The Taste of Grace
A Christian is a person who is surprised at himself and who can never fully understand himself. This is true at the time of his conversion, when he becomes aware of the overshadowing hand of God upon his life leading him from sin to Christ. The believer's experience is of being called into an unexpected path of life. At first it may be very unwelcome to him. He will probably fight against the call of God, resenting it as an interference and an interruption in his own plans and ambitions. But at length his vain struggles end in calm resignation. He becomes willing to be led he knows not where or how. He surrenders his life to Jesus Christ and acquiesces in the unseen and conquering will of God which has now finally mastered him.
Most believers can never forget the time and place of their first awakening by God. As Jacob always remembered his experience at Bethel and as Paul could not stop marvelling at the heavenly vision of Christ on the Damascus road, so the child of God often goes back in his own mind to the occasion of his first coming to know the Lord. It is his secret, shared with those of like precious faith and sometimes with the ignorant whom he wishes to be similarly blessed. But there are instincts within him which lead him to feel that such pearls of sacred experience must not be cast before those who would trample on them like swine.
One of the earlier discoveries made by the child of God after his conversion is that he has entered a world of new and sanctified emotions. The things which were to him in the past so dry and unrewarding have now taken on a new dimension of life and freshness. Secret prayer, fellowship with his fellow-believers, attending to Bible-reading and the preaching of the Word of God are now all things which bring a felt blessing to his soul. Previously it was not so — or, at least, not so in the way and in the measure it is now. Before conversion, he went to prayer as a boy goes to school, with a heavy heart and dragging his feet to it. Preaching was in those days a sort of purgatory to be endured for the sake of appearances. But he had no heart for it and no felt good out of it. The real truth was that he secretly yearned for the day when he could leave home and become conveniently too 'busy' to attend church regularly. But conversion changes that by making all spiritual things enjoyable and desirable.
The truth is that the newly-converted man has started to experience the taste of grace communicated to him now for the first time. The means of grace (the Word, sacraments, fellowship and prayer), which were once lifeless and drab to him are now found to contain a sweetness like milk and honey. They do not merely feed him but cheer him. Though still on occasion the child of God may read and pray without feeling, he knows from past experience that feelings are to be had in these means of grace. He recalls those times when he bent his knees before the Father of spirits and found a rush of the Spirit into his soul which astonished and excited him as much as if he had seen an angel or stood for a few moments beside the sea of glass. He has amongst his treasured memories some moments when he read the Bible with so much help and profit that it stopped his breath. Time stood still, earth shrank beneath his feet, heaven was about him and he knew that the eternal world was close at hand.
The taste of grace comes as something of a surprise at first. We had previously thought, as men without Christ, that pleasure was only to be had in the world. But to our astonishment after our conversion we become conscious of a new and better pleasure, an excitement which does not cloy or leave a bitter taste in the mouth. It is a tasting that the Lord is gracious (Psalm 34:8) and that Jesus our Saviour is all sweetness (1 Peter 2:7). The life of the believer (so we come to find after our conversion) is like the ancient Tabernacle, unimpressive from the outside but full of life, light and divine mystery when we are within. And the experience of the new convert is to realise that he is now within, in the place where shed blood atones for sin, where there is a laver which continues to cleanse our guilt, when prayer ascends to God's ear acceptably, where he eats the bread of fellowship with the Lord and where he can draw near with holy boldness into the sacred presence of Jehovah.
If at first the young Christian is content to feel the consoling love of God upon his heart when he draws near in worship and if because he is still only a babe, he thinks more about his new enjoyment of soul than of the God who gives them to him, he will learn a better way as he matures. When still young we are apt to idolise 'the peace which passes all understanding' (Philippians 4:7) and the 'joy unspeakable and full of glory' (1 Peter 1:8). All our life as Christians we shall have a relish for the experience of God's love 'shed abroad in our heart' (Romans 5:5) and for a sense of 'the powers of the world to come' (Hebrews 6:5). It is not surprising that it should be so for we are the children of God and are born to these things from above. But in our early days we are inclined to enjoy our enjoyments too much.
