A Command And A Promise

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

James 4:8

NOTICE the sentences immediately preceding our text–“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Wherever we are, we must come into contact with the unseen powers either for good or evil. Go where we may, we cannot shut ourselves away from them. If we could take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, spiritual beings would still be all around us there. Doubtless there are many invisible spirits, good or evil, in our midst at this moment, and when we go forth to our homes, or tomorrow go to our business or other duties, they will still attend us–the evil spirits seeking to lead our souls astray and the holy angels carrying out their sacred commission–“to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”

These spiritual beings are divided into two bands. One band is under the leadership of that great fallen spirit–great, though fallen–who, by his masterly genius, has secured control over multitudes of other spirits who do his bidding and yield to his will with unquestioning obedience. You also may surrender yourself to him if you will–he is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air–and you may, if you will, be his slave. You may be girded with his chains, you may serve in his servitude and you may earn the wage which he will pay you at the last, for, “the wages of sin is death.” But, surely, the admonition of the practical Apostle James is a wise one and we shall do well to take heed to it and revolt from our old master! Let us break his bonds asunder and cast away his cords from us! In the name of Jesus let us resist the devil and he will flee from us. Jesus has a far greater host of spirits under his leadership than Satan has and, at His command, they shall keep us in all our ways, and bear us up in their hands lest we dash our feet against a stone. His legions are far mightier than those of the black Prince of Darkness and their services shall all be at our disposal, whenever we need them–as soon as we have renounced all allegiance to our former tyrant lord!

Now, having noted the connection of our text, I am going to apply it to three classes of persons. First, to the Believer. .

  1. First, then, we have here, A MESSAGE TO THE BELIEVER. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

In Scripture, drawing near has various meanings. First, it means, draw near to God in worship, in prayer and inpraise. When the hen sees a hawk in the air hovering over her brood, she gives a peculiar warning cluck, calling her little ones to come to her while, at the same moment she, herself, draws near to them. In a far higher fashion, the voice of God calls you to Him, warning you of the danger that lurks all round you. And while you run to hide from peril beneath the shadow of His wings, He, on His part, runs to meet you as the forgiving father ran to meet his prodigal son. You draw near to Him in the fearfulness and feebleness of your supplication and He draws near to you in the faithfulness and almightiness of His everlasting love! I am afraid that we often pray as if our God were at a distance from us–this can never be prevailing prayer. I do not despise that prayer which is like shooting an arrow up to the Throne of God, but I love still better the prayer that grips the Angel of the Covenant, the prayer that stands foot to foot with Him and wrestles with Him until the breaking of the day, and even then cries, “I will not let You go, except You bless me.” If you can draw near to your Lord in prayer like that, He will certainly draw near to you and you will be like a prince who has power to prevail with God and with men.

Let me encourage you, dear Friends, who have been backward in your private prayer, or who have cried to Him as though He were a long way off–“Draw near to Him.” There are no bounds set around this mount of Grace as there were around Mount Sinai. You may climb up to the place called Calvary and clasp to your bosom the Christ who there died upon the accursed tree, for He is your Brother, your Friend, your Savior, your All-in-All, if you are truly trusting Him! So to you I say, as Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find Grace to help in time of need.” “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Come near to Him and you shall soon have an answer to your prayers!

It is the same with praise, but I am afraid that often we do not really draw near to God when we are professing to praise Him. I know that, sometimes, when we are singing God’s praises in our great assemblies here, we are drawn very near to the gates of Heaven. At such times I have felt as though I were swimming in an ocean of sacred delight! It should be so with every act of worship–it should all draw us nearer to our God. There are times when we feel more closelydrawn to Him in the closet of private prayer than in the public services of the sanctuary, but still, there is a special blessing attending united prayer and praise which is not to be realized elsewhere. I remember reading of a Jew who would not open a business in a certain town because there was no synagogue in it. I wish that Christians would always be as careful to settle down, if possible, in a place where they would not lack religious privileges, for prayer and praise, like the two wheels of the chariot which carried Jacob down to Joseph, bring us near to our Beloved Lord and Master! And He, at the same time, comes to meet us and draws near to us.

