“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: “And 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.” (Romans 8:16,17)
MANY real partakers of grace are at times sorely tried and exercised in their minds whether they are children of God, and as such have an interest in the finished work of Christ, and have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Whence arise these trying, chilling doubts and fears? What gives them birth? And what maintains them in such continual strength and vigor? Their source is an unbelieving heart, and their continuance in such unabated strength proceeds from weakness of faith. The Lord, therefore, said to his sinking disciple, “0, thou of little faith! wherefore didst thou doubt?“ (Matt. 14:31) This is one cause, then, why these fears are so prevalent and so enduring. Another closely connected with it, is because perfect love has not come to cast out that fear which hath torment. As the apostle John declares, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” From the weakness then of faith and the want of perfect love, many partakers of grace are often tormented with fears for a long period whether the work upon their heart is genuine; in other words, whether what they have experienced of conviction or consolation, of sorrow or joy, of trial or deliverance, was produced by the operation of the Spirit of God, or are merely natural feelings such as were found in Saul, Ahab, Demas, the stony-ground hearers, the foolish virgins, and the characters described Heb. 6 and 10. These fears are not grace, and yet they are to a certain extent connected with grace. How so? Because they are found, I dare not say exclusively, but I may certainly say generally, only in the hearts of those who spiritually fear God. But why in their hearts chiefly? Because their eyes are divinely enlightened to see, and their hearts spiritually opened to feel, the greatness and majesty of the Most High. They experimentally know what the Apostle calls the “terror of the Lord;” tremble at the holiness and justice of his righteous law; and plainly see stretching itself as it were, before their eyes the breadth of that wide gate which leads to destruction, and the straitness of that narrow way which leads to eternal life. They are exercised and distressed also with the amazing power and inveterate obstinacy of the unbelief that works in the carnal mind; know that faith is the gift of God; are thoroughly convinced that a good hope is only through grace, and that no religion will stand in the great day, or even support them on a dying bed, but that which is wrought in their soul by a sovereign, divine power. When, then, faith is at a low ebb, or not in blessed exercise, and the Spirit of God does not bear witness with their spirit that they are his children they necessarily fall into doubt and fear; for at such a season everything bears witness against them, and their faith and hope are not strong enough to silence the voice of the accusing witnesses. And yet there are in these characters most evident marks of the grace of God. They are alive to the exceeding evil of sin; they keenly feel the corruption of their nature; they are pressed down by the weight of unbelief; they are thoroughly convinced that in self there is neither hope nor help, and that it is impossible, by any exertion of their own, to raise up that faith and love for which they ardently long, but the communication of which seems denied or delayed.
Now such a text as that before us this morning will often deeply, try the mind of those who have not experienced what the Holy Ghost here speaks of as the sweet experience of a child of God. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God and 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.” But I may, perhaps, with God’s blessing, be enabled to show them that they have an interest in this declaration of the Holy Spirit more than they can now readily believe, and that it does embrace them more tenderly in its grasp than they can venture to realize.
In opening up these words, I shall, as the Lord may enable,
I. First, show what it is to be a child of God, and how the Spirit itself beareth witness with his spirit that he is a son of his Heavenly Father.
II. Secondly, what is the blessed fruit and consequence of being a child of God: that he is thereby an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ.
III. And thirdly, the condition that God has attached to sonship and heirship: that we must suffer with Christ that we may be also glorified together.
I. The highest privilege, the greatest blessing, the richest favor that God can bestow upon any son or daughter of Adam is to make him and manifest him as his own dearly beloved child; for in so doing he not only advances him to the noblest dignity, but to the highest summit of glory and happiness that can be enjoyed in his own eternal, blissful presence. We know that in earthly relationships, it is the father who gives station, rank, and dignity to the son. The son of a king is a prince if he be a cripple or a dwarf; because royal blood flows in his veins, he will sit one day upon his father’s throne. The son of a duke, however weak or puny he may be, is a nobleman the moment he is born: as a child, he may be inferior in strength and comeliness to the son of a woodman; but he is taken abroad for an airing in the carriage wrapped up in furs and lace, when the son of the woodman has to run about half clad in the cold. Thus it is not the merit of the child, but the rank of the father, that gives him station and dignity. So it is in the things of God. It is not merit that makes any one a child of God. It is not any virtue, or goodness, or righteousness, in the creature and of the flesh that transplants a son or daughter of Adam into the family of the great and glorious Jehovah. But as in earthly relationships, the son derives his station from his father, so it is, by virtue of a heavenly birth, and not by dint of creature merit, that any become manifested sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.
