being an exposition of the Fatherhood of God and the relationships of his children.
Chapter 1. CHRIST AS THE REVEALER OF THE FATHER
Chapter 2. THE CHILDREN OF GOD
Chapter 3. THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION
Chapter 4. THE THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE FAMILY OF GOD. (1)
Chapter 5. THE THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE FAMILY OF GOD. (2)
Chapter 6. MARKS OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD
Chapter 7. THE FATHER'S DESIRES FOR HIS CHILDREN
Chapter 8. THE FATHER'S GOVERNMENT OF HIS CHILDREN
Chapter 9. THE PRIVILEGES OF GOD'S CHILDREN
Chapter 10. THE FUTURE CONDITION AND HOME OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD
In the following chapters the writer has sought to expound the truth concerning God's family. Commencement is made with Christ as the revealer of the Father, and then the various aspects of the family as presented in the Scriptures are considered. The subject is only dealt with in outline, in order that, keeping the volume within smaller compass, a wider circle of readers, with the Lord's blessing, might be obtained.
The writer begs very earnestly to commend the subject to the reader, because, amid the many ecclesiastical questions which are continually exercising the people of God, it tends to warm and enlarge the heart to be occupied with the whole circle of God's affections. In a day of controversy the heart is apt to be chilled and narrowed if it does not remember the claim of all God's children. It is an unspeakable sorrow to be compelled, for the Lord's sake, and in obedience to His word, to withdraw even from saints who are walking disorderly (see 2 Thess. 3:6); but on this very account it is the more needful to remind ourselves that our debt of love to them can never be discharged. The obligation of the Lords word ever remains — "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12.)
And it is the writer's hope and prayer that the presentation of the common relationship of all believers to God as their Father, together with the fact that all believers alike are the common objects of the Father's heart, and that there is therefore of necessity a common tie both to God and to one another, may be used of the Lord to fasten anew His own word, in the energy of the Holy Spirit, upon the hearts of His beloved people.
CHAPTER 1. CHRIST AS THE REVEALER OF THE FATHER.
GOD has been pleased to reveal Himself in various ways and under different characters in every age and in all dispensations. Before the cross He had made Himself known to Adam, the patriarchs, and to His people Israel; but it was not until Christ came, and had glorified God on the earth, and finished the work which had been given Him to do, that all was told out, that the Father-name of God could be fully revealed. Ere this clouds and darkness were round about Him; but as soon as atonement had been made by the death of Christ on the cross, the veil was rent, and believers could thereafter be set down in the light as God is in the light. All distance and concealment were now abolished, and all that God is, together with the name of Father, was fully displayed. Christ Himself, Christ as the eternal Son, but as the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) was Himself the revelation of the Father; but until the descent of the Holy Ghost there was little, if any, power on the part of those before whose eyes the revelation was passing to apprehend it. There were a few anointed eyes who beheld His glory as of an only-begotten with a Father, but John the Baptist knew Him not, except by the appointed sign of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Him, and even Philip had to be told, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14)
Practically therefore there was no knowledge of God as Father until after Pentecost. This will be plain to the reader if we trace a little the successive revelations of God which were made to His people in the Old Testament. To Abraham, God said, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17:1); to Moses, "I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:14); and when He entered into distinct relationship with His chosen people, it was under the name of Jehovah, and that was ever His covenant name with Israel. Search indeed the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures, and not even the word father will be found more than five or six times as applied to God, and in most of these cases it is used rather as indicating the source of existence than as implying relationship. All the Old Testament saints were undoubtedly born again. This is to be insisted upon, for without a new life and a new nature they would not have been able to converse with God; but it is equally true that they never knew God as Father, and therefore that they could not be in the enjoyment of the relationship. One word from Scripture definitely and conclusively settles this point, "Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." (Matt. 11:2 7.)
It is then abundantly proved that God was not revealed as Father before the advent of Christ. And passing now to the New Testament, it will be seen, as already stated, that Christ Himself was the revealer of the Father, and that it is in the Gospel of John He is presented to us in this character. In the very first chapter of this gospel it is said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (v. 18.) Not only, indeed, does this scripture inform us that the only-begotten Son declared the Father, but it also teaches that none other but Himself could have done so, and this because of the position He ever occupied — the place of intimacy and communion which He ever, and He alone, enjoyed, as marked by the words, "in the bosom of the Father." This place He never left; He was in it (for it is a moral expression) as much when He was the man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, as when He possessed the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; and on the cross itself He was still there, for He Himself said, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17) — His death in obedience to the commandment which He had received, supplying as it were a new motive for the expression of His Father's love. Later on in the gospel, we find one of His disciples permitted to lean on His bosom, and this same disciple was the chosen vessel to unfold in his gospel the eternal Sonship of Christ — Christ as divine; and this in some measure may aid us in understanding that none but He who was ever in the bosom of the Father could unfold Him in this character and relationship. In divine things it is ever true as an abiding principle, that we can only tell out to others that which we ourselves know in our own souls. If we are not in the power of the thing spoken of, our words, clear as they may seem to be, will convey but little significance. The Lord Himself laid down this principle when He said, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen." (John 3:11)
Let us then enquire in what way the Lord revealed the Father. He Himself has answered the question. "If," said He to the Jews, "ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also" (John 8:19); and again, speaking to Philip, "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him. Philip saith unto Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto Him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of" (from, literally) "myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake." (John 14:7-11.)
Christ Himself then, in all that He was, in the life He lived when down here, was the revelation of the Father; i.e., He was the perfect moral presentation of the Father, in all that He is, to all who had eyes to perceive it. As He said, "I have declared unto them Thy name" (John 17:26) — name in Scripture being the expression of the truth of what a person is, and it will therefore signify, in this connection, the truth of the Father. Thus as Christ passed through this scene every feature, every moral trait, all the perfections of the Father's mind and heart and character, were fully exhibited; so that had the eyes of those who were round about our Lord been anointed they would have perceived in Him the living embodiment of the Father. To the natural eye He was only Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter's son, but the eye opened by the Holy Ghost beheld in Him "the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father," and as such the declarer of the Father.
But we may come to the details of this wondrous revelation. The Lord has Himself pointed put the two channels through which it was made, as indeed there are but these two in which man can express what he is. The passage has already been cited in which He says, that He did not speak His words from Himself; and in an earlier chapter He says, "The Son can do nothing from Himself, but what He seeth the Father do." (v. 19; see also John 8:28.) He did not therefore originate (for that is the force of His statement) either His words or His works. Though He were the eternal Son, He had come not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him (6:38), and on this account His every word and work were but the expressions of His perfect obedience, the motive to both alike being found not in His own will, perfect as it was, but in His Father's. That is, He never spake and He never acted except as in dependence on the Father, and in subjection to His will; and on this very account His words and work were the revelation of Him who had sent Him.
And this characteristic brings out a very blessed truth as to Himself, and a mournful contrast as to ourselves. Being what He was, His words were as perfect as His works; and thus when the Jews asked, "Who art Thou?" He replied (as it should be rendered), "Altogether that which I also say to you" (John 8:25); as another has said, "His speech presented Himself, being the truth." Our words often convey either less or more than the truth, and we are frequently humbled at the discovery that we have failed to express what we even desired, and sometimes because we have left behind a wrong, if not untrue, impression, through the imperfection of our words. With Him, on the other hand, every word was perfect, and a ray therefore of His own glory as well as a manifestation of the Father. We thus find in John 14 that He identifies His words with His works. "The words," He says, "that I speak unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works." (v. 10) The words were as perfect as the works, and both alike the revelation of the Father.
Bearing this in mind, what preciousness, yea, what solemnity, attaches to all that is recorded of our blessed Lord. Some things that He said and did have not been recorded (see Luke 24:27; John 21:25; Acts 1:3), and at times we have been tempted to desire that it had been otherwise. The truth is, every word and every act have been given which were necessary for His perfect revelation of the Father — no more, no less. If more had been given, perfect as all of necessity would have been, this revelation would not have been more complete. We have therefore suffered no loss; for divine wisdom and divine love guided in the preservation of all that was necessary for God's glory, and our instruction and blessing. In one word, what is recorded is a perfect presentation of Himself, and thus of the Father. Omit but a single word, or but one action, and the perfectness of the picture would be marred. It is very necessary to insist on this point in such a day as the present, when men, on the one hand, are endeavouring with ruthless criticism, the offspring of an unholy rationalism, to destroy our confidence in the authenticity of portions of the four blessed gospels, or, on the other hand, with bold presumption to construct human narratives of the life of our blessed Lord, which they offer either as substitutes for, or in elucidation of, the divine fourfold record. It were difficult to decide which of these two classes are guilty of the greater temerity. Be this as it may, nothing can be more certain than that the labours of both tend to destroy faith in the word of God, obscure the holy character of our Lord, and thereby to inflict irreparable damage upon the souls of their readers.
The Lord Himself, then, declared the Father perfectly in what He was in His life on the earth; but at the same time it is also true that His death was the consummation of the revelation He had made. As the only-begotten of the Father — yea, as the sinless One in His own abiding excellency and perfection — He could not be at any time less than what He was. There was not a moment of His life in which He could not have said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" and yet it is also true that His death was, so to speak, the crowning act, at least in demonstration, of His perfect declaration of the Father. It was so in two ways. First, in the exhibition and proof of His entire devotedness to His Father's glory, in humbling Himself and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. On the cross it was obedience, if we may thus speak, of another sort, obedience under new circumstances and conditions; for there it was that He glorified God in the place of sin, and on account of sin, being made sin for us. Thus it was that He spake of His death as a special ground for the Father's love (John 10), and on this account also it is that the death of Christ was the completion of the perfect manifestation of His own moral glory. (John 13:31.) Secondly, His death was necessary for the full revelation of the. Father's heart. "And we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son [to be] the Saviour of the world." (1 John 4:14.) All that God is — all the attributes of His character, His holiness, His righteousness, His truth, His mercy, His Majesty, and His love — were displayed in and through the cross of Christ; but when we are taught that the Father sent His Son, and sent Him in order to be a Saviour for all, Jew or Gentile, who should believe on Him, we are permitted to see into the depths of His unfathomable heart. Yea, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16.)*
*It may be helpful to some if we add the following note from the writings of another. He says, "It will be found in the writings of John that, when responsibility is spoken of, God is the word used; when grace to us, the Father and the Son. When indeed it is goodness (God's character in Christ) towards the world, then God is spoken of." Nothing indeed can be more instructive than a close observation of the way in which the Holy Spirit uses the different names of God, and also of our blessed Lord Himself. The meaning of many a scripture almost entirely depends upon it.
We can now perhaps better understand the Lord's words to Philip — "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." If therefore we would know the Father more fully it can only be. through a more perfect knowledge of Christ. The fathers to whom John writes (1 John 2), whose characteristic was that they knew "Him who is from the beginning," i.e., Christ, "that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 John 1:2), were those who knew most of the Father; for it is in Christ, as we have seen, that the Father has been fully displayed. This should never be forgotten; for one of the evils of traditional and formal theology (and many souls are still under its influence) is that Christ, as the Son, has been too much separated from the Father. While rightly insisting on the holiness of God, and the necessity of atonement as the foundation of His gracious dealings with men, it has lost sight of the fact that Christ was the true expression of the Father's heart, of the Father's character and nature. The consequence is, that when the heart, under the gracious operations of the Spirit of God, has turned for relief to Christ, and the work He has wrought out on the cross, there has yet been the sense of distance from God, because He has been presented only in the aspect of a Judge. The knowledge therefore that God is for His people, that the Father's heart rests upon them with delight and complacency, has been confined to comparatively few, and hence with the mass of believers there has been but little liberty in the presence of God, and almost no knowledge of their relationship to God as their Father. It would be an immense blessing to all such to apprehend the truth here insisted upon; that Christ is the perfect revelation of the Father; for then all that they learn of Him, they would consciously learn also of the Father, and thereby enter upon the rich and ever-increasing enjoyment of the Father's love. He Himself has told its, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30) — one in mind, thought, purpose, and aim; He in the Father and the Father in Him, and thus of necessity He is the perfect expression of all that the Father is.
The question may perhaps be asked, "Where then can we obtain a fuller knowledge of Christ in order more perfectly to know the Father?" The answer to this question is of all importance. It is only in the Scriptures that we can learn what Christ is. There may be meditation upon Him undoubtedly; but if we would be preserved from the snares of mysticism and imagination, the word of God must be the basis of our contemplations. It should ever be strongly stated, that the only revelation of Christ is in the Scriptures; and when the Holy Ghost glorifies Christ, receives of Christ, and shows it unto us (John 16:14), it is through the Word. It is not too much to say that there is no contact with a living and glorified Christ except through the written word of God. There is a manifestation of Christ to the soul, giving us the special and conscious apprehension of His presence, but even this privilege and blessing are connected with keeping His commandments or His word. (John 14:21-23.) Assailed as we are by the dangers, both of human reasonings and a spiritualized mysticism, it cannot be too often repeated, that we can only apprehend Christ, what He was on earth, and what He is at the right hand of God, the same Christ, His moral glories now being the same as when He was down here, but existing under different conditions — we can only learn all that He is, we repeat, through the pages of God's inspired word. Remembering this, it will give a new incentive to the study of the Scriptures, and at the same time it will keep us while we read, like Mary, at the feet of our blessed Lord. We shall behold the man Christ Jesus moving across the scene, but the thought will ever be present to our hearts — He whom we behold in His works of mercy and love, He whom we hear speaking as never man spake, is the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, and is Himself in all these acts and words the declaration of the Father. Reading the Scriptures in such a spirit would be an occasion for adoring worship and for grateful praise.
Before we close we may point out two things which our Lord did to aid His disciples in the apprehension of this truth. At the close of His sojourn among them He said, "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you," etc. (John 16:25-27.) There was no possibility of coming to the Father but by Him, but He would have them know that they had through Him come unto the Father. They should continue to ask in His name, but He desired them to understand that the Father Himself loved them. He wanted to direct their gaze to the Father through Himself that they might know Him, and know also that they were the objects of His heart. This teaching of our blessed Lord might well be commended to many in the present day. Is there no danger to our souls of forgetting that the Father has been revealed to us, that through the Lord Jesus we are come to Him, and that we may count upon His heart at all times?
The second thing is that the Lord put His disciples, ere He departed from them, into His own place. He did this when. He presented them before the Father in His prayer which He uttered in their hearing: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; for they are Thine. And all mine are Thine, and Thine are mine; and I am glorified them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." (John 17:9-11; see also verses 16-26.) But after His resurrection He formally announces to them the character of the place into which they had now been brought. "Go to my brethren," says He to Mary, "and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (John 20:17.) We hope to expound these words in the next chapter; but we call attention now to the fact that on the ground of redemption, effected through His death and resurrection, the Lord brings His people into His own place and relationship with God. God was not henceforth to be known as Jehovah, or Jehovah-Elohim, as by Israel, but as the God and Father of His people, because the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence it will be found in the epistles that almost all the blessings secured to us in Christ are developed in this twofold relationship. (See 2 Cor. 1:2, Eph. 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3.)
Thus the gospel of John closes.* Commencing with the introduction of the Word, who was with God and who was God, and who withal was the eternal Son, and as such the revealer of the Father, it concludes with His putting the disciples, in His tenderness and love, on resurrection ground into His own place and relationship to His God and Father. As yet they could not enter upon the enjoyment of this, but He had given it to them, and had brought them into it as the fruit of His own redemptive work. Blessed be His name!
*John 21 is in some sort an appendix, and points on to millennial times, the shepherding of the sheep, and John's ministry, which was to go on until the Lord's return. John 20 is therefore a distinct close of the historical gospel.
CHAPTER 2. THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
WE have already seen that Christ as the Son was the revealer of the Father; and as soon as the Father is declared it is of necessity that there should be those who are in the enjoyment of the relationship; in other words, the Father must have His children. Accordingly we find the family in the very same gospel that contains the declaration of the Father's name. There are, it may be said, three notices of it to which we may call attention.
The first is contained in John 1; but we turn now to that found in John 11. After the resurrection of Lazarus the Jewish authorities assembled together for consultation. They could not deny the miracle that had been wrought; but, shutting their eyes to its divine significance and their consequent responsibility, and caring only for their own selfish interests and advantage, they determined to rid themselves of the One who so disturbed their peace, and who was making so many disciples. They thought in their wicked councils only of themselves; but God was behind the scene overruling their thoughts, and was about to make their wrath to praise Him in the accomplishment of His own eternal counsels of grace and love. He thus used the mouth of Caiaphas to prophesy that Jesus should die for the Jewish nation, this being God's purpose from eternity; and to that prophecy the Spirit of God added another in order to embrace the full character of the death of Christ, by the hand of John, who writes, "And not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." (John 11:49-52.) We thus learn that not only was the heart of God set upon His children, but that also the death of Christ was requisite, requisite for the glory of God as for the redemption of His people, as the foundation on which the Spirit of God could, through the entreating message of the gospel, go out into every land, and gather in one by one those who should constitute the Father's family, and as such be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. As the Father could only be fully revealed by the life and death of Christ, so likewise the children could only be sought out, found, and gathered through that death.
The second reference is in John 1:12-13, and points out the way in which we become children — the only possible way — and this must be entered upon more fully. It is stated at the very outset in accordance with the character of the gospel. In the three preceding gospels — generally termed the synoptic gospels — Christ is presented to His people for acceptance, and we see Him rejected in the course of the narrative. This is true of all three, though there are characteristic differences. In John, on the other hand, Christ is introduced as already rejected. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." The world was ignorant (knew not God, as in 2 Thess. 1:8), and the Jew rejected Him (did not, as it were, obey the gospel, as also in the scripture cited). Hence we find a fuller display in John of the person of Christ, and the introduction of the cross with its blessed teachings at the commencement (John 3) instead of waiting for the historical relation at the close. We have therefore, following immediately upon the statement of His rejection, a class indicated who received Him, and who in receiving Him received power (right or authority) to become (to take the place of) the children of God; and then, to dispel all uncertainty as to the nature of the change thus wrought, it is added, "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (v. 13.) It is a divine and sovereign operation effected by a power and through agencies outside of man, and with which man, though he may be the subject of their energy, can have nothing to do.
But the consideration of this will lead us back to the very fountain-head of the existence of the children of God. They are born of God. In chapter 3 the Lord tells Nicodemus, that "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (v. 5); and here we find another truth, that those who are born again through these instrumentalities are brought into relationship of children with the Father. Combining then these scriptures, we shall have before us the whole truth of the process by which the family of God is formed.
1. Its origin is in God Himself; and this same apostle tells us another thing, not only that believers are born of God, but also that their blessed place and relationship flow from the heart of the Father. "Behold," he exclaims, "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons" (children — tekna) "of God" (1 John 3:1); so that the very fact of our being children is the expression of the Father's heart, He desired to have His children for His own satisfaction and joy; and if we add another scripture, we shall see that in a past eternity He formed this blessed counsel of grace. "Having," as St. Paul writes, "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:5-6.) We cannot dwell too much upon this outflow of the heart of God, on the fact, we repeat, that our being children is but a simple consequence of the Father's love. And when in connection with this we consider what we were, the state we were in, our utter alienation from God, the bitter enmity of our hearts towards Him, we shall in some measure enter into the meaning of John's cry, "Behold, what manner of love!" Yea, it is love unspeakable, unbounded and divine, having no motive for its expression except in that blessed heart whence it has flowed. Well indeed might we be humbled before it when we think that we — once poor sinners of the Gentiles — have become its object, and have been brought into its enjoyment, and that for eternity.
2. The heart of God is the source, but God has His own means of bringing us into His family. "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons" (children) "of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13.) There are two or three important statements in these words. First, that those who received Christ, or believed on His name, are actually born of God. More indeed than this. The very manner of the statement is exclusive of all human agency or claims. With the Jew descent from Abraham, born "of blood," went for a great deal, as it brought him into the number of the chosen people. But now that Christ is come, natural descent has no pre-eminence, it is indeed totally set aside, and nothing will avail except being born of God. It is not only therefore, as theologians speak, adoption, blessed and wonderful grace as this would be; it is more, it is an actual new birth, the result of the action of sovereign and divine power by which those who are the subjects of it become partakers of a new nature and a new life. It is thus that John, speaking in the abstract confining his attention entirely to the character of this new nature, without respect to the old, the Adam nature, which all believers still possess), says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9.) Yes, nothing short of this — born of God — is the truth; but while of God, if we would come to the special character of the action, it is of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent by whom this wondrous change is effected, according to the scripture already adduced, "born of water and of the Spirit."
