and with the eyes of their understanding they obtain clear views of the Divine character and perceive the excellency of His attributes. When the eye is single the whole body is full of light. In the truth, the faith of which purifies the heart, they ‘see God’; for what is that truth but a manifestation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ—an illustrious display of the combined radiance of Divine holiness and Divine benignity!. . . .And he not only obtains clear and satisfactory views of the Divine character, but he enjoys intimate and delightful communion with God. He is brought very near God; God’s mind becomes his mind; God’s will becomes his will; and his fellowship is truly with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

“They who are pure in heart ‘see God’ in this way, even in the present world; and in the future state their knowledge of God will become far more extensive and their fellowship with Him far more intimate; for though, when compared with the privileges of a former dispensation, even now ‘as with open face we behold the glory of the Lord,’ yet, in reference to the privileges of a higher economy, we yet see but ‘through a glass darkly’—we ‘know but in part’—we understand but in part, we enjoy but in part. But ‘that which is in the part shall be done away,’ and ‘that which is perfect shall come.’ We shall yet see face to face and know even as we are known (1Co 13:9-12); or to borrow the words of the Psalmist, we ‘shall behold his face in righteousness, and shall be satisfied when we awake in his likeness’ (Psa 17:15). Then, and not till then, will the full meaning of these words be understood ‘the pure in heart shall see God.’” (Dr. John Brown).

Chapter 14

The Beatitudes and Christ

The Beatitudes and Christ The Beatitudes and Christ Our meditations upon the Beatitudes would not be complete unless they turned our thoughts to the person of our blessed Lord. As we have endeavored to show, they describe the character and conduct of a Christian, and as Christian character is nothing more or less than being experimentally conformed to the image of God’s Son we must turn to Him for the perfect pattern. In the Lord Jesus Christ we find the brightest manifestations of the highest exemplifications of the different spiritual graces which are found, dimly reflected, in His followers. Not one or two but all of these perfections were displayed by Him, for He is not only “lovely,” but “altogether lovely.” May the Holy Spirit who is here to glorify Him take now of the things of Christ and show them unto us.

First, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Most blessed is it to see how the Scriptures speak of Him who was rich becoming poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might be rich. Great indeed was the poverty into which He entered. Born of parents who were poor in this world’s goods, He commenced His earthly life in a manger. During His youth and early manhood He toiled at the carpenter’s bench. After His public ministry had begun He declared that though the foxes had their holes and the birds of the air their nests, the Son of Man had not where to lay His head. If we trace out the Messianic utterances recorded in the Psalms by the Spirit of prophecy, we shall find that again and again He confessed to God His poverty of spirit: “I am poor and sorrowful” (Ps. 69:29); and, “Bow down thine ear, O Jehovah, for I am poor and needy” (Psa 86:1); and again, “For I am poor and needy, and My heart is wounded within me” (Psa 109:22).

Second, “Blessed are they that mourn. Christ was indeed the chief Mourner. Old Testament prophecy contemplated Him as “the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.” See Him “grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (Mar 3:5) Behold Him “sighing” ere He healed the deaf and dumb man (Mar 7:34). Mark Him weeping by the graveside of Lazarus. Hear His lamentation over the beloved city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together” (Mat 23:37). Draw near and reverently behold Him in the gloom of Gethsemane, pouring out His petitions to the Father “with strong crying and tears” (Heb 5:7). Bow in worshipful wonderment as you hear Him crying from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mar 15:34). Hearken to His plaintive plea, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow” (Lam 1:12).

Third, “Blessed are the meek.” A score of examples might be drawn from the Gospels illustrating the lovely lowliness of the incarnate Lord of glory. Mark it in the men selected by Him to be His ambassadors: He chose not the wise, the learned, the great, the noble, but poor fishermen for the most part. Witness it in the company which He kept: He sought not the rich and renowned, but was “the Friend of publicans and sinners.” See it in the miracles which He wrought: again and again He enjoined the healed to go and tell no man what had been done for them. Behold it in the unobtrusiveness of His service: unlike the hypocrites who sounded a trumpet before them, He sought not the lime-light, shunned advertising, and disdained popularity. When the crowds would make Him their Idol, He avoided them (Mar 1:45; Mar 7:17). When they would come and “Take Him by force to make Him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone” (Joh 6:15). When His brethren urged, “Show Thyself to the world,” He declined, and went up to the feast in secret (John 7). When He, in fulfillment of prophecy, presented Himself to Israel, as their King, He entered Jerusalem “lowly, and riding upon an ass” (Zec 9:9).

Fourth, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.’’ What a summary is this of the inner life of the Man Christ Jesus! Before the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit announced, “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins” (Isa 4:5). When He entered this world, He said, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” (Heb 10:17). As a Boy of twelve He asked, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luk 2:41). At the beginning of His public ministry He declared, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Mat 5:17). To His disciples He declared, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me (Joh 4:34). Of Him the Holy Spirit has said, “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows” (Psa 45:7). Well may He be called “The Lord our righteousness.”

Fifth, “Blessed are the merciful.” In Christ we see mercy personified. It was mercy to poor lost sinners which caused the Son of God to exchange the glory of Heaven for the shame of earth. It was mercy, wondrous and matchless, which took Him to the Cross, there to be made a curse for His people. So it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Tit 3:5). He still exercises mercy to us as our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (j). So also we are to be “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21), because He will show us mercy in “that Day” (2Ti 1:18).

Sixth, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” This too was perfectly exemplified in Christ. He was the Lamb “without spot and without blemish. In becoming Man, He was uncontaminated, contracting none of the defilement’s of sin. His humanity was “holy” (Luk 1:35). He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners (Heb 7:26). “In him was no sin” (1Jn 3:5), therefore He “did no sin” (1Pe 2:22) and “knew no sin” (2Co 5:21). “He is pure” (1Jn 3:3). Because He was absolutely pure in nature, His motives and actions were always pure. “I seek not Mine own glory” (Joh 8:50) sums up the whole of His earthly career.

Seventh, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Supremely true is this of our blessed Saviour. He is the One who “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). He was appointed to be “a propitiation” (Rom 3:25), that is, the One who should pacify God’s wrath, satisfy every demand of His broken law, glorify His justice and holiness. So, too, has He made peace between the alienated Jew and Gentile: see Eph 2:14-15. In a coming day He will yet make peace on this sin-cursed and war-stricken earth. When He shall sit upon the throne of His father, David, then shall be fulfilled that word, “Of the increase of his government and peace, there shall be no end” (Isa 9:7). Well may He be called “The Prince of Peace.”

Eighth, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” None was ever persecuted as was the Righteous One. What a word is that in Rev 12:4! By the spirit of prophecy He declared, “I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up” (Psa 88:15). On His first public appearance we are told they “rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (Luk 4:29). In the temple precincts they “took up stones to cast at him” (Joh 8:59). All through His ministry His steps were dogged by enemies. The religious leaders charged Him with having a demon (Joh 8:38). Those who sat in the gate spake against Him, and He was the song of the drunkards (Psa 69:12). At His trial they plucked off His hair (Isa 50:6) , spat in His face, buffeted Him, and smote Him with the palms of their hands (Mat 26:67). After He was scourged by the soldiers and crowned with thorns, carrying His own cross, He was led to Calvary, where they crucified Him. Even in His dying hours He was not left in peace, but was persecuted by revilings and scoffings. How unutterably mild in comparison is the persecution we are called on to endure for His sake!

In like manner, each of the promises attached to the Beatitudes find their accomplishment in Christ. Poor in spirit He was, but His supremely is the kingdom. Mourn He did, yet will He be comforted as He sees of the travail of His soul. Meekness personified, yet shall He Sit on a throne of glory. He hungered and thirsted after righteousness, yet now is He filled with satisfaction as He beholds the righteousness He wrought imputed to His people. Pure in heart, He sees God as none other does (Mat 11:27). As the Peacemaker, He is owned the Son of God by all the blood-bought children. As the persecuted One, great is His reward, having been given the Name above all others. May the Spirit of God occupy us more and more with Him who is fairer than the children of men.

Chapter 15

Affliction and Glory

2Corinthians 4:17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory

These words supply us with a reason why we should not faint under trials nor be overwhelmed by misfortunes. They teach us to look at the trials of time in the light of eternity. They affirm that the present buffetings of the Christian exercise a beneficent effect on the inner man. If these truths were firmly grasped by faith they would mitigate much of the bitterness of our sorrows. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” This verse sets forth a striking and glorious antithesis, as it contrasts our future state with our present. Here there is “affliction,” there “glory.” Here there is a “light affliction,” there a “might of glory.” In our affliction there is both levity and brevity; it is a light affliction, and it is but for a moment; in our future glory there is solidity and eternity! To discover the preciousness of this contrast let us consider, separately, each member, but in the inverse order of mention.

1. “A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It is a significant thing that the Hebrew word for “glory,” kabod, also means “weight.” When weight is added to the value of gold or precious stones this increases their worth. Heaven’s happiness cannot be told out in the words of earth; figurative expressions are best calculated to convey some imperfect views to us. Here in our text one term is piled up on top of another. That which awaits the believer is “glory,” and when we say that a thing is glorious we have reached the limits of human language to express that which is excellent and perfect. But the “glory” awaiting us is weighted, yea it is “far more exceeding” weighty than anything terrestrial and temporal; its value defies computation; its transcendent excellency is beyond verbal description. Moreover, this wondrous glory awaiting us is not evanescent and temporal, but Divine and eternal; for “eternal” it could not be unless it were Divine. The great and blessed God is going to give us that which is worthy of Himself, yea that which is like Himself, infinite and everlasting.

2. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment.”

a. “Affliction” is the common lot of human existence; “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). This is part of the entail of sin. It is not meet that a fallen creature should be perfectly happy in his sins. Nor are the children of God exempted; “Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). By a hard and rugged road does God lead us to glory and immortality.

b. Our affliction is “light.” Afflictions are not light in themselves for oft times they are heavy and grievous; but they are light comparatively! They are light when compared with what we really deserve. They are light when compared with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. But perhaps their real lightness is best seen by comparing them with the weight of glory which is awaiting us. As said the same apostle in another place, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).

c. “Which is but for a moment. Should our afflictions continue throughout a whole lifetime, and that life be equal in duration to Methuselah’s, yet is it momentary if compared with the eternity which is before us. At most our affliction is but for this present life, which is as a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. O that God would enable us to examine our trials in their true perspective.

3. Note now the connection between the two. Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” The present is influencing the future. It is not for us to reason and philosophize about this, but to take God at His Word and believe it. Experience, feelings, observation of others, may seem to deny this fact. Oft times afflictions appear only to sour us and make us more rebellious and discontented. But let it be remembered that afflictions are not sent by God for the purpose of purifying the flesh: they are designed for the benefit of the “new man.” Moreover, afflictions help to prepare us for the glory hereafter. Affliction draws away our heart from the love of the world; it makes us long more for the time when we shall be translated from this scene of sin and sorrow; it will enable us to appreciate (by way of contrast) the things which God had prepared for them that love Him.

Here then is what faith is invited to do: to place in one scale the present affliction, in the other, the eternal glory. Are they worthy to be compared? No, indeed. One second of glory will more than counterbalance a whole lifetime of suffering. What are years of toil, of sickness, of battling against poverty, of persecution, yea, of a martyr’s death, when weighed over against the pleasures at God’s right hand, which are for evermore! One breath of Paradise will extinguish all the adverse winds of earth. One day in the Father’s House will more than counterbalance the years we have spent in this dreary wilderness. May God grant unto us that faith which will enable us to anticipatively lay hold of the future and live in the present enjoyment of it.

Chapter 16

Contentment

Philippians 4:11  I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content

Discontent! Was there ever a time when there was so much restlessness in the world as there is today? We very much doubt it. Despite our boasted progress, the vast increase of wealth, the time and money expended daily in pleasure, discontent is everywhere. No class is exempt. Everything is in a state of flux, and almost everybody is dissatisfied. Many even among God’s own people are affected with the evil spirit of this age.

Contentment! Is such a thing realizable, or is it nothing more than a beautiful ideal, a mere dream of the poet? Is it attainable on earth or is it restricted to the inhabitants of heaven? If practicable here and now, may it be retained, or are a few brief moments or hours of contentment the most that we may expect in this life? Such questions as these find answer, an answer at least, in the words of the apostle Paul: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Php 4:11).

The force of the apostle’s statement will be better appreciated if his condition and circumstances at the time he made it be kept in mind. When the apostle wrote (or most probably dictated) the words, he was not luxuriating in a special suite in the Emperor’s palace, nor was he being entertained in some exceptional Christian household, the members of which were marked by unusual piety. Instead, he was “in bonds” (cf. Php 1:13-14 ); “a prisoner” (Eph 4:1), as he says in another Epistle. And yet, notwithstanding, he declared he was content!

Now, there is a vast difference between precept and practice, between the ideal and the realization. But in the case of the apostle Paul contentment was an actual experience, and one that must have been continuous, for he says, “in whatsoever state I am.” How then did Paul enter into this experience, and of what did the experience consist? The reply to the first question is to be found in the word, “I have learned . . . to be content.” The apostle did not say, “I have received the baptism of the Spirit, and therefore contentment is mine.” Nor did he attribute this blessing to his perfect “consecration.” Equally plain is it that it was not the outcome of natural disposition or temperament. It is something he had learned in the school of Christian experience. It should be noted, too, that this statement is found in an Epistle which the apostle wrote near the close of his earthly career!

From what has been pointed out it should be apparent that the contentment which Paul enjoyed was not the result of congenial and comfortable surroundings. And this at once dissipates a vulgar conception. Most people suppose that contentment is impossible unless one can have gratified the desires of the carnal heart. A prison is the last place to which they would go if they were seeking a contented man. This much, then, is clear: contentment comes from within not without; it must be sought from God, not in creature comforts.

But let us endeavor to go a little deeper. What is “contentment”? It is the being satisfied with the sovereign dispensations of God’s providence. It is the opposite of murmuring, which is the spirit of rebellion—the clay saying to the Potter, “Why hast Thou made me thus?” Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such an one is “content” with such as he has (Heb 13:5).

One of the fatal hindrances to contentment is covetousness, which is a canker eating into and destroying present satisfaction. It was not, therefore, without good reason, that our Lord gave the solemn commandment to His followers—Take heed, and beware of covetousness” (Luk 12:15). Few things are more insidious. Often it poses under the fair name of thrift, or the wise safeguarding of the future—present economy so as to lay up for a “rainy day.” The Scripture says, covetousness which is idolatry” (Col 3:5), the affection of the heart being set upon material things rather than upon God. The language of a covetous heart is that of the horseleach’s daughter, Give! Give! The covetous man is always desirous of more, whether he has little or much. How vastly different the words of the apostle—”And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1Ti 6:8). A much needed word is that of Luk 3:14: “Be content with your wages”!

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Ti 6:6). Negatively, it delivers from worry and fretfulness, from avarice and selfishness. Positively, it leaves us free to enjoy what God has given us. What a contrast is found in the word which follows: “But they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1Ti 6:9-10). May the Lord in His grace deliver us from the spirit of this world, and make us to be “content with such things as we have.”

Contentment, then, is the product of a heart resting in God. It is the soul’s enjoyment of that peace which passeth all understanding. It is the outcome of my will being brought into subjection to the Divine will. It is the blessed assurance that God doeth all things well, and is, even now, making all things work together for my ultimate good. This experience has to be “learned” by “proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:2). Contentment is possible only as we cultivate and maintain that attitude of accepting everything which enters our lives as coming from the Hand of Him who is too wise to err, and too loving to cause one of His children a needless tear.

Let our final word be this: real contentment is only possible by being much in the presence of the Lord Jesus. This comes out clearly in the verses which follow our opening text; “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Php 4:12-13). It is only by cultivating intimacy with that One who was never discontent that we shall be delivered from the sin of complaining. It is only by daily fellowship with Him who ever delighted in the Father’s will that we shall learn the secret of contentment. May both writer and reader so behold in the mirror of the Word the glory of the Lord that we shall be “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Co 3:18).

Chapter 17

Precious Death

Psalm 116:15  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints

This is one of the many comforting and blessed statements in Holy Scripture concerning that great event from which the flesh so much shrinks. If the Lord’s people would more frequently make a prayerful and believing study of what the Word says upon their departure out of this world, death would lose much, if not all, of its terrors for them. But alas, instead of doing so, they let their imagination run riot, they give way to carnal fears, they walk by sight instead of by faith. Looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance, let us endeavor to dispel, by the light of Divine revelation, some of the gloom which unbelief casts around even the death of a Christian.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” These words intimate that a dying saint is an object of special notice unto the Lord, for mark the words “in the sight of.” It is true that the eyes of the Lord are ever upon us, for He never slumbers nor sleeps. It is true that we may say at all times “Thou God seest me.” But it appears from Scripture that there are occasions when He notices and cares for us in a special manner. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1). “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee” (Isa 43:2).

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” This brings before us an aspect of death which is rarely considered by believers. It gives us what may be termed the Godward side of the subject. Only too often, we contemplate death, like most other things, from our side. The text tells us that from the viewpoint of Heaven the death of a saint is neither hideous nor horrible, tragic or terrible, but “precious.” This raises the question, Why is the death of His people precious in the sight of the Lord? What is there in the last great crisis which is so dear unto Him? Without attempting an exhaustive reply, let us suggest one or two possible answers.

1. Their persons are precious to the Lord.

They ever were and always will be dear to Him. His saints! They were the ones on whom His love was set before the earth was formed or the heavens made. These are they for whose sakes He left His Home on high and whom He bought with His precious blood, cheerfully laying down His life for them. These are they whose names are borne on our great High Priest’s breast and engraven on the palms of His hands. They are His Father’s love-gift to Him, His children, members of His body; therefore, everything that concerns them is precious in His sight. The Lord loves His people so intensely that the very hairs of their heads are numbered: the angels are sent forth to minister unto them; and because their persons are precious unto the Lord so also are their deaths.

2. Because death terminates the saint’s sorrows and sufferings.

There is a needs-be for our sufferings, for through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God (Act 14:22). Nevertheless, the Lord does not “afflict willingly” (Lam 3:33). God is neither unmindful of nor indifferent to our trials and troubles. Concerning His people of old it is written, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isa 63:9). “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him” (Psa 103:13). So also are we told that our great High Priest is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15). Here, then, may be another reason why the death of a saint is precious in the sight of the Lord—because it marks the termination of his sorrows and sufferings.

3. Because death affords the Lord an opportunity to display His sufficiency.

Love is never so happy as when ministering to the needs of its cherished object, and never is the Christian so needy and so helpless as in the hour of death. But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. It is then that the Father says to His trembling child, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa 41:10). It is because of this that the believer may confidently reply, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Our very weakness appeals to His strength, our emergency to His sufficiency. Most blessedly is this principle illustrated in the well-known words “He shall gather the lambs (the helpless ones) with his arm, and carry them in his bosom” (Isa 40:11). Yes, His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Therefore is the death of the saints “precious” in His sight because it affords the Lord a blessed occasion for His love, grace and power to minister unto and undertake for His helpless people.

4. Because at death the saint goes direct to the Lord.

The Lord delights in having His people with Himself. Blessedly was this evidenced all through His earthly ministry. Wherever He went, the Lord took His disciples along with Him. Whether it was to the marriage at Cana, to the holy feasts in Jerusalem, to the house of Jairus when his daughter lay dead, or to the Mount of Transfiguration, they ever accompanied Him. How blessed is that word in Mar 3:14, “He ordained twelve, that they should be with him.” And He is “the same yesterday and today and for ever.” Therefore has He assured us, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (Joh 14:3). Precious then is the death of the saints in His sight, because absent from the body we are “present with the Lord” (2Co 5:8).

While we are sorrowing over the removal of a saint, Christ is rejoicing. His prayer was “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory” (Joh 17:24), and in the entrance into Heaven of each one of His own people, He sees an answer to that prayer and is glad. He beholds in each one that is freed from “this body of death” another portion of the reward for His travail of soul, and He is satisfied with it. Therefore the death of His saints is precious to the Lord, for it occasions Him ground for rejoicing.

It is most interesting and instructive to trace out the fullness of the Hebrew word here translated “precious.” it is also rendered “excellent.” “How excellent is Thy loving kindness, O God!” (Psa 36:7). “A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit” (Pro 17:27). However worthily or unworthily he may live, the death of a saint is excellent in the sight of the Lord.

The same Hebrew word is also rendered “honorable.” “Kings” daughters were among thy honorable women” (Psa 45:9). So Ahasuerus asked of Haman “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?” (Est 6:6). Yes, the exchange of heaven for earth is truly honorable, and “This honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.”

This Hebrew word is also rendered “brightness.” “If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness” (Job 31:26). Dark and gloomy though death may be unto those whom the Christian leaves behind, it is brightness “in the sight of the Lord”: “at evening time it shall be light” (Zec 14:7). Precious, excellent, honorable, brightness in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. May the Lord make this little meditation precious unto His saints.

AW Pink (1886-1952): THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD (Part 1 of 2)

THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD (Part 1 of 2)
By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

Preface

“Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee” (Job 22:21). “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth, and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord” (Jer 9:23-24). A spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature.

The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of His perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture. An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshipped. In this booklet an effort has been made to set forth some of the principal perfections of the Divine character. If the reader is to truly profit from his perusal of the pages that follow, he needs to definitely and earnestly beseech God to bless them to him, to apply His Truth to the conscience and heart, so that his life will be transformed thereby.

Something more than a theoretical knowledge of God is needed by us. God is only truly known in the soul as we yield ourselves to Him, submit to His authority, and regulate all the details of our lives by His holy precepts and commandments. “Then shall we know, if we follow on (in the path of obedience) to know the Lord” (Hos 6:3). “If any man will do His will, he shall know” (Joh 7:17). “The people that do know their God shall be strong” (Dan 11:32).

The Solitariness of God

The title of this article is perhaps not sufficiently explicit to indicate its theme. This is partly due to the fact that so few today are accustomed to meditate upon the personal perfections of God. Comparatively few of those who occasionally read the Bible are aware of the awe-inspiring and worship-provoking grandeur of the Divine character. That God is great in wisdom, wondrous in power, yet full of mercy, is assumed by many to be almost common knowledge; but, to entertain anything approaching an adequate conception of His being, His nature, His attributes, as these are revealed in Holy Scripture, is something which very, very few people in these degenerate times have attained unto. God is solitary in His excellency. “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exo 15:11).

“In the beginning, God” (Gen 1:1). There was a time, if “time” is could be called, when God, in the unity of His nature (though subsisting equally in three Divine Persons), dwelt all alone. “In the beginning, God.” There was no heaven, where His glory is now particularly manifested. There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His praises; no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one, but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age, but “from everlasting.” During a past eternity, God was alone: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing. Had a universe, had angels, had human beings been necessary to Him in any way, they also had been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them when He did, added nothing to God essentially. He changes not (Mal 3:6), therefore His essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished.

God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That He chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on His part, caused by nothing outside Himself, determined by nothing but His own mere good pleasure; for He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). That He did create was simply for His manifestative glory. Do some of our readers imagine that we have gone beyond what Scripture warrants? Then our appeal shall be to the Law and the Testimony: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise” (Neh 9:5). God is no gainer even from our worship. He was in no need of that external glory of His grace which arises from His redeemed, for He is glorious enough in Himself without that. What was it moved Him to predestinate His elect to the praise of the glory of His grace? It was, as Eph 1:5 tells us, according to the good pleasure of His will.

We are well aware that the high ground we are here treading is new and strange to almost all of our readers; for that reason it is well to move slowly. Let our appeal again be to the Scriptures. At the end of Rom 11:1-36, where the apostle brings to a close his long argument on salvation by pure and sovereign grace, he asks, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?” (Rom 11:34-35). The force of this is, it is impossible to bring the Almighty under obligations to the creature; God gains nothing from us. If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him? Or what receiveth He of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man (Job 35:7-8), but it certainly cannot affect God, who is all-blessed in Himself. When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants (Luk 17:10) — our obedience has profited God nothing.

