How To Find God

 

 The prodigal has wandered far; he is in a strange land. Things there are not as they are in Father's house. As long as he is satisfied in this strange country, the charms of home appeal to him but little. Before the sinner can find God he must, as the prodigal of old, come to himself. He must realize what his situation means. He must become conscious of his true state as a sinner. He must see his sins in their naked reality; and he has only to see them so to abhor them. The pleasures of sin may satisfy for a season. His heart may have no longing after God; but when he comes to himself, he begins to think of better things. Sin loses its attraction. He begins to eat the bitter bread of remorse. He thinks of the outraged father, and there arises in his heart a desire for reconciliation. He is conscious that he has transgressed, that he has deeply wounded the paternal love. He is deeply conscious of the fact that he deserves nothing better of the Father than permanent rejection. The language of his heart is, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son."

No man can ever find God who does not first become thoroughly dissatisfied with his own condition; for so long as he is satisfied in sin, he has no desire to be reconciled to God, he does not wish to be in God's presence. But when once he begins to abhor his sin, and to desire to be something better than he is, he instinctively turns Godward, and says, "I will arise and go to my Father." Reconciliation with God is not hard to obtain if there be first this turning away from sin and self. But without it there can never be peace. There can be no salvation while there remains self-satisfaction or rebellion.

Seeking God

It is not hard to become a Christian. It is not difficult to find God. The difficult part is to leave self and to gain the consent of mind and heart to begin seeking. God is not far away. We do not need to take a long journey to find him. He "is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart" (Psalms 34:18). Yea, he is "not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27), and he has said, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one ... that seeketh findeth" (Luke 11:9,10). There is, however, a way in which we must seek in order to be successful. We must not seek carelessly nor indifferently. "But if ... thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29).

God never hides himself from those who seek him with right desires and pure purposes. The seeker should come humbly and simply and trustingly. He should come as one who expects to find, and, having found the desire his heart, to turn back no mo re to his former life.

But if we desire to find God, we must seek for him where he is. The prodigal would have sought long and vainly for his father in the land where in he was a prodigal. Knowing this, he said, "I will arise and go to my father." So, we must arise and go from the land of our sinful service, from the country of our evil master. God is not to be found there. In vain do we look for him there. He is not found in the way of earthly pleasure. So long as our hearts and affections are set upon the things of this world, so long as we care for them, we can not find God. It is only when we turn to him with our whole hearts and with a full purpose to serve him that we can find him.

Sometimes people desire to be Christians, and they make up their minds that they are going to do better. That is their thought of being a Christian - just doing better. But that is not enough; there must be something more than that. How can a man who is evil do good? Nor is it enough to join with people who are Christians, or who are professing to be Christians. We may unite with some organization of people called a church, but that of itself may not make us either better or worse. Turning over a new leaf and taking up new habits, becoming interested in church work and various benevolences, will never bring us to God. Our souls must become hungry for him. We must desire him more than anything else and search for him until we find him. That is one thing - we must find God. We must become his. We must have a new life, new purposes, and a new relationship with God. This demands a severance of old relations, a forsaking of old habits and life, of the old ways and desires. Do not suppose that you can find God as your Savior unless you turn to him with your whole heart, giving up once and for all time everything that displeases him. He will not be a partner with you in anything that is unholy; therefore all that is unholy must be given up.

God has said, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). These are God's terms, and he w ill not change them. David said, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalms 66:18). God tells us the result if we seek him while we still hold to sin. "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, w hen ye make many prayers, I will not hear" (Isaiah 1:15). What, then, must we do? His answer is, "Put away the evil of your doing from before mine eyes; cease to do evil" (verse 16). If we will do this, the gracious promise is given, "Though your sin s be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (verse 18). As long as the soul clings to one sin, it cannot find God. All must be forsaken. The old life must have "Finis" written under it. When we fully turn from sin, then, and then only, can we turn to God. We are told to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin. If we do this, our relation to it will be the same as that of a literally dead man to the activities of this lie. Sin must end before righteousness can begin.

