The Doctrine of Reconciliation
by A. W. Pink
Its Need Revisited-Continued
This is an aspect of our subject which will by no means appeal to the empty professor, nor, we may add, to the backslider. The Antinomian is all for hearing about the free grace of God and His unforfeitable gifts, and if the preacher should point out that favors and privileges entail obligations, he is condemned by them for his legality; but if he is to receive his Master’s "well done," he will not have the united approbation of a large congregation. It betrays a most unhealthy state of soul when we wish to hear only of what Christ did and procured for sinners, and little or nothing of what He requires from the beneficiaries of the same. God has inseparably joined together privilege and duty, relationship and obligation, and we are lacking an honest heart if we eagerly seize His promises and despise His precepts. It betrays a sad condition of soul if we are not anxious to ascertain "What does the Lord require of you"(Micah 6:8).
It is our firm conviction that one of the main causes for such a vast number of empty professors and backslidden believers in Christendom today was the disproportionate and unfaithful preaching of most of the prominent orthodox pulpits during the past century. Instead of giving a conspicuous place to what which tested profession, both doctrinally and practically, nominal saints were lulled into a false sense of security. Instead of insisting that conversion is but the beginning of the Christian life, an enlisting under the banner of Christ to "fight the good fight of faith," in which the Devil is to be steadfastly resisted and a ceaseless warfare waged against indwelling sin, the siren song of "Once saved, always saved"was dinned into the ears of those whose walk was thoroughly carnal and worldly. Instead of a searching and probing ministry the pulpit cried "Peace, peace" unto those still at enmity with God.
Those who were flattered as being "the stalwarts of the Faith" were often most partial in which aspects of the Faith they concentrated upon. Those whose proud boast it was that they "shunned not to declare all the counsel of God,"were for the most part men who repudiated human responsibility and detested the word "duty."It is handling the Word of God deceitfully to emphasize the expression "ordained to eternal life"and to ignore "good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them"(Eph. 2:10). It is withholding that which is profitable unto souls (Acts 20:20) to leave them in ignorance that Christ is "the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him"(Heb. 5:9). It is highly dishonoring to God when we pretend to magnify "the riches of His grace" if we fail to insist that His grace effectually teaches its recipients to be "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,(that) we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world"(Titus2:11,12).
Having dwelt upon the privilege-side of our theme in previous articles of this series, we should be woefully lacking in proportion and completeness if we now failed to consider the duty-side of it. It behooves us to point out God’s full rights and just claims upon us, as well as His rich favors and unmerited mercies unto us. It becomes the reader to whole-heartedly welcome our efforts to execute this part of our task. The language of a reconciled soul is, and must be, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits?"How shall I express my gratitude unto that blessed One who has shown me such unspeakable mercy? If the wrath of God is removed from me and I am now taken into His unclouded and everlasting favor, how shall I now most fitly comport myself? Since such measureless love has been so freely lavished upon me, how can I best show forth my gratitude? That is the question we shall now endeavor to answer.
1. By fervent praise unto God. O what thanksgiving is due unto Him for His matchless grace! As it was the supreme demonstration of His love in sending forth His Son to make peace, that should be the principal spring of our thanksgiving. When God bids His people," Behold My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect in whom My soul delights,"whom He gave "for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles. to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house;" the use which He enjoins them to make of the same is, "Sing unto the Lord a new song"(Isa. 42:1-10). The initial response of one who realizes that his trespasses are no longer imputed to him, but instead that the perfect righteousness of Christ is reckoned to his account, must be "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name" (Ps. 103:1). So too it should be his daily—as it will be his eternal—response.
