By H. Forbes Witherby.
22. Fellowship with the Father and the Son.
The key to the truth of fellowship with God — life the first necessity for fellowship — light marks its sphere — love characterizes it.
The three key-words to unlock the mystery of fellowship with the Father and the Son are life, light, and love.
Of all the marvels of God's grace, none is more marvellous than the fact of His bringing men into fellowship with Himself. That God should interest Himself in the concerns of our daily lives, and number the very hairs of our heads, is wonderful indeed; that He should give us glory in heaven above the angels is a wonder deeper still; but that He should call us to like thoughts, wishes, feelings, and to common objects with Himself is beyond all conception! Yet such is the case; and the reality of this fellowship is for every child of His; for it is not the portion of the great and the mighty of His family merely, but the blessedness of all His children.
Life is the first necessity for fellowship with God — new life, divine life. We must be born anew before we can have common thoughts with God. It is important clearly to recognize the truth that in no sense whatever, can our sinful and fallen nature have intercourse with God. There must be a nature capable of having like-mindedness with God, before there can be communion with Him. The lower animals may be made to serve man, and to be subject to him; but there is nothing in them capable of thinking morally with man. In this, however, is inferiority of nature only; but with man in his sins, there is direct moral opposition of nature to God. Man is darkness and God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. The very holiness of the nature of God is prohibitive of man in his fallen state, having like thoughts with Him.
Fallen human nature has not, and cannot have, one like thought, wish, or feeling with God; nor has man in the flesh one aim, purpose, or action according to the divine nature. Not only is this true of the time when the children of God were in the flesh — that is, before they were born of the Spirit — but it is also true of the fallen nature in them so long as they are upon earth; for the flesh in them ever remains flesh. The fallen nature, the flesh in the child of God, maintains its character to the end; in the glory, the flesh, the evil principle in us, will be no more.
Before the new life was communicated to us we were in the flesh, and could not enter into God's mind; we are now in the Spirit, but the flesh in us is what it always was. The flesh sins: the new life sins not; it cannot sin. So long as the flesh in us is kept in its true place of death, the believer is not sinning; sin is in him, but he is not committing sin; moral activity of his flesh is suspended. As a practical fact, it is, alas! the case, that we swiftly become restored to fleshly activity by the influences of the world, and too little reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin. When this is the case the activity of the Spirit's work within, in leading us to joy in God, is hindered, and instead, the Spirit is making us to feel how sorrowful a thing it is, for the child of God to live to himself.
God, in His infinite grace, has brought His people to Himself; they were of Adam fallen, but now, having eternal life given them, they are partakers of the divine nature. They were, by reason of their wicked works, children of Satan, but now they dwell in God and God in them, and entirely because God in His sovereignty has made them His. Far more than salvation is theirs. Salvation from sin, the world, and Satan, is a theme of intense gladness, every word of which redounds to the grace of God; but the Father's name and association with Himself and the Son of His love opens up such thoughts of future joy and understanding of God, that its lengths, breadths, depths, and heights are utterly overwhelming. The love of the Father and the Son are simply inconceivable, save when entered into from the only centre whence they can be rightly known.
Turning to the Epistle of John, that apostle, having spoken of the Word of life, and that life manifested on earth, and now declared to us through the scriptures, teaches us that he speaks as he does, in order that the children of God may have fellowship with the apostles, "us"; adding, "and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-3.) First, he speaks of the life, then of that life manifested on earth, and then he introduces the children of God into the fellowship with the Father and the Son.
Life is ours by the free favor of God, and having the life, we have the privilege of the fellowship. It is true that some of the children enjoy the fellowship but feebly; but let us not limit God by our limited apprehension of Him. The best thing in the family is the parent's love, and this is the common portion of all the children.
The new and eternal life is that which each child lives; other divine life there is none; "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." (1 John 5:11.) Growth of the child there is, but the privilege of the fellowship flows from the possession of the life. As this fellowship is enjoyed, so is the measure of true christian joy. Let the heart be ever so large, divine joy shall fill it to overflowing. The greatest measure in common with the smallest, will be filled brimful when dipped into the ocean. There is boundless joy for the child of God; his heart may be filled with it by means of fellowship with the Father and the Son.
In the glory that awaits the children of God, when the eternal life will be fully enjoyed by them, the joy of each will be full indeed; for then fellowship with the Father and the Son will be complete, still, while here in the world, in trial, daily difficulty, and weakness, the portion of each child is fellowship and its consequent joy.
Light marks the sphere of this fellowship. The message which the Lord, the Life, declared was, that "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." There cannot be fellowship with God, save according to what He is. We do not read that the Father and the Son have fellowship with us, as if God walked with us according to our poor, mean thoughts or attainment, but He leads us in spirit to His own thoughts of love. Having the nature which He has communicated, His children have, by His Spirit's indwelling, the capability of enjoying common thoughts and companionship with God.
