We are not Saved by our Enjoyments of Him, but by His Efficacy for Us1
It is a struggle, to say the least, to find anything “good” or spiritually profitable in those times when God has temporarily removed from us the sensible awareness of his presence. For some, it is nothing short of hell on earth. Whether one chooses to call it spiritual depression or what Charles Spurgeon has described as God’s “apparent desertion” of us, few things rival it for the pain and discouragement it can create in our hearts. Continue reading . . .
It is a struggle, to say the least, to find anything “good” or spiritually profitable in those times when God has temporarily removed from us the sensible awareness of his presence. For some, it is nothing short of hell on earth. Whether one chooses to call it spiritual depression or what Charles Spurgeon has described as God’s “apparent desertion” of us, few things rival it for the pain and discouragement it can create in our hearts.
But take note of this, says Spurgeon. It also “whets our appetite for heaven, and makes us thirst for the land of bliss” (“The Causes of Apparent Desertion,” 8). He continues:
“The world has a fascinating power which constrains us to love it, if all be well; but by removing the light of his face, our Lord Jesus breaks the spell, and delivers us from the overweening love of the creature. Weaning is sorrowful work, but it must be done: we must be made to groan in this body that we may be made ready for the unclothing, and the ‘clothing upon,’ by which mortality shall be swallowed up of life [see 2 Corinthians 5:1-5]. In heaven they see his face, and his name is in their foreheads; this incites the saint to pant for glory, that he may obtain uninterrupted fellowship with Jesus. O how sweet it must be to behold his face without the shadow of an intervening cloud; to dwell in his house, and go no more out forever; to lean upon his bosom, and never rise from that delightful posture!” (9).
As Spurgeon brings his comments on “the causes of apparent desertion” to a close, he has a reminder for us that we dare not overlook:
“In times of distress, when the withdrawal of Christ is caused by any of these causes, let the saint stay himself upon his God. The light is a pleasant thing, but faith can walk without it. It is good to have the Lord’s presence, but let us remember that we are not saved by our enjoyments of him, but by his efficacy for us” (9).
Read that last sentence again: we are not saved by our enjoyments of him, but by his efficacy for us. This is especially important to keep in mind when that enjoyment is diminished. Our tendency is to think that because we cannot experience the bliss of God’s immediate presence that he has forever forsaken and abandoned us, as if our capacity to feel him near is the condition upon which he chooses to be gracious to us. No, says Spurgeon:
“We are full of sin, and in our distress we feel it, but He is full of grace and truth; let us believe His all-sufficiency, and rest in it. His blood not our peace, his merit not our comfort, his perfection not our communion, -- are the pillars of our salvation. We love his company, and the manifest sense of it is sweet indeed; but, if it be denied us, nevertheless ‘the foundation of God standeth sure.’ Jesus, the yea and amen, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our soul hangs upon him in the thick darkness, and glorifies in him in the storm. The promise, like an anchor, holds us fast; and, though the pilot sleeps, all must be well” (9-10).
What comfort this is to the troubled soul! What joy to remember that,
“whatever our frame or feeling, the heart of Jesus is full of love – love which was not caused by our good behavior, and is not diminished by our follies – love which is as sure in the night of darkness, as in the brightness of the day of joy” (10)
Would that I might say something to the effect that you need never fear the “apparent desertion” of God. But I can’t. It comes on us all, some more than others. The key, no matter how prolonged or intense it may be, is to hold fast to the truth that it is but “apparent” and not real. Spurgeon concludes on this note:
“We never live so well as when we live on the Lord Jesus simply as he is, and not upon our enjoyments or raptures. Faith is never more likely to increase in strength than in times which seem adverse to her. When she is lightened of trust in joys, experiences, frames, feelings, and the like, she rises the nearer heaven, like the balloon when the bags of sand are emptied. Trust in thy Redeemer’s strength, thou benighted soul; exercise what faith thou hast, and by-and-bye he shall arise upon thee with healing beneath his wings” (10).