Nay, we go further: our Lord Jesus Christ added nothing to God in His essential being and glory, either by what He did or suffered. True, blessedly and gloriously true, He manifested the glory of God to us, but He added nought to God. He Himself expressly declares so, and there is no appeal from His words: “My goodness extendeth not to Thee” (Psa 16:2). The whole of that Psalm is a Psalm of Christ. Christ’s goodness or righteousness reached unto His saints in the earth (Psa 16:3), but God was high above and beyond it all, God only is the “Blessed One” (Mar 14:61, Gr.).

It is perfectly true that God is both honored and dishonored by men; not in His essential being, but in His official character. It is equally true that God has been “glorified” by creation, by providence, and by redemption. This we do not and dare not dispute for a moment. But all of this has to do with His manifestative glory and the recognition of it by us. Yet had God so pleased He might have continued alone for all eternity, without making known His glory unto creatures. Whether He should do so or not was determined solely by His own will. He was perfectly blessed in Himself before the first creature was called into being. And what are all the creatures of His hands unto Him even now? Let Scripture again make answer: “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?” (Isa 40:15-18). That is the God of Scripture; alas, He is still “the unknown God” (Act 17:23) to the heedless multitudes. “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: that bringeth the princes to nothing; He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity” (Isa 40:22-23). How vastly different is the God of Scripture from the god of the average pulpit!

Nor is the testimony of the New Testament any different from that of the Old: how could it be, seeing that both have one and the same Author! There too we read, “Which in His times He shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords: Who only bath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man bath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting, Amen” (1Ti 6:16). Such an One is to be revered, worshipped, adored. He is solitary in His majesty, unique in His excellency, peerless in His perfections. He sustains all, but is Himself independent of all. He gives to all, but is enriched by none.

Such a God cannot be found out by searching; He can be known, only as He is revealed to the heart by the Holy Spirit through the Word. It is true that creation demonstrates a Creator, and that, so plainly, men are “without excuse;” yet, we still have to say with Job, “Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26:14). The so-called argument from design by well-meaning “Apologists” has, we believe, done much more harm than good, for it has attempted to bring down the great God to the level of finite comprehension, and thereby has lost sight of His solitary excellence.

Analogy has been drawn between a savage finding a watch upon the sands, and from a close examination of it he infers a watch-maker. So far so good. But attempt to go further: suppose that savage sits down on the sand and endeavors to form to himself a conception of this watch-maker, his personal affections and manners; his disposition, acquirements, and moral character — all that goes to make up a personality; could he ever think or reason out a real man — the man who made the watch, so that he could say, “I am acquainted with him?” It seems trifling to ask such questions, but is the eternal and infinite God so much more within the grasp of human reason? No, indeed! The God of Scripture can only be known by those to whom He makes Himself known.

Nor is God known by the intellect. “God is Spirit” (Joh 4:24), and therefore can only be known spiritually. But fallen man is not spiritual, he is carnal. He is dead to all that is spiritual. Unless he is born again supernaturally brought from death unto life, miraculously translated out of darkness into light, he cannot even see the things of God (Joh 3:3), still less apprehend them (1Co 2:14). The Holy Spirit has to shine in our hearts (not intellects) in order to give us “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co 4:6). And even that spiritual knowledge is but fragmentary. The regenerated soul has to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2Pe 3:18).

The principal prayer and aim of Christians should be that we “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10).

The Decrees of God

The decree of God is His purpose or determination with respect to future things. We have used the singular number as Scripture does (Rom 8:28, Eph 3:11), because there was only one act of His infinite mind about future things. But we speak as if there had been many, because our minds are only capable of thinking of successive revolutions, as thoughts and occasions arise, or in reference to the various objects of His decree, which being many seem to us to require a distinct purpose for each one. But an infinite understanding does not proceed by steps, from one stage to another: “Known unto God are all His works, from the beginning of the world” (Act 15:18).

The Scriptures make mention of the decrees of God in many passages, and under a variety of terms. The word “decree” is found in Psa 2:7, etc. In Eph 3:11 we read of His “eternal purpose.” In Act 2:23 of His “determinate counsel and foreknowledge.” In Eph 1:9 of the mystery of His “will.” In Rom 8:29 that He also did predestinate. In Eph 1:9 of His “good pleasure.” God’s decrees are called His “counsel” to signify they are consummately wise. They are called God’s “will” to show He was under no control, but acted according to His own pleasure. When a man’s will is the rule of his conduct, it is usually capricious and unreasonable; but wisdom is always associated with “will” in the Divine proceedings, and accordingly, God’s decrees are said to be “the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11).

The decrees of God relate to all future things without exception: whatever is done in time, was foreordained before time began. God’s purpose was concerned with everything, whether great or small, whether good or evil, although with reference to the latter we must be careful to state that while God is the Orderer and Controller of sin, He is not the Author of it in the same way that He is the Author of good. Sin could not proceed from a holy God by positive and direct creation, but only by decretive permission and negative action. God’s decree is as comprehensive as His government, extending to all creatures and all events. It was concerned about our life and death; about our state in time, and our state in eternity. As God works all things after the counsel of His own will, we learn from His works what His counsel is (was), as we judge of an architect’s plan by inspecting the building which was erected under his directions.

God did not merely decree to make man, place him upon the earth, and then leave him to his own uncontrolled guidance; instead, He fixed all the circumstances in the lot of individuals, and all the particulars which will comprise the history of the human race from its commencement to its close. He did not merely decree that general laws should be established for the government of the world, but He settled the application of those laws to all particular cases. Our days are numbered, and so are the hairs of our heads. We may learn what is the extent of the Divine decrees from the dispensations of providence, in which they are executed. The care of Providence reaches to the most insignificant creatures, and the most minute events — the death of a sparrow, and the fall of a hair.

Let us now consider some of the properties of the Divine decrees. First, they are eternal. To suppose any of them to be made in time, is to suppose that some new occasion has occurred, some unforeseen event or combination of circumstances has arisen, which has induced the Most High to form a new resolution. This would argue that the knowledge of the deity is limited, and that He is growing wiser in the progress of time — which would be horrible blasphemy. No man who believes that the Divine understanding is infinite, comprehending the past, the present, and the future, will ever assent to the erroneous doctrine of temporal decrees. God is not ignorant of future events which will be executed by human volitions; He has foretold them in innumerable instances, and prophecy is but the manifestation of His eternal prescience. Scripture affirms that believers were chosen in Christ before the world began (Eph 1:4), yea, that grace was “given” to them then (2Ti 1:9).

Second, the decrees of God are wise. Wisdom is shown in the selection of the best possible ends and of the fittest means of accomplishing them. That this character belongs to the decrees of God is evident from what we know of them. They are disclosed to us by their execution, and every proof of wisdom in the works of God is a proof of the wisdom of the plan, in conformity to which they are performed. As the Psalmist declared, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all” (Psa 104:24). It is indeed but a very small part of them which falls under our observation, yet, we ought to proceed here as we do in other cases, and judge of the whole by the specimen, of what is unknown, by what is known. He who perceives the workings of admirable skill in the parts of a machine which he has an opportunity to examine, is naturally led to believe that the other parts are equally admirable. In like manner should we satisfy our minds as to God’s works when doubts obtrude themselves upon us, and repel the objections which may be suggested by something which we cannot reconcile to our notions of what is good and wise. When we reach the bounds of the finite and gaze toward the mysterious realm of the infinite, let us exclaim. “O the depth of the riches! both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33).

Third, they are free. “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counselor hath taught Him? With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?” (Isa 40:13-14). God was alone when He made His decrees, and His determinations were influenced by no external cause. He was free to decree or not to decree, and to decree one thing and not another. This liberty we must ascribe to Him who is supreme, independent, and sovereign in all His doings.

Fourth, they are absolute and unconditional. The execution of them is not suspended upon any condition which may, or may not be, performed. In every instance where God has decreed an end, He has also decreed every means to that end. The One who decreed the salvation of His elect also decreed to work faith in them (2Th 2:13). “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa 46:10): but that could not be, if His counsel depended upon a condition which might not be performed. But God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11).

Side by side with the immutability and invincibility of God’s decrees, Scripture plainly teaches that man is a responsible creature and answerable for his actions. And if our thoughts are formed from God’s Word the maintenance of the one will not lead to the denial of the other. That there is a real difficulty in defining where the one ends and the other begins, is freely granted. This is ever the case where there is a conjunction of the Divine and the human. Real prayer is indited by the Spirit, yet it is also the cry of a human heart. The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, yet were they written by men who were something more than machines in the hand of the Spirit. Christ is both God and man. He is Omniscient, yet “increased in wisdom” (Luk 2:52). He was Almighty, yet was “crucified through weakness” (2Co 13:4). He was the Prince of life, yet He died. High mysteries are these, yet faith receives them unquestioningly.

It has often been pointed out in the past that every objection made against the eternal decrees of God applies with equal force against His eternal foreknowledge:

Whether God has decreed all things that ever come to pass or not, all that own the being of a God, own that He knows all things beforehand. Now, it is self-evident that if He knows all things beforehand, He either doth approve of them or doth not approve of them; that is, He either is willing they should be, or He is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be is to decree them. (Jonathan Edwards).

Finally, attempt to assume and then contemplate the opposite. To deny the Divine decrees would be to predicate a world and all its concerns regulated by undesigned chance or blind fate. Then what peace, what assurance, what comfort would there be for our poor hearts and minds? What refuge would there be to fly to in the hour of need and trial? None at all. There would be nothing better than the black darkness and abject horror of atheism. O my reader, how thankful should we be that everything is determined by infinite wisdom and goodness! What praise and gratitude are due unto God for His Divine decrees. It is because of them that “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Well may we exclaim, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom he glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).

The Knowledge of God

God is omniscient. He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, God the past, the present and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth and in hell. “He knoweth what is in the darkness” (Dan 2:22). Nothing escapes Hs notice, nothing can be hidden from Him, nothing is forgotten by Him. Well may we say with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psa 139:6). His knowledge is perfect. He never errs, never changes, never overlooks anything. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13). Yes, such is the God with whom “we have to do!”

“Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue but, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether” (Psa 139:2-4). What a wondrous Being is the God of Scripture! Each of His glorious attributes should render Him honorable in our esteem. The apprehension of His omniscience ought to bow us in adoration before Him. Yet how little do we meditate upon this Divine perfection! Is it because the very thought of it fills us with uneasiness?

How solemn is this fact: nothing can be concealed from God! “For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them” (Eze 11:5). Though He be invisible to us, we are not so to Him. Neither the darkness of night, the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon can hide any sinner from the eyes of Omniscience. The trees of the garden were not able to conceal our first parents. No human eye beheld Cain murder his brother, but his Maker witnessed his crime. Sarah might laugh derisively in the seclusion of her tent, yet was it heard by Jehovah. Achan stole a wedge of gold and carefully hid it in the earth, but God brought it to light. David was at much pains to cover up his wickedness, but ere long the all-seeing God sent one of His servants to say to him, “Thou art the man! And to writer and reader is also said, Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23).

Men would strip Deity of His omniscience if they could — what a proof that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom 8:7)! The wicked do as naturally hate this Divine perfection as much as they are naturally compelled to acknowledge it. They wish there might be no Witness of their sins, no Searcher of their hearts, no Judge of their deeds. They seek to banish such a God from their thoughts: “They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness” (Hos 7:2). How solemn is Psa 90:8! Good reason has every Christ-rejecter for trembling before it: Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.

But to the believer, the fact of God’s omniscience is a truth fraught with much comfort. In times of perplexity he says with Job, “But He knoweth the way that I take.” (Job 23:10). It may be profoundly mysterious to me, quite incomprehensible to my friends, but “He knoweth!” In times of weariness and weakness believers assure themselves “He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (Psa 103:14). In times of doubt and suspicion they appeal to this very attribute saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa 139:23-24). In time of sad failure, when our actions have belied our hearts, when our deeds have repudiated our devotion, and the searching question comes to us, “Lovest thou Me?;” we say, as Peter did, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee” (Joh 21:17).

Here is encouragement to prayer. There is no cause for fearing that the petitions of the righteous will not be heard, or that their sighs and tears shall escape the notice of God, since He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. There is no danger of the individual saint being overlooked amidst the multitude of supplicants who daily and hourly present their various petitions, for an infinite Mind is as capable as paying the same attention to millions as if only one individual were seeking its attention. So too the lack of appropriate language, the inability to give expression to the deepest longing of the soul, will not jeopardize our prayers, for “It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isa 65:24).

“Great is our Lord, and of great power: His understanding is infinite” (Psa 147:5). God not only knows whatsoever has happened in the past in every part of His vast domains, and He is not only thoroughly acquainted with everything that is now transpiring throughout the entire universe, but He is also perfectly cognizant with every event, from the least to the greatest, that ever will happen in the ages to come. God’s knowledge of the future is as complete as is His knowledge of the past and the present, and that, because the future depends entirely upon Himself. Were it in anywise possible for something to occur apart from either the direct agency or permission of God, then that something would be independent of Him, and He would at once cease to be Supreme.

Now the Divine knowledge of the future is not a mere abstraction, but something which is inseparably connected with and accompanied by His purpose. God has Himself designed whatsoever shall yet be, and what He has designed must be effectuated. As His most sure Word affirms, “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand” (Dan 4:35). And again, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Pro 19:21). The wisdom and power of God being alike infinite, the accomplishment of whatever He hath purposed is absolutely guaranteed. It is no more possible for the Divine counsels to fail in their execution than it would be for the thrice holy God to lie.

Nothing relating to the future is in anywise uncertain so far as the actualization of God’s counsels are concerned. None of His decrees are left contingent either on creatures or secondary causes. There is no future event which is only a mere possibility, that is, something which may or may not come to pass, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning” (Act 15:18). Whatever God has decreed is inexorably certain, for He is without variableness, or shadow of turning. (Jas 1:17). Therefore we are told at the very beginning of that book which unveils to us so much of the future, of “Things which must shortly come to pass.” (Rev 1:1).

The perfect knowledge of God is exemplified and illustrated in every prophecy recorded in His Word. In the Old Testament are to be found scores of predictions concerning the history of Israel, which were fulfilled to their minutest detail, centuries after they were made. In them too are scores more foretelling the earthly career of Christ, and they too were accomplished literally and perfectly. Such prophecies could only have been given by One who knew the end from the beginning, and whose knowledge rested upon the unconditional certainty of the accomplishment of everything foretold. In like manner, both Old and New Testament contain many other announcements yet future, and they too “must be fulfilled” (Luk 24:44), must because foretold by Him who decreed them.

It should, however, be pointed out that neither God’s knowledge nor His cognition of the future, considered simply in themselves, are causative. Nothing has ever come to pass, or ever will, merely because God knew it. The cause of all things is the will of God. The man who really believes the Scriptures knows beforehand that the seasons will continue to follow each other with unfailing regularity to the end of earth’s history (Gen 8:22), yet his knowledge is not the cause of their succession. So God’s knowledge does not arise from things because they are or will be but because He has ordained them to be. God knew and foretold the crucifixion of His Son many hundreds of years before He became incarnate, and this, because in the Divine purpose, He was a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world: hence we read of His being “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Act 2:23).

A word or two by way of application. The infinite knowledge of God should fill us with amazement. How far exalted above the wisest man is the Lord! None of us knows what a day may bring forth, but all futurity is open to His omniscient gaze. The infinite knowledge of God ought to fill us with holy awe. Nothing we do, say, or even think, escapes the cognizance of Him with whom we have to do: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Pro 15:3). What a curb this would be unto us, did we but meditate upon it more frequently! Instead of acting recklessly, we should say with Hagar, “Thou God seest me” (Gen 16:13). The apprehension of God’s infinite knowledge should fill the Christian with adoration. The whole of my life stood open to His view from the beginning. He foresaw my every fall, my every sin, my every backsliding; yet, nevertheless, fixed His heart upon me. Oh, how the realization of this should bow me in wonder and worship before Him!

The Foreknowledge of God

What controversies have been engendered by this subject in the past! But what truth of Holy Scripture is there which has not been made the occasion of theological and ecclesiastical battles? The deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His atoning death, His second advent; the believer’s justification, sanctification, security; the church, its organization, officers, discipline; baptism, the Lord’s supper, and a score of other precious truths might be mentioned. Yet, the controversies which have been waged over them did not close the mouths of God’s faithful servants; why, then, should we avoid the vexed question of God’s Foreknowledge, because, forsooth, there are some who will charge us with fomenting strife? Let others contend if they will, our duty is to bear witness according to the light vouchsafed us.

There are two things concerning the Foreknowledge of God about which many are in ignorance: the meaning of the term, its Scriptural scope. Because this ignorance is so widespread, it is an easy matter for preachers and teachers to palm off perversions of this subject, even upon the people of God. There is only one safeguard against error, and that is to be established in the faith; and for that, there has to be prayerful and diligent study, and a receiving with meekness the engrafted Word of God. Only then are we fortified against the attacks of those who assail us. There are those today who are misusing this very truth in order to discredit and deny the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. Just as higher critics are repudiating the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures; evolutionists, the work of God in creation; so some pseudo Bible teachers are perverting His foreknowledge in order to set aside His unconditional election unto eternal life.

When the solemn and blessed subject of Divine foreordination is expounded, when God’s eternal choice of certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son is set forth, the Enemy sends along some man to argue that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God, and this “foreknowledge” is interpreted to mean that God foresaw certain ones would be more pliable than others, that they would respond more readily to the strivings of the Spirit, and that because God knew they would believe, He, accordingly, predestinated them unto salvation. But such a statement is radically wrong. It repudiates the truth of total depravity, for it argues that there is something good in some men. It takes away the independency of God, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature. It completely turns things upside down, for in saying God foresaw certain sinners would believe in Christ, and that because of this, He predestinated them unto salvation, is the very reverse of the truth. Scripture affirms that God, in His high sovereignty, singled out certain ones to be recipients of His distinguishing favors (Act 13:48), and therefore He determined to bestow upon them the gift of faith. False theology makes God’s foreknowledge of our believing the cause of His election to salvation; whereas, God’s election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect.

Before proceeding further with our discussion of this much misunderstood theme, let us pause and define our terms. What is meant by “foreknowledge?” “To know beforehand,” is the ready reply of many. But we must not jump at conclusions, nor must we turn to Webster’s dictionary as the final court of appeal, for it is not a matter of the etymology of the term employed. What is needed is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. It is failure to apply this simple, rule which is responsible for so much confusion and error. So many people assume they already know the signification of a certain word used in Scripture, and then they are too dilatory to test their assumptions by means of a concordance. Let us amplify this point.

Take the word “flesh.” Its meaning appears to be so obvious that many would regard it as a waste of time to look up its various connections in Scripture. It is hastily assumed that the word is synonymous with the physical body, and so no inquiry is made. But, in fact, “flesh” in Scripture frequently includes far more than what is corporeal; all that is embraced by the term can only be ascertained by a diligent comparison of every occurrence of it and by a study of each separate context. Take the word “world.” The average reader of the Bible imagines this word is the equivalent for the human race, and consequently, many passages where the term is found are wrongly interpreted. Take the word immortality. Surely it requires no study! Obviously it has reference to the indestructibility of the soul. Ah, my reader, it is foolish and wrong to assume anything where the Word of God is concerned. If the reader will take the trouble to carefully examine each passage where “mortal” and “immortal” are found, it will be seen these words are never applied to the soul, but always to the body.

Now what has just been said on “flesh,” the “world,” immortality, applies with equal force to the terms know and “foreknow.” Instead of imagining that these words signify no more than a simple cognition, the different passages in which they occur require to be carefully weighed. The word “foreknowledge” is not found in the Old Testament. But know occurs there frequently. When that term is used in connection with God, it often signifies to regard with favour, denoting not mere cognition but an affection for the object in view. “I know thee by name” (Exo 33:17). “Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you” (Deu 9:24). “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee” (Jer 1:5). “They have made princes and I knew it not” (Hos 8:4). “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amo 3:2). In these passages knew signifies either loved or appointed.

In like manner, the word “know” is frequently used in the New Testament, in the same sense as in the Old Testament. “Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you” (Mat 7:23). “I am the good shepherd and know My sheep and am known of Mine” (Joh 10:14). “If any man love God, the same is known of Him” (1Co 8:3). “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2Ti 2:19).

Now the word “foreknowledge” as it is used in the New Testament is less ambiguous than in its simple form “to know.” If every passage in which it occurs is carefully studied, it will be discovered that it is a moot point whether it ever has reference to the mere perception of events which are yet to take place. The fact is that “foreknowledge” is never used in Scripture in connection with events or actions; instead, it always has reference to persons. It is persons God is said to “foreknow,” not the actions of those persons. In proof of this we shall now quote each passage where this expression is found.

The first occurrence is in Act 2:23. There we read, “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” If careful attention is paid to the wording of this verse it will be seen that the apostle was not there speaking of God’s foreknowledge of the act of the crucifixion, but of the Person crucified: “Him (Christ) being delivered by,” etc.

The second occurrence is in Rom 8:29-30. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called,” etc. Weigh well the pronoun that is used here. It is not what He did foreknow, but whom He did. It is not the surrendering of their wills nor the believing of their hearts but the persons themselves, which is here in view.

“God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew” (Rom 11:2). Once more the plain reference is to persons, and to persons only.

The last mention is in 1Pe 1:2: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father? The previous verse tells us: the reference is to the “strangers scattered” i.e. the Diaspora, the Dispersion, the believing Jews. Thus, here too the reference is to persons, and not to their foreseen acts.

Now in view of these passages (and there are no more) what scriptural ground is there for anyone saying God “foreknew” the acts of certain ones, viz., their “repenting and believing,” and that because of those acts He elected them unto salvation? The answer is, None whatever. Scripture never speaks of repentance and faith as being foreseen or foreknown by God. Truly, He did know from all eternity that certain ones would repent and believe, yet this is not what Scripture refers to as the object of God’s “foreknowledge.” The word uniformly refers to God’s foreknowing persons; then let us “hold fast the form of sound words” (2Ti 1:13).

Another thing to which we desire to call particular attention is that the first two passages quoted above show plainly and teach implicitly that God’s “foreknowledge” is not causative, that instead, something else lies behind, precedes it, and that something is His own sovereign decree. Christ was “delivered by the,

(1) determinate counsel and

(2) foreknowledge of God.” (Act 2:23).

His “counsel” or decree was the ground of His foreknowledge. So again in Rom 8:29. That verse opens with the word “for,” which tells us to look back to what immediately precedes. What, then, does the previous verse say? This, “all things work together for good to them. . . .who are the called according to His purpose.” Thus God’s foreknowledge is based upon His purpose or decree (see Psa 2:7).

God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be. It is therefore a reversing of the order of Scripture, a putting of the cart before the horse, to affirm that God elects because He foreknows people. The truth is, He “foreknows” because He has elected. This removes the ground or cause of election from outside the creature, and places it in God’s own sovereign will. God purposed in Himself to elect a certain people, not because of anything good in them or from them, either actual or foreseen, but solely out of His own mere pleasure. As to why He chose the ones He did, we do not know, and can only say, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” The plain truth of Rom 8:29 is that God, before the foundation of the world, singled out certain sinners and appointed them unto salvation (2Th 2:13). This is clear from the concluding words of the verse: “Predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son,” etc. God did not predestinate those whom He foreknew were “conformed,” but, on the contrary, those whom He “foreknew” (i.e., loved and elected) He predestinated to be conformed. Their conformity to Christ is not the cause, but the effect of God’s foreknowledge and predestination.

