XIII. THE LORD OUR GOD
'I am the Lord your God,' was God's greeting of love to Israel (Lev 11:44); it is no less now His salutation of grace to every one who has believed on the name of His Son, Christ Jesus. God becomes our God the moment that we receive His testimony of His beloved Son. This new relationship between God and us, in virtue of which He calls us His, and we call Him ours, is the simple result of a believed gospel.
If any one reading these lines is led to ask, How may I become a son? We answer in the words of truth, 'He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.' Nothing less than believing can bring about this sonship; and nothing more is needed. The joy, and the peace, and the love, and the warmth, these are the effects of faith, but they are not faith; they are the fruits of a conscious sonship which has been formed by the belief of the divine testimony to Jesus as the Son of God and the Saviour of the lost. 'As many as received Him, to them gave He the right of being sons of God, even to them that believed on His name' (John 1:12). God's simple message of grace contains peace for the sinner; and the sinner extracts the peace therein contained, not by effort or feeling, but by the simple belief of the true sayings of God. Good news makes glad by being believed, and they refuse to yield up their precious treasure to anything but to simple faith. Believe the tidings of peace from God, and the peace is all your own.
It is not to him that worketh, or feeleth, or loveth, but to him that believeth that God says, 'I am the Lord your God.' And when God used the word believing, He just meant what He said, and intended nothing else than what man means by that word. Had He meant anything else, He would have told us, and not suffered us to be misled or deceived by our misunderstanding of a word of which the Bible is full. Had He meant working, or feeling, or loving, He would have said so, and not allowed us to suppose that believing was really all. What a book of deception and mystery the Bible would be, if 'believing' does not mean 'believing,' but something less or something more! To make it something less, would be to take from God's word as truly as if we had struck out a book from the Bible. To make it something more, would be to add to God's word, as truly and as sinfully as if we had forged another Gospel or another Epistle, or accepted the Apocrypha as part of the inspired record. We make God a liar when we refuse to take Him at His word, or give Him credit for speaking that simple truth, in believing which we are saved; but let us remember the other side of his statement, namely, our being found liars by reason of our adding to His word. 'Every word of God is pure' (Prov 30:5); can we make it purer, or more transparent, or more simple? We add to it, lest it should be too simple, too childlike, too blessed; we put something of our own into it to make it more substantial and complete; and that something (call it feeling, or realizing, or loving) destroys the divine simplicity and transparency of faith. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar (Prov 30:6). Does casting dust upon the sunbeam improve its quality or make it more like the sun from which it came? Would pouring filth into a cup of pure spring water make it more lucid and refreshing? Whatever we add to believing, tends to destroy its real nature and to mar its effects. If God had said that we are to be saved by believing that the deluge overflowed the earth, and that the sun once stood still in the heavens, we should have understood what He meant by the word. And is there any more difficulty in understanding Him when He says, 'He that believeth is justified from all things'? Does believing mean one thing in Genesis and another in Romans? Does it mean one thing to Abraham and another to us? Does it mean one thing today and another tomorrow? Or is not the formula of salvation, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' meant to be the simplest and most intelligible of all declarations ever made to man?
We believe the Holy Spirit's testimony, that Jesus died and rose again, 'the Just for the unjust.' That saves. We believe the divine promise annexed to this testimony, that life is the possession of every man who believeth this heavenly testimony; and this belief of the promise (which some call appropriation) assures us, on God's word, that life is ours personally. We do not get life by believing that life is ours; nor do we get Christ by believing that Christ is ours. This is as absurd as the idea of getting our debts paid by believing that they are paid. But we get life and Christ by believing God's glad tidings concerning Jesus and His finished work upon the cross. There is enough in Christ to pay every man's debt; but no man's debt is actually paid until he has taken God at His word, and believed the record which God has given of His Son.
