Our secular age and culture require by definition that spiritual things must be kept at a distance. Religious matters are shut out of public discourse and must not influence public policy. A technological order controls our world and it has apparently eliminated any need for God. In contrast to past eras where belief in and spiritual things was natural and normal, we live in a secular age in which such belief is presented as unnatural and abnormal. Living in this atmosphere it is easy for our lives and heart to be shaped by it without realising. It is not easy to walk with God in a world that has shut Him out. In every age there is a sinful tendency in the heart to depart from the living God. How can we overcome these influences by God’s grace to draw near to Him constantly?
Psalm 73 describes someone who found it difficult to live in the light of God’s presence in the midst of those who rejected Him. They seemed to prosper by doing so. This became a real trial to the psalmist. Yet he reaches the point where, in the context of worshipping God, he can understand something of the divine purpose. Ultimately, he can say “it is good for me to draw near to God”. It is helpful to meditate on the fulness of what this means and, in the following updated extract, William Guthrie helps us to do that.
1. What is it to draw near to God?
(a) Seeking deeper peace with God
A person should make their peace with God in and through the Mediator Jesus Christ. Until that has been done, they may be said to be far from God. There is a partition-wall standing between God and them. It is the same with that advice given by Eliphaz to Job to be at peace with God (Job 22:21). Be friends with God and all will be well with you. You must come up to some measure of conformity to the blessed will of God and quit that life of estrangement from Him. If you draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). This drawing near is explained in the words that follow in the same verse, “Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts”. Leave that filthy life of estrangement from God by being more conformed to Him and His will, as He has revealed it to you in His word.
(b) Seeking deeper fellowship with God
To draw near to God is to seek more after communion and fellowship with God, and to pursue after intimacy and familiarity with Him. It is to have more of His blessed company with us in our life and walk (Psalm 89:15). This is to walk through the day, having a good understanding between God and us; to be always near Him, keeping up communication with Him.
(c) Seeking deeper assurance
Drawing near implies confirming or making sure of our relationship to God. It assumes someone’s peace to be made with God already. The author of this psalm goes on to say, “I have put my trust in the Lord”. That is to say, I have trusted my soul to God and made my peace with Him through a Mediator. It is good whatever comes; it is always good to be near to God in that way and to be made sure in Him.
(d) Seeking deeper conformity to God
It implies to be more and more conformed to the image of God. His nearness to Him is as opposed to being far from God. “It is good,” he says, “to draw near to God in my duty when so many are far from Him.”
(e) Seeking deeper dependence on God
It implies laying aside all things in the world to seek fellowship and communion with God. It means to be more set apart for His blessed company and to walk with Him in dependence upon Him, as the great Burden-Bearer, who is to be all in all unto us. In a word, to draw near unto God is to make our peace with Him, and to secure and confirm that peace with Him. It is to seek conformity to Him and to be near to Him in our whole manner of living.
2. Why is it good to draw near to God?
It is good and advantageous to draw near to God. It is good to take good in that way. It is good concerning the blessed consequences that it brings.
(a) It is a pleasant good
Wisdom’s “ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Although many of you think that the people of God have a sorrowful and sad life of it, this is not due to their nearness to God but because they depart out of His way, or step aside from following Him.
(b) It is an honourable good
Is it not good to be at peace, and in good terms with God? Is it not also good to be conformed to His will (the supreme rule of all righteousness) and to have intimate fellowship with Him? We would think it a very honourable thing to be in favour and on good terms with a man that ruled over all nations (assuming he was a good man). But it is quite another thing to be in favour and on good terms with He who rules over all laws and all people.
(c) It is an eternal good
It secures a man’s soul and eternal well-being. It keeps him in perfect peace. It has many experiences of God’s countenance, which is better to him than barns full of corn, or cellars full of wine and oil. God is all good. “The Lord will give grace and glory, and will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly.” Who are they? Those who are near unto God. Thus, it is a good thing to draw near unto Him. Would you be forever happy in the enjoying of that which is supremely good? Well then, draw near to God.