i. But we must endeavor to clear up a little more fully this point: how and when do we become children of God? Do we become so for the first time at and by regeneration? Certainly not. If we are now at this present moment children of God, we were so in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. “Because ye are Sons (are sons already, not to make you such), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:6) “Behold I and the children which God hath given me. For as much then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same.” (Heb. 2:13,14) These passages clearly prove what the whole of John 17 so thoroughly and beautifully breathes, that being chosen in the Son of God before all time and given by the Father to him, those who are members of his body, flesh, and bones are children of God by virtue of their eternal union with Jesus. Because he is a Son, they are sons. Therefore he said after his resurrection, “I go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Why your Father? Because my Father. Why your God, because my God. So that as far as we are partakers of a heavenly birth and thus made manifestly Sons of God, we are his children, not only by regenerating grace, but as having had a standing in the Person of the Son of God before ever time had a being—before the sun was launched into the sky or the stars like so many diamonds studded the firmament of heaven.
ii. In order, then, to carry out these eternal purposes of love and grace, being blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, being chosen in him before the foundation of the world, and predestinated unto the adoption of children,” (Eph. 1:3,5) we are in the providence of God brought into our time-state. He appointed the means whereby and the time when we should be born into this world. He presided over every link of that lengthened and wondrous chain which issued in our coming into our present earthly being. He preserved us in Christ when we were rebels and aliens. (Jude 1) He girded us when we knew not him, (Isa. 45:5) and kept us by his providence from a thousand deaths up to the very hour when, according to his divine appointment, a ray of light and life from Christ’s own glorious fullness first came into our soul. This “light of life,” this quickening ray from the Sun of righteousness, brought us into spiritual being: for if we are children of God in vital manifestation, we are so by virtue of a spiritual birth. The apostle John therefore says of those to whom Christ “gave power [or “privilege,” margin] to become the sons of God, that they “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13) Being, then, born of God, spiritually regenerated, we are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son, (Col. 1:13) and as such become, spiritually and experimentally, children of God.
iii. When God, then, becomes our Father by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, he does for us in a gracious sense what an earthly parent does for his child.
1. Whence does a child derive its food? When it comes home hungry from school, who finds it bread or meat, or whatever else may be needful to allay its craving appetite? The Father. When my children come home peevish and fretful with hunger, I often feel it a kind mercy that I am able to supply their wants. And who will still continue to furnish all it requires so long as it remains in his house? The Father. Why? Because it is his child. So in grace. Whence comes all spiritual food? From the Father’s table. He feeds the babe with milk, and the stronger with meat. Was it not the father of the returning prodigal who fed him with the fatted calf? And does not God give us the flesh of his own Son to eat? as the Lord himself said, “My father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” (John 6:32,33) And again, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) He, too, gives every promise, every token for good, every word that is made to us spirit and life; (John 6:63) for “man does not live by bread only, but by every word that preceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” All this food, whereby, as with manna, the hidden life of the soul is sustained, is provided for the children of their Father which is in heaven to give them their daily bread; and for this simple and sole reason, because he is their Father and everlasting friend.