God did not elect any sinner because He foresaw that he would believe, for the simple but sufficient reason that no sinner ever does believe until God gives him faith; just as no man sees until God gives him sight. Sight is God’s gift, seeing is the consequence of my using His gift. So faith is God’s gift (Eph 1:8-9), believing is the consequence of my using His gift. If it were true that God had elected certain ones to be saved because in due time they would believe, then that would make believing a meritorious act, and in that event the saved sinner would have ground for “boasting,” which Scripture emphatically denies: Eph 2:9.

Surely God’s Word is plain enough in teaching that believing is not a meritorious Act. It affirms that Christians are a people “who have believed through grace” (Act 18:27). If then, they have believed “through grace,” there is absolutely nothing meritorious about “believing,” and if nothing meritorious, it could not be the ground or cause which moved God to choose them. No; God’s choice proceeds not from anything in us, or anything from us, but solely from His own sovereign pleasure. Once more, in Rom 11:5, we read of “a remnant according to the election of grace.” There it is, plain enough; election itself is of grace, and grace is unmerited favour something for which we had no claim upon God whatsoever.

It thus appears that it is highly important for us to have clear and scriptural views of the “foreknowledge” of God. Erroneous conceptions about it lead inevitably to thoughts most dishonoring to Him. The popular idea of Divine foreknowledge is altogether inadequate. God not only knew the end from the beginning, but He planned, fixed, predestinated everything from the beginning. And, as cause stands to effect, so God’s purpose is the ground of His prescience. If then the reader be a real Christian, he is so because God chose him in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), and chose not because He foresaw you would believe, but chose simply because it pleased Him to choose: chose you notwithstanding your natural unbelief. This being so, all the glory and praise belongs alone to Him. You have no ground for taking any credit to yourself. You have “believed through grace” (Act 18:27), and that, because your very election was “of grace” (Rom 11:5).

The Supremacy of God

In one of his letters to Erasmus, Luther said, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” Probably that renowned scholar resented such a rebuke, the more so, since it proceeded from a miner’s son; nevertheless, it was thoroughly deserved. We too, though having no standing among the religious leaders of this degenerate age, prefer the same charge against the majority of the preachers of our day, and against those who, instead of searching the Scriptures for themselves, lazily accept the teaching of others. The most dishonoring and degrading conceptions of the rule and reign of the Almighty are now held almost everywhere. To countless thousands, even among those professing to be Christians, the God of the Scriptures is quite unknown.

Of old, God complained to an apostate Israel, Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself. (Psa 50:21). Such must now be His indictment against an apostate Christendom. Men imagine that the Most High is moved by sentiment, rather than actuated by principle. They suppose that His omnipotency is such an idle fiction that Satan is thwarting His designs on every side. They think that if He has formed any plan or purpose at all, then it must be like theirs, constantly subject to change. They openly declare that whatever power He possesses must be restricted, lest He invade the citadel of man’s “free will” and reduce him to a “machine.” They lower the all efficacious Atonement, which has actually redeemed everyone for whom it was made, to a mere “remedy,” which sin-sick souls may use if they feel disposed to; and they enervate the invincible work of the Holy Spirit to an “offer” of the Gospel which sinners may accept or reject as they please.

The “god” of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The “god” who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible Conferences is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside of the pale of Christendom form “gods” out of wood and stone, while the millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a “god” out of their own carnal mind. In reality, they are but atheists, for there is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all. A “god” whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits nought but contempt.

The supremacy of the true and living God might well be argued from the infinite distance which separates the mightiest creatures from the almighty Creator. He is the Potter, they are but the clay in His hands to be molded into vessels of honor, or to be dashed into pieces (Psa 2:9) as He pleases. Were all the denizens of heaven and all the inhabitants of the earth to combine in revolt against Him, it would occasion Him no uneasiness, and would have less effect upon His eternal and unassailable Throne than has the spray of Mediterranean’s waves upon the towering rocks of Gibraltar. So puerile and powerless is the creature to affect the Most High, Scripture itself tells us that when the Gentile heads unite with apostate Israel to defy Jehovah and His Christ, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh” (Psa 2:4).

The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly and positively affirmed in many scriptures. “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory and the majesty: for all in the heaven and all in the earth is Thine; Thine is the Kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as Head above all. . . .And Thou reignest over all” (1Ch 29:11-12) — note reignest now, not “will do so in the Millennium.” “O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou, God in heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none (not even the Devil himself) is able to withstand Thee?” (2Ch 20:6). Before Him presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers.

“But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job 23:13). Ah, my reader, the God of Scripture is no make-believe monarch, no mere imaginary sovereign, but King of kings, and Lord of lords. “I know that Thou canst do everything, and that no thought of Thine can be hindered” (Job 42:3, margin), or, as another translator, “no purpose of Thine can be frustrated.” All that He has designed He does. All that He has decreed, He performs. “But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psa 115:3); and why has He? Because “there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord” (Pro 21:30).

God’s supremacy over the works of His hands is vividly depicted in Scripture. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures, all perform their Maker’s bidding. At His pleasure the Red Sea divided and its waters stood up as walls (Exo 14:1-31); and the earth opened her mouth, and guilty rebels went down alive into the pit (Num 14:1-45). When He so ordered, the sun stood still (Jos 10:1-43); and on another occasion went backward ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz (Isa 38:8). To exemplify His supremacy, He made ravens carry food to Elijah (1Ki 17:4-6), iron to swim on top of the waters (2Ki 6:5), lions to be tame when Daniel was cast into their den, fire to burn not when the three Hebrews were flung into its flames. Thus “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psa 135:6).

God’s supremacy is also demonstrated in His perfect rule over the wills of men. Let the reader ponder carefully Exo 34:24. Three times in the year all the males of Israel were required to leave their homes and go up to Jerusalem. They lived in the midst of hostile people, who hated them for having appropriated their lands. What, then, was to hinder the Canaanites from seizing their opportunity, and, during the absence of the men, slaying the women and children and taking possession of their farms? If the hand of the Almighty was not upon the wills even of wicked men, how could He make this promise beforehand, that none should so much as “desire” their lands? Ah, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Pro 21:1).

But, it may be objected, do we not read again and again in Scripture how that men defied God, resisted His will, broke His commandments, disregarded His warnings, and turned a deaf ear to all His exhortations? Certainly we do. And does this nullify all that we have said above? If it does, then the Bible plainly contradicts itself. But that cannot be. What the objector refers to is simply the wickedness of man against the external word of God, whereas what we have mentioned above is what God has purposed in Himself. The rule of conduct He has given us to walk by, is perfectly fulfilled by none of us; His own eternal “counsels” are accomplished to their minutest details.

The absolute and universal supremacy of God is affirmed with equal plainness and positiveness in the New Testament. There we are told that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11) — the Greek for “worketh” means to work effectually. For this reason we read, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36). Men may boast that they are free agents, with a will of their own, and are at liberty to do as they please, but Scripture says to those who boast “we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell…Ye ought to say, If the Lord will” (Jas 4:13-15)!

Here then is a sure resting-place for the heart. Our lives are neither the product of blind fate nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity, and is now ordered by the living and reigning God. Not a hair of our heads can be touched without His permission. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Pro 16:9). What assurance, what strength, what comfort should this give the real Christian! “My times are in Thy hand” (Psa 31:15). Then let me “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psa 37:7).

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God may be defined as the exercise of His supremacy. Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. So His own Word expressly declares: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa 46:10); “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand” (Dan 4:35). Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11).

Rightly did the late Mr. Spurgeon say in his sermon on Mat 20:15:

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth, and we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust.

“Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psa 135:6). Yes, dear reader, such is the imperial Potentate revealed in Holy Writ. Unrivalled in majesty, unlimited in power, unaffected by anything outside Himself. But we are living in a day when even the most “orthodox” seem afraid to admit the proper Godhood of God. They say that to press excludes human responsibility; whereas human responsibility is based upon Divine sovereignty, and is the product of it.

“But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psa 115:3). He sovereignly chose to place each of His creatures on that particular footing which seemed good in His sight. He created angels: some He placed on a conditional footing, others He gave an immutable standing before Him (1Ti 5:21), making Christ their head (Col 2:10). Let it not be overlooked that the angels which sinned (2Pe 2:5), were as much His creatures as the angels that sinned not. Yet God foresaw they would fall, nevertheless He placed them on a mutable creature conditional footing, and suffered them to fall, though He was not the Author of their sin.

So too, God sovereignly placed Adam in the garden of Eden upon a conditional footing. Had He so pleased, He could have placed him upon an unconditional footing; He could have placed him on a footing as firm as that occupied by the unfallen angels, He could have placed him upon a footing as sure and as immutable as that which His saints have in Christ. But, instead, He chose to set him in Eden on the basis of creature responsibility, so that he stood or fell according as he measured or failed to measure up to his responsibility, obedience to his Maker. Adam stood accountable to God by the law which his Creator had given him. Here was responsibility, unimpaired responsibility, tested out under the most favorable conditions.

Now God did not place Adam upon a footing of conditional, creature responsibility, because it was right He should so place him. No, it was right because God did it. God did not even give creatures being because it was right for Him to do so, i.e., because He was under any obligations to create; but it was right because He did so. God is sovereign. His will is supreme. So far from God being under any law of “right,” He is a law unto Himself, so that whatsoever He does is right. And woe be to the rebel that calls His sovereignty into question: “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker. Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the thing say to Him that fashioned it, What makest Thou?” (Isa 45:9).

Again; the Lord God sovereignly placed Israel upon a conditional footing. The 19th, 20th and 24th chapters of Exodus afford a clear and full proof of this. They were placed under a covenant of works. God gave to them certain laws, and made national blessing for them depend upon their observance of His statutes. But Israel were stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart. They rebelled against Jehovah, forsook His law, turned unto false gods, apostatized. In consequence, Divine judgment fell upon them, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies, dispersed abroad throughout the earth, and remain under the heavy frown of God’s displeasure to this day.

It was God in the exercise of His high sovereignty that placed Satan and his angels, Adam, Israel, in their respective responsible positions. But so far from His sovereignty taking away responsibility from the creature, it was by the exercise thereof that He placed them on this conditional footing, under such responsibilities as He thought proper; by virtue of which sovereignty, He is seen to be God over all. Thus, there is perfect harmony between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the creature. Many have most foolishly said that it is quite impossible to show where Divine sovereignty ends and creature accountability begins. Here is where creature responsibility begins: in the sovereign ordination of the Creator. As to His sovereignty, there is not and never will be any “end” to it!

Let us give further proofs that the responsibility of the creature is based upon God’s sovereignty. How many things are recorded in Scripture which were right because God commanded them, and which would not have been right had He not so commanded! What right had Adam to “eat” of the trees of the Garden? The permission of his Maker (Gen 2:16), without such, he had been a thief! What right had Israel to “borrow” of the Egyptians’ jewels and raiment (Exo 12:35)? None, unless Jehovah had authorized it (Exo 3:22). What right had Israel to slay so many lambs for sacrifice? None, except that God commanded it. What right had Israel to kill off all the Canaanites? None, save as Jehovah had bidden them. What right has the husband to require submission from his wife? None, unless God had appointed it. And so we might go on. Human responsibility is based upon Divine sovereignty.

One more example of the exercise of God’s absolute sovereignty. God placed His elect upon a different footing from Adam or Israel. He placed them upon an unconditional footing. In the Everlasting Covenant Jesus Christ was appointed their Head, took their responsibilities upon Himself, and wrought out a righteousness for them which is perfect, indefeasible, eternal. Christ was placed upon a conditional footing, for He was “made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” only with this infinite difference: the others failed, He did not and could not. And who placed Christ upon that conditional footing? The Triune God. It was sovereign will that appointed Him, sovereign love that sent Him, sovereign authority that assigned Him His work.

Certain conditions were set before the Mediator. He was to be made in the likeness of sin’s flesh; He was to magnify the law and make it honorable; He was to bear all the sins of all God’s people in His own body on the tree; He was to make full, atonement for them; He was to endure the outpoured wrath of God; He was to die and be buried. On the fulfillment of those conditions He was promised a reward: Isa 53:10-12. He was to be the Firstborn among many brethren; He was to have a people who should share His glory. Blessed be His name forever, He fulfilled those conditions, and because He did so, the Father stands pledged, on solemn oath, to preserve through time and bless throughout eternity every one of those for whom His incarnate Son mediated. Because He took their place, they now share His. His righteousness is theirs, His standing before God is theirs, His life is theirs. There is not a single condition for them to meet, not a single responsibility for them to discharge in order to attain their eternal bliss. “By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are set apart” (Heb 10:14).

Here then is the sovereignty of God openly displayed before all, displayed in the different ways in which He has dealt with His creatures. Part of the angels, Adam, Israel, were placed upon a conditional footing, continuance in blessing being made dependent upon their obedience and fidelity to God. But in sharp contrast from them, the “little flock” (Luk 12:32), have been given an unconditional, an immutable standing in God’s covenant, God’s counsels, God’s Son; their blessing being made dependent upon what Christ did for them. “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2Ti 2:19). The foundation on which God’s elect stand is a perfect one: nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it (Ecc 3:14). Here, then, is the highest and grandest display of the absolute sovereignty of God. Verily, He has “mercy on whom He will have mercy, and, whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom 9:18).

The Immutability of God

This is one of the Divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered. It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations. Therefore God is compared to a rock (Deu 32:4, etc.) which remains immovable, when the entire ocean surrounding it is continually in a fluctuating state; even so, though all creatures are subject to change, God is immutable. Because God has no beginning and no ending, He can know no change. He is everlastingly “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17).

First, God is immutable in His essence. His nature and being are infinite, and so, subject to no mutations. There never was a time when He was not; there never will come a time when He shall cease to be. God has neither evolved, grown, nor improved. All that He is today, He has ever been, and ever will be. “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal 3:6) is His own unqualified affirmation. He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse. Altogether unaffected by anything outside Himself, improvement or deterioration is impossible. He is perpetually the same. He only can say, “I am that I am” (Exo 3:14). He is altogether uninfluenced by the flight of time. There is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity. Therefore His power can never diminish nor His glory ever fade.

Secondly, God is immutable in His attributes. Whatever the attributes of God were before the universe was called into existence, they are precisely the same now, and will remain so forever. Necessarily so; for they are the very perfections, the essential qualities of His being. Semper idem (always the same) is written across every one of them. His power is unabated, His wisdom undiminished, His holiness unsullied. The attributes of God can no more change than Deity can cease to be. His veracity is immutable, for His Word is “forever settled in heaven” (Psa 119:89). His love is eternal: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3) and “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (Joh 13:1). His mercy ceases not, for it is “everlasting” (Psa 100:5).

Thirdly, God is immutable in His counsel. His will never varies. Perhaps some are ready to object that we ought to read the following: “And it repented the Lord that He had made man” (Gen 6:6). Our first reply is, Then do the Scriptures contradict themselves? No, that cannot be. Num 23:19 is plain enough: “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent.” So also in 1Sa 15:19, “The strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man that He should repent.” The explanation is very simple. When speaking of Himself. God frequently accommodates His language to our limited capacities. He describes Himself as clothed with bodily members, as eyes, ears, hands, etc. He speaks of Himself as “waking” (Psa 78:65), as “rising early” (Jer 7:13); yet He neither slumbers nor sleeps. When He institutes a change in His dealings with men, He describes His course of conduct as “repenting.”

Yes, God is immutable in His counsel. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 11:29). It must be so, for “He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job 23:13). Change and decay in all around we see, may He who changeth not abide with thee. God’s purpose never alters. One of two things causes a man to change his mind and reverse his plans: want of foresight to anticipate everything, or lack of power to execute them. But as God is both omniscient and omnipotent there is never any need for Him to revise His decrees. No. “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psa 33:11). Therefore do we read of “the immutability of His counsel” (Heb 6:17).

Herein we may perceive the infinite distance which separates the highest creature from the Creator. Creaturehood and mutability are correlative terms. If the creature was not mutable by nature, it would not be a creature; it would be God. By nature we tend to nothing, as we came from nothing. Nothing stays our annihilation but the will and sustaining power of God. None can sustain himself a single moment. We are entirely dependent on the Creator for every breath we draw. We gladly own with the Psalmist Thou “holdest our soul in life” (Psa 66:9). The realization of this ought to make us lie down under a sense of our own nothingness in the presence of Him “in Whom we live and move, and have our being” (Act 17:28).

As fallen creatures we are not only mutable, but everything in us is opposed to God. As such we are “wandering stars” (Jud 1:13), out of our proper orbit. The wicked are “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20). Fallen man is inconstant. The words of Jacob concerning Reuben apply with full force to all of Adam’s descendants: “unstable as water” (Gen 49:4). Thus it is not only a mark of piety, but also the part of wisdom to heed that injunction, “cease ye from man” (Isa 2:22). No human being is to be depended on. “Put not your trust in princes, in the son of man, in whom is no help” (Psa 146:3). If I disobey God, then I deserve to be deceived and disappointed by my fellows. People who like you today, may hate you tomorrow. The multitude who cried “Hosanna to the Son of David,” speedily changed to “Away with Him, Crucify Him.”

Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do, if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But, all praise to His glorious name, He is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, His will stable, His word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isa 54:10).

Herein is encouragement to prayer: “What comfort would it be to pray to a god that, like the chameleon, changed color every moment? Who would put up a petition to an earthly prince that was so mutable as to grant a petition one day, and deny it another?” (S. Charnock, 1670). Should someone ask, But what is the use of praying to One whose will is already fixed? We answer, Because He so requires it. What blessings has God promised without our seeking them? “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us” (1Jn 5:14), and He has willed everything that is for His child’s good. To ask for anything contrary to His will is not prayer, but rank rebellion.

Herein is terror for the wicked. Those who defy Him, break His laws, have no concern for His glory, but live their lives as though He existed not, must not suppose that, when at the last they shall cry to Him for mercy, He will alter His will, revoke His word, and rescind His awful threatenings. No, He has declared, “Therefore will I also deal in fury: Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in Mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them” (Eze 8:18). God will not deny Himself to gratify their lusts. God is holy, unchangingly so. Therefore God hates sin, eternally hates it. Hence the eternality of the punishment of all who die in their sins.

The Divine immutability, like the cloud which interposed between the Israelites and the Egyptian army, has a dark as well as a light side. It insures the execution of His threatenings, as well as the performance of His promises; and destroys the hope which the guilty fondly cherish, that He will be all lenity to His frail and erring creatures, and that they will be much more lightly dealt with than the declarations of His own Word would lead us to expect. We oppose to these deceitful and presumptuous speculations the solemn truth, that God is unchanging in veracity and purpose, in faithfulness and justice. (J. Dick, 1850).

The Holiness of God

“Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy” (Rev 15:4). He only is independently, infinitely, immutably holy. In Scripture He is frequently styled “The Holy One”: He is so because the sum of all moral excellency is found in Him. He is absolute Purity, unsullied even by the shadow of sin. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1Jn 1:5). Holiness is the very excellency of the Divine nature: the great God is “glorious in holiness” (Exo 15:11). Therefore do we read, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab 1:13). As God’s power is the opposite of the native weakness of the creature, as His wisdom is in complete contrast from the least defect of understanding or folly, so His holiness is the very antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement. Of old God appointed singers in Israel “that they should praise for the beauty of holiness” (2Ch 20:21). “Power is God’s hand or arm, omniscience His eye, mercy His bowels, eternity His duration, but holiness is His beauty” (S. Charnock). It is this, supremely, which renders Him lovely to those who are delivered from sin’s dominion.

A chief emphasis is placed upon this perfection of God: God is oftener styled Holy than almighty, and set forth by this part of His dignity more than by any other. This is more fixed on as an epithet to His name than any other. You never find it expressed ‘His mighty name’ or ‘His wise name,’ but His great name, and most of all, His holy name. This is the greatest title of honour; in this latter doth the majesty and venerableness of His name appear (S. Charnock).

This perfection, as none other, is solemnly celebrated before the Throne of Heaven, the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:3). God Himself singles out this perfection, “Once have I sworn by Thy holiness” (Psa 89:35). God swears by His holiness because that is a fuller expression of Himself than anything else. Therefore are we exhorted, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness” (Psa 30:4). “This may be said to be a transcendental attribute, that, as it were, runs through the rest, and casts luster upon them. It is an attribute of attributes” (J. Howe, 1670). Thus we read of “the beauty of the Lord” (Psa 27:4), which is none other than “the beauty of holiness” (Psa 110:3).

As it seems to challenge an excellency above all His other perfections, so it is the glory of all the rest; as it is the glory of the Godhead, so it is the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them. Should this be sullied, all the rest would lose their honour; as at the same instant the sun should lose its light, it would lose its heat, its strength, its generative and quickening virtue. As sincerity is the luster of every grace in a Christian, so is purity the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead. His justice is a holy justice, His wisdom a holy wisdom, His arm of power a “holy arm” (Psa 98:1), His truth or promise a “holy promise” (Psa 105:42). His name, which signifies all His attributes in conjunction, “is holy,” Psa 103:1 (S. Charnock).

God’s holiness is manifested in His works. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psa 145:17). Nothing but that which is excellent can proceed from Him. Holiness is the rule of all His actions. At the beginning He pronounced all that He made “very good” (Gen 1:31), which He could not have done had there been anything imperfect or unholy in them. Man was made “upright” (Ecc 7:29), in the image and likeness of his Creator. The angels that fell were created holy, for we are told that they “kept not their first habitation” (Jud 1:6). Of Satan it is written, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Eze 28:15).

God’s holiness is manifested in His law. That law forbids sin in all of its modifications: in its most refined as well as its grossest forms, the intent of the mind as well as the pollution of the body, the secret desire as well as the overt Acts Therefore do we read, The law is holy, and “the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom 7:12). Yes, “the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psa 19:8-9).

God’s holiness is manifested at the Cross. Wondrously and yet most solemnly does the Atonement display God’s infinite holiness and abhorrence of sin. How hateful must sin be to God for Him to punish it to its utmost deserts when it was imputed to His Son!

Not all the vials of judgment that have or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious demons, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon His Son. Never did Divine holiness appear more beautiful and lovely than at the time our Saviour’s countenance was most marred in the midst of His dying groans. This Himself acknowledges in Psa 22:1-31. When God had turned His smiling face from Him, and thrust His sharp knife into His heart, which forced that terrible cry from Him, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He adores this perfection — “Thou art holy,” Psa 22:3 (S. Charnock).

Because God is holy He hates all sin. He loves everything which is in conformity to His laws, and loathes everything which is contrary to it. His Word plainly declares, “The froward is an abomination to the Lord” (Pro 3:32). And again, “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord” (Pro 15:26). It follows, therefore, that He must necessarily punish sin. Sin can no more exist without demanding His punishment than without requiring His hatred of it. God has often forgiven sinners, but He never forgives sin; and the sinner is only forgiven on the ground of Another having borne his punishment; for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb 9:22). Therefore we are told, “The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth Wrath for His enemies” (Nah 1:2). For one sin God banished our first parents from Eden. For one sin all the posterity of Ham fell under a curse which remains over them to this day (Gen 9:21). For one sin Moses was excluded from Canaan, Elisha’s servant smitten with leprosy, Ananias and Sapphira cut off out of the land of the living.

Herein we find proof for the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures. The unregenerate do not really believe in the holiness of God. Their conception of His character is altogether one-sided. They fondly hope that His mercy will override everything else. “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself” (Psa 50:21) is God’s charge against them. They think only of a “god” patterned after their own evil hearts. Hence their continuance in a course of mad folly. Such is the holiness ascribed to the Divine nature and character in Scripture that it clearly demonstrates their superhuman origin. The character attributed to the “gods” of the ancients and of modern heathendom are the very reverse of that immaculate purity which pertains to the true God. An ineffably holy God, who has the utmost abhorrence of all sin, was never invented by any of Adam’s fallen descendants! The fact is that nothing makes more manifest the terrible depravity of man’s heart and his enmity against the living God than to have set before him One who is infinitely and immutably holy. His own idea of sin is practically limited to what the world calls “crime.” Anything short of that, man palliates as “defects,” “mistakes,” “infirmities,” etc. And even where sin is owned at all, excuses and extenuations are made for it.