(d) It is the highest good
Everyone readily pursues something they think to be good. Many say, “Who will show us any good?” Most want some visible or apparent good. But this is a more sure and permanent good. Then go and acquaint yourselves. Seek to have communion with Him, to be confirmed and conformed to Him.
3. Have you drawn near to God?
(a) Have you known anything of His voice?
If you do not, you are yet far from Him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” What God speaks in this gospel is foolishness to many, but those who are His sheep know His voice, and to them, this gospel is the wisdom and power of God.
(b) Do you know His face?
Do you know anything of the difference between the smiles and frowns of God? Do you know what it is to have your hearts and souls warmed with the heat and light of His countenance? Has your soul ever been made to weep within you with His love? If not, it is a bad sign; for the people of God know His face; and whenever they hear Him named their affections go out after Him.
(c) What dealings do you have in your ordinary way and walk with God?
Do you acknowledge Him in all your ways? Do you venture on nothing without God’s counsel? Do you keep your eye on Him in your ordinary business? Do you give an account of what you have done to Him? If it is so, it is well. But if you forget God apart from a little time to pray and lose any thought you have had of Him all day long it is a bad sign that you are yet far from God.
4. Overcoming Distance from God
(a) Remove anything in the way
If you want to have your relationship to God made clear to you, draw near to Him and be resolved to do what will be well-pleasing to Him. Remove whatever stands between Him and you. When you go to prayer, or when you would lay claim to any promise; do not regard sin in your heart. Put away all idols of jealousy. Let none of them come in with you before the Lord. If you do, He will never regard your desires in prayer. This is a time in which many are careless about this.
(b) See where you should be
Strive to be convicted that you are far from God in your life and walk and from that communion with Him that you might attain to, even while here. If you were convinced of that you would think it your unquestionable duty to draw near to God in all these respects we have mentioned.
But where are that labour of love, unweariedness in duty, and readiness to suffer everything for Christ? Are not all these, in a great measure, gone? What fainting, failing, and taking fright at the cross? Where is that appetite and desire after Christ, and His righteousness, which folk pursued so vigorously before? Where is that esteem and enquiry for marks of grace in the soul? Where is longing to know your duty and submission to reproof you once had? Are you not rather afraid to hear your duty laid out before you? And where is that happiness people had in hearing the Word when they were not so skilled in evading it except what pleases their fancy? They would not allow the convictions of conscience to continue all night without mourning for it before the Lord until it was removed? Many can maintain an accusing conscience all night, and not be troubled with it? Where is that tenderness of conscience that would have made people abstain from every appearance of evil? That would have made them walk circumspectly for fear of offending and mourn for it before God? Where is that true zeal for the interest of Christ there once was? Is that not gone, and are there any rightly exercised when they see the matters of God going wrong ? You should draw near to God in all these things.
(c) Pursue nearness to God
Time was when you would not have been satisfied if God had not been drawing out your hearts after Him. But is this not almost gone? Draw near to Him and return to your old practice.
Let someone be as near unto God as he can imagine, it is still good to draw near to Him and seek nearer fellowship and more intimate acquaintance with Him. The psalmist was near, yet he seeks to be nearer to Him to have his arms full of God, so to speak. This is because the life of true religion in the world is a strong appetite and heart hungering after God. Hunger still, therefore, and seek after more from Him. You cannot keep what you have already attained unless you are still in pursuit of more. You lose what you have got, and scatter as fast as you have gathered if are not still making progress and increase. Thus, we pray “hold up my goings” (Psalm 17:15), i.e. take fast hold of me otherwise I will suddenly go wrong. You will not come to much if you do not draw nearer and nearer to God.
Where experience is real, the soul will still look for more. Strive to go forward; otherwise, you will hardly keep what you have already. Open your mouths wide, and the Lord will fill them abundantly. There are treasures of good things with Him, that you have never yet seen. There are sweet fills of love, peace, joy; perfect victory over sin; self-denial, and dying to the world, being alive to nothing but Christ, being filled with all the fullness of God. All these and much more are to be had through seeking after them.
These meditations should encourage us to overcome any distance that has developed between God and our souls by drawing near to Him. John Owen wrote many profound things but a very simple observation he made is that “Friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits”. “Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”
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