Heavenly Realities and Divine Certainties
ii. We will rise a little higher. When the Lord Jesus is pleased in some solemn hour to reveal Himself to our soul, when He graciously condescends to take the vail from off our heart that we may behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, when He kindly favours us with some manifestation and discovery of Himself as the Son of God, the brightness of the Father s glory and the express image of His Person, then we know, in fuller, larger measure that the Son of God is come.
How do you know that the sun rose this morning? By the light which rose with it. How do you know that it is not darkness now? By the light which even now streams in through the windows, and fills this place in which we are assembled. So we may say, spiritually, "How do you know that the Son of God is come?" By the Sun of righteousness arising upon you with healing in His wings and the shining light which He diffuses in your heart. So the Lord speaks to Zion: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee." That is the way in which the darkness is dispersed: for He adds. "Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the LORD shall arise upon thee and His glory shall be seen upon thee." Isa 60:1,2 Did not our blessed Lord say: "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness?" Joh 12:46 And has He not promised, "He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life?" Joh 8:12 So also testifies John in this epistle: "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." 1Jo 1:5 Now as God is light, when He is pleased to shine into the soul, we walk in the light as He is in the light, and then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin. This is the best, this the surest, this the safest way to know that the Son of God is come.
iii. Again, we know that the Son of God is come by the communion with which He favours the soul from off the mercy seat. You know what it is to come to the mercy seat, there to behold by the eye of faith Jesus sitting as the great High Priest over the house of God; there to pour out your heart before Him to tell Him all your complaints, and to seek communion with Him. Now when He condescends to commune with you from off the mercy seat and speak a word to your heart, then you know that the Son of God is come -come from the bosom of the Father to save your soul; come out of heaven down to earth to bear our sins in His own body on the tree; come to do the work which the Father gave Him to do and to do it fully and wholly, so as to be able to say with expiring lips. "It is finished." before He gave up the ghost, rose from the dead and went up on high How faith sees Him now on His throne of grace as the Mediator, the only Mediator, between God and us; how hope, a good hope through grace, anchors in Him; and how love embraces Him as the Son of God. We thus know by faith and feeling, by an inward knowledge of Him, and by an experience of the power of his resurrection, that the Son of God is come, and come, we trust, into our hearts to draw up its sincere and warm affections unto Himself.
iv. We know also that the Son of God is come by His presence; by His power put forth on our behalf; by the answers which He gives to prayer; by the way in which He appears in dark and gloomy hours, making crooked things straight and rough things plain, discovering Himself to us as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, showing unto us that in Him there is rest and peace, solid, abiding happiness, and in no other. He thus draws and fixes our eyes upon Himself, where He sits as the right hand of the Father in the fullness of His grace, glory, and majesty. Thus we know that the Son of God is come. Every prayer, every petition, every sigh and cry, every longing look that you cast up to Him, and every word of His grace, every sweet promise, every glimpse or glance of the King in His beauty, which you receive out of His fullness, are all so many testimonies that the Son of God is come, and that you know that He is come.
Let me put this one point to your soul, that you may gather up from it some encouragement, if you are doubting and fearing through the power of unbelief. Take away the Son of God out of the word, off the throne of grace, and out of your heart, where are you? Where is your religion? Where is your hope? What is there before you but black despair? Thus, you know that the Son of God is come not only by your deep necessity, by your wants and woes, by your guilty conscience, by every cry, sigh, and desire of your bosom; but you know that the Son of God is come by the testimony which you have in your own breast of His presence and of His power, which alone support you in seasons of darkness and distress.
3. Another blessed word is added: "And hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true."
There is a point involved in these words, in which many both private Christians and ministers appear, in my judgment, confused or defective. They do not see-at least I have rarely seen the subject clearly handled by any man of God, they do not seem to see the difference between a gracious, enlightened understanding Of the truth of God which springs out of the teaching of the Spirit, and what is commonly called head knowledge. There is such a thing-and a most dangerous, delusive thing it is, as head knowledge, and faithful ministers do well to warn people against it; for it is in our day widely prevalent in the Calvinistic Churches. But then there is such a thing as an understanding heart in the things of God: "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened" Eph 1:18 a spiritual, saving knowledge of the only true God and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent: or what is so beautifully expressed here, "hath given us an understanding. (God s own special gift,) that we may know him that is true."
