By John Cheeseman
To the question, 'What is the chief end of man?' the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives the famous answer: 'Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.' To this simple but profound statement, our hearts, renewed by the Spirit of the living God, utter a heartfelt 'Amen'. Something within us tells us that this rings true. This pre-eminently is the purpose for which God intended man-- a purpose which can now be realized as a result of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ for us.
In these pages, I have endeavoured to set out what I believe to be the doctrines of the gospel of the grace of God revealed in the Scriptures. But merely to believe in our minds that these doctrines are true is to profess a form of godliness without power. There are, we must sadly admit, those who would agree fully with the doctrinal position embodied in the earlier chapters, and yet whose hearts are cold toward the Lord Jesus; whose churches are devoid of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; whose preaching is but philosophical lecturing. With those who say that such people, for all their 'soundness', have understood the letter only, and not the spirit, of the gospel, I wholeheartedly agree. As Joseph Hart wrote:
True religion's more than notion;
Something must be known and felt.
So I ask this question: how ought an understanding of the doctrines of grace to affect our attitude to God? What will be the effect upon our relationship with our God of the application by the Holy Spirit to our innermost being of these doctrines, and of their being written with letters of fire upon the tables of our hearts?
The effect upon us ought surely to be that we see ourselves as we are-- DEBTORS: debtors to the infinite mercy and grace of the God who has wonderfully delivered us. We acknowledge, upon being asked 'How much do you owe my master?' (Luke 16:5), that we owe everything to Him. Day by day, as we walk along the path foreordained, as we look back and see how all things have worked together for our good, we become more and more aware of how much we owe; but not until the great day when, before the throne of God, we worship in the company of the innumerable hosts of angels, of the church of the first-born enrolled in heaven, of the spirits of just men made perfect, and of Jesus himself, the mediator of the new covenant-- not until then shall we fully realize the breadth and height and depth of God's love toward us:
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own;
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.
In the meantime, we need to pray that God would open our spiritual eyes wider and wider, so that we grasp more and more of all that He has done for us in Christ. This is where a right relationship with God begins, with the realization of our debt to His amazing grace.
There are many basic things that characterize the relationship with God of one who possesses a deep experimental knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel. Let me touch on a few of them.
First and foremost: he will be a worshipper. Was it not in order that He might be worshipped that God made man? And when man fell, was it not in order that this purpose might yet be fulfilled that He saved man? The gospel makes rebels into worshippers. Those who once were afar off, enemies of God, have, by the blood of Christ, been brought into the very presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords in order to worship Him. 'Say among the nations, the LORD reigns' (Psa. 96:10) cries the Psalmist. And the response He seeks amongst those who hear this message is that they should bow down before His throne, worshipping the LORD in the beauty of holiness (Psa. 96:9). This is giving God the glory due to His name. If God is King in Zion, and we are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, then nothing less than perfect submission and the worship of our hearts is what God requires of us and what He delights to see. But God not only requires worship of us-- He has, in His mercy, made us fit to worship Him, having, as it were, mended and returned our broken and rusted harps, making them even more harmonious and brilliant than they were before they were (so it seemed) irretrievably battered by the fall-- in order that we might sing the new song of the redeemed people of God (Rev. 5:9).
Furthermore, his worship is a continuing activity. It begins here below when the burden of his sins is removed; it continues in glory as, perfected in the Lord Jesus Christ, he casts his crown before the throne upon which he sees the One whom previously he had loved, having not seen. The Christian who is a worshipper will, if I may put it in this way, be immediately 'at home' when he arrives at the end of his pilgrimage, heaven itself, for heaven, the place where the worship of God is unceasing, is a prepared place for a prepared people who, by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, are being made ready to enter it.
What a change would be effected in our own lives and in our churches if we learned what worshipping in spirit and in truth really means! We speak glibly of 'joy' in the Christian life; but is it the joy of the Psalmist who spoke from experience when he said:
In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psa. 16:11)
because he had learned to worship? Do we say, with longing in our hearts: 'Blessed are those who dwell in Your house: they will still be praising You' (Psa. 84:4)? Do we know what it is to worship night and day as Anna delighted to do (Luke 2:36-38)? Many times we read in Scripture of those who could say with Simeon: 'My eyes have seen Your salvation' (Luke 2:30) and who, with thankful hearts, worshipped-- yet how little we know of the joy of such worship ourselves! How important it is that we, for whom so much has been done in salvation, should learn again to bow down before Almighty God, glorifying God in worshipping Him and finding as we do so that worshipping God is the means by which we enjoy Him!