The “god” which the vast majority of professing Christians “love,” is looked upon very much like an indulgent old man, who himself has no relish for folly, but leniently winks at the “indiscretions” of youth. But the Word says, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity “(Psa 5:5). And again, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa 7:11). But men refuse to believe in this God, and gnash their teeth when His hatred of sin is faithfully pressed upon their attention. No, sinful man was no more likely to devise a holy God than to create the Lake of fire in which he will be tormented for ever and ever.

Because God is holy, acceptance with Him on the ground of creature doings is utterly impossible. A fallen creature could sooner create a world than produce that which would meet the approval of infinite Purity. Can darkness dwell with Light? Can the Immaculate One take pleasure in “filthy rags” (Isa 64:6)? The best that sinful man brings forth is defiled. A corrupt tree cannot bear good fruit. God would deny Himself, vilify His perfections, were He to account as righteous and holy that which is not so in itself; and nothing is so which has the least stain upon it contrary to the nature of God. But blessed be His name, that which His holiness demanded His grace has provided in Christ Jesus our Lord. Every poor sinner who has fled to Him for refuge stands “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Hallelujah!

Because God is holy the utmost reverence becomes our approaches unto Him. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all about Him” (Psa 89:7). Then “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool; He is holy” (Psa 99:5). Yes, “at His footstool,” in the lowest posture of humility, prostrate before Him. When Moses would approach unto the burning bush, God said, “put off thy shoes from off thy feet” (Exo 3:5). He is to be served “with fear” (Psa 2:11). Of Israel His demand was, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3). The more our hearts are awed by His ineffable holiness, the more acceptable will be our approaches unto Him.

Because God is holy we should desire to be conformed to Him. His command is, “Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1Pe 1:16). We are not bidden to be omnipotent or omniscient as God is, but we are to be holy, and that “in all manner of deportment” (1Pe 1:15).

This is the prime way of honoring God. We do not so glorify God by elevated admiration, or eloquent expressions, or pompous services of Him, as when we aspire to a conversing with Him with unstained spirits, and live to Him in living like Him (S. Charnock).

Then as God alone is the Source and Fount of holiness, let us earnestly seek holiness from Him; let our daily prayer be that He may “sanctify us wholly; and our whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Th 5:23).

The Power of God

We cannot have a right conception of God unless we think of Him as all-powerful, as well as all-wise. He who cannot do what he will and perform all his pleasure cannot be God. As God hath a will to resolve what He deems good, so has He power to execute His will.

The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleases, whatsoever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatsoever the infinite purity of His will may resolve. . . . As holiness is the beauty of all God’s attributes, so power is that which gives life and action to all the perfections of the Divine nature. How vain would be the eternal counsels, if power did not step in to execute them. Without power His mercy would be but feeble pity, His promises an empty sound, His threatenings a mere scarecrow. God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature. (S. Charnock).

“God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God” (Psa 62:11). “God hath spoken once”: nothing more is necessary! Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His word abideth forever. God hath spoken once: how befitting His Divine majesty! We poor mortals may speak often and yet fail to be heard. He speaks but once and the thunder of His power is heard on a thousand hills. “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice; hailstones and coals of fire. Yea, He sent out His arrows, and scattered them; and He shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. Then the channels of waters were seen and the foundations of the world were discovered at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils” (Psa 18:13-15).

“God hath spoken once”: behold His unchanging authority. “For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?” (Psa 89:6). “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What dost Thou?” (Dan 4:35). This was openly displayed when God became incarnate and tabernacled among men. To the leper He said, “I Will, be thou clean, and immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Mat 8:3). To one who had lain in the grave four days He cried, “Lazarus, come forth,” and the dead came forth. The stormy wind and the angry wave were hushed at a single word from Him. A legion of demons could not resist His authoritative command.

“Power belongeth unto God,” and to Him alone. Not a creature in the entire universe has an atom of power save what God delegates. But God’s power is not acquired, nor does it depend upon any recognition by any other authority. It belongs to Him inherently.

God’s power is like Himself, self-existent, self-sustained. The mightiest of men cannot add so much as a shadow of increased power to the Omnipotent One. He sits on no buttressed throne and leans on no assisting arm. His court is not maintained by His courtiers, nor does it borrow its splendor from His creatures. He is Himself the great central source and Originator of all power (C. H. Spurgeon).

Not only does all creation bear witness to the great power of God, but also to His entire independency of all created things. Listen to His own challenge: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened or who laid the cornerstone thereof?” (Job 38:4-6). How completely is the pride of man laid in the dust!

Power is also used as a name of God, the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power (Mar 14:62), that is, at the right hand of God. God and power are so inseparable that they are reciprocated. As His essence is immense, not to be confined in place; as it is eternal, not to be measured in time; so it is almighty, not to be limited in regard of action (S. Charnock).

“Lo, these are parts of His ways:” but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand? (Job 26:14). Who is able to count all the monuments of His power? Even that which is displayed of His might in the visible creation is utterly beyond our powers of comprehension, still less are we able to conceive of omnipotence itself. There is infinitely more power lodged in the nature of God than is expressed in all His works.

“Parts of His ways” we behold in creation, providence, redemption, but only a “little part” of His might is seen in them. Remarkably is this brought out in Hab 3:4: “and there was the hiding of His power.” It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more grandiloquent than the imagery of this whole chapter, yet nothing in it surpasses the nobility of this statement. The prophet (in vision) beheld the mighty God scattering the hills and overturning the mountains, which one would think afforded an amazing demonstration of His power Nay, says our verse, that is rather the “hiding” than the displaying of His power. What is meant? This: so inconceivable, so immense, so uncontrollable is the power of Deity, that the fearful convulsions which He works in nature conceal more than they reveal of His infinite might!

It is very beautiful to link together the following passages: “He walketh upon the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8), which expresses God’s uncontrollable power. “He walketh in the circuit of Heaven” (Job 22:14), which tells of the immensity of His presence. “He walketh upon the wings of the wind” (Psa 104:3), which signifies the amazing swiftness of His operations. This last expression is very remarkable. It is not that “He flieth,” or “runneth,” but that He “walketh” and that, on the very “wings of the wind” — on the most impetuous of the elements, tossed into utmost rage, and sweeping along with almost inconceivable rapidity, yet they are under His feet, beneath His perfect control!

Let us now consider God’s power in creation. “The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine, as for the world and the fulness thereof, Thou hast founded them. The north and the south Thou hast created them” (Psa 89:11-12). Before man can work he must have both tools and materials, but God began with nothing, and by His word alone out of nothing made all things. The intellect cannot grasp it. God “spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast” (Psa 33:9). Primeval matter heard His voice. “God said, Let there be. . .and it was so” (Gen 1:1-31). Well may we exclaim, “Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is Thy hand, high is Thy right hand” (Psa 89:13).

Who, that looks upward to the midnight sky; and, with an eye of reason, beholds its rolling wonders; who can forbear inquiring, Of what were their mighty orbs formed? Amazing to relate, they were produced without materials. They sprung from emptiness itself. The stately fabric of universal nature emerged out of nothing. What instruments were used by the Supreme Architect to fashion the parts with such exquisite niceness, and give so beautiful a polish to the whole? How was it all connected into one finely-proportioned and nobly finished structure? A bare fiat accomplished all. Let them be, said God. He added no more; and at once the marvelous edifice arose, adorned with every beauty, displaying innumerable perfections, and declaring amidst enraptured seraphs its great Creator’s praise. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth,” Psa 33:6 (James Hervey, 1789).

Consider God’s power in preservation. No creature has power to preserve itself. “Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow up without water?” (Job 8:11). Both man and beast would perish if there were not herbs for food, and herbs would wither and die if the earth were not refreshed with fruitful showers. Therefore is God called the Preserver of “man and beast” (Psa 36:6). “He upholdeth all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3). What a marvel of Divine power is the prenatal life of every human being! That an infant can live at all, and for so many months, in such cramped and filthy quarters, and that without breathing, is unaccountable without the power of God. Truly He “holdeth our soul in life” (Psa 66:9).

The preservation of the earth from the violence of the sea is another plain instance of God’s might. How is that raging element kept pent within those limits wherein He first lodged it, continuing its channel, without overflowing the earth and dashing in pieces the lower part of the creation? The natural situation of the water is to be above the earth, because it is lighter, and to be immediately under the air, because it is heavier. Who restrains the natural quality of it? certainly man does not, and cannot. It is the fiat of its Creator which alone bridles it: And said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11). What a standing monument of the power of God is the preservation of the world!

Consider God’s power in government. Take His restraining the malice of Satan. “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1Pe 5:8). He is filled with hatred against God, and with fiendish enmity against men, particularly the saints. He that envied Adam in paradise, envies us the pleasure of enjoying any of God’s blessings. Could he have his will, he would treat all the same way he treated Job: he would send fire from heaven on the fruits of the earth, destroying the cattle, cause a wind to overthrow our houses, and cover our bodies with boils. But, little as men may realize it, God bridles him to a large extent, prevents him from carrying out his evil designs, and confines him within His ordinations.

So too God restrains the natural corruption of men. He suffers sufficient outbreakings of sin to show what fearful havoc has been wrought by man’s apostasy from his Maker, but who can conceive the frightful lengths to which men would go were God to remove His curbing hand? “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness their feet are swift to shed blood” (Rom 3:14-15). This is the nature of every descendant of Adam. Then what unbridled licentiousness and headstrong folly would triumph in the world, if the power of God did not interpose to lock down the floodgates of it! See Psa 93:3-4.

Consider God’s power in judgment. When He smites, none can resist Him: see Eze 22:14.How terribly this was exemplified at the Flood! God opened the windows of heaven and broke up the great fountains of the deep, and (excepting those in the ark) the entire human race, helpless before the storm of His wrath, was swept away. A shower of fire and brimstone from heaven, and the cities of the plain were exterminated. Pharaoh and all his hosts were impotent when God blew upon them at the Red Sea. What a terrific word is that in Rom 9:22: “What if God, willing to show wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” God is going to display His mighty power upon the reprobate not merely by incarcerating them in Gehenna, but by supernaturally preserving their bodies as well as souls amid the eternal burnings of the Lake of Fire.

Well may all tremble before such a God! To treat with impunity One who can crush us more easily than we can a moth, is a suicidal policy. To openly defy Him who is clothed with omnipotence, who can rend us in pieces or cast into Hell any moment He pleases, is the very height of insanity. To put it on its lowest ground, it is but the part of wisdom to heed His command, “Kiss the Son. lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Psa 2:12).

Well may the enlightened soul adore such a God! The wondrous and infinite perfections of such a Being call for fervent worship. If men of might and renown claim the admiration of the world, how much more should the power of the Almighty fill us with wonderment and homage. “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exo 15:11).

Well may the saint trust such a God! He is worthy of implicit confidence. Nothing is too hard for Him. If God were stinted in might and had a limit to His strength we might well despair. But seeing that He is clothed with omnipotence, no prayer is too hard for Him to answer, no need too great for Him to supply, no passion too strong for Him to subdue; no temptation too powerful for Him to deliver from, no misery too deep for Him to relieve. “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa 27:1). “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).

AW Pink (1886-1952): THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD (Part 2 of 2)

THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD (Part 2 of 2)
By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

The Faithfulness of God

Unfaithfulness is one of the most outstanding sins of these evil days. In the business world, a man’s word is, with exceedingly rare exceptions, no longer his bond. In the social world, marital infidelity abounds on every hand, the sacred bonds of wedlock being broken with as little regard as the discarding of an old garment. In the ecclesiastical realm, thousands who have solemnly covenanted to preach the truth make no scruple to attack and deny it. Nor can reader or writer claim complete immunity from this fearful sin: in how many ways have we been unfaithful to Christ, and to the light and privileges which God has entrusted to us! How refreshing, then, how unspeakably blessed, to lift our eyes above this scene of ruin, and behold One who is faithful, faithful in all things, faithful at all times.

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God” (Deu 7:9). This quality is essential to His being, without it He would not be God. For God to be unfaithful would be to act contrary to His nature, which were impossible: “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2Ti 2:13). Faithfulness is one of the glorious perfections of His being. He is as it were clothed with it: “O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto Thee? or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?” (Psa 89:8). So too when God became incarnate it was said, “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins” (Isa 11:5).

What a word is that in Psa 36:5, Thy mercy, “O Lord, is in the heavens; and Thy faithfulness unto the clouds.” Far above all finite comprehension is the unchanging faithfulness of God. Everything about God is great, vast, incomparable. He never forgets, never fails, never falters, never forfeits His word. To every declaration of promise or prophecy the Lord has exactly adhered, every engagement of covenant or threatening He will make good, for “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Num 23:19). Therefore does the believer exclaim, “His compassions fail not, they are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23).

Scripture abounds in illustrations of God’s faithfulness. More than four thousand years ago He said, “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen 8:22). Every year that comes furnishes a fresh witness to God’s fulfillment of this promise. In Gen 15:1-21 we find that Jehovah declared unto Abraham, “Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them. . . . But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again” (Gen 15:13-16). Centuries ran their weary course. Abraham’s descendants groaned amid the brick-kilns of Egypt. Had God forgotten His promise? No, indeed. Read Exo 12:41, “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” Through Isaiah the Lord declared, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). Again centuries passed, but “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

God is true. His Word of Promise is sure. In all His relations with His people God is faithful. He may be safely relied upon. No one ever yet really trusted Him in vain. We find this precious truth expressed almost everywhere in the Scriptures, for His people need to know that faithfulness is an essential part of the Divine character. This is the basis of our confidence in Him. But it is one thing to accept the faithfulness of God as a Divine truth, it is quite another to act upon it. God has given us many “exceeding great and precious promises,” but are we really counting on His fulfillment of them? Are we actually expecting Him to do for us all that He has said? Are we resting with implicit assurance on these words, “He is faithful that promised” (Heb 10:23)?

There are seasons in the lives of all when it is not easy, no not even for Christians, to believe that God is faithful. Our faith is sorely tried, our eyes bedimmed with tears, and we can no longer trace the outworkings of His love. Our ears are distracted with the noises of the world, harassed by the atheistic whisperings of Satan, and we can no longer hear the sweet accents of His still small voice. Cherished plans have been thwarted, friends on whom we relied have failed us, a profest brother or sister in Christ has betrayed us. We are staggered. We sought to be faithful to God, and now a dark cloud hides Him from us. We find it difficult, yea, impossible, for carnal reason to harmonize His frowning providence with His gracious promises. Ah, faltering soul, severely-tried fellow-pilgrim, seek grace to heed Isa 50:10, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.”

When you are tempted to doubt the faithfulness of God, cry out, “Get thee hence, Satan.” Though you cannot now harmonize God’s mysterious dealings with the avowals of His love, wait on Him for more light. In His own good time He will make it plain to you. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter” (Joh 13:7). The sequel will yet demonstrate that God has neither forsaken nor deceived His child. “And therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him” (Isa 30:18).

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace,

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,

The clouds ye so much dread,

Are rich with mercy, and shall break

In blessing o’er your head.”

“Thy testimonies which Thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful” (Psa 119:138). God has not only told us the best, but He has not withheld the worst. He has faithfully described the ruin which the Fall has effected. He has faithfully diagnosed the terrible state which sin has produced. He has faithfully made known his inveterate hatred of evil, and that He must punish the same. He has faithfully warned us that He is “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Not only does His Word abound in illustrations of His fidelity in fulfilling His promises, but it also records numerous examples of His faithfulness in making good His threatenings. Every stage of Israel’s history exemplifies that solemn fact. So it was with individuals: Pharaoh, Korah, Achan and a host of others are so many proofs. And thus it will be with you, my reader: unless you have fled or do flee to Christ for refuge, the everlasting burning of the Lake of Fire will be your sure and certain portion. God is faithful.

God is faithful in preserving His people. “God is faithful, by whom ye are called unto the fellowship of His Son” (1Co 1:9). In the previous verse promise was made that God would confirm unto the end His own people. The Apostle’s confidence in the absolute security of believers was founded not on the strength of their resolutions or ability to persevere, but on the veracity of Him that cannot lie. Since God has promised to His Son a certain people for His inheritance, to deliver them from sin and condemnation, and to make them participants of eternal life in glory, it is certain that He will not allow any of them to perish.

God is faithful in disciplining His people. He is faithful in what He withholds, no less than in what He gives. He is faithful in sending sorrow as well as in giving joy. The faithfulness of god is a truth to be confessed by us not only when we are at ease, but also when we are smarting under the sharpest rebuke. Nor must this confession be merely of our mouths, but of our hearts, too. When God smites us with the rod of chastisement, it is faithfulness which wields it. To acknowledge this means that we humble ourselves before Him, own that we fully deserve His correction, and instead of murmuring, thank Him for it. God never afflicts without reason. “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you” (1Co 11:30), says Paul, illustrating this principle. When His rod falls upon us let us say with Daniel, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces’ (Dan 9:7)

“I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psa 119:75). Trouble and affliction are not only consistent with God’s love pledged in the everlasting covenant, but they are parts of the administration of the same. God is not only faithful notwithstanding afflictions, but faithful in sending them. “Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes: My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him nor suffer My faithfulness to fail” (Psa 89:32-33). Chastening is not only reconcilable with God’s lovingkindness, but it is the effect and expression of it. It would much quieten the minds of God’s people if they would remember that His covenant love binds Him to lay on them seasonable correction. Afflictions are necessary for us: “In their affliction they will seek Me early” (Hos 5:15)

God is faithful in glorifying His people. “Faithful is He which calleth you, who also will do” (1Th 5:24). The immediate reference here is to the saints being preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God treats with us not on the ground of our merits (for we have none), but for His own great name’s sake. God is constant to Himself and to His own purpose of grace whom He called. . .them He also glorified (Rom 8:30). God gives a full demonstration of the constancy of His everlasting goodness toward His elect by effectually calling them out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this should fully assure them of the certain continuance of it. The foundation of God standeth sure (2Ti 2:19). Paul was resting on the faithfulness of God when he said, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day (2Ti 1:12).

The apprehension of this blessed truth will preserve us from worry. To be full of care, to view our situation with dark forebodings, to anticipate the morrow with sad anxiety, is to reflect upon the faithfulness of God. He who has cared for His child through all the years, will not forsake him in old age. He who has heard your prayers in the past, will not refuse to supply your need in the present emergency. Rest on Job 5:19, “He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall be no evil touch thee.”

The apprehension of this blessed truth will check our murmurings. The Lord knows what is best for each of us, and one effect or resting on this truth will be the silencing of our petulant complainings. God is greatly honored when, under trial and chastening, we have good thoughts of Him, vindicate His wisdom and justice, and recognize His love in His very rebukes.

The apprehension of this blessed truth will beget increasing confidence in God. “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1Pe 4:19). When we trustfully resign ourselves, and all our affairs into God’s hands, fully persuaded of His love and faithfulness, the sooner shall we be satisfied with his providence and realize that “He doeth all things well.”

The Goodness of God

“The goodness of God endureth continually” (Psa 52:1) The “goodness” of God respects the perfection of His nature: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1Jn 1:5). There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better.

He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a superadded quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him. (Thos. Manton).

God is summum bonum, the chiefest good.

The original Saxon meaning of our English word “God” is “The Good.” God is not only the Greatest of all beings, but the Best. All the goodness there is in any creature has been imparted from the Creator, but God’s goodness is underived, for it is the essence of His eternal nature. As God is infinite in power from all eternity, before there was any display thereof, or any act of omnipotency put forth; so He was eternally good before there was any communication of His bounty, or any creature to whom it might be imparted or exercised. Thus, the first manifestation of this Divine perfection was in giving being to all things. “Thou art good, and doest good” (Psa 119:68). God has in Himself an infinite and inexhaustible treasure of all blessedness enough to fill all things.

All that emanates from God — His decrees, His creation, His laws, His providences — cannot be otherwise than good: as it is written. “And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Thus, the “goodness” of God is seen, first, in Creation. The more closely the creature is studied, the more the beneficence of its Creator becomes apparent. Take the highest of God’s earthly creatures, man. Abundant reason has he to say with the Psalmist, “I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psa 139:14). Everything about the structure of our bodies attests the goodness of their Maker. How suited the hands to perform their allotted work! How good of the Lord to appoint sleep to refresh the wearied body! How benevolent His provision to give unto the eyes lids and brows for their protection! And so we might continue indefinitely.

Nor is the goodness of the Creator confined to man, it is exercised toward all His creatures. “The eyes of all wait upon Thee; and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Psa 145:15-16). Whole volumes might be written, yea have been, to amplify this fact. Whether it be the birds of the air, the beasts of the forest, or the fish in the sea, abundant provision has been made to supply their every need. God “giveth food to all flesh, for His mercy endureth forever” (Psa 136:25). Truly, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psa 33:5).

The goodness of God is seen in the variety of natural pleasures which He has provided for His creatures. God might have been pleased to satisfy our hunger without the food being pleasing to our palates — how His benevolence appears in the varied flavors which He has given to meats, vegetables, and fruits! God has not only given us senses, but also that which gratifies them; and this too reveals His goodness. The earth might have been as fertile as it is without its surface being so delightfully variegated. Our physical lives could have been sustained without beautiful flowers to regale our eyes, and exhale sweet perfumes. We might have walked the fields without our ears being saluted by the music of the birds. Whence, then, this loveliness, this charm, so freely diffused over the face of nature? Verily, “The tender mercies of the Lord are over all His works” (Psa 145:9).

The goodness of God is seen in that when man transgressed the law of His Creator a dispensation of unmixed wrath did not at once commence. Well might God have deprived His fallen creatures of every blessing, every comfort, every pleasure. Instead, He ushered in a regime of a mixed nature, of mercy and judgment. This is very wonderful if it be duly considered, and the more thoroughly that regime be examined the more will it appear that “mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (Jas 2:13). Notwithstanding all the evils which attend our fallen state, the balance of good greatly preponderates. With comparatively rare exceptions, men and women experience a far greater number of days of health, than they do of sickness and pain. There is much more creature happiness than creature misery in the world. Even our sorrows admit of considerable alleviation, and God has given to the human mind a pliability which adapts itself to circumstances and makes the most of them.

Nor can the benevolence of God be justly called into question because there is suffering and sorrow in the world. If man sins against the goodness of God, if he despises “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering,” and after the hardness and impenitency of his heart treasurest up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath (Rom 2:4-5), who is to blame but himself? Would God be “good” if He punished not those who ill-use His blessings, abuse His benevolence, and trample His mercies beneath their feet? It will be no reflection upon God’s goodness, but rather the brightest exemplification of it, when He shall rid the earth of those who have broken His laws, defied His authority, mocked His messengers, scorned His Son, and persecuted those for whom He died.

The goodness of God appeared most illustriously when He sent forth His Son “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4-5) Then it was that a multitude of the heavenly host praised their Maker and said, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good-will toward men” (Luk 2:14). Yes, in the Gospel the “grace (Gk. benevolence or goodness) of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Tit 2:11). Nor can God’s benignity be called into question because He has not made every sinful creature to be a subject of His redemptive grace. He did not the fallen angels. Had God left all to perish it had been no reflection on His goodness. To any who would challenge this statement we will remind him of our Lord’s sovereign prerogative: “Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Mat 20:15).

“O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men” (Psa 107:8). Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of His beneficence; yet is it often withheld from our great Benefactor simply because His goodness is so constant and so abundant. It is lightly esteemed because it is exercised toward us in the common course of events. It is not felt because we daily experience it. “Despisest thou the riches of His goodness?” (Rom 2:4). His goodness is “despised” when it is not improved as a means to lead men to repentance, but, on the contrary, serves to harden them from the supposition that God entirely overlooks their sin.

The goodness of God is the life of the believer’s trust. It is this excellency in God which most appeals to our hearts. Because His goodness endureth forever, we ought never to be discouraged: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knoweth them that trust in Him” (Nah 1:7).

