Sunday, December 12, 2010

God’s Perfection by A.W. Tozer

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. (Psalm 50:2)

In this verse we have three words in special relation to each other – ”perfection,” “beauty” and “God.” And while it is Zion that is called the perfection of beauty, it is the perfection of beauty because God shined out of her.

In trying to understand today’s Christianity (and by that I do not mean liberalism or modernism, I mean evangelicalism or gospel Christianity), we must take into account two things which have happened over the last fifty years. We must take into account the gains we have made and the losses we have suffered.

Our Gains and Losses
That the churches have made some gains in the last fifty years cannot be denied by anyone who wants to be truthful. For instance, a higher percentage of the total population go to church than used to, and there are larger numbers of people calling themselves Christians. And then there are multiplying theological schools, seminaries, Bible schools, Christian colleges of various sorts. There is an ever-swelling flood of Christian literature which is being published and spread abroad.

Then there is the popularity of religion in our time. I suppose it is easier when things are popular to propagate them than when they are not. And certainly the gospel is quite popular now. We have to our advantage better systems of communication: radio, television (if you like it), telephone and all other modern means of communicating. We have stepped-up transportation that will allow a preacher to preach in Chicago in the morning and in New York in the evening. And we have various evangelizing organizations that have sprung up over the years.

I was thinking that there isn’t a single linguistic group, ethnic group or social group anywhere that doesn’t have somebody bent on evangelizing it. We have those who want to evangelize the Jews, businessmen, students, those in hospitals, those in jail and everybody, everywhere. We cannot deny that a lot of good is being done and the gospel is being spread around. Those are the gains that we have made, and there are many others.

But we have suffered some losses in the meantime. These losses I want to name before you. We have lost from our gospel Christianity almost altogether what people used to call religious fear. And along with our loss of religious fear came a corresponding flippancy and familiarity toward God that our fathers never knew.

No Awareness of the Eternal
We have lost also an awareness of the invisible and eternal. The world is too much with us so that the invisible and the eternal seem to be quite forgotten or at least we are not aware of it. We’re only briefly aware of it when somebody dies. The Church has lost the consciousness of the divine Presence and the concept of majesty.

I said at a service once that we had so organized our churches that God could leave and we wouldn’t find it out. During the week I received a call from a lady who had been at that service, but attends a different gospel church. She was not critical nor harsh but seemed to be brokenhearted. She said, “Mr. Tozer, I heard what you said, that God could leave a church and we would not find it out. I would like to tell you that God has left our church.”

I didn’t want to be guilty of speaking against the church or of helping her in her criticism of the church, so I said, “Perhaps the Spirit is grieved in your church.”

“Oh, it’s long past that,” she said. “It is long past the Spirit’s being grieved. God the Spirit has withdrawn.”

Now I don’t know how true her judgment was about it. She was very kind and tender. She was not criticizing so much as simply stating what she believed to be a fact. The consciousness of the divine Presence seems to have left the churches to a very terrible degree.

We also seem to have gotten away from the concept of majesty altogether. This is the age of the common man and along with the common man has come the common god. We have no heroes anymore, because everybody is equal to everybody else, and the common man is now in control. But along with the common man, I say, is the common god, and with it the loss of the whole concept of majesty.

But you say, “Mr. Tozer, isn’t there a concept of majesty left? Didn’t the whole world carry on when the queen was crowned a few years ago? That circus that they had on television had no sense of majesty at all in it. There was no majesty there. We have crowned pumpkin queens and cotton queens and other kind of queens in this country, and it was the same mixture of showmanship and sex that is found every place. If that girl had been a homely old lady there wouldn’t have been much done. But she was a beautiful young lady and so we had a big time, but majesty was missing. They can say, “Your Majesty,” but they don’t feel it.