2. Who clothes the children? When we were children in our father’s house, who found us all the clothes that wore from infancy onward? Our earthly parent. But for his kind care we should have been literally like those victims of oppression whose case Job describes: “They cause the naked to lodge without clothing, that they have no covering in the cold. They are wet with the showers of the mountain, and embrace the rock for want of shelter.” (Job 24:7,8) So in a higher sense. Who clothes his children with the robe of righteousness, as he clothed Adam and Eve after the fall with the skins of the beasts, offered as the first sacrifice in the very garden where first they sinned, that they might not go forth without atoning blood on their conscience, justifying righteousness on their persons, and a gracious promise in their hearts? It is by thus clothing his children that their Father makes them acceptable in his own sight that they may stand before his holy and dread presence, not in the filthy rags of their own righteousness, but as comely through the comeliness of his own dear Son which he puts upon them. (Ezek. 16:14) Being thus “accepted in the beloved,” and clothed with that glorious righteousness which is their wedding garment, they are without spot or blemish or any such thing, and are without fault before the throne of God. (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 14:5)
3. Who protects the child in the helpless days of infancy? Whither does it run when in danger or distress? To the father’s house; and the father, as the father, is bound to protect, and does protect it, if needs be at the risk of his own life from every danger. Why? Because it is such a good and dutiful child, who has never given him an hour’s uneasiness? No; but because it is his own flesh and blood, and is so helpless as to need his protection. So in grace. Who protects you from wreck and ruin—covers your head in the day of battle—surrounds you with mercy on every side, and compasses you with favor as with a shield? God Why? Because he is your Father. And why are you enabled to flee to him, as David speaks, “I flee unto thee to hide me,” (Ps. 143:9) and to resort to his bosom as a child to the bosom of its father? Because you feel driven and drawn—driven by the necessity of the case, drawn by the sweetness of his love.
4. Who educates the children? The father. Is he not bound to educate them for their various situations in life? He has been, under God, the author of their natural being, and as such he is bound to take every care that when they go into the world they shall be maintained in a sufficient and suitable manner by the instruction and education which they have received from him. Is it otherwise in grace? Who trains up the child to any knowledge of himself as the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent? Who plants his fear in the heart as the beginning of wisdom? Who leads us on from one branch to another of heavenly discipline, so to give us a sound, ripe, spiritual education? Who reproves the wayward, and encourages the docile? Who teaches us the evil of sin and makes us abhor it? Who shows us the beauty of Jesus and makes us love him? The Author of our Spiritual birth and being, who himself declares “I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” (Isa. 48:17) As, then, a child looks to his parent whilst in tender years for food, clothing, protection, and education, and the more kind and affectionate the father is, the more he will respond to all these appeals, by giving him all that lies in his power to conduce to his temporal interest; so, in a gracious sense, our heavenly Father bestows upon us his children all those needful mercies and favors which his wisdom can devise, his love prompt, and his power perform.
iv. But the apostle says in our text—“The Spirit itself beareth with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” And observe that he expressly tells us where and with what this witness is borne—“with our spirit.” The blessed Spirit does not bear witness to our carnal mind, which is enmity against God; (Rom. 8:7) nor to our reasoning faculties, which cannot comprehend him; (Job. 11:7,9) nor to our natural conscience, which can only accuse or excuse; (Rom. 2:15) nor to our earthly affections, which are too gross and sensual for the Spirit’s heavenly witness; no, nor to any thing of the creature or of the flesh, however cultivated or refined. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and as such can neither see nor enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:3,5) But it is “with our spirit” that he beareth witness, that is, the new man of grace, which is “spirit” as born of the Spirit, as the Lord himself declares, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) This is “the new heart and new spirit” promised in Ezekiel (36:26)
v. I was speaking just now of the doubts and fears with which the children of God are often exercised. Now these doubts and fears can only be effectually removed by the witness of the Spirit with our spirit that we are the children of God. The flesh is always unbelieving, doubting, fearing; naturally full of infidelity and atheism, demanding signs from heaven or rational proofs and arguments; sometimes as credulous and superstitious as an old woman in an almshouse, and then as bold and blaspheming as a Jew. Nor can it ever rise beyond its earthly nature; it never has, nor can have, any apprehensions of the things of God, for in it the Apostle declares “there dwelleth no good thing.” (Rom. 7:18) But your “spirit,” your new nature, being born of God, can hear his voice, feel his presence, taste his love, know his goodness, and be operated upon by his Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of power and love, a Guide, Teacher, and Comforter.
Now this witness of the Spirit is sometimes direct and immediate. He applies a precious promise—sheds abroad the love of God—-gives a manifestation of Christ—whispers a sweet sentence from the word of truth— reveals pardon and peace—and thus communicates a blessed assurance of an interest in the love and blood of Jesus.
But all the children of God have not this direct and immediate witness. Many are longing for it; and those who enjoy it have it only at favored moments and peculiar seasons. If once enjoyed, they cannot lose the recollection of it; but they may and do lose the enjoyment, and through temptation and desertion sink into those dark and miserable spots where nearly all seems lost and gone.