This brings us to the second agency God employs. If the Spirit is the power, and the only sufficient power, the Word, for the "water" is an emblem of the Word (see Eph. 5:26), is the instrumentality which the Holy Ghost uses to effect the new birth. St. Peter thus speaks, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass" (all flesh) "withereth, and the flower thereof" (the glory of man) "falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:23-25.) Behold, then, how simple the process — so simple that even a child may comprehend it! The gospel is preached, Christ is presented in the gospel, and by the grace of God the heart receives Christ, receives Him as the Saviour, and thus receiving Him, together with Him a new life and a new nature are possessed. Such a soul is born of God. Faith therefore in Christ is both the sign and the occasion (if we may so speak) of the new birth; and thus we have not to concern ourselves with the divine modes of action, or the divine sovereignty in the action, but only and entirely with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything hangs upon that. If you have received Him, believed on His name, you are born of God; if you have not received Him, you are without the new birth, still flesh; for that which is born of flesh is flesh; and all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
One word should be added to prevent misconception, and, we trust, to minister blessing to feeble souls. When speaking of the necessity, or the fact of being born again, there is a danger — a danger peculiarly seen in the writings of some evangelical teachers — of losing sight of the forgiveness of sins — of forgetting, while rightly pressing regeneration, the need of expiation for sins, cleansing from guilt as well as the new birth. Now in John 3 both things are carefully conjoined. If on the one hand our blessed Lord says, "Ye must be born again," He also says, on the other hand, "The Son of man must be lifted up." If it were possible to be in such a case, the new nature would not be, in and by itself, sufficient, as it would still leave the question of our sins untouched. But it need hardly be remarked that when the soul believes in Christ not only is it born again, but it partakes before God of all the efficacy of His redemptive work. This may not always be apprehended. It will often indeed happen, through unbelief, ignorance, or defective teaching, that a soul may be born again for years before entering upon the enjoyment of the forgiveness of sins. The slightest believing contact with Christ is saving, and not only so, but if we are thus brought into contact with Christ, we are before God, though often and generally not in our own souls, in possession of all the value of Christ, and His atoning work. More attention to the truth contained in this chapter (John 1) would save from much confusion. Instead of pressing the necessity of being born again (which still is absolutely requisite) there should be the presentation of Christ to the sinner; for his first felt need springs from the sense of his guilt, and then the moment his heart is open to receive Him as his Saviour, he loses the burden of his guilt, enters upon the enjoyment of forgiveness, and is withal born again — born of God. Everything therefore depends upon the presentation and reception of Christ.
The last thing to be noticed in this scripture is the power, authority, or right conferred. To them — to as many as received Christ — gave He power to become, or to take the place of, the sons (children) of God. All such as we have pointed out are born of God, and as the result of this they are now entitled, divinely entitled, to take their place as God's children. The word is "children" and not "sons," as given in our translation. — In fact John never uses the term "sons," with him it is always "children." Paul uses both. When writing to the Galatians "sons" only; but in Rom. 8 he employs both, and gives thereby the clue to their different significance. "Sons" would seem to mark out rather the position into which we are brought consequent upon faith in Christ, "children" speaking more distinctly of the relationship, and of its intimacy and enjoyment.
What a wonderful thing is it then which the evangelist here indicates; viz., that all who believe on the name of Christ are empowered to take the place of being God's children! Such a thing was never heard of before the advent of Christ. The Jewish saints were undoubtedly born of God; but inasmuch as atonement was not yet accomplished, and the Holy Spirit not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified, it was impossible for them to be brought into the place of children, or if they had been it would have been impossible for them to enjoy it. Until through the one offering for sin, accomplished in the death of Christ, there might be possessed "no more conscience of sins" — the knowledge of being perfected for ever — there could be no peace or liberty in the presence of God; and it belongs to the very idea of a child that he should be before the Father in perfect freedom, entirely at home, and conscious of the Father's love. And this is the place we are now warranted — warranted by divine grace and conferred privilege — to take.
The fact of this place belonging to us is here revealed, and at the close of the gospel, as we have seen in the last chapter, the Lord Himself, on the morning of His resurrection, puts His disciples into it. What love and tenderness on His part! Here we are told that it is ours by divine title; and now that we might not from our feebleness and unbelief lose its enjoyment, He condescends to explain its character, and to lead us into its blessedness. "Go," says He to Mary, "go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (John 20:17.) We learn then from these words that the place which the Father would have us take as His children is the very place which Christ Himself enjoys. As man, God was the God of our blessed Lord; as Son, His Father — these two relationships covering the whole position which He occupied when here, and now indeed that He is glorified at the right hand of God. It is on this account that we find so often in the epistles the term, "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (see, for example, 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3, etc.), and also that we thus address God in prayer as our God and Father, because the God and Father of our blessed Lord — these titles revealing at the same time the source of the individual blessings that flow to us on the ground of redemption. But here, since we speak of children, we have chiefly to do with the term Father — "My Father and your Father." In one word, He gives us His own place, and nothing could so effectually describe for us the marvellous efficacy of His death and resurrection. His own place, we say; and it is His own place of relationship, so that we are permitted to use the same appellation when addressing God as Himself. It is, however, to be carefully remembered, that while He thus associates us with Himself before God, He yet always retains the pre-eminence. It is not, could not be in His lips, "our" Father, but "My Father, and your Father;" for if He is not ashamed to call us His brethren He is the first-born, even as we are taught in the scripture which tells us that God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Many of our popular hymns have forgotten this distinction, and have in this way fostered modes of thought and expression which are not of the Spirit of God. If our blessed Lord in His grace and love puts us into His own place, and condescends to call us brethren, it would be on our part to forget what is ever due to Him in His own worthiness, dignity, and absolute supremacy if we addressed Him as our Brother. Close as is the intimacy to which in the greatness of His love He admits His own, and endearing as are the terms which He applies to them, they must never forget, and in proportion as they really enjoy His love they will never forget, that His name is above every name, and that the joy of their hearts in His presence should ever flow out in tones of reverence and adoration. Still He would have us fully understand the character of the place into which He has introduced us, as well as the fact of association with Himself in the presence of God as our God and Father, because His God and Father.
A reference to one other scripture in this gospel may close our meditations on this part of our subject. In John 17, at the close of the wonderful prayer which our blessed Lord presented to the Father before He departed from the world, He says, "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (v. 26.) In these words we have the full object in the revelation of the Father, and our introduction into the relationship declared. Name, it may be repeated, in Scripture always expresses the truth of what the person is; for example, when saints are said to be gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 18), it signifies that they are gathered to the truth of all that Christ is, and Christ as both Jesus and Lord. So the name of the Father is the revelation of all that He is in the relationship which is thus expressed. The Lord then had declared the name of the Father, and this He would continue to do by the ministry of the Spirit through His servants, so that the same love which had rested upon Him as Son while here in this world, might not only rest upon and be enjoyed by us, but also be in us, and that He Himself might be in us, might be in us as the medium or channel through which this love should flow into our hearts.
A very striking illustration of this may be gathered from John 15. He says, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." (v. 9.) The Father's love flowed out of His heart, as from its fountain or source, into the heart of Christ, and then again from the heart of Christ into the heart of His disciples; whence also, in this case, it was to flow out again to one another. But the point here is, that it is the same love — same in character and same in extent. Who then could measure or comprehend it? And what a thought for our souls, when we hear the Father's voice, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight," that the same boundless and infinite love rests upon, and is in us, if His children. It should be known and enjoyed, but that should not lessen the force of the truth in our souls — that His love rests upon every child of God. You say, perhaps, "I am so feeble, and I walk so badly, that I am ever stumbling, and grieving the Spirit of God." This may be all true, and, alas! that it should be so; but still it is the fact, notwithstanding all, that you are loved with the same love as Christ was loved, when He was down here as God's beloved Son. Never lose this blessed truth, but let it have its full weight in your souls; for by the grace of God, and the power of His Spirit, it will tend to keep and strengthen you, it will cheer your heart in times of depression and gloom, comfort you in sorrow and affliction, it will finally flood your soul with its own blessed light and radiance, and thereby give you no mean foretaste of the atmosphere and joy of the Father's house, when we are there for ever with the Lord. While waiting for this, we can all cry -
"O, Holy Father, keep us here
In that blest name of love;
Walking before Thee without fear,
Till all be joy above."
CHAPTER 3. THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION.
IN the gospel of John we have found two things; first, the Father revealed in the Person of the Son; and, secondly, the way in which the family is gathered and formed, together with their place and relationship before God. It is also true that under the type of the living water (John 4, 7) we have instruction, in one aspect, concerning the Holy Ghost; but the evangelist expressly explains, after the gracious invitation which the Lord had given on the great day of the feast — "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:39.)
Whatever the extent therefore of the declaration of the Father, and the truth of the family, it was not possible for believing souls to take up and enjoy their relationship to the Father until after the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. To be born again is one thing — a change wrought by divine power through the action of the word — to know that God is our Father is another thing, and only to be enjoyed through the gift of the indwelling Spirit. This distinction is plainly marked by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians. He says, "Ye are all the children" (sons) "of God by faith in Christ Jesus," a statement which corresponds as to the instrumental means of the new birth with John 1:12-13, as already considered. Then, in the next chapter, he says, "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (John 4:6.) So also in another epistle he writes, "Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." (Rom. 8:15.)
It is therefore only after we have received in this way the Holy Ghost that we can either know or enjoy the relationship of children; but before we enter upon this it may be for edification, especially as there is much confusion abroad on the subject, to point out clearly the ground on which, according to the Scripture, the Spirit is bestowed. This may be shown in a twofold way — by a reference to the descent of, the Holy Ghost upon our blessed Lord Himself, and by the direct statements of the word of God. The scene of the baptism of our Lord is one of surpassing interest, not only on account of the display it gives of His own lowly grace and excellency, and of His love for and identification with His own — the saints on the earth, and the excellent, in whom was all His delight (Psalm 16), but also because it plainly indicates the position into which the believer is now brought as a consequence of redemption. Coming up out of the water after He had been baptized by John, "the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:16-17.) Here we have the heavens opened, Christ sealed as Man, and consequent thereon the Father proclaims, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight." And this, as remarked, shows the position of every believer who has received the Holy Ghost. The heavens are open above him, and the believer himself is a child of God and the object of the Father's heart. There is also an interesting contrast. In the scene before us Christ on the earth is the object of heaven; but the object of the believer is Christ at the right hand of God, seen by the eye of faith through the opened heavens.
We may then inquire, On what ground was Christ sealed with the Holy Ghost? The answer is obvious — He received the Spirit on the ground of His own spotless and absolute purity. And the very contrast to ourselves which this indicates shows the foundation on which God can give the Holy Spirit to His people. We cannot stand before God in ourselves as sinless or undefiled; but we are before Him as whiter than snow through the precious blood of Christ. As soon, then, as we are cleansed from our guilt through the efficacy of the blood, God can and does send the Holy Ghost to dwell within us as the Spirit of adoption, as His seal, as the earnest of the inheritance, and as the anointing. This order is remarkably exemplified in the types. When the priests were consecrated, and when the leper was cleansed (Ex. 29; Lev. 14), the order in both cases was the same. First they were washed with water, significant of the new birth; they were then sprinkled with blood, type of the blood of Christ, which cleanseth from all sin, and lastly, they were anointed with oil, oil being, as ever, an emblem of the Holy Ghost.
If we turn now to other scriptures, we shall find this order illustrated and confirmed. When on the day of Pentecost those who were pricked in their heart said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38.) When, moreover, Peter was preaching in the house of Cornelius, we find that the moment he testified to the remission of sins, through faith in Christ, the Holy Ghost (while Peter yet spake these words) fell on all them which heard the word. Both these cases teach, in the most unmistakeable manner, that the condition for the reception of the Holy Ghost is the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins. So in the epistle to the Romans, there is no mention of the Holy Ghost until after justification by faith and peace with God. (Rom. 5; compare also Eph. 1:13.) If this is clearly understood, the difficulty often raised will disappear. It is asked, "Can it be possible that a soul can be born again and not have the Holy Ghost?" The question should be put in another form. It should be thus stated: "Can the Holy Ghost dwell where there is no knowledge of the forgiveness of sins?" Or, "Is it possible for a soul to become the temple of the Holy Ghost before it is cleansed from guilt?" And this question, with the scriptures considered before us, can only be answered in one way. And what intelligent believer doubts that life, divine life, exists in many souls long before, through lack of knowledge or faith, they enjoy the forgiveness of sins?
The divine order then is, born again through the Word by the power of the Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and then the Spirit's indwelling. But let it be clearly stated that there is no necessity for the interval which is often found between the new birth and the sealing; and if a full gospel were more commonly proclaimed, and the nature of grace explained, it would seldom exist. It should at the same time be remembered, that the new birth must be prior to the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. It is "because we are sons that God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
We may now point out the effect in us of the reception of the Spirit of adoption. The first is that we cry, as we have seen, "Abba, Father." In Galatians the apostle says, "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts." (Gal. 4:6.) This is as instructive as it is remarkable. When our blessed Lord was in the garden of Gethsemane, assailed by Satan in the prospect of His death on the cross, He cried, in the agony of that hour, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt." (Mark 14:36.) This shows what the "Spirit of His Son" is, as well as that the Lord was at this moment in the conscious enjoyment of His relationship to the Father, whatever the agony through which He was passing. The same Spirit therefore, in the power of which Christ, as the Son, thus, addressed the Father, dwells in us — in all who have, been cleansed by the precious blood of Christ. And dwelling in us He teaches, yea, leads, our hearts to cry, "Abba, Father." This cry is, so to speak, the necessary consequence of possessing the Spirit of sonship (huiothesia). We may have addressed God in other terms before; but as soon as the relationship has been formed, and God has sealed it by the gift of the Holy Ghost, we shall be constrained to. call God our Father. If we did not it would be as unreasonable as if the child of an earthly parent were to persist in naming him "master" instead of giving to him the endearing name of "father." Indeed, and it must not be overlooked, "Abba, Father" is the cry of the Spirit Himself in our hearts.
Having then the Spirit we cannot but thus address God; but if any have not the Spirit of God it will be impossible for them to call upon God from the heart as Father, because they have not entered upon the enjoyment of the relationship. Very recently a well-taught Christian told the writer, that after he was first awakened he tried for two years to call God Father, but in vain. He could not utter the word before God; but immediately on being brought to the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins, it became the natural mode of address, because now he had become indwelt with the Holy Ghost. And this experience accords with the teaching of the word of God. If we are real before God the truth of our souls must come out; and thus our state and relationship are immediately discovered when we pray, especially if in private, when we are not affected by the presence of others. What a solemn consideration is it then that the Spirit of God actually makes these bodies of ours His temples, that the very title of Father which we utter before God is really the Spirit's own cry! And what grace on the part of God to make us thus know, even now, that He has put us among His children, and given us to know that He has formed a relationship with us that will endure throughout eternity! To be in the power of this blessed truth would make our prayers far more real and blessed, as well as fill us with unspeakable gratitude to Him who, in His condescending grace and love, has gathered us around Himself as His beloved* children. (Eph. 5:1)
* The term is beloved — agapeta.
There is, however, another thing. The apostle proceeds, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16.) The possibility of all self-deception is thus obviated. There might be the imitation of others in calling God Father, but there is also produced by the Spirit the inward consciousness of the relationship. It is important to remark that it does not say, bear witness to our spirit. If this were the language employed, we might be waiting for some distinct testimony at a given moment to assure us that we were now God's children. The apostle says, "with our spirit;" i.e., the fruit of the indwelling Spirit is to beget in us feelings and affections suited to, and to lead us into the enjoyment of, the relationship into which we are brought. The child of God now knows the Father, and does not doubt that he is a child, for he has within himself the assured consciousness of his relationship, and is able therefore to repose, in measure at least, in the enjoyment of the Father's love and care. In other words, the filial spirit is the product of this testimony of the Holy Ghost.
And we may be permitted to ask whether this filial spirit is sufficiently cultivated and exhibited? There is nothing more beautiful in the Christian life, and nothing which gives a greater sense of dependence upon God, or more confidence in prayer. The apostle Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, addresses them as "the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father." (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1) No other assembly is thus described. The reason would seem to be that the Christian life of these young believers, in the freshness and fervour of their first love, was especially developed and manifested in the enjoyment of their filial relationship. We shall also be characterized by the same thing just in proportion as the Spirit of adoption, ungrieved within us, is permitted to guide our hearts into the apprehension of the Father and His love, and to form within us all those filial affections which the knowledge of His love will alone produce. The knowledge of the Father and of our true relationship is the first thing, and then the Spirit will be free to lead us on — it may be gradually, but ever increasingly — into the enjoyment of all the blessings associated with our position. We cannot have the feelings of children before we know that we are such. Knowledge of the relationship enjoyed, filial affections, filial gratitude, reverence, etc., will soon follow. His witness with our spirit — the distinctness and intensity of it — must and will ever depend upon the character of our walk. As for example, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." So, if the believer in anywise walks loosely or carelessly the Spirit is grieved, if not silenced; and there will be, in such a case, but feeble, if any, testimony with his spirit that he is a child of God. But no one should be satisfied with anything short of the blessed and conscious enjoyment of the relationship which God has been pleased in His grace to form with us as His children.
The children of God are also led by the Holy Ghost. It is indeed on the statement of this fact that the apostle proceeds to unfold the character of the Spirit that now dwells in believers. Previously he had contrasted those that are after the flesh with those that are after the Spirit. All men are included in these two classes. Believers are not in the flesh, as to standing before God, but in the Spirit; this now characterizes them as to their existence in God's presence, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in them. (Rom. 8:9.) There is no middle place between these two extremes; for he adds, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" — he is not of Him. Every Christian therefore, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has a new standing before God. He is in Christ and not in Adam, for through death with Christ he has been dissociated from the first man (Adam), and by the resurrection of Christ he has been brought on to new ground, and into a new standing before God — a ground beyond sin, condemnation, and death, because it is in resurrection. He is now in Christ risen, and the Holy Spirit dwells within him as the power of the new life which he has in Christ, and therefore as the power for conflict with, and victory over, the flesh. Having then shown that we are brought out from under the law of sin and death, with all the blessed consequences of that deliverance, and pointed out the character of our new place, the apostle says, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." This brings us face to face with some very solemn truths.
We may call attention, first to the fact that "led of the Spirit" is regarded in this scripture as that which characterizes every child of God. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;" i.e., all believers are so led, and in this way are manifestly sons of God. No account is taken here of the humbling fact that sometimes believers are governed by the flesh, and not by the Spirit. This, alas! is often true; but the apostle is describing rather what attaches to believers as a class. They are led of the Spirit, and not of flesh. But having stated this distinctly, we may now profitably remind ourselves that we are always led either by the Spirit or the flesh. True there is nature, and the natural affections as God created them, and which the believer must ever maintain according to God; but we speak now of the entire and absolute contrast which the scriptures so continually exhibit between the flesh and the Spirit. As he says in another epistle, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot" (rather, "so that ye should not") "do the things that ye would." (Gal. 5:17.) The flesh and the Spirit are always in antagonism, so that whenever we are not in the power of the Spirit, not under His governance and guidance, we are sure to be controlled by the flesh. How watchful therefore we need to be! Alas! that we are so often off our guard; and be it but for a moment, the flesh, acted upon as it ever is also by Satan, will take the advantage and opportunity to have its own way, to decoy us into sin, and thereby to grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
The third thing to be remembered is, that the Holy Ghost is our only power. We have no other, whether it be for walk, conflict, service, or worship. Hence, indeed, what distinguishes the sons of God is that they are led of the Spirit of God. How beautifully this was seen in the life of our blessed Lord! After His baptism, He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; in the power of the Spirit He preached, wrought miracles, cast out devils, healed all that were oppressed, and went about doing good. (Matt. 4, 12; Luke 4; Acts 10) Yea, in every step of His path, in every act He did, in every word He spake throughout the whole of His life on earth, He was led of the Holy Ghost. And He is our example, and it is our blessed privilege to be also led of the Spirit of God; and in proportion as we are thus led, will it be manifested that we are the sons of God.
