How necessary it is that we should have a proper object for worship! And how necessary it is that we should have a proper foundation for faith, a right and righteous channel through which we should approach a holy God! Unless we approach him in a right way and through a right medium, we shall never find any satisfaction in worshipping him. There is but one right way of worshipping God, one right way of approaching God, and one right way of honoring God; and that is by faith in his Son. I believe Christ, as the Son of God from everlasting, to have been the foundation of the faith of all the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; the foundation of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the godly who succeeded them; and the foundation of the faith of those who followed Christ in gospel times, some of whom suffered, bled, and died for his sake. And as all this cloud of witnesses believed, so do all the godly believe now who live and die in the faith of God's elect.
There are great contentions between the tens who contend that Christ is, and the ten thousands who contend that Christ is not the Eternal Son of God. But the tens, the family of God, taught by his Spirit, overcome the ten thousands. Thus, though the children of God are found only in tens against the ten thousands who are in and of the world, yet the few overcome the many, the feeble overcome the strong, the weaker overcome the mighty, the bruised reeds overcome the tall trees. How wonderful it is that these poor weak people prevail against the strong! How is it? I will tell you how it is. God gives them strength, faith, grace, and power to hold fast their profession amidst all the overwhelming and abounding errors of the day.
John in this epistle makes a distinction between those who worship Christ as the living and true God, blessed for evermore, and those who worship they know not what. Some did not believe, as the godly did, that Christ came down from heaven and took a real body like our own, in which he suffered, bled, and died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; therefore John wrote his epistle for the comfort of those who believed and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God.
I. I shall notice the confession that Jesus is the Son of God.
II. The two declarations made, that God dwelleth in him and he in God.
I. Now Christ is set forth in the Scriptures under a variety of metaphors and similitudes. He is called a stone, a foundation- stone, the lowest in the building. A tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. "Unto you, therefore, which believe, he is precious." To those who by faith embrace him as a living foundation-stone, he is precious. He is also called a gate or door. He himself says, "I am the door; by me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." This going in does not mean entering in with flesh and blood; but a spiritual entering in by faith. The soul is drawn unto Christ the Son by the Father; and by a true and living faith it enters in and finds pasture. This gate must be opened to us by revelation or manifestation. The faith that believes that Jesus is the Sent of God is true, living faith, deeply rooted in the heart, which lives and labors under many loads; and Christ being the true and proper foundation, it will do to live and die by. It is by this faith the soul triumphs in a precious Christ, as David says: "This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter." He is called the true Vine, a blessed and fruitful Vine. All others are, in comparison with him, spurious and false, bearing unripe fruit, wild sour grapes. Christ being the true Vine, all his people are engrafted into him. He is the Root, and they grow up in him and bear fruit.
By whatever figure or similitude he may be set forth in the Word, faith appreciates him as the only foundation for poor sinners to rest upon. Faith holds him fast as the only Refuge, month after month, and year after year; so that whatever trouble, temptation, or trial the soul may pass through, faith never gives up this.
Whoever sets forth the Lord Jesus Christ to the people, short of the Eternal Son of God, however well he wraps it up, dishonors God and insults him, and denies the foundation and object of spiritual faith. What would Christ be to us if he were only a man? Supposing him to be a good man, possessing more goodness than was in the first Adam, being but man, he could not have benefited us. He would not have been of any use to us. But the Lord's people believe him to be what God declares him to be: "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him." Faith holds him as such. Those who have seen and discovered him as the Christ of God, in whose consciences he has been made manifest as the Son of God, are able to confess that Jesus is the Son of God,—the Sent, the Anointed, the Christ of God. This teaching comes not by flesh and blood, as our Lord said to Peter: "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Now, some of you that are God's people may feel your souls like a wilderness or the barren heath, very unlike the garden of the Lord, and you have no power to believe. But if you hear the truth denied, or Satan comes with his vile suggestions that Jesus is not the Son of God, and that he is no more than another man, something in your souls rises in this barren land against the adversary. What is it? Powerful faith in your heart, so that you truly and firmly believe, against all the infernal suggestions of Satan, that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. You are brought to rest upon this foundation,—Christ the Friend of sinners. Faith lives and moves in the souls of God's children. By faith they are supported in the way to heaven. By faith they have manifestations of their sonship, their election of God, and their call by grace; and by faith they see that they are in the narrow way that leads to life.
