"Pleasing God"

"So then those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans viii. 8.
"Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." Romans 8:8

We have been contemplating, in the preceding expositions of this chapter, some of the various phases of the carnal mind. The Apostle now proceeds to a necessary consequence of the hostility of a mind governed by the flesh, and in rebellion against the law of God. "So then those who are in the flesh cannot please God." The doctrine thus set forth is, the utter impossibility of the unregenerate pleasing God. Having considered this primary truth, we shall then place in contrast with it the especial points in which the regenerate may be said to please God.
The utter impossibility of a carnal mind pleasing God springs from the necessity of the case. As the object of his displeasure, and as dwelling in a nature not only diametrically opposite to his own, in which lurks the latent virulence of a deep and implacable hatred, but every faculty and power of which is armed in the deadliest hostility to his government and being, it is impossible that it can please him. In whatever point of light you contemplate the unregenerate- taking the most intellectual and refined view, the utmost that can be said is, "He is in the flesh." We do not forget that there are degrees of carnality, even as there are degrees of spirituality; nevertheless, the law of God takes into account no degrees, recognizes no shades of difference, but regards all alike, unregenerate. The Bible solemnly and emphatically affirms, that a carnal mind cannot please a holy and righteous God. How could it possibly be otherwise? The apostle declares, "In me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing." What! no good thing? Nothing spiritually good? No, nothing. The purest ethics of the carnal mind are as the ointment of the apothecary which the fly has spoiled; and the most zealous and costly duties and sacrifices which it presents are but as 'splendid sins,' so long as that mind is yet under the dominion of the flesh. But these are only general statements of a most important truth; we pass to a few particulars. There being no personal acceptance of those who are in the flesh, consequently, whatever they do in the way of religious service cannot be accepted of God. First, the person, and then the gift, is God's order in the great method of our justification. We might refer to the narrative of Queen Esther's interview with the King Ahasuerus, and to Jacob's meeting with Esau, as illustrating this principle. It is most clear, that in both these instances- had Esther urged her suit in behalf of her nation without having awakened in the heart of the king a feeling of complacent regard towards her person- and had the offering of Jacob to his incensed brother preceded the presentation of himself, in either case there must have been a decided and mortifying, if not fatal result. Apply these illustrations to the believer. What imparts divine acceptance to his service? Why do his prayers ascend before God like fragrant incense
floating from a golden censer? Why does his lowliest offering of love cast into the Lord's treasury out-value the most splendid and affluent offerings of all the unconverted? Why is a sigh so full of meaning, and a tear so costly, and a desire so eloquent, and a heaven-lifted glance so expressive to God? Oh, it is because he is well pleased with his well-beloved Son, standing in whom the person of each believing sinner is fully accepted. We place this vital truth broadly before the unrenewed mind, and basing upon it the one important inquiry, we press its solemn consideration- How can you do that which is well-pleasing and acceptable to a holy God, while your person is to him an object of just, and holy, and utter abhorrence? While rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ, and refusing and despising the robe of his righteousness, with what complacency can God regard your meaningless modes of worship, your formal duties, and your heartless offerings? Will he not say, "Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting—even your most pious meetings—are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen." Isaiah 1:12-15. It was the robe of the elder brother that made Jacob's offering of venison savory and acceptable to Isaac. It is the righteousness of Christ, whose loveliness is upon us, which makes our every act of service and homage of love, an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet smelling savor.