But I find that in Scripture, the term, “Draw near to God,” is often used in the sense of asking counsel of God. Thusthe Israelites, when they were in perplexity or difficulty, consulted the priest and he, wearing the ephod and the breastplate with the mysterious Urim and Thummim, was able to interpret the will of God as it had been revealed to him. And now, though no sacred ephod or breastplate is worn by mortal man, though the ancient oracles are dumb and though no earthly prophet speaks infallibly according to the will of God, you may still draw near to God, Himself, in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, and seek the guidance of His ever-blessed Spirit! I hope you will do so at every step of your life, for what step is there that is not important? Those that seem to us to be of the least significance may be the very ones that will the soonest lead us into mischief. But there are certain periods in our history when it is absolutely necessary that we should say to ourselves, “Let us consult the Lord about this matter.” Many of you would never have been in the trouble in which you now are if you had but waited upon God before you took a certain course which has brought you nothing but sorrow. We heedlessly run before the fiery-cloudy pillar moves–and when we find that we have rushed into the waste howling wilderness, we lay the blame for our own folly at the door of God’s Providence! Let it not be so with any of you, dear Friends. Let every morning’s plans be spread out before the Lord to see whether they meet with His approval. And let every evening’s joys and sorrows be brought to Him that He may show you how to glorify Him in all that happens to you! Solomon truly said, “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool.” And David just as truly said, “But he that trusts in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.” You need never lack Divine guidance, for you can have it by asking for it! God is willing to guide you if you will only seek His guidance. See to it, then, that you practice the text in the sense of asking counsel of God–“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

There is a third meaning to the phrase, “Draw near to God.” It is used in the sense of enjoying communion withGod. There are some here who do not understand what I mean by communion with God. They are completely puzzled by the very simple language of the Apostle John, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” There are hundreds and thousands of people constantly attending church or chapel who do not know the meaning of the word, “communion.” If you were to ask them what they understand by it, they would probably say that it means eating a piece of bread and drinking a little wine at the Lord’s Supper. And more than that, if they were to ask me to explain to them what true spiritual communion with God means, I would probably fail to make them comprehend it. Yet you who, by Grace, have been enabled to drink of these cooling streams, know well what that communion means! Some of you who have been the most deeply taught of the Spirit could sing through the whole Song of Solomon and see your Beloved in it all–while to others it is only an Eastern love song which is to them quite incomprehensible. You know Christ, not only by faith, but by a sort of second sense which makes Him very real to you. You have drawn near to Christ and talked with Him–and He has drawn near to you and talked with you–and He has been nearer to you and dearer to you than any earthly friend has ever been! Oh, what joy Believers know when they realize Christ’s Presence! When His left hand is under their heads and His right hand embraces them! Talk of Heaven–such communion is Heaven begun below! When Heaven’s gates are opened wide and the celestial sunshine comes streaming through, it falls upon the eyes that have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit–that is true spiritual communion–and the glorified spirits above do but know that bliss to the full in knowing God and rejoicing in the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, my dear Brother, you have been reading Rutherford’s letters and you have said to yourself. “Alas, I cannot hope to enjoy such communion with Christ as Rutherford enjoyed!” But why shouldn’t you? Read our text again. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” You, my dear Sister, may have read the life of Madame Guyon and you have said, “What an angel in human form that woman must have been!” But if you draw near to God, you may have as much love to Christ as she had! And you may enjoy as much fellowship with Christ as she had, for, “He will draw near to you."You have envied Mary because she sat at Jesus' feet, or you have wished that you had been John, to lean your head upon your Master’s bosom. Well, you may do both these things in a spiritual sense–and that is better than the carnal! "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” To you, even to you, the very feeblest of those who resist the devil, will Goddraw near if you draw near to Him!

I think, however, that there is another meaning in our text, and that is, “draw near to God” in the general strainand tenor of your life. We all know that the sun, the great center of the solar system has several planets revolving around him. Some of them comparatively near, others at a greater distance, and some still more remote. And Jesus Christ, the great Sun of Righteousness, has His people revolving around Him as the planets circle round the sun! Some of them are very near the great central Luminary. Others are far away, at a vast distance from Him, and others are neither very near nor very far off, but somewhere between the two. There are some Believers who are like the planet Mercury. You do not often see that fast revolving planet because it keeps so near the sun that it is usually lost in his bright rays. So is it with some Christians–the world knows little of them–they make no noise as they move along in their appointed orbit and they keep so near to Christ that they seem to be absorbed into His radiance! Their thoughts are so much occupied with Christ, their heart’s affection is so fully given to Him, that they do not talk much about earthly things. Their great desire is to live in close and hallowed fellowship with their Lord. There are others who are like the planets that are far away from the sun, yet some rays of light and heat reach even them. And those Believers who are living at a distance from Christ have some of the Divine Light and heat within them, but oh, so little compared with what they might have! Oh, that you who are so far off from God, would leave your distant orbits and draw near to Him–for then He would also draw near to you!

You know, dear Friends, that there is almost as much difference between some Christians and others as there is between Christians and worldlings–I said, almost, for there is not quite the same difference, though there is nearly the same. There are heights of lofty consecration and of intimate communion with Christ to which some Believers have attained, but of which others have not yet even dreamed. There is an inner circle of fellowship into which only a few privileged saints have ever entered–these are the elect out of the elect who have been distinguished above all the rest of Christ’s disciples by the loftier Grace which has been their peculiar characteristic. Oh, that we had many more such Christians in all our Churches! There are a few of them scattered about Christendom, like grains of salt, but we need many more of them–men who, like Moses, have their faces made to shine with a supernatural brightness because they have dwelt with God upon the mount of secret communion–men who are not afraid to die because they have looked without alarm into the face of God, through Jesus Christ their Lord–and men who have learned how to live as becomes the Gospel of Christ–and there is no higher life than that!