This faith and confession of faith have all the children of God,-—young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. By this faith you will be supported all your journey through, and be carried safely through Jordan. The Object of this faith is the Author of it, even Jesus, the Lord of glory. Paul says: "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith." Not that faith is in our power. No; faith is the gift of God. And though you may exhort a child of God to believe, he feels he cannot, and knows that his faith comes not by the exhortation of men. He finds that, only as the Lord communicates faith by his blessed Spirit, can he exercise it. The apostle says: "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him, rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught." This faith shall never fail. The Lord says, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." The Lord's prayer is one cause why this faith shall never fail. The Lord will keep alive his own work. The Arians, Socinians, and Unitarians say that Christ is not God; but the patriarchs and prophets of old believed in him, and confessed he was God.
When God spoke to Abraham, he set forth to his understanding the object of faith, the promised seed, the Son of God. Then Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. So with Isaac, Jacob, his children, his grandchildren, and others; for the blessing flowed through Judah to David, Solomon, and many more, until the birth of Christ, when Simeon and Anna spoke of him. Even the devils gave in their testimony: "We know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." They believed and trembled. The Lord said, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." And the devils said, "We know thee who thou art,"—our original Creator, who formed us in our primitive state. "Art thou come to torment us before the time?"
Jesus, thou Son of God." This confession the children of God make; therefore it is written: "God dwelleth in them, and they in God." Those who have this faith in their souls are born of God. They are brought to know him, are taught by his Spirit, and are influenced by his grace. Now, the question is, when we come to our own case, Has the Lord ever revealed himself to us otherwise than as a mere man, or as a root out of a dry ground? Has he ever been made precious to our souls? Have we, by faith, realized him as the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of peace? He is the fountain of peace; the streams of peace all flow through him. There is no forgiveness or hope of forgiveness but through his precious blood, flowing through his human nature. His Godhead gave virtue to his atonement; for he was God and Man in one Person. The natures two; the Person one, mysterious and Divine. David had a precious view of him when he said, "Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man, whom thou madest strong for thyself,"—the all-sufficient Sacrifice for sin.
II. The declarations, which are two. First. "God dwelleth in him." When we poor sinners come to view ourselves, especially, at times, when we discover what is within, it seems almost impossible that the Lord can dwell in such vile creatures. But what appears impossible with us is not impossible with God. He dwells in his own people by his own Spirit. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you." The bodies of the saints are the temples of God. All men are sinners; but there are but few sensible sinners. When the Spirit comes to a man, he convinces him of sin, shows him what a sinner he is, that he is guilty of offences before God, and what he has been all his lifetime. This is the work of the Spirit in the heart of a man or woman; and such are the feelings of some that they conclude that, instead of being in the way to heaven, they are going downward to hell; that, instead of being children of God, they are the children of the devil. But how different are the Lord's thoughts from ours! He says, "I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." What a mercy to have our eyes opened! Conversion is regeneration of heart; conviction and godly sorrow for sin attend it. Though conviction does not always end in regeneration, there as no regeneration without conviction. Wherever regeneration takes place, there the Holy Ghost dwells. There are never two regenerations in one man; a man is never born twice after the Spirit. Once brought into a state of grace, in for ever.
Wherever the Spirit of God dwells, he causes the soul to mourn and cry for sins committed. Did you ever mourn for your sins? Looking back upon your past life, and looking inwardly, you feel that you have something opposed to God, something unholy, something that needs cleansing. This makes you cry to the Lord: "Wash me, cleanse me." Miserable creatures as you are, more blessed are you in this state than though you possessed all the goods of this world, and had no mourning for sin. What a mercy that the Lord the Spirit has quickened your dead souls, and given you a sense and knowledge of your sins!
But the blessed Spirit does not leave his people here. He gives them something more,—the sealing testimony. The apostle says, "In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance." O to have a sweet peace through a sense of sins forgiven,—everything overcome within, peace entering the breast, the peace that passeth all understanding, the love of God shed abroad in the heart! Where this is the case, though you find it hard to believe before all is straight, you cannot disbelieve; there is something sealed home on the heart. What is that? say you. Not the spirit of bondage again to fear; but the spirit of adoption, whereby you cry, "Abba, Father." Did you ever cry, "Abba, Father?" if not in the exact words, in substance? Did you ever worship God as your Lord, bowing before him as your Maker, and saying with the psalmist, "The law of thy mouth is better than thousands of gold and silver?" When the set time comes, every one that has been made alive shall receive the sealing testimony of the Spirit.
The Lord dwells in his own people by his love. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." We are not always in possession of the feeling of this love; nor are we always destitute of it. Where this love has ever reached the heart, there is the new birth: "He that loveth is born of God." "He that loveth his brother is born of God, and is passed from death to life." "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." These are positive proofs of the new birth. Our very comings to Christ are proofs of the new birth; for "he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Those who have these proofs can never finally fall. Though they have many fears they shall never hold out, yet they shall get safe to heaven, though it be through ten thousand dangers. They may be left to wander and walk in darkness, lose the sweet influence of these things, and feel as dark as midnight, as though there were not a particle of life, love, faith, or grace within them, yet they shall return; they shall never be lost. "The root of the righteous shall not be moved." When we cannot see any fruit, the root is still within.
