THE HAPPINESS OF DRAWING NEAR TO GOD
Extracts from a sermon preached by Thomas Watson, who was ejected from his church, St. Stephen’s, Walbrook in London, and died in 1689 or 1690. The sermon has recently been published in a book entitled A Plea for the Godly by Soli Deo Gloria Publications.
“But it is good for me to draw near to God.” Psalm 73:28.
The proposition is this: It is a great duty incumbent upon Christians to draw near to God, Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart.” For the illustration of the proposition, four things are to be inquired into: How we are capable of drawing near to God, where we draw near to God, the manner of our drawing near to God, and why we must draw near to God.
How we are capable of drawing near to God
By nature, we stand in opposition to God, Colossians 1:21, alienated and enemies. How then can we approach nigh to God? It is through a Mediator. Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29. But
Jesus Christ is the screen between us and divine justice. Christ, as our High Priest, assumes our flesh. Christ’s flesh is called a veil, Hebrews 10:20. As Moses, when his face shone so exceeding bright, put a veil upon it, and then Israel might approach near to him and look upon him, so Christ, having veiled Himself with our human nature, we may now draw nigh to God and behold Him.
And as Christ makes way for us into the Holy of Holies by His incarnation, so by His crucifixion, He died to make God and us friends. The divine law being infringed. God’s justice was provoked, and satisfaction was demanded before we could approach God in an amicable way. Now here Christ, as our Priest, shed His blood for our sins and so made the atonement. Colossians 1:20, “Having made peace through the blood of his cross.” As Joseph, being so great at court, made way for all his brethren to draw near into the king’s presence, Genesis 47:2, so Jesus Christ is our Joseph who makes way for us by His blood that we may draw near and touch the top of the sceptre.
Where we draw near to God
Where can we draw near to God? In the use of His ordinances. In the Word we draw near to His table. In the one, we hear His voice; in the other, we have His kiss. Besides, in a special manner we draw near to God in prayer. Prayer is the soul’s private converse and intercourse with God. Prayer whispers in God’s ears. Psalm 18:6, “My prayer came before him, even into his ears.” In prayer we draw so nigh to God that we take hold of Him, Isaiah 64:6. God draws nigh to us by His Spirit, and we draw nigh to Him in prayer.
The manner of our drawing near to God
God’s special residence is in heaven, and we draw near to God not by the feet of our bodies, but by our souls. The affections are the feet of the soul; by these we move towards God. David drew nigh to God in his desires. Psalm 73:25, “There is none on earth I desire beside thee.”
Why we must draw near to God
Because He is our Maker; in Him we live. He has given us our bodies; they are His curious needlework. Psalm 139:15. And as He has wrought the cabinet, so He has put the jewel in it, the precious soul. And, surely, if we have our being from Him, there is a good reason we should draw near to Him in a way of homage and observance.
God is our Benefactor. He crowns us with a variety of blessings. He gives health and estate. Every bit of bread we eat is given to us by the hand of divine bounty. Is there not great reason we should draw near to Him who feeds us? Give a beast hay and he will follow you all over the field. Not to draw near to Him who is our Benefactor is worse than brutish.
God is the Chief Good. There is enough in God to satisfy the immense desire of the angels. He is the quintessence of sweetness; in Him all perfections are concentrated – wisdom, holiness, and goodness. He has rivers of pleasure where the soul shall bathe itself forever with infinite delight, Psalm 36. So that here is ground sufficient for our drawing near to God: He is the chief good. Everything desires to approach to its happiness.
See the right genius and temper of a gracious soul: it is ever drawing near to God. It loves to converse with Him in private. A person truly regenerate is not able to stay away long from God. Psalm 63:8, “My soul followeth hard after God.” A pious soul cannot but draw near to God out of the entire love which he bears to God. It is the nature of love to draw the heart to the object loved.
He that loves his friend will often give him a visit; he that loves God will visit Him. The heart ascends to God in a fiery chariot of love.
A gracious soul cannot but draw near to God because of the intimate relation between God and him. God is a Father. Isaiah 64:8, “Doubtless thou art our father.” Does not the child delight to draw near to his father? No father like God for love. His children shall never want. He has land enough to give to all His heirs. He loves His children so entirely that He will never disinherit them. How, then, can believers keep away from their Father? They do not know how to be out of His presence for long.
A gracious soul cannot choose but to draw near to God because he has found so much sweetness and content in Him. While he has drawn near to God, he has drawn virtue from Him. Never did Jonathan taste so much sweetness as when he dipped his rod in the honeycomb, 1 Samuel 14:27, as the soul finds in communion with God. In drawing near to God, a Christian’s heart has been warmed and melted. The Lord has kindled his sacrifice from heaven. In his approaches to God, he has had the slipping in of the Spirit, the incomes of God’s love, the foretastes of glory. God has given him a bunch of grapes by the way; he has tasted that the Lord is good. No wonder, then, that he is so frequent in his approaches to Divine Majesty, he has found the comfort of drawing near to God.