The apostle shows us still greater things. The Spirit we have received is the Spirit of adoption, and we therefore are children. Now he tells us, "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." For the present we may confine ourselves to the position we occupy as children, as we hope in another chapter to deal with our future condition in the Father's house. All the children then are heirs — heirs of God. It is not only that He has been pleased, in His love and mercy, to bring us into blessed relationship with Himself, but also He has made us His heirs, and, as if even this wondrous unfolding of His grace were not sufficient to satisfy His heart, it is added, "and joint-heirs with Christ." This last clause indeed contains the key to the whole of our blessing. God has associated us with His own beloved Son. He is the firstborn from the dead, and we compose the church of the firstborn through association with Him, and thus are also associated with Him in heirship to all that He Himself, as man, will inherit in virtue of His redemptive work. Every child of God is therefore put into the rank and position of the Firstborn, saving always His own pre-eminence and His own personal and essential dignity. Still as children we rank with Him joint-heirs with Christ. What words could so adequately express the wealth of God's grace, or of the blessedness into which we are brought? For it is not only that He has saved us, brought us to Himself, and bestowed upon us privileges and blessing, but He must, in order fully to satisfy His own heart, put us into the same rank with His beloved Son. Let these words then, "joint-heirs with Christ," have an abiding place in our souls, that we may, by constant meditation upon them, learn ever increasingly what God is in His grace, and what He has done for us through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour; and surely the more we ponder them, the more we shall be led out to investigate and explore the boundless treasure of that inheritance of which we are the heirs, because heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
But it is added, "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." This "if" by no means implies a doubt; it merely indicates the necessary condition of sonship, and the pathway to being glorified together with Christ; that is, if we are children, our pathway here must be one of suffering with Christ. If we are born again, and have the Spirit of adoption, we cannot escape it. The new nature in us, born of God as we are, must feel, in measure, as Christ felt in the presence of sin, Satan, sorrow, and death. The Spirit of God, who dwells within us, must lead us, in proportion as we are subject to His guidance, in the same path as that in which Christ walked, and to feel and act as He felt and acted in similar circumstances. We cannot therefore be children of God without suffering with Christ. But the measure of our suffering with Him will entirely depend upon the degree in which we are under the governance and power of the Holy Ghost. A child of God who is walking faithfully before God with an ungrieved Spirit will thus suffer with Christ much more than one who is walking carelessly. But it is the necessary path, and, it may be said, an unspeakable privilege. What greater privilege indeed (unless it be that of suffering for Christ) could we enjoy than that of passing through this world in company, as to feeling, with our blessed Lord — to sorrow and to suffer as He sorrowed and suffered in this wilderness of sin and death? And the more we suffer with Him the more we shall learn the depths of His heart of love, that never wearied in His ministry of tenderness and grace, though He had daily to endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself. The encouragement to such a path is not lacking; "for," says the apostle, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in" (or to, in respect of) "us." The joy set before Him sustained our blessed Lord Himself in enduring the cross and in despising the shame; and here the prospect of the glory, being glorified together with Christ, is adduced that it may have the same effect on us. Nothing indeed raises us above suffering like the contemplation of the future glory, and, measuring the former by the latter, it dwindles away into utter insignificance. As the apostle writes in another place, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:17.) But it should never be forgotten that the suffering as well as the glory is with Christ. This blessed companionship is never wanting. We suffer with Him, and we are glorified with Him. It is identification with a rejected Christ now, and identification with a glorified Christ in the future. What more could we desire, or the God of all grace bestow?
CHAPTER 4. THE THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE FAMILY OF GOD.
1 JOHN 2
THE family of God is one — one of necessity, because every member of it possesses the same nature and the same life. And so perfectly one is it in this way that the Lord desired this oneness to be expressed in this world. He says, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me."* (John 17:20-21.) This prayer moreover (for it could not be otherwise) was distinctly answered. In the early days of the Pentecostal Church we read, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32); and in connection with this exhibition of the oneness of the family of God, the apostles with great power gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Power went forth with their testimony, convincing the world that Christ had been sent of God. The manifestation of the unity of the whole Church soon passed away, and will never be seen again in this world. But, spite of this, every instructed believer must hold fast the precious truth that the family of God is one, and that the hearts of the children of God must never move in a narrower circle than the heart of the Father Himself. As John writes, "Every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him." But that there may be no mistake, and in order to show the holiness of the love that is to be expressed, as well as the channel through which it is to flow, he adds, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments." (1 John 5:1-2.) While therefore joyfully remembering that all who are dear to the heart of the Father must also, by virtue of our common relationship, be dear to us, we must at the same time not forget that the Father Himself must have the first place in our affections, and that true divine love for His children can only flow out when we are in obedience to His word. The love must ever be in our hearts, but the expression of it must be according to God. These two things must never be confounded.
*There is undoubtedly more than the oneness of the family in this scripture; but still, as it is oneness in nature and life, it may be applied to the children of God.
The unity of the family must then be always asserted; and it is in nowise inconsistent with it that the apostle John gives a threefold division of it; for the classes into which he groups the children of God are expressive only of state or attainment. just as in a human family grades are found of growth or knowledge, so in the family of God. "There are," John tells us, "fathers, young men, and little children or babes." But before he takes up these separate classes he addresses the whole, and gives what is characteristic of all the family. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." The term little children in this verse is not the same as that so translated in the next. If we say "children" in verse 12 as including the whole family, we may keep the term "little children" in the 13th as marking out a special class.*
*When verse 28 is reached the apostle again uses the word "children" (not "little children"), because he there resumes his address to all.
The divine characteristic, then, of every child of God is, that his sins are forgiven. It should be borne in mind, as we may yet see, that no such thing is contemplated in the Scripture as a child of God without the Spirit of adoption, and then, since we pointed out in the last chapter the ground on which God bestows the Spirit, this characteristic will at once be understood. Every child of God therefore — i.e. every child of God who can cry, "Abba, Father" — enjoys the forgiveness of sins, and the name of Christ is the foundation on which this unspeakable blessing has been received. "Your sins are forgiven you," says John, "for His name's sake." This is the divine testimony, and a testimony based upon the value of the name of Christ before God, upon all the value of what Christ is in virtue of His death and resurrection. The forgiveness of sins therefore which God would have His children enjoy is both divine and eternal — divine in its character, and eternal in its duration. Yes, it belongs to the efficacy of the precious blood of Christ, that when our sins are forgiven, they are forgiven for ever. Do you say, But such has not been my thought? Search the Scriptures, and see whether it is not God's thought, and if it is His thought, it may well become ours. Faith, indeed, consists in our receiving God's thoughts, and resting in them instead of our own, and thus believing we can rejoice in the fullest import of this message of the apostle — "Your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." Does another say, "But do I not need the cleansing blood every day?" That we sin every day is, alas! true, though it should ever be remembered that there is no necessity for the believer to sin. "These things," says John, it write I unto you, that ye sin not." But such is our state that, as a matter of fact, we do sin every day, and hence, pointing out God's gracious provision for our unworthy failures, he adds, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2.)
The truth then is, that once cleansed from the guilt of sin we are cleansed for ever. "By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14.) On the ground of the efficacy of that one perfect sacrifice, God in His grace not only forgives our sins, but He never more imputes guilt to the believer. He cannot tolerate sin in His people, and thus, if they sin, the Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, undertakes their cause, on the foundation of His one perfect propitiation for their sins, prays for them, in response to which God, acting by His Spirit, brings home, through the instrumentality of the Word, the sin to their consciences, produces self-judgment and confession, and then, as the apostle also says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Every believer is under the abiding efficacy of the precious blood, and as a consequence there is no further question of guilt. But God will surely deal with His children in the way of chastisement if they sin, and continue in sin, with the object of humbling them in His presence, that they may tell out their sins before Him. Then they are washed by the water of the Word — by the action of the word of God upon their hearts and consciences — not cleansed by the blood, for that has been done once and for all, and cannot be repeated. It is therefore absolutely true, as stated in this scripture, that the sins of all the children of God are forgiven — forgiven for His (Christ's) name's sake, and forgiven eternally.
Having addressed the whole family, John next classifies the children under three denominations, fathers, young men, and little children or babes. He gives the characteristics of each, in the thirteenth verse, and then proceeds to give them counsels and admonitions. We may then look at these several classes as defined by the apostle. (vv. 13-27.)
(1) The fathers. "I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning." (v. 14.) This term fathers marks out attainment, and that alone. It by no means therefore follows that "fathers" are old believers, though it will be generally true that the "fathers" will mainly be composed of such. Still, it is to be remembered that many old Christians — old in the sense of the length of time they have been believers — are yet but babes, while in some cases those who are comparatively young believers, may, from their rapid growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, be found among the "fathers." The important thing is to see that this class includes all, of whatever age, who are distinguished by the spiritual characteristic of knowing Him that is from the beginning.
"From the beginning" in John points out a very distinct epoch. It is not, as in his gospel, "in the beginning," which dates from eternity itself, but from the beginning; that is, from the time Christ as the eternal life was introduced into this scene; for as soon as Christ was born into the world He was the second Man, though it is also true that He did not take the place of such until after the resurrection. Nor was He indeed in the condition of the second Man (as to circumstances) until after He had risen from the dead. "Him that is from the beginning" will therefore indicate Christ, Christ as He now is at the right hand of God, as the firstborn from the dead, and the beginning of the creation of God. (Col. 1:18; Rev. 3:14.) Together with the cross, and by means of the cross, God closed up His relationship with Adam, the responsible man; and thereafter everything dates from the Man of His counsels, the ascended and glorified Christ. Hence, according to the testimony of John, blood and water flowed out from the side of a dead Christ — the blood that expiated sin, and the water that cleanses or purifies — in token that life is not in the first but in the last Adam. Christ therefore is, as St. Paul speaks, Himself our life, and He is on this account the true beginning, inasmuch as He is the first-born from the dead.
To know Him that is from the beginning is thus to know Christ as He is, and where He is, as the eternal life "which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us," as all that He now is in Himself, as the glorified Man at the right hand of God. But it is sometimes asked, "Do not all believers know Him? This question does but ignore the truth of our passage. All believers more or less know Christ as their Saviour, and own Him as their Lord; but this is a far different thing from knowing Himself. To know Him in a special, in any, character, is blessed; but the knowledge of which the apostle here speaks embraces what He is, apart from any special presentation or character. For example, we may know the Queen as our sovereign without any personal acquaintance at all with her. Her children, on the other hand, while they do not forget that she is the sovereign, know her rather as what she is in herself — her mind, character, and ways. So the fathers here have risen beyond any character, office, or relationship which He may sustain towards them, and find their delight in Himself, in what He is, in all His moral beauties, perfections, and excellencies.
And this, it must be distinctly observed, is the highest and last attainment to be made. There is nothing beyond. When converted, we are occupied mainly with the work of Christ and the grace of God; afterwards we delight in truth; but finally, if we press on to the things that are before, Christ Himself absorbs our attention, and then only do we become "fathers," in the meaning of the apostle. A remarkable exemplification of this statement may be adduced. Some time back it was our privilege to visit a saint in great bodily suffering. His hands and his face were alike distorted by the severity of his affliction. But though suffering most acutely when we saw him, and with scarcely any temporal comforts to alleviate his condition, he did not for one moment speak of himself or his pains. His conversation turned entirely on the Lord. In the course of our visit he used words to this effect, "For the first ten years of my Christian life I knew and enjoyed the efficacy of the precious blood of Christ. After that, the whole circle of Church truth dawned upon my soul, and, while I did not lose the blessedness of the value of the blood, the new truths that had been opened out to me formed the chief subject of my meditations. But now," he said, "through the goodness of God, I have been introduced into another circle, where Christ Himself fills my vision. Not that," he continued, "the other truths are less precious, only Christ Himself is more precious still, and I feel that now I want nothing beside. No," he concluded, "it is Christ Himself now, and only Christ." This saint of God was, as the, reader will perceive, a true father, and his experience marks the order of Christian growth, and justifies the statement already made, that the knowledge of Christ Himself is the last attainment reached.
Another thing may be added. As it is the last attainment, so when this is possessed nothing more is needed, except indeed an ever fuller and increasing knowledge of the One we know. This is shown from the fact that when John turns to address the several classes, he has neither counsel, warning, nor exhortation for the "fathers." He simply repeats, "I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning." (v. 14.) This is easily understood. These "fathers" were wholly occupied with Christ Himself, and had therefore discovered the secret of all growth, progress, and safety. For conformity to Christ is produced, through the power of the Spirit, by the contemplation of Christ. (2 Cor. 3:18.) The one object of the Christian life is to learn more of Himself, and Satan cannot find entrance into a heart that is full of Christ. John therefore needed not to say anything to these; for, in fact, they wanted nothing. Take, for example, all the precepts of Scripture, and what are they? They are but the embodiment of some trait of Christ; and hence in knowing Him these "fathers" possessed all, or were at the source of all, that was necessary for their sustenance and growth in the divine life. If they needed encouragement, wisdom, guidance, consolation, or admonition — all this; yea, all the blessings secured for us in redemption, they possessed in the One they knew.
It may be that but few are really "fathers." But the question for our souls is this, Shall we be content to be anything else? The child of today is the man and the father of the future. Should it not be the same with us spiritually? Alas! that so many of us are so dwarfed and stunted. The consequence is, that very many never pass beyond the stage of childhood. As we read in the epistle to the Hebrews, "When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat." (v. 12.) But if we would know the full blessedness of the Christian life, or rather if we desire to learn more of the boundless treasures that are contained for us in Christ Himself, we must press on with full purpose of heart in the study of all the blessed unfoldings of His person, of His graces, beauties, and moral perfections which are contained in the word of God. If indeed we sit daily, like Mary, at the feet of the Lord, to hear His word, we shall be on the road to become "fathers" in the family of God.
(2.) Young men. This is the second class which John distinguishes amongst God's children; and concerning these we have first their characteristics, and then the divine counsels addressed to them both for guidance and warning. In commencing his exhortation to them, the apostle repeats their special characteristic, and adds a clause which reveals to us the source of their strength — "The young men are strong; they have derived their strength from the word of God, and it has been exhibited in their victory over the wicked one." (Compare vv. 13, 14.) These several points are of exceeding interest. But the fact of their being strong needs only to be mentioned; it is the source of their strength that contains instruction for us. Their strength, then, flowed from having the word of God abiding in them. It is this, indeed, which gives power in every direction — with God, before men, and, as here, in conflict with Satan.
What, then, is meant by having the Word abiding in them? Our blessed Lord has given us the clue when He says, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (John 15:7.) In this case it means no less than that His words should have found their home in our hearts, and in such a way as that they have formed our thoughts; yea, rather, because filling us with divine thoughts they have produced the mind of Christ in us, so that the very desires we utter in prayer are but the expression of His own mind and will. Hence He can say, "Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." So with the "Young men;" the word abiding in them indicates the word so treasured up in their souls that it forms and governs the life, and is there in their possession always ready for use against the attacks of Satan.
"This is," you may say, "the very thing we desire." Many express the same thought. It should then be understood, that to have the word of God abiding in us involves labour. For example, if I but seldom read the Scriptures, and even then cursorily or hurriedly, it is impossible that I can have the word of God abiding in me. No, this blessing can only be reached by reading, prayer, meditation, and the ministry of the Spirit. In this way the word that is written in the Bible is transferred to our hearts, is stored up there as a priceless treasure, and becomes the spring of all our thoughts, activities, and conflicts. We read that Israel in a later day will have God's law put into their minds, and written in their hearts, and that then all will know the Lord from the least to the greatest. (Heb. 8:10-11) They had always possessed the law in the tables of stone, but this gave them no power for obedience or conflict; but when it is engraven on their hearts everything is changed; they become faithful and strong in the ways of the Lord. In like manner, when we only possess the word of God in the Bible, it does not help us in our daily warfare; but the moment we have any part of it treasured up in the heart it becomes, as we have seen, the spring of life and power through the Spirit of God.
It was then through the word abiding in them that the "young men" overcame the wicked one, and this for a twofold reason. Treasuring up the word, they were in obedience to it, and Satan cannot touch the obedient believer. As long as he is kept in dependence and obedience all Satan's assaults are foiled. And this same word, abiding in the heart, becomes the ready sword of the Spirit wherewith to repel and put to flight the adversary of our souls. The Lord Himself is the perfect example of this, as of all else, in the temptation in the wilderness. Speaking in the Spirit in the Psalms, He says, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart." Led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, He was tempted of the devil; but to every temptation He replied, "It is written." He used the word already abiding in His heart, and thus met every assault and confounded the adversary, who at last retired baffled and overcome. The instruction for us lies in this, that if the word is not beforehand in the soul it cannot be employed as a weapon for defence. How often have we had to confess, that had we remembered such and such a Scripture, we might have been saved from this mistake and that snare! It is therefore of the first importance that we should seek to have the word of God abiding in us. It is the only sword of the Spirit, and with no other weapon can the ceaseless assaults of Satan be repelled. If indeed we would be strong, "young men," it is absolutely necessary, always necessary, but especially in a day like the present, when the very foundations of our faith are being assailed, to treasure up the living word of God in the inmost recesses of our hearts. The divine resource for us in such a state of things is to prize, meditate. and feed upon the sure word of God.
There is, however, a special danger to which the "young men" are exposed, and this forms the subject of the address to them. "Love not the world," says the apostle, "neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in 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. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." (vv. 15-17.) The world therefore is the one special danger, arising out of the character of their conflict, to which the "young men" are exposed. It was so with Samson, the Nazarite, and a "young man," because of his strength through his separation unto the Lord, and not being drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit. (Compare Num. 6; Eph. 5:18.) As such he became the special object of Satan's enmity and assaults, and the temptation with which he succeeded in luring him to shame and disaster was one of the things in the world of which John speaks — the lust of the flesh.
There are two things pointed out — the world, and the things that are in the world. It is very important for us all that these should be understood. John uses the term "world" in a moral, not, it need scarcely be remarked, in a physical, sense; i.e., not as the place in which we live, the created world, the earth, but as setting forth the whole system of things round about us, the world as organized by man, and controlled by Satan as its prince and god. (See John 12:31; John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4.) Cain was its originator, when he went out from the presence of the Lord, and built a city — the expression of organized society; and his descendants embellished the world which had thus been formed with arts and sciences, the object of which was to make man happy apart from God. The world is therefore always in antagonism to God; or, to speak according to the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures, to the Father. The flesh is in opposition to the Spirit, Satan to Christ, and the world to the Father. It is on this account that John says, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." This does not mean that every one who loves the world is not a believer, but that such an one could not be in the enjoyment of the Father's love.* The Father indeed could not manifest His love to a lover of the world; for there is the most absolute contrariety between the world and the Father. This was shown out in the cross of Christ. God demonstrated by that cross what man and what the world were. It was the world that crucified Christ. Satan succeeded in banding together against God's only-begotten Son all ranks and classes of society. The whole world, Jew and Gentile, the religious and civil authorities, were united as one man to put Him to death; and thereby Satan demonstrated that he was the prince of this world. God now holds the world to be guilty of the death of His Son; and a child of God could not therefore love the world, and have in him at the same time the love of the Father. Nay, his only possible attitude towards it should be that of the apostle Paul, as expressed in his words, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom" (or whereby) "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14.) All this is so plain and simple that no believer would question it; but who, at the same time, is there that cannot perceive the danger of us all from this source? Satan is very active, and our hearts are very subtle, so that worldliness, in some shape or form, finds an easy entrance amongst the children of God. We have need therefore to be always on the watch, and to remember these solemn words, that the love of the world absolutely excludes from the heart the love of the Father. What folly we are often guilty of! For the sake of a passing gratification we are content to forfeit the sweetest and most blessed enjoyment of the soul, to lose from our hearts that which gives perpetual sunshine, and ministers solace in every trouble and sorrow which can befall us in our wilderness path.
*There is no doubt that in this passage love of the world and love of the Father are characteristic. But we speak above of the general truth in its application.