But there, is the indirect witness of the Spirit, the reflected light of signs and tokens, evidences and way marks, as distinct from the direct light of his immediate testimony.
1. For instance, you may feel your heart much drawn out toward the Lord, and be much favored with a Spirit of grace and supplications. You may have unexpected access to the throne, and feel your whole heart and affections so drawn up to the blessed Lord that you cannot but believe, love, and adore him. Seen by the eye of faith he is made near, dear, and precious to your soul. Whilst this lasts there is a secret influence breathing upon and through your spirit which calms the whole soul, removes darkness and unbelief, doubt and fear, guilt and bondage, and lifts up the heart and affections to where Jesus sits on the right hand of God. This raises up a sweet persuasion of your name being in the Lamb’s book of life, and is so far the witness of the Spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God.
2. Or the Lord by his Spirit and grace may break down, in a most unexpected way the hardness and coldness of your heart. You may come to hear the word cold and dead, or full of guilt and condemnation. It may seem as if you had not a spark of grace or a grain of true religion, your heart is so hard and you feel so under the power of unbelief. In the most unexpected manner by the application of some word with power to your heart, the Lord may in a moment melt your soul into a contrition and love, so that your eyes overflow with tears, and all you can say is “Blessed, blessed Jesus.” This is the indirect witness of the Spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God, for this is the fulfillment of the promise, “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh.”
3. Or you may find faith strengthened in a way that you never felt to that degree or extent before. Whilst pleading at the throne of grace and seeking to look up to the Lord Jesus; his Person, blood, and righteousness, you may feel your faith wonderfully strengthened and drawn out to take hold of and embrace him. This is the fulfillment of the gracious invitation—“Let him take hold of my strength that he may make peace with me, and he shall make peace with me.” The blessed Spirit by thus strengthening your faith bears witness that you are a child of God.
4. Or, from some sense of your lost condition, you may have been in great trouble and distress of mind your sins may have lain for months with great weight and power upon your conscience; but the Lord, in reading his word or hearing his ministers, may have secretly persuaded you that those sins are cast behind his back. It may not be a full assurance, but, from the difference in your feelings, the removal of the load, and the sweet peace felt, there is an inward testimony that these sins shall not destroy you.
5. Or you may have been much weighed down of late by temporal trouble. For weeks and months, illness, family affliction, and peculiar trials have pressed you sore. But you could not help crying to the Lord under them; still no relief came, till when you least expected it the Lord gave you a promise, or applied some sweet portion of his blessed word to your soul. You could then rejoice in the midst of suffering, and felt that you would rather endure affliction with the people of God than “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Now here the Spirit bore witness with your spirit that you were a child of God.
Thus we see that beside the immediate, direct witness of the Spirit in the shedding abroad of the love of God, and in “casting out all fear that hath torment,” there is his fainter, gentler, and more indirect testimony; less clear but not less real, less full but not less certain, less satisfying but not less divine. The Spirit is the same, but his operations different, as time Apostle speaks—“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6)
Now you may not perhaps for the most part enjoy a strong or clear assurance of your interest in Christ; you may be frequently much exercised whether you are a child of God; and yet you may at times have left this place with a sweet testimony that grace is in your heart. You may have heard the servants of God so describe the feelings of your soul, so enter into your exercises, and bring forward such evidences of grace, that, in spite of all your unbelief, you were convinced that if these men spake agreeably to the mind of God, which you could not well doubt from the power which accompanied it, you were one of his children; and as you felt this inward witness your heart was softened and moved within you, and you could not help lifting up your soul in praise and adoration to the God of all your mercies. You might sink again almost as low as before; but whilst that heavenly feeling lasted, you had a testimony in your conscience that you were a child of God, and could then and there believe that He was your Father and heavenly friend. This text does not therefore, cut off those who have not reached the full assurance of faith; does not imply, much less say, that everybody shall be cut off and sent into everlasting perdition who can not clearly and boldly declare that the Spirit itself beareth witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. On the contrary, it opens its benign arms to every one who has in any degree or at any time received any deliverance, felt any measure of spiritual consolation, or been favored with any testimony of his acceptance in the Beloved. It does not come as a two-edged sword to kill all who do not enjoy the full assurance of faith, but still have felt the power of the truth in their hearts. It does not say to such—”You have neither part nor lot in the matter.” It would rather draw them forward into the sheltering arms of eternal mercy, and encourage them to press on to know more and more of that inward, witness which alone can cheer them in hours of darkness and distress, support them upon a dying bed, and enable them to walk without doubt and fear through the gloomy valley of the shadow of death.