REPROOFS FOR FOUR KINDS OF PERSONS
1. This reproves those who, instead of drawing near to God, draw near to the world. The world engrosses all their time and thoughts. Philippians 3:19, “”Who mind earthly things.” A good Christian uses the world for his necessity, but his main work is to draw near to God. Whoever he compounds with and pays short, he will be sure God shall not be a loser. He gives God a daily sacrifice; “he follows God fully,” Numbers 14:14. But covetous persons make the world their treasure;
and what is their treasure but that which most commands their hearts?
Worldlings live by sense. To talk to them of drawing nigh to God is to speak riddles and paradoxes to them. They can no more live out of the earth than the fish out of the water. They have the serpent’s curse upon them to lick the dust.
Things of a worldly aspect draw the heart away from God. They are reins of hope (as Tertullian said); they hinder our passage to the holy land. Had not the fall beaten off men’s headpiece of wisdom, they would think thus with themselves: “If there is any beauty in the world, what is there in God who made it? He gives the flower its colour and odour, He gives the diamond its lustre. He gives food its delicious taste, and, if there is such sweetness in creatures, what is there in God? He is infinitely better than all.” Shall these poor things draw off your hearts from God? Shall the drop draw us from the fountain? Shall the light of the candle draw us from the sun? Shall we admire the gift and forget the Giver? Solomon speaks of a generation of men, “madness is in their heart,” Ecclesiastes 9:3. Surely, they who draw near the world and leave God, madness is in their hearts. Oh, how empty and insignificant are all other things without God! They are, in their matter, earthly; in their procuring, painful; in their fruition, excessive; in their duration, dying;
in their operation, damning.
2. It reproves those who draw nigh to God, but hypocritically. They draw nigh with their lips but not with their heart, Isaiah 29:13. The Jews (said one) use great shows of adoration and, in their synagogues, burn lamps to the honour of God, but no inward devotion can be perceived. What is pomp without piety? Sinners give God the worship of their bodies, but keep their hearts for something else they love better. The heart is a virgin God Himself is suitor to. Proverbs 23:6, “My son, give me thy heart.” To draw near to God with the body but not the heart is to abuse God. It is as if one should come into a pharmacist’s shop and ask for medicinal water, and he should give him an empty glass. To draw nigh to God without a heart is to play at devotion, and to go to hell covered with religion’s mantle.
3. It reproves those who, instead of drawing near to God, draw back from God. These are renegades! They once seemed to put forth fair blossoms, and gave good hope of their conversion, but their spring is changed to autumn. Either fear of persecution, or hope of preferment, has turned them away from the profession of religion. Hosea 8:3, “Israel hath cast off the thing that is good.” Men draw back from God because they never had the Spirit of God to confirm them. Such as have the Spirit’s indwelling never take their final leave of God. The Spirit in the heart is called an earnest, not a pawn. A pawn may be called for again and taken away, but an earnest remains and is part of the sum behind. Oh, how odious is it to draw back from God! The name Judas
is an abomination at this day. Surely no Protestant would name his child “Judas.” And how dismal was his end! If it is good to draw near to God, it must be evil to draw back from Him. Psalm 37:27, “Thou hast destroyed all them that go a-whoring from thee.”
4. It exhorts us all to draw near to God. It is more significant to draw near to God voluntarily than to be drawn near to Him by affliction. God is the end point toward which all things point. Where should the soul go but to God? Where can the bee rest but in its hive? To draw near to God is as well a privilege as a duty. There are but two motives I shall use to persuade to this drawing near to God.
MOTIVES FOR DRAWING NEAR TO GOD
I. The first motive is in the text: to draw near to God is a good thing. It is good for me. That it is good appears several ways.
To draw near to God is our wisdom. “The price of wisdom is above rubies,” Job 28:18. No jewel we wear so adorns us as wisdom; and wherein is our wisdom seen more than in our coming near to God? It is judged wisdom to keep in with great men. Proverbs 19:6, Many will entreat the favour of the prince. A prince’s love is mutable. How often does the sunshine of his royal favour set in a cloud. But it is wisdom to draw near to God. He is the sweetest friend and the sorest enemy.
To draw near to God is our honour. It is counted an honour to converse with noble persons. What a high dignity is it that the great God will suffer sinful dust to draw near to Him! Surely the Apostle spoke it with an holy boasting, 1 John 1:3, “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus.” It is as if he had said, “We do not walk with the pedantics of the world; we are of the royal blood of heaven. We live above other men; our fellowship is with the Father.” That the King of Kings will hold forth a golden sceptre to us, invite and welcome us into His presence, and bid us draw near, is no small favour. 1 Samuel 22:2, “Everyone that was distressed and in debt drew near to David, and he became a captain over them.” So that we who are distressed and in debt may draw near to God, and He will not be our captain but our husband, Isaiah 54:5. What transcendent dignity is this! It is a wonder God does not kick us out of His presence, but that we should be admitted to see the king’s face, and that He should send us dainties off from His own table, is an honour more fit for angels than men.