To guard against all misconception, the apostle speaks not only of the world, but also of the things that are in the world; and these are specified as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. That is, everything which the flesh can desire in any shape or form, all that may please the eye, everything the eye may covet or desire to possess, and also everything in which a man can take pride, which gives him importance in this world or exalts him amongst his fellow-men, whether it be rank, distinction, learning, strength, skill, or power all, in a word, that ministers to man as man in this world. The "young" man is to eschew all these things, and will just in proportion as he understands their relation to a rejected Christ, and consequently to the Father and His love.
It will be seen, moreover, that the Spirit of God points out in this scripture the three avenues to our souls — the avenues through which Satan ever seeks to beguile us with his worldly fascinations and enchantments. These gateways should therefore be ever carefully guarded. It is easier to keep the enemy out than it is to expel him after he has effected an entrance. just as Nehemiah after he had built the wall appointed watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his own house to maintain the city in holy separation, so should we guard the portals of our souls against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in order to keep ourselves in the enjoyment of the Father's love. To succeed in this, a walk in the presence of God, constant watchfulness and prayer in the power of the Holy Ghost, are absolutely requisite.
The apostle enforces his exhortation by an argument of another kind. "The world," he says, "passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." He reminds us of the transient character of the world and its possessions in contrast with the perpetual duration, the immutable character, of all that attaches to God. Doing His will, we abide for ever; for in His grace he has associated us with Himself, and with His beloved Son (1 John 1:3), and eternity therefore is our portion — an eternity of blessedness and joy. And the more we enter into this, the more our hearts comprehend the character of the place into which we have been brought and are possessed and controlled by the Father's love, the more we shall be fortified against the allurements of the world, and perceive their utter vanity. "Every trace of Egypt," says a well-known writer, "is a reproach to the believer." This testimony is true, for Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." (Gal. 1:4.)
CHAPTER 5. THE THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE FAMILY OF GOD (cont.).
1 JOHN 2.
ALREADY two of the three classes into which the apostle divides the whole family have been considered. The third now remains to be noticed, and these are the babes. It will be remembered that these several classes distinguish spiritual states or attainments. Babes therefore, while they should be, are not necessarily the youngest of God's children, because, unhappily, it is sometimes the case that Christians remain in this class throughout the greater part of their lives. All, if God's children, are babes who are neither "fathers" nor "young men," whatever their age or the number of years they have professed to be Christians.
Their characteristic is, as seen in verse 13, that they know the Father; for this is the first thing they learn through the reception of the Spirit of adoption. Convicted of sin through the mercy of God, the blood of Christ has met their need as sinners by cleansing them from guilt, and thus giving them peace and confidence in the presence of God. Thereupon sealed by the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of God's Son, they cry, "Abba, Father," and are thus brought to know Him in this relationship. It is not now only that they are saved, but they also know that they are children, and as children they have been taught to know the Father. This is an immense, though it be but an initial, blessing; for learning that through grace a divine relationship has been formed between God and their souls, and that this relationship is indestructible, they are led on to apprehend something of what is involved in the Father-name of God, and to rejoice in the blessed knowledge that they have become the objects of His heart — a heart that will never weary in ministering to them, and which will find its joy in their welfare and happiness now and throughout eternity.
It will thus be perceived that it is not supposed that there could be a single child who did not know the Father. That there are such cases is well known; but this arises, as before pointed out in reference to the forgiveness of sins, from defective teaching, from unbelief, or from ignorance of the full character of grace. God desires that every one of His children should know Him as Father, and He has made provision that they should do so, so that if there be not this knowledge, the want can only be traced to man, and not to God. There is nothing indeed more sad than the perpetual attempts made, even by professing Christian teachers, to undermine the truths of redemption and the privileges of believers. Unwilling to believe that God is as good as He is, and that man is as bad as he is, their object is to exalt man at the expense of God, and thereby they become blind to the plainest teachings of His word. It is the more necessary on this account to assert the whole truth of grace and redemption.
The address to the "babes" commences with verse 18, and extends to the end of verse 27. In verse 28 the whole family is included. The world is the peculiar danger to the "young men," and false teaching is the snare to which the "babes" are more especially liable, and this gives the occasion for the unfolding of important instructions, for the guidance of believers in every age. These we may now examine.
He first reminds them that it is the "last time." They knew, for they had been taught, that antichrist should come; but already there were many antichrists — opposers of Christianity in the spirit of antichrist, and this proved that it was the last time. In Paul's writings mention is made of the "last days," and this term marks more distinctly the closing period of the last time — the last time being characteristic rather of this dispensation. The cross of Christ was the close of God's dealings with the world on the ground of responsibility. Man was demonstrated to be lost, and the world was judged. But the Lord still lingers in His long-suffering grace, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;" and this attitude characterizes the day of grace, the last time, during which the cry goes out on every hand, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." John, however, shows that it is the last time by the existence of antichrists — proof that the antichrist was in the background, the man of sin, who will not himself appear on the scene until after the saints are caught up to be for ever with the Lord. (Compare 1 Thess. 4:13-18 with 2 Thess. 2) The antichrists are regarded as heralds of Satan's masterpiece; and in order to put the babes on their guard, the apostle describes the character both of the one and the other. The antichrists were apostates. "They went out from us." "They would not have done so if," says John, "they had been of us," and now their going out has made it "manifest that they were not all of us." What a solemn statement! These antichrists had once been on the ground of Christianity, breaking bread with the saints at the Lord's table, and had now gone out, had abandoned even the profession of the name of Christ, and assumed a position of utter antagonism to Him whom they had once confessed as their Saviour and Lord. But doubtless it needed spiritual perception to detect their antagonism to Christ, or it would scarcely have been necessary to warn the babes against such a danger. Satan ever transforms himself into an angel of light, and his servants likewise assume the form of ministers of righteousness (see 2 Cor. 11:14-15); and thus often, under the plea of greater spirituality, more devotedness or a profession to have discovered higher truths, these false teachers seek to beguile simple souls. John unmasks and gives them their proper name — antichrists. This leads him on to the full character of antichrist. He is a liar that denieth that Jesus is the Christ; He is the antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. The first points to the Jewish, the second to antichristian error, and the two combined will make the antichrist.
We have then in this short scripture the development and consummation of all heresy and evil doctrine. At last all forms of antagonism to the truth will head up, first, in the denial, not that there is a Christ to come, but that Jesus is the Christ; and, finally, not, it may be at first, in denying that there is a God, but in refusing the truth of the Father and the Son; in a word, Christianity. And who is there with any intelligence in the word of God, and with any measure of acquaintance with prevailing forms of error, that cannot perceive the germs, daily expanding in distinctness, of these forms of opposition to the truth of God? Yea, if John could say in his day, even more can we affirm in our time, that even now are there many antichrists. In every shape and form the word of God is being undermined, and the distinctive truths of Christianity ignored, not so much by avowed atheists or infidels as by professed Christian teachers; so that it is now possible for a man to be a so-called minister of Christ even while he rejects the whole truth of His person and His work.* The greatest danger of the present moment is found in the pulpits of Christendom. For the time they are with us — with us only, because Christendom itself is fast becoming, if it has not already become, apostate, and is therefore in agreement with these deniers of the truth; but ere long many (as some have already done) will throw off their mask and boldly take their stand with the open rejecters of Christ and Christianity. They are really antichrists.
*As an example of this, we have just noticed the appearance at an institution where young men are professedly trained for ministry among the descendants of the Puritans, of an eminent Unitarian. He was heartily welcomed and loudly praised.
It is of the greatest moment to remark that it is the babes who are warned of this danger and snare. In our day it is too often deemed a superfluous work — if not altogether unwise — to admonish young converts concerning prevalent errors. John, on the other hand, speaks plainly, and prepares them for the dangers which lie round about their path. Even a worldly proverb says, "To be forewarned is to be forearmed," and this saying is true in every sense, as seen from this scripture. Many a shipwreck might have been spared us if the example of John had been copied by those who have the lead in the Church of God. But the apostle does more than indicate the peril; he also teaches these young believers the means of their safety. For God in His tender grace, foreseeing every difficulty, and the character of every foe that will confront His people, has provided for every emergency. Hence John says, "But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth." (vv. 20, 21.) And further on he says, "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father." (v. 24.)
These three sources of defence against error are worthy of careful consideration. First, John reminds them of the unction of the Holy One, by which they knew all things. The same Spirit that dwells within us as the Spirit of adoption is the unction or anointing, as well as the seal and the earnest. (See 2 Cor. 1:21-22, etc.) As the anointing, the Spirit of God, bringing us thus into association with Christ, gives us two things — intelligence and power. In this scripture it is in the aspect of intelligence, and John teaches the "babes" that since they have been anointed by the Holy Ghost, they are themselves at the source of all knowledge, not that they actually know all things, but that, in having the anointing, they have the possibility within themselves of knowing, and thus of distinguishing between, truth and error. In divine things it is well to bear in mind that the Holy Ghost is the only power of apprehension. (See 1 Cor. 2) The mind, human reason, and intellect have no place here. As another has said, "The activity of mind is the greatest barrier to the understanding of the truth of God." Hence it is often the case that a mere child in the things of the world is the wisest in the things of God. The psalmist thus says, "I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients; because I keep Thy precepts." (Ps. 109:99-100) The source, then, of all wisdom and knowledge for the believer is the word of God as unfolded by the Holy Ghost. God has in this way furnished the "babes" in His family with an all-sufficient means of discernment and defence when surrounded by anti-Christian errors. As to these they need not that any one should teach them, because, walking in dependence on God, the Holy Spirit Himself will put them on their guard, and show them what is truth and what is error. A remarkable exemplification of this occurred recently in another land. Under the guise of more light and greater charity the very foundations of the truth were assailed in a certain city, and especially in connection with the saints of God. One brother was aware of the danger, but at the outset, for the sake of peace, and because, as he then thought, the poor and simple would not be able, to enter upon such questions, he kept silence. Finally he was compelled in faithfulness to the Lord to separate from those who maintained the false doctrines; and in a letter recently received he relates, to the glory of God, that not one of the simple souls, for whom he had been afraid, has been led astray; but he adds that, with scarce an exception, all the educated and intellectual have either refused to judge, or have accepted, the erroneous teachings. Like "the babes" of our passage, those who proved themselves faithful had, and have, the unction of the Holy One, and therefore, distinguishing the truth from error, were not ensnared by the plausible persuasions of the Evil One.
These "babes" also knew the truth, and consequently knew that no lie is of the truth. (v. 21.) This is a great safeguard for the saints when errors in specious guises are stalking abroad. If we have the truth we may well be satisfied, and we need not to examine everything else that claims to be a truth. The Lord would spare us both the defilement and the trouble. "His sheep," as He Himself has taught us, "know His voice, but they do not know the voice of strangers." (John 10) It is sufficient therefore for us, if we do not know the voice that seeks to beguile: we refuse to listen to it because it is a strange voice. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever," and we are not therefore to be carried about with diverse and strange doctrines. No greater mistake can be made, when we know we have the truth, than to examine an error which claims to supersede that which we possess. It may be the duty of teachers to do this in order to expose the artifices of Satan, but it is enough for the "babes" to rest in the certainty of the truth itself, and in the knowledge that no lie is of the truth.
Then the apostle, as before remarked, characterizes the liar as he who denies, not that there is a Christ, or that He is to come, but that JESUS is the Christ. And he is the antichrist that denies the Father and the Son; i.e., the whole truth of Christianity; for no man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him. But — and the warning is most solemn — "whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son, hath the Father also." (vv. 22, 23.) God — God the Father — therefore cannot be known apart from the Son, apart from the truth of what He is in His own essential dignity, apart from the truth of His person, as Jesus Christ come in the flesh. (1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 7-9.) All the refinements of Deism are therefore but infidel speculations; for the profession of believing in God apart from Christ is tantamount to the rejection of the true God, inasmuch as it is only in Christ that He has been revealed, or can be known.
The "babes" had the unction of the Holy One, and they knew the truth; but now the apostle adds an exhortation — "Let that therefore," he says, "abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father." This is the third source or means of their safety; and therein lies a principle of abiding importance. There is no other remedy after that corruption has come in and produced confusion on every hand, than to go back to the beginning. The apostle Paul thus exhorts Timothy in the difficult circumstances of his day to continue in the things which he had learned, and had been assured of, knowing of whom he had learnt them. (2 Tim. 3:14-17.)
There is not a single error or corruption of the truth that may not in this way be met and exposed. Satan himself is powerless against the truth of God when adduced in all its simplicity. Resting on the Word, as given by the apostles, we are on a sure rock, against which all the waves of error dash themselves only to be scattered as mist and foam. Hence it will be found that in all theological controversies the authority of human writers — the fathers, as they are termed, post-apostolic authors — are cited, or those nearer our own times, to the almost entire forgetfulness of that which has been heard from the beginning. But God's truth remains unchanged, is as fresh and authoritative today as when it was first revealed, and is therefore the sole test of man — his systems, pretensions, and claims. Whatever therefore does not accord with that which has been heard from the beginning has to be unsparingly rejected. No plea of altered circumstances or the changed conditions of society, can for one moment be admitted. The unchanging God imparts His own character to His own truth, and it thus abides through all times as changeless in its perfections as He whose word it is.
Here, however, the point is not only that the truth abiding in them, in the power of the Holy Ghost, would be their safeguard from the antichrists who were already in the world, but there is also the positive blessing. "Ye also shall continue" (abide) "in the Son, and in the Father." As in chapter 1, the reception of the truth, as proclaimed by the apostles, inasmuch as the message was concerning Christ as the word of life, brought with it a new nature and eternal life, also into fellowship with the Father and the Son; so here the retention in the heart of that which had been heard would keep in that fellowship, cause to abide in the Father and the Son. The maintenance of the truth, as first delivered, is of the utmost consequence, both for our own souls and as a defence against evil doctrines. Nothing produces holy affections, nothing sanctifies, nothing leads into the enjoyment of our portion in the Father and the Son but the truth, and it is the truth alone which is the sword of the Spirit. If, however, it is to be all this for us, it must be enshrined in our hearts, treasured up there as a holy deposit, that it may become the source and spring, through the Holy Spirit, of our actions, walk, and conduct, as well as furnish us with the only adequate weapon of defence when exposed to the assaults of Satan, and at the same time be the means of keeping our souls in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and the Son.
A word of encouragement and consolation follows. He had said, "If that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you," etc.; but now he adds, "This is the promise that He hath promised us, eternal life." The "ifs" of Scripture never limit or make conditional the grace — the absolute character of God's grace. They do set forth our responsibility, continuance in the path being the evidence of reality. Thus our Lord Himself said to certain who professed to believe in Him, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed "perseverance in His word being in this way the evidence of the truth of their discipleship to others. So continuing in the Father and the Son is of necessity connected with the maintenance of the truth in the soul. But while insisting to the full on the solemn character of these "ifs" of responsibility, and while it should never be forgotten that God meant that they should search us, and be used for self-judgment, it is as necessary to press without reserve the unconditional character of God's grace in our salvation. Eternal life is eternal life, and once possessed can never be lost; for indeed, as we have seen, it is Christ Himself; it is that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. (1 John 1:2.) As soon therefore as he has urged upon them the responsibility of keeping that which they had heard from the beginning, he strengthens their hearts by recalling to their minds that it is eternal life which God has promised.
This brings out a very blessed principle in God's ways with us as revealed in the Word. He never would have us in doubt as to whether we are His or not — that is always regarded as a settled question, if we are believers. Self-examination is never therefore enjoined with a view to discover whether we are, or are not, true Christians, but only for the purpose of detecting sin, that it might be brought out into the light of God's presence, and there be judged. The relationships between our souls and Him, on the ground of redemption, having been established once and for all, His claims upon us, and our responsibilities as belonging to Him, can then be freely urged. But they are never urged, and we should never press them, to weaken grace; but all exhortations of this kind proceed upon the foundation of grace, in order to bring our souls more fully into the enjoyment of our privileges. Because this distinction is often lost sight of, souls are brought under bondage, by using the precepts and warnings of Scripture in a legal way to stir themselves up to greater zeal and devotedness. It is grace that establishes and grace that animates the soul — God's blessed and sovereign grace, which He freely gives without conditions; but having made us the possessors of it, that we might know His own heart, He, in the exercise of that same grace, warns us of the dangers we may encounter, and explains to us the conditions on which we may be brought under its full and efficacious action and enjoyment. This will help us to understand why the apostle adds, after verse 24, "This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life."
The two following verses gather up the substance of his instruction to the babes. He once again leads them back to the anointing which they had received of Christ, and in consequence of which they needed not that any man should teach them concerning these false, apostate teachers, who were seeking to lead them astray. John does not mean that these saints could dispense with the teachers who were gifts from Christ to the Church, for the perfecting of the saints, and the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4), but rather that, should they be assailed by antichrists, they had an all-sufficient resource, though left entirely to themselves, in the anointing of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, he tells them that "as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him" — in it, it might equally be from the word used; but "in Him" would seem to be the true interpretation. This order is very beautiful. First the anointing; then this anointing teaching them all things; and finally abiding in Him. Ah, what could lead us astray, if the anointing of the Holy Ghost were in mighty operation in our souls, if we were constantly occupied in receiving His teachings, and if we were abiding in Christ! We should then be in the living enjoyment of the source of all knowledge, power, and blessing.
Thus in verse 28, where the apostle addresses once more the whole family, he has but one word for them, after the instructions given to the different grades of the family, and that is, "Abide in Him." "And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we" (we who have taught you, and been used for your blessing) "may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming" — as they would be, if then it were seen that the labours of the apostles and Christian teachers among them had been in vain. They might in that case lose the things which they had wrought, and not receive a full reward. (2 John S.) He thereby set them also, as well as himself and his fellow-labourers, in the prospect of the Lord's return (His manifestation here, because connected with responsibility in service, as always in the epistles). Nothing furnishes the heart, whether of labourers or of the saints generally, with such a powerful motive for diligence in God's ways as the expectation of the coming of Christ. It is this motive John now supplies to every child of the family, as he leaves upon their hearts this divinely-given precept, "Abide in Him." Abide in Him, in the prospect of soon seeing Him face to face, where the character (says the apostle in effect) of our work will be fully declared. May the Lord lay this simple injunction in new and living power upon the hearts of all the children of God, for His name's sake.
CHAPTER 6. MARKS OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
IF we are children of God certain traits or features will be displayed; for if we are born again, and have thus received a new nature and eternal life in Christ, this new nature — for such is the apostle John's argument — will exhibit itself in a distinct way. In other words, inasmuch as Christ Himself is the eternal life, the life we possess through believing in Him will flow out in the same channels as it did through Him in His sojourn amongst men. A divine nature must always express itself in the same way under the same circumstances, and reveal its likeness, its moral similarity, to Him from whom our new nature has been derived. Hence the apostle throughout his first epistle indicates certain distinguishing marks of God's children.
Before, however, entering upon these, it should be carefully pointed out that these traits are not given to enable us to discover if we are children. To use the Scriptures in this way would be to mistake the whole object of the Spirit of God, to fill our souls with uncertainty, and to bring ourselves into bondage to a hard and exacting legalism which would soon wither up all the freshness and energy of the Christian life. Such has been the mistake in all ages of formal theology. The consequence is that souls are led to occupation with themselves, their spiritual state and condition, to a continual search after the fruits of the Spirit within themselves, instead of being taken up with Christ and tracing out and meditating upon His beauties and His perfections — the one essential condition of spiritual growth — and thus to constitute themselves their own judges. There are thousands of God's children who, thus set off on the wrong track, are kept in doubt and uncertainty all the days of their lives, instead of rejoicing in their privileges and in the enjoyment of the Father's love, and who even regard fear and doubt to be the signs of meekness and humility. But this is not the way of the Spirit of God. These traits of which we speak are not given for the purpose of self-examination to aid in the discovery whether we are truly regenerate, but they are described that we might know the character and action of that divine nature of which we by grace have been made partakers. Our relationship is regarded as a settled thing, and being settled the Holy Spirit can now lead us out into the knowledge of the manner of life of the children of God.
