by Arthur Pink
As one who has been called to declare “all the counsel of God,” it is our bounden duty to keep back nothing which may prove profitable. We dare not assume that all of our readers have actually passed from death unto life; and therefore, we are required to address ourselves, occasionally at least, to those who are yet under the condemnation and wrath of a sin-hating God, especially unto such as mistakenly suppose they have been reconciled to Him. Though our chief design and effort is to provide spiritual nourishment for those who are in Christ; yet, we cannot altogether ignore the ones who are yet strangers to Him. The more so that, in this generation, there are so few who are seriously attempting to expose empty professors unto themselves, and make it plain that many of those who fondly believe they are journeying Heavenwards, are entertaining a false hope—that instead of their hope being fixed upon the Rock, it rests upon nothing but a foundation of sand! Is that the case with you, dear friend?
“You cannot serve the Lord: for HE is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins” (Joshua 24:19). Those words bring before us an essential and fundamental aspect of the Truth, which is rarely proclaimed today, and which multitudes who sit under “modern evangelism” are quite unacquainted with. The view which is now so widely held is, that nothing is easier and simpler than the obtaining of the forgiveness of our sins. Millions of people have been assured by the blind leaders of the blind, that all which is required from them is that they believe the Gospel and receive Christ as their personal Savior. It matters nothing what the state of their hearts is, what their concept of God’s character is, what their attitude to His Law is. It matters not that they regard sin as trifle, are thoroughly carnal and in love with the world, and have no realization of their deep need: so long as they “accept Christ” all is well with them. Nor does it matter how unchanged are their future lives—all is now well with them forever. So Satan would have them think.
“You cannot serve the Lord.” What is signified by serving the Lord? It means that I recognize His claims upon me, that I own His authority, that I unreservedly submit myself to His will. It means that I take the place and discharge the obligations of a servant, and a servant is one who is at the disposal of his master, who does as he tells him, who seeks to please him and promote his interests. Perhaps the reader is saying in his heart, “But I have no desire to be a ‘servant’ of the Lord in that sense, all I want is to be assured that my sins are pardoned and that I am secured from Hell.” If so, you are wanting something you will never obtain, for serving the Lord and obtaining His forgiveness of transgressions are inseparably connected.
But do you realize what is implied by your assertion that you have no desire to serve the Lord? It signifies you are quite satisfied with your present master and decline to leave his service. Your present master is Satan—and you are his servant! There are but two Masters over people: the Lord and the Devil—and if we are not serving the former, we are serving the latter.
“You cannot serve the Lord.” Why? “For He is a holy God; He is a jealous God” (Joshua 24:19). That presents a view of the Divine character, which only too many pulpits guiltily conceal. God is not only good and ready to pardon—but He is ineffably pure and cannot look on sin without displeasure. He is not only merciful and gracious—but He will tolerate no rivals, and requires that we love Him with all our heart and strength. Nor is that aspect of the Divine character restricted to the revelation, which He made of Himself at Sinai: the earth quaked at Calvary, thick darkness overshadowed the Cross, and the holiness of God was evidenced as He “spared not His own Son” (Romans 8:32).
In the N.T. the call goes forth, “Since we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire” Hebrews 12:28, 29). Ah, my reader, the glib manner and easy delight with which so many talk of pardon and their assurance of it, proceeds from dullness of conscience, rather than from strength of faith. They have never felt in their souls the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the holiness of Him with whom they have to do. Had they done so, their cry would be, “Behold, I am vile!” (Job 40:4) “Woe is me! for I am undone!” (Isaiah 6:5).
“You cannot serve the Lord: for He is a holy God.” Serving God is a very different matter from what the world thinks. The natural man imagines that he may devote the greater part of his time to the pleasing of himself, and then that he may appease God by assuming a pious air on Sundays. But He will not be imposed upon by any such pious mockery! To all such He says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!” (James 4:4).
Spiritual adultery is illicit fellowship, setting our affections upon the creature rather than the Creator, devoting to them what belongs only to Him: our lusts, cajoling the soul from God. God will not accept the homage of a divided heart. That was made crystal clear by the Lord Jesus: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). There we learn that service must proceed from love. God will not accept a legal service, which is rendered from dread, nor from a mercenary spirit, which seeks gain therefrom. He must be served freely and gladly.
The Devil deceives many into being satisfied with a superficial change and half reformation. They make a religious profession, persuading themselves they are trusting in the finished work of Christ, and yet continue in love with the world and to indulge the flesh! It is a fatal mistake to think we can divide our hearts between God and the world, to serve Him and our lusts. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). No one has any difficulty in understanding what it signifies to “serve mammon.” It is to make material riches my dominant quest, to make the acquirement of them my supreme aim, to devote all my powers to the securing of them.
Equally plain is what is included in the “serving of God.” It means putting Him first in our hearts and lives. It means for all our faculties and energies to be devoted to an ascertaining and then a doing of whatever He requires. It means the rendering to Him of an unqualified and loving obedience. And that necessarily involves the renunciation of all objects which are opposed to Him and abstaining from whatever He has forbidden. To allow any lust to reign in us—is to depose God from the heart.
“He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” Solemn, unspeakably solemn words. How faintly any of us realize what it means for one to pass out of time into eternity with his transgressions unforgiven.
“You shall die in your sins” (John 8:24) said Christ—not to avowed infidels—but the religious professors of His day. And why? Because they refused to take His “yoke” upon them, because they declared, “We will not have this man to reign over us!” (Luke 19:14). Nor does death purge away sins, for after death comes “the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Yes, eternal, inexorable, unbearable judgment—suffering the wrath of a holy and jealous God! Then “Be attentive to Him and listen to His voice. Do not defy Him, because He will not forgive your acts of rebellion!” (Exodus 23:21). Something more than mere believing is necessary: Christ is “the Author of eternal salvation unto all who obey Him” Hebrews 5:9). And how and where is the obedience of a sinner to begin? Just here: “Let the wicked forsake his way [of self-pleasing] and the unrighteous man his thoughts [of being saved in any other manner]: and let him return unto the Lord [from whom he revolted in Adam], and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).
What we have set forth above is not the Gospel—but it is the necessary background of it. The Divine Law reveals my duty and condemns me for my utter failure in discharging it. The Law makes known the just demands of God upon me and my woeful falling short of meeting the same. Not until I am personally convicted of my sinful failure, not until my heart sincerely repents for that failure—am I experimentally fit for the Gospel. But more so, there must be wrought in me a genuine desire to serve God, to give up myself wholly to His righteous requirements, and accompanying this must be the realization of my own insufficiency, that I “cannot.” Then, and only then, will the Gospel be music to my soul, for it tells first of how my awful guilt may be blotted out, and second, of how strength may be obtained for the discharge of duty.
The Gospel does not exempt the believer from the service of God—but binds him to it, for when we savingly believe the Gospel, we not only receive from God—but we “give ourselves” to Him (2 Corinthians 8:11, 12). Have you done so, my reader? Have you really, or is Satan deceiving you into thinking you have?