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 favours, who are better acquainted with inward disquietude than that peace which “passeth all understanding” (Phi 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 doth not afflict willingly” (Lam 3:33). No, God afflicts, because we give him occasion to. Though we be His dear children, He will not wink at our waywardness, but will maintain the honour of His House and enforce the principles of His righteous government. If we be refractory, He will visit our iniquity with stripes (Psa 89:32). If we follow a course of self-will, and self-pleasing, then we shall be made to discover “the way of transgressors is hard” (Pro 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 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 be at one end of the chain, sorrow will surely be at the other. 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, we quoted that blessed, yet conditional, promise: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him” (2Ch 16:9). But let us note how solemnly the same verse ends: “Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.” Poor Asa’s heart had not been “perfect toward” the LORD, and therefore, he missed His 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: “Yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the physicians” (2Ch 16:12).
“I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it [i.e. thou shalt enjoy My best]. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels” (Psa 81:10-12). And were they not greatly the losers by it? Observe what follows: “Oh that my people hadhearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries…He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (Psa 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 suffered false preachers to deceive them.
“O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isa 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 hindersthe 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 vouchsafed them. Privileges entail obligations: God requires much more from you today than He did ten years ago!―from those who enjoy an edifying ministry, than from those who do not (Luk 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 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 favoured with light from God, especially in a day when “the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa 60:2)―which has been the case of Christendom the last few decades. The great majority of God’s children “hath 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 them that walk uprightly” (Psa 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 withholden good things from you” (Jer 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, “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house[occupied with selfish interests rather than God’s glory]. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit” (Hag 1:9-10)―which, in New Testament language, means fresh supplies of the Spirit are withheld, and ye 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 doeth good, and sinneth 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 that covereth his sins shall not prosper” no matter how well versed he be in the Truth or admired by his fellows; for there is a worm eating at the root of his spiritual life. “But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them[however heinous or numerous] shall have mercy” (Pro 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 uncleanness” (Zec 13:1).