God rests in his love. He says, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." This loving-kindness is a token of sonship, a token of reconciliation. This love realized is the highest attainment we can reach in this world; and if enjoyed for a short time, it is soon interrupted. In the world above there are uninterrupted joys, and love without sin. Here we carry about with us a body of sin and death; there we shall for ever bask in the smiles of God's countenance. We shall see him as he is, without a veil between. Here we have a veil over our face; we see through a glass darkly; there there will be no cloud over the face of the throne. Here we have a glimpse of his face, and then it is withdrawn; there it will be all open day, high, eternal noon. Here we say with the church of old, "I rose to open to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone." The affections and powers of our hearts are a little drawn after him, but he withdraws himself. We call after him, but he gives us no answer. Then we fall to doubting and unbelief; but our ground of rest and hope is in the unchangeable Jehovah. Sometimes you can say you love God. Well; even then the question will arise in the mind: Does God love me? The answer is given by him who is unchangeable: "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me." Now, if you have ever felt this love, it is a proof there is a reality in your religion, and that you have been led to God the Son, co-equal with the Father.
Christ dwells in his people, the hope of glory. Sometimes he comes near and communes with the soul, as he did to the disciples on their way to Emmaus. Though at the time they did not know him, yet after he had withdrawn himself their language was, "Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" Though Paul was cast down by Satan and his emissaries, yet his soul could say, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." This shows the helplessness of the creature. Christ must live in Paul to enable him to live a life of faith. And as to our producing real saving faith, we can no more do it than we can make ourselves new creatures.
Christ dwells in his people by his word. Paul says, " Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." He does not say with enjoyment or comfort. Sometimes it is a word of reproof and rebuke; sometimes a word of admonition; sometimes a word of direction; and sometimes a word of comfort. When it is a word of rebuke or reproof, it lays us low, and brings us down from high towering thoughts of ourselves. Nevertheless, we are made to appreciate his testimony in rebukes. Therefore the exhortation is: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Where the word of Christ dwells, Christ dwells. And when he is felt, the word is weighty and sweet, and like a flowing brook. Though at other times all is dried up, yet where it is received and held fast, it springs up again and yields fruit, thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. Some are more fruitful than others. Some have much comfort; some can take no comfort, but for the most part experience darkness, and are subject to much bondage. Bare knowledge of my sin is not a satisfactory evidence that I am a child of God. Assurance is what the child of God wants, and when felt delights in; and this is accompanied with humility, contrition of spirit, and self-loathing. They work together. Therefore a child of God sighs and groans; and then he is holpen with a little help. So that he has negative and positive evidences. My sins being a burden, causing me to sigh and groan for deliverance, is an evidence of sonship, an evidence that the Spirit of God is in me, showing me my weakness and ignorance, and helping me to cry and pray with groanings which cannot be uttered. Where the Spirit of God once dwells, he dwells for ever. He never goes out. He says, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." When sin first entered Adam, God left him, and the devil took possession of him; but the Lord came again and picked him up.
The Lord has left some of his people, to try them, and to prove their weakness, and they have fallen into sins as damnable as others, except the sin against the Holy Ghost. But, through God's great grace and everlasting love, which springs from the good pleasure of his own will, they have been brought back again; which shows he never fully leaves them. Such is the relationship; once his children, his children for ever. The knowledge of this never gives the least license to sin. He says, "They shall be my people, and I will be their God." The Spirit is in them a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.
Second. The second declaration is, "He dwells in God." We desire to know if we dwell in God, and we put the question to ourselves, "Do I dwell in God?" We are tempted to think the people of God possess some holy principle, something that we have not obtained. Satan represents that the children of God have something of which we are destitute, and that there is something in us exceedingly sinful and singularly wicked; therefore, we cannot be the children of God. But, bless the Lord, through all this the immortal principle of faith springs up, and goes out after the Lord again and again. Now, this faith of God in our souls is a convincing proof that we dwell in him. We must have faith in God before we know we dwell in God.
Then the people of God are in Christ, "according as the
Father hath chosen them in him before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love." Paul says: "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself." Therefore the Word says: "Give diligence, to make your calling and election
sure." Calling stands first; if we can make our calling sure, our election is sure also. Peter adds: "For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." It is certain they are elected, or they could not make their election sure. The Father chose them in Christ, and put them in him from all eternity. The effect is: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of
May God command his blessing. Amen.