1. To Be Near Unto God
When in holy ecstasy the Psalmist sings: “I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplication,” he pours out his whole soul in this song, but no one can analyze that love.
To have love for God is something altogether different and something far weaker than to be able to say: “I love God.”
You have love for your native land, you have love for the beauty and grandeur of nature, you have love for the creations of art, from the sense of compassion you have love for suffering humanity, you are conscious of love for what is noble, true and of good report, and thus in all honesty almost every man can say that he also has love for God, and that his love for God even exceeds all other loves, since all good that inspires love is from God, and God Himself is the highest good. And yet while this love for God can be a lofty sentiment, can be deeply serious, and can even be able to ignite a spark of enthusiasm, the soul may have no fellowship with the Eternal, and have no knowledge of the secret walk with God; the great God may not have become his God, and the soul may never have exclaimed in passionate delight: “I love God!”
Love for God, taken in general, is still largely love for the idea of God, love for the Fountain of Life, for the Source of all good, for the Watcher of Israel Who never slumbers, for the One Who, whatever changes, eternally abides. But when there echoes in the soul the words “I love God!” then the idea, the sense and the reality of the Eternal Being becomes personified. Then God becomes a Shepherd Who leads us, a Father Who spiritually begat us, a Covenant-God with Whom we are in league, a Friend Who offers us His friendship, a Lord in Whose service we stand, the God of our confidence, Who is no longer merely God but our God.
Thus for many years you may have had a general love for God and yet have never come to know God. This knowledge of God only comes when love for Him begins to take on a personal character; when on the pathway of life for the first time you have met Him; when the Lord has become a Personal Presence by the side of your own self; when God and you have entered into a conscious, vital, personal, particular relationship – He your Father, you His child.
Not merely one of His children, no, but His child in an individual way, in a personal relation different from that of the other children of God, the most intimate fellowship conceivable in heaven and on earth – He your Father, your Shepherd, your bosom Friend and your God!
He who has not come to this, does not understand this. It goes too deep for him. And yet if he is religiously inclined, when he hears others talk about it, he senses that if he could attain unto such a love, his own love would be more tender than now he feels it to be.
This tells him that as yet he misses something. It may awaken in him a longing for it; a craving in him for that which would be so beautiful to possess.
And this craving can prepare the way for higher things. For when it comes to a meeting with God, the action proceeds from both sides. God comes to him, and he comes to God. First from afar, then ever closer, until at length all distance falls away, and the meeting takes place – a moment of such blessedness as can never be expressed in words.
Then and only then comes the “nearness.” For everything hinges on that nearness, on that feeling, “it is good for me to be near unto God.”
He also who has not entered into this secret, may say with others, “it is good for me to be near unto God” (Ps. 73:27), but as yet he does not grasp it. He says it without thought. He thinks it means a pious frame of mind, but feels no slightest burning of a spark of this mystical, most intimate and personal love in his own heart. Adoration, worship, prayer for grace are there, but no attachment yet of love. To be “near” is to be so close to God that your eye sees, your heart is aware of, and your ear hears him, and every cause of separation has been removed; near in one of two ways: either that you feel yourself, as it were, drawn up into heaven, or that God has come down from heaven to you, and seeks you out in your loneliness, in that which constitutes your particular cross, or in the joy that falls to your lot.
That word “near” implies that there is, Oh! so much that makes separation between you and your God; so much that makes you stand alone, feel desolate and forsaken, because either God is away from you or you are away from Him, so that it leaves you no rest, and you can not endure it. Then everything within you draws you to Him again, until that which made separation falls away. And then there follows the meeting; then He is near you, and you know once more that you are near Him.
Then there is blessedness again; blessedness that exceeds everything that can be imagined. Then it is good, Oh! so, good – above all things else – to be near again to your God.
But this blessedness may be tasted only at rare moments in this life.
And then there remains the blessedness in the life that is eternal, when that nearness to your God shall continue forever. Eternally near Him in the Fatherhouse.
Cruel is the way in which the world thwarts you in this. To escape from the world in hermitage or cell was not the solution, but you can understand what went on in the souls of those who, for the sake of unbroken fellowship with God, took this course.
It might have been the solution, if those who went out from the world had been able to leave the world behind. But we carry the world in our heart. It goes with us, because no hermitage is so well fortified, and no retreat in forests so distant, but Satan finds means to reach it.
Moreover, to shut oneself out from the world in order to be near unto God, is to claim for oneself here on earth what can only be our portion in the Fatherhouse. It is true that in seclusion one escapes a great deal. Much vanity the eye no longer sees. But existence becomes abnormal. Life becomes narrow. The “human” is reduced to small dimensions. There is no task; no more calling; no more exertion of all one’s powers. The conflict is avoided, and therefore victory in the struggle tarries.
Nearness unto God here on earth yields its sweetest blessedness when it is cultivated in the face of sin and the world, as an oasis in the wilderness of life. And they against whom the world has turned most cruelly in order to turn them away from God, have attained the highest and the best, when in spite of every obstacle, and in the face of worldly opposition they have continued to hold tryst with God – like Jacob at Penuel, Moses in Mount Horeb, David when Shimei cursed him, and Paul when the people rose in uproar against him.
In the midst of the conflict to be near unto God is blessed, and also apart from the conflict with the world, or sin, or Satan, when clouds gather over your head, when adversity, loss and grief inflict wound upon wound in your heart, when the fig tree does not blossom, and the vine will yield no fruit, then with Habakkuk to rejoice in God, because His blessed nearness is enjoyed more in sorrow than in gladness, this has been the lesson of history in all times. Not when in luxury and plenty David pleased himself, but when Saul persecuted him unto the death, did he sing his sweetest song for God. Yet the world continues to be cruel. Its cruelty may assume an ever finer form, but in its refinement it becomes ever more painful. In former times there were many things that reminded people of the sanctities of life, which of themselves provoked thought of higher interests and called eternity to mind. All this is different now. In common life there is almost nothing that helps to retain the memory in the soul of the high, the holy and the eternal. In public life, every reflection of heaven is extinguished. No more days of fasting and prayer are appointed. No one may speak any more of God. No memento mori now reminds you of your death. Cemeteries are turned into parks. Sacred things are held up to ridicule. In conversation and in writing the dominant note is that heaven reaches no farther than the stars, that death ends all, and that life without God thrives as well, if not better, than life in the fear of the Lord. And this discounting of God in public life throws itself as a stream between your God and your God-fearing heart. Your faith is strained in the measure in which you try, against the current of this stream, to hold yourself fast by God.
Especially to our young people, and to our dear children, this modern cruelty of the world is unspeakably dangerous.
But be of good courage.
God knows it, and in His eternal compassion He will come nearer, closer, and more quickly to you, and to your dear ones, in order that even amidst these trying conditions of modern life you and they may be near unto Him. But then there must be no peace by compromise, or more than ever will a vague love for a far distant God desert you. That which alone can save is taking part in that life of secret fellowship, which enables you to say “I love God,” and then you will not remain standing afar off, but press on to ever closer nearness to God, in the personal meeting of your soul with the Eternal.
Reproduced from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/kuyper/near.iii.i.html (accessed July 6, 2014).