"God might have destroyed us with less cost than He has reconciled us; for our destruction there was no need of His counsel, nor fitting out and sending His Son, nor opening His treasures; a word would have done it, whereas our reconciliation stood Him at much charge. It was performed at the expense of His grace and Spirit to furnish His Son to be a sacrifice for our atonement. An inexpressible wonder that the Father should prepare His Son a mortal body that our souls might be prepared for immortal glory" (S. Charnock). The apostle could not consider the will of our Father in this work without interrupting his discourse with a doxology: "to whom the glory be forever and ever. Amen"(Gal. 1:4,5);and such should be our response. As the angels rejoiced in the manifestation of the wisdom and power of God in the incarnation of His dear Son, much more should we rejoice at the triumphant outcome of His mission and of our personal interest in the same, joining with them in their "Glory to God in the highest."
Who is it, my reader, who makes you to differ from others? Is it not God? Then ascribe glory to Him. If He has made you to differ from others in the exercise of His sovereign mercy, do you differ from them in the sounding forth of His praises. When David considered the works of God’s hand in the stellar heavens, he exclaimed "What is man that You are mindful of him," and if we consider what sovereign favor has wrought for and in the regenerate, well may we be overwhelmed with wonder. Pardon of but one sin would make us forever debtors to God, for every sin is a hatred of Him and renders us obnoxious to eternal torments. What then is due unto Him from those whom He has pardoned sins more in number than the hairs of their heads! O the marvel of it, that the one who is by nature a child of wrath should be made an heir of Heaven; that one so vile should be taken into the bosom of the Father! Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.
2. By care to please God. Since He went to so much trouble and cost in restoring us, how our thoughts and affections should unitedly engage in earnestly endeavoring to please Him. The Decalogue is prefaced with "I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," as an incentive and inducement for Israel to render cheerful obedience unto Him. "I am the Lord your God who in Christ has delivered you from eternal death and brought you into My everlasting favor"is the tenor of the Gospel—a far weightier motive for the Christian to place himself unreservedly at God’s disposal. This it is which will demonstrate the worth and genuineness of our praise: whether it is merely an emotional spasm or the overflowing gratitude of a heart which has been won by Him. If our expressions of thanksgiving and worship are sincere, then the homage of our lips will be borne out by the honoring of God in our daily lives. Whenever I am tempted to gratify the flesh, my reply should be "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God"(Gen. 39:9); or "Is this your kindness to your Friend!"(1 Sam. 16:17). Shall I so evilly requite the One who has been gracious unto me?
The service which God requires from us is that of love, and not of compulsion. We must indeed keep our eyes on the Rule so that our actions may be conformed to its requirements, otherwise God will ask, "Who has required this at your hand?"(Isa. 1:12). But there must be something more: the Lord looks on the heart as well as the outward performances. Duties are not distinguished by their external garb, but by the spirit prompting them. A box of ointment with an affectionate regard for the Lord, nay a cup of cold water, is valued and registered. The smallest act of service unto God which issues from gratitude is prized by Him more highly than all the imposing works of men without it. It is at this very point that the saints differ radically from all others. Whatever are the religious performances of the legalist, the formalists, or the hypocrite, they proceed from some form of self-esteem. But that of the believer is wrought by gratitude. It is the love of Christ which constrains him, which moves him to take His yoke upon him, which so motivates him that his chief concern is to keep His commandments and show forth His praises.
If there is good will in the heart toward God it will be evidenced by choosing and doing the things which are pleasing unto Him. There will be a readiness of heart unto obedience, for love prepares and predisposes the heart unto what He requires from us. Good will in the heart toward God expresses itself in the actual performing of what He has enjoined, for the language of gratitude is "His commandments are not grievous"(1 John 5:3).When love to Rachel set Jacob a work it was not unpleasant to him, and though it took him seven years, he deemed it not long. So far from a reconciled soul feeling that God is a hard Master imposing a severe task upon him, he is thankful to have the opportunity to manifest his appreciation. When David made such costly preparations for the house of God, he asked "But who am I?"(1 Chron. 29:14), considering it a marvel of condescension that the great God should accept anything at his hands. So far from begrudging any self-sacrifice love will mourn that what has been done is so little and so imperfect, realizing that nothing can be too much or too good for the Lord—and not only too small to answer God’s love, but to adequately express his own.