II. But I pass on to show what is the blessed fruit and consequence of being children of God; “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”
i. In the kingdom of God, heirship always follows sonship. It is not so in earthly relationships. All the children of a nobleman do not inherit the family title and estates. Every son of a king does not sit upon his father’s throne. According to our law—and a wise and good law it is—there is primogeniture both in succession to the Throne and to the Peerage. The eldest son of the sovereign becomes the ruling monarch, and of the peer is the heir who takes the title and the property. Thus the state is kept from anarchy, and families and estates are preserved from being broken into a thousand fragments, and the country overrun with a crowd of pauper nobles, too proud to work, but mean enough to catch any offal thrown to them by the state. But in the things of God it is not so. All are heirs of God who are his children; and it is this which makes divine sonship so blessed. In earthly families, there is often a great deal of jealousy. The younger sons frequently cannot bear to see their elder brothers enjoying all the advantages of rank and wealth when they are put off with a portion, which compared with their thirst for expensive pleasures, seems but a pauper’s pittance. But there need be no jealousy or envy amongst the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. None of these can say to another “Thou hast taken away all the inheritance and got all the land and all the property that belonged to my father, and I am put off with a fragment.” Nor again can any one say to his brother, “I am the heir: but what art thou? Why, thou art put off with a portion on which thou mayest go and starve.” All are heirs. And what an inheritance is theirs! Say that you were born the son of a duke; say that you inherit the most ancient lineage, the loftiest title, and the broadest acres that are entailed on any of our highest nobility. They would all soon come to an end; and when you were laid in your velvet coffin studded with a few gilt-headed nails, and the herald had proclaimed your rank and titles over your poor remains, would that profit you if your soul at that moment were in hell under the burning indignation and awful displeasure of the Almighty? “The rich man died and was buried,” and no doubt had a splendid funeral; but the next thing said of him is that “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.” You had better be a pauper and die in a workhouse; you had better live upon parish allowance and be scarcely able to keep body and soul together, and be a heir of God and joint-heir with Christ, than live and die a duke, and know nothing of that spiritual birth without which you would have to lie for ever under the wrath of God.
ii. “An heir of God!” The Levites had no inheritance among their brethren. God was their inheritance. (Joshua 13:14,33) This was a figure of the family of God, as having no inheritance with their brethren after the flesh. The world is not for them, nor the things of the world. They have another inheritance of which the world knows nothing and for which it cares less—God. But what is it to be an heir of God? It is to have God for our eternal possession—for all the love, glory, bliss, and blessedness of the self-existent Jehovah to be made over to us for our everlasting enjoyment. Whatever the love of God can give, whatever the grace of God bestow, whatever the glory of God reveal, whatever fullness of bliss there is in the eternal presence of the great and glorious Jehovah,—all that is ours if we be the children of God. The heir of a nobleman may walk at pleasure over his father’s property; he may look at every tree and say, “This is or will be mine; that farm in the distance is mine; those houses on the hill, those woods at my feet, that noble mansion, this beautiful park are mine; all I see around me is mine; I am heir to it all.” A stranger cannot go into that nobleman’s park, look at the trees, view the mansion, survey the wide prospect, and say he is heir to them all. But the eldest son can; for the same title that gives him heirship to one part of the estate gives him heirship to it all. So it is in grace. A child of grace may say, when blessed with a sense of his love—“If God is my Father and I am his heir, all that God is he is to me. His power is for me; his glory for me; his love for me; his holiness for me; his eternal perfections are for me; all he is and all he has is mine, so far as I am his child, and therefore his heir.” Who, blessed with such an inheritance, need envy those who are heirs to titles, rank, fashion, and broad acres, a seat in the house of Peers, or a place near the Throne? When their happiness ends, his will only begin. When they are consigned to their coffin, and “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” sounds over their remains, the child of God, thrust perhaps into an elm shell and buried at the expense of the parish, is only just then entering upon an immortality of bliss and glory.