In proof of this, attention may be directed to this simple word, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God." (1 John 5:1) The fact of the new birth is made dependent, not upon whether this or that fruit of the Spirit can be detected in us; but solely and entirely upon this one thing — whether we believe that Jesus is the Christ. How blessedly simple! On the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed that God had made that same Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified, both Lord and Christ. The Jesus who was once here on earth is now declared, on divine testimony, to be the Christ of God. He was ever that while on earth, but He is now presented in this character in a new way, as the rejected of man, and as risen out of death, and seated at the right hand of God. Jesus is the Christ, and whoever bows to this testimony, and receives it in his heart as true, is born of God. Instead, therefore, of looking within for proofs of the new birth the attention should be directed to this one simple question, Do I believe that Jesus is the Christ?*
*See chapter 2 for the further explanation of the means of becoming God's children.
The first feature to be adduced is found in 1 John 3 — "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (v. 9; also 1 John 5:18.) The difficulty in this statement disappears when the manner of the apostle is observed. He states the truth, as is often observed, in an abstract, and therefore — absolute, way; that is, he confines his attention, to the exclusion of all else, to the one thing before his mind. Thus in this scripture he speaks only of what is characteristic of the new nature, which is born of God, without considering the fact that the children of God possess also the old nature, which is so utterly evil that the apostle Paul expresses its character by the term, "the body of sin." (Rom. 6:6.) Every believer has these two natures, and John speaks only of that which is divine, and therefore since the old is regarded as done with for ever judicially in the cross of Christ, though this be not his subject, he says, "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not." It is the new nature, and not the old, that marks out our existence before God; and thus in this absolute way he writes, "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." (1 John 5:18.) It does not mean therefore that the child of God never falls into sin (for who, alas! could assever that he never sins?), but simply that the character of the new nature is, that it sinneth not. For how indeed could that which is born of God sin? Thus the angel said to Mary, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35.) So absolutely — as to the nature derived in the new birth — whosoever is born of God doth not sin.
Nor must it be forgotten that while as a matter of fact we possess also the old nature, and that there is none that sinneth not, there is at the same time, as stated in a former chapter, no necessity for the believer to sin. "My little children," says John, "these things write I unto you, that ye sin not." (1 John 2:1) For though we carry, about with us the old nature, it is our privilege to reckon ourselves "to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:11) Hence the exhortation of Peter, "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." (1 Peter 4:1-2.) John's statement therefore must be in no way qualified, and when through carelessness and want of dependence, being out of the presence of God, we dishonour the name of Christ by falling into sin, we should unsparingly judge ourselves, accepting no lower standard, whatever we are practically, than this, "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not." Such is the character of the child of God: he may belie it by falling into sin; but sad and humbling as this would be, he does not, on this account, cease to be a child of God. On the other hand, the apostle, while reminding us that there is no necessity for our sinning, points out the gracious provision which God has made for the sins of His children. He says, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." Cleansed by the precious blood of Christ, we are cleansed for ever from guilt before God; but He has provided a means, through the Advocacy of Christ, of washing our feet from all the defilements we may contract in our walk through this world. First, if we sin, Christ prays to the Father for us; then, in answer to His intercession, the Holy Spirit, sooner or later, applies the Word to our consciences, and this leads to self-judgment and confession; and lastly, on the confession of our sins, God is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9.)*
*For the further unfolding of the truth of the Advocacy, the reader is referred to "The Unsearchable Riches of Christ." (Chap. 8)
Another mark of God's children is, that they do, or practise, righteousness. "If ye know," John writes, "that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth" (practiseth) "righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:29; see also 1 John 3:7, 10.) The child will be like Him of whom he is born. Having the same nature, it will bear the same fruits. But great care must be taken to apprehend what is meant by righteousness. As the apostle Paul teaches, every believer is made God's righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21); and hence in Christ answers fully all God's claims according to God's own holy standard. This gives him a perfect standing before God, so perfect that God can rest in the believer in entire complacency. John in this scripture does not speak of our standing, but of our life down here — the display of the eternal life we have in Christ — and thus the righteousness he speaks of is practical. It follows, moreover, that while it is practical it is righteousness according to God's thoughts, and not according to ours. Nay, it is expressly connected with Himself — with Himself as displayed in Christ. For it is, "If ye know that He is righteous, ye know every one that practises righteousness" — it shows therefore the same character; the righteousness of the believer, in this sense, being of the same kind and sort as was exhibited in Christ in His walk — "is born of Him." It is not thus what man calls righteousness, but that which, by the character of its display, plainly speaks of a new nature as its source, and is produced alone by the Holy Spirit.
Let us then ask more particularly wherein this righteousness consists. When our blessed Lord, in His lowly grace, presented Himself to John for baptism, the Baptist forbad Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering, said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." (Matt. 3:13-15.) This answer of our blessed Lord gives us exactly what we seek. Having all His delight in the saints in the earth, and the excellent, He identified Himself with them as God's chosen ones from amongst His ancient people; and having come to do God's will, He was with them now subject to every word of God. When therefore the Baptist went forth on his mission, and cried, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," preaching the baptism of repentance, that word became binding on the heart and conscience of every godly Israelite; and inasmuch as Jesus had now taken His place amongst His people, it was binding also on Him, not that He needed to be baptized (far be the thought!), but because in His own love and grace He took this position to glorify God, and to bless His people. He thus teaches us that obedience is the way of righteousness. And there is no other way of practical righteousness; not obedience in order to be saved, but obedience as being the expression of the new life we have received through the new birth in the power of the Spirit. (See 1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 6.) What indeed are the commandments which are given to us? They are but the display of the nature of God, just., for example, as all the precepts of the epistles are but the expressions of features in the life of our blessed Lord. If therefore we have a new nature, and Christ Himself as our life, all the activities of this nature and life must flow out in divine channels, and the commandments and precepts of the New Testament are these divine channels. This cannot be too much urged; for though it be true that God saves us absolutely on the ground of His own grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, He does look for practical righteousness in the walk and ways of His children. For this end He has given us His word, to be "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path;" and when we are guided by it, in subjection to it, when our lives are ordered by it, righteousness will never be wanting. We read in Rev. 19 that it was granted to the Lamb's wife "that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white;" and this fine linen, we are told, is the "righteousness of saints." (v. 8.) This is the full display, in all its totality and completeness, of the righteousness of every individual child of God which was wrought out in this scene in obedience to the Word. Wherever there are the new nature and divine life in the soul, there will be practical righteousness, but the measure of it will be determined by our obedience to the word of God.
Loving our brethren is also a trait of the children of God. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness, is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. … We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." (1 John 3:10-14.) And again, "Every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him." (v. 1) Once more, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8.) In this last sentence the divine secret is contained — "God is love." This is His essential nature, His holiness being expressed by that other word, "God is light." If therefore we possess this nature through being born of Him, love must characterize us, and will have for its objects all the objects of the heart of God. It must again be observed that love is not in this aspect pointed out as a responsibility. Love cannot be produced in this way. No; it is shown as a necessity of the divine nature, and therefore a necessity for the child of God. We must love if we are God's children, because it is the character of the new nature we have thus received.
And be it again observed that not a single child of God, wherever he may be found, whatever his associations, or whatever his spiritual condition, can be excepted. All who are begotten of God must be the objects of our divine affections. There can be no limitation of the circle. God includes the whole of His family, and so must we. This plainly asserted, the question as to the manner of the love cannot be evaded. It is this question which has ever been the occasion of much bitter controversy in the Church of God. Some have contended, because of this truth, that love must be shown to every child of God, while others have felt constrained to separate themselves from, and to have no intercourse with, many of God's people, because of their associations and walk. It is important therefore that the truth of this question should be clearly ascertained. This may readily be done by a reference to the Word itself. Now the moment the apostle has written that "every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him," he adds, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." It is clear from this scripture, in combination with the preceding verse, first, that not one of the children of God must be excepted from our love; but, secondly, that our love, divine love, love in the spirit, must only be expressed in the way of obedience.
This may be illustrated from other scriptures. The apostle Paul writes, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel" (complaint) "against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." (Col. 3:13) The Lord says, "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4.) From the first of these passages we learn that we must always cherish a spirit of forgiveness, that whenever we have a complaint against anyone we must in our hearts hold him as forgiven; and from the second we gather when the forgiveness is to be expressed; viz., on the confession of the sin on the part of the one against whom our complaint lies. So with respect to love. Nothing will justify our ceasing to love our brethren; but the love can only be exhibited in the channel of obedience to the word of God. If therefore a saint of God is living in manifest disobedience, I dare not associate myself with him in his disobedience, or I should falsify the whole principle of love as here laid down for our guidance and instruction.
The truth is, that in this, as in all other things, we are to be the representatives of God. Now God Himself does not, as before seen, manifest His love to those associated with evil (2 Cor. 6), or to those who love the world (1 John 2); and our Lord says, "If a man love me, he will keep my word" (not words): "and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23); that is, the expression of the Father's love, and the Father and the Son making their abode with the soul, are made dependent upon the believer's walk. We are to act in like manner. Not that we are to constitute ourselves judges of our brethren. By no means. But individually we have to maintain a good conscience before God, and thus we cannot link ourselves with that which would cause us to act in disregard of the word of God, or bring us into association with disobedience. We must nevertheless cherish hearts as large as that of God Himself; but the outflow of our affection must be regulated by His will as laid down in His word. And when the ways or the associations of a believer are of that character that we cannot join hands with him, our love will ever find an outlet in prayer for him, and it may be, if the opportunity be vouchsafed, in tender entreaty or solemn admonition. Let no one suppose that we advocate the narrowing of the heart; for we insist to the full that if we love Him that begat, we must love him that is begotten of Him; but together with this we plead that true divine love can only be shown in divine ways. It belongs to the new nature we, have received to love; but it must always be insisted that divine love is a holy love, and can therefore only flow out in divine channels.
Love indeed is a necessity of the new nature. Hence John says, "We know we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Then he solemnly adds, "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death;" and, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." (vv. 14, 15) Thereon he lays down the standard for love, and that standard is the death of Christ. "Hereby perceive we love, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (v. 16.) He thus brings us face to face with the immeasurable love of Christ, of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, who gave us "all that love could give;" and as we contemplate this surpassing knowledge love, he reminds us that nothing short of this is the measure of our responsibility to our brethren. Well might the apostle Paul say, "Owe no man anything, but to love one another," because love, as thus interpreted, is a debt ever owing and never paid. A debt? We speak after the manner of men; for it is the nature of divine love always to expend itself on its object, and to recognize no bounds or limits in its extent. It delights to serve, and therefore yokes itself to the needs of all the brethren. The apostle indeed follows up his statement of the standard with an illustration; for he warns us that if any one has this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, that the question may arise whether in such an one the love of God can dwell. No, love is not a sentiment, but a reality, expressed in deed and in truth. In this connection we may well recall the Lord's own words — "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 13:35; John 15:12.)
We may call attention to yet another mark of God's children. "Whatsoever is born of God," the apostle says, "overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" The Father and the world are ever in opposition. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, is of the world. Born of God, and having the same nature therefore, how could we love that which is in antagonism to the Father? And that antagonism has been demonstrated, and demonstrated in a way which stamps for ever its utter enmity and hostility to God; viz., by the rejection and crucifixion of God's beloved Son. James therefore writes "that friendship with the world is enmity with God." The two can never be reconciled. But there has been One in this scene who could say, for the comfort of His own, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Hence we read indeed here, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;" for this faith declares that Jesus, whom the world refused, is the Son of God. Herein lies the secret of victory over the world. For how could the world allure a soul who was living in the power of the faith that Jesus is the Son of God? Nay, with this belief fortifying our hearts, the cross forms an insuperable barrier between the world and ourselves. We have then God's own thoughts about it, and He charges it with the murder of His beloved Son. As He said to Cain, "Where is Abel thy brother?" so He today asks the world, "Where is my only-begotten Son?" The guilty Jews cried before Pilate, "His blood be on us, and on our children;" and His blood, in this sense, is on the world, and as such is the foundation on which by-and-by judgment without mercy will descend upon it. Believers, having a divine nature, holding that Jesus is the Son of God, are waiting for Him from heaven; and while they wait they show that they are not of the world, even as He was not of the world. They overcome it by their faith — faith in Christ, in what He is in Himself, and in what He has done.
It may be quite true that many a believer fails practically to overcome the world. But this is outside of John's subject. What he shows is, that it belongs to those who are born of God, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God, to overcome it. If they fail therefore, it is because they are not living in the activity of the new nature, or in the exercise of faith through the power of the Holy Ghost. For if, as already explained, we are children of God, and are dominated by the truth that Jesus — the rejected Jesus — is the Son of God, we must be victors over the world. Practically our victory over it will be displayed just in proportion as we take the ground of the apostle, when he says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." The cross reveals the character of the world, and the fact that the One they crucified upon it is the Son of God constitutes their utter condemnation. It was thus that the Lord Himself said, in the anticipation of His death, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31.) On this is grounded the absolute statement of our scripture — "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world."
"Master, we would no longer be
At home in that which hateth Thee,
But patient in Thy footsteps go,
Thy sorrow as Thy joy to know;
We would — and, oh! confirm the power -
With meekness meet the darkest hour,
By shame, contempt, however tried,
For Thou wast scorned and crucified."
CHAPTER 7. THE FATHER'S DESIRES FOR HIS CHILDREN.
WE have now seen that there are certain unfailing characteristics of the new nature and life which the children of God possess; that, in other words, as the apostle John teaches, this new nature, whether as seen in the Lord Jesus Christ oh earth, or in the believer, must necessarily flow out in the same channels. But in other scriptures we find precepts and exhortations which reveal what God desires for His children, and mark out the manner of life and walk which is pleasing in His sight. Now all these exhortations are seen, when rightly considered, to be but traits in the life of our blessed Lord, showing us what He was and did in His passage through this world; and thus while they afford divine guidance for our souls, they are both standards wherewith to measure ourselves, and encouragements to stimulate us to follow in His steps. It is an immense help to connect such scriptures with Christ, as otherwise they become both dry and legal, bringing the child of God into bondage instead of furnishing a motive, drawn from the love and the grace of Christ, for a holy and happy liberty in the path of obedience.
The first of these precepts which bear upon our especial subject is found in the "Sermon on the Mount." Our Lord says, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:43-48.)
The fundamental principle of this scripture is, that God's children should be His representatives in this world, that their very conduct should proclaim what they are, and to whom they belong. This is the force of the words, "that ye maybe the children of your Father who is in heaven;" i.e. acting in such a way that their moral likeness to the Father will be seen. The illustration the Lord uses makes this apparent. Men say, "Love your neighbours and hate your enemies;" but in contrast with this the Lord says, "Love your enemies." In these two things indeed the heart of man and the heart of God are revealed. Man may shrink from accepting this as true of himself, that he loves his neighbours and hates his enemies; but it is the exact expression of the flesh, of man's corrupt heart. It is not in man to love those that hate him. But God, on the other hand, has told out His heart in the gift of His beloved Son to a world that denied and crucified Him. As the apostle Paul writes," God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It was when we were enemies that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. This was love peculiar to God, love going out in blessed activity towards those who had nothing in them worthy of love, rather everything to turn it aside; love therefore that flowed out from the depths of God's own heart, because, being love, He delights to love, and therewith to bless the objects on which it rests. It is this same love — love of the same character — that is to distinguish God's children. Even the worst of men will love those that love them, and salute their brethren; for that is a selfish love, a love which spends itself on those from whom it expects a return and a recompense. This is human and not divine love; and hence the Lord says to His own, "I say unto you, Love your enemies. … Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father [which is in heaven]* is perfect."
* The words enclosed in brackets are of doubtful authority.
A whole system of theology has been built up on these closing words; but attention to the context should have obviated all possible misconception. The doctrine of Christian perfection — perfection in the flesh, as it really is — can find no support from this scripture, except indeed the words of our Lord are wrested from their connection. For the point here insisted on, as has been shown, is, that the followers of Christ, in contrast with the men of this world, and like God Himself, should show kindness and love to all classes alike, enemies as well as friends, good as well as evil; that just as God acts from His own heart, and sends His temporal blessings on all alike, irrespective of their character, so should His people; and in doing so they will prove that they are His children, and be perfect even as their Father is perfect.
Some years back, two ladies called upon a well-known servant of the Lord, and in the course of their conversation they advocated this doctrine of perfection. The question was put
"Have you attained this perfection?"
"We believe we have."
"Then you are perfect?"
"Are you as perfect as Christ?"
After some hesitation the reply was given in the affirmative. "Then," responded the servant of God, "I would not give much for your Christ." And yet, with the doctrine they held, what other answer could be returned; for either "perfect" means "perfect" according to God's standard, or something less. If the former, Christ is its only measure; if the latter, it is not perfection. But even if the passage were allowed to be an exhortation to attain to all the moral perfectness of God (which, as we have seen, it is not) it could not be pressed into the support of such a doctrine. For example, Christ Himself is our standard; we are to walk as He walked. (1 John 2:6.) But it would be to forget what He is and was upon the earth, if we turned round and said, "We have reached the standard; our walk is as perfect as His, and even more, we have attained to His perfection." For be it remembered that there are no degrees in perfection. It is perfection, and nothing short of it; and through the grace of God we shall attain it, but not until we see our blessed Lord as He is. (1 John 3:2.) Then we shall be like Him. In the meantime we are to purify ourselves as He is pure, daily to be transformed into His likeness; and this process of transformation will go on just in proportion as we are occupied in beholding the glory of the Lord displayed in His unveiled face. But it will only be "from glory to glory" "from one degree to another," and then when we behold Him face to face we shall have awaked in His likeness. We can never therefore, as another has said, rest in attainment, but rather in attaining. Still, while we sojourn here we are called upon to represent the Father in His attitude of grace towards all, and in this sense to be perfect even as He is perfect.
Another aspect of this truth is presented in the gospel of Luke. There we read, "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:36.) Now this word "merciful" is most remarkable, and this will be perceived if we adduce another scripture. "I beseech you therefore, brethren," says the apostle Paul, "by the mercies of God," etc. (Rom. 12:1.) This word "mercies" is the same as in Luke. And what are the mercies of which the apostle speaks? They are all the mercies expressed in redemption, as told out from Rom. 5 to the end of Rom. 8. They are, in other words, the unfoldings of the heart of God in the display of His grace in our salvation; for it is on the exhibition and enjoyment of these that the apostle grounds the exhortation to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, unto God, our reasonable service. When, therefore, our blessed Lord tells us to be merciful, as our Father also is merciful, He reminds us of our responsibility to represent the Father, to tell out the virtues of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light, to act towards others as He has acted towards us, so that the Father's heart and character may be displayed through our walk and ways. We are, therefore, to do good to all, to be ever givers without expectation of recompense; and to love our enemies, because otherwise we should misrepresent our God and Father. What a blessed mission it is to which we are called! Christ revealed the Father, and He would have us also to be revealers of the Father in order that others may discern the character of the One who has made us His children by what we are as we pass through this scene.
This same truth is found in more than one of the epistles. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says, "Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children." (Eph. 4:32; Eph. 5:1.) It is not as in our version, "as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you," but as we have given it, "as God in Christ." For the apostle here presents God in the riches of His grace, acting, without motive, except in Himself, and needing therefore no inducement to forgiveness; but acting solely from His own heart — these forms of display being but the manifestation of what He is as seen in redemption. But he presents Him in this way as our standard, and hence he says, "Be ye imitators of God as beloved children." As in the gospels, so here, the children are desired to present in their conduct the character of God as their Father. And thereon the apostle shows us God as love, and God as light — the two words which tell out all that God is; and he says to us, "You are also to display love and light." Thus he says, "Walk in love," (v. 2); and, "walk as children of light." (v. 8.) Christ Himself is brought in as the example of love in His having loved us, and given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour; for in this act of sacrifice He is the expression of the whole heart of God. And inasmuch as we are now light in the Lord we are to walk as children of light, and the fruit of the light (it is light, not Spirit) is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth — in such a walk proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
We may well, in the face of such scriptures, challenge ourselves as to whether these desires of God for us are sufficiently borne in mind. The temptation to measure ourselves by one another is so great that we cannot be too frequently reminded that God Himself, according to what He is as displayed in redemption as love and light, is our standard for walk and conduct. And with what motives are we herein furnished to become imitators of God as beloved children! Thus, for example, we are to forgive one another even as God in Christ has forgiven us; we are to act from our own hearts in grace, even as God acted in our salvation — seeking no motive outside of ourselves (save indeed in the God of our salvation), but finding our delight in the expression of that unspeakable grace of which we ourselves have been the subjects. It is, however, by no means intended that we should always pronounce our forgiveness to those who have sinned against us; but as to our own feelings we are ever to be in a state of forgiveness. We are never to retain inwardly the sin of a brother. However we may be sinned against, before God we are instantly to forgive; and then, as already explained, when the one who has committed the wrong, as our Lord taught Peter, comes and says, "I repent" (Luke 17), forgiveness is to be granted him. God Himself acts in this manner. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." and we, because His children, are to act on the same principle. Grace retains nothing, always forgives; but for the offender's own sake, for the glory of God indeed in the first place, it waits for the sinner's self-judgment before it openly absolves from the sin.