When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord, because He is good; and when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless Him that He is good. We must never tolerate an instant’s unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questioned, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; His dispensations may vary, but His nature is always the same. (C. H. Spurgeon).

The Patience of God

Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto.

Most probably the principal reason why so many writers have failed to give us anything, separately, upon the patience of God was because of the difficulty of distinguishing this attribute from the Divine goodness and mercy, particularly the latter. God’s longsuffering is mentioned in conjunction with His grace and mercy again and again, as may be seen by consulting Exo 34:6, Num 14:18, Psa 86:15, etc. That the patience of God is really a display of His mercy, in fact is one way in which it is frequently manifested, cannot be gainsaid; but that they are one and the same excellency, and are not to be separated, we cannot concede. It may not be easy to discriminate between them, nevertheless, Scripture fully warrants us, in predicating some things of the one which we cannot of the other.

Stephen Charnock, the Puritan, defines God’s patience, in part, thus:

It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: “the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger” (Psa 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more.

Personally we would define the Divine patience as that power of control which God exercises over Himself, causing Him to bear with the wicked and forebear so long in punishing them. In Nah 1:3 we read, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,” upon which Mr. Charnock said,

Men that are great in the world are quick in passion, and are not so ready to forgive an injury, or bear with an offender, as one of a meaner rank. It is a want of power over that man’s self that makes him do unbecoming things upon a provocation. A prince that can bridle his passions is a king over himself as well as over his subjects. God is slow to anger because great in power He has no less power over Himself than over His creatures.

It is at the above point, we think, that God’s patience is most clearly distinguished from His mercy. Though the creature is benefited thereby, the patience of God chiefly respects Himself, a restraint placed upon His acts by His will; whereas His mercy terminates wholly upon the creature. The patience of God is that excellency which causes Him to sustain great injuries without immediately avenging Himself. He has a power of patience as well as a power of justice. Thus the Hebrew word for the Divine longsuffering is rendered “slow to anger” in Neh 9:17, Psa 103:8, etc. Not that there are any passions in the Divine nature, but that God’s wisdom and will is pleased to act with that stateliness and sobriety which becometh His exalted majesty.

In support of our definition above let us point out that it was to this excellency in the Divine character that Moses appealed, when Israel sinned so grievously at Kadesh-Barnea, and there provoked Jehovah so sorely. Unto His servant the Lord said, I will smite them with the pestilence and disinherit them. Then it was that the typical mediator pleaded, “I beseech Thee let the power of my Lord be great according as Thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is longsuffering,” etc. (Num 14:17). Thus, His longsuffering is His “power” of self-restraint.

Again, in Rom 9:22 we read, “What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. . . ?” Were God to immediately break these reprobate vessels into pieces, His power of self-control would not so eminently appear; by bearing with their wickedness and forebearing punishment so long, the power of His patience is gloriously demonstrated. True, the wicked interpret His longsuffering quite differently — “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecc 8:11) — but the anointed eye adores what they abuse.

“The God of patience” (Rom 15:5) is one of the Divine titles. Deity is thus denominated, first, because God is both the Author and Object of the grace of patience in the saint. Secondly, because this is what He is in Himself: patience is one of His perfections. Thirdly, as a pattern for us: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col 3:12). And again, “Be ye therefore followers (emulators) of god, as dear children” (Eph 5:2). When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God’s infinite patience and longsuffering with yourself.

The patience of God is manifested in His dealings with sinners. How strikingly was it displayed toward the antediluvians. When mankind was universally degenerate, and all flesh had corrupted his way, God did not destroy them till He had forewarned them. He “waited” (1Pe 3:20), probably no less than one hundred and twenty years (Gen 6:3), during which time Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2Pe 2:5). So, later, when the Gentiles not only worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, but also committed the vilest abominations contrary to even the dictates of nature (Rom 1:19-26), and hereby filled up the measure of their iniquity; yet, instead of drawing His sword for the extermination of such rebels, God “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,” and gave them “rain from heaven and fruitful seasons”(Act 14:16-17).

Marvelously was God’s patience exercised and manifested toward Israel. First, He “suffered their manners” for forty years in the wilderness (Act 13:18). Later, when they had entered Canaan, but followed the evil customs of the nations around them, and turned to idolatry; though God chastened them sorely, He did not utterly destroy them, but in their distress, raised up deliverers for them. When their iniquity was raised to such a height that none but a God of infinite patience, could have borne them, He, notwithstanding, spared them many years before He allowed them to be carried down into Babylon. Finally, when their rebellion against Him reached its climax by crucifying His Son. He waited forty years ere He sent the Romans against them, and that only after they had judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life” (Act 13:46).

How wondrous is God’s patience with the world today. On every side people are sinning with a high hand. The Divine law is trampled under foot and God Himself openly despised. It is truly amazing that He does not instantly strike dead those who so brazenly defy Him. Why does He not suddenly cut off the haughty, infidel and blatant blasphemer, as He did Ananias and Sapphira? Why does He not cause the earth to open its mouth and devour the persecutors of his people, so that, like Dathan and Abiram, they shall go down alive into the Pit? And what of apostate Christendom, where every possible form of sin is now tolerated and practiced under cover of the holy name of Christ? Why does not the righteous wrath of Heaven make an end of such abominations? Only one answer is possible: because God bears with “much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”

And what of the writer and the reader? Let us review our own lives. It is not long since we followed a multitude to do evil, had no concern for God’s glory, and lived only to gratify self. How patiently He bore with our vile conduct! And now that grace has snatched us as brands from the burning, giving us a place in God’s family, and begotten us unto an eternal inheritance in glory; how miserably we requite Him. How shallow our gratitude, how tardy our obedience, how frequent our backslidings! One reason why God suffers the flesh to remain in the believer is that He may exhibit His “longsuffering to usward” (2Pe 3:9). Since this Divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes advantage to display it toward His own.

May our meditation upon this Divine excellency soften our hearts, make our consciences tender, and may we learn in the school of holy experience the “patience of saints,” namely, submission to the Divine will and continuance in well doing. Let us earnestly seek grace to emulate this Divine excellency. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mat 5:48): in the immediate context Christ exhorts us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us. God bears long with the wicked notwithstanding the multitude of their sin, and shall we desire to be revenged because of a single injury?

The Grace of God

Grace is a perfection of the Divine character which is exercised only toward the elect. Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is the grace of God ever mentioned in connection with mankind generally, still less with the lower orders of His creatures. In this it is distinguished from mercy, for the mercy of God is “over all His works” (Psa 145:9). Grace is the alone source from which flows the goodwill, love, and salvation of God unto His chosen people. This attribute of the Divine character was defined by Abraham Booth in his helpful book, The Reign of Grace thus, “It is the eternal and absolute free favour of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy.”

Divine grace is the sovereign and saving favour of God exercised in the bestowment of blessings upon those who have no merit in them and for which no compensation is demanded from them. Nay, more; it is the favour of God shown to those who not only have no positive deserts of their own, but who are thoroughly ill-deserving and hell-deserving. It is completely unmerited and unsought, and is altogether unattracted by anything in or from or by the objects upon which it is bestowed. Grace can neither be bought, earned, nor won by the creature. If it could be, it would cease to be grace. When a thing is said to be of grace we mean that the recipient has no claim upon it, that it was in nowise due him. It comes to him as pure charity, and, at first, unasked and undesired.

The fullest exposition of the amazing grace of God is to be found in the Epistles of the apostle Paul. In his writings “grace” stands in direct opposition to works and worthiness, all works and worthiness, of whatever kind or degree. This is abundantly clear from Rom 11:6, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. If it be of works, then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.” Grace and works will no more unite than an acid and an alkali. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). The absolute favour of God can no more consist with human merit than oil and water will fuse into one: see also Rom 4:4-5.

There are three principal characteristics of Divine grace. First, it is eternal. Grace was planned before it was exercised, purposed before it was imparted: “Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2Ti 1:9). Second, it is free, for none did ever purchase it: “Being justified freely by His grace” (Rom 3:24). Third, it is sovereign, because God exercises it toward and bestows it upon whom He pleases: “Even so might grace reign” (Rom 5:21). If grace “reigns” then is it on the throne, and the occupant of the throne is sovereign. Hence “the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16).

Just because grace is unmerited favour, it must be exercised in a sovereign manner. Therefore does the Lord declare, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (Exo 33:19). Were God to show grace to all of Adam’s descendants, men would at once conclude that He was righteously compelled to take them to heaven as a meet compensation for allowing the human race to fall into sin. But the great God is under no obligation to any of His creatures, least of all to those who are rebels against Him.

Eternal life is a gift, therefore it can neither be earned by good works, nor claimed as a right. Seeing that salvation is a “gift,” who has any right to tell God on whom He ought to bestow it? It is not that the Giver ever refuses this gift to any who seek it wholeheartedly, and according to the rules which He has prescribed. No! He refuses none who come to Him empty-handed and in the way of His appointing. But if out of a world of impenitent and unbelieving, God is determined to exercise His sovereign right by choosing a limited number to be saved, who is wronged? Is God obliged to force His gift on those who value it not? Is God compelled to save those who are determined to go their own way?

But nothing more riles the natural man and brings to the surface his innate and inveterate enmity against God than to press upon him the eternality, the freeness, and the absolute sovereignty of Divine grace. That God should have formed His purpose from everlasting without in anywise consulting the creature, is too abasing for the unbroken heart. That grace cannot be earned or won by any efforts of man is too self-emptying for self-righteousness. And that grace singles out whom it pleases to be its favored objects, arouses hot protests from haughty rebels. The clay rises up against the Potter and asks, “Why hast Thou made me thus?” A lawless insurrectionist dares to call into question the justice of Divine sovereignty.

The distinguishing grace of God is seen in saving that people whom He has sovereignly singled out to be His high favorites. By “distinguishing” we mean that grace discriminates, makes differences” chooses some and passes by others. It was distinguishing grace which selected Abraham from the midst of his idolatrous neighbors and made him “the friend of God.” It was distinguishing grace which saved “publicans and sinners,” but said of the religious Pharisees, “Let them alone” (Mat 15:14). Nowhere does the glory of God’s free and sovereign grace shine more conspicuously than in the unworthiness and unlikeness of its objects. Beautifully was this illustrated by James Hervey, (1751):

Where sin has abounded, says the proclamation from the court of heaven, grace doth much more abound. Manasseh was a monster of barbarity, for he caused his own children to pass through the fire, and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. Manasseh was an adept in iniquity, for he not only multiplied, and to an extravagant degree, his own sacrilegious impieties, but he poisoned the principles and perverted the manners of his subjects, making them do worse than the most detestable of the heathen idolators: see 2Ch 33:1-25. Yet, through this superabundant grace he is humbled, he is reformed, and becomes a child of forgiving love, an heir of immortal glory.

Behold that bitter and bloody persecutor, Saul; when, breathing out threatenings and bent upon slaughter, he worried the lambs and put to death the disciples of Jesus. The havoc he had committed, the inoffensive families he had already ruined, were not sufficient to assuage his vengeful spirit. They were only a taste, which, instead of glutting the bloodhound, made him more closely pursue the track, and more eagerly pant for destruction. He still has a thirst for violence and murder. So eager and insatiable is his thirst, that he even breathes out threatening and slaughter (Act 9:1). His words are spears and arrows, and his tongue a sharp sword. ‘Tis as natural for him to menace the Christians as to breathe the air. Nay, they bled every hour in the purposes of his rancorous heart. It is only owing to want of power that every syllable he utters, every breath he draws, does not deal out deaths, and cause some of the innocent disciples to fall. Who, upon the principles of human judgment, would not have pronounced him a vessel of wrath, destined to unavoidable damnation? Nay, would not have been ready to conclude that, if there were heavier chains and a deeper dungeon in the world of woe, they must surely be reserved for such an implacable enemy of true godliness? Yet, admire and adore the inexhaustible treasures of grace — this Saul is admitted into the goodly fellowship of the prophets, is numbered with the noble arm of martyrs and makes a distinguished figure among the glorious company of the apostles.

The Corinthians were flagitious even to a proverb. Some of them wallowing in such abominable vices, and habituated themselves to such outrageous acts of injustice, as were a reproach to human nature. Yet, even these sons of violence and slaves of sensuality were washed, sanctified, justified (1Co 6:9-11). “Washed,” in the precious blood of a dying Redeemer; “sanctified,” by the powerful operations of the blessed Spirit; “justified,” through the infinitely tender mercies of a gracious God. Those who were once the burden of the earth, are now the joy of heaven, the delight of angels.

Now the grace of God is manifested in and by and through the Lord Jesus Christ. “The law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Joh 1:17). This does not mean that God never exercised grace toward any before His Son became incarnate — Gen 6:8, Exo 33:19, etc., clearly show otherwise. But grace and truth were fully revealed and perfectly exemplified when the Redeemer came to this earth, and died for His people upon the cross. It is through Christ the Mediator alone that the grace of God flows to His elect. “Much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ. . .much more they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. . .so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:15, Rom 5:17, Rom 5:21).

The grace of God is proclaimed in the Gospel (Act 20:24), which is to the self-righteous Jew a “stumbling block,” and to the conceited and philosophizing Greek “foolishness.” And why so? Because there is nothing whatever in it that is adapted to gratify the pride of man. It announces that unless we are saved by grace, we cannot be saved at all. It declares that apart from Christ, the unspeakable Gift of God’s grace, the state of every man is desperate, irremediable, hopeless. The Gospel addresses men as guilty, condemned, perishing criminals. It declares that the chastest moralist is in the same terrible plight as is the most voluptuous profligate; that the zealous professor, with all his religious performances, is no better off than the most profane infidel.

The Gospel contemplates every descendant of Adam as a fallen, polluted, hell-deserving and helpless sinner. The grace which the Gospel publishes is his only hope. All stand before God convicted as transgressors of His holy law, as guilty and condemned criminals; awaiting not sentence, but the execution of sentence already passed on them (Joh 3:18; Rom 3:19). To complain against the partiality of grace is suicidal. If the sinner insists upon bare justice, then the Lake of Fire must be his eternal portion. His only hope lies in bowing to the sentence which Divine justice has passed upon him, owning the absolute righteousness of it, casting himself on the mercy of God, and stretching forth empty hands to avail himself of the grace of God now made known to him in the Gospel.

The third Person in the Godhead is the Communicator of grace, therefore is He denominated “the Spirit of grace” (Zec 12:10). God the Father is the Fountain of all grace, for He purposed in Himself the everlasting covenant of redemption. God the Son is the only Channel of grace. The Gospel is the Publisher of grace. The Spirit is the Bestower. He is the One who applies the Gospel in saving power to the soul: quickening the elect while spiritually dead, conquering their rebellious wills, melting their hard hearts, opening their blind eyes, cleansing them from the leprosy of sin. Thus we may say with the late G. S. Bishop,

Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot lift the axe of justice, so corrupt that they cannot change their own natures, so averse to God that they cannot turn to Him, so blind that they cannot see Him, so deaf that they cannot hear Him, and so dead that He Himself must open their graves and lift them into resurrection.

The Mercy of God

“O give thanks unto the Lord: for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever” (Psa 136:1). For this perfection of the Divine character God is greatly to be praised. Three times over in as many verses does the Psalmist here call upon the saints to give thanks unto the Lord for this adorable attribute. And surely this is the least that can be asked for from those who have been such bounteous gainers by it. When we contemplate the characteristics of this Divine excellency, we cannot do otherwise than bless God for it. His mercy is “great” (1Ki 3:6), “plenteous” (Psa 86:5), “tender” (Luk 1:78), “abundant” (1Pe 1:3); it is “from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him” (Psa 103:17). Well may we say with the Psalmist, “I will sing aloud of Thy mercy” (Psa 59:16).

“I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exo 33:19). Wherein differs the “mercy of God from His grace”? The mercy of God has its spring in the Divine goodness. The first issue of God’s goodness is His benignity or bounty, by which He gives liberally to His creatures as creatures; thus has He given being and life to all things. The second issue of God’s goodness is His mercy, which denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, “mercy” presupposes sin.

Though it may not be easy at the first consideration to perceive a real difference between the grace and the mercy of God, it helps us thereto if we carefully ponder His dealings with the unfallen angels. He has never exercised mercy toward them, for they have never stood in any need thereof, not having sinned or come beneath the effects of the curse. Yet, they certainly are the objects of God’s free and sovereign grace. First, because of His election of them from out of the whole angelic race (1Ti 5:21). Second, and in consequence of their election, because of His preservation of them from apostasy, when Satan rebelled and dragged down with him one-third of the celestial hosts (Rev 12:4). Third, in making Christ their Head (Col 2:10; 1Pe 3:22), whereby they are eternally secured in the holy condition in which they were created. Fourth, because of the exalted position which has been assigned them: to live in God’s immediate presence (Dan 7:10), to serve Him constantly in His heavenly temple, to receive honorable commissions from Him (Heb 1:14). This is abundant grace toward them but “mercy” it is not.

In endeavoring to study the mercy of God as it is set forth in Scripture, a threefold distinction needs to be made, if the Word of Truth is to be “rightly divided” thereon. First, there is a general mercy of God, which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the entire creation: “His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psa 145:9): “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Act 17:25). God has upon the brute creation in their needs, and supplies them with suitable provision. Second, there is a special mercy of God, which is exercised toward the children of men, helping and succouring them, notwithstanding their sins. To them also He communicates all the necessities of life: “for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mat 5:45). Third, there is a sovereign mercy which is reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a covenant way, through the Mediator.

Following out a little further the difference between the second and third distinctions pointed out above, it is important to note that the mercies which God bestows on the wicked are solely of a temporal nature; that is to say, they are confined strictly to this present life. There will be no mercy extended to them beyond the grave: “It is a people of no understanding: therefore He that made them will not have mercy on them, and He that formed them will show them no favour” (Isa 27:11). But at this point a difficulty may suggest itself to some of our readers, namely, Does not Scripture affirm that “His mercy endureth forever” (Psa 136:1)? Two things need to be pointed out in that connection. God can never cease to be merciful, for this is a quality of the Divine essence (Psa 116:5); but the exercise of His mercy is regulated by His sovereign will. This must be so, for there is nothing outside Himself which obliges Him to act; if there were, that “something” would be supreme, and God would cease to be God.

It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of Divine mercy. God expressly affirms this fact in Rom 9:15, “For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It is not the wretchedness of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not influenced by things outside of Himself as we are. If God were influenced by the abject misery of leprous sinners, He would cleanse and save all of them. But He does not. Why? Simply because it is not His pleasure and purpose so to do. Still less is it the merits of the creature which causes Him to bestow mercies upon them, for it is a contradiction in terms to speak of meriting “mercy.” “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Tit 3:5) — the one standing in direct antithesis from the other. Nor is it the merits of Christ which moves God to bestow mercies on His elect: that would be putting the effect for the cause. It is “through” or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ was sent here to His people (Luk 1:78). The merits of Christ make it possible for God to righteously bestow spiritual mercies on His elect, justice having been fully satisfied by the Surety! No, mercy arises solely from God’s imperial pleasure.

Again; though it be true, blessedly and gloriously true, that God’s mercy “endureth forever,” yet we must observe carefully the objects to whom His “mercy” is shown. Even the casting of the reprobate into the Lake of Fire is an act of mercy. The punishment of the wicked is to be contemplated from a threefold viewpoint. From God’s side, it is an act of justice, vindicating His honour. The mercy of God is never shown to the prejudice of His holiness and righteousness. From their side, it is an act of equity, when they are made to suffer the due reward of their iniquities. But from the standpoint of the redeemed, the punishment of the wicked is an act of unspeakable mercy. How dreadful would it be if the present order of things when the children of God are obliged to live in the midst of the children of the Devil, should continue forever! Heaven would at once cease to be heaven if the ears of the saints still heard the blasphemous and filthy language of the reprobate. What a mercy that in the New Jerusalem “there shall in nowise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither worketh abomination” (Rev 21:27)!

Lest the reader might think that in the last paragraph we have been drawing upon our imagination, let us appeal to Holy Scripture in support of what has been said. In Psa 143:12 we find David praying, “And of Thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am Thy servant.” Again; in Psa 136:15 we read that God “overthrew Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea: for His mercy endureth forever.” It was an act of vengeance upon Pharaoh and his hosts, but it was an act of “mercy” unto the Israelites. Again, in Rev 19:1-3 we read, “I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up forever and ever.”

From what has just been before us, let us note how vain is the presumptuous hope of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their continued defiance of God, nevertheless count upon His being merciful to them. How many there are who say, I do not believe that God will ever cast me into Hell; He is too merciful. Such a hope is a viper, which if cherished in their bosoms will sting them to death. God is a God of justice as well as mercy, and He has expressly declared that He will “by no means clear the guilty” (Exo 34:7). Yea, He has said, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God” (Psa 9:17). As well might men reason: I do not believe that if filth be allowed to accumulate and sewerage become stagnant and people deprive themselves of fresh air, that a merciful God will let them fall a prey to a deadly fever. The fact is that those who neglect the laws of health are carried away by disease, notwithstanding God’s mercy. Equally true is it that those who neglect the laws of spiritual health shall forever suffer the Second Death.

Unspeakably solemn is it to see so many abusing this Divine perfection. They continue to despise God’s authority, trample upon His laws continue in sin, and yet presume upon His mercy. But God will not be unjust to Himself. God shows mercy to the truly penitent, but not to the impenitent (Luk 13:3). To continue in sin and yet reckon upon Divine mercy remitting punishment is diabolical. It is saying, “Let us do evil that good may come,” and of all such it is written, whose “damnation is just” (Rom 3:8). Presumption shall most certainly be disappointed; read carefully Deu 29:18-20. Christ is the spiritual Mercy-seat, and all who despise and reject His Lordship shall “perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Psa 2:12).

But let our final thought be of God’s spiritual mercies unto His own people. “Thy mercy is great unto the heavens” (Psa 57:10). The riches thereof transcend our loftiest thought. “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him” (Psa 103:11). None can measure it. The elect are designated “vessels of mercy” (Rom 9:23). It is mercy that quickened them when they were dead in sins (Eph 2:4-5). It is mercy that saves them (Tit 3:5). It is His abundant mercy which begat them unto an eternal inheritance (1Pe 1:3). Time would fail us to tell of His preserving, sustaining, pardoning, supplying mercy. Unto His own, God is “the Father of mercies” (2Co 1:3).

“When all Thy mercies, O my God,

My rising soul surveys,

Transported with the view I’m lost,

In wonder, love, and praise.”

The Love of God

There are three things told us in Scripture concerning the nature of God. First, “God is spirit” (Joh 4:24). In the Greek there is no indefinite article, and to say “God is a spirit” is most objectionable, for it places Him in a class with others. God is “spirit” in the highest sense. Because He is “spirit” He is incorporeal, having no visible substance. Had God a tangible body, He would not be omnipresent, He would be limited to one place; because He is spirit He fills heaven and earth. Second, God is light (1Jn 1:5), which is the opposite of “darkness.” In Scripture “darkness” stands for sin, evil, death; and “light” for holiness, goodness, life. God is light, means that He is the sum of all excellency. Third, “God is love” (1Jn 4:8). It is not simply that God “loves,” but that He is Love itself. Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.

There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love — its character, fulness, blessedness — the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him.

1. The love of God is uninfluenced.

By this we mean, there was nothing whatever in the objects of His love to call it into exercise, nothing in the creature to attract or prompt it. The love which one creature has for another is because of something in them; but the love of God is free, spontaneous, uncaused. The only reason why God loves any is found in His own sovereign will: “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved thee” (Deu 7:7-8). God has loved His people from everlasting, and therefore nothing of the creature can be the cause of what is found in God from eternity. He loves from Himself: “according to His own purpose” (2Ti 1:9).