iii. But the child of God is also “a joint-heir with Christ.” The words might be rendered “joint-heirs of Christ;” that is, every child of God inherits Christ as a joint-heir with all the rest of the family. But we will abide by the version of our excellent translation: “joint heirs with Christ.” The Lord Jesus viewed in his mediatorial character, is the heir of God. As his only begotten Son, he inherits all the perfections of the Father; but as God-man, as the Head and Representative of the Church, he inherits, in a peculiar sense the love, the favor, the glory, the blessedness of God; and as he inherits all this for the Church in union with himself, all the family of God are joint-heirs with him. Whatever he has, he has for them; whatever he is, he is for them; whatever he receives from God, he shares with them. As we read in John 17:—“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 may be made perfect in one.” (John 17:22,23) So that whatever Christ is in himself, that he is to the Church of God. As the Christ of God, he has received a kingdom—a kingdom of grace for time and of glory for eternity. Of this kingdom he makes his saints sharers, as he said to his disciples—“I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father hath appointed unto me;” (Luke 22:29) and as he will one day say to the sheep on his right hand—“Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mutt. 25:34) This view of the saints joint heirship with Christ made Paul say to the Corinthians—“Let no man glory in men; for all things are ours. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” Whatever there be in heaven, whatever there be in earth, that can be for your spiritual good, all is yours so far as you are an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. The silver, and the gold, and the cattle upon a thousand hills are all Christ’s, because all power is given to him in heaven and in earth. Whatever your temporal wants may be, he can supply them, because He is king on earth as well as in heaven, Whatever enemies you may have he is able to defeat them; whatever evils may press upon you, he is able to subdue them; whatever sorrows surround you, He is able to console you under them. Everything in time, everything in eternity, in this world and in the world to come, are all on your side, that are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.
Oh the blessedness of being a child of God! Can heart conceive or tongue express the heights and depths of grace and glory, the safety, the happiness, the honor, the bliss, the delight of being an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ? We soon shall have to put oft our mortal bodies—soon have to lie down with the worms of the grave and the clods of the valley—soon have to enter into the invisible world. Well may we then ask ourselves what are our prospects of eternity? Where then will be our inheritance? Will it be one of eternal misery and woe, of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, or of the pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore? Have we any evidence or testimony that we are the children of God? Has the Spirit ever borne any direct or indirect witness to our adoption into his family—to our sonship and to our heirship? When we review our past experience, can we find any marks that we can look upon with a good measure of faith and hope as sound, scriptural evidences that we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ? Can you look back upon that memorable season when the Lord was first pleased to work upon your conscience and convince you of your sins?—to that time of love when Christ was first revealed to your heart?—to that day of affliction and trouble when a sweet promise of interest in his love and blood was sealed with divine power upon your soul? Can you find any solid, substantial marks and tokens that you are a partaker of saving and sanctifying grace, born of God separated from the world as a pilgrim and a stranger, and pressing onward through a thousand foes and fears to a heavenly country? It is of no use leaning upon the testimony of man, or upon any vain hopes or presumptuous confidence that may, spring up in a self-righteous, deceitful heart. It is the witness of the Spirit with our spirit, more or less clear—the shining in of the light of the Lord’s countenance—the manifestations of his presence and love, which alone can really satisfy a child of God of his being a partaker of grace and of the glory that is to be revealed at the coming of the Lord Jesus.
III. But let us not forget to come to our third and last point, that God has appended a certain condition to this sonship and heirship. I use the word “condition”, not in the usual meaning of the term, as implying-some thing to be done by way of recommendation to God; but in this sense—God in his infinite wisdom has appointed suffering before enjoyment; the cross before the crown; the strait and narrow gate before entrance into eternal life; the conflict before the victory; the race before the prize; the suffering with Christ before we are glorified together. Now it is this divinely ordained condition of suffering that often casts a dark and gloomy veil over the experience and evidences of the children of God. Had they nothing but the shining in of the Sun—nothing but the immediate witness of the Spirit with their spirit that they were the children of God, there would be room for neither doubt nor fear. But this is not God’s way. He has decreed, on the contrary, that there shall be clouds and darkness, sorrows and suffering, trials and exercises, foes and fears; and that all these should lie in the path heavenward—in other words, that suffering should precede glory.