The absence of faith in the unregenerate must render all the religious doings of the sinner equally displeasing to God. "For without faith it is impossible to please him." The first life we live is sense; the second is reason; the third, through the regenerating grace of the Spirit, is faith. And, until a man reaches this life he moves in an orbit unillumined by one ray from the sun of God's love. How can he please God whose whole existence is a direct denial of God? "Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar." God a liar! Astounding words! And yet to this awful conclusion unbelief comes. Your unbelief is a practical denial of his existence. Your unbelief is a practical denial of his sovereignty. You live as if there were no God! And, in your non-subjection to his law, you exclude him from the government of his own world. How can you, then, in your present course, do that which is pleasing to God? Oh, did you but truly, and in faith, grapple with that great foundation-truth of revealed religion, the being of God, believing that God is– did you but really believe in the existence of a hell- and did you but truly believe that God sent his beloved Son to save sinners from going down into that hell, you would not- no, you could not- live the life of practical atheism and ungodliness you now are living- a life of sin and of unbelief, of impenitence and worldliness; without God, without Christ, without hope in the world! Impossible! Faith is a quickening, elevating, sanctifying principle. A living faith produces living works. A divine faith purifies the heart. A heaven-descending faith works by love, endures as seeing Him who is invisible, and has respect unto the recompense of reward. "That which is not faith is sin." Apply this principle to all the religious duties of those who are still in the flesh, and by it test their real worth and acceptableness to God.
And what is the entire absence of love to God in the unregenerate but another confirmation of the same truth- God's displeasure against man, and man's utter inability to please him. The great constraining motive of the sacrifice with which God is pleased is love. Where this principle of love is not in operation there is lacking that which gives worth and aeceptableness to the act, however valuable and splendid that act may be. The divine moving-spring is absent; and all the works of the soul, if they move at all, are set in motion by a false action, and in a wrong direction. "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Without this heavenly affection there is no true obedience. A man may give "all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned," yet destitute of love to God, his self-impoverishing charity, and his martyr zeal, avail him nothing. His religion is still but as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
What an affecting picture have we presented here of an individual living in deep, utter oblivion of God, burying his one talent- perhaps, his ten- in the earth- himself a cumberer of the ground! What, dear reader, has the past of your life been? Has it all been displeasing to God? What! not one act, not one service, not one sacrifice acceptable to, and glorifying of, him? Astonished, if not appalled by the charge, you perhaps reply, "Have I then done nothing really pleasing to my Creator? I have given my substance to extend the gospel, and my charity to feed the poor, and my labor to promote the general good; I have been punctual in the discharge of my religious duties, and upright and generous in my dealings with my fellows, has all this not been pleasing to God?" We ask, But have you given him your heart? Have you fled out of your own righteousness, and taken refuge beneath the righteousness of the incarnate God? Have not all these things of which you boast, and upon which you place a strong reliance, been but the working out a righteousness of your own, in the spirit of the vain-glorying, self-justifying Pharisee, who retired from the temple as he entered it- a sinner under condemnation? Oh, were your spirit to wing its way this night into the presence of God, you would awake to the awful consciousness of having lived in this world without a single act pleasing and acceptable to the holy, righteous Lord God! Oh, that the Eternal Spirit might lay this solemn truth upon your heart, and lead you to deep self-searching, to ascertain why this life- for every pulsation and for every act of which you must one day give an account to God- has hitherto been in opposition to the great end for which that God created and placed you here!
But this gloomy picture has its opposite- bright and beautiful. Reversed, it presents to our notice the character of those with whom God is pleased. They are a spiritual people, and God, who is a Spirit, must love and delight in that which harmonizes with his own nature. Faith may be feeble, and grace may be limited, and knowledge may be defective; yet, if there be just that strength of faith that travels to, and leans upon, the sacrifice of Jesus, and just that measure of love that constrains to a sincere, though imperfect, obedience, and just that extent of knowledge that knows Christ to be the Savior of a poor lost sinner, then, there is one who is pleasing to God. They are also an accepted people, and therefore their persons are pleasing to him. The delight of the Father in the person of his Son reveals to us the great secret of his marvellous delight in us. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Blessed truth to those who see enough defilement and imperfection in their best doings to cover them with eternal confusion and shame! who, after the most spiritual performances, are constrained to repair in penitence and confession to Him who bears the iniquity of his people's holy things. Sweet truth to fall back upon in all the failures and flaws we are perpetually discerning in our works, in our motives, and our ends, blots not appearing upon the surface, but visible to the microscopic eye of faith, which sees material for self-condemnation where others, in their fond and blind affection, approve and applaud. If God, my Father, is well pleased in his Son, then is it a truth, strictly inferential, that he is well pleased in me whom he beholds in his Son. But not their persons only, their offerings also are equally pleasing to God. "I will accept you," (the person first,) "with your sweet savor," (the offering next). Their preceptive walk likewise pleases him. Is the obedience of the child, springing from love, a pleasing and acceptable offering to a parent's heart? Ah! how imperfectly are we aware of the beauty and fragrance there are to God in a single act of filial, holy obedience, the fruit and offering of a Divine and deathless affection.