“We love Him, because He first loved us” (1Jn 4:19). God did not love us because we loved Him, but He loved us before we had a particle of love for Him. Had God loved us in return for ours, then it would not be spontaneous on His part; but because He loved us when we were loveless, it is clear that His love was uninfluenced. It is highly important if God is to be honored and the heart of His child established, that we should be quite clear upon this precious truth. God’s love for me, and for each of “His own,” was entirely unmoved by anything in them. What was there in me to attract the heart of God? Absolutely nothing. But, to the contrary, everything to repel Him, everything calculated to make Him loathe me — sinful, depraved, a mass of corruption, with “no good thing” in me.

“What was there in me that could merit esteem,

Or give the Creator delight?

Twas even so, Father, I ever must sing,

Because it seemed good, in Thy sight.”

 

2. It is eternal.

This of necessity. God Himself is eternal, and God is love; therefore, as God Himself had no beginning, His love had none. Granted that such a concept far transcends the grasp of our feeble minds, nevertheless, where we cannot comprehend, we can bow in adoring worship. How clear is the testimony of Jer 31:3, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” How blessed to know that the great and holy God loved His people before heaven and earth were called into existence, that He had set His heart upon them from all eternity. Clear proof is this that His love is spontaneous, for He loved them endless ages before they had any being.

The same precious truth is set forth in Eph 1:4-5, “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him. In love having predestinated us.” What praise should this evoke from each of His children! How tranquilizing for the heart: since God’s love toward me had no beginning, it can have no ending! Since it be true that “from everlasting to everlasting” He is God, and since God is “love,” then it is equally true that “from everlasting to everlasting” He loves His people.

3. It is sovereign.

This also is self-evident. God Himself is sovereign, under obligations to none, a law unto Himself, acting always according to His own imperial pleasure. Since God be sovereign, and since He be love, it necessarily follows that His love is sovereign. Because God is God, He does as He pleases; because God is love, He loves whom He pleases. Such is His own express affirmation: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:19). There was no more reason in Jacob why he should be the object of Divine love, than there was in Esau. They both had the same parents, and were born at the same time, being twins; yet God loved the one and hated the other! Why? Because it pleased Him to do so.

The sovereignty of God’s love necessarily follows from the fact that it is uninfluenced by anything in the creature. Thus, to affirm that the cause of His love lies in God Himself, is only another way of saying, He loves whom He pleases. For a moment, assume the opposite. Suppose God’s love were regulated by anything else than His will, in such a case He would love by rule, and loving by rule He would be under a law of love, and then so far from being free, God would Himself be ruled by law. “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to” — what? Some excellency which He foresaw in them? No; what then? “According to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph 1:4-5).

4. It is infinite.

Everything about God is infinite. His essence fills heaven and earth. His wisdom is illimitable, for He knows everything of the past, present and future. His power is unbounded, for there is nothing too hard for Him. So His love is without limit. There is a depth to it which none can fathom; there is a height to it which none can scale; there is a length and breadth to it which defies measurement, by any creature-standard. Beautifully is this intimated in Eph 2:4: But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us: the word “great” there is parallel with the “God so loved” of Joh 3:16. It tells us that the love of God is so transcendent it cannot be estimated.

No tongue can fully express the infinitude of God’s love, or any mind comprehend it: it “passeth knowledge” (Eph 3:19). The most extensive ideas that a finite mind can frame about Divine love, are infinitely below its true nature. The heaven is not so far above the earth as the goodness of God is beyond the most raised conceptions which we are able to form of it. It is an ocean which swells higher than all the mountains of opposition in such as are the objects of it. It is a fountain from which flows all necessary good to all those who are interested in it (John Brine, 1743).

5. It is immutable.

As with God Himself there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17), so His love knows neither change or diminution. The worm Jacob supplies a forceful example of this: “Jacob have I loved,” declared Jehovah, and despite all his unbelief and waywardness, He never ceased to love him. Joh 13:1 furnishes another beautiful illustration. That very night one of the apostles would say, “Show us the Father”; another would deny Him with cursings; all of them would be scandalized by and forsake Him. Nevertheless “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” The Divine love is subject to no vicissitudes. Divine love is “strong as death … many waters cannot quench it” (Son 8:6-7). Nothing can separate from it: Rom 8:35-39.

“His love no end nor measure knows,

No change can turn its course,

Eternally the same it flows

From one eternal source.”

6. It is holy.

God’s love is not regulated by caprice passion, or sentiment, but by principle. Just as His grace reigns not at the expense of it, but “through righteousness” (Rom 5:21), so His love never conflicts with His holiness. “God is light” (1Jn 1:5) is mentioned before “God is love” (1Jn 4:8). God’s love is no mere amiable weakness, or effeminate softness. Scripture declares, “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb 12:6). God will not wink at sin, even in His own people. His love is pure, unmixed with any maudlin sentimentality.

7. It is gracious.

The love and favor of God are inseparable. This is clearly brought out in Rom 8:32-39. What that love is from which there can be no “separation,” is easily perceived from the design and scope of the immediate context: it is that goodwill and grace of God which determined Him to give His Son for sinners. That love was the impulsive power of Christ’s incarnation: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Joh 3:16). Christ died not in order to make God love us, but because He did love His people, Calvary is the supreme demonstration of Divine love. Whenever you are tempted to doubt the love of God, Christian reader, go back to Calvary.

Here then is abundant cause for trust and patience under Divine affliction. Christ was beloved of the Father, yet He was not exempted from poverty, disgrace, and persecution. He hungered and thirsted. Thus, it was not incompatible with God’s love for Christ when He permitted men to spit upon and smite Him. Then let no Christian call into question God’s love when he is brought under painful afflictions and trials. God did not enrich Christ on earth with temporal prosperity, for “He had not where to lay His head.” But He did give Him the Spirit “without measure” (Joh 3:34). Learn then that spiritual blessings are the principal gifts of Divine love. How blessed to know that when the world hates us, God loves us!

The Wrath of God

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight, they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me” (Deu 32:39-41). A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; And because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner: Psa 7:11.

Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if “wrath” were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His “severity” (Rom 9:12) toward it? How could He who delights only in that which is pure and lovely, loathe and hate not that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as imperatively and eternally requisite as Heaven is. Not only is there no imperfection in God, but there is no perfection in Him that is less perfect than another.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.

That Divine wrath is one of the perfections of God is not only evident from the considerations presented above, but is also clearly established by the express declarations of His own Word. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom 1:18). Robert Haldane comments on this verse as follows:

It was revealed when the sentence of death was first pronounced, the earth cursed, and man driven out of the earthly paradise; and afterwards by such examples of punishment as those of the Deluge and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain by fire from heaven; but especially by the reign of death throughout the world. It was proclaimed in the curse of the law on every transgression, and was intimated in the institution of sacrifice. In the 8th of Romans, the apostle calls the attention of believers to the fact that the whole creation has become subject to vanity, and groaneth and travaileth together in pain. The same creation which declares that there is a God, and publishes His glory, also proclaims that He is the Enemy of sin and the Avenger of the crimes of men . . . But above all, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven when the Son of God came down to manifest the Divine character, and when that wrath was displayed in His sufferings and death, in a manner more awful than by all the tokens God had before given of His displeasure against sin. Besides this, the future and eternal punishment of the wicked is now declared in terms more solemn and explicit than formerly. Under the new dispensation there are two revelations given from heaven, one of wrath, the other of grace.

Again; that the wrath of God is a Divine perfection is plainly demonstrated by what we read of in Psa 95:11, “Unto whom I sware in My wrath.” There are two occasions of God “swearing”: in making promises (Gen 22:16), and in denouncing threatening (Deu 1:34). In the former, He swares in mercy to His children; in the latter, He swares to terrify the wicked. An oath is for solemn confirmation: Heb 6:16. In Gen 22:16 God said, “By Myself have I sworn.” In Psa 89:35 He declares, “Once have I sworn by My holiness.” While in Psa 95:11 He affirmed, “I swear in My wrath.” Thus the great Jehovah Himself appeals to His “wrath” as a perfection equal to His “holiness”: He swares by the one as much as by the other! Again; as in Christ “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9), and as all the Divine perfections are illustriously displayed by Him (Joh 1:18), therefore do we read of “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16).

The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine character upon which we need to frequently meditate. First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness. Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God: “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). We cannot serve Him “acceptably” unless there is due “reverence” for His awful Majesty and “godly fear” of His righteous anger, and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that “our God is a consuming fire.” Third, to draw out our souls in fervent praise for having delivered us from “the wrath to come” (1Th 1:10).

Our readiness or our reluctancy to meditate upon the wrath of God becomes a sure test of how our hearts’ really stand affected toward Him. If we do not truly rejoice in God, for what He is in Himself, and that because of all the perfections which are eternally resident in Him, then how dwelleth the love of God in us? Each of us needs to be most prayerfully on his guard against devising an image of God in our thoughts which is patterned after our own evil inclinations. Of old the Lord complained, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself” (Psa 50:21), If we rejoice not “at the remembrance of His holiness” (Psa 97:12), if we rejoice not to know that in a soon coming Day God will make a most glorious display of His wrath, by taking vengeance on all who now oppose Him, it is proof positive that our hearts are not in subjection to Him, that we are yet in our sins, on the way to the everlasting burnings.

“Rejoice, O ye nations (Gentiles) His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance to His adversaries” (Deu 32:43). And again we read, “I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God; For true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said Alleluia.” (Rev 19:13). Great will be the rejoicing of the saints in that day when the Lord shall vindicate His majesty, exercise His awful dominion, magnify His justice, and overthrow the proud rebels who have dared to defy Him.

“If thou Lord, shouldest mark (impute) iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psa 130:3). Well may each of us ask this question, for it is written, “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment” (Psa 1:5). How sorely was Christ’s soul exercised with thoughts of God’s marking the iniquities of His people when they were upon Him! He was “amazed and very heavy” (Mar 14:33). His awful agony, His bloody sweat, His strong cries and supplications (Heb 5:7), His reiterated prayers (“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me”), His last dreadful cry, (“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”) all manifest what fearful apprehensions He had of what it was for God to “mark iniquities.” Well may poor sinners cry out, “Lord who shall stand” when the Son of God Himself so trembled beneath the weight of His wrath? If thou, my reader, hast not “fled for refuge” to Christ, the only Saviour, “how wilt thou do in the swelling of the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5)?

When I consider how the goodness of God is abused by the greatest part of mankind, I cannot but be of this mind that said, The greatest miracle in the world is God’s patience and bounty to an ungrateful world. If a prince hath an enemy got into one of his towns, he doth not send them in provision, but lays close siege to the place, and doth what he can to starve them. But the great God, that could wink all His enemies into destruction, bears with them, and is at daily cost to maintain them. Well may He command us to bless them that curse us, who Himself does good to the evil and unthankful. But think not, sinners, that you shall escape thus; God’s mill goes slow, but grinds small; the more admirable His patience and bounty now is, the more dreadful and unsupportable will that fury be which ariseth out of His abused goodness. Nothing smoother than the sea, yet when stirred into a tempest, nothing rageth more. Nothing so sweet as the patience and goodness of God, and nothing so terrible as His wrath when it takes fire. (Wm Gurnall, 1660).

Then flee, my reader, flee to Christ; “flee from the wrath to come” (Mat 3:7) ere it be too late. Do not, we earnestly beseech you, suppose that this message is intended for somebody else. It is to you! Do not be contented by thinking you have already fled to Christ. Make certain! Beg the Lord to search your heart and show you yourself.

A Word to Preachers. Brethren, do we in our oral ministry, preach on this solemn subject as much as we ought? The Old Testament prophets frequently told their hearers that their wicked lives provoked the Holy One of Israel, and that they were treasuring up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath. And conditions in the world are no better now than they were then! Nothing is so calculated to arouse the careless and cause carnal professors to search their hearts, as to enlarge upon the fact that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa 7:11). The forerunner of Christ warned his hearers to “flee from the wrath to come” (Mat 3:7). The Saviour bade His auditors “Fear Him, which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into Hell; yea, I say unto you. Fear Him” (Luk 12:5). The apostle Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2Co 5:11). Faithfulness demands that we speak as plainly about Hell as about Heaven.

The Contemplation of God

In the previous chapters we have had in review some of the wondrous and lovely perfections of the Divine character. From this most feeble and faulty contemplation of His attributes, it should be evident to us all that God is, first, an incomprehensible Being, and, lost in wonder at His infinite greatness, we are constrained to adopt the words of Zophar, “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” (Job 11:7-9). When we turn our thoughts to God’s eternity, His immateriality, His omnipresence, His almightiness, our minds are overwhelmed.

But the incomprehensibility of the Divine nature is not a reason why we should desist from reverent inquiry and prayerful strivings to apprehend what He has so graciously revealed of Himself in His Word. Because we are unable to acquire perfect knowledge, it would be folly to say we will therefore make no efforts to attain to any degree of it. It has been well said that, “Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued, investigation of the great subject of the Deity. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.” (C. H. Spurgeon). Let us quote a little further from this prince of preachers.

The proper study of the Christian is the God-head. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go on our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, amid that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought “I am but of yesterday and know nothing.” (Job 8:9).

Yes, the incomprehensibility of the Divine nature should teach us humility, caution and reverence. After all our searchings and meditations we have to say with Job, “Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him!” (Job 26:14). When Moses besought Jehovah for a sight of His glory, He answered him “I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee” (Exo 33:19), and, as another has said, “the name is the collection of His attributes.” Rightly did the Puritan John Howe declare.

The notion therefore we can hence form of His glory, is only such as we may have of a large volume by a brief synopsis, or of a spacious country by a little landscape. He hath here given us a true report of Himself, but not a full; such as will secure our apprehensions — being guided thereby — from error, but not from ignorance. We can apply our minds to contemplate the several perfections whereby the blessed God discovers to us His being, and can in our thoughts attribute them all to Him, though we have still but low and defective conceptions of each one. Yet so far as our apprehensions can correspond to the discovery that He affords us of His several excellencies, we have a present view of His glory.

As the difference is indeed great between the knowledge of God which His saints have in this life and that which they shall have in Heaven, yet, as the former should not be undervalued because it is imperfect, so the latter is not to be magnified above its reality. True, the Scripture declares that we shall see “face to face” and “know” even as we are known (1Co 13:12), but to infer from this that we shall then know God as fully as He knows us, is to be misled by the mere sound of words, and to disregard that restriction of the same which the subject necessarily requires. There is a vast difference between the saints being glorified and their being made Divine. In their glorified state, Christians will still be finite creatures, and therefore, never able to fully comprehend the infinite God.

The saints in heaven will see God with the eye of the mind, for He will be always invisible to the bodily eye; and will see Him more clearly than they could see Him by reason and faith, and more extensively than all His works and dispensations had hitherto revealed Him; but their minds will not be so enlarged as to be capable of contemplating at once, or in detail, the whole excellence of His nature. To comprehend infinite perfection, they must become infinite themselves. Even in Heaven, their knowledge will be partial, but at the same time their happiness will be complete, because their knowledge will be perfect in this sense, that it will be adequate to the capacity of the subject, although it will not exhaust the fulness of the object. We believe that it will be progressive, and that as their views expand, their blessedness will increase; but it will never reach a limit beyond which there is nothing to be discovered; and when ages after ages have passed away, He will still be the incomprehensible God. (John Dick, 1840).

Secondly, from a review of the perfections of God, it appears that He is an all-sufficient Being. He is all-sufficient in Himself and to Himself. As the First of beings, He could receive nothing from another, nor be limited by the power of another. Being infinite, He is possessed of all possible perfection. When the Triune God existed all alone, He was all to Himself. His understanding, His love, His energies, found an adequate object in Himself. Had He stood in need of anything external, He had not been independent, and therefore would not have been God. He created all things, and that “for Himself” (Col 1:16), yet it was not in order to supply a lack, but that He might communicate life and happiness to angels and men, and admit them to the vision of His glory. True, He demands the allegiance and services of His intelligent creatures, yet He derives no benefit from their offices, all the advantage redounds to themselves: Job 22:2-3. He makes use of means and instruments to accomplish His ends, yet not from a deficiency of power, but often times to more strikingly display His power through the feebleness of the instruments.

The all-sufficiency of God makes Him to be the Supreme Object which is ever to be sought unto. True happiness consists only in the enjoyment of God. His favour is life, and His loving kindness is better than life. “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him” (Lam 3:24). His love, His grace, His glory, are the chief objects of the saints’ desire and the springs of their highest satisfaction. “There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Psa 4:6-7). Yea, the Christian, when in his right mind, is able to say, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cutoff from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:17-18).

Thirdly, from a review of the perfections of God, it appears that He is the Supreme Sovereign of the universe. It has been rightly said:

No dominion is so absolute as that which is founded on creation. He who might not have made any thing, had a right to make all things according to His own pleasure. In the exercise of His uncontrolled power, He has made some parts of the creation mere inanimate matter, of grosser or more refined texture, and distinguished by different qualities, but all inert and unconscious. He has given organization to other parts, and made them susceptible of growth and expansion, but still without life in the proper sense of the term. To others He has given not only organization, but conscious existence, organs of sense and self-motive power. To these He has added in man the gift of reason, and an immortal spirit, by which he is allied to a higher order of beings who are placed in the superior regions. Over the world which He has created, He sways the scepter of omnipotence. “I praised and honored Him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doeth Thou?” — Dan 4:34-35. (John Dick).

A creature, considered as such, has no rights. He can demand nothing from his Maker; and in whatever manner he may be treated, has no title to complain. Yet, when thinking of the absolute dominion of God over all, we ought never to lose sight of His moral perfections. God is just and good, and ever does that which is right. Nevertheless, He exercises His sovereignty according to His own imperial and righteous pleasure. He assigns each creature his place as seemeth good in His own sight. He orders the varied circumstances of each according to His own counsels. He moulds each vessel according to His own uninfluenced determination. He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. Wherever we are, His eye is upon us. Whoever we are, our life and everything is held at His disposal. To the Christian, He is a tender Father; to the rebellious sinner He will yet be a consuming fire. “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1Ti 1:17).

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (1 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (1 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 1

Evidence given concerning Christ’s person and excellency (1Jo 1:1, 1Jo 1:2). The knowledge thereof gives us communion with God and Christ (1Jo 1:3), and joy (1Jo 1:4). A description of God (1Jo 1:5). How we are thereupon to walk (1Jo 1:6). The benefit of such walking (1Jo 1:7). The way to forgiveness (1Jo 1:9). The evil of denying our sin (1Jo 1:8-10.

1 John 1:1-4

The apostle omits his name and character (as also the author to the Hebrews does) either out of humility, or as being willing that the Christian reader should be swayed by the light and weight of the things written rather than by the name that might recommend them. And so he begins,

I. With an account or character of the Mediator’s person. He is the great subject of the gospel, the foundation and object of our faith and hope, the bond and cement that unite us unto God. He should be well known; and he is represented here, 1. As the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. In the gospel these two are disjoined, and he is called first the Word, Joh 1:1, and afterwards Life, intimating, withal, that he is intellectual life. In him was life, and that life was (efficiently and objectively) the light of men, Joh 1:4. Here both are conjoined: The Word of life, the vital Word. In that he is the Word, it is intimated that he is the Word of some person or other; and that is God, even the Father. He is the Word of God, and so he is intimated to issue from the Father, as truly (though not in the same manner) as a word (or speech, which is a train of words) from a speaker. But he is not a mere vocal word, a bare logos prophorikos, but a vital one: the Word of life, the living word; and thereupon, 1. As eternal life. His duration shows his excellency. He was from eternity; and so is, in scripture-account, necessary, essential, uncreated life. That the apostle speaks of his eternity, à parte ante (as they say) and as from everlasting, seems evident in that he speaks of him as he was in and from the beginning; when he was then with the Father, before his manifestation to us, yea, before the making of all things that were make; as Joh 1:2, Joh 1:3. So that he is the eternal, vital, intellectual Word of the eternal living Father. 3. As life manifested (1Jo 1:2), manifested in the flesh, manifested to us. The eternal life would assume mortality, would put on flesh and blood (in the entire human nature), and so dwell among us and converse with us, Joh 1:14. Here were condescension and kindness indeed, that eternal life (a person of eternal essential life) should come to visit mortals, and to procure eternal life for them, and then confer it on them!

II. With the evidences and convictive assurances that the apostle and his brethren had of the Mediator’s presence and converse in this world. There were sufficient demonstrations of the reality of his abode here, and of the excellency and dignity of his person in the way of his manifestation. The life, the word of life, the eternal life, as such, could not be seen and felt; but the life manifested might be, and was so. The life was clothed with flesh, put on the state and habit of abased human nature, and as such gave sensible proof of its existence and transactions here. The divine life, or Word incarnate, presented and evinced itself to the very senses of the apostles. As, 1. To their ears: That which we have heard, 1Jo 1:1, 1Jo 1:3. The life assumed a mouth and tongue, that he might utter words of life. The apostles not only heard of him, but they heard him himself. Above three years might they attend his ministry, be auditors of his public sermons and private expositions (for he expounded them in his house), and be charmed with the words of him who spoke as never man spoke before or since. The divine word would employ the ear, and the ear should be devoted to the word of life. And it was meet that those who were to be his representatives and imitators to the world should be personally acquainted with his ministrations. 2. To their eyes: That which we have seen with our eyes, 1Jo 1:1-3. The Word would become visible, would not only be heard, but seen, seen publicly, privately, at a distance and at nearest approach, which may be intimated in the expression, with our eyes – with all the use and exercise that we could make of our eyes. We saw him in his life and ministry, saw him in his transfiguration on the mount, hanging, bleeding, dying, and dead, upon the cross, and we saw him after his return from the grave and resurrection from the dead. His apostles must be eye-witnesses as well as ear-witnesses of him. Wherefore, of these men that have accompanied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection, Act 1:21, Act 1:22. And we were eye-witnesses of his majesty, 2Pe 1:16. 3. To their internal sense, to the eyes of their mind; for so (possibly) may the next clause be interpreted: Which we have looked upon. This may be distinguished from the foregoing perception, seeing with the eyes; and may be the same with what the apostle says in his gospel (Joh 1:14), And we beheldetheasametha, his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father. The word is not applied to the immediate object of the eye, but to that which was rationally collected from what they saw. “What we have well discerned, contemplated, and viewed, what we have well known of this Word of life, we report to you.” The senses are to be the informers of the mind. 4. To their hands and sense of feeling: And our hands have handled (touched and felt) of the Word of life. This surely refers to the full conviction our Lord afforded his apostles of the truth, reality, solidity, and organization of his body, after his resurrection from the dead. When he showed them his hands and his side, it is probable that he gave them leave to touch him; at least, he knew of Thomas’s unbelief, and his professed resolution too not to believe, till he had found and felt the places and signatures of the wounds by which he died. Accordingly at the next congress he called Thomas, in the presence of the rest, to satisfy the very curiosity of his unbelief. And probably others of them did so too. Our hands have handled of the Word of life. The invisible life and Word was no despiser of the testimony of sense. Sense, in its place and sphere, is a means that God has appointed, and the Lord Christ has employed, for our information. Our Lord took care to satisfy (as far as might be) all the senses of his apostles, that they might be the more authentic witnesses of him to the world. Those that apply all this to the hearing of the gospel lose the variety of sensations here mentioned, and the propriety of the expressions, as well as the reason of their inculcation and repetition here: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, 1Jo 1:3. The apostles could not be deceived in such long and various exercise of their sense. Sense must minister to reason and judgment; and reason and judgment must minister to the reception of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. The rejection of the Christian revelation is at last resolved into the rejection of sense itself. He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not those who had seen him after he had risen, Mar 16:14.

III. With a solemn assertion and attestation of these grounds and evidences of the Christian truth and doctrine. The apostles publish these assurances for our satisfaction: We bear witness, and show unto you, 1Jo 1:2. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, 1Jo 1:3. It became the apostles to open to the disciples the evidence by which they were led, the reasons by which they were constrained to proclaim and propagate the Christian doctrine in the world. Wisdom and integrity obliged them to demonstrate that it was not either private fancy or a cunningly-devised fable that they presented to the world. Evident truth would open their mouths, and force a public profession. We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard, Act 4:20. It concerned the disciples to be well assured of the truth of the institution they had embraced. They should see the evidences of their holy religion. It fears not the light, nor the most judicious examination. It is able to afford rational conviction and solid persuasion of mind and conscience. I would that you knew what great conflict (or concern of mind) I have for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts might be knit together in love, and unto all riches of full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ, Col 2:1, Col 2:2.

