Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
The matter of distance, of being near or far off, is of great importance of the Scriptures. Ultimately this adverb tells us whether we are saved or whether we perish. How striking that this little word should be filled with such import! When making these measurements, the Scriptures use God as the starting point, the point of reference. Although near and nigh may have a temporal connotation (“for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed”), we want only to consider these words as they have a spatial meaning: being near to, or far from, God. To be near to God is life; distance spells death. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Ps. 138:6).
During the old dispensation God kept His people at some distance from Himself. He said to Moses, “Draw not nigh hither: From the burning bush put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). Later, at this same Holy Mount, Jehovah instructed His servant, “And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it” (Ex. 19:12). Still later the purpose of the tabernacle is revealed, “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8), so that Israel was a people nigh unto Him (Ps. 148:14). Nevertheless, even with the temple worship, the idea of distance was maintained. Only the Levites might serve in the Holy Place, and only the high priest might enter the Holiest of All where Jehovah dwelled in the Cloud of Glory, and then but once a year, and not without blood. There was a veil. God kept His people at arm’s length, for the perfect blood of atonement had not been shed for the remission of sin.
In the new dispensation that which is prefigured in the old is brought one step closer, God comes down to us in Immanuel, His blood is shed, the veil is rent, and Christ is entered into the holy places made without hands, there to appear in the presence of God for us. Today the church is the habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22), and the believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). For we who were aliens and strangers, we who were without hope and without God (oh, dreadful distance), are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:12-13). We are encouraged to draw nigh unto God, then to experience that God draws nigh unto us (James 4:8). We are encouraged to pray, with boldness coming into the Holiest, drawing near with a true heart and in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:22).
Marvelous as being near to God is, He has something still better, even more intimate, in mind to give us. When Jesus’ prayer in John 17, “I in thee, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one” is fully answered, we are taken up into the covenant life of God Himself and as His friends enabled to partake of the divine nature. Then “the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).
“It is good for me to draw near unto God.”