The very first requirement in this fellowship is holiness. The holy nature of God prohibits every evil thing and thought in our hearts to approach His presence. Man's nature is darkness, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (1 John 1:6); we should deny the very truth of what God is — light, for "in Him is no darkness at all."
In the full blaze of what God is, as revealed by His Son, and made known to us through the scriptures, fellowship with Him is had. Here it is that the child of God walks — "If we walk in the light as He is in the light." How he walks is a question to be settled after it is determined where he walks. And walking in the light, fellowship follows, not as an attainment, but as a consequence. Nor, let us repeat, is this privilege for a few only; it is the common portion for the family of God, and is enjoyed by all who are obedient.
The truth of what the light is, is unalterable. It must not be weakened in the soul to suit the sense we may have of our individual practical state. God is God. He is what He is, and ever will be what He is; and His children have fellowship with Him. He leads us up, by His Spirit, to His thoughts. He has compassion on us. in our feebleness, not fellowship with it. Our state often hinders practical communion with God, but God has brought us to Himself in His sovereign grace, and He changes not, His nature is ever light and love; He has made us His children and brought us into close connection with Himself, and this is our absolute portion.
According as the believer enters in spirit into what God is — even Light, we may be sure he will more and more deeply feel what he is in himself. We do not mean in a legal way, or in a constrained manner, for God's perfect love casts out fear; but all things are made manifest by light, and the presence of God brings out the truth about everything. The people of God will be perfectly transparent in heaven; sin indeed will no longer be in them, as is the case now; they will then "know as known" (1 Cor. 13:22); yet now, even upon this earth, where the old man is in each child of God, unless darkness has blinded the eye, true thoughts of God and real fellowship with Him must render the heart deeply sensible of what he is and acutely sensitive to what he does. He needs no darkening glass through which to look at his sun; he is a child of light and belongs to the light.
The truth goes with the light — it issues from the light. The word of God has opened up His truth to us, and any thought which rejects the word, or denies the truth, is darkness. It is unbelief to seek to modify the revelation of what God is, because we find what is in us. Divine truth is absolute, and brooks no denial, no tampering with, no toning down. God is what He is — light; and He has given to His children eternal life, and brought them into the light even as He is in the light.
If we should say that we have no sin, the assertion would demonstrate that the truth was not in us, for such darkness respecting man's fallen nature would be proof of ignorance of God's nature. He who has the divine life communicated, cannot be blind to the fact of his own nature being evil. Again, if we should say we have not sinned we should make Him a liar, for God tells us that we do sin. Such assertions when made, demonstrate that those who make them are astray concerning who and what God is. The very fact of the child of God having the new nature, and the Holy Spirit of God in him, makes him awake to the reality of what his fallen nature is. The word of God would not be in us, the work of the Son would be repudiated, and His propitiation ignored, by the vain boast of the sinlessness of the old man, or of a believer not having sinned.
Professed fellowship with the Father and the Son, together with denial of the truth of the word of God, is terrible evidence that the message declared concerning God by His Son has never been received in the heart, and that he who makes it is not in the light. If not in the light, no man can have fellowship with God. We are sure that the simplest believer will be clear of all such practical denials of God's nature. We may say that "God is light" is a truth which every child of God knows to be true, and knows because he has the eternal life which is in God's Son. The life of God communicated to the child of God and the nature of God can not be separated. We have the life of God, and are made partakers of the divine nature. He is light, and we have fellowship with Him in what He is, and in no lower standard.
Love characterizes the fellowship. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16.) God has given us the eternal life, brought us into the light as He is in the light, and being there, we have communion with Him as our Father, and with His Son, in the love of the divine nature. Our thoughts of love may be measured by our own standard; the love of God is holy and perfect as Himself.
Human ideas of love are like all else human, imperfect and soiled by evil; weakness and very faint apprehension there is in our fellowship, but no taint of sin can possibly enter into the hallowed association of the child of God with his Father. As to what the love is, let the soul who knows the Son answer, for the Lord has said, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the very work's sake;" and He has thus addressed us as to what He was as seen on earth — the eternal life which was with the Father, and which was manifested to us. His grace and truth explain to us God as light and love. The Son in the bosom of the Father has revealed Him: Jesus has not only taught us by words that God is love, He has lived out on this earth the love of God, and He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. Jesus Himself is the explanation, in His own person, of God as love.
The Spirit of God teaches our hearts who and what God is: "Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13) — of His Spirit, of what He is Himself in His nature. The child of God knows and believes the love that God has to him; he knows what God is, having the life of God and the Spirit of God. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (ver. 16.)
"Grieve not the holy Spirit of God" (Eph. 4:30), says the word, and when the Spirit is ungrieved in us, we enjoy perfect repose before God in His love, and delight in what He is. In the family circle, the child's delight is his parents; and the little child, however simple, finds its happiness with them. The children grow in knowledge; but the characters of the parents color the home and form the joys of the family. We are supposing a home on earth, where the parents are worthy, where the children are obedient in love: the illustration does not go far enough, but it faintly expresses the repose of the children of God in the Father's love, out of which repose fellowship issues. The love of God the Father is our joy.