To draw near to God is our safety. God is a strong tower, Proverbs 18:10. It is good in times of danger to draw near to a fort or castle. Habakkuk 3:4, “He had horns coming out of his hands, and there was the hiding of his power.” The horns coming out of God’s hands are to push His enemies, and the hiding of His power is to safeguard His people. God is an impregnable stronghold. Indeed, there is no safety but in drawing nigh to God. If the sheep straggles from the fold, it is in
danger of the wolf. If we straggle and wander from God, we are in danger of Satan.
To draw near to God is our peace. The only thing which breaks our peace is when we do not keep close to God; but what harmony, yea, heaven, is in the soul when it draws nigh to God. Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have they that love thy law.” This peace, like pearl in broth, is cordial. David drew nigh to God, for He was ever with him, Psalm 139:17. And this made his pillow soft when he went to sleep. Psalm 4:8, I will lay me down in peace. As the honeydew falls upon the leaf, oh, that sweet serenity which drops as honey upon the soul while it is drawing nigh to God! How comfortable is it to draw near the sun! And how sweet is it to approach nigh to the Sun of Righteousness.
To draw near to God is our riches. It is good drawing near a gold mine. If we draw near to God, He will enrich us with promises and divine consolations. He will enrich us with the pearl of price, Ephesians 3:8. He will reward us as a king, yea, as a God. He will give over His land and jewels to us. He will give us the spring flowers of joy here and the harvest of glory hereafter.
If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. If we draw near to Him in duty, He will draw near to us in mercy. When the prodigal approached his father, his father drew near to him, fell on his neck, and kissed him, Luke 15:20. If we draw near to God with repenting hearts, He will draw near to us with a compassionate heart. David prayed, Psalm 69:18, “Draw nigh to my soul.” It is good to have God draw nigh to us. How sweet is His presence! He is light to the eye and joy to the heart. How happy was it for Zaccheus when Christ drew near to him. “This day is salvation come to thy house,” Luke 19:9. When God draws near to the soul, heaven and salvation draw near.
2. The second motive is that there is a time coming when we shall wish we had drawn near to God. We are shortly drawing near to our grave. Psalm 107:18, “They draw near unto the gates of death.” The wicked who care not for God yet, at death, would draw near to Him. Then they cry, as Matthew 8:25, “Lord save us or we perish.” Then they cry, “Mercy, mercy.” Then they run to God in distress, as in a storm men run to a tree for shelter; but God will not shelter His enemies. The Lord gives the sinner an abundance of mercy in his life time (as you have seen a loving father bribing a prodigal son with money to see if he can reclaim him); but, if the sinner is not wrought upon with mercy, then at death the sun of mercy sets and a dark night of wrath overtakes the sinner. They who would not draw nigh to God as a friend will find that God will draw nigh to them as an enemy.
HOW SHALL WE DRAW NEAR TO GOD?
1. Let us contemplate the excellencies of God. He is the God of glory, Psalm 29:3, full of beauty, in comparison of whom both angels and men are but as the small dust of the balance. He is the God of love, 2 Corinthians 13:11, who triumphs in acts of mercy. Well may this encourage our approaches to Him who delights to display the banner of free grace to sinners. If we should hear of a person of honour who was of a lovely disposition, obliging all that came to him by acts of kindness and civility, it would make us ambitiously desirous to ingratiate ourselves with him and get into his acquaintance. God is the most sovereign Good, the wonder of love, ready to diffuse the silver streams of His bounty to indigent creatures. This, if anything, will make us willing to draw near to Him, and acquiesce in Him as the centre of felicity.
2. If we would draw near to God, let us study our own wants. Let us consider in what need we stand of God, and that we cannot be happy without Him. The prodigal never drew near to his father till he began to be in want, Luke 15. A proud sinner who has never been convinced.of his need does not think to come near God. He has a stock of his own to live upon. Jeremiah 3:31, “We are lords, we will come no more unto thee.” A full stomach despises the honeycomb. It is the sense of want that brings us near to God. Why did so many lame people and paralytics resort to Christ but because they wanted a cure. Why does the thirsty man draw near a fountain but because he wants water. Why does a condemned man draw near his prince but because he wants a pardon. When a poor soul reviews its wants, it cries, “I want grace, I want the favour of God, I am damned without Christ.” This makes him draw near to God, and be an earnest supplicant for mercy.
3. If we would draw near to God, let it be our care to clear our interest in God. Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near in full assurance of faith.” When we know Him to be our God, then we draw near to Him. The spouse, by virtue of the conjugal union, draws near to her husband. Psalm 48:14, “This God is our God.”
4. If we would draw near to God, let us beg the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God has a magnetic virtue. Corruption draws the heart from God; the Spirit draws it to Him. Song of Solomon 1:4, “Draw me, we will run after thee.” The Spirit, by His omnipotent grace, draws the heart to God not only sweetly, but powerfully.
5. If we would draw near to God, let us get our hearts fired with love to God. Which way love goes, that way the heart is drawn. If God is the treasure delighted in, our hearts will be drawn to Him. Servile fear makes the soul fly from God; sacred love makes it fly to Him.