The Life That Pleases God
From Notes of Addresses
If we speak of the life that pleases God, I am sure there is awakened within each of us the response, “This is the life I would like to live!” This is the thing that gives the Gospels their charm. They set before us just the life that does please God. Yet it has often been remarked that though many people do not read the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, they do make considerable study of “the Gospel according to YOU.” So what is wanted is not Christianity in theory and profession, but in fact and practice.
I want to point out a few features of the life that pleases God as they seem to be emphasised in the case of five typical persons in Luke’s gospel, all of them widows. Many times they have encouraged me, and as many times rebuked me, and always set before me some of the features of the life that pleases God.
We hear much today of meetings for the deepening of spiritual life, and the statement itself suggests that the opposite exists. Who has not been made to feel how very shallow is the life of many professed Christians, and in all we have not to look far away from home to become painfully conscious of it. In this way I think that we may liken the Christian life to a river. Sometimes it is seen at the flood, and at other times it shows that it has suffered from a drought, in that the “rain from heaven” has not been falling in its basin. Hence it is that what is needed, to deepen and to fill it, is some refreshing heavenly rain which has been sadly missing.
Every river has its Source, its Tributaries, and its Outflow. It is thus I would like to speak of the river of Christian life as it flows through this desert land where no water is.
First then ITS SOURCE. For this we must turn to Luke 7:12, where we find an illustration of the blighting effects of sin in one of its consequences. We are in danger of limiting sin’s consequences to physical death and the subsequent judgment of God as the penalty of guilt. We find that Scripture does not limit the thought of death “to what is physical. It has also a reference to what is moral and spiritual. Sin not only made man amenable to physical death but it severed him from the fountain of life when it severed him from God, and plunged him into moral death and darkness. Darkness and light, death and life are two of the sharpest contrasts that nature affords. Darkness is ignorance of God, and death is separation from God and thus the Spirit of God depicts the condition of sinful man away from God. God has manifested His love in such a way that we may be brought out of darkness into light—the revelation of God; and out of death into life—the life of God. Hence we find the apostle John stressing one of these points, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world: that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9) and Peter emphasizing the other, “Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). To do this Christ had to go into the place of darkness and death.
No stronger word could be used than that man is dead, spiritually and morally, as regards any relation to God. He has been also alienated from the life of God. There is not one movement spiritually or morally Godward from man any more than there is any movement in man who is physically dead, otherwise the terms have no meaning. To say that every man has in him naturally a desire after God, is to deny this fundamental fact and to show evidence of incipient Modernism; for that form of infidelity is built on the idea that man is capable of searching after God, living the Christian life, by the practice of what is called the ethics (or moral teachings) of Jesus. Christ only came, they say, as a great world teacher to give moral lessons and to set before man a higher ideal of life, without any idea of his first needing the life, in order to live. “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). The very fact that it is necessary to be born again to have any link with God proves the fact of man’s moral and spiritual death. It was in view of this that Christ said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). If I have not appropriated that precious death for myself, I have not the life to live. This brings us back to the interesting point that, when Jesus raised the young man out of death into life, He touched the bier first. He identified himself with his death, and then He spoke the life-giving word, and then the man sat up. The Son of God is the source of all life, and thus of the life that pleases God.
Hold fast to this. Don’t be surprised if incipient Modernism is found making an attempt to get into the true Christian circle. It will not be the first time that evil has “crept in,” and it is easier to let it creep in than to clear yourselves of it. “I am come that ye might have life” is part of the mission of the Lord Jesus, and that would be entirely unnecessary if man had life already and only needed better environments and higher ideals, which the life of Jesus would supply. It is in John’s gospel that we have the subject of life spoken of. Sins are very little referred to in that gospel. It is man’s condition rather than his guilt that is taken up.
Then—THE TRIBUTARIES. Luke 4:26 supplies us with the first of these, the widow of Sarepta. Here we have not life given, but life sustained. Elijah was to have removed from him every visible and providential means of supply. Sight and sense, were no more to govern him as to how his life was to be sustained. There is absolutely nothing in this world that can sustain the life that pleases God. Then when God supplies us with what we need, the very constancy of the supply has a tendency to make us depend more on the supply than on the Supplier, and we become unexercised and less dependent. We soon become a kind of spoon-fed, arm-chair Christian, going to meetings with the expectation that somebody will do something for us; and if they don’t, then like children we go away and whine. Now the brook is drying up, and soon this visible means of ministry be gone. What shall we do now? Seek for another to lead us and feed us—some creature spring? “Arise and get thee to Zarephath. I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.” What had she? Just a little meal at the bottom of a barrel and a drop of oil in a cruise. What a pathetic figure of helplessness and need! She had herself lost her own visible means of supply, but she was a woman who could make a cake of what she had. Meal and oil were not her food alone, but she had to make them her food; and slender as her means were, she was prepared to pass on the little she had, and she was astonished to see the meal and oil increase under her hand. It does not tell us that the barrel became ultimately full and that the cruse began to overflow, for God does not give us a store, lest our eyes get again on the gift rather than on the Giver.
