By H. Forbes Witherby.
23. Fellowship with the Father and the Son. — Practical Considerations.
Obedience the first practical principle of the new life — the love which seeks communion — the grace that restores — the way that true fellowship with the Father and the Son expresses itself.
The child of God, as he looks on to the future and then around him at present things, must have his heart filled with practical considerations. He is not in heaven yet, but in the world which lies in the arms of the wicked one; sin is in him, and he often sins. He possesses the eternal life; he is in the light, and he knows it is his portion to dwell in the love. But he knows, too, that frequently his realisation of what is his portion is but feeble. Well, then, may his heart enquire, How shall this fellowship with the Father and the Son be better known; how shall the child of God more fully enter into it?"
This question has been put already, though not in the words of our enquiry. A disciple once asked Jesus, "Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?" Jesus had just said, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him," (John 14:21.) The idea of a public manifestation in regal glory and power to the world, was to this disciple intelligible, but at that hour he knew not the meaning of a private manifestation to himself. The Messiah's throne, and His ruling over the world's kingdoms, he had heard of in the prophets; but the deeper mystery of the Son entering into the heart of an obedient child and, with His Father, filling that heart with peculiar joy, was new to him. Then "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him."
The Father and Son dwell with the obedient child; They come to him and make Their home with him. In the glory the children of God will abide in the Father's house, and in the Father's presence, and He shall fill their hearts; on earth, where the Lord is loved and His words treasured, the manifestation of the Father and the Son to the heart of the child of God make earth heaven to him. It is by obedience to the Lord that the fellowship which the child of God so deeply desires is consciously known and entered into.
Obedience to the word is the first sign of the presence of the eternal life, the first requirement from God of His children. Adam lost his all on earth by disobedience, we enjoy our all by walking as Christ walked, in obedience. "Hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments." (1 John 2:3.)
The commandments of the Lord are precise and clear. Keeping "His commandments," and more still, keeping "His word," is that which is set before us. The commandments are His definite instructions, the word the general expression of His mind. A child obeys his father's formal commands, not to do or to do given things; he also keeps his father's word, that is not doing or doing things according to the general tenor of his father's mind: "Whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him." (1 John 2:5.)
Christian character is formed by occupation with Christ. The Lord sets before us the secret of joy in these words, "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." (John 15:10.) Obedience is the practical means for maintaining this fellowship, which is the full joy of the children of God.
Fellowship with the Father and the Son and love of the world are incompatible. The world is that system which has grown up on this earth without God, and "All that is of the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John 2:16.) The world around each one of us will assume different colors according to our different tastes. That which we individually like the most, will, as a rule, be the world to us, and the world we shall least willingly give up. It is easy to give up things we do not care for, and to call ourselves unworldly and it is easy to see love of the world in other christians, and to be blind to our own love of it We may say, that anything which would not be happily carried on in the presence of God is of the world; and the word is, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15.) A child, while disobedient, would not have the love of his parent in his heart; for if that love were in him, he would be doing his parent's will.
The child of God is left in the world for the purpose of glorifying God, He is not of the world, even as Christ is not of it. (John 17:16.) Such is his position by grace, and it is his to say, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." (1 John 5:19.) The love of the Father in him separates him practically from the world. No man can love good and evil at the same time; the love of two opposites could not be simultaneously within one breast. The all-powerful holy love of the Father draws the child to Himself and His love; and consequently separates from the world. True separation to God comes about by the affections being attracted by the love of the Father to the Father.
"Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth." (John 17:17.) The Lord was addressing God the Father when He thus prayed for His own. All the scriptures are truth, but the specific truth that makes the child of God unworldly is that revelation of the Father's name to his heart which sanctifies or separates him to the love of the Father. It is not simply that the child of God has the place Christ occupies — that he is not of the world as Christ is not of it — he has in the infinite kindness of God, the love that Christ dwelt in, for his portion. So long as that love is filling his heart, there is not room in him for the world.
Real sanctification is wrought by the positive blessing to the heart that follows the known love of the Father. The Father's love filling the heart of the child of God, by the power of the Spirit in him, detaches him from the world by its own almighty attraction. A loving parent makes his child so bright and happy by his presence and love, that the child does not want the evil things his father hates.
The Father and the Son wait in gracious willingness upon the children of God, wait upon them for the purpose of manifesting themselves and making their abode with them; and this is one of the highest love-proofs of the marvellous position which the child of God occupies. In the earthly family circle we see how the parents wait upon their children, what pains they take with them, how tenderly they correct and seek to remove that which is evil in them, and how they seek the absolute confidence of their own. This fact in nature may be reverently used as a humble illustration of the grace of God which seeks all the confidence and love of His children. Each child is the object of the unwearied care of the Father; we do not now refer to such care as we may perceive exercised over us in our temporal affairs and difficulties, but in the deeper things which pertain to Himself in the training of our spirits.