3. By trusting in God. Since He is reconciled to me and I to Him then it is both my privilege and duty to look to Him for the supply of every need and confidently expect the same. The Christian should habitually view Him as "the God of peace" and under that title and relationship implore Him for daily supplies of grace, for it is as such that He works in us "that which is well pleasing in His sight"(Heb. 13:20,21). God has promised to be "as the dew" unto His people under the Gospel (Hos. 14:5), and as the dew descends from a clear sky so does grace from the One who has blotted out our iniquities. We should look then continually for spiritual strength from God in Christ. All our approaches to Him should be begun and attended with a sense that we have been taken into His favor. In all His communications to His people God acts as reconciled to them, and so should we eye Him whenever we come to the throne of grace. As there is not one mercy God shows us but springs from this relationship, so every duty we offer to Him and petition we make of Him should rise from a sense of the same. This should cause us to believe with a holy boldness.
Here is a cordial for us in our sorest problems and trials. What can the greatest difficulty or acutest strait signify when God remains reconciled to the soul in Christ! Providence is ordered by our best Friend. This is the grand stay which Christ has furnished His disciples: "that in Me you might have peace; in the world you shall have tribulation"(John 16:33). Is not that a sufficient defence against all the roaring of men and the rage of Satan? Though the world frowns, God in Christ smiles upon you. It was a sense of their reconciliation to God which turned prisons into palaces and dungeons into chambers of praise for those who were persecuted by the ungodly. Here is a shield against fear, security against danger, a treasure against poverty. Under the sharpest affliction the believer may distinguish between God as a loving Father and avenging Judge. Carnal reason and sense will indeed dispute against faith, and while they are listened unto, faith will stagger; but if the heart turns to and is engaged with a reconciled God it will discern under the severest chastisement the rod of mercy, wielded by a love maintaining our best interests.
There should be an expecting of temporal mercies. If God was in Christ reconciling us to Himself, then most assuredly He will be in Christ giving forth all suited benefits. It is entirely inconsistent with His amity to withhold anything really needed by us, for in that case) as one pointed out, it would not then be a "much more"as Christ argued, but a much less: "If you 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!"(Matthew 7:11). Yet it is to be borne in mind that it is only "good things" which He has promised to give, and that He alone is the proper judge as to what is "good." If God feeds the ravens, certainly He will not permit His friends to starve. If He spared not His only Son, He will not begrudge mere food and clothing. Our covenant God will deny His children nothing which is for their welfare. If we lived in the realization of that, how contented we would be in every situation!
4. By cherishing God’s peace. "The remission of sins past gives not a permission for sins to come, but should be a bridle and a restraint" (Manton). "There is forgiveness with You that You may be feared"(130:4). The end of Christ’s death cannot be separated: He is no Atoner for those He is not a Refiner, for He gave Himself to "purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works"(Titus 2:4). As there was a double enmity in us—one rooted in our nature and another declared by wicked works, so there must be a change both in our state and an alteration of our actions. God and sin are irreconcilable enemies, so that where there is peace with one, there must be war with another. Fire and water would sooner agree than a peace with God and a peace with sin. "There is no peace, says my God to the wicked." We should be very tender of God’s peace, that no breach fall out between us: "If I have done iniquity, I will do no more"(Job 34:32) must be our sincere desire and resolution, otherwise we are but hypocrites.