It is the blood that pacifies my conscience. The sight of it is all I need to remove fear and impart confidence. It is not my 'seeing that I see it' that gives me boldness, but my direct and simple sight of it. My guilt passes away from me so soon as I believe; and I don't need to wait till I believe in my own act of believing before becoming conscious of this deliverance. The blood contains my pardon and my peace; and by looking at it I extract the pardon and the peace. I don't need to look at my looking; I need only to look at the blood. If I cannot extract from it pardon and peace, I never shall be able to extract them from my own act of seeing. I am to believe in Jesus; not in my own faith, nor in my own feelings. I am to look to the cross, not to my own convictions or repentance. The well of peace is not within me; and to let down my bucket into my own heart for the purpose of drawing up the water of peace, is mockery as well as foolishness. I do not fill the cup of peace out of anything that is in myself. Christ has filled that cup already,--long, long ago--and in love He presses it to my parched lips. Let me drink at once of it, for all the peace of God, the peace of heaven is there.
When God said to Israel, 'I am the Lord your God,' He added this, 'Ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves; and ye shall be holy, for I am holy' (Lev 11:44); and He added this also, 'I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy' (Lev 11:45).
God calls us to be holy. He becomes our God to make us like Himself. 'He calls us to be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.' He expects that we should represent Him among our fellow-men by our resemblance to Himself.
The carrying out of this holiness is His own work,--the operation of His Spirit. Whether our perfection in holiness is to be wrought gradually or instantaneously, is a question to be determined solely by His word, and not by any theories of our own. That God could make each soul perfect the moment he believes, we admit;--that He may have wise reasons for not doing this, wise reasons for gradual growth, --will not be denied. He has given us no instance in the Bible of any one made instantaneously sinless, either at his conversion or during his after life. All the men of faith and holiness, the men 'full of the Holy Ghost,' which He presents to us as our models, are imperfect men to the end of their days, needing forgiveness and cleansing constantly. He glorifies Himself in our imperfect bodies; in an imperfect Church, on an imperfect earth. His object here is to glorify Himself in imperfection and growth, as He is hereafter to glorify Himself in perfection and completeness of every kind. Gradual growth is the law of all things here,--man, beasts, trees, and flowers,--so that unless we had some very notable example in Scripture of a sinless man, or of miraculous and instantaneous perfection by an act of faith, we are not disposed to accept the theory of instantaneous sinlessness, as that to which we are called in believing; even though that be veiled under the specious name of 'entire consecration,' or accompanied with the profession of personal unworthiness,--a 'personal unworthiness' which, however, does not seem to require any actual confession of sin.
Yet God calls us to be holy. He expects us to grow in unlikeness to this world, and in likeness to that world which is to come. He expects us to follow Him who did no sin, even though the attainment of perfection should not be in a day or a year, but the growth of a lifetime. It is for want of daily growth, not for want of complete and constant sinlessness, that God so often challenges His own.
Let us grow. Let us bring forth fruit. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. What is the use of taking so long to make us sinless?--some may say. I answer, Go and ask God. What was the use of taking six days to bring creation to perfection? Why did He let sin enter our world when He could have kept it out? What was the use of not making the whole Church perfect at once? Why did He not make Abraham or David or Paul perfect at once? He could have done so. Why did He not?
Let us study soberly and truly the word of God in regard to the past history of His saints, lest it be said to some in our day who think themselves on a far 'higher platform' than others,--more perfect than Paul or John,--'Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?' Let us grow. The impatience that demands instantaneous perfection is unbelief, refusing to recognize God's spiritual laws in the new creation. The gradual evolution of the heavenly life in a lifelong course of conflict and imperfection, is the way in which sin is unfolded, the human heart exposed to view, the power of the cross tested, the efficacy of the blood manifested, and the power as well as the love of Father, Son, and Spirit magnified. God's purpose is not simply to reveal Himself, but to reveal man,--not simply man dead in trespasses and sin, but man after he has been made alive unto righteousness, to exhibit, step by step, and day by day, that most solemn and humbling of all processes, namely, that by which 'the inward man is renewed day by day' (2 Cor 4:16): while the strength of the human will for evil is manifested, the awful tenacity of sin shown forth, and the absolute hopelessness of any sinner's salvation demonstrated, save by the omnipotence of God Himself.
Let us grow daily and hourly. Let us grow down; let us grow up. Let us strike our roots deeper; let us spread out our branches more widely. Let us not only 'blossom and bud,' but let us bring forth fruit, ripe and plentiful, on every bough. 'Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples' (John 15:8).