What Doth the Lord
Require of Thee?
"What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." (Micah 6. 8).
We know nothing of the circumstances in which these words were originally uttered. "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good" the prophet says, as if to remind us of what we already know perfectly well, something that God has manifestly and admittedly shown us already. And that is the first keen truth that comes home to us. We do know these things. We have enough of the original law written in man's heart to realise that justice, goodness and unselfishness are fundamental in human relations and that without them we cannot make progress toward the Heavenly city. God has shown us that and inwardly we know it. We might do very well by writing in our hearts the one line "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good" for in calm, quiet reflection upon those nine words there is a wealth of spiritual instruction.
The Israelites of old were treated as servants and given a code of laws in which every crime and penalty was clearly defined. As the writer to the Hebrews says of that law "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward". We, of the New Creation are treated as sons, as men and women whom the Father trusts to work out the Divine law for themselves on the basis of certain cardinal principles that He has laid down. Hence we do need calmly and quietly to think out the implications of those principles.
Justice has become a harsh, unyielding word to us in the English language, calling up visions of transgressors having meted out to them the due of their deeds. Of course the true idea behind the word is that of rightness, or righteousness. The man who takes into account all that is due to his God, his fellowman, and to his own self, and renders to all the due that is theirs, is a righteous and a just man. This involves a sober recognition of the purpose of God in creating man and placing him upon the earth, and a willing taking up of the duties and responsibilities of a citizen of earth. Those who have consecrated their lives to God and become footstep followers of Jesus Christ, have the added duties and responsibilities of that calling to consider. These have entered into a family, the brethren of Christ, and there are family obligations to be honoured. How many there are who look upon the fellowship solely from the doctrinal angle and fail to realise that it is a brotherhood which has its basis upon things far deeper and more potent for good than mere intellectual understanding of God's Plan? There are many who are very correct in doctrine but have utterly failed to appreciate and honour the family relationship which must exist between those who hope ultimately to "reign with him".
This first principle, then, must be understood along the lines of righteousness; not a cold, austere, "holier-than-thou" righteousness the possessor of which thanks God that he is not as other men. It is not a bigoted, rigid cast of mind which sees nothing save its own narrow conception of the Divine dealings; but a warm, generous, zealous attitude of heart which manifests itself in a constant endeavour to maintain the highest ideals of faith and conduct before men. It is a refusal to compromise those standards under any circumstances, and a firm conviction of the rightness of God's ways and the certainty of their eventual triumph that nothing can shake. Our consecration to Divine service does not absolve us from our Christian duty to our fellow-men. Rather it intensifies that duty. We are not of the world, but we are in the world, and whilst so we cannot escape the obligations which properly devolve upon us as God's representatives in the world.
The monastic form of life that involved a complete separation from ordinary affairs and ordinary people was a retreat and an escape upon the principle that all created things were inherently sinful and corrupt and that withdrawal from them, and a physical mortification of the flesh, was pleasing to God. All this is wrong, for God himself is the Author of creation and what He has made is very good. Paul's words regarding the mortifying of the flesh were intended to teach and inculcate quite another truth, one that was perhaps best enshrined in the words "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone, but if it die, it brings forth much fruit." (John 12.24). The Church of this Age is called to suffer and die in Christ that, like him, they may be sown to bring forth fruit, new life, in the coming Age.
Benevolence and kindness are not to be attained by reading about them in a book, even though that book is the Bible. They are essentially practical virtues, and a man becomes a good man, a kind man, a benevolent man, only by means of his dealings with his fellows. To love mercy therefore implies a desire to practise mercy and this in turn leads to a way of life that finds scope for the practice of the desire. There is so much opportunity for the exercise of goodness today and it is not limited to those possessing money or exceptional talents. The Christian commission to "bind up the broken hearted" is one aspect of "loving mercy". One may very conceivably do more good to a sad soul by giving assurance of the coming Kingdom than by a present of money. Sympathy and friendly compassion may upon occasion be more sorely needed than food or clothing. The word in season, the helping hand, the friendly endeavour to lighten a burden whether in a spiritual or material connection are evidences of the attitude that God requires of us, that we "love mercy".
"Pure religion and undefiled before God" says James "is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world". Once again there is that intimate association with practical Christian endeavour toward the distressed of this world and a separateness from the world that is the hallmark of the instructed Christian. To move among these people, ministering to their distresses, but not of them, professing and manifesting a citizenship which is not of this earth, this is experience that will stand us in good stead when the time comes to turn the "pure language" to all people. These things are duties toward man.
Of supreme importance is our duty toward God. "Walk humbly with thy God". Can we amplify these words to include that life of reverence and worship that must be ours if we would eventually see his face? "He that abides in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" said the Psalmist. All our right doing and goodness will avail us nothing if it is not lived in "reverence and godly fear". Above all our outward activities we must place the importance of the inner life, that life which finds its all in complete consecration and submission to God. Our behaviour towards our fellows will bring us rich lessons of experience that are necessary to our future work, but our dwelling in the secret place of the Most High will show us the Divine character and transform our minds and hearts into a copy likeness of his Son. Unless we have attained that likeness all the benefit of life's experiences will have been lost so far as our High Calling is concerned.
Many there are, claiming with justice to have performed many wonderful works in his name, who will nevertheless be rejected from among the number of the triumphant Church. We must diligently follow after those things that will increase our perception of the inward life of the Spirit if we would truly come to know as well as worship God in spirit and in truth.
The active, businesslike, "practical" Christian often finds this a hard thing. There is so much to be done in active service, so many opportunities of preaching the message, so much of distress and suffering to be relieved, and he, by nature and temperament well fitted to undertake such labours, is very apt to give insufficient time and thought to that calm, quiet, leisurely communion with God in the things of the spirit that comes so much more easily to less active souls. He does not realise his loss, until, it may be, the failure of his activities, or disappointment at their outcome, awakens him to realisation of the things he is missing. In all our activities let us always leave room for walking "humbly with God." TH