Missing God's Best
There are many real Christians who live more under God's frowns—than His smiles; who experience more of His chastening rod—than His special favors; who are better acquainted with inward disquietude—than that peace which "passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). Now, that ought not to be, and when it is so with any of us—the fault is entirely our own. However unpalatable that may be—it is the truth. Scripture is too plain on this point for any misunderstanding. "He does not afflict willingly" (Lam. 3:33). No, God afflicts, because we give him occasion to. Though we are His dear children—He will not wink at our waywardness, but will maintain the honor of His House and enforce the principles of His righteous government.
If we are refractory—He will visit our iniquity with stripes (Psalm 89:32). If we follow a course of self-will, and self-pleasing—then we shall be made to discover that "the way of transgressors is hard" (Proverbs 13:15).
What has just been pointed out is neither "strange doctrine" nor "legalistic" teaching. Almost a century ago, the editors of "The Gospel Standard" in their "Address to the Reader" said: "We cannot, except to our own cost, set aside Scripture precepts and Scripture practice—just because our corrupt nature withstands them. God's ways may not please our carnal mind—but He will not alter them for that reason. If we walk contrary to Him—He will walk contrary to us; and if we are disobedient—we shall reap its bitter fruits. If sin is at one end of the chain—sorrow will surely be at the other end. If we sow to the flesh—we shall most certainly of the flesh reap corruption; but if we sow to the spirit—we shall of the spirit reap life everlasting." Note well those words. "We cannot, except to our own cost, set aside Scripture precepts and Scripture practice"—and that "cost" is missing God's best for us. But let us appeal again to His own Word.
In our last article, we quoted that blessed—yet conditional, promise: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him" (2 Chron. 16:9). But let us note how solemnly the same verse ends: "Herein you have done foolishly: therefore from henceforth you shall have wars." Poor Asa's heart had not been "perfect toward" the Lord, and therefore, he missed God's best. That Asa was a pious man is clear from 2 Chronicles 14:2, where we are told that he "did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." Alas, like many, another whose early life promised well, it expired amid the shadows. And wherein was it that he failed so lamentably in the instance referred to above? 2 Chronicles 16:1-8 tells us: It was because at a crisis, he turned unto the arm of flesh, instead of relying upon the Lord his God—with which should be compared the final reference to him: "Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians" (2Ch 16:12).
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it [that is you shall enjoy My best]. But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices." (Psalm 81:10-12). And were they not greatly the losers by it? Observe what follows: "Oh that my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." (Psalm 81:13-16). What could be clearer than that? By their waywardness and disobedient walk, they forfeited those blessings and missed God's best! Instead of subduing their enemies, He allowed those enemies to overcome them; instead of providing abundant harvests, He sent famines; instead of giving them pastors after His own heart, He allowed false preachers to deceive them.
"If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea!" (Isaiah 48:18). That also has reference to a people who had missed God's best. Alas, of how many of the saints is that Divine lament true! It is much to be feared, that this is the case with the majority of God's children today. They have been regenerated, and their lives are generally speaking ordered by the Word—otherwise, they would not be Christians at all—yet there is something in their lives which hinders the Lord from showing Himself strong in their behalf and making them prosper both spiritually and temporally. What that something is, is plainly intimated in the above words: It is a spirit of disobedience, a failing to hearken to God's commandments, a falling short of walking in the full light which He has given them. Privileges entail obligations: God requires much more from you today—than He did ten years ago! God requires much more from those who enjoy an edifying ministry, than from those who do not (Luke 12:48).
Yes, the reason why the peace of those referred to in Isaiah 48:18 was not "as a river" and their "righteousness as the waves of the sea"—was because they had failed to fully respond to the light which God had granted them. We say "fully," for one who rejects His light in total, is unregenerate. It is a blessed thing, an unspeakable privilege, to be favored with light from God, especially in a day when "the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people" (Isaiah 60:2), which has been the case of Christendom the last few decades. The great majority of God's children have followed the Lord "fully" (Num 14:24) at first, responding to the Spirit's illumination and adjusting their lives to the teachings of God's servants. And then a duty is shown them, or a denying of self is set before them which is more than flesh and blood can tolerate, and they balk, excusing themselves under one plea or another. Thereby, they choke the channel of blessing, grieve the Spirit, miss God's best—and if impenitent, have to smart under increasingly heavy chastisements.
"No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). That is to enter into and enjoy God's best. Now set over against that, "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withheld good things from you" (Jeremiah 5:24): That is to forfeit and miss God's best. They who follow the devices of their own hearts, fall in with the customs of the world, or yield to the lusts of the flesh, not only deprive themselves of those blessings which are the portion of the obedient—but suffer needless adversities and painful afflictions from a faithful Father—as was clearly evidenced in the lives of Jacob and David. So too, later, in the history of that remnant of Israel who returned from Babylon to Palestine, unto whom God said, ""You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house [occupied with selfish interests rather than God's glory]. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands." This, in New Testament language, means fresh supplies of the Spirit are withheld, and you are fruitless branches of the Vine.
The point at which most Christians fail—is not in committing transgressions, "For there is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and sins not" (Ecc 7:20), but in failing to put things right! It is not so much the commission of sin—but sins unmourned for and unconfessed, which choke the channel of blessing.
"He who covers his sins shall not prosper" no matter how well versed he is in the Truth, or admired by his fellows; for there is a worm eating at the root of his spiritual life. "But whoever confesses and forsakes them [however heinous or numerous] shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). See to it, my reader, that you make conscience of what men term "little sins" and excuse them not. See to it that you keep short accounts with God, penitently owning unto Him every known fault, if you would not miss His best. Acknowledge your transgressions, even though you have done so a thousand times previously. Avail yourself daily of the Fountain "opened for sin and for impurity" (Zec 13:1).