We are therefore set down close to the heart of God and of Christ, and are thus to draw our motives for walk and conduct from the unspeakable grace of the One, and from the unfathomable love of the Other; for the more we ourselves are under the power of divine grace and love, the more will grace and love flow out from our hearts towards our fellow-believers. It is indeed a question of heart, of the heart filled with the sense of the love of God in the power of the Holy Ghost; and when in any measure this is the case with us we shall act towards all around us in the spirit of these precepts.
In the epistle to the Philippians the apostle gives another exhortation to the saints, that they may approve themselves as the children of God. "Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons" (children, really) "of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" (not nation), "among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life," etc. (Phil. 2:14-16.) The manner of the introduction of this exhortation is worthy of all attention. It is, "Do all things without murmurings and disputings" (or reasonings): "that ye may be," etc. The Father knew, and our foolish hearts too in measure know, how prone we are to these murmurings and disputings. We murmur at a thousand things in our lot, just as the Israelites did in the wilderness, and thereby question the care, the love, and the wisdom of Him who orders all our path, and lose the blessed sense of His presence with us. As a consequence, we become an easy prey to the suggestions and temptations of the enemy. Hence disputings or reasonings are also mentioned; for the moment unbelief prevails, so that we walk by sight, reasoning takes the place of faith. There is nothing so destructive of confidence in God as a questioning mind. A child of God should abhor reasoning, remembering that word of the psalmist, "I hate thoughts." The thoughts of God are our portion, and with these we should be content, and to be satisfied with these is in fact the sign of a lively faith.
Ah, these murmurings and disputings are verily the little foxes that spoil the vines! And not only so, for the connection here is most grave. These things are to be avoided, that we may be blameless and harmless, which we never are when we fall into murmurings and disputings. Nay, it is not too much to say that nothing more dishonours the name of Christ, nothing more belies our character as God's children. And yet they are so common that little is thought about it. But how could I murmur, if I have any sense of the Father's care and love? How could I be disputing, if I know my place as a child with the Father? No; both the one and the other are falsifications of the grace of God.
If now we examine a little more closely verse 15, we shall see that the apostle has really given us a portrait of Christ. For every word in this exhortation is the exact expression of what He was in this world. He was blameless and harmless — or, as some translate, harmless and simple — in all His path from Bethlehem to Calvary. "Which of you," He said to His adversaries, "convinceth me of sin?" And three times did even Pilate testify that he found no fault in Him. (Luke 23) That He was infinitely acceptable to God we know, for He was the One in whom God found His delight; but man also, though hating and rejecting Him, was compelled to bear witness to His harmless life. He went about doing good, scattering blessings with a bounteous hand around His path; walking so perfectly before God and before man that the eagle eyes of His persistent enemies could not detect a single action on which they could ground a truthful accusation against Him. Baffled and defeated, if not abashed, in their every attempt to catch something out of His mouth which might be used to compass His destruction, they resorted to false witnesses, who distorted His words, to produce even the semblance of a charge against Him. And how could it be otherwise with that holy and spotless life?
Moreover, He was the Son of God, and surely without rebuke, or rather, as the word more exactly is, without spot. No defilement could possibly attach to Him; nay, He could touch even the leper without being defiled, and, in the power of the Spirit of holiness that dwelt in Him, banish the leprosy itself. This is but a type of His whole life. He was surrounded by sin and its pollutions, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; but, like a clear stream that is sometimes seen passing through the dirty waters of another without losing its own crystal purity, the blessed Lord remained without spot. Amidst darkness He was only light; and thus as the Lamb, foreordained before the foundation of the world, He was without blemish and without spot, and as such the Lamb by whose precious blood it is we have been redeemed. Moreover, He shone as light in the world; for, as St. John tells us, "in Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Yea, as He Himself testified, He was the light of the world, and as such He held forth the word of life.
This is then a perfect picture of what Christ was, and yet, as we have said, these words exhibit the Father's desires for His children, for every member of His family in this world. He would have each one of us to seek these characteristics. This is only to say again that Christ Himself is the standard for the children of God. We are to be like Him by-and-by, when we see Him as He is; then we shall be perfectly conformed to His image. But now, while we anticipate this consummation of our blessedness, He would have us walk like Christ. If we say we abide in Him, we ought ourselves also so to walk even as He walked. We may fail every hour, and indeed every minute, but the standard remains the same; and the more constantly we are occupied with, the more we meditate upon, Christ, have Him before our souls as the One on whom we feast, and in whom we delight, the more we shall be conformed to His image, and the more closely, as a consequence, we shall follow in His steps.
God's desire for us then is, that we should reflect in some measure the image of His Son. We know therefore what will most please our God and Father. In olden times, and indeed in the present, we read of professing Christians making costly sacrifices to win the favour of God. Sacerdotalism preys and thrives upon these things, extorting from its followers gifts and money under the plea that God will be pleased with them on account of their offerings. There is only one way of finding acceptance with God, and that is through faith in the Lord Jesus, who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace" (favour) "wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Being now brought into the favour of God in this way, we shall then best please Him by following the example of our Lord and Saviour. We thus read, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." And what was the characteristic of the life of Enoch? It was that he walked with God. The Lord Jesus did this perfectly, and the Holy Spirit has been pleased also to testify that Enoch walked with God. This then is the way to please God, not by rich gifts or costly offerings, but by a walk in subjection to the Word, according to God's mind — a walk with God — occupied and having fellowship with Him in His things. And such a walk is open to every child of God. The apostle Peter does but express this in another way when he writes, "As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy."
Such is the royal road to the enjoyment of God's favour. He loves all His children perfectly; but the one who is most closely following the Lord will enjoy the largest manifestation of it. The Lord loved Peter equally with John, but it was only John who was permitted to lay his head upon the Saviour's breast. The truth is, John being closer to the Lord in his walk, entering more into the mind of his Lord, could receive this special mark of favour. It was equally open to Peter; but Peter's own condition of soul was the hindrance to his enjoyment of it. The Lord Himself lays down this principle. He says, "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.) So likewise it is the obedient child that will receive the largest manifestation of the Father's love. If therefore the Father reveals His mind for His children, it is but to show how they can best please Him, to indicate the only pathway to blessing and the enjoyment of His own unbounded affections.
CHAPTER 8. THE FATHER'S GOVERNMENT OF HIS CHILDREN.
HAVING now considered what the desires of the Father for His children are, we pass on to another branch of our subject; viz., His government of His family. For if God has His family He must of necessity order it, according to His own mind, for His own glory, and for the blessing of every one of its members. Having committed to each child the honour and privilege of being His representative before men, it is impossible that He can permit them to continue in self-will or self-pleasing. He has therefore instituted a holy government over them — a government which carries with it, as all governments must, provision for chastisement in case of insubjection and disobedience, and rewards for those who acknowledge and submit themselves to it. It is well that every child of God should understand this; for nothing is more alarming than the wide-prevailing claim on the part of many of the people of God to be a law unto themselves. No; if by grace I am a member of God's family, the Father's will must be my. only law; His authority must be ever zealously maintained. The honour of God as our Father is concerned in it, and my own happiness, and the happiness of all the children of God, is dependent on it. If but one child in a family refuses the parental control, he brings discord and unhappiness into the midst of the household. All are affected by it. So is it likewise in God's family. All His children are so linked up together that they must be affected, consciously or unconsciously, by one another's conduct. All alike therefore are concerned in upholding the Father's authority.
If we now turn to a passage in 1 Peter, we shall find the principle of this government clearly stated. He says, "If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." (1 Peter 1:17.) This scripture, from the want of careful consideration, has been the subject of much misconception. It has sometimes been spoken of as referring to the future judgment — to our manifestation before the judgment-seat of Christ. But this is impossible; for the Lord Himself expressly tells us that "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." (John 5:22.) It cannot then be the judgment in the future, whether before the judgment-seat of Christ, or the great white throne; from both these alike it is the Son who will pronounce the award. What, then, is the judgment to which Peter refers? It is the judgment which the Father carries on daily in the midst of His family — a present judgment therefore, and not a future one. And nothing can be more solemn than the way in which it is here stated. In human families the parental government is often very remiss and uncertain. Through the weakness of the parents' hearts many offences are unnoticed, and the greatest transgressor oftentimes escapes. Partiality or favouritism too frequently destroys the peace and comfort of many a home. It is not so in the family of God. Though He loves, or rather because He loves, all His children with a perfect love, there is no respect of persons with Him, no indulgence shown to one more than another; but He deals with all alike in maintaining His authority and government for the welfare and blessing of all.
And the judgment is according to every man's work. By Him actions are weighed with unerring accuracy; for He seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. Only thus is it possible to discover the true character of our works. Outwardly they may often seem good and beautiful, but the revelation of the motive from whence they sprung would perhaps entirely change our estimate. The Father's eye rests upon the inmost springs of our conduct, and He therefore is never deceived. The nature of every word we speak, and every act we do, is at once apparent to Him, and upon this knowledge this righteous, yet tender and loving, judgment is based.
It would make an immense difference if we lived in the recollection that we are thus before the Father's eye, and under His government. Hence indeed the exhortation which the Spirit of God gives us through Peter. If this be so, pass the time of sojourning here in fear; that is, a gracious fear of grieving the Father's heart, the fear which springs from the sense of the holiness of His character. The apostle Paul, after bringing in the truth of our future manifestation before the judgment-seat of Christ, says, "Knowing the terror" (fear) "of the Lord, we persuade men." It is well, indeed, for our hearts to remember that while we are brought into the most tender and intimate relationships with God as our Father, He is ever the Holy One, and that His government of His family is also holy. Confidence in His grace and love, and the full enjoyment of liberty in His presence, which He in grace has accorded to us, should never prevent, but rather lead to, our cherishing the most reverential fear. It is true that perfect love casteth out fear — all fear of God as a judge; but it brings with it and intensifies the holy fear of which Peter speaks.
This will be further seen if we notice the grounds on which he urges the exhortation — "Forasmuch as ye know," he proceeds, "that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." He thus reminds us that God has absolute claims upon His children as founded upon redemption. These two things are always connected. In Exodus 12 God spares the Israelites (their first-born) in consequence of the sprinkled blood of the passover lamb; and in Exodus 13 the feast of unleavened bread is instituted, whereby the children of Israel are taught that the whole period of their lives, typified by the seven days, must be consecrated to God. The apostle alludes to this when he says, "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor. 5:7-8.) Or, as he says in another place, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price." (1 Cor. 6:19-20.)
But Peter seeks to enhance the character of God's claims by pointing out the cost of our redemption. There were two symbols of redemption in the Old Testament. Whenever the children of Israel were numbered God required that each man should give a ransom for his soul. This ransom money was expressed by half of a silver shekel, and this was "to make an atonement for their souls." (Ex. 30:11-16.) On one occasion, in token of their gratitude for a remarkable preservation in the war against the Midianites, they offered gold instead of silver. (See Num. 31) Both silver and gold, as the two most precious metals, were thus used as a figure of redemption. Peter alludes to this when he writes to these Hebrew believers and says, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold. … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." He thus contrasts the value of the blood of Christ, its infinite value in the eyes of God — derived as it is from the whole truth of the person of Christ — with that of silver and gold; and the point to which he would call our attention is, that God's claims upon His children are according to the preciousness of the blood by which they have been redeemed.
It was so typically in the case of the priests. At their consecration the blood of the ram was sprinkled on their right ears, right thumbs, and right toes — signifying that henceforward they were, according to the value of the blood, not their own, but Jehovah's; that they were to hear, to act, and to walk for Him. So with ourselves. It is a simple but most blessed truth, that we belong to Him who has redeemed us. This settles every difficulty in our daily lives. It is now not our own will and pleasure, but God's. We are turned to Him from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven. We can therefore now readily understand this apostolic precept — If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.
He even supplies an additional motive. This Lamb — the Lamb of God — has been entirely of God's providing. He was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. God had thought of His people from all eternity, and had told out all His heart for them in the gift of His beloved Son; and when He who had died to redeem us lay in His grave, God came in and raised Him up out of death, and gave Him glory, that those who believe might have their faith and hope in God. Surely a God of perfect love and grace! He has redeemed us by the precious. blood of Christ, He has made us His children, so that we address Him as our God and Father; and it is He who, in His government, judges according to every man's work. Who should govern us if not God? Yea, the pillars of the government of His family, are His love and grace as exhibited in the gift of His only-begotten Son, and they rest upon that eternal redemption which was accomplished by the precious blood of Christ.
If we turn now to the epistle of the Hebrews, we shall find the character and object of the Father's government more fully unfolded. There we read, in connection with the trials through which these saints were passing, "It is for chastening ye endure,* God dealeth with you as sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." (Heb. 12:7-8.) Now chastening belongs to government, and it springs from the very relationship, as the writer of this epistle shows, between the father and the son. But the whole subject, as introduced here, is so interesting and profitable that it will be helpful if we examine it in its context.
*This is generally accepted as the better reading
In Hebrews 11 the subject of faith — faith as seen in its action and power — is dealt with, and numerous illustrations of it are adduced, as seen in the saints of old. But all these illustrious examples are but preparatory to, and as it were shadows of, the one perfect example of Christ. He alone, whatever the excellency and the devotedness of those who had gone before, He alone, is the leader and completer of faith, the only perfect exhibition of it from the commencement to the end of His course. "Wherefore," says the writer of this epistle, "seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking" (looking off, away from all these witnesses) "unto Jesus, the Author" (Leader) "and Finisher of faith." There the character of His life of faith is indicated in a few words. The joy set before Him is the encouragement and sustaining power; but His path itself is summed up briefly in these significant words, He "endured the cross, despising the shame." Ah, what a life indeed was His!
"A mourner all His life was He,
A dying Lamb at last."
Yes; the cross is the characteristic of the life of faith; but faith, which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, gives the power to despise its shame, and then at length, even as the Lord Himself is set down at the right hand of the throne of God, there will be the entrance upon the enjoyment of its fruition in His presence, where there is fulness of joy, and at His right hand (though this place belongs alone to Christ), where there are pleasures for evermore.
Now we have the object of the presentation of the perfect example of our blessed Lord. In the path of faith all must endure the cross. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." The cross cannot be avoided. Self must be refused, and the cross taken up — death accepted. But God brings this in upon us frequently by the action of adversaries — persecutors. Hence the apostle says, "Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood" (died a martyr's death) "striving against sin." He would thus encourage and console these believers by pointing them to the surpassing sufferings which Christ endured — sufferings which had their termination in a martyr's death. His death was much more than this; for He was at the same time the sacrifice for sin; but here the question is simply of what He met with in the pathway of faith.
Having thus encouraged the fainting hearts of the saints by the example of Christ, the apostle now adduces another thing, and this it is that belongs especially to our subject of God's government of His children. He proceeds, "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." The especial thing to be noted, as unfolding the ways of God with His children, is that He takes up "the contradiction of sinners," the opposition and persecution we, may meet with in the path of faith, and uses them as needed chastisement. For in this scripture it is not the direct dealing of God's hand that is alluded to, but the trials and difficulties attendant upon the path of a believer through this world, which God nevertheless uses as instruments for our needed chastisement and blessing.
And nothing can be more blessed than this when understood. And how quietly will our souls then repose upon God; for we learn that all these things are under His control, and that He uses them for our blessing. We have a beautiful illustration in the life of our Lord of the action of faith in the presence of the power of the enemy. In the garden of Gethsemane, when, under the guidance of Judas, a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees came to apprehend our Lord, Peter, with impetuous zeal and fleshly energy, drew his sword, "and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. … Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:3-11.) It was Satan who was leading on these evil men, stirring up "the contradiction of sinners" against our blessed Lord. Their thoughts and actions were wholly evil. But our Lord, in the perfection of His confidence and faith, was above these instruments of the Wicked One, and in communion with His Father, and He would thus receive the cup, not from Satan, but from the hands of the Father. He was therefore in perfect peace and calm, undisturbed by the malice and enmity of His adversaries, knowing that, though they were led captive by the devil at his will, there was a greater One behind the scene, using the wrath of Satan for the accomplishment of His blessed purposes of grace and love. Far be the thought that the Lord needed this contradiction of sinners against Himself. He did learn obedience by the things which He suffered; and all these persecutions and sorrows lay in the path on which He had entered for the accomplishment of the will of God. As the Captain of our salvation He was made perfect through sufferings. And just because of this it is so infinitely precious to look away from everything to Him — to Him who endured the cross and despised the shame.
Applying all this to ourselves in view of our subject, we may gather some most profitable lessons. We learn, first, to connect all that may befall us in our path, coming upon us however it may, through the injustice and wickedness of man, or through our circumstances, with our Father's hand. Doing this we shall never be disturbed or disquieted, or be tempted to resent the action of others; but we shall quietly rest in the hands of our Father, in the spirit of David who said, when Shimei was cursing him, "The Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who then shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so?" Yes, it will still every rebellious thought, and pacify our rising indignation under the sense of injustice or persecution from others, if we can but in lowly humility and confidence say with our blessed Lord, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it
Secondly, we gather from the scripture in Hebrews that all these things are but the expressions of the Father's love. It is, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." And again, "God dealeth with you as with sons." It is therefore in Fatherly affection, watching over us in His tenderness, noting our need of correction and discipline, and permitting the very thing to come upon us which will accomplish the desired end. Earthly parents will too often overlook the failings of their children: they spare the rod because of their children's crying, and thus in their fond partiality or weak indulgence allow the bad habit or evil tendency to go uncorrected. Not so with God. He loves us too well, and never spares His rod if thereby He can bless His children. But
"He lifts it up on high,
With pity in His heart,
That every stroke His children feel
May peace and joy impart."
To enter into this will make an immense change in our experience. Meeting with trials and difficulties, we shall instantly ask, "What has the Father to say to us through these things?" In this way we shall receive nothing but blessing through the most adverse circumstances.
The third lesson has been anticipated, but may yet be stated in a distinct form. It is that God never chastens or scourges us unless there is something in us to require it. Having this truth in our minds, instead of complaining of our sorrows or trials, we shall at once seek, in the presence of God, to discover what secret sin or evil habit it is that has been suffered to pass unjudged, and has made it necessary for God to come in with His rod. For we must not forget that it is for chastening we endure, and that God dealeth with us as sons. Then, moreover, we shall not despise the chastening of the Lord, inasmuch as we shall have learned that He has a motive and a cause for it; nor shall we faint when we are rebuked of Him, assured as we shall be of His love in His action towards us.
There is also the solemn reminder that if we are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are we bastards and not sons. Old Bishop Fuller has illustrated this truth by an incident. Walking down the street one day, he saw two boys quarrelling, and watching them he perceived that one of the two was chiefly in fault. Presently a man came running out of a house, and seizing the lad who was least to blame, he began to chastise him. The bishop interposing said, "Why do you beat that boy? It is the other who deserves it most." "That may be," replied the man; "but this is my son." So it is; God chastises His children. "To be without chastisement therefore," says the Spirit, "is a sign that you are bastards and not sons." Asaph did not understand this truth, and therefore says, "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men." But of himself he says, "All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning." (Psalm 73:3-14.) His difficulty was removed when he went into the sanctuary of God, and it is also met and explained by the Holy Spirit in this scripture. (Heb. 12:8.)
The apostle now proceeds to enforce his instruction, first, by a parallel, and then by a contrast. He reminds us that we gave the fathers of our flesh reverence when they corrected us. Subjection to and reverence for them belong to the relationship of children to their parents. It is this which is taken up and urged as a ground of submission to God in His chastening. "Shall we not," he adds, "much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?" The term "Father of spirits" is used in contrast with the "fathers of our flesh;" and the argument is, if we gave the latter reverence, much more should we do so to the Former. This, moreover, is the path of life. As one of old said, "God often shakes His rod that He may not strike, and He strikes that He may not kill." In this He manifests His love — seeking to preserve His children from every false way — the way that seemeth right to a man, but the end of which is death.