Repentance

God's message to sinners has always been that they should repent. This was the burden of the message of the Prophets, of John the Baptist, and of the Son of God when he came, as it has been the message through the ages. But what is repentance? In its practical sense as respecting the sinner, it means regret or sorrow for sin, accompanied by a turning away from sin. The word sometimes means no more than a change of mind, but much besides. It means that change accompanied by or produced by real sorrow for sin, that godly sorrow which works repentance and leads to salvation.

One of the most important points involved in this subject is the direction in which repentance acts, or the object toward which it acts. Much repentance is essentially selfish in its nature. Sometimes people grow very sorry because of what they have done when they see the effects upon themselves. When they see disease brought upon their bodies and realize that they are languishing under its touch because of what they have done, they are filled with regret. The prisoner behind the bars often is repentant because he is suffering punishment. He is sorry for what he has done, but sorry only because of its effects upon himself. Sin often brings shame, and this shame is not easily borne, and often brings self-reproaches and sorrow, not because the evil was done, but because of the fruit of that evil.

All such repentance is essentially selfish. It leads to no change in the individual, in his attitude toward God, nor in God's attitude toward him. He may have wronged friends and later may come to feel very bad over having done so; he may wish that he had the opportunity to change matters and would be glad if he had not done as he did. In this case his friends are the object of his repentance. Any effectual repentance must have God for its object. It must be directed toward him. The individual must be genuinely repentant because he has wronged God. He must look at his sins from God's standpoint, not from his own. He must consider that he has wronged God, that he has transgressed his law; and he must consider the character of God - how infinitely just and holy he is and how exceedingly wrong has been his conduct in thus breaking the holy law of that holy God. It is only when he views his sins from this standpoint that he can have any adequate idea of their deserts, and only then can he have any proper idea of his own guilt and his own need of repentance.

Repentance implies a turning away from sin with a full purpose never to repeat the sinful deeds. Anything that does not produce such a result is not real repentance. Those who claim to have repented and still go on in their sinful ways, doing what pleases them rather than what pleases God, have never truly repented; for if one is truly sorry for sin, is truly sorry that he has grieved God, he will once and forever turn away from doing such a thing. God says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." That is an essential part of repentance, and if omitted, the repentance can not be unto salvation.

God says that the wicked shall "give again that which he hath robbed" (Ezekiel 33:15). One characteristic of true repentance is the disposition of the individual to repair the injuries that he has done others, so far as it lies in his power. If he has stolen from another, he desires no longer to have that property in his possession. If we have taken from our fellow man by fraud or in any other way things that were his, the things are still his, and if we truly repent, we shall feel an earnest an d sincere desire in our souls to restore them. Repentance that leaves the individual in possession of that which has been wrongfully gotten, is not genuine repentance, for genuine repentance wants to make right any wrong that has been done. It takes n o argument to convince any one who really repents that he ought to confess to those whom he has wronged and to make restitution to them to the extent of his ability and opportunity. The thousands of professors of religion who have things in t heir possession that are not theirs will have a hard task getting inside the pearly gates, as they have now a hard task of convincing those who know of the facts that they are true Christians. It is not enough to be sorry that we have done wrong; we must go far enough to be thoroughly sorry that we have that which is not ours, so sorry that we will not keep it. It is just as truly natural for the penitent sinner to make his wrongs right and to ask the forgiveness of those wronged and to make thorough confession as it is for his soul to reach out after God's mercy.

Having truly repented, the soul is then upon the threshold of God's mercy and can reach out expectantly to find him.

Submission

The sinner is a rebel against God. He has lived in open rebellion all his sinful days; but if he will find God, if he will be reconciled to him, then he must submit himself to God in whole-hearted surrender. "Submit yourselves therefore to God" (James 4:7). Self has been the king upon the throne of the heart. Self must be dethroned. All its rule must be overthrown, its government entirely demolished. Christ must be enthroned, he must be above all and through all. His will must be law. T he soul must yield true allegiance to him. It must yield glad and full obedience. He must be supreme and the soul rejoices to have it so. The yielding must be not only a passive submission, but an active submission. It is good if we shall say, "Not my will, but thine, be done." But this is not enough. We must dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of his will, to the task of carrying out his will. "I delight to do thy will" is the language of the submitted heart.