The meal and oil are an old association. We read of it in Leviticus 2 where it sets before us Christ, as the bread both of God and His people. God got His portion out of that meal offering and then the priests got theirs. I think at least we may learn that only that which comes as food to our own souls can we pass on to others, in a way that will profit them. There is a fearful danger in trafficking with unfelt truth, truth that has never affected ourselves, something we have taken in mentally and simply disgorged.
We must learn to make our own cake before we can pass it on to others as food for them. “I will speak of the things which I have made touching the King” (Ps. 45:1). There of course it was in His praise, but it was something that the writer had made, something he had got for himself. Oh! how much deeper would the stream of praise grow if we were to speak of the things that we had got and enjoyed in our own thoughts of the King. I often fear that it is a mark of spiritual poverty, if not indolence, when the hymn-book is too freely used, so that we have to fall back on what some one else has made touching the King. It is not that we are not thankful to enjoy what others have made, but we ought to be more exercised about making a little food for ourselves out of the Meal and the Oil we have in Christ and the Holy Ghost. We should then have a little to pass on to others. If the Lord gives us a sweet little morsel, out of the meal-barrel of the Word, about Christ, let us at once make a cake of it, turning it to account for ourselves, and pass it on to some one else; and we shall find that there is quite enough left for ourselves. The meal and the oil is just the ministry of Christ to us by the Holy Spirit so that we may make it our own. That is a very different thing from coming to get, a new subject to preach from. It is getting that which has come as real delight and food for our souls, so that we are anxious to pass it on.
What a wonderful tributary to feed the life that pleases God. God is not pleased with a life that does not grow—a river that dwindles instead of deepens, wastes instead of widens. If we were honest with ourselves and the Lord would we not with shame-facedness face the fact that most of us are sufferers from an arrested development? Last words are lasting words, and Peter’s last words are “Grow in grace.” Let us count that day lost in which we have learnt nothing more about Christ.
The Second Tributary is in Luke 18:3—the importunate widow. God very largely uses prayer to deepen and widen the river of the life that pleases God. He speaks in Colossians 1 of our “increasing in [or by] the true knowledge of God.” It is in our circumstances that we have practically to learn Him. In the meal it is Christ, here it is God. This is the prayer life, that has to do with God. Importunity is born of the pressure of circumstances and the knowledge that there is only one source of supply. We are not to gather from this incident that God is reluctant to give, or that He gives to get rid of us without caring for us. It is rather that we should be assured of the fact that he can make the hardest hearted person do His will, though he may think he is doing his own will (see Prov. 21:1). Here we have to learn that there is nothing too hard for the Lord. He has before today made the flinty rock to yield waters for His thirsty people, and He can make the flinty heart of man do his will, for He can turn it whithersoever He wills. It is not exactly that prayer changes things, we are so ready to put these things down to our prayers. It is God that changes things in answer to our feeble cry. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. In that way prayer does avail to bring about a change of things.
“In the desert God will teach thee
What the God that thou hast found.
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy,
All His grace shalt there abound.”
It is by such experiences I begin to know God. It is then I am able to say, “My God shall supply all your need.”
Lastly THE OUTFLOW. And first, there is the widow of Luke 21:1. The outflow of a life that pleases God is in its evident devotion to His interests. The life that pleased God was the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the very darkest day of His nation that scripture was filled in Him, “The zeal of Him house hath eaten Me up.” He was consumed with zeal for that which stood for God’s interests at that time. Here is another moved by the same spirit. She had cast in all her living. That is, she surrenders her all, her life, to God’s interests. She could have sung more truly that most of us,
“Nought that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver,
My heart, my strength, my life, my all
Are His, and His for ever.”
We are then allowed to have a little peep at the Judgment seat of Christ and hear the Judge’s own approval of that feature of the life that pleases God. He said, “Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in mores than they all.”
Second, there is Luke 2:36. Here we have the only widow whose name is mentioned. “Anna, a prophetess . . . of the tribe of Asher.” She departs not from the temple. Why? Had not Malachi said, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple” (3:1). Anna was one that looked for the coming of the Lord, with constant expectancy in her old heart. She belonged to the Happy tribe (Aser means “Happy”), and I should say, from what we learn of her, that she was of that happy sort. She was a woman that served God day and night with fastings and prayers. She knew the people who were looking for the Lord, and to them she spoke of Him.
Two things also marked her—she was in time and in tune. At the instant old Simeon had finished she was there to take up the thanksgiving. Prayer, praise, testimony marked this dear old woman who was looking for and longing for the Lord’s coming as the Comforter and the Redeemer of Israel. These are things that mark the outflow of the river of the life that pleases God.
Now the question with us is how far the life that pleases God finds its answer in our own lives. At any rate I think we can gather from these widows of Luke what should mark such a life. There is a divine intention surely in grouping all these widows together in one Gospel. They are certainly very typical women. May we at least have some exercise spring within us, so that we may see that our lives are a pleasure to Him. People may say “We must live ordinary lives. This life is not to be lived save by specially favoured people.” These were widows remember, and their surroundings were not more easy than yours. Besides there is no must about it. There is no reason at all for our living as Christians, if our lives do not answer His purpose as those that please God.