Peace was broken by the sin of the first Adam, and though it was restored by the last Adam, yet our obedience is necessary if we are to enjoy the fruits of it: "Great peace have they which love Your Law"(119:165). Then let us beware of relaxing in our watchfulness or of becoming self-confident in our ability to face temptations. "He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints, but let them not turn again to folly"(Ps. 85:8). "When we sought for pardon, sin was the great burden which lay upon our consciences, the wound which pained us at heart, the disease our souls were sick of; and shall that which we complained of as a burden become our delight? shall we tear open our wounds which are in a fair way of being healed, and run into bonds and chains again after we are freed from them?" (Manton). That were indeed crass folly, madness. Backsliders forsake their peace: as it is said of them, "they have forgotten their resting place"(Jer. 50:6). Peace can only be recovered as we repent of our sins and renew our covenant with God.
5. By using our access to God. The most blessed result or consequence of reconciliation is that believers have the right to approach unto God, and therefore it is their privilege to freely avail themselves of the same. "Having therefore, brethren, liberty to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.. .let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith"(Heb. 10:19,22), that is, with a firm belief in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice and a firm reliance upon the same. As God was in Christ reconciling, so He is in Him receiving our praises and petitions. As Christ made satisfaction for us by His death, so He provides the acceptance of our sacrifices and services by His merits. Though justification is a transcendent mercy, yet it would not complete our happiness unless we could commune with God. Peace was not the thing God ultimately aimed at—it was but the medium. He would be our Friend, that there might be sweet intercourse between Him and His people. This is an inestimable privilege of which we should make constant use.
But those who would enjoy communion with the Lord must needs be careful to avoid everything which would separate from Him. He is a jealous God and will brook no rivals. If our fellowship with the Holy One is to be intimate and constant, then we must keep a close guard against grieving the Spirit. We must beware of cooling affections, slackening in the use of means and fighting against sin, slipping back into our old ways. If we neglect those duties there can be no real, acceptable or satisfying drawing nigh unto God. Christ has indeed opened a new and living way for His people into God’s presence, and has provided them with both the right and title so to do; nevertheless there are certain moral qualifications required of them if they are to really draw nigh unto the Holy One—certainly those who simply offer cold and formal prayers do not do so.
There are many of God’s own children who are cut off from conscious access to Him, for their sins have caused a breach (Isa. 59:1,2):"with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the forward You will show Yourself forward"(Ps. 18:26). Loose walking severs our communion with God, and then He acts distantly toward us: "How long will You hide Your face from me?" (Ps.13:1) has been the sorrowful lament of many a wayward saint. Our folly must be repented of and humbly confessed before there can be restoration unto fellowship with God. If we would draw near unto Him it must be with "our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water"(Heb. 10:22) that is, our internal and external man cleansed from defilement, our members kept from evil and used for God. "Universal sanctification upon our whole persons and the mortification in an especial manner of outward sins are required of us in our drawing near to God" (J. Owen).
6. By rejoicing in God. How great should and may be the joy of believing souls! To be instated in the favor of God, to have the Almighty for our Friend, to have the light of His countenance shining upon us. The knowledge of that in the understanding is tidings of great joy, the sense of it in our hearts is "joy unspeakable and full of glory."Reconciliation and the realization of it are two distinct things. The one may be a fact, yet through unbelief or carelessness I may lack the assurance of it. But what comfort and happiness is his who has the assurance that he is at peace with God and the testimony that his conscience is sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb! Then, even though the fig tree blossom not, the fields yield no meat, and there are no herds in the stalls, "yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation"(Hab. 3:18). "As sorrowful"over our sins, yet "always rejoicing"in the Lord (2 Cor. 6:10) is our bounden duty.
7. By devotedness to God. "You are not your own, for you are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit"(1 Cor 6:19,20). That summaries the responsibilities of the reconciled. To conduct ourselves as those who are not only the creatures, the children, but the purchased property of God, in whom He has the sole right. Since He spared not His own Son for us, we should withhold nothing from Him, but present ourselves unreservedly to Him as "a living sacrifice," which is indeed "our reasonable service."We must spare no lust, nor indulge anything which is hateful to Christ, but denying self, take up our cross, and follow Him. Let us earnestly seek grace for the discharge of these duties.