The modern Christian has lost a sense of worship along with the concept of majesty, and of course, reverence as well. He has lost his ability to withdraw inwardly and commune in the secret place with God in the shrine of his own hidden spirit. It is this that makes Christianity, and we have all but lost it. Added numbers, yes, but lost fear. Multiplied schools, yes, but lost awareness of the invisible. Tons of literature being poured out, of course, but no consciousness of the divine Presence. Better communication, certainly, but nothing to communicate. Evangelistic organizations, yes, but the concept of majesty and worship and reverence has almost left us.

External Gains, Internal Losses
The total result has been that our gains have been external and our losses internal. This is the great tragedy of the hour. And at last our gains may prove to be no more than losses spread over a larger area. Anybody can see that if the quality of our religion is impaired while we are nevertheless extending it to more people, we are losing instead of gaining. If we have only so much glory and we spread it thin, we have not gained anything. I believe that that is where we are. And I believe that we never can recover our glory until we are brought to see again the awful perfections of God.

My conviction has been growing for years that we must recapture the concept of the perfections of God. We must see again how awful [awe-full] God is, how beautiful and how perfect. And we must begin to preach it, sing it, write about it, promote it, talk it, tell it and pray it until we have recaptured the concept of majesty, until the awareness of the divine is back in our religion again, until we have regained the ability and desire to retire within our own hearts and worship God in the silence of our own spirits.

I have tried to turn people from the externals to the internals of religion. I have tried to take away the clouds and show God in His glory. I have stood almost alone in preaching this, and it has been a strange thing. It is rare to hear a man preach anything about God the Holy One. People like to hear about it, and they invite me here and there to preach on it. But why don’t we get hold of this idea? I don’t know why, but I’m not discouraged.

If we continue as we are, spreading our impaired religion, our weakened Christianity over a wider area until the Lord comes, the Lord will break through the clouds and will show Himself majestic and wonderful in heaven above and earth beneath and under the sea, and everywhere they shall bow and own Him as Lord and King. But I’d like to see it brought back to the Church before that dramatic hour comes. I’d like to see us know it now.
What Is Perfection?

What does perfection mean? According to Webster, perfection means “the highest possible degree of excellence.” That which is perfect lacks nothing it should have and has nothing it should not have. Perfection is fullness and completeness. Something that is perfect is not lacking in anything and doesn’t have anything it shouldn’t have.

This word “perfection” or “perfect” is a relative word. It’s found in the Bible quite a little, because it is the English translation of a number of Hebrew and Greek words. It means “that which is excellent, which is the highest possible degree of excellence.” Of course it’s a relative word and we use it in various ways. We talk about this or that earthly thing being perfect; the Bible does the same thing.

Perfection is to be complete in your nature. That is, it is to be perfect as it touches you. If something else of another nature were to be like you, it would be imperfect. Let me illustrate this. When a new baby is born, one of the first things the doctor does and one of the first things the anxious mother does is to look him over and see if he’s all right. We look for two legs, two arms, two eyes, two ears, one nose. And when we find that everything is the right number and in the right place we smile and say, “Well, thank God for a healthy little baby.” That’s perfection to a human child.

But suppose that on the farm a little colt is born and is looked over by the anxious farmer. He doesn’t look for two legs, he looks for four. And if the thing had only two it would be deformed. If the baby had four legs, it would be deformed. Perfection is having just what it should have, being what it is. Perfection in that relative way would mean a completeness and fullness of what you are.

But we can’t think of God like this. If perfection means the highest possible degree of excellence, then we cannot apply this thought to God at all. How can we apply “the highest possible” to God? Is there anything that isn’t possible with God? As though God had been created and had done the highest thing possible, that He was as perfect as it was possible for Him to be? No, you can’t apply that to God; that’s only applied to creatures.

No Degrees in God
When I was explaining the infinitude of God I pointed out that there are no degrees in God. God is not at the top of the heap in an ever-ascending perfection of being, from the worm on up until finally we reach God. On the contrary, God is completely different and separate, so that there are no degrees in God. God is simply God, an infinite perfection of fullness, and we cannot say God is a little more or a little less. “More” and “less” are creature-words. We can say that a man has a little more strength today than yesterday. We can say the child is a little taller this year; he’s growing. But you can’t apply more or less to God, for God is the perfect One; He’s just God.

