A New Year Meditation
Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God}", Micah 6. 8.
The Christian can look back over a passing year from two points of view. He can think of the things which have happened to him, and of the things which have happened in him. That is to say, we may think firstly of what life has done with us, and secondly of what we have done with life. We often have very little control over the first, but we are very largely responsible for the second. Events may have occurred in our experience last year bringing in their wake unexpected joys and sorrows. The year may have contained griefs and disappointments some of which, or even one of which, may have dealt us a terrible blow, leaving us shattered, bewildered and even embittered. The Christian is not exempt from life's tragedies, though in his quiet moments he can remind himself that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose", Rom. 8. 28. Moreover the ultimate prospect for the believer, beyond life's earthly pathway, is entirely and eternally glorious. Last year may have been a bad year for some who read these words. Bereavement, illness, unemployment or some other grief may have darkened it to such an extent that we are glad to leave it behind. But the Christian's final destiny is one of bright, unclouded and indescribable bliss.
Well, what of the year before us? What is life going to do with us? Or to ask that other and more important question, what are we going to do with life? Frankly, the writer cannot cope with the thought of a whole year, with its potential demands and its total uncertainty. Believers are not intended, in fact, to do so. The Lord would have us free from anxiety about the coming year. As a matter of fact He would have us free from anxiety about the first of January! "Be not therefore anxious for the morrow", He said on one occasion to His disciples, "for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof", Matt. 6. 34 r.v. It is sobering to notice that He implies that each day has its own quota of trouble, though we may be sure that each quota is carefully and providentially meted out for the ultimate blessing of the Christian. Balanced against this injunction against anxiety as to the coming day, Proverbs 27. 1 contains the familiar words: "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth". The Epistle of James has the New Testament counterpart of this teaching, namely, "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow... ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that", 4. 13-15. Clearly therefore, we are neither to fear the coming day, nor to presume upon it.
In the light of these sayings, the question which should exercise our minds is not what are we going to do with the coming year, but what am I going to do with each new day. Is there a pattern of conduct to which we should conform, a spiritual target at which we should aim? From the inexhaustible wealth of the Word of God, let us consider the priceless verse quoted at the head of this article, a verse which, when seen in relation to the whole of Scripture, defines clearly the kind of conduct which God expects of us as we embark upon another year. The opening words have an emphatic quality about them which arrests our attention, teaching that God has not left us to grope about in ignorance to learn His will for us. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good". God has imparted a thoroughly adequate and comprehensive revelation of His intentions for us, says Micah; and we pause to reflect that if this was true for Micah, it is even more true for us, who live in the days of the complete Biblical revelation and of the perfect salvation provided in Christ and made good by the Holy Spirit. The prophet goes on to assert that God's standard for human conduct is utterly reasonable, and not at all overexacting: ". . . and what doth the Lord require of thee, but . . .". Micah seems to be saying that God does not ask too much, does not overburden us, but simply asks compliance with requirements which are well within what He can justly expect, and entirely attainable with the resources that He supplies. Now let us review God's three requirements in turn.
"To do justly". Those who are to comply with divine requirements must be characterized by absolute justice, uprightness, fairness and integrity in all their dealings with others. God Himself is just. Isaiah records the divine testimony, "there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour", 45. 21. Concerning sinful Jerusalem, Zephaniah says, "The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame", 3. 5. In Zechariah's prediction of the coming of the Messiah, he wrote, "behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass", 9. 9. Pilate's wife sent her famous warning to her husband during the trial of the Lord Jesus in the words, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man", Matt. 27. 19, and Pilate later took water and washed his hands before the multitude saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person", v. 24. Our just God and Saviour requires that we take character from Him. In the absolute sense, of course, the writer of Ecclesiastes states that "there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not", Eccl. 7. 20. As though to answer this need, the gospel is now preached, based upon the atoning work of Christ at Calvary, by virtue of which God is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus", Rom. 3. 26. This gospel has thrown its unique light upon Habakkuk's ancient prophecy, "the just shall live by his faith", 2. 4; Rom. 1. 17. Only as we actually live out this life of faith and draw upon the strength which God supplies can we fulfil this first requirement and "do justly" in all our ways before men.
"And to love mercy". The just are to be merciful. There is a great contrast here, but no conflict. I am to be ruthlessly careful to be just and upright in all my dealings with others. I am also to be very merciful towards others in their dealings with me. I am to criticize and judge my own failings with merciless severity, whilst promptly and heartily forgiving the failings of those around me. This may sound very exacting, but our great incentive comes from the writings of this same prophet Micah, who later in his book records, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteih in mercy" y 7. 18. It is easy to forget that, in the earliest stages of the communication of God's law from the fiery mount, the divine character is set forth in terms which include the words "shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments", Exod. 20. 6. The following statements express similar sentiments: "Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds", Ps. 36. 5; "O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me", 69. 13; "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other", 85. 10; "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee", 86. 5; "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him", 103. 17. In this quality, as in the previous one, we are to take character from our God. Paul exhorts that mercy be shown with cheerfulness, Rom. 12. 8; the psalmist declares that "with the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful", Ps. 18. 25, and also that the righteous "is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed", 37. 26; the wise man declares that "the merciful man doeth good to his own soul", Prov. 11. 17, and the Saviour Himself, in the sermon on the mount, states, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy", Matt. 5. 7.
"And to walk humbly with thy God". This third requirement comes unexpectedly after the first two. They are essentially connected with social conduct among men. In a sense, therefore, they find us unprepared for this sudden call to walk humbly with our God. We might have supposed that it is possible to attain a high standard of justice and uprightness, and to manifest a very merciful and tender attitude to others, without this third requirement, with its call to what sounds like a highly religious and mystical way of life. Yet only a little Christian experience will teach us differently. The truth is that it is only as we do walk in fellowship with God, that we are enabled even to begin to attain to the first two requirements mentioned in this verse. Only those who have learnt the extent of their personal wickedness and bankruptcy, and their need of God's mercy in Christ, and who have yielded their lives by faith to their risen Saviour, can receive strength to walk among men with the God-like character for which Micah appeals. We should especially observe the word "humbly". We must cultivate a constant and ever-deepening humility and self-loathing, and a total mistrust of ourselves and our own resources. The Bible leaves us without a shred of excuse for self-sufficient thoughts. We are vile, worthless and guilty. We must each recognize, as Paul did, that "in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing", Rom. 7. 18. This should humble us to the very depths. That is where we belong. That is where God can bless us. Hear the wonderful words of Isaiah: "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones", 57. 15. The humbling process which brings us to Calvary for that initial cleansing and new birth by which Christian life begins, must continue throughout our earthly pathway. In practical terms, to walk with God means the daily exercise of secret prayer, the daily feeding upon the Word of God, the habitual and growing sense of helpless dependence upon Him, until life becomes one of real fellowship with Him, continuing and deepening until travelling days are done.