Partakers of His Promise by the Gospel
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, November 9th, 1851
Beloved, I have had some exercise as to whether I am not absolutely presumptuous in attempting to appear in public this morning, not having been able to take either air, or exercise, or food all this week, but the word "partakers" was pressing upon me, and put such a constraint upon me, that I felt, if it were but once more, I would say something about this participation, because I know painfully that there are multitudes of professors who are not partakers, multitudes who approve of the doctrines of grace, but never felt their power, multitudes who own Christ, but do not know Him. And when I came to this portion, I looked at it and its connection, and I said, "It will be something important, this word 'partakers.'" Suppose a labouring man, a travelling man, a hungry man, to go into a good dining-room, and to look at all that was spread on the table, what good will that do him if he is not a partaker? He may look on, and say, "Here is everything ready; there is a fine joint of this, that, or the other, on the table;" but what good is it all if he does not partake? Now there are not a few professors in the present day exactly of that description, who can listen to sermons, read books, admire this, that, or the other sentiment, and say it is all very good, but never partake, never receive, never eat and drink. "Except ye eat my flesh (says Jesus) and drink my blood, there is no life in you." (John 6:53) It is not enough that you own it, you must eat and drink.
Now the connection of my text is somewhat interesting, and I think it ought to be duly weighed by the followers of the Lamb, because it points out the fact that, until the Holy Ghost becomes the teacher, even the best of God's servants know little or nothing. Here are the very apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, long after He had ascended to glory, who would receive no idea of the Gentiles being profited by their labours, though the express commission was to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; yet they went forth and preached the gospel to none but to the Jews. That was not fulfilling their commission, certainly. God broke down the middle wall; and in the opening of this chapter, God tells us that that mystery which had been hidden for ages, hid in God, that mystery that the Gentiles should be partakers, was "now made known unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (and it could never have been made known but by the Spirit) "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body." Now I must detain you a moment or two upon this statement, because it stands so directly opposed to the stupid Millenarian notions of the present day. "Fellow-heirs, and of the same body." They want two bodies, a Jewish church and a Gentile church; and some of them are to go to Jerusalem, and turn out the Mahometans, and take possession themselves. And what good will it do them? I think most of them would like England better, after all; indeed, one of them told me so. This text says there is not to be a Jewish church and a Gentile church. Jesus died but for one Church; Jehovah loved and elected but one Church; the Holy Ghost constitutes a temple of but one Church; and to talk of two Churches is quite ridiculous. I know, in an isolated sense, assembling together, as with us, for instance, that every assembly of believers is a Christian Church; but it requires them all to make the one Church of the living God; and God will own no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Now it comes to this point, that if they will have a Jewish church only, then I will be a Jew, for "He is not a Jew that is one outwardly, but he is a Jew that is one inwardly;" and "circumcision is of the heart." (Rom. 2:28,29)
But the point of my text to which I wanted particularly to direct your attention, as far as my strength may go, is the participation, that they should be "partakers of His promise (God the Father's promise) in Christ (God's Son) by the gospel" that is the ministration of the Spirit. Now, you see, we have here, in this short text, the doctrine of the Trinity loudly proclaimed, and the love and mercy, and grace of all the Persons of the Trinity set before us. Let us look for a few moments, first of all, at the ancient endowment, if I may so call it, the ancient settlement, the ancient bequest "His promise." Then look at the relative participation "in Christ." Then, if possible, we will turn a little attention unto the efficient medium "by the gospel." Oh! I see enough in these three things to last me three hours. But we will say what we can.
I. "His promise." What! has He never made but one promise? That is not implied; but it implies thus much, that all the promises of God are included in one; for when the covenant Christ is predicted by the prophet, it is said that Jehovah would send Him forth to fulfil the promise made to the fathers, the one great promise given, the one promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. But in that one promise all the others are included, because the apostle was commissioned by the Holy Ghost to inform us, that "all the promises of God are in Him yea and amen, unto the glory of God by us." (2 Cor. 1:20)
Just mark, that all the promises included in Him who is the substance of them all, are positive, precious, and permanent. Will you think of these three "p's" positive, precious, and permanent? They are not conditional promises. I grant that the promises made to the posterity of Jacob, relative to the possession of Canaan, the vanquishing of their enemies, and the preservation of their church polity, were conditional, and were made to depend upon their obedience to God's word; and the apostle was commissioned to tell us that that covenant they broke "there was no faithfulness in them; and therefore," says God, "I regarded them not." But all the promises of God in the New Testament, all that are in Christ, are yea and amen." Well, they are so positive, that by them we are made partakers of Divine life. Nay, they are so positive, that heaven and earth should pass away rather than one of them should fail. Oh, for power to cling to them, lay hold of them, hang upon them!