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, “draw near to God!” Press towards the highest degree of godliness that is possible for you to obtain! Seek to have the closest communion with Christ that mortals can ever know while here on earth. Do not be content to be in the outer courts, the lobbies, the ante-chambers of religion–strive to gain admission to the very Holy of Holies, itself, for that is where your Lord would have you to be! You know that there is a sort of border-land where many professors live, where a man is thought to be a Christian, but all the while he is not even half a Christian. He is counted among the saved, yet he lives on the very borders of damnation! And if at the last he is saved, we shall sorrowfully have to add, “yet so as by fire.” In some respects he is a righteous man, as Lot was, yet, like Lot, he dwells in Sodom. He is in some ways a good man, as Noah was, yet, like he, he falls into shameful sin. Oh, that we could all rise above this wretched condition and live continually so close to Christ that men would take knowledge of us that we had been with Jesus, and had caught something of His spirit–and had been so changed by Grace that we were far more like He is than we now are!

There I leave my text with the Believer. I would gladly draw you near to God, Beloved, by my words, if I could. But I know that He must, Himself, draw you by His Grace if the drawing is to be effectual. So let this be your prayer and resolve this very moment, “Draw us, and we will run after You.”

II. Now, in the second place, we have in our text AN ENTREATY TO THE BACKSLIDER. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” I must speak but briefly on this point, but I need to be as earnest as I am brief.

So, Backslider, you have come in here, tonight. A friend who is up from the country persuaded you to accompany him, or you would probably not have been here, for you have almost given up going to a place of worship–you think there is no hope for you. Friend, do you know what your doom will be if you continue as you are now? Have you everread the story of Judas? Do you know what became of Demas, Simon Magus, Alexander the coppersmith and others who turned aside from the faith in the days of the Apostles? Remember those terrible, yet Inspired words, “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.” It would have been better for you never to have had any knowledge of the Truth of God than to have known it and then sinned willfully against it, and so, after all, to be a castaway! If you are a true child of God, though a wanderer from His ways, you will be brought back to Him and I pray that you may be brought back to Him this very hour! But if you are an apostate, a backslider in heart, you will be filled with your own ways! Having filled up the measure of your iniquity, you will be driven from God’s Presence into the place of woe where hope and mercy can never come!

Yet listen to me, Backslider,

this terrible sentence has not yet been pronounced on you. The voice of God still cries to

you, “Draw near unto Me.” Where are you flying, my Brother? Are you seeking to escape from God’s righteous judgments? That is impossible, for His thunderbolts will soon overtake you and seal your eternal doom! Run not away from Him, but draw near to Him! Cast down your weapons of rebellion and fall prostrate before Him, seeking the forgiveness which He is willing and waiting to bestow upon you. Let me take you by the hand and try to encourage you to come near to the Lord this very moment. Do you ask, “How can I come near to Him?” Come just as you came to Him at the first! Perhaps you reply, “But I never really came to Him aright.” Then come to Him aright right now! I came to Him as a sinner and He gave me a hearty welcome–and He will receive you just as graciously if you only come to Him with wholehearted repentance for your sin and true faith in Jesus Christ as your only Savior!

But here is one who did run well, yet she has been hindered. Backsliding woman, remember that your God is married to you and that He bids you return to Him! Backsliding man, you have turned aside from your God, yet He still loves you and cries out to you, “Return, return, return!” The Lord still says, as He did in Jeremiah’s day, “Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.” Oh, that you would reply even as they did–“Behold, we come unto You, for You are the Lord our God”! I am sure that you are not happy in your present condition. On the contrary, you are as sad and miserable as you can possibly be. This very House of Prayer reminds you of your former privileges and joys, of the days when you delighted in God and felt that you were, indeed, on your way to Heaven. You cannot be content to live in the far country among the swine that are not fit companions for you! Leave the husks to the pigs–they can never satisfy your hunger! Come back to your Father, poor prodigal! Though your clothes are in rags, though you are steeped in filth, though you have sinned most grievously, come back to your Father and He will receive you with open arms and open heart! I will not act towards you as the elder brother did to the prodigal, but I will welcome you as a Brother if you are, indeed, a Brother. But if you are not a Brother, you are a sinner–and “this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” even the very chief! So, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” Put your soul’s affairs into His hands! ask Him to be your Advocate to plead your cause before the King! He never yet lost a case that was entrusted to Him–and He will not lose yours!