Each child is watched over, and led on into heart knowledge of Himself. What the thoughts of the Father and the Son concerning the children of God are, we find expressed in the seventeenth chapter of John, in those words which Jesus spake as He lifted up His eyes to heaven. For He was at that moment, not teaching them how they might live in love together (see John 13:14), nor of their home above (John 14:2) and peace below (John 14:27), nor yet of their fruit-bearing (John 15), nor testimony to the world (John 16); He was not speaking to them, but about them — not even teaching them of the Father, but speaking to the Father concerning them and us. Here, then, in these words, as He looked up to the Father and off from the earth, we learn how the Father's name maintains in holy association with Himself and with His Son, the children who truly know that name. "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are" (John 17:11); the title holy, and the name Father, combine the character and the relationship of God towards His people in the world.
Restoration to fellowship comes before us at this point, for though the believer should not sin, yet who is not conscious of erring ways and wandering thoughts? that is, provided he be indeed in the light. But, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." He is our Comforter in heaven, the gracious person there who undertakes our affairs in the presence of the Father. He maintains the child of God before His holy Father by His constant and gracious presence on high. The Father beholds perfection in Him, and Jesus Christ, the Righteous, takes up every detail of our poor, faulty, erring lives, and makes us to judge ourselves in our path below. He brings about confession, softens our hearts, and produces reality in us.
Alas! how poor are our thoughts as to "our sins"; but more deeply entering into the fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, we shall more truly know what we are, and more intensely value the present work of the Lord as our Advocate. And the deeper the acquaintance with Him, the more true will the confession of "our sins" be. It will be direct personal work.
We shall be ready to tell our Father what we have done. It is not for pardon, or to be saved from wrath, the child confesses his sins, but in grief of heart for dishonoring the God who loves him. Too many of the children, by non-confession of their sins, allow a tissue, as it were, to be set up between their spirits and the Father's love; and this will grow with lack of genuine dealings with Him about sins, till it becomes a thick dark pall, through which the affections cannot see the love of the Father. Then the spirit of the child of God becomes like that of the wanderer who is far off from the parents' home.
The child of God is only truly happy as he is practically in the light, before God, according to what God is. It is of the highest importance for spiritual prosperity, that he have no reserves with his Father, and no secrets before Him. God who knows all things knows our hearts, and in His presence we get to know consciously what our hearts are.
True fellowship with the Father and the Son expresses itself in living practically the eternal life, in walking as Christ walked, not pleasing ourselves. Love divine is the moral sphere wherein the child of God moves. This love is no abstraction, but a reality; love without an object is a loneliness of soul impossible to the child of God. On this earth the members of the family of God are the persons for whom the child of God specially cares. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:20.)
"If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." (1 John 1:7.) The life, the light, the love are for all the children, and fellowship one with another follows the fact of being in the place in which we are by grace. "One with another" allows not the notion of monk-like isolation. "One with another" embraces all the children of God, denies that inherent selfishness which occupies itself with our own small circle or coterie. One with another" gently refuses the spirit of self-exaltation which assumes a spiritual superiority, to the exclusion of the "babes" from the portion of the "fathers" in Christ.
How we are able to deport ourselves before the members of the family, is a test as to our real fellowship with God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1), for the nature of God expresses itself through His children. The children have the divine nature; loving the Father, they love the children of the Father. We do not love the evil ways of that child of God who may be careless in his walk, yet the erring child should be, of all others, upon our hearts in prayer. The unruly will be warned, the feeble-minded comforted, the weak supported, and patience toward all exercised (see 1 Thess. 5:14), when true fellowship with God the Father and His Son are enjoyed.
The character of the love borne by child to child is of the same nature as that which the Father bears to His children; it is not human, but divine love in a human heart; it is therefore regulated by what God is: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments." (1 John 5:2.)
The unwearied care of God for us, His patient grace, His gentleness, His leading us on from the world nearer, in spirit, to Himself, indicate what should be the character of our love's activity towards one another. Our joy in the Father's presence, as He Himself and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, are made manifest. to our hearts, gives us the character of the joy of true fellowship one with another. Christ-like behaviour and occupation with the Father and the Son, are bright evidences of the existence of the fellowship which belongs by grace to the child of God on earth, and which will be his uninterrupted portion in eternity.