Today I share an excerpt that has to do with one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith -- God as the initiator of all and every saving good. A. W. Tozer once spoke of this as well in the opening chapter of his classic work, "The Pursuit of God." But James S. Stewart (1896-1990) emphasizes it even more strongly here in his classic work, "A Man in Christ - The Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion." (And lest there be any confusion, Stewart is not the famous Hollywood actor from the well-known Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," he was formerly Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, a minister in the Church of Scotland, and Chaplain to the Queen of England from 1952-1966.)
I pass his words along to you as something we all need to ponder, meditate upon, cherish, and take into the soul as truth that will stir the heart to praise God for His unspeakable grace. Read it, and then read it again, until every trace of contrary opinion is erased. And then let it move your heart to respond by bowing the knee in adoration of a God so gloriously worthy. Enjoy.
"Everything in religion that matters starts from God's side. Even faith and repentance and prayer, three attitudes of soul which might appear to originate in man and to be said to be human virtues, are, if we believe Paul, nothing of the kind. They are God's creation, God's gift. Faith because it is evoked by the action of God in revealing Himself as worthy of all trust, repentance because it is produced by the divine reaction to sin of which the cross is the culmination, and prayer because when "we know not what to pray for as we ought... the Spirit itself makes intercession for us." In the words of Baron von Hugel, "The passion and hunger for God, comes from God, and God answers it with Christ."
Man's intelligence and will and heart and conscience never initiate anything in religion. And over the best moral and spiritual triumphs of this life the saints can only cry, "not unto us, Lord, but unto Thy name be glory" (Psalm 115:1). In this sense at least, Schleiermacher was right when he defined religion as "absolute dependence." Of ourselves, we can do nothing. There is no Creator but God. "And every virtue we possess, And every victory won, And every thought of holiness, Are His and His alone." This is the meaning of grace, and this is the inmost secret of reconciliation.
It is hardly likely that a Gospel so annihilating to human pride will ever be popular with an age conscious of its own enlightenment and trusting in its own initiative for world redemption... Nor will Paul ever be 'persona grata' with those -- and there are many of them -- who seek, by a punctilious observance of religious ordinances, to screen from their own souls, and from others, the stern and disturbing fact that their first necessity is to have God change radically their whole attitude toward Himself. If Paul's doctrine of reconciliation means anything, then the religion that is tinged with self-satisfaction, is, even when it bears the Christian name, a thing downright heathen, and the man who thinks his own deeds and character are doing God credit and have a claim on God's regard and favour, is the victim of a disastrous delusion. To spiritual pride of every degree, nothing could be more devastating than Paul's evangelicalism. For where religion walks around clothed in the garments of moral unreality [thinking that by one's own efforts they can earn God's grace] his Gospel will always be anathema.
But who cares? It is the Gospel of God and there is no other. It is the very Gospel of Jesus, who proclaimed God's initiative first and last, who was Himself God's initiative become flesh. Jesus, whose eyes were like a flame of fire to those who would seek to appease His divine displeasure by their gifts and offerings and character, but whose eyes smiled the welcome of heaven to those who confessed they had no standing before God at all. Jesus, who did not wait until sinners sought Him, but went forth to seek them first, coming to bring the gift of reconciliation near to men, and dying to put it in their hands. No man who is too proud to be infinitely in debt [to God] will ever be a Christian. God gives forever, forever man receives.
Is it incomprehensible that the holy God should thus deal with unworthy man? Maybe, but as Barth pointedly remarks, "only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace." For me, Paul would say, religion began on the day when I ceased straining and striving and struggling for heaven's favour, and was content to bow my head and accept the gift I could never win. It's all the doing of the God who has reconciled me to Himself through Christ" (II Cor. 5:12).
A. W. Tozer put it this way: "Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him. Imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow. We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44 and 65), and it is by this prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is to follow hard after Him. All the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand" Thy right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63:8). In this divine "upholding" and human "following" there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Hugel teaches, God is always previous." (The Pursuit of God, pgs. 11-12)
Take a moment to let that truth wash over you. It really will change your whole perspective on life and cause you to see God, and His grace, in a whole new light.
In The Bonds of Gospel Truth, Pastor Jeff