Do you not find and feel sometimes that God has given you an understanding heart? - that you are not, as you once were, in ignorance of God and His dear Son? Is not your mind enlightened to understand the meaning of the Scriptures as they are opened up from time to time to your heart by the power of God? Do you see no beauty or blessedness in the word of God? Is it not commended to your conscience as divine truth? Has it not a liberating, sanctifying power and influence upon your soul? Do you not see at times wonders in the word of God, depths of wisdom, heights of grace, blessings and favours revealed and made known in it which seem to surpass all conception and all expression? Have you not seen sometimes "in one line of Scripture," to use an expression of Bunyan s, "more than you could well tell how to stand under?" Is all this understanding to be thrown away and trodden under foot as mere head knowledge? Is it not rather an understanding which God has given us, and by which we know Him that is true? Let us not then confound these two distinct things or despise one of God s best gifts, but ever desire to be "filled with all spiritual understanding;" yea, "unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God and of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Col 1:9 Col 2:2,3
You may say, "How am I to distinguish between mere head knowledge and this spiritual understanding?" I will tell you. When a special light is cast into your mind; when the word is opened up in its spiritual, experimental meaning; when the Holy Ghost seals it with sweetness and power upon your heart, and you not only understand what you read but receive it in faith, feel its savour, and enjoy its blessedness. Is not this a very different thing from lifeless, barren head knowledge? But view also its fruits; look at what this enlightened understanding has done for us! Until we had it, the vail of unbelief and ignorance was over our mind; we stumbled at noon as at night, groped for the wall like the blind, and could not find our way to the city. We read the Scriptures, it is true, but knew nothing of their spiritual meaning; and though we talked perhaps about God and Jesus Christ, and it may be prattled a little about the truth of God, we were really shut up in the grossest darkness.
Do we not see this now in others, if we cannot distinctly see the change grace has made in ourselves? What ignorance we find in them when they talk about the Scriptures; and how we see through all their head knowledge even when they speak consistently with the truth. There is no power, life, or savour in anything they say. How highly favoured then are we if any of us can say, "We know that the Son of God hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true." Men think that we are fools, narrow-minded bigots, shut up in ignorance, or intoxicated with the fumes of fanaticism and enthusiasm, are walking in a false and delusive light. No; we are not fools; we are sober-minded men; we understand what we profess; we know what we believe; peradventures will not suit us. We do not sit down with folded hands and sleepy eyes, dreaming our time away in airy visions and speculative notions in a fool s paradise. Our soul is at stake; heaven and hell are trembling in the balance.
I must not live and die at an uncertainty whether there be a Christ or not, whether the Son of God is come or not come, whether I have an understanding to know Him that is true, or whether I live and die in darkness and ignorance. Such a religion won t do for me, or for any one in earnest about his soul; I must have realities, to know for myself that the Son of God is come, and to have an understanding in my very bosom to know Him that is true, by His own blessed manifestations, discoveries, and sweet visitations to my heart. And if I know that the Son of God is come and hath given me an understanding to know Him that is true, I shall speak that which I do know and my trumpet will give a certain sound. If I profess to be your guide, I must go boldly on as knowing every step of the way. If I am to pilot your ship down the channel, I must know the chart, that you and I may arrive at the harbour of safety.
Though men may speak against certainties in religion, the most important concern of all, yet will not men have certainties in the things of this life? Who will buy an estate with an uncertain title? Who will even deal at a shop where he is uncertain whether the goods sold him are valuable or worthless, pure or adulterated? When you receive change, do you never look at your money whether it be right? Why you count the very pence, lest you be a halfpenny wrong. The children of this world are too wise in their generation to do with uncertainties. "Let the thing be as clear and as certain as it can be," says the man of business, the trader, the farmer, the dealer, the buyer, the seller, "or I will have nothing to do with it; I will not be deceived if I can help it to the fraction of a penny."