But it is a universal pleasing of God which the Scriptures of truth prescribe and enforce. "That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." As a minister of the Lord Jesus, see how the apostle felt the weight of this great precept- "For we speak as messengers who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines the motives of our hearts." 1 Thes. 2:4. Human opinion weighed lightly with him. What men thought of him as a preacher was a matter of very little importance; the grand point, the all-absorbing thought and one aim of his life was, so to preach as to please God. Oh, for the Christianity and spirit of Paul! Lord! vouchsafe it in a double measure to all who preach your great name. It is in this holy duty of aiming in all things to please God that we are sensible of such mighty power in prayer. "Whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." Prayer is a precious, priceless privilege. A present and potent weapon. All our blessings flow through its medium, and all our achievements we owe to its instrumentality. Whatever, then, adds to the power of prayer, should be hailed by us with gratitude, and employed with vigor. Would we be more mighty and prevalent in prayer? then let us in all things desire so to walk as to please our heavenly Father. "You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways." Isaiah 64:5
But what are some of the footprints of this walk? How may we trace it? Unreserved obedience is an undoubted mark of being well-pleasing to God. An obedience that asks no abatement of the precept, but that follows the Lord fully in its observance, not from an enlightened judgment, but from a love- constrained heart- walking, as did the primitive saints, in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly- is indeed well pleasing to God. Oh, let there be no reserves in our obedience! Let us withhold from Christ no part of his purchased inheritance; but surrender all at his feet, whose heart's blood was the purchase-price of all. "Lord, however strait be the path, and painful the cross, and self-denying the precept, sincerely would I walk uprightly in all your ways, and fully follow you in all your commands, leaving the consequences of my simple and implicit obedience to your control. I can endure the hatred of the world, the alienation of friends, the coldness of relatives, and can take the spoiling of my earthly goods joyfully, if you, my Lord, sustain me with your grace, and cheer me with your presence, and solace me with your love."
Another footprint may be descried in the walk of faith by which the Christian journeys to his heavenly home. As unbelief is most dishonoring, so faith is most honoring to the Lord Jesus. What a revenue of praise accrues from it to his name! To repair with our anxiety, the moment it occurs, to his sufficiency; with our corruptions, the moment they are discovered, to his grace; with our sorrow, the moment it is felt, to his sympathy; with our wound, the moment it is inflicted, to his love; with our guilt, the moment it is detected, to his blood; oh! do you think not that this walk of faith is most pleasing to the Lord? Let us beware of that which impairs the simplicity of this our walk, and causes us to stumble or start aside. We must be cautious, in the varied circumstances of our history, of applying first to a human arm for support, or to a human bosom for sympathy. With this, the Lord cannot be well pleased. But let us not hesitate to bear them at once to the only appointed Source of all our supply: disclosing our needs to the full Savior, our wanderings to our Heavenly Father, our griefs and burdens to our Elder Brother and Friend; and in thus walking by faith, we shall have the divine assurance in our souls, our rejoicing this- the testimony of our conscience that we please the Lord.
To believing children how touching and forcible is this precept- "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord." Not less so to Christian domestics- "Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men."  Yes, to all who bear the Savior's name how solemn the exhortation- "Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Thus universal and binding is this sublime principle of action, which the gospel furnishes to all the followers of Christ. Oh, let us seek closely to resemble the two illustrious examples set before us in the Word, of this high and holy walk. The minor one- because purely human- of Enoch, who, "before his translation had this testimony, that he pleased God." The higher one- because the human was blended with the Divine- of Jesus, who could say, "I do always those things which please Him." Breathing from our heart on your behalf, beloved reader, the sublime and touching prayer of the Apostle, we conclude this chapter: "And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20.