IV. With the reason of the apostle’s exhibiting and asserting this summary of sacred faith, and this breviate of evidence attending it. This reason is twofold: –

1. That the believers of it may be advanced to the same happiness with them (with the apostles themselves): That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you may have fellowship with us, 1Jo 1:3. The apostle means not personal fellowship nor consociation in the same church-administrations, but such as is consistent with personal distance from each other. It is communion with heaven, and in blessings that come thence and tend thither. “This we declare and testify, that you may share with us in our privileges and happiness.” Gospel spirits (or those that are made happy by gospel grace) would fain have others happy too. We see, also, there is a fellowship or communion that runs through the whole church of God. There may be some personal distinctions and peculiarities, but there is a communion (or common participation of privilege and dignity) belonging to all saints, from the highest apostle to the lowest believer. As there is the same precious faith, there are the same precious promises dignifying and crowning that faith and the same precious blessings and glories enriching and filling those promises. Now that believers may be ambitious of this communion, that they may be instigated to retain and hold fast the faith that is the means of such communion, that the apostles also may manifest their love to the disciples in assisting them to the same communion with themselves, they indicate what it is and where it is: And truly our fellowship (or communion) is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We have communion with the Father, and with the Son of the Father (as 2Jo 1:3, he is most emphatically styled) in our happy relation to them, in our receiving heavenly blessings from them, and in our spiritual converse with them. We have now such supernatural conversation with God and the Lord Christ as is an earnest and foretaste of our everlasting abode with them, and enjoyment of them, in the heavenly glory. See to what the gospel revelation tends – to advance us far above sin and earth and to carry us to blessed communion with the Father and the Son. See for what end the eternal life was made flesh – that he might advance us to eternal life in communion with the Father and himself. See how far those live beneath the dignity, use, and end of the Christian faith and institution, who have not spiritual blessed communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

2. That believers may be enlarged and advanced in holy joy: And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full, 1Jo 1:4. The gospel dispensation is not properly a dispensation of fear, sorrow, and dread, but of peace and joy. Terror and astonishment may well attend mount Sinai, but exultation and joy mount Zion, where appears the eternal Word, the eternal life, manifested in our flesh. The mystery of the Christian religion is directly calculated for the joy of mortals. It should be joy to us that the eternal Son should come to seek and save us, that he has made a full atonement for our sins, that he has conquered sin and death and hell, that he lives as our Intercessor and Advocate with the Father, and that he will come again to perfect and glorify his persevering believers. And therefore those live beneath the use and end of the Christian revelation who are not filled with spiritual joy. Believers should rejoice in their happy relation to God, as his sons and heirs, his beloved and adopted, – in their happy relation to the Son of the Father, as being members of his beloved body, and coheirs with himself, – in the pardon of their sins, the sanctification of their natures, the adoption of their persons, and the prospect of grace and glory that will be revealed at the return of their Lord and head from heaven. Were they confirmed in their holy faith, how would they rejoice! The disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost, Act 13:52.

1 John 1:5-7

The apostle, having declared the truth and dignity of the author of the gospel, brings a message or report from him, from which a just conclusion is to be drawn for the consideration and conviction of the professors of religion, or professed entertainers of this glorious gospel.

I. Here is the message or report that the apostle avers to come from the Lord Jesus: This then is the message which we have heard of him (1Jo 1:5), of his Son Jesus Christ. As he was the immediate sender of the apostles, so he is the principal person spoken of in the preceding context, and the next antecedent also to whom the pronoun him can relate. The apostles and apostolical ministers are the messengers of the Lord Jesus; it is their honour, the chief they pretend to, to bring his mind and messages to the world and to the churches. This is the wisdom and present dispensation of the Lord Jesus, to send his messages to us by persons like ourselves. He that put on human nature will honour earthen vessels. It was the ambition of the apostles to be found faithful, and faithfully to deliver the errands and messages they had received. What was communicated to them they were solicitous to impart: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you. A message from the Word of life, from the eternal Word, we should gladly receive: and the present one is this (relating to the nature of God whom we are to serve, and with whom we should covet all indulged communion) – That God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, 1Jo 1:5. This report asserts the excellency of the divine nature. He is all that beauty and perfection that can be represented to us by light. He is a self-active uncompounded spirituality, purity, wisdom, holiness, and glory. And then the absoluteness and fulness of that excellency and perfection. There is no defect or imperfection, no mixture of any thing alien or contrary to absolute excellency, no mutability nor capacity of any decay in him: In him is no darkness at all, 1Jo 1:5. Or this report may more immediately relate to what is usually called the moral perfection of the divine nature, what we are to imitate, or what is more directly to influence us in our gospel work. And so it will comprehend the holiness of God, the absolute purity of his nature and will, his penetrative knowledge (particularly of hearts), his jealousy and injustice, which burn a a most bright and vehement flame. It is meet that to this dark world the great God should be represented as pure and perfect light. It is the Lord Jesus that best of all opens to us the name and nature of the unsearchable God: The only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, the same hath declared him. It is the prerogative of the Christian revelation to bring us the most noble, the most august and agreeable account of the blessed God, such as is most suitable to the light of reason and what is demonstrable thereby, most suitable to the magnificence of his works round about us, and to the nature and office of him that is the supreme administrator, governor, and judge of the world. What more (relating to and comprehensive of all such perfection) could be included in one word than in this, God is light, and in him is no darkness at all? Then,

II. There is a just conclusion to be drawn from this message and report, and that for the consideration and conviction of professors of religion, or professed entertainers of this gospel. This conclusion issues into two branches: – 1. For the conviction of such professors as have no true fellowship with God: If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. It is known that to walk, in scripture account, is to order and frame the course and actions of the moral life, that is, of the life so far as it is capable of subjection to the divine law. To walk in darkness is to live and act according to such ignorance, error, and erroneous practice, as are contrary to the fundamental dictates of our holy religion. Now there may be those who may pretend to great attainments and enjoyments in religion; they may profess to have communion with God; and yet their lives may be irreligious, immoral, and impure. To such the apostle would not fear to give the lie: They lie, and do not the truth. They belie God; for he holds no heavenly fellowship or intercourse with unholy souls. What communion hath light with darkness? They belie themselves, or lie concerning themselves; for they have no such communications from God nor accesses to him. There is no truth in their profession nor in their practice, or their practice gives their profession and pretences the lie, and demonstrates the folly and falsehood of them. 2. For the conviction and consequent satisfaction of those that are near to God: But, if we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. As the blessed God is the eternal boundless light, and the Mediator is, from him, the light of the world, so the Christian institution is the great luminary that appears in our sphere, and shines here below. A conformity to this in spirit and practice demonstrates fellowship or communion with God. Those that so walk show that they know God, that they have received of the Spirit of God, and that the divine impress or image is stamped upon their souls. Then we have fellowship one with another, they with us and we with them, and both with God, in his blessed or beatific communications to us. And this is one of those beatific communications to us – that his Son’s blood or death is applied or imputed to us: The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. The eternal life, the eternal Son, hath put on flesh and blood, and so became Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ hath shed his blood for us, or died to wash us from our sins in his own blood. His blood applied to us discharges us from the guilt of all sin, both original and actual, inherent and committed: and so far we stand righteous in his sight; and not only so, but his blood procures for us those sacred influences by which sin is to be subdued more and more, till it is quite abolished, Gal 3:13, Gal 3:14.

1 John 1:8-10

Here, I. The apostle, having supposed that even those of this heavenly communion have yet their sin, proceeds here to justify that supposition, and this he does by showing the dreadful consequences of denying it, and that in two particulars: – 1. If we say, We have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, 1Jo 1:8. We must beware of deceiving ourselves in denying or excusing our sins. The more we see them the more we shall esteem and value the remedy. If we deny them, the truth is not in us, either the truth that is contrary to such denial (we lie in denying our sin), or the truth of religion, is not in us. The Christian religion is the religion of sinners, of such as have sinned, and in whom sin in some measure still dwells. The Christian life is a life of continued repentance, humiliation for and mortification of sin, of continual faith in, thankfulness for, and love to the Redeemer, and hopeful joyful expectation of a day of glorious redemption, in which the believer shall be fully and finally acquitted, and sin abolished for ever. 2. If we say, We have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us, 1Jo 1:10. The denial of our sin not only deceives ourselves, but reflects dishonour upon God. It challenges his veracity. He has abundantly testified of, and testified against, the sin of the world. And the Lord said in his heart (determined thus with himself), I will not again curse the ground (as he had then lately done) for man’s sake; for (or, with the learned bishop Patrick, though) the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, Gen 8:21. But God has given his testimony to the continued sin and sinfulness of the world, by providing a sufficient effectual sacrifice for sin, that will be needed in all ages, and to the continued sinfulness of believers themselves by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and apply themselves by faith to the blood of that sacrifice. And therefore, if we say either that we have not sinned or do not yet sin, the word of God is not in us, neither in our minds, as to the acquaintance we should have with it, nor in our hearts, as to the practical influence it should have upon us.

II. The apostle then instructs the believer in the way to the continued pardon of his sin. Here we have, 1. His duty in order thereto: If we confess our sins, 1Jo 1:9. Penitent confession and acknowledgment of sin are the believer’s business, and the means of his deliverance from his guilt. And, 2. His encouragement thereto, and assurance of the happy issue. This is the veracity, righteousness, and clemency of God, to whom he makes such confession: He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1Jo 1:9. God is faithful to his covenant and word, wherein he has promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors. He is just to himself and his glory who has provided such a sacrifice, by which his righteousness is declared in the justification of sinners. He is just to his Son who has not only sent him for such service, but promised to him that those who come through him shall be forgiven on his account. By his knowledge (by the believing apprehension of him) shall my righteous servant justify many, Isa 53:11. He is clement and gracious also, and so will forgive, to the contrite confessor, all his sins, cleanse him from the guilt of all unrighteousness, and in due time deliver him from the power and practice of it.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (2 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (2 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 2

Here the apostle encourages against sins of infirmity (1Jo 2:1, 1Jo 2:2), shows the true knowledge and love of God (1Jo 2:3-6), renews the precept of fraternal love (1Jo 2:7-11), addresses the several ages of Christians (1Jo 2:12-14), warns against worldly love (1Jo 2:15-17), against seducers (1Jo 2:18, 1Jo 2:19), shows the security of true Christians (1Jo 2:20-27), and advises to abide in Christ (1Jo 2:28, 1Jo 2:29).

1 John 2:1-2

These verses relate to the concluding subject of the foregoing chapter, in which the apostle proceeds upon the supposition of the real Christian’s sin. And here he gives them both dissuasion and support.

1. Dissuasion. He would leave no room for sin: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not, 1Jo 2:1. The design or purport of this letter, the design of what I have just said concerning communion with God and the overthrow of it by an irreligious course, is to dissuade and drive you from sin.” See the familiar affectionate compellation with which he introduces his admonition: My little children, children as having perhaps been begotten by his gospel, little children as being much beneath him in age and experience, my little children, as being dear to him in the bonds of the gospel. Certainly the gospel most prevailed where and when such ministerial love most abounded. Or perhaps the judicious reader will find reason to think that the apostle’s meaning in this dissuasion or caution is this, or amounts to this reading: These things write I unto you, not that you sin. And so the words will look back to what he had said before concerning the assured pardon of sin: God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, etc., 1Jo 1:9. And so the words are a preclusion of all abuse of such favour and indulgence. “Though sins will be forgiven to penitent confessors, yet this I write, not to encourage you in sin, but upon another account.” Or this clause will look forward to what the apostle is going to say about the Advocate for sinners: and so it is a prolepsis, a prevention of like mistake or abuse: “These things write I unto you, not that you sin, but that you may see your remedy for sin.” And so the following particle (as the learned know) may be rendered adversatively: But, if a man sin, he may know his help and cure. And so we see,

II. The believer’s support and relief in case of sin: And (or but) if any man sin (any of us, or of our foresaid communion), We have we an Advocate with the Father, etc., 1Jo 2:1. Believers themselves, those that are advanced to a happy gospel-state, have yet their sins. There is a great distinction therefore between the sinners that are in the world. There are Christianized (such as are instated in the sacred saving privileges of Christ’s mystical or spiritual body) and unchristianized, converted and unconverted sinners. There are some who, though they really sin, yet, in comparison with others, are said not to sin, as 1Jo 3:9. Believers, as they have an atonement applied unto them at their entrance into a state of pardon and justification, so they have an Advocate in heaven still to continue to them that state, and procure their continued forgiveness. And this must be the support, satisfaction, and refuge of believers (or real Christians) in or upon their sins: We have an Advocate. The original name is sometimes given to the Holy Ghost, and then it is rendered, the Comforter. He acts within us; he puts pleas and arguments into our hearts and mouths; and so is our advocate, by teaching us to intercede for ourselves. But here is an advocate without us, in heaven and with the Father. The proper office and business of an advocate is with the judge; with him he pleads the client’s cause. The Judge with whom our advocate pleads is the Father, his Father and ours. He who was our Judge in the legal court (the court of the violated law) is our Father in the gospel court, the court of heaven and of grace. His throne or tribunal is the mercy-seat. And he that is our Father is also our Judge, the supreme arbitrator of our state and circumstances, either for life or death, for time or eternity. You have come – to God, the Judge of all, Heb 12:23. That believers may be encouraged to hope that their cause will go well, as their Judge is represented to them in the relation of a Father, so their advocate is recommended to them upon these considerations: – 1. By his person and personal names. It is Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, one anointed by the Father for the whole office of mediation, the whole work of salvation, and consequently for that of the intercessor or advocate. 2. By his qualification for the office. It is Jesus Christ the righteous, the righteous one in the court and sight of the Judge. This is not so necessary in another advocate. Another advocate (or an advocate in another court) may be an unjust person himself, and yet may have a just cause (and the cause of a just person in that case) to plead, and may accordingly carry his cause. But here the clients are guilty; their innocence and legal righteousness cannot be pleaded; their sin must be confessed or supposed. It is the advocate’s own righteousness that he must plead for the criminals. He has been righteous to the death, righteous for them; he has brought in everlasting righteousness. This the Judge will not deny. Upon this score he pleads, that the clients’ sins may not be imputed to them. 3. By the plea he has to make, the ground and basis of his advocacy: And he is the propitiation for our sins, 1Jo 2:2. He is the expiatory victim, the propitiatory sacrifice that has been offered to the Judge for all our offences against his majesty, and law, and government. In vain do the professors of Rome distinguish between and advocate of redemption and an advocate of intercession, or a mediator of such different service. The Mediator of intercession, the Advocate for us, is the Mediator of redemption, the propitiation for our sins. It is his propitiation that he pleads. And we might be apt to suppose that his blood had lost its value and efficacy if no mention had been made of it in heaven since the time it was shed. But now we see it is of esteem there, since it is continually represented in the intercession of the great advocate (the attorney-general) for the church of God. He ever lives to make intercession for those that come to God through him. 4. By the extent of his plea, the latitude of his propitiation. It is not confined to one nation; and not particularly to the ancient Israel of God: He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only (not only for the sins of us Jews, us that are Abraham’s seed according to the flesh), but also for those of the whole world (1Jo 2:2); not only for the past, or us present believers, but for the sins of all who shall hereafter believe on him or come to God through him. The extent and intent of the Mediator’s death reach to all tribes, nations, and countries. As he is the only, so he is the universal atonement and propitiation for all that are saved and brought home to God, and to his favour and forgiveness.

1 John 2:3-6

These verses may seem to relate to the seventh verse of the former chapter, between which and these verses there occurred an incidental discourse concerning the believer’s duty and relief in case of sin, occasioned by the mention of one of the believer’s privileges – his being cleansed from sin by the Mediator’s blood. In that verse the apostle asserts the beneficial consequence of walking in the light: We have then fellowship with one another, such divine fellowship and communion as are the prerogative of the church of Christ.” Here now succeeds the trial or test of our light and of our love.

I. The trial of our light: And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments, 1Jo 2:3. Divine light and knowledge are the beauty and improvement of the mind; it becomes the disciples of the Mediator to be persons of wisdom and understanding. Young Christians are apt to magnify their new light and applaud their own knowledge, especially if they have been suddenly or in a short time communicated; and old ones are apt to suspect the sufficiency and fulness of their knowledge; they lament that they know God, and Christ, and the rich contents of his gospel, no more: but here is the evidence of the soundness of our knowledge, if it constrain us to keep God’s commandments. Each perfection of his nature enforces his authority; the wisdom of his counsels, the riches of his grace, the grandeur of his works, recommend his law and government. A careful conscientious obedience to his commands shows that the apprehension and knowledge of these things are graciously impressed upon the soul; and therefore it must follow in the reverse that he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 1Jo 2:4. Professors of the truth are often ashamed of their ignorance, or ashamed to own it; they frequently pretend to great attainments in the knowledge of divine mysteries: Thou makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest (in thy rational judgment) the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law and art confident that thou thyself art (or art fit to be) a guide to the blind, etc., Rom 2:17, etc. But what knowledge of God can that be which sees not that he is most worthy of the most entire and intense obedience? And, if that be seen and known, how vain and superficial is even this knowledge when it sways not the heart unto obedience! A disobedient life is the confutation and shame of pretended religious knowledge; it gives the lie to such boasts and pretences, and shows that there is neither religion nor honesty in them.

II. The trial of our love: But whoso keepeth his word in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him, 1Jo 2:5. To keep the word of God, or of Christ, is sacredly to attend thereto in all the conduct and motion of life; in him that does so is the love of God perfected. Possibly, some may here understand God’s love to us; and doubtless his love to us cannot be perfected (or obtain its perfect design and fruit) without our practical observance of his word. We are chosen, to be holy and blameless before him in love; we are redeemed, to be a peculiar people, zealous of good works; we are pardoned and justified, that we may be partakers of larger measures of the divine Spirit for sanctification; we are sanctified, that we may walk in ways of holiness and obedience: no act of divine love that here terminates upon us obtains its proper tendency, issue, and effect, without our holy attendance to God’s word. But the phrase rather denotes here our love to God; so 1Jo 2:15, The love of (to) the Father is not in him; so 1Jo 3:17, How dwelleth the love of (to) God in him? Now light is to kindle love; and love must and will keep the word of God; it enquires wherein the beloved may be pleased and served, and, finding he will be so by observance of his declared will, there it employs and exerts itself; there love is demonstrated; there it has its perfect (or complete) exercise, operation, and delight; and hereby (by this dutiful attendance to the will of God, or Christ) we know that we are in him (1Jo 2:5), we know that we belong to him, and that we are united to him by that Spirit which elevates and assists us to this obedience; and if we acknowledge our relation to him, and our union with him, it must have this continued enforcement upon us: He that saith he abideth in him ought himself to walk even as he walked, 1Jo 2:6. The Lord Christ was an inhabitant of this world, and walked here below; here he gave a shining example of absolute obedience to God. Those who profess to be on his side, and to abide with him, must walk with him, walk after his pattern and example. The partisans of the several sects of philosophers of old paid great regard to the dictates and practice of their respective teachers and sect-masters; much more should the Christian, he who professes to abide in and with Christ, aim to resemble his infallible Master and head, and conform to his course and prescriptions: Then are you my friends if you do whatsoever I command you, Joh 15:14.

1 John 2:7-11

The seventh verse may be supposed either to look backward to what immediately preceded (and then it is walking as Christ walked that is here represented as no new, but an old commandment; it is that which the apostles would certainly inculcate wherever they brought Christ’s gospel), or to look forward to what the apostle is now going to recommend, and that is the law of fraternal love; this is the message heard from the beginning (1Jo 3:11), and the old commandment, 2Jo 1:5. Now, while the apostle addresses himself to the recommendation of such a practice, he is ready to give an instance thereof in his affectionate appellation: “Brethren, you who are dear to me in the bond of that love to which I would solicit you;” and so the precept of fraternal love is recommended,

I. As an old one: I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which you had from the beginning, 1Jo 2:7. The precept of love must be as old as human nature; but it might admit divers enactions, enforcements, and motives. In the state of innocence, had human nature then been propagated, men must have loved one another as being of one blood, made to dwell on the earth, as being God’s offspring, and bearing his image. In the state of sin and promised recovery, they must love one another as related to God their Maker, as related to each other by blood, and as partners in the same hope. When the Hebrews were peculiarly incorporated, they must accordingly love each other, as being the privileged people, whose were the covenants and the adoption, and of whose race the Messiah and head of the church must spring; and the law of love must be conveyed with new obligations to the new Israel of God, to the gospel church, and so it is the old commandment, or the word which the children of the gospel Israel have heard from the beginning, 1Jo 2:7.

II. As a new one: “Again, to constrain you to this duty the more, a new commandment I write unto you, the law of the new society, the Christian corporation, which thing is true in him, the matter of which was first true in and concerning the head of it; the truth of it was first and was abundantly in him; he loved the church, and gave himself for it: and it is true in you; this law is in some measure written upon your hearts; you are taught of God to love one another, and that because” (or since, or forasmuch as) “the darkness is past, the darkness of your prejudiced unconverted (whether Jewish or Gentile) minds, your deplorable ignorance of God and of Christ is now past, and the true light now shineth (1Jo 2:8); the light of evangelical revelation hath shone with life and efficacy into your hearts; hence you have seen the excellency of Christian love, and the fundamental obligation thereto.” Hence we see that the fundamentals (and particularly the fundamental precepts) of the Christian religion may be represented either as new or old; the reformed doctrine, or doctrine of religion in the reformed churches, is new and old – new, as taught after long darkness, by the lights of the reformation, new as purged from the adulterations of Rome; but old as having been taught and heard from the beginning. We should see that that grace or virtue which was true in Christ be true also in us; we should be conformable to our head. The more our darkness is past, and gospel light shines unto us, the deeper should our subjection be to the commandments of our Lord, whether considered as old or new. Light should produce a suitable heat. Accordingly, here is another trial of our Christian light; before, it was to be approved by obedience to God; here by Christian love. 1. He who wants such love in vain pretends his light: He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even unto now, 1Jo 2:9. It is proper for sincere Christians to acknowledge what God has done for their souls; but in the visible church there are often those who assume to themselves more than is true, there are those who say they are in the light, the divine revelation has made its impression upon their minds and spirits, and yet they walk in hatred and enmity towards their Christian brethren; these cannot be swayed by the sense of the love of Christ to their brethren, and therefore remain in their dark state, notwithstanding their pretended conversion to the Christian religion. 2. He who is governed by such love approves his light to be good and genuine: He that loveth his brother (as his brother in Christ) abideth in the light, 1Jo 2:10. He sees the foundation and reason of Christian love; he discerns the weight and value of the Christian redemption; he sees how meet it is that we should love those whom Christ hath loved; and then the consequence will be that there is no occasion of stumbling in him (1Jo 2:10); he will be no scandal, no stumbling-block, to his brother; he will conscientiously beware that he neither induce his brother to sin nor turn him out of the way of religion, Christian love teaches us highly to value our brother’s soul, and to dread every thing that will be injurious to his innocence and peace. 3. Hatred is a sign of spiritual darkness: But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, 1Jo 2:11. Spiritual light is instilled by the Spirit of grace, and one of the first-fruits of that Spirit is love; he then who is possessed with malignity towards a Christian brother must needs be destitute of spiritual light; consequently he walks in darkness (1Jo 2:11); his life is agreeable to a dark mind and conscience, and he knows not whither he goes; he sees not whither this dark spirit carries him, and particularly that it will carry him to the world of utter darkness, because darkness hath blinded his eyes, 1Jo 2:11. The darkness of regeneracy, evidenced by a malignant spirit, is contrary to the light of life; where that darkness dwells, the mind, the judgment, and the conscience will be darkened, and so will mistake the way to heavenly endless life. Here we may observe how effectually our apostle is now cured of his once hot and flaming spirit. Time was when he was for calling for fire from heaven upon poor ignorant Samaritans who received them not, Luk 9:54. But his Lord had shown him that he knew not his own spirit, nor whither it led him. Having now imbibed more of the Spirit of Christ, he breathes out good-will to man, and love to all the brethren. It is the Lord Jesus that is the great Master of love: it is his school (his own church) that is the school of love. His disciples are the disciples of love, and his family must be the family of love.