The object of the chastening is now fully stated, and this as contrasted with the discipline to which we were subjected by the fathers of our flesh. These chastened us for a few days after their own pleasure, according as it seemed good to them, wisely or unwisely, and often, alas! from mere caprice or a passing feeling. Not so with God. He always has in view our profit, and the object that we might be partakers of His holiness. Such is the great end God ever proposes — our sanctification, conformity to the image of Christ. He seeks this by all the chastenings which we are called upon to endure. Like vines, our poor hearts send out tendrils in all directions, winding themselves around this and that object; and then it is that the Father permits trials or persecutions, or it may be sickness, to come in to snap these ties to objects other than Christ, and by the discovery of Himself and His love to us in these chastenings of His hand, He seeks to wean us from everything that might hinder our progress, and to attract us more fully to Himself.
It may be profitable to point out that there are different causes of our chastening. In 2 Cor. 12 we find that the object of the thorn in the flesh was to prevent the apostle from spiritual pride on account of the wondrous revelations made to him when he was caught up into Paradise. In 1 Cor. 11 the Lord chastened His people for levity of conduct at His table. In John 15 the branch that beareth fruit is purged that it may bring forth more fruit. But whatever the cause, whatever it may be in us that makes the discipline necessary, the end proposed, in the unspeakable love of our God and Father, is our truest blessing.*
*We have not distinguished here the different characters of the chastening. In 1 Cor. 11 it proceeds from the Lord, because it is for sins at His table, and so the thorn in the flesh is under His permission, because it is in connection with Paul as His servant. The reader will find it most profitable to note these distinctions.
What a view this subject gives us of the Father's watchful care and love. His eye is ever upon us, noting our state and condition, and He adapts His dealings with us, and the character of His dealings, sending persecution or trials in our circumstances, or sicknesses, as may be most calculated to effect the desired end. He knows, and He alone, what will most quickly touch us, how hot the fire must be to purge away our dross, and He orders all accordingly; but He is faithful, and will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation make a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it. Yea, "He stayeth His rough wind in the day of the east wind." Blessed be His name!
But the Spirit of God reminds us that the process will not be pleasant. "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." God would have us feel the chastening. Indeed, His desire is to produce in us self-judgment and humiliation before Him; hence the blessed result is connected with our being exercised thereby. If there be no exercises of soul produced by His hand upon us, there will be no blessing. Whenever therefore He begins to deal with us, our first thought should be, "There is a cause for it," and this should lead us into the presence of God, as it did David when the pressure of famine was upon the land, to enquire of the Lord. (See 2 Sam. 21) He will then reveal to us wherefore He has been compelled to use His rod, and thus humbling ourselves under His mighty hand, He will give us in due time the enjoyment of the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
Having this end of God's ways with us revealed, the apostle might well exhort us to courage and confidence. "Wherefore," he says, "lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." Faltering with distrust under chastisement may have the most disastrous effect upon feeble believers; whereas, on the other hand, God is glorified abundantly, and souls are blessed when a saint, passing through deep waters, leans with unshaken trust on the arm and heart of Him who is thus dealing with him. We cannot therefore too often assure ourselves of God's end in our chastisement, nor can we count too confidently upon His love to sustain us under it. Being our Father in His grace, He must govern us, according to His own will; but the end of His government is our most perfect blessing.
CHAPTER 9. THE PRIVILEGES OF GOD'S CHILDREN.
HAVING brought us into His family, God has surrounded us with blessings of every kind. And inasmuch as all is of grace, we are entitled to nothing, save as being in Christ. All is privilege where grace reigns; but in this chapter we propose to point out a few of the special privileges which our God and Father has bestowed upon us, as the expression of His own heart, in relation to our need as His children. just as all connected with His purposes of grace is but the display of Himself in His boundless and everlasting love, so all these privileges are to be traced back to His own heart as their fount and source. Before the Lord departed from this scene He said, as we pointed out in a former chapter, "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26.) It is not only that we are the objects of the Father's heart, but His love, in the same measure as it rested on Christ, is said to be in us — in us, because Christ Himself is in us, and thus the medium of its inflow into our souls. Entering into this, however feebly, we shall have no difficulty in comprehending the nature of the precious privileges which He has bestowed on us. But it is of all importance that we begin with the Father's love, and not with the privileges; that, in a word, we seek to understand the privileges in the light of the love, rather than the love in the light of the privileges. This is the divine way. Thus the apostle says, "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:3 2.) The lesser gifts flow from the greatest of all.
The first privilege we name is that of the Father's care. Our blessed Lord Himself has called our attention to this in Luke 12. The chapter supposes the Lord's absence from this world, and thus in principle finds its application to us while waiting for His return. (See vv. 35, 36.) The first thing of which the Lord speaks, is the exposure of His own to danger from persecution — persecution stirred up by Satan. After exhorting them not to fear them who can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do, but rather to fear Him who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell, He proceeds to encourage their souls by reminding them of God's constant care. The manner in which He does this is exceedingly beautiful. "Are not five sparrows," He says, "sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?" — or, as it is in Matthew's gospel, "and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." The application is evident, and hence He continues, "But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows."
What comfort lies in these blessed words for the children of God! We also are often exposed to dangers of many kinds. Our life in this world may easily be endangered, if not from enemies and persecutors, yet from other causes. In many a path of service, at home, or in the visitation of those suffering from deadly diseases, or in journeying by land or by sea, death may frown upon us and seek to turn us aside. Here then we have the antidote — the very hairs of our head are all numbered. In the recollection of this we can courageously proceed, not because we are insensible to the peril, but because we are imbued with the sense of a Father's protection and care. The poet sings but the simple truth when he says
"Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love sees fit."
What then has the child of God to do with fear? His only fear should be lest he might be unfaithful, and fear man more than God, lest he should forget that ceaseless care of love which makes him invulnerable to every weapon wherewith Satan seeks to compass his destruction, until the time appointed of God. The children of God, if they were in the power of this truth, would also be far less restless and anxious in times of sickness. God may permit us the use of means, but how often are these resorted to in a spirit of unbelief, as if our recovery were entirely dependent upon human aid and advice. Surely if a sparrow cannot fall on the ground without the permission of our Father, His children cannot. No, the very hairs of our heads are all numbered, and God is honoured by our perfect calm and confidence in the face of the greatest dangers, resting, as we may, in the assurance that diseases and enemies alike are but instruments in His hands, for the execution of His own purposes of tenderness and love.
The Lord applies this also in another way. Passing as pilgrims and strangers through this world we have certain needs. We are independent of the scene altogether excepting as regards our bodies. In all other respects we are made to feel with the Psalmist that it is a dry and thirsty land where no water is. But our bodies have needs; they must be fed and clothed. Our blessed Lord, in His tenderness for and sympathy with us, takes notice of these our wants; and He does so because He knows how often care, springing out of these necessities, comes between our souls and Himself, and prevents all possible enjoyment of the Father's love. In the parable of the sower indeed He mentions the cares of this world as one of the things that choke the seed of the Word, so that no fruit is brought to perfection. He therefore provides also an antidote for this evil. He tells His disciples to take no thought, i.e. to have no anxiety, for their life, what they shall eat, nor for their body, what they should put on. And, to enforce the exhortation, He reminds them that the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment; and then He adduces two illustrations of God's care that would ever meet their eyes — the fowls of the air, and the lilies of the field. They could scarcely step out of their houses without seeing bird or flower, and then He would have them remember that God fed the one and clothed the other, and that if so, seeing they were of more value in His eyes than either ravens or lilies, much more would He feed and clothe them.
How divinely perfect are the Lord's ways! And how wonderfully adapted are such words to meet the tendency of our hearts to anxiety about earthly things! But He goes still further. He reminds them that if the nations of the world have their minds upon all these things, it should not be so with the children of God. To mind earthly things is the mark of the men of this world. And what can deliver God's children from this bondage? Confidence in the Father's care and love. Hence the Lord adds, "Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things." What power lies in this blessed assurance when made good in our souls! Are we in straits, in difficult circumstances, under extreme pressure in respect of our daily wants? The recollection that our "Father knoweth" should dispel every fear and banish all depression. Even we, if we had the power to succour, would not allow our children to be borne down by their needs. if we, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, as our Lord has taught in another place, how much more shall our Father know how to give good things to them that ask Him? Yea, His eye is upon every one of His children. He beholds their every want, and if He delay to meet it, it is only for their fuller blessing. We might therefore well say, with Habakkuk, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." (Hab. 3:17-18.)
The only concern indeed of the children of God is with the kingdom of God — God's claims and interests. "Seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you." That is, God's will is to be our only law, and our hearts are to be set on His things, not on the things of earth. His glory is to be the end and aim of our lives; and He on His part engages to care for us. His very faithfulness is bound up with making provision for the needs of His children when they are seeking His kingdom. It is as the poet has said -
"Make you His service your delight,
Your wants shall be His care."
There is no need therefore, as the Lord proceeds to point out, to amass wealth or treasure in this world. If we do, our riches are exposed to thief and moth; and besides, where our treasure is our hearts will be also. If, then, our treasures are in this world, the heart will be here too; and hence the necessity of having Christ alone as our treasure that our hearts may be upon Him. Making Gods glory our object, we can afford to dispense with anxiety about temporal things, because He is watching over and ministering to us; we then can pass through this scene as strangers and pilgrims, and as we do so have our loins girt and our lights burning, and we ourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, in the expectation of the return of the Saviour to receive us to Himself, that we may be with Him in the Father's house.
Another blessed privilege enjoyed by the children of God is, that of making known their wants to Him. In other words, they possess the Father's ear. How often the Lord Jesus reminded His disciples of this! "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsover ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:23-24.) Who shall comprehend the vastness of the blessing involved in such a privilege — the privilege of unburdening our hearts of all our cares and sorrows, to One who understands us perfectly, and loves us infinitely?
Do any enquire as to what they may tell the Father in prayer? There is no limitation, no reserve. Everything that troubles us — every passing need, difficulty, or sorrow — all may be told out to Him whose ear is ever open to our cry. As the apostle Paul says, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." He would have us, in the intimacy of His love, to be absolutely without reserve before Him — all told out, nothing kept back. Our danger never lies in telling Him too much, but just in the opposite direction. And the more we. know His heart, the more intimate we shall be in the use of this privilege. As another has said, "Whatever is a care to us, produces a care for us in the heart of God." On this account we need never be afraid of presuming too far in our requests. He loves to hear the cry of His children, for He well knows that it is the expression of their confidence in Him. It may be, as it often is, a foolish cry; but still it is the cry of His own children, and He never wearies of listening to it. We have many instances in the Scriptures to encourage us — instances of the most familiar kind. Take Ananias, for example, when the Lord sends him to Saul. He ventures even to remind the Lord of the character of the one to whom he was to go — as if the Lord were unaware of it! "Lord," he says, "I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy name." Nor was the Lord displeased with His servant; but with the utmost tenderness He says, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." In like manner the Father would have us utter all our hearts in His presence — never wavering in our confidence in His love.
While, however, this is the case, He does not always promise to grant us our requests. In the scripture cited from John all that we ask in the name of Christ will be given. In the name of Christ will signify our being before God in all the value of the expression of what Christ is, and there consequently with His own claim upon the Father's heart. But it will be at once perceived that we could not be before the Father in the name of Christ for anything which was not according to His will. We could not say even to a human benefactor that we came in the name of another unless we had his sanction. Neither could we attach the name of Christ to any petitions save those wrought in our hearts by the Holy Spirit according to God's will; but every such petition will be infallibly answered, as the word of Christ plainly declares. When, on the other hand, we turn to the scripture in Philippians, it is different. There we may in everything make our prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, but it is not said that our prayers shall be answered. The promise is that the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. This is exceedingly precious; for it shows that God would have us before Him in perfect confidence, in the enjoyment of full liberty to make known to Him our every want; and also that when He does not grant our petitions, because in His love and wisdom He sees it better to withhold, He will yet guard our hearts by His own unspeakable peace. Laying down our burdens before Him, telling Him all that is in our hearts, He will cause us to know through Christ Jesus that perfect peace which nothing can disturb. In any case we shall have restful hearts, springing from entire confidence in our Father's love, and garrisoned by God's own peace, which passeth all understanding.
There is another aspect of this privilege which may not be passed over. When we are before God as our Father, it will surely be, not only to express our own desires, but also to render our thanksgiving and praise. How could we be, indeed, in the presence of the Father, with the sense of all His love and grace, without being bowed down before Him in worship and adoration? And this is entirely in accordance with the thought of His own heart. The Lord, speaking to the woman of Samaria, says, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him." How blessed to know this! Not only has God gone out, in His boundless grace, seeking after lost sinners, and through the gospel beseeching them, as it were, to be reconciled to Him, but as the Father His heart yearns for worshippers. To accomplish this desire Christ came into the world; died upon the cross; rose from the dead; ascending up on high; sent down the Holy Ghost; caused the gospel to be proclaimed. and through grace we have been brought to believe its testimony, have been born again, cleansed from our sins through the precious blood of Christ, and we "have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." As we meditate upon all this, we can but cry, in the language of the hymn -
"Father, we worship Thee, our God!
What rich, unfathomable grace
On us in Christ hast Thou bestowed!
Children of wrath (our nature's place),
Now ransomed and with Him made one,
Glories around unbounded shine!
The fulness of our God alone
The limit is of grace divine."
It would argue but ill indeed for our sense of God's grace and mercy, bestowed upon us in Christ, if when we are consciously before God we thought only of our own needs. The more we are penetrated with gratitude for all the blessings we have received, the more shall we be reminded of what is due to Him who has saved us, and made us His own children. The Father's claims should ever have the first place in the heart of the child; and the Father has His claims. As He Himself, speaking by the prophet, says, "If then I be a Father, where is mine honour?" Reverence and worship belong to Him in the very relationship in which He condescends to stand towards us. This all will confess to be true; but while He undoubtedly has absolute claims upon us for the homage and adoration of our hearts on the ground of redemption, we on our parts shall delight to think rather of the privilege we enjoy in being brought into His presence as His worshippers. The more we remember that it is all of grace that we occupy this blessed position, the more will our hearts be filled with gratitude and praise. We may well,. therefore, press the question, whether we are sufficiently alive to the privilege. If, for example, we examine the moments, more or less, we spend daily before God as our Father, what shall we find to be the nature of our converse? Does prayer or praise occupy the largest place? our needs, or what is due to Him? Or, if we widen the sphere of our enquiry, and consider our meetings with the children of God, when we are unitedly in His presence, does prayer or worship predominate? It is profitable to examine ourselves as to this; for, as we have seen, the Father seeks worshippers, and He therefore delights in their presence, in their character, and in their joyful notes of grateful adoration.
We may adduce another privilege, though when we reach in the power of the Spirit the highest character of worship, we enter at the same time upon its enjoyment! In 1 John 1 the apostle tells us, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." And this place belongs, according to the teaching of this scripture, to all who have received Christ as the Eternal Life. Having a new nature and eternal life, we are brought (this is our place) into fellowship with the Father and with the Son. There could not be a higher expression of grace. Nor is it possible now for us to comprehend the boundless extent of blessedness which such a place involves. Through grace we may taste a little of its ineffable enjoyment; the Holy Spirit may sometimes lead us to some Pisgah whence we may survey the inheritance, and in our measure we may actually know the character of this fellowship, but heaven itself is contained in it, and eternity itself will be but the unfolding of its boundless treasures.
Still we may ask, What does the expression mean? Fellowship with the Father is to be filled with His thoughts, His desires, His objects, and His affections. So also with fellowship with the Son. For instance, if Christ is the object of the Father's heart, and the glory of Christ the end of all His counsels, if I am in fellowship with the Father, Christ will also be the object of my heart, and my aim in all that I am and do will be His exaltation. Again, if Christ has the glory of the Father in view in all that He is still accomplishing, as He had also when down here, the Father's glory will be the one supreme object before my soul, when I am living in fellowship with the Son. Oh, blessed position! It is our privilege to be taken out of ourselves altogether, to be lost in the affections and aims of the Father and the Son! Our minds may be filled with divine thoughts and affections, and our hearts may move in a divine circle. Self disappears before such a blessed possibility. Shall I cling to my own thoughts and purposes when I may be occupied with those of the Father and the Son? Shall I have my own affections when I may be possessed with those that fill the heart of the Father and His Son Jesus Christ? Far be the thought! Rather let me be lost in this illimitable sea of bliss, opened out before me in the marvellous grace of God, and before everyone of His children! Ah! how we are humbled when we contrast God's thoughts for us with our own conceptions. May He grant that every one of His children, who reads these pages, may be stirred up to desire to answer more fully to His own gracious purpose, that we should know this fellowship with the Father, and with His beloved Son!
It is also our privilege as the children of God to dwell even now in spirit in the Father's house. When the prodigal returns, and has received the Father's kiss, the best robe, the ring on his hand, and the shoes on his feet, he disappears amidst the joy of the Father's house. But who can doubt that the Father's house and the Father's table are henceforth his rightful place? As indeed we often sing -
"Clothed in garments of salvation,
At Thy table is our place;
We rejoice, and Thou rejoicest,
In the riches of Thy grace.
'It is meet,' we hear Thee saying,
'We should merry be and glad;
I have found My once-lost children:
Now they live who once were dead."'
And it is of importance to point out that the Father's table must not be confounded with the Lord's table. This is spread on earth, while that is spread above. At the Lord's table we commemorate His death. As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we show the Lord's death till He come. (1 Cor. 11) At the Father's table we have communion with Him in His own joy, as expressed in the words, "Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Moreover, it is as members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17) that we are gathered around the Lord's table. We are also children of God through His unspeakable grace; but it is in the character of members of the body of Christ that we remember Him in His death. But we enjoy the privilege of a place at the Father's table solely on the ground of being His children.
Yes, it is the privilege of all God's redeemed children to dwell in the Father's house, and to sit at His table. They have been made free of the place where the Father Himself dwells. It is so in the families of earth. A child does not need to ask if he may enter his parents' home. So confident is he in their love that he knows he is welcome, and that he never can be an intruder. Such a thought, indeed, would be to dishonour his parents' hearts. Where nothing has occurred to mar the intimacy of affection, the parents delight in the presence of the child, and the child delights in the presence of the parents. Much more so is it the case with God and His children. He delights in having them before Him. All through past dispensations God has been telling out this thought of His heart — that He desires to be surrounded with His children. And He has set us down in His own presence, that we might learn the joy of being before. Him, resting before Him in the blessed consciousness of being the objects of His heart, loved as Christ Himself was loved. (John 17:23.) The door of His house is never closed to us, the only thing that keeps us out being our own foolish thoughts, acts, and ways. Still, even though the sense of unforgiven sins keeps us at a distance — outside when we might be inside, yet "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9.) We can already give thanks to the Father, who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; and in His grace He has made provision, when we sin, for our cleansing through the washing of water by the Word, that nothing may hinder our being constantly in communion with Him and His love.
Seeing then that our place even now is in the Father's house, it might be profitable to ask ourselves whether we know what it is to be there. When released from our service or occupations do we instinctively return to our Father's house, as our chosen place of refreshment, joy, and blessing? In the epistle to the Ephesians all the saints are supposed to dwell in the Father's presence, and to come out thence for service, and as they come forth to reveal the character and blessedness of the One before whom they dwell, and the place to which they belong. They come out as representatives of their Father and of His abode, that others, learning from them, may be attracted to the same place. Strangers, for example, at court are unversed in its manners, habits, and ways; but those who live there catch its tone, and speedily themselves become courtly. So with the children of God. If they only occasionally visit the Father's house, if they for the most part find their enjoyment in other places, they never learn either the Father's heart or the methods and ways of His house, and hence can never do anything but misrepresent Him who has deigned to make them His children.