If then the men and women of this world can so speak, so act as regards those poor, perishing things which are passing away like shadows, shall you and I, who have immortal souls and feel that we have them and that they are hanging in the balance, -shall we rest upon uncertainties, not to know whether the Son of God is come or not; not to know whether or not He "hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true?" Why the certainty of these things is our very life. Not that all the children of God have the certainty in their own bosom. As I before said, a man may certainly be the possessor of a property, yet be dubious as to its title, and yet have a good title too. You with the fear of God in your breast are as certain of being in heaven as that Christ is there now; but you may not have the certainty in your own breast. You may have, as most of the people of God have, thousands of doubts and fears which may seem to rack you to the very centre, and yet there is a certainty in the things themselves, though your doubting soul may be at an uncertainty about them. Still, it is not good to be ever fluctuating upon a sea of uncertainty; it is good to find the ground solid under our feet, and to have a rock, the Rock of ages, on which to firmly stand. This brings me to my last point.
III.- "And we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life."
Here the man of God points to the union and communion which the saints of God have with His dear Son. "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ."
How are the saints of God "in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ?"
1. First, they are in Him by covenant ties, by solemn engagements, by eternal choice, as the Holy Ghost speaks by Paul. "According as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." Men may quarrel with election, but it is the grand foundation of the union which the Church has with her covenant Head; for she was chosen in Him; not chosen in herself, or chosen out of Him; and being chosen in Him, she can never, so to speak, be lost out of Him. This will be very plain by a moment s consideration. If every member of the mystical body of Christ was chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, it is impossible that any member of that mystical body should be lost. The whole body would suffer, and the Head would suffer with it, if the smallest member of the mystical body of Christ could perish. It would not be a complete body if it lost the smallest member. If, therefore, you are in Christ by vital union, you were in Him by covenant ties before the foundation of the world. This is the grand security of the saints; this is that which kept the Church from being swamped and swallowed in the Adam fall, and held her up in the midst of that transgression which was attended with such fearful consequences.
2. There is another way in which we "are in him that is true;" and that is by vital union.
This vital union is of two kinds: a union of Him with us by His participation of our flesh, and a union of us with Him by our participation of His Spirit. There is thus, so to speak. a double union.
In order to make the Church wholly His, by becoming one with Himself, the Lord took her nature into union with His own divine Person. The apostle, therefore, says: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." Heb 2:14 We therefore read: "For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." Eph 5:29,30 Thus there is a union which the Church has with Christ by virtue of His partaking of her flesh and blood. As the wife has a union with her husband from being one flesh with him, so the Church has a union with Christ as being one flesh with Him. How beautifully does Paul unfold this mystery: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." Eph 5:31,32
This union of Christ and the Church as one flesh, by virtue of His incarnation, is the ground and basis of that other union with Him, which I have already mentioned -a union with him by a participation of His Spirit; as we read, "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." 1Co 6:17 Thus our union with Christ is not only a union by covenant tie, which was the source, not only a union by His partaking of our flesh as the great mystery of godliness, but a union with Him in living experience, by oneness of Spirit. Now if you know anything of the grace, the presence, the power, and love of Christ; if you have been baptized with His Spirit and have ever felt anything experimentally of communion with Him, you are one spirit with Him. There is a oneness of spirit between you and the Son of God. You see with Him; you feel with Him; you sympathize with Him; you walk with Him; you talk with Him. And He feels with you; sympathizes with you; walks with you; talks with you; communicates of His grace to your soul, infuses His Spirit into your breast, and makes you a partaker of the divine nature, that you may escape the corruptions which are in the world through lust. Now it is only by this oneness of spirit with Christ, and by being able to realize it, that we can ever say without fear, "we are in him that is true." When you feel a oneness of spirit with Christ, then there is a testimony in your own bosom of your union with Him, which can never be described, and yet can be and is blessedly felt. To melt into His Spirit and His Spirit to melt into yours; to have the mind of Christ; to see with the eyes of Christ, to feel with the heart of Christ; to love what Christ loves, to hate what Christ hates; to be jealous of His honour, tender of His glory, mourn over Him and with Him, hate your sins because He suffered for them, abhor yourselves in dust and ashes on account of your unlikeness to Him: to be sighing continually that He would draw you nearer to His bosom, supply you out of His fullness, manifest His love to your soul and baptize you into His Spirit-this is oneness of spirit with Christ. and by this oneness of spirit you can clearly make out your union with Christ.