Then just mark, we have said they are precious "exceeding great and precious promises;" so precious, that they have fed, and nourished, and encouraged, and cheered the hearts of millions of God's people on their way home, so precious, that they have been fled to, and grasped, and carried to the throne, and pleaded with success by multitudes of the election of grace. Are they precious to you? Have you found them so, and proved them so, and used them so? "Exceeding great and precious promises." (2 Pet. 1:4)
Then, again, they are so permanent, that they are as free for appropriation now as in Abraham's day. You know the old patriarchs were accustomed to go to God with His promise, "Thou saidst, Thou saidst." Oh! for power, in the full exercise of faith, to do so now, to go to God with "Thou saidst," carrying Him His own, just as you would carry a check to your banker, and say, "Here, this is yours; I hand it over to be cashed; "Thou saidst;" here is the promise to pay me." God is not to be dealt with as if Here were an impostor, as if He meant not what He had said. Just go to Him, then, with "Thou saidst." They are permanent promises, that cannot by any possibility be forfeited. Now if you presented a promissory-note of any house that had failed, and they refused to cash it, why, you would spread the cry all over London that the house had failed, and was not worth a straw. You may do so with God, if you like. If He ever forfeits a promise, tell all the world He has failed, and has not kept His word. But, blessings on His glorious name, He is still the God that cannot lie. The date of any promise may be mistaken, but the fulfilment of it cannot fail. It is probable, if you will allow me to refer again to the simile I have used, that you might make a mistake with a promissory-note, and carry it a few days too soon. You would then be told, I presume, that you could not receive it until the next Tuesday, or Wednesday or some other day. You were wrong in the date. Well, you will not put it in the fire on that account. You would say, "I shall wait till the date comes." Now do so with God. I have been put to this test by the tempter very much, I have carried promises before they were due, and have thought that God would never fulfil them at all. But I have been brought to this "I shall not carry the promise now; I shall wait till the date is up, and then it will be sure to be fulfilled." This view is confirmed by our precious Lord, when He said to His disciples, "Your time is always ready, but my time is not yet come." I beg that it may be laid upon my heart, and upon yours, too, that God has His own time for fulfilling His own promise. I suppose the children of Israel had again and again eyed the promise of God's deliverance long before the 430 years had expired. They did not get their promise until the very day, still it was positive, still it was certain, still it was secure. That same night the Lord God brought them out with all their armies.
Now just mark further, that this ancient settlement, this ancient endowment, as I have called it, is adapted to the circumstances of God's family as long as they are in the wilderness, and if it were not adapted it would not be worth much to us. Suppose I were to offer and promise a loaf of bread to a man who was better able to pay his baker than I was, he would not thank me for it; but if I were to give it to a hungry starving man he would thank me for it. And suppose I were to offer any article of clothing, or property, or any other gifts, to a person who really did not want it, he would think me insulting him; but make a promise to those who need the thing you offer, and they will anxiously wait in expectation of the fulfilment, especially if they can place any confidence in your word. This is what I want to do with God, that His promises are all adapted to every circumstance through which the children of God can have to pass; and you will find them so multiplied and so varied through His precious Book, that you cannot be put in any place, nor pass through any flood, nor experience any trial, nor be exposed to any temptation, nor engage in any conflict, but there is a promise for it in the precious word of God, just adapted to the circumstances through which you have to pass. I would, if I could, illustrate this by Scriptural examples, but I must leave you to do that.
Only just go on to mark that they are recorded; they are not merely verbal promises. Among mortals, you know, a verbal promise may be forgotten, or, from change of mind or purpose, be violated; but if the promise is recorded, with a signature attached, there it stands, and it can be presented at any day. The promises of our God are recorded in a three-fold manner. They are recorded in the book of life, in the fixed purposes, settlements, decrees, of Jehovah, and cannot possibly be erased. They are recorded in the volume of inspiration which I always believe to be an epitome of the covenant of grace, copied from the book of life; and this, even though the Papists should burn ten thousand Bibles again, shall never be lost. There will be always some copies of the book of inspiration secured somewhere. No doubt the burning day is approaching again, yet there will be copies of the precious book of God preserved that the devil never shall be able to lay his fingers upon. Moreover, the promises of God are recorded upon the hearts of His people, "I will put my law in their minds, and write it in their hearts." (Heb. 8:10) Now, this three-fold record, you know, can, by no possibility be lost, no, nor either part of it, whatever attempts may be made by the prince of darkness and his agents. There lies the record "chained to the throne," as Watts describes it:
"Chained to the throne the promise lies."
