The promises of the Lord are exceedingly liberal and his invitations to men are enormously generous. He beckons because he is beneficent. Anyone who hears his offers are welcome to receive. He does not declare his favour in order to deceive. His outreach is earnest. As the celebrated 19th century Scottish preacher Thomas Guthrie so beguilingly puts it, “Mercy descends from heaven, lights upon its summit, and preaches hope to despair, pardon to guilt, salvation to the lost. Free as the winds that fan her cheek, free as the sunbeams that shine on her golden tresses, she invites all to come, opens her arms to embrace the world, and in a voice that rings like a silver trumpet, cries ,’O, Earth, Earth, Earth, hear the word of the Lord’” (the Gospel in Ezekiel).
There is no one who ought to be suspicious of the Lord or dubious as to his intentions or integrity. David is the medium of his own experiential assurance, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. It is a statement of his own discovery and a call to his friends. It is a truth that he has proven. The knowledge of God is theological and intellectual (of the mind) but it is not complete and authentic until it is also affective (sensed and felt). Faith is objective but the truth it receives also stirs the emotions of love, confidence, and gratitude. Faith tests the word of God and subjectively the believer tastes the goodness of God. True, feelings are not trusted in any absolute way and faith weathers all conditions advantageous or adverse, but safe feelings accompany delight in the word. It is the source of feelings that is suspect. If the source is the Lord Jesus as he is presented in Holy Scripture then the sensibility is certified by the Holy Spirit who brings joy to the heart. In the company of Christ conversed with in the Bible our comforts are genuine. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103).
Human emotion in itself can be very fickle and unruly, but when ruled by the word and Spirit of God it is a key to authentic experience of God. It would be strange for a sincere believer to be utterly cold toward the facts of his Redeemer, and unmoved by his actions for us and within us. Christian realities are not merely notional but inevitably emotional. We see with the eye of the soul and sense with the excitement of the heart. The Lord teaches and touches. The spirit of man is animated by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of God is two dimensional through mind and heart and confirmed by actual experience – taste and the trial of divine faithfulness and favour throughout life.
The danger in Christian spirituality is when either of these two elements becomes disproportional or when one is absent. When truth does not flow from the mind into the whole man it is in danger of becoming arrogant, critical, and hypocritical. Theology is technical expertise alone. When experience predominates as the criteria for authenticity and guidance there is the danger of fluctuation in a sense of spiritual wellbeing and an opening for any carnally gratifying fallacy in belief and flaw in behaviour. Scripture alone keeps us spiritually regulated. A preponderance of feeling and emotion can take us out of the way and seriously off course as is witnessed, of course, in the eccentricities of Count Zinzendorf and many others, good folk, who begin to indulge self induced whims and preferences and commend them as commands of God. Even the best of believers can develop quirks if they take “heart religion” to an extreme. We must never confuse our subjectivity with the thoughts and motions of the Holy Spirit. Prayer and constant humility are a way to discernment. The possible problem for Christians of intense feeling is that they come to a sense of monopoly on intimacy with God and insight into his will. Sensationalism in religion can threaten the godly state of a sound mind when Christians become fascinated with themselves and self congratulatory with the gifts which God has given them. One element of immaturity in Evangelicalism is over enthusiasm toward so called celebrities, whereas godly appreciation is a different matter. There is no star system among the people of God but rather many servants with differing capacities and callings.
To “taste of the Lord” is an open invitation but it is meant to create an appetite for the Lord. To seek his goodness is to become a holy compulsion intended to foster our praise and admiration of him at all times. The enjoyment of God encourages heart felt adulation of his glorious perfection(s). It is not that our taste buds are merely sweetened, as they can be by so many things licit and illicit, it is that we sense God to be satisfyingly sweet in himself because of his wonderful attributes and intentions. Knowing God is ultimate and infinite pleasure which far surpasses any other, and indeed encompasses any other that is counted within his good creation, free of contamination and sin.
In various places great Christians of all stripes and eras exhort a felt knowledge of Christ or describe the joys he personally imparts. Wesley, Grimshaw, Whitefield, Newton, Ryle all encourage believers to establish the genuineness of their profession with a sense of delight in God. Love is a word that has been sentimentalized and debased in the English language, but properly understood should not the gospel of love concerning the God of love and his kingdom of love, create an awareness of love and a response of love in the life of a believer? Do not lovers share a common feeling for and with each other? Should not the Lover of our soul make his presence and disposition warmly felt within the hearts of his people? Note the words found in Article 17: “The reverent consideration of our predestination and election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable strength and comfort to godly persons, who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ”.
To taste is to experience and prove the goodness of something proffered to us. In the psalmist’s case it is to find sweetness and safety in what he consumes and digests. His commendation of God is a consumer’s report that is an enticement to others. Evangelism is not a technically contrived, formulaic operation with an obsession concerning success and statistics in which men glory. So often the victims of evangelistic programmes are viewed in the abstract as conquests and numbers to gloat over. Evangelism happens to be believers with Christ filled minds and souls seeking to see the joining of their fellows with God in whom they can find deliverance and delight. They approach others in terms of friendship, humility, love, and respect. The sects can outperform the church in proselytism and adding to membership numbers, but they cannot share or convey the sweetness of Christ, nor his just severity towards sin. They recruit “that they may boast about your flesh”, observes Paul in addressing those subject to pressure alien to the truth and spirit of the gospel (Galatians 6:13). Christians may only boast about Christ because they have learned of him and tasted him. The gospel is a combination of realism and winsomeness, and the Lord Jesus is the winsome One.
The Lord initiates and cultivates any desire for himself. But surely “taste and see” is a challenge to the sceptic also. Sceptics are supposedly adventurous and claim to be in pursuit of truth. But can they humble themselves for the most important experiment of their lives? Can they venture upon God with the plea, “Lord, show me”? They would be amazed at his mercy. Prejudice would give way to pleasure.