Sometimes when we speak of perfection we use the word excellence. Did you ever stop to think what that word means? It means “being in a state of excelling,” which implies a comparison to something or somebody. Excellence in a musician means that he is a better musician than the other musicians. If he has a high degree of excellence, we could say he has perfection in his field. He doesn’t, but we could use the word.

But when you come to God, He says, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal?” (Isaiah 40:25). You don’t compare God. We say that God is incomparable, and by that we mean that God stands alone as God, that nothing can be compared with Him. Isaiah was very strong here, and he wrote some very beautiful and eloquent language, telling us that we must not compare God with anything or anybody – anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath.

Moses’ law said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). People thought that meant that you should never make any works of art. But the fact is there were works of art in the temple commanded by God. So God was not against works of art; He was against substituting them for God or thinking they were like God.

“To whom then will ye liken me?” said God. And yet the Bible uses this word perfect all the way through, and applies it to God and to things that aren’t God. For instance, there is the Lord’s command, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In the original Greek, exactly the same word that applies to God applies to people, too.

Do you know why God uses the same word? Because there isn’t any other word. You cannot find the language that will tell what God is. So God does the best He can, considering who and what we are, to make Himself known to us. God is not limited in Himself. He is limited in us. Paul said, “ye are straitened in your own [hearts]” (2 Corinthians 6:12), which means “It’s yourself—you’re narrowed in your own hearts.” The inability of God to get through to us is not due to the imperfection of the Great God, but the imperfection of the man to whom He is trying to give the truth.

When we apply perfection to God, we mean that He has unqualified fullness and completeness of whatever He has. He has unqualified plenitude of power. He also has unqualified fullness of wisdom. He has unqualified knowledge. He has unqualified holiness.

When I say that a man is a perfect singer, I qualify that in my mind. I think, Well, he does the best a person can. But when I say that God is holy, I do not qualify it. I mean it fully and completely. God is what He is and that’s it. God’s power and being, His wisdom and knowledge, His holiness and goodness, His justice and mercy, His love and grace – all of these and more of the attributes of God—are in shining, full, uncreated perfection. They are called the beauty of the Lord our God.

“And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,” Moses said in Psalm 90:17, and David said, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple” (27:4). “The beauty of the LORD” means that God has all He should have of everything, a fullness of everything. If it is love, then there is no limit to the love of God. If it is mercy, then there is no limit to the mercy of God. If it is grace, there are no bounds to the grace of God. If it is goodness, there is no limit to the goodness of God. And this is called the beauty of the Lord our God.

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined” (Psalm 50:2). Why was Zion the earthly perfection of beauty? Because her beauty came from the shining God who dwelt between the wings of the cherubim. She was not only architecturally beautiful but all the concepts of her were beautiful. Her hymnody was beautiful. Her ideas of worship were beautiful, shining there in the sun, knowing that God was there between the wings of the cherubim dwelling in the shekinah. 2 She was beautiful above all the earth. All things as they move toward God are beautiful. And they are ugly as they move away from Him.
What Honors God Is Beautiful

The older I get the more I love hymns, and the less I love secular music. Secular music, however beautiful and artistic it may be and however it may express the genius of the composer, has one jewel missing from its crown. But a hymn, though it may not reflect the same degree of genius and a good musician might find fault with it, is still beautiful because it has God there. The song that honors God is bound to be beautiful.

That’s why Psalm 23 is so beautiful – because it honors God. And so it is with the whole Bible itself; it is a shining, beautiful book. It is lovely, whether bound in the cheapest paper or the most expensive leather, whether printed on newsprint or the finest India paper. It is a beautiful book.

Theology itself is a beautiful thing, beautiful because it is the mind reasoning about God. It is the mind down on its knees in a state of breathless devotion, reasoning about God – or it should be. It is possible for theology to become a very hard and aloof thing, and we can lose God right out of our theology. But the kind of theology I’m talking about, the study of God, is a beautiful thing.