Let me illustrate this by something of a similar character. You talk with a child of God, say for the first time; but from some cause or other, you feel no union or communion with him. Why? Because there is no present oneness of spirit between you and him. But another day you meet him: he says something that drops into your spirit; you say something which drops into his spirit: heart flows to heart, spirit melts into spirit; you are one with each other, know the same truths, believe the same things, feel the same power, can unfold to each other your mutual sorrows and your mutual joys, and love flows into each other s breast. This is oneness of spirit. So it is with us and the dear Redeemer. There is a oneness of spirit with Christ the Head, as there is oneness of spirit with the members of His mystical body; and thus as we are able to trace out this oneness of spirit with Him, we arrive at the sweet testimony that "we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ."
Then it is, so far as we are enabled to enter into the vital reality of these divine things, that we can say with holy John, "This is the true God," lifting up heart and mouth for ourselves, and pointing out to others God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, as manifested and revealed in the Person of Christ. "This is the true God, and eternal life;" for I have a testimony in my own bosom that "this is the true God," from the experience I have of His truth and blessedness; and as I look up and see by faith eternal life in Him, I can add also that this, and this only, "is eternal life."
Some of you may not be able to speak with this blessed certainty of your interest in this only true God and this eternal life; and yet you may be certain that these things are true. Faith, I believe, has in it always a measure of assurance. For what is assurance? It is merely the larger growth and fuller development of faith. The nature of assurance is much misunderstood. It is often considered something distinct from faith. This is not the case. It is merely faith in a fuller, larger development. The word "assurance" in the original has a very simple yet beautiful meaning. It means literally "a full bearing;" and the word is applied sometimes to a large crop of corn or fruit, and sometimes to the tide coming in with a fuller wave. Now it is the same corn which grows in the fields, whether the crop be much or little; it is the same tide that comes up the river whether in a scanty or full flow.
So it is with assurance and faith: it is the same faith, only increased, enlarged, bearing more abundant fruit, or flowing in a more abundant tide.
Assurance in Scripture is not confined to faith; there is "the full assurance of understanding" Col 2:2 that is, a fuller measure and amount, a greater enlargement of understanding to know the truth of God. The understanding is the same; but there is a larger measure of it. So there is the full assurance of hope, that is, a hope strengthened and enlarged, bearing more fruit and flowing in a fuller tide. But it is the same hope -the same in kind, though larger in degree; a stronger anchor and yet an anchor still. Heb 6:11 Similarly there is the full assurance of faith Heb 10:22 that is, a larger, fuller measure of faith -a richer crop, a more abundant tide. Thus you have a measure of the assurance of faith if you have faith at all. In fact, if you have no assurance of the truth of these things, why do you follow after them? Why do you hang upon them, why do you hope in them? and why do you seek the power and experience of them in your soul?
Have you not arrived at this point yet? "we have not followed cunningly devised fables; these things that I am following after are realities; these objects set before me are certainties." I grant that you may be much exercised about your interest in them. Still, unless you know that they are certainties, why do you believe them? Why are you anxious to know your interest in them? Why do you sink in doubt and fear for want of clearer evidences of an interest in them? And why do you spring up in peace and joy the moment that a little light from them beams upon your soul and a little sweetness out of them drops into your heart? Because you know that these things are realities. So far then you have an assurance that they are certainties, and in due time, as God is pleased, you will have the assurance in your own breast, not only that they are certainties, but that you have them in your own sure and certain possession.