We are not fully surrendered so long as we require one condition. Christ can not be master so long as we offer terms. Our surrender must be unconditional, or it is not real. Here is where many fail. They have their way mapped out before them, and have their ideas of just what kind of Christians they want to be and what they want to do. That leaves them the masters, and if their terms were accepted, they would never be submissive. Some will not yield to God lest he should call them to preach; others, lest they should have to be missionaries, leave home, testify, pray in public, or do some similar thing. Others have plans that they wish to carry out, or things which they desire to continue in, such as dancing, taking part in worldly amusements, and the like. God will let us have a form of godliness, if that is what we want, and he may let us be pretty well satisfied with it, even if we are not really surrendered; but if it is real salvation that we want, that is to be had only o n condition of an absolute surrender so far as we can understand what that means. We must throw away our maps and plans, and say: "Here I am, Lord, body, mind and soul. All I am or ever shall be is thine unreservedly forever. Not my will, but thine, be done." This must be said, not with the lips alone, but from the heart's remotest depths. This, and this alone, is surrender. This is real submission, and this is one of the steps in finding God.

Believing

In reply to the jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). Faith is the hand that reaches out to God and lays hold upon him through his promises. Without it we can not find God; without it we can not be saved from our sins; but by believing we may be saved. There are, however, two kinds of believing, and both are necessary to our salvation. Jesus said to the Jews, "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). Many people believe in Christ as a historical character, as a great and glorious teacher, even the Son of God; but that faith affects nothing for their salvation. It is, however, the ground of the other and more important faith. We "must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in Christ who never receive him as their Savior. We must not only believe in him, but believe on him, that is, confidently rely upon him for our salvation, trusting him to forgive our sins and make us all that he has promised to make us. Believing is no hard thing. It is not something that is strained, not something that is forced. It is something that operates naturally and easily. The soul that has done what has already been noted under the previous steps, is in a position to rely upon Christ for his salvation; that is, to confidently trust in him that he does now save him. It requires no effort of will, no straining to do this; it is natural, just as natural as breathing.

He has said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). Is this true, or is it false? If it is true, then it is true for you, and for everyone else who will come to him in the way of his truth. His promise is, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (I John 1:9). Is this true? If it is true for anyone, it is true for you. Just simply believe it, and you will know that his word is true; you will within you have the consciousness of that fac t. But until you do believe it, that is, until you accept it not only as being true but as being true for you, it will count nothing. But when you do so accept it, it will count all, and you will find that your soul reaches out and finds God true and knows him for itself.

Assurance

Belief brings assurance. Peter said, "We believe and are sure" (John 6:69). Effectual faith, that is, faith that reaches out and appropriates God's promises for salvation, brings to the heart a knowledge of the forgiveness of sin. We are not left to uncertainty as some suppose. John says, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (I John 5:10). What is this witness? Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6 - "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father." The work of the Spirit in witnessing is stated in Romans 8:16 - "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God."

The Christian has a twofold witness of his acceptance with God. First, this witness of the Spirit, who testifies to him of his acceptance. This is the voice of God himself to the soul. It speaks in the believer's inner consciousness in language t hat can not be misunderstood. He knows that he is God's child. He realizes from the testimony of that sacred Spirit that the work of God has been wrought and that he is now a child of the divine Father. He is no more a rebel, but a son. Secondly, there is that inner consciousness known and realized as any other definite fact of the human experience. He knows that he is no more what he was; he knows that he is no more a rebel against God, but is at peace with him. He no longer feels the guilt of his sin. He is conscious that a great change has taken place. Everyone who truly becomes a Christian, has this inner consciousness that he is God's. This is a sure product of saving grace.

This twofold witness within our souls continues as long as our faith continues. Only doubts can silence its voice. When faith fails, the voice of this testimony becomes weakened and finally silenced. It is dependent upon faith, and as long as we believe we may expect its testimony; but we must believe in order to retain this glorious realization of divine sonship. John was very positive in his knowledge and assertion on this point. He said, "We know that we have passed from death unto life" (I John 3:14). Again, he says, "We know that we are of God" (I John 5:19). In every case, however, saving faith must precede this witnessing, and saving faith must always accompany it, or it is made void.