1 John 2:12-17

This new command of holy love, with the incentives thereto, may possibly be directed to the several ranks of disciples that are here accosted. The several graduates in the Christian university, the catholic church, must be sure to preserve the bond of sacred love. Or, there being an important dehortation and dissuasion to follow, without the observance of which vital religion in the love of God and love of the brethren cannot subsist, the apostle may justly seem to preface it with a solemn address to the several forms or orders in the school of Christ: let the infants or minors, the adults, the seniors (or the adepti, the teleioi, the most perfect), in the Christian institution, know that they must not love this world; and so,

I. We have the address itself made to the various forms and ranks in the church of Christ. All Christians are not of the same standing and stature; there are babes in Christ, there are grown men, and old disciples. As these have their peculiar states, so they have their peculiar duties; but there are precepts and a correspondent obedience common to them all, as particularly mutual love and contempt of the world. We see also that wise pastors will judiciously distribute the word of life, and give to the several members of Christ’s family their several suitable portions: I write unto you children, fathers, and young men. In this distribution the apostle addresses,

1. The lowest in the Christian school: I write unto you, little children, 1Jo 2:12. There are novices in religion, babes in Christ, those who are learning the rudiments of Christian godliness. The apostle may seem to encourage them by applying to them first; and it may be useful to the greater proficients to hear what is said to their juniors; elements are to be repeated; first principles are the foundation of all. He addresses the children in Christianity upon two accounts: – (1.) Because their sins were forgiven them for his name’s sake, 1Jo 2:12. The youngest sincere disciple is pardoned; the communion of saints is attended with the forgiveness of sins. Sins are forgiven either for God’s name’s sake, for the praise of his glory (his glorious perfections displayed in forgiveness), or for Christ’s name’s sake, upon his score, and upon the account of the redemption that is in him; and those that are forgiven of God are strongly obliged to relinquish this world, which so interferes with the love of God. (2.) Because of their knowledge of God: I write unto you, little children, because you have known the Father, 1Jo 2:13. Children are wont to know none so soon as their father. Children in Christianity must and do know God. They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, Heb 8:11. Children in Christ should know that God is their Father; it is their wisdom. We say, It is a wise child that knows his father. These children cannot but know theirs; they can well be assured by whose power they are regenerated and by whose grace they are adopted. Those that know the Father may well be withdrawn from the love of this world. Then the apostle, proceeds,

2. To those of the highest station and stature, to the seniors in Christianity, to whom he gives an honourable appellation: I write unto you, fathers (1Jo 2:13, 1Jo 2:14), unto you, Mnasons, you old disciples, Act 21:16. The apostle immediately passes from the bottom to the top of the school, from the lowest form to the highest, that those in the middle may hear both lessons, may remember what they have learned and perceive what they must come to: I write unto you, fathers. Those that are of longest standing in Christ’s school have need of further advice and instruction; the oldest disciple must go to heaven (the university above) with his book, his Bible, in his hand; fathers must be written to, and preached to; none are too old to learn. He writes to them upon the account of their knowledge: I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning, 1Jo 2:13, 1Jo 2:14. Old men have knowledge and experience, and expect deference. The apostle is ready to own the knowledge of old Christians, and to congratulate them thereupon. They know the Lord Christ, particularly him that was from the beginning; as 1Jo 1:1. As Christ is Alpha and Omega, so he must be the beginning and end of our Christian knowledge. I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, Phi 3:8. Those who know him that was from the beginning, before this world was made, may well be induced thereby to relinquish this world. Then,

3. To the middle age of Christians, to those who are in their bloom and flower: I write unto you, young men, 1Jo 2:13, 1Jo 2:14. There are the adult in Christ Jesus, those that have arrived at the strength of spirit and sound sense and can discern between good and evil. The apostle applies to them upon these accounts: – (1.) Upon the account of their martial exploits. Dexterous soldiers they are in the camp of Christ: Because you have overcome the wicked one, 1Jo 2:13. There is a wicked one that is continually warring against souls, and particularly against the disciples: but those that are well taught in Christ’s school can handle their arms and vanquish the evil one; and those that can vanquish him may be called to vanquish the world too, which is so great an instrument for the devil. (2.) Upon the account of their strength, discovered in this their achievement: Because you are strong, and you have overcome the wicked one, 1Jo 2:14. Young men are wont to glory in their strength; it will be the glory of youthful persons to be strong in Christ and in his grace; it will be their glory, and it will try their strength, to overcome the devil; if they be not too hard for the devil, he will be too hard for them. Let vigorous Christians show their strength in conquering the world; and the same strength must be exerted in overcoming the world as is employed in overcoming the devil. (3.) Because of their acquaintance with the word of God: And the word of God abideth in you, 1Jo 2:14. The word of God must abide in the adult disciples; it is the nutriment and supply of strength to them; it is the weapon by which they overcome the wicked one; the sword of the Spirit, whereby they quench his fiery darts: and those in whom the word of God dwells are well furnished for the conquest of the world.

II. We have the dehortation or dissuasion thus prefaced and introduced, a caution fundamental to vital practical religion: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, 1Jo 2:15. Be crucified to the world, be mortified to the things, to the affairs and enticements, of it.” The several degrees of Christians should unite in this, in being dead to the world. Were they thus united, they would soon unite upon other accounts: their love should be reserved for God; throw it not away upon the world. Now here we see the reasons of this dissuasion and caution. They are several, and had need to be so; it is hard to dispute or dissuade disciples themselves from the love of the world. These reasons are taken,

1. From the inconsistency of this love with the love of God: If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1Jo 2:15. The heart of man is narrow, and cannot contain both loves. The world draws down the heart from God; and so the more the love of the world prevails the more the love of God dwindles and decays.

2. From the prohibition of worldly love or lust; it is not ordained of God: It is not of the Father, but is of the world, 1Jo 2:16. This love or lust is not appointed of God (he calls us from it), but it intrudes itself from the world; the world is a usurper of our affection. Now here we have the due consideration and notion of the world, according to which it is to be crucified and renounced. The world, physically considered, is good, and is to be admired as the work of God and a glass in which his perfections shine; but it is to be considered in its relation to us now in our corrupted state, and as it works upon our weakness and instigates and inflames our vile affections. There is great affinity and alliance between this world and the flesh, and this world intrudes and encroaches upon the flesh, and thereby makes a party against God. The things of the world therefore are distinguished into three classes, according to the three predominant inclinations of depraved nature; as, (1.) There is the lust of the flesh. The flesh here, being distinguished from the eyes and the life, imports the body. The lust of the flesh is, subjectively, the humour and appetite of indulging fleshly pleasures; and, objectively, all those things that excite and inflame the pleasures of the flesh. This lust is usually called luxury. (2.) There is the lust of the eyes. The eyes are delighted with treasures; riches and rich possessions are craved by an extravagant eye; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. There is the pride of life. A vain mind craves all the grandeur, equipage, and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this is ambition, and thirst after honour and applause. This is, in part, the disease of the ear; it must be flattered with admiration and praise. The objects of these appetites must be abandoned and renounced; as they engage and engross the affection and desire, they are not of the Father, but of the world, 1Jo 2:16. The Father disallows them, and the world should keep them to itself. The lust or appetite to these things must be mortified and subdued; and so the indulging of it is not appointed by the Father, but is insinuated by the ensnaring world.

3. From the vain and vanishing state of earthly things and the enjoyment of them. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, 1Jo 2:17. The things of the world are fading and dying apace. The lust itself and the pleasure of it wither and decay; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, Ecc 12:5. And what has become of all the pomp and pleasure of all those who now lie mouldering in the grave?

4. From the immortality of the divine lover, the lover of God: But he that doeth the will of God, which must be the character of the lover of God, in opposition to this lover of the world, abideth for ever, 1Jo 2:17. The object of his love in opposition to the world that passeth away, abideth for ever; his sacred passion or affection, in opposition to the lust that passeth away, abideth for ever; love shall never fail; and he himself is an heir of immortality and endless life, and shall in time be translated thither.

From the whole of these verses we should observe the purity and spirituality of the apostolical doctrine. The animal life must be subjected to the divine; the body with its affections should be swayed by religion, or the victorious love of God.

1 John 2:18-19

Here is, I. A moral prognostication of the time; the end is coming: Little children, it is the last time, 1Jo 2:18. Some may suppose that the apostle here addresses the first rank of Christians again; the juniors are most apt to be seduced, and therefore, “Little children, you that are young in religion, take heed to yourselves that you be not corrupted.” But it may be, as elsewhere, a universal appellation, introductive of an alarm to all Christians: “Little children, it is the last time; our Jewish polity in church and state is hastening to an end; the Mosaic institution and discipline are just upon vanishing away; Daniel’s weeks are now expiring; the destruction of the Hebrew city and sanctuary is approaching, the end whereof must be with a flood, and to the end of the war desolations are determined,” Dan 9:26. It is meet that the disciples should be warned of the haste and end of time, and apprised as much as may be of the prophetic periods of time.

II. The sign of this last time: Even now there are many antichrists (1Jo 2:18), many that oppose the person, doctrine, and kingdom of Christ. It is a mysterious portion of providence that antichrists should be permitted; but, when they have come, it is good and safe that the disciples should be informed of them; ministers should be watchmen to the house of Israel. Now it should be no great offence nor prejudice to the disciples that there are such antichrists: 1. One great one has been foretold: As you have heard that antichrist shall come, 1Jo 2:18. The generality of the church have been informed by divine revelation that there must be a long and fatal adversary to Christ and his church, 2Th 2:8-10. No wonder then that there are many harbingers and forerunners of the great one: Even now there are many antichrists, the mystery of iniquity already worketh. 2. They were foretold also as the sign of this last time. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect, Mat 24:24. And these were the forerunners of the dissolution of the Jewish state, nation, and religion: Whereby we know it is the last time, 1Jo 2:18. Let the prediction that we see there has been of seducers arising in the Christian world fortify us against their seduction.

III. Some account of these seducers or antichrists. 1. More positively. They were once entertainers or professors of apostolical doctrine: “They went out from us (1Jo 2:19), from our company and communion;” possibly from the church of Jerusalem, or some of the churches of Judea, as Act 15:1, Certain men came down from Judea, and taught the brethren, etc. The purest churches may have their apostates and revolters; the apostolic doctrine did not convert all whom it convinced of its truth. 2. More privately. “They were not inwardly such as we are: But they were not of us; they had not from the heart obeyed the form of sound doctrine delivered to them; they were not of our union with Christ the head.” Then here is, (1.) The reason upon which it is concluded that they were not of us, were not what they pretended, or what we are, and that is their actual defection: “For, if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us (1Jo 2:19); had the sacred truth been rooted in their hearts it would have held them with us; had they had the anointing from above, by which they had been made true and real Christians, they would not have turned antichrists.” Those that apostatize from religion sufficiently indicate that, before, they were hypocrites in religion: those who have imbibed the spirit of gospel truth have a good preservative against destructive error. (2.) The reason why they are permitted thus to depart from apostolical doctrine and communion – that their insincerity may be detected: But this was done (or they went out) that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us, 1Jo 2:19. The church knows not well who are its vital members and who are not; and therefore the church, considered as internally sanctified, may well be styled invisible. Some of the hypocritical must be manifested here, and that for their own shame and benefit too, in their reduction to the truth, if they have not sinned unto death, and for the terror and caution of others. You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, etc., 2Pe 3:17, 2Pe 3:18.

1 John 2:20-27

Here, I. The apostle encourages the disciples (to whom he writes) in these dangerous times, in this hour of seducers; he encourages them in the assurance of their stability in this day of apostasy: But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things. We see, 1. The blessing wherewith they were enriched – an unguent from heaven: You have an unction. True Christians are anointed ones, their name intimates as much. They are anointed with the oil of grace, with gifts and spiritual endowments, by the Spirit of grace. They are anointed into a similitude of their Lord’s offices, as subordinate prophets, priests, and kings, unto God. The Holy Spirit is compared to oil, as well as to fire and water; and the communication of his salvific grace is our anointing. 2. From whom this blessing comes – from the Holy One, either from the Holy Ghost or from the Lord Christ, as Rev 3:7, These things saith he that is holy – the Holy One. The Lord Christ is glorious in his holiness. The Lord Christ disposes of the graces of the divine Spirit, and he anoints the disciples to make them like himself, and to secure them in his interest. 3. The effect of this unction – it is a spiritual eye-salve; it enlightens and strengthens the eyes of the understanding: “And thereby you know all things (1Jo 2:20), all these things concerning Christ and his religion; it was promised and given you for that end,” Joh 14:26. The Lord Christ does not deal alike by all his professed disciples; some are more anointed than others. There is great danger lest those that are not thus anointed should be so far from being true to Christ that they should, on the contrary, turn antichrists, and prove adversaries to Christ’s person, and kingdom, and glory.

II. The apostle indicates to them the mind and meaning with which he wrote to them. 1. By way of negation; not as suspecting their knowledge, or supposing their ignorance in the grand truths of the gospel: “I have not written unto you because you know not the truth, 1Jo 2:21. I could not then be so well assured of your stability therein, nor congratulate you on your unction from above.” It is good to surmise well concerning our Christian brethren; we ought to do so till evidence overthrows our surmise: a just confidence in religious persons may both encourage and contribute to their fidelity. 2. By way of assertion and acknowledgment, as relying upon their judgment in these things: But because you know it (you know the truth in Jesus), and that no lie is of the truth. Those who know the truth in any respect are thereby prepared to discern what is contrary thereto and inconsistent therewith. Rectum est index sui et obliqui – The line which shows itself to be straight shows also what line is crooked. Truth and falsehood do not well mix and suit together. Those that are well acquainted with Christian truth are thereby well fortified against antichristian error and delusion. No lie belongs to religion, either natural or revealed. The apostles most of all condemned lies, and showed the inconsistency of lies with their doctrine: they would have been the most self-condemned persons had they propagated the truth by lies. It is a commendation of the Christian religion that it so well accords with natural religion, which is the foundation of it, that it so well accords with the Jewish religion, which contained the elements or rudiments of it. No lie is of the truth; frauds and impostures then are very unfit means to support and propagate the truth. I suppose it had been better with the state of religion if they had never been used. The result of them appears in the infidelity of our age; the detection of ancient pious frauds and wiles has almost run our age into atheism and irreligion; but the greatest actors and sufferers for the Christian revelation would assure us that no lie is of the truth.

III. The apostle further impleads and arraigns these seducers who had newly arisen. 1. They are liars, egregious opposers of sacred truth: Who is a liar, or the liar, the notorious liar of the time and age in which we live, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? The great and pernicious lies that the father of lies, or of liars, spreads in the world, were of old, and usually are, falsehoods and errors relating to the person of Christ. There is no truth so sacred and fully attested but some or other will contradict or deny it. That Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God had been attested by heaven, and earth, and hell. It should seem that some, in the tremendous judgment of God, are given up to strong delusions. 2. They are direst enemies to God as well as to the Lord Christ: He is antichrist who denieth the Father and the Son, 1Jo 2:22. He that opposes Christ denies the witness and testimony of the Father, and the seal that he hath given to his Son; for him hath God the Father sealed, Joh 6:27. And he that denies the witness and testimony of the Father, concerning Jesus Christ denies that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently abandons the knowledge of God in Christ, and thereupon the whole revelation of God in Christ, and particularly of God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself; and therefore the apostle may well infer, Whosoever denies the Son the same has not the Father (1Jo 2:23); he has not the true knowledge of the Father, for the Son has most and best revealed him; he has no interest in the Father, in his favour, and grace, and salvation, for none cometh to the Father but by the Son. But, as some copies add, he that acknowledgeth the Son has the Father also, 1Jo 2:23. As there is an intimate relation between the Father and the Son, so there is an inviolable union in the doctrine, knowledge, and interests of both; so that he who has the knowledge of, and right to, the Son, has the knowledge of, and right to, the Father also. Those that adhere to the Christian revelation hold the light and benefit of natural religion withal.

IV. Hereupon the apostle advises and persuades the disciples to continue in the old doctrine at first communicated to them: Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning, 1Jo 2:24. Truth is older than error. The truth concerning Christ, that was at first delivered to the saints, is not to be exchanged for novelties. So sure were the apostles of the truth of what they had delivered concerning Christ, and from him, that after all their toils and sufferings they were not willing to relinquish it. The Christian truth may plead antiquity, and be recommended thereby. This exhortation is enforced by these considerations: –

1. From the sacred advantage they will receive by adhering to the primitive truth and faith. (1.) They will continue thereby in holy union with God and Christ: If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son and in the Father, 1Jo 2:24. It is the truth of Christ abiding in us that is the means of severing us from sin and uniting us to the Son of God, Joh 15:3, Joh 15:4. The Son is the medium or the Mediator by whom we are united to the Father. What value then should we put upon gospel truth! (2.) They will thereby secure the promise of eternal life: And this is the promise that he (even God the Father, 1Jo 5:11) hath promised us, even eternal life, 1Jo 2:25. Great is the promise that God makes to his faithful adherents. It is suitable to his own greatness, power, and goodness. It is eternal life, which none but God can give. The blessed God puts great value upon his Son, and the truth relating to him, when he is pleased to promise to those who continue in that truth (under the light, and power, and influence of it) eternal life. Then the exhortation aforesaid is enforced,

2. From the design of the apostle’s writing to them. This letter is to fortify them against the deceivers of the age: “These things have I written to you concerning those that seduce you (1Jo 2:26), and therefore, if you continue not in what you have heard from the beginning, my writing and service will be in vain.” We should beware lest the apostolical letters, yea, lest the whole scripture of God, should be to us insignificant and fruitless. I have written to him the great things of my law (and my gospel too), but they were counted as a strange thing, Hos 8:12.

3. From the instructive blessing they had received from heaven: But the anointing which you have received from him abideth in you, 1Jo 2:27. True Christians have an inward confirmation of the divine truth they have imbibed: the Holy Spirit has imprinted it on their minds and hearts. It is meet that the Lord Jesus should have a constant witness in the hearts of his disciples. The unction, the pouring out of the gifts of grace upon sincere disciples, is a seal to the truth and doctrine of Christ, since none giveth that seal but God. Now he who establisheth us with you (and you with us) in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, 2Co 1:21. This sacred chrism, or divine unction, is commended on these accounts: – (1.) It is durable and lasting; oil or unguent is not so soon dried up as water: it abideth in you, 1Jo 2:27. Divine illumination, in order to confirmation, must be something continued or constant. Temptations, snares, and seductions, arise. The anointing must abide. (2.) It is better than human instruction: “And you need not that any man teach you, 1Jo 2:27. Not that this anointing will teach you without the appointed ministry. It could, if God so pleased; but it will not, though it will teach you better than we can: And you need not that any man teach you, 1Jo 2:27. You were instructed by us before you were anointed; but now our teaching is nothing in comparison to that. Who teacheth like him?” Job 36:22. The divine unction does not supersede ministerial teaching, but surmount it. (3.) It is a sure evidence of truth, and all that it teaches is infallible truth: But as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, 1Jo 2:27. The Holy Spirit must needs be the Spirit of truth, as he is called, Joh 14:17. The instruction and illumination that he affords must needs be in and of the truth. The Spirit of truth will not lie; and he teacheth all things, that is, all things in the present dispensation, all things necessary to our knowledge of God in Christ, and their glory in the gospel. And, (4.) It is of a conservative influence; it will preserve those in whom it abides against seducers and their seduction: “And even as it hath taught you you shall abide in him, 1Jo 2:27. It teaches you to abide in Christ; and, as it teaches you, it secures you; it lays a restraint upon your minds and hearts, that you may not revolt from him. And he that hath anointed us is God, who also hath sealed us for himself, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” 2Co 1:21, 2Co 1:22.

1 John 2:28-29

From the blessing of the sacred unction the apostle proceeds in his advice and exhortation to constancy in and with Christ: And now, little children, abide in him, 1Jo 2:28. The apostle repeats his kind appellation, little children, which I suppose does not so much denote their diminutiveness as his affection, and therefore, I judge, may be rendered dear children. He would persuade by love, and prevail by endearment as well as by reason. “Not only the love of Christ, but the love of you, constrains us to inculcate your perseverance, and that you would abide in him, in the truth relating to his person, and in your union with him and allegiance to him.” Evangelical privileges are obligatory to evangelical duties; and those that are anointed by the Lord Jesus are highly obliged to abide with him in opposition to all adversaries whatever. This duty of perseverance and constancy in trying times is strongly urged by the two following considerations: – 1. From the consideration of his return at the great day of account: That when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming, 1Jo 2:28. It is here taken for granted that the Lord Jesus will come again. This was part of that truth they had heart from the beginning. And, when he shall come again, he will publicly appear, be manifested to all. When he was here before, he came privately, in comparison. He proceeded from a womb, and was introduced into a stable: but, when he shall come again, he will come from the opened heavens, and every eye shall see him; and then those who have continued with him throughout all their temptations shall have confidence, assurance, and joy, in the sight of him. They shall lift up their heads with unspeakable triumph, as knowing that their complete redemption comes along with him. On the contrary, those that have deserted him shall be ashamed before him; they shall be ashamed of themselves, ashamed of their unbelief, their cowardice, ingratitude, temerity, and folly, in forsaking so glorious a Redeemer. They shall be ashamed of their hopes, expectations, and pretences, and ashamed of all the wages of unrighteousness, by which they were induced to desert him: That we may have confidence, and may not be ashamed. The apostle includes himself in the number. “Let not us be ashamed of you,” as well as, “you will not be ashamed of yourselves.” Or mē aischunthōmen ap’ autouthat we be not ashamed (made ashamed, or put to shame) by him at his coming. At his public appearance he will shame all those who have abandoned him, he will disclaim all acquaintance with them, will cover them with shame and confusion, will abandon them to darkness, devils, and endless despair, by professing before men and angels that he is ashamed of them, Mar 8:38. To the same advice and exhortation he proceeds, 2. From the consideration of the dignity of those who still adhere to Christ and his religion: If you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him, 1Jo 2:29. The particle here rendered if seems not to be vox dubitantis, but concedentis; not so much a conditional particle, as a suppositional one, if I may call it so, a note of allowance or concession, and so seems to be of the same import with our English inasmuch, or whereas, or since. So the sense runs more clearly: Since you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. He that doeth righteousness may here be justly enough assumed as another name for him that abideth in Christ. For he that abideth in Christ abideth in the law and love of Christ, and consequently in his allegiance and obedience to him; and so must do, or work, or practise, righteousness, or the parts of gospel holiness. Now such a one must needs be born of him. He is renewed by the Spirit of Christ, after the image of Christ, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath fore-ordained that he should walk in them, Eph 2:10. “Since then you know that the Lord Christ is righteous (righteous in his quality and capacity, the Lord our righteousness, and the Lord our sanctifier or our sanctification, as 1Co 1:30), you cannot but know thereupon” (or know you, it is for your consideration and regard) “that he who by the continued practice of Christianity abideth in him is born of him.” The new spiritual nature is derived from the Lord Christ. He that is constant to the practice of religion in trying times gives good evidence that he is born from above, from the Lord Christ. The Lord Christ is an everlasting Father. It is a great privilege and dignity to be born of him. Those that are so are the children of God. To as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, Joh 1:12. And this introduces the context of the following chapter.