What does the world know of the inward experience of the children of God? They see a few poor despised people, who go about as they think ever moping and melancholy—who evidently take no pleasure in the things that they enjoy—whose creed differs from theirs in many important points—whom they cannot understand or decipher; but upon whom they look with suspicion and contempt, and whose characters they are ever ready to load with reproach, for the misconduct of a few whom they themselves condemn and repudiate. It is the will of God that it should he so. It was so with his own dear Son, whom they called a glutton and a wine-bibber, whose name they loaded with shame and ignominy, and whom at last they crucified as a malefactor and blasphemer. We are to suffer with him if we are to be glorified together. We hope to be glorified together—to sit down with Christ in the kingdom of God—to behold his glory that the Father gave unto him—and to see him as he is face to face in the light of an eternal day, where sin and sorrow shall no more intrude, and where tears shall be wiped from off all faces. But let us not mistake. We have first to suffer. It was so with Jesus. He came into the world “a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.” From the manger to the cross, suffering was his lot. In the garden, what agonizing tortures of mind he endured! On the cross, what pangs of body and soul pierced him through and through! We must suffer with him, not to the same extent, but in the same or similar way. Did the world despise him? We must suffer with him in being despised. Did the world hate him? We must suffer with him in being hated. Did the world persecute him? We must suffer with him in being persecuted. Did the world misunderstand him? We also must be misunderstood. Was he slandered—as when taunted as. “the friend of publicans and sinners?” We must be content to be slandered too. Was he scourged? We must be scourged, if not with the cruel whip, with the tongue; if not on the back, on name, lame, and character. Was he assailed by Satan in the wilderness and at other seasons? We are to be assailed in a similar way. Did he bear the weight of sin in his own body upon the tree? We must bear the weight of sin too, not meritoriously, but in our own conscience. Did his holy soul feel guilt and condemnation under the curse of the law? We must also feel from the same holy law guilt and condemnation. Did God try him by hiding his face from him in almost his last moments? We must suffer at times under the hiding of God’s face. Did he experience sore and sharp distress when he drank of the cup of God’s anger and was baptized with the baptism of suffering and blood? We must drink of that cup and be baptized with that baptism (Mark 10:39) So that when we look at the Lord’s sufferings upon earth from the manger to the cross, we, if we are to be glorified together with him, must participate with him in those sufferings—a small measure indeed compared with his; but sufficient to give us a fellowship with him in them. (Phil. 3:10)
But whilst we are passing through these sufferings, a dark cloud is often cast over our evidences: nature rebels--infidelity questions--murmuring thoughts rise up. All these, like mists and fogs from the lower grounds, frequently bury in darkness the evidences and testimonies of God’s grace. This, however, is a part of the suffering. As Christ suffered when he said, “This is your hour and the power of darkness;” (Luke 22:53) so we are to suffer under the same hour of darkness and desertion. As Christ suffered when Satan tempted him, we are to suffer in a similar way. But it is not always so. A time of suffering is often a time of joy. There is a glorying in tribulations; (Rom. 5:3) a taking pleasure in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. (2 Cor. 12:10. But whether cast down by them or supported under them, “if we suffer we shall also reign with him”. (2 Tim. 2:12) If we carry his cross, we shall wear his crown. If we are despised with him, persecuted with him, groan with him, mourn with him, sigh with him, we shall be g1orifled together with him, see him as he is in the realms of bliss—view him all blessed and glorious, the Godhead shining through the Manhood in a way surpassing all human conception or utterance. It is thus the Lord tries the faith of his children. Here we are to walk by faith, not by sight; to be conformed to the suffering image, and tread in the footsteps of the despised man of sorrows. And I can say for myself that, however my proud nature rebels against the cross and my coward flesh cries out for ease, yet I have seen and felt that beauty and blessedness in the Lord Jesus, and my heart at times so goes out towards him in love, that I am made willing to walk in a path so contrary to every inclination of my natural mind.
Now can you find any witness in your heart that the solemn truths which I have this morning laid before you have been vitally and experimentally made known to your soul? Whilst I have been opening up these divine and blessed realities, have you felt that of these things, or at least of some of them, you have had an inward experience? I close, then, with this one observation, that if your heart be right before God, you must feel in your conscience that without such experience as I have endeavored to describe, you can neither live nor die safe or happy.