And who is to break that chain? Here stands the promise inspired upon record, and I defy all the Papists and Infidels in the world, and all the devils in hell to erase it. Here stands the promise written and engraven upon my heart, and I can never possibly lose it. Well, this is a promise, and permanent, and positive, if the promise be adapted and suited to all the circumstances of the family of God, and if the promises are recorded so that God will not, and man cannot erase them, should we not rejoice in them?
II. Now all we want is the participation. I called it in our arrangement, "relative participation," because the text says, it is His promise "in Christ." I have no objection to look at this "in Christ" in more senses than one, though I believe the literal and primary meaning is, that all the promises of God are made to Him, and in Him, as the covenant Head; that all the promises of God being yea and amen, are laid up and treasured in His person, that they are all in union with His honour and glory, that they are all included in His covenant engagements and responsibilities, that they are all insured by His positive engagement. Nevertheless, I cannot lose sight of the sweet idea of union in Him. "That the promises are sure," saith the apostle, "to all the seed," (Rom. 4:16) that is, all that are in Him, in Him in covenant union, in Him vitally, in Him sensibly, in Him inseparably: so that while the promises are inseparable from Christ, as Christ is from God, the people to whom they belong, and who are to be made partakers of them, are also as inseparable from Christ as He is from the Father. I think this is one of the sweetest views which the word of God gives of the gospel of Christ: and His purpose, redemption, and salvation, is implied and included in the word union.
Look for a moment at what the word says of union with Christ in the two-fold sense I have named. There is enough in it to encourage our hearts as long as we live, to all eternity. To take into account that we poor sinners have stood related to Jesus from everlasting, in a union which cannot be dissolved, a covenant union, a holy betrothing oneness, which positively entitles us to all the promises of God, and then to bring that union down to the operations of the Spirit on the souls of men, grafting them into Christ, as the branch is grafted into the vine, that holy mystery is enough to make angels desire to look into it. By virtue of this union, when it becomes vital, faith takes hold of all the promises in Christ, that is what I mean by the language of the text "partakers;" faith takes hold of them. Now, you know, this is a literal idea, and ought to be received as such. If I had promised a child an apple, or a poor man a shilling, or a friend a pound, to partake would be to lay hold of it, he must receive it, he takes possession. I want to familiarize the word partakers to you, and just to show you how tenaciously, how boldly, how firmly, faith grasps the promise, takes hold of it, and says, "it is mine," has got it as the gift of God; it suits his case, is applicable to his circumstances; it drops him upon his knees, sets him pleading with the Father of mercies, and the Father of promises. Oh, what a mercy to be thus made partakers. Why, what is the use of all I should say, and of all I have said these thirty-four years nearly, unless you are partakers, unless you bring it home, unless it is tasted, and handled, and enjoyed. Now you see the child, to return to the simile I have employed-when his father has promised him an apple, as soon as he takes hold of it, away he goes munching; as soon as he takes hold of it, it goes to his mouth, and he eats it. So with the poor man when the shilling is promised him; as soon as he gets it, away he goes, and spends it, to buy a loaf or something for his support. Merely to look at it, and put it in his pocket, would be useless. I am very much afraid some of my hearers have looked at the things they have often heard, and put them in their pockets, and made no more use of them. I charge it upon you in the name of the God I serve, that you examine closely this word partakers. Whether you can melt the shilling, whether you can eat the apple, whether you can eat and drink the flesh and blood of the Son of God, and so find life in Christ, and nourishment in your souls.
Just go on to mark, that this union, once formed and once revealed, is kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. Now, there are three senses in which I want to be kept. First, I want to be kept secure in covenant relations, that there is no doubt of. The second sense is, I want to be kept near to God, to partake of mercy. The third sense is, I want to be kept clean. Look, then, at these; particularly mark the second sense, because it relates to my text, to be kept near to God, and to be saying, as a child would of eating its little apple, "more, more, more." God has given us mercy and grace, and why should we cry out "more, more?" because it is Jehovah's prerogative, and only in His power to keep us near to Himself. I am as sure as I am of my own existence, that after having been between forty and fifty years in the knowledge of this precious Christ, I should leave Him today, I should abandon all if He were to leave me. Moreover, I am equally certain that I should stray, and wander, and become, as I sometimes do, barren, and gloomy in midnight darkness, having no spirit of prayer and no spirit of love, if He did not keep it up. My hearers, believe me, that a real Christian is no mere machine; he has no power to go by himself. They tell us about machines; but a Christian cannot go an hour without a touch; not a grace can be kept in exercise by the power of God; not a promise can be laid hold of but by that same power which enabled us to grasp it; not a joy can be realized but as the Holy Ghost keeps us in possession of it; not a temptation can be repelled, but as He lifts up the standard and keeps us from it. Therefore, I entreat you, look closely at this one point, that these partakers, if they are really partakers, of His promise in Christ by the gospel, must be kept by the power of God.