Nor should we overlook the sin of slighting the Father's love, if His presence is not cared for or sought. The depths of His heart we shall never fathom, and yet He pours out all His love upon those who were once His enemies, but now His redeemed children. The more we understand this, the more we shall desire to enjoy the privilege which He has conferred upon us of living in His presence as His children. The cross of Christ is the measure of His love, and hence it is ever unfathomable. But the more we dwell with the Father the more shall we learn it, and the more shall we be sensible of the wondrous grace that has made us His children, and if children, heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. His heart, His eye, His hand, are all engaged on our behalf, and He would have us to be living even now in the full enjoyment of all the blessing which He has secured for us in Christ, and which He is daily ministering to us as we pass through the wilderness. All that God is, is for us because He has redeemed us through the precious blood of Christ, and all the wealth of the Father's heart is being constantly poured out upon us because we are His children. May He give to each one of us more holy boldness to take up and enjoy all the privileges which He has made ours, as the expressions of His grace and love!
CHAPTER 10. THE FUTURE CONDITION AND HOME OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
WE have now passed under review many of the aspects of the truth touching the children of God. There is yet one other thing to be considered, and that is their future condition and their future home. We may take as the basis of our consideration of this part of our subject a passage in Rom. 8. There we read, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren." (vv. 28, 29.)
Two distinct though connected things are taught in this scripture. The first is, that God's thought has been from all eternity to fashion all His children after the image of His Son — the Son, who, while as becomes His person and dignity, He is ever to retain the pre-eminence, is yet the model of every child of God. This wondrous and eternal thought serves, as perhaps few other scriptures do, to show out the exceeding riches of God's grace, especially when we remember the character of the material out of which this surprising result is to be obtained. It explains also the whole secret of redemption. It is quite true that God in His mercy and grace has taken us up with the view of accomplishing His purpose, but it is also to be remembered, and indeed always to have the first place in our thoughts, that the supreme motive of God's grace in redemption, as unfolded in His eternal counsels, is the glory of His beloved Son. The children of God are here in the scene which this scripture unfolds, but its central figure is Christ — Christ as the Firstborn among many brethren. The marvel is, that God, in His condescension and love, has associated us with His only begotten Son in those counsels for His glory. Associated with Him now — for we are His joint-heirs — we shall be associated with Him throughout eternity; for if He is the Firstborn, He deigns to call us His brethren. The family were not complete without Him, nor, blessed be His name, without us. Hence He said to Mary, "Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God."
Another thing may be observed as illustrative of the true character of redemption. Christ — and Christ in glory — it is clear from this scripture, was ever before the mind of God, both as the ground and object of His counsels. The children of God were not to be conformed to the image of Adam, but to the image of Christ. The introduction of the "seed of the woman" was thus no after-thought, no mere means to meet and remedy the mischief which Satan had succeeded in bringing into this creation through the folly of Adam, but rather the exhibition of the secret of God's heart for His own glory, as for that also of His beloved Son. First and foremost in this world, Adam, as the responsible man, was brought upon the scene; but the result only proved how incapable he was of sustaining the weight of God's glory — albeit he was surrounded with everything to favour his dependence and obedience, everything to maintain the honour of Him whose vicegerent he was. He failed, and, as we know, failed disastrously; and thereon God proved, as always, that wherein the enemy had dealt proudly He was above, him, for Satan's apparent triumph was but the occasion of the revelation of the last Adam — the Man, not of responsibility, but of God's counsels, in and by whom God would accomplish all His purposes to His own eternal praise and glory. And this Second Man, God's Son, is He to whom all the children of God are to be conformed, that throughout eternity they may "shine in His reflection fair" and thus for ever redound to His glory, as also to His through whose counsels it is they have been redeemed.
The second thing that lies in this scripture is, that even now God is working towards this end. In all His present dealings with us, in all our varied experiences, in all the trials, sorrows, dangers, and persecutions that attend our path, God is leading us, and using all these seeming adversities, as the sculptor employs his chisel, to produce conformity to the image of His Son. The full result, as will hereafter be seen, is never attained here, but this is the end God has always in view. Knowing this, for He reveals it in His own word, we can with confidence adopt this language, and say, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." What an unspeakable consolation to our souls! All things — not one is excepted, but all things, the bitter and the sweet, adversity and prosperity, sickness and health, yea, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword — all are but instruments in the hands of our God to work out His purposed end. How calmly then we may repose in Him and in His love! Like Jacob, we may often be tempted to say, "All these things are against us;" but no, they are for us, working together for good. We may not see the need of this trial, or the reason of that sorrow; but God is watching, noting everything — what we require, and what the effect produced upon us. Our future condition is before Him, and He leads us by a right way to secure the blessing for us.
And it will sustain us in no little measure to have the eye fixed on Him to whom we are to be conformed. God, as we have seen, has Christ before Him; and if He is also before our souls, God's object is our object. This He desires for us, and in no way could He express more fully the riches of the grace which He has bestowed upon us in Christ. It is beyond our comprehension, though we know the fact, that God should thus associate us with Himself — that He should put us into the blessed position of feasting on the Object that delights His own heart. Moreover, having the eye on Christ is God's own means for our being changed into His likeness. We thus read, "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son, but He works out the result by His own appointed means. Everything we encounter in our path is auxiliary to this end; but now, in this world, much is dependent on the attitude of our souls. It is quite true that every believer is brought into the place where he can behold the unveiled face of the Lord; it is the Christian position, in contrast with that of the Jew. This is ever to be insisted on; but it is nevertheless to be remembered, that in proportion as we consciously occupy the place shall we be transformed into the likeness of Christ. For example, if there are two children of God, one careless, indifferent, and worldly, the other zealous, devoted, and finding his joy in occupation with Christ, the latter will soon outstrip the former in growing conformity to Christ. The work is wholly of God, but He uses means; and where there is purpose of heart there will be growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This will be at once understood if we consider for a moment the meaning of this scripture. We behold (the words "as in a glass" may be omitted) the unveiled face of the Lord, and in that face all the glory of God is displayed. (See 2 Cor. 4:6.) That is, all the moral glory of God — the sum of His spiritual perfections, the excellency of all His attributes — is concentrated in the face of Christ as the glorified man at God's right hand. Occupied with Him, having Him before our souls as our model, meditating upon His perfection and beauty as thus revealed, and revealed for us in the written Word, where we may come into contact with and feast upon Christ, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory; ever being changed, changed from one degree to another, because as long as we are in this World we never attain to His full likeness. Perfection is only in Christ, and perfection will only be in us when we are with Him where He is. But meanwhile the glory with which we are occupied, on which we gaze, becomes formative; under the mighty operation of the Spirit of God it leaves its impress upon us, producing ever within us the reflex of its own beauty, and in this way we are transformed daily after the image of Christ. Whenever therefore we are occupied with other things, allow other objects to possess our hearts, we are in opposition to the purpose for which God has taken us up; whereas if Christ is our delight and joy, we are in the full current of His mind, and we become as clay in the hands of the potter, to be moulded according to His own will. It is a blessed thing for all of us when we not only understand the object God has in view, but are also in unison with His object, when our only desire is that His desires for us may be unhinderedly accomplished.
Such then is God's purpose — to conform us to the image of His Son. If we now turn to another scripture we shall see the purpose realized. "Beloved," writes the apostle John, "now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear" (it is not manifested) "what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear" (be manifested), "we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." (1 John 3:2-3.) The apostle here contrasts the present with the future condition of God's children. Now are we God's children, but it is not yet manifested what we shall be. In outward garb and appearance we appear like other men. Even the Lord Himself could not have been known by the natural eye. If we had met Him at any time in the streets of the towns of Galilee, or of Jerusalem, we should only have seen outwardly a lowly man. We might have said, with the unbelieving Jews, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon?" (Mark 6:3.) Even the Baptist records that he knew Him not until he saw the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him. So with the, children of God. They have the same bodies of humiliation as other men, they are in similar circumstances of trial and sorrow, they have to encounter the same difficulties in their daily path; therefore the world knows them not because it knew Him not. There is a vast change in them; they have been brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light; they "have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father;" they have heaven itself in full prospect, together with the return of the Lord; but all these things are apprehended and enjoyed only by faith. To the eye of the natural man they have nothing to show, either in their own condition or of their possession. No; these things are not yet manifested.
But John takes us on to the time when it will be displayed, and this is the manifestation of the Lord; for it is not the coming of Christ for His Church to which he alludes (albeit it is then that believers will be like Him), but the actual appearing of Christ in this world. The reason is found in his subject. Here the children of God are, so to speak, in their concealed condition; and here they will be displayed in their full conformity to Christ, when He comes to be glorified in His saints, and to be wondered at in all them that have believed. The Lord Himself refers to this when He says, "And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and Thou in me, that they maybe made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved me." (John 17:22-23.) The world will then know, because it will see Christ revealed in glory, and the saints displayed in the same glory with Himself.
It is, then, distinctly taught, that in our future condition we shall be like Christ. What then may we understand this to signify? Combining the two passages already considered (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) with the one now before us, it may be replied, in the first place, that in the issue the children of God will have full moral conformity to Christ. As we have pointed out, it is this model which God has ever had before Him; and it may once more be remarked, as warning, that inasmuch as we shall never be morally like Christ until we see Him face to face, there cannot be any such thing as sinless perfection now — this we wait for; though it should also be added, that there is no necessity for the believer to sin. Still, as a matter of fact, he does, and God has graciously provided the Advocacy of Christ for us to meet our need. But while this is the case, there must be no tolerance of sin, and all our desire should be daily to grow in the likeness of the One for whom we wait.
There is, secondly, another thing. Even our bodies will be like the glorified body of Christ. The apostle Paul says: "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body" (the body of our humiliation), "that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (the body of His glory), "according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." (Phil. 3:20-21.) Also in 1 Cor. we read: "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." That is, as now our bodies are like that of the first man, who is of the earth earthy, after the Lord returns we shall have bodies like that of the second Man, who is the Lord Himself. This change will be effected by divine power. Our moral conformity to Christ is being wrought out now, and will be complete when we see Him face to face. The conformity of our bodies to the body of His glory will be accomplished on His return. Thus the apostle says: "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor. 15:51-54.)
There are two classes specified in this scripture — those who will be "changed," and those who will be raised from the dead; and turning to another epistle we, have further details of this mighty and divine operation. There we read: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent" (anticipate, or go before) "them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:14-17.) Nothing could be clearer than the teaching of this scripture. When the Lord descends from heaven, He will call all His sleeping saints — all who have died ere He comes — out of their tombs; and when that vast army shall issue forth, every one will be clothed with an incorruptible body — a body like the glorified body of Him who has summoned them forth; and then all the saints who are living at that instant upon the earth will be changed in a moment — a wave of life and power, as it were, will pass instantaneously over their bodies — and that which was before mortal will have put on immortality; mortality will have been swallowed up of life, for they will all have been "clothed upon with their house which is from heaven." (2 Cor. 5) Thereon all alike are caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. He had come from heaven, and there, as a mighty magnet (if we may venture so to speak), He draws up to Himself all His own, whether sleeping or alive, that He might ever have them with Himself. Redemption by blood has now been consummated in redemption by power (Rom. 8:23), and the Lord Himself sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. He has other redemption-fruit yet to reap during the thousand years; but as far as the Church is concerned, together indeed with the saints of former dispensations, His work, and the consequences of His work, are finished, and God's purposes for them have now been unfolded in their perfection; for every one of these myriads of saints has now been conformed to the image of His Son.
To be like Christ in glory therefore is to be like Him spirit, soul, and body. But when we thus speak, it must ever be remembered that we speak of Him as the glorified Man. He ever remains alone in His divine and essential dignity as the eternal Son. Through all eternity He is never less than God, though at the same time He has condescended to become man; and while always more than man, He for ever retains His glorified humanity. The mystery of His person abides as the God-man. But it is as man He is the firstborn among many brethren. And what wonder of wonders lies in the statement! That He should not only not be ashamed to call us brethren, but that He should also find it His joy to have us for ever in association with Himself! And what travail has He not gone through to execute this purpose of God, and to secure this blessed result! There were the sorrows of His life on earth, His trials and temptations, the agony of the cross when forsaken of His God, His death and resurrection; but though there has never been, and never will be, any sorrow like unto His sorrow, He will be completely satisfied when He beholds the glorious issue of all His redemption toils, when He presents the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.
This then is the future condition of the children of God — we shall all be like Christ. The question of our future home remains. The Lord Himself has spoken to us concerning this. Before He departed from His disciples, sorrowing as they were at the prospect before them, He said, for their consolation and instruction, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In, my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:1-3.) The Father's house is thus revealed as our future home. In the last chapter we saw that it is our privilege to dwell there in spirit even now, but then we shall be actually there, having our place in those many mansions of which the Saviour speaks.
Two or three points of this familiar scripture may be specially noticed, to enable us more fully to comprehend the character and blessedness of our future home. It is no little proof of our Lord's tenderness that He says to His disciples, "If it were not so, I would have told you." They must have had thoughts concerning the Father's house, and the Lord would have corrected them if they had been in error. "No," He says, "it is even so; there are many mansions; there is room enough for all; not one of My own shall be excluded." And did they ask themselves, in their doubts and fears, why He should depart and leave them alone in a hostile world, surrounded by bitter foes? He now tells them, "I go to prepare a place for you." Until He had presented Himself there in the efficacy of redemption, and had taken His place as man in the glory of God, not one of His saints could enter. To Him in all, things belongs the pre-eminence; and not only so, but until, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption, the place was not prepared. The moment, however, He had entered, and was seated on His Father's throne, all was ready. He thus appeared to the dying Stephen as standing on the right hand of God, because even then, had that guilty nation of the Jews repented, He would have returned to introduce them into all the promised blessing; but rejecting the testimony of the Spirit, even as they had refused and crucified Christ Himself, He resumed, as it were, His seat. But still He could say, "I come quickly," for the very reason that, the place being prepared, there was nothing to prevent — as far as shown us in the Scriptures — His return at any moment to receive His people unto Himself.
The place is prepared, and He is now only waiting to come to put us in possession of it. He would have us therefore ever to maintain a waiting attitude. While He retains His seat at the right hand of God, He is waiting for us; for the desire of His heart is to have us with Himself; and while we are here in the wilderness, He would have us waiting for Him, and surely in response to His unspeakable love it will be the desire of our hearts to be with Him. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come;" this is the only true attitude of the church, and the only proper desire of the saint. As indeed we find it at the close of the book of Revelation, when the Lord says, "Surely I come quickly," His servant responds, "Amen; even so, come, Lord Jesus." But the maintenance of this longing expectation is entirely a question of heart. If the Lord Himself is our treasure, our hearts will now be with Him, and all our hope will be to see Him face to face. Like Mary at the sepulchre, nothing then will satisfy our desires but the presence of the One who possesses and absorbs our affections. Without Him the world will be to us a vast sepulchre: death will be written on the whole scene. Others may go to their own homes, and find their interests there, but no place on earth will satisfy us as long as Christ Himself is absent. As pilgrims and strangers we shall pass through this scene, as a dry and thirsty land where no water is — with our loins girded and Our lights burning, and we ourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord.
And the very language which the Lord uses is calculated to intensify our desire for His return. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto MYSELF; that where I am, there ye may be also." It is Himself that He presents to our souls; Himself, in all His ineffable love, as our object; Himself, in all His matchless perfections, as coming for us; Himself, in all the attractions of His adorable Person, as the One with whom we are to be throughout eternity. The presentation of Himself in this manner, if indeed so apprehended, could scarcely fail to awaken the desire for His return in hearts where it had not previously existed, and to revive and sustain it in those where it might have become feeble.
Passing now to the home itself, there is little to add. God's thoughts are not man's thoughts. Man has sought in every age to imagine the abode — the future home of the children of God, and the consequence, as might be expected, has been that he has endeavoured to depict all the externals of the scene, leaving untouched, as compelled to do, its real character and blessedness. Imagination cannot apprehend or describe the things of God, and therefore only reveals its own nakedness and poverty when it seeks to penetrate into their character. No, we know nothing outside of the word of God. As Jeremiah says, "The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?" (Jer. 8:9.)
Taking then the word of God alone, what, let us inquire, have we revealed of our future home? As to the place, but very little; but as to all that is necessary for the spiritual mind, enough to satisfy our largest cravings. But all this is contained in two expressions. First, it is the Father's house. And who could expound all that is comprised in this blessed word? Speak to a child who has long been absent from home, and is now about to return, is it not enough for him that it is his father's house to which he is going? Would he dwell upon its size, shape, or situation? No; the one thing in his mind is, that it is the house of his father, and therefore his own home. It is this that marks its character and makes its happiness. The accidents of its position or surroundings have for him but little significance. The father's house makes the home, and the parents' hearts are the source of its enjoyment. So with the children of God. The knowledge that they have the Father's house in prospect, that a place there in its many mansions is already prepared for them, satisfies their largest desires. There they know are boundless provisions for their every possible need; for there is the scene of the full display of the Father's heart — where His affections flow forth and bless and make eternally happy all His children; yea, they can say, in the language of the hymn-
"There will Thy love find perfect rest
Where all around is bliss,
Where all in Thee supremely blest,
Thy praise their service is.
Eternal love their portion is,
Where love has found its rest;
And filled with Thee, the constant mind
Eternally is blest.
There Christ, the centre of the throng,
Shall in His glory shine;
But not an eye those hosts among
But sees His glory Thine."
The second expression is — With Christ. As in the words of this scripture, "That where I am, there ye may be also." This is ever the hope held out before the soul; it is indeed distinctively the Christian hope. The Lord thus says to the thief, who was crucified by His side, "Today shalt thou be WITH ME in paradise." The apostle says, "To depart and be with Christ is far better;" and also, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." And what more can our souls need in order to express the perfect blessedness of the Father's house, than to be there with Christ! The realization of His presence here constitutes our deepest joy: to be with Him in spirit is our highest privilege. But there we shall be with Him for ever in perpetual and undisturbed communion. He will then continually sup with us, and we with Him. In the promise to the overcomer in Philadelphia He has given us a glimpse of our eternal association with Himself in every possible character of blessedness. He says,,, Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name." (Rev. 3:12.) This promise takes its special form from the character of the book in which it is found, as well as from the circumstances of the saints in Philadelphia; but the point to which we desire to call attention is the association of the overcomer with Christ. It is the name of "My" God, the name of the city of "My" God, and "My" new name. And therein lies the joy of Christ Himself, as also our own joy — His joy in having us for ever with Himself, and our joy in being for ever with Him.
Such is the prospect which the word of God unfolds to His children. Of our circumstances in the Father's house little is revealed. We are told that we shall be like Christ and with Christ, and more than this we cannot desire to know. The only scripture that draws back the veil that now conceals the eternal state from us shows us two things: first, that the Church will be the tabernacle of God; and, secondly, that there are others in the scene — men, the saved saints of other dispensations. And when describing their condition it says: "Behold, 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, their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:3-4.) God here fills the scene — God, in all that He is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because it is the eternal state, the Son Himself is now "subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." (1 Cor. 15:28.) The Son, as the glorified Man, is identified for ever with His brethren, and God Himself therefore fills our vision in this description. The blessedness of the "men" who appear here is twofold. Positively, it consists in having God Himself dwelling with them, in being His people, and in God Himself being with them — their God. Negatively, it lies in the absence of everything that caused sorrow while living in this weary world. God had been their comforter; He had wiped away their tears. What infinite tenderness is expressed in that the hand of God Himself had wiped away, and wiped away their tears for ever! For their tears could never return; for "there shall be no more death." By one man sin had "entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all had sinned." But the Lamb of God has now taken away the sin of the world. Once in the consummation of the ages had He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and on the foundation of that sacrifice God has now put it out of His sight for ever; and through the value of that same sacrifice death has been for the blessed inhabitants of this scene for ever swallowed up in victory. Sin and death gone, the sources of all our sorrows in this life, there can be neither sorrow, crying, nor pain. No; the former things have passed away. The scene itself is as perfect as God Himself can make it. Righteousness dwells in it; and the perfections of God now unfolded are the blessed source of the eternal joy of His redeemed people. All things are made new; and "he that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be His God, and he shall be my son."
"Abba, Father, we adore Thee,
While the hosts in heaven above
E'en in us now learn the wonders
Of Thy wisdom, grace, and love;
Soon before Thy throne assembled,
All Thy children shall proclaim
Abba's love as shown in Jesus,
And how full is Abba's name!