That’s why I suppose as a man gets older he goes to David more and to Plato less. That’s why he goes to Aristotle less and to Paul more. There is beauty in Paul and David, for Paul and David celebrated the perfection of God, while the others dealt with other matters altogether.

Heaven is the place of supreme beauty. I think we ought to rethink our whole concept of heaven; we ought to begin to pray and to search the Scriptures about it. If you were going to Paris you would at least look at a brochure to know where you were going. And if you are going to heaven I think you ought to know something about it.

There’s a lot told about it in the Scriptures, but we’re so busy living down here that we’re not too concerned about it. I’m not going to try to describe it; I’m afraid that the mind of anyone who attempted to describe heaven would go bad on him for very heaviness. It cannot be done. But heaven is the place of supreme beauty, that much we can say. And why? Because the perfection of beauty is there.

“Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17). Was there ever anything more beautiful than the story of Jesus’ birth? Was there ever anything more beautiful than the picture of Jesus walking up and down among men in tenderness of humility, healing the sick and raising the dead, forgiving sinners and restoring poor fallen people back to society again? Is there anything more wonderful than His going out to the cross to die for those who were crucifying Him?

Was there anything lovelier than to be the Creator of His own mother, to have made the very body that gave Him protection and bore Him at last into the world? Was anything more awful and awesome and mysterious than that God-Man walking about among men, saying, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18) and “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58)? He was “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).

Beauty Centers around Christ
All beauty centers around Jesus Christ. That is why, apart from the commercialism, Christmas is such a beautiful thing. And that is why Easter is so beautiful. To me, Easter is more beautiful than Christmas because Easter celebrates a triumph, and Christmas celebrates the coming of Someone who hadn’t yet fought. He had been born to fight, but He hadn’t fought. But when Easter comes, we sing, “The three sad days are quickly sped; He rises glorious from the dead. 3 And there’s beauty there, though not the beauty of color, outline or physical proportion. You can worship Him in a stable; you can worship Him in a coal mine; you can worship Him in a factory.

It’s not the external beauty that is beautiful but the internal beauty. Heaven is beautiful because it is the expression of that which is the perfection of beauty. And while that is true of heaven, I must also say that hell is the place of unrelieved, monstrous ugliness, because there is no perfection; there is only monstrous moral deformity. There is nothing beautiful in hell. And in heaven, of course, there is supreme beauty.

Earth lies halfway between. Earth knows ugliness and beauty; it’s halfway between heaven and hell. And the inhabitants of earth must decide whether they are to seek the beauty of heaven or the monstrous, unrelieved ugliness of hell.

People worry about whether there is fire in hell or not. I have no reason not to believe it; what the Bible says I take as the truth. I would not hesitate to refer to the fires of hell, for the Scripture talks about the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15). But if there were no fire in hell, if hell were a habitable country, it still would be the ugliest country in the universe, the most shockingly deformed place that is known in the creation because there is none of the perfection of beauty. Only God is absolutely perfect.

Nothing Bad Is Beautiful

It is not possible for anything bad to be beautiful. The Scripture says that we’re to “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2). It is possible for an unholy thing to be pretty or attractive, even charming. But it is not possible for it to be beautiful. Only that which is holy can be beautiful ultimately.

“Worship the LORD,” says the Scripture, “in the beauty of holiness.” That’s no casual remark, no casual relation of word to word – the beauty of holiness and the perfection of beauty, and the fact that only God is perfect. They all fit in together beautifully and drop into place, for God is beautiful beyond all description. “How beautiful the sight of God must be,” says the hymn. And how unutterably ugly the sight of hell must be.

If you could think of a prison, if you could think of a place where all hope and mercy had fled, then you would be thinking of hell. If you could think of a place where all moral wisdom was absent, all holiness gone and all goodness absent, where there was no justice, mercy, love, kindness, grace, tenderness or charity, but only multiplied monstrous fullness of unholiness, moral folly, hate, cruelty and injustice – then you would think of hell. This is why God calls us to Himself.