III. I must try and say a word or two upon the efficient medium; it is "by the gospel." Then would to God that we had more gospel in the land in which we live. Alas! there is plenty around us of accursed gospel, but comparatively little of the gospel by which the Lord's people are made to partake of His salvation. I suppose I shall be accounted censorious, never mind that; my heart sickens at the thought of the diluted Popish things that pass for gospel in the day in which we live, and simply because it is so delusive. If people would tell us out-and-out one thing or the other, we should know what they mean; but when they tell us at one part of a discourse that grace lies at the bottom and the foundations of redemption and salvation, and that Jesus Christ has done enough to save all the world, and then tell us afterwards that all is dependent upon if you will believe and if you will repent and the like, who in the world is to know where to find a standing? That is not the gospel; that is not news that suits my case at all. If a man were to tell me, when quite penniless and deeply in debt, that he would meet the creditors half way if I would meet the other half or that he would meet three-fourths if I would meet the other fourth, I should look him in the face, and say, "You insult me; you know I have not a penny in the world." But if he tells me he will pay all, and do all, and give all, that is good news.
Well then, we come simply to the inquiry, What is that gospel by which poor, ruined sinners are made partakers of God's promises? I answer in three words, it is the errand of mercy; it is the revelation of the Divine mind about salvation; it is the security of Christ's glory and His Church's exaltation; That is the gospel. Now, beloved, wherever you are bear these things in mind, that the gospel is the errand of mercy, the proclamation of the rich, free, discriminating mercy of God, to pardon sinners as an act of His own love, to justify sinners in the blood and righteousness of His dear Son, to sanctify sinners by the power of the separation of His own Spirit, and so to prepare His entire elect family for everlasting glory by the joint purpose, grace, and operation of the Triune Jehovah. He has taught clearly in this precious book what all His servants, who are made ministers by the dispensation of God, are to deliver. "Thou shall go to all that I send thee, and thou shalt say all that I command thee." (Jer. 1:7) That charge stands for every minister of Jesus Christ. We go forth, I say we, we who feel we are under God's commission, we go forth with the fixed and full determination that we will keep back nothing, that we will say all that we are commanded, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear; we will tell mortals that no human errand, no gospel, no news, can suit their case, or make them partakers of God's promise in Christ, but that which declares salvation to be full, finished, perfect, free, and infallible. I would have every man that insists upon contingencies turn Papist directly, and then we know what he is. They are all Papists at heart who insist upon contingencies in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is "I will," "they shall," "I will be their God, and they shall be my people." That is our message. We go to many that are very rebellious, as all Adam's children are, and they turn round upon us and say, "We will not have this man to reign over us." We turn round upon them and say, "He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet." (1 Cor. 15:25) Well, now, when Jehovah Jesus gives power with this simple message, this gospel, which He has commanded His servants to deliver, the work is done, and the poor sinner that receives the errand under the mighty teaching and holy influence of the Spirit of God, is made a partaker of the promise, a partaker of the privilege, a partaker of the blessings, a partaker of life divine, a partaker of Christ. Ah! this is a participation worth having.
A word more. We have said that the gospel is a revelation of the Divine mind; so complete that we need not ask either bishops, or Cardinals, or Popes what the interpretation is, for it is here as clear as if written with a sunbeam. God the Father is freely pledged in covenant love; God the Son's finished work set forth; He has wrought out and brought in everlasting righteousness unto all and upon all them that believe in Him; and God the Spirit's mighty operation published this work as the revelation of God, so clearly and plainly, that He is to testify of Jesus, and take of the things which are His, and reveal them unto us, teach us things, and bring all things to remembrance. Can we want more? What do we want with the interference of officials in priestly character? We want them not; they are the greatest curses upon earth. What do we want with pretended traditions, and superstitions, and canons, and all the rest of the farrago of nonsense, and superstition, and abominable idolatry, that is abroad in the world? We have got a revelation of God's own mind; we have got a revelation before us, of God's method of saving sinners, of God's own character of Himself, of God's own description of man, of God's own testimony of the law, and God's own proclamation of His gospel. That is all we want; that is the gospel; and by this gospel sinners are made partakers of God in Christ.
I find I must close with one thought more, the security; for a gospel without security is no gospel at all, the security of the glory of God, and the eternal happiness of His Church. And bear with me if I assert boldly here, that the one is as secure as the other. I do not believe that God is more secure upon His throne, than the Church is secure of being there with Him for ever. They cannot be separated, for the glorious covenant Head has said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." (John 14:19) That is enough, Lord; and I shall live because Jesus lives.
May He command His blessing upon these few hints, for His name's sake.