III. I have almost anticipated the last division of my discourse, but I must close by giving from my text AN INVITATION TO THE UNCONVERTED. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

The great Gospel rings out again and the same note sounds to the sinner as to the saint–not that there is any implication in this text that the sinner can draw near to God by his own unaided power, or that he comes first, and God comes next, or that there is any natural willingness in the sinner to come to God. The text seems to me to show the differencebetween the Law and the Gospel. God even said to Moses, the chosen leader of His ancient people, “Draw not near here: take off your shoes, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” But under the Gospel, God says to the sinner, “Draw near here. It is true that this is holy ground, but it is sprinkled with blood–the blood of My only-begotten and wellbeloved Son. And if the blood is also sprinkled upon you, you may draw near and you cannot come too near, so come and welcome, Sinner, come!” If it were a question of merit, or of justification by the works of the Law, the sinner might well try to flee from the avenging hands of Divine Justice. But on the ground of Divine Love, and pity, and mercy, and free and Sovereign Grace, the sinner may draw near to God though he has nothing to recommend him! He may come just as he is and God, in mercy, will draw near to Him! Should there be here a swearer, a drunk, or one who has committed the foulest of sins–the text says to him in the sense in which I have explained it–“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Sinner, if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus as your Savior, God will not spurn you and drive you from Him, but He will draw near to you as you draw near to Him!

Then, next, the text shows the sinner what God means to do for him. He means to draw the sinner near to Himselfand then Himself to draw near to the sinner! This is done in two ways. It is done, first, by what Jesus did for us when He split the veil that separated us from God. And it is done, next, by what the Holy Spirit does in us when He splits the veil that hides God from us! There are, or were, these two veils–the veil that concealed the visible manifestation of God from men, which was torn asunder at the moment of Christ’s death–and the veil that is over our own hearts which conceals God from us until the Holy Spirit takes it away and we see God in Christ Jesus reconciled to us by the death of His Son. I fear that there are even some in this congregation who are living just as if there were no God at all. If there really were no God, you would probably not be any different from what you are now. God is not in all your thoughts or if you ever do think of Him, you say, with the fool of whom the Psalmist tells us, “No God. No God for me. I need no God and, as far as I am concerned, there is no God.” Well then, if you are ever to be saved, you will have to be brought near to God by a power altogether outside yourself! You will have to be made to feel that God is One whom you must love. You will be reconciled to Him by the death of His Son and your heart will be filled with love to Christ through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit!

The text further shows what

God will lead the sinner to do for himself. Ungodly man, if you are ever to be saved, you

must draw near to God in prayer! Go to Him at this moment, just where you are sitting, and confess all your sin to Him. There is no need for you to utter a word that any of us can hear, for God can read the language of your heart. Then you must draw near to Christ by faith. Just as that poor woman in the crowd touched the hem of His garment and was immediately made whole, so must you, by faith, get into contact with Christ! Trust in Him as your one and only Savior, and He will certainly save you! And this shall be the grand result of it all–you will draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Oh, that you would now cry to Him, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” That will be drawing near to God in penitence and contrition and supplication–and He will draw near to you in gracious acceptance and blessing. And then one day He will call you to draw near to Him in Heaven, itself, to sit at His table in Glory, to feast with Him in His Kingdom! Then shall you, even you, wear a crown, and wave a palm and forever adore that matchless Grace which first drew you near to Him–and then draw near to you!

If there is one here who will go home to pray, “Draw me near, O God!” Or better still, if there is one anywhere in this vast throng, whose heart is praying, “Lord, save me! Draw me with the cords of a man, (even the Man, Christ Jesus, the Friend of sinful man), with the bands of love. O God, draw near to me, for I would gladly draw near to You!” If there is one here whose eyes have in them the tears of penitence, I point that one to Jesus, hanging on the Cross, and say–

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One!
There is life at this moment for thee.
Then look, Sinner–look unto Him and be saved–
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree!”

Remember that the Son of God, the Lord of Life and Glory, suffered indescribable shame and ignominy and, at last, death, itself, for sinners–for every sinner who trusts in His great atoning Sacrifice! If you are trusting in Him, that is proof positive that He dried for you, died in your place, died that you should never die, for He bore all the punishment that your sin deserved, so there is none left for you to bear! He drank to the last dregs the cup of wrath that was your due, so there is not one drop left for you to drink! He suffered all that could ever have been your portion even in Hell, itself, for being Infinite, there was no limit to His agonies. And now, for you, there is no Hell, no torment, no condemnation! You may know assuredly whether Christ died for you or not–do you trust Him? Will you trust Him now? Will you say–

“Just as I am–and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot.
To You, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come”?

If You have said that from your heart, you are now a saved soul and you may go to your home rejoicing in the Lord, for your sins, which were many, are all forgiven and you are on your way to Heaven! God grant that it may be so, for Jesus Christ’s sake!