When are we going to raise up a crop of preachers who will begin to preach the perfection of God and tell the people what they ought to hear – that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate to die and rise again? He rose that He might save us from the everlasting monstrosities, the uglinesses that are far from God, that are not God. He will bring us to the beauty that is God. He came to call us away from all evil, away from the deformity and eternal ugliness which is hell, and toward holiness, perfection and eternal beauty.

Jesus Christ is God come to us, for “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Oh, how beautiful is the thought that God came to us in that lowly manger bed! How beautiful that He came to us and walked among us! He came with our shape and form, bearing on Himself our humanity, that He might cleanse, purify, purge, remake and restore us, in order to take us back with Him again to that place which is the perfection of beauty.

I don’t know where heaven is. I read that the people in the space program shot a gold-plated arrow sixty-some thousand miles into the air, and some are wondering if it might not be reaching heaven at last. I have to smile at that, because God does not dwell in space; space is nothing to God. The great infinite heart of God gathers up into Himself all space.

Our space program is like a baby playing with a rubber ball in Wrigley Field. He can’t do anything but bat it around and crawl after it. If he bats it away two feet, he squeals with delight as if he hit a home run. But way out there, 400 feet long, stretches the field. It takes a strong man to knock a ball over the fence.

When man sends up his little arrow, and it reaches the moon and goes into orbit round it, he boasts about it for years to come. Go on, little boy, play with your rubber ball. But the great God who carries the universe in His heart smiles. He is not impressed. He is calling mankind to Himself, to His holiness, beauty, love, mercy and goodness. He has come to reconcile us and call us back.

Nothing Wonderful in the World
I ask you, what has the world to offer? Nothing. We are being bombarded constantly by advertisers who are trying to make us believe that the gadgets they manufacture are worthy of our attention. No, if you want to go someplace and you need a car, get one, but don’t imagine it’s wonderful. If you want to fly to San Francisco, fly, but don’t imagine it’s wonderful. Don’t imagine anything is wonderful.

“His name shall be called Wonderful” (Isaiah 9:6), and only He can engage and excite the wonder of angels and seraphim and cherubim and archangels and all beings and creatures. Only He is wonderful, and He came to us to reconcile us unto Himself. How beautiful, how wonderful!

There is a song that says, “Take all my mortal interests and let them die, and give me only God.” If you want to pray strategically, in a way which would please God, pray that God might raise up men who would see the beauty of the Lord our God and would begin to preach it and hold it out to people, instead of offering peace of mind, deliverance from cigarettes, a better job and a nicer cottage.

God does deliver men from cigarettes; He does help businessmen; He does answer prayer. But they are only incidentals. They’re the kindergarten stage of religion. Why can’t we go on beyond it and say with the psalmist, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined” (Psalm 50:2), and look on the hilltop and see the city of our God, the new Jerusalem? God, the Wonder of the universe, is shining out of it.

What good is all our busy religion if God isn’t in it? What good is it if we’ve lost majesty, reverence, worship—an awareness of the divine? What good is it if we’ve lost a sense of the Presence and the ability to retreat within our own hearts and meet God in the garden? If we’ve lost that, why build another church? Why make more converts to an effete Christianity? Why bring people to follow after a Savior so far off that He doesn’t own them?

We need to improve the quality of our Christianity, and we never will until we raise our concept of God back to that held by apostle, sage, prophet, saint and reformer. When we put God back where He belongs, we will instinctively and automatically move up again; the whole spiral of our religious direction will be upward. But we try to work it out by methods; we try to produce it by technology; we try to create revivals by publicity stunts.

We try to promote religion, forgetting that it rests upon the character of God. If I have a low concept of God, my religion can only be a cheap, watery affair. But if my concept of God is worthy of God then it can be noble and dignified; it can be reverent, profound, beautiful. This is what I want to see once more among men. Pray that way, won’t you?

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