What is it which marks the ripening of age in the child of God? For as there is growth, so will the fellowship increase. That which characterizes the "fathers" is, they "have known Him that is from the beginning." The aged apostle has but one reason for his writing to them, "because ye have known Him that is from the beginning." (1 John 2:14.) What a clearness as to who and what God is does the knowledge of Christ give to the children of God! The ripest age returns to the person of the Son, and there remains to rest for ever. Heart knowledge of Jesus, the Son of the Father, marks the maturing of the children of God.
As we consider the search of modern infidelity after life, we mourn over these poor seekers for the beginning of what men value. In Jesus only is true and divine archaic knowledge — Jesus, who is the Word of life, from all eternity the same. Human wisdom and research stand in no stead here: "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." (Matt. 11:27.)
"From the beginning"; ponder over these words, having such emphatic force in our days of Christianized infidelity; "from the beginning," that is from the coming of Jesus into this world, from the incarnation of Him, in and by whom the eternal life was manifested, and the Father revealed. The beginning for the people of God is the person of the Lord, and all that is He is, and declared to us to be, by penmen inspired of the Holy Ghost. The histories of what He is, the tale of His life below told fourfold, is the unfolding of that which is "from the beginning;" and only by acquaintance with the Son can we know what the eternal life is, and who God is, and have real fellowship with the Father and the Son. The present and the future of the new life are before us in these words: "This is the life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3.) The present — this brief lifetime, where we become acquainted by faith with Jesus, and through Him with the Father; the future — the endless ages, when we shall more deeply know Him and the Father. In so far as this knowledge is ours now, so far is our fellowship with the Father and the Son; and no further.
With the thought of the future before us, the vastness of the divine nature and of our unlimited joy in the knowledge of the Father and the Son, open out before the soul. Even on earth there seem to be such depths and lengths in the heart and mind of a great and noble companion, that could we daily enjoy his companionship we should not exhaust what he is; we come back ever to find him more lovable, more admirable than before, and yet ever to find him himself; "So like himself," are our words as we wonder at his ways.
But "what is man"? That which is true and lovely in him is what God made when He made him upright; to know God is to dwell in love. The more the child of God knows the Father and the Son, the more he longs to know. He comes to his Father to find fresh delight, and to be filled anew with joy. "That your joy may be full," is a word for eternity as well as for time. Here our capacity is limited, and too often our hearts are filled with other things to our sorrow; there our capacity will be according to the stature of the fulness of Christ, and nothing shall ever hinder our joy; still, however vast that which is known, the vastness of what is to be known about God will ever remain exhaustless. Our state will be perfect, our enjoyments infinite.
Let us attempt, by an outlook into the measureless space around us, to aid the meditation of what the endless enjoyment of the child of God will be. The works of God surpass all, but who shall compass Him! A man's mind awakens to the fact, that this earth hangs amongst the myriad lamps of heaven, in space so vast, that the nearest moon and planets, separated from it by thousands of miles, are close to his touch, compared with the unutterable distances lying between this globe and the countless stars which the eye can but faintly see. His opened mind grasps the idea of greatness: immensity is before him. He feels that human thoughts of time are but as a drop of the ocean's fulness, and the length of thousands of years of this world's history but as a pin's point in the presence of the circling journeys of the suns and stars. His imagination travels from star to star, above, beneath, and returns at length wearied with its flights; he wonders at the immeasurable, and feels that his most fertile conceptions of what eternity is, are as nothing compared with the fact of the space which lies above, beneath, and on either side of this globe.
The overwhelming greatness of these works of God are such that eternities could not exhaust the joy of the creature who might be enabled to visit them and study their wonders. Yet even should this be possible, what would journeys from star to star and sun to sun be? Simply research into the Creator's works. The child of God has a far nobler portion; he has for his eternity fellowship with the Father and the Son, communion with God in what God is as made known. Those heights, those depths, those lengths and breadths of what God is, who shall declare them? An expanse of eternal occupation and joy opens out before the astonished soul. It is not merely a seat in heaven, a place amongst the glories; not simply a song to sing which knows no ending, a harp to strike which shall never be unstrung; but having the eternal life, and having like thoughts, and feelings, and common objects with God the Father, and God the Son, by the indwelling Spirit.
In its full enjoyment, the eternal life will be knowing the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent to this world. The child of God will enter into the divine mind by the Spirit, he will think with purest joy like thoughts with God, travel on from wonder to wonder, learn greater depths by every fresh marvel learned; never wearied, never sated, ever satisfied. What a portion awaits the possessor of the new life! The fullest joy in the unclouded love of God is his prospect, dwelling in the blaze of the light of what God is, possessing the eternal life.