Let us, then, rid ourselves of the idea that Christians should first and foremost be workers, and teach the newly converted to become habitual worshippers. We need not fear that to do this will result in a lack of evangelism; far from it! A group of worshippers will also be a group of powerful witnesses to the grace of God. These are the Christians whose testimonies convict unbelievers, for they are able to say from the heart, 'Come and listen to what God has done for me.' Gone will be those barren and sad prayer meetings, so often little more than the repetition in shopping-list fashion of 'prayer-needs', and gone will be the supposition that prayer must always be for this or that. Gone, too, will be the subconscious attitude which encourages Christians to put more faith in the act of praying than in the one who is the Inspirer and Hearer of all true prayer. Instead, times of prayer will be times when the presence of the Holy Spirit is longed for and sought after, times when we pour out our souls before God and bring before Him in intercessory prayer those things for which He himself has laid a burden on our hearts.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. (Psa. 73:25).
Let us learn to pray like this, and we shall find to our joy that God will delight to pour down upon us showers of blessing. We shall begin to prove the power of prayer, for
Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.
How much we need to ask the Lord, as did His disciples, to teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)!
Intimately bound up with this are three further attitudes which constitute a close walk with God--which indeed could be said to constitute the worship of our lives: love of God, fear of God and obedience to His Law. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 sets out wonderfully what it is that God requires of those upon whom He has set His love: it is 'to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His decrees which I command you today for your good'. Here is a picture of the ideal Christian life, as far as the Christian's relationship with God is concerned. For it is as we realize in our hearts that the God to whom 'belong heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is in it' delighted in us sinners and chose us out of all peoples to be to Him a people for His own possession, that we respond to Him in love and adoration, that we learn to fear Him, and consequently to obey Him.
There is so much superficiality and irreverence among us today that it is significant that the scriptural expression 'a God-fearing man' has almost entirely dropped out of use. Why is so much devotional preaching and writing today oriented towards the man-centred sort of question that begins: 'How can I . . . ?'? I would suggest that these things are indications of something radically wrong with much present-day piety, indications that we have not 'seen the Lord, high and lifted up', but only a pale shadow. Let us once become God-centred in our thinking, treating the things of God with the seriousness they deserve, calling Jesus 'Lord, Lord' and doing the things He says, 'working out our salvation with fear and trembling', and we shall find that He will visit us individually and corporately working within us that which will please Him.
Finally, the Christian in close communion with His Lord will await his coming, for 'the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ' (Titus 2:11-13).
This hope of the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ and of being with Him in eternity with that multitude which no man can number who have washed their robes in His blood is what gives the Christian courage on this earth, for he knows that this life is but a pilgrimage, a journey in a foreign land. Soon he will be going home to that heavenly country of which he is a citizen (Phil. 3:20, Heb. 11:13-16). It is often said of Christians that they are 'so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use'. The truth is that the more heavenly minded the Christian is (and he is commanded to set his mind on things that are above, Col. 3:1-4) the more he will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Let us therefore meditate often upon heaven, awaiting in joyful anticipation that time when God will usher us into His glorious presence. Let us fulfil our calling in this world, wherever God would have us to be, whatever He would have us to do, seeking to be found as profitable servants, working faithfully for Him in the light of eternity. And then, in that great day, when the books are opened and the secrets of all hearts are revealed, the Lord Jesus Christ, our incomparable Saviour, whom we shall see face to face in all His beauty and glory, will call us home with those wonderful and precious words: 'Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord' (Matt. 25:21, 23).
Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King. For He is coming to judge the earth.
John Cheeseman is the Vicar of St James' Church, Westgate, Ramsgate, Kent. This article appears in his book, Saving Grace, (Chapter 8, pp. 125-133), recently published by The Banner of Truth. This book is a complete revision of a work originally published by the Trust in 1972 as The Grace of God in the Gospel.