But the passing of time teaches the believer there is something higher than these things. It is to set our affections wholly on God himself. The distinction is not artificial. All the great Christian writers speak of it. We dare not trust our 'frames' or our feelings. We dare not 'rest' in them in case we idolise them. We must make an idol of nothing, but direct all our affections towards God alone.
It is the proof that we have matured a little when we have passed from love of comfort to contentment with the will of God. To say the same thing another way, it is proof of advancing grace when we consciously prefer the path of pure obedience to all other things. This is perhaps not an easy transition for the maturing Christian to make. When we are spiritual children the Lord may well feed us with the honey of comfort and warmth in a measure which we may have to go without at some times later on. There are other lessons to be learnt besides those of comfort. We need to become acquainted with the deceitfulness of our own hearts, the strength of indwelling sin, the suddenness of temptation and the sharpness of the world's dislike of us.
As the eagle stirs up her nest at the right time and prepares her nestlings for the experience of flight, so the Lord knows the right time to rouse his people for usefulness, service and privilege (Deuteronomy 32:11). How painful did we find it to have to leave the nest of nursery protection! How surprised we were when the Lord began to stir up the nest and thrust us out to exercise our feeble wings in the first sorties of maturer understanding, suffering and faith! It seemed at the time that we were stripped of all our previous comforts, enjoyments, emotions and excitements.
Only gradually did the realisation dawn on us that we had before made too much of our experiences of delight. Then also we discovered that God had not withdrawn these earlier joys altogether. He was teaching us rather to trust him in the dark day and in the time of trouble as well as when our emotions overflowed with consolation. Slowly and painfully did we come to see that we had been before ignorant of the deeper counsels of God's Word, immature in our prayers, self-interested in our wish for a 'happy' frame of mind always and inexperienced in putting on the whole armour of God.
Faith sickens and grows pale when we refuse to follow the leading of God into the maturer experiences of his grace. One meets older Christians who are still clinging to their nursery experiences. Their prayers, their judgments, their capacity for service all reflect the fact that they never could bear to part with their immaturities. For them the words of the apostle, 'Let us go on unto perfection' were never given a place in their hearts (Hebrews 6:1). What gave them intense delight at the infant stage of their Christian life is resorted to still: the babyish chorus, the elementary sermon, the 'happy' fellowship, the entertaining novelty. But the sight of older Christians still gathering at the nursery door is disappointing and disturbing. There is a time for being in the nursery, but that time is not all our life.
The appetite for grace matures in this way: we make less of the creature and more of God himself. The grown Christian lives out all his days as in the presence of the ever-blessed Triune God. His mind dwells constantly on the excellence of these three sacred Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He loves to go backward in time to the sovereign plan drawn up before all ages in which he was chosen in Christ by God. He delights to think forward to the coming world of glory when he shall be in the presence of this gracious, electing God.
The thought of the Father's love, of the Saviour's grace, of the Spirit's fellowship are now the unfailing supply of his deepest delight and confidence. Emotions he has in plenty but he has now learnt to love God more than emotions. He will live, serve, suffer and, if needs be, die to please and honour his Maker. If God gives him a taste of heaven along the path of duty, he takes it thankfully. If God denies him this feeling of elation for a while, he takes it patiently. To have God himself, so he now knows, is better than to have gracious experiences.
The time is short after all. He who rides to be crowned does not mind a few rainy hours along the route. We are soon to 'see the King in his beauty' and to 'behold the land that is very far off' (Isaiah 33:17). The taste of grace is good. The taste of glory will be better still. Nothing about us here is perfect. Repentance is still the fitting garment for us to wear until the very end. Let us rest in nothing we have done, or read, or experienced, or felt, or known so far. Forgetting the past enjoyments even of grace, let us 'press toward the mark' (Philippians 3:14), bending every nerve to do the will of God while still we may. A trumpet of jubilee is soon to sound. Then may the gospel-worker relax for ever and enter into the eternal enjoyment of God in Christ.