"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour." (Ephesians 5:2)
This is a very sweet and blessed Epistle, as also is that to the Philippians. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." (2 Tim. 3:16) And I truly believe that Paul's Epistles were indited by God's Spirit. It is necessary for us to see whether this Epistle is directed to us. Paul addresses one Epistle "to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." (Rom. 1:7) That is the direction. This Epistle is addressed "to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus." If I cannot ascertain that it is written to me I should be stealing it. The world at large has nothing to do with these epistles. "Christ hath loved us." None but the children of God can come in here. I want to know whether I am one of these "us." We have been increasing in our church lately, and some are about to join us this evening, and may have fears as to their being right in doing so. For their sakes I will speak of the evidences of being children. There are four classes--babes--children--young men--and fathers. God must add to the church such as shall be saved. How may you know that you are the children of God? I believe that those who are tender and walk in God's fear, being afraid lest they be doing wrong in coming are children. The Word of God is addressed to the trembling sinner. Paul speaks of the children in chapter 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ....Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself." I shall come down lower than this, and speak of the evidences of our being children.
First evidence, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord." (John 6:45) They are taught their sin, and generally learn that by the law. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest and teachest him out of thy law." "When the commandment came sin revived, and I died." (Rom. 7:9) The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, (Gal. 3:24) and a schoolmaster has to instruct children.
"Christ is the friend of sinners--
Be that forgotten never:
A wounded soul,
And not a whole,
Becomes a true believer.
"To see sin smarts but slightly;
To own with lip confession
Is easier still;
But oh! to feel,
Cuts deep beyond expression."
I believe that all God's children are taught at first, more or less, that they are sinners. This brings them to the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
"A sinner is a sacred thing,
The Holy Ghost hath made him so."
How many of you can say that God has given you to feel the guilt of sin? The Lord convinced me that I was a sinner, and that if I died in that state I was lost. I don't say that all are so deeply convinced of sin as some are. Paul was pierced through when convinced of sin. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." In Acts 2, we read of some that were thus convinced, and they cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:37,38)
"The contrite heart, and broken,
God will not give to ruin:
He'll not despise,
For 'tis his Spirit's doing."
Secondly, When the heart is broken with a sense of the guilt of sin, God will teach us to fear his holy name. "Come ye children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." If there is no fear there is no grace. "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil."
Thirdly, They are taught of God to love Christ supremely, and his image in his children. They cannot love without being thus taught. "Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." (1 John 4:7) "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44) They shall come "with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them." "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Rom. 8:14) Are you taught that without this love you cannot go to heaven? "I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me." "We love him because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) You and I can no more create love than we could create the world; for "love is of God."
Another evidence is, Faith in Jesus Christ. These children never can be satisfied until they appropriate the benefits of Christ's death, like the poor woman who said within herself, if I may but touch his garment I shall be whole. Here was the divine principle within. She pressed through the crowd and touched, and Jesus perceived that virtue had gone out of him. Her faith brought out the virtue.
"True faith's the life of God;
Deep in the heart it lies;
It lives and labours under load;
The dampt, it never dies."
This is working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12) "This faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) This made the poor woman go through the press. Have you ever found a pressing hard to get to Christ? This is not so easy as many think. The poor woman was constrained to come forward, and confess that she was the person who had touched Christ, and found the healing. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Rom. 10:10) When the Lord speaks pardon and peace to the poor sinner, this will be done. At one time I came to Brighton heavily burdened with my sin and almost in despair, and I left my daughter at home under distressing circumstances, and supposed to be dying; but when I was here this word was spoken on my heart, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." This raised me to hope, and my daughter was also raised from that time and restored. She has since gone to glory, as I fully believe. Has God ever spoken pardon and peace to you? "They shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34) When God speaks peace, ands sheds abroad his love in the heart, this is done.
Another sweet evidence and the substance of all is this, The witness of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16) "Ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father." (Rom. 8:15) This is the crowning evidence. It is the privilege of all God's children to sit down at his table. Christ after his resurrection appeared to his disciples when they had been fishing, and said to them, "Children, have ye any meat?" They answered, "No." "And he said unto them, Cast your net on the right side, and ye shall find." When they had done so and brought the fish to land, they found a fire of coals and fish laid thereon, and bread, all ready for them. The Lord provided all for them. "Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught." The Lord's love prompted him to take care of his dear children in this way. Peter had said to the Lord, "I will lay down my life for thy sake." He meant what he said, but his fall is to teach us not to speak too fast. Consider first. Now the Lord said to Peter, "Lovest thou me more than these?"
"My standing does my fall procure,
My falling makes me stand more sure."
Peter once thought he could stand and do more than all the rest. He said, "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." Now Peter was more cautious, and his confidence was of a more trembling sort, and he replied to the Lord's inquiry, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." "He saith unto him, Feed my lambs." They stand first--the little ones. He saith unto them the second and the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said this the third time. It brought so fresh to his remembrance his three times denying the Lord. Let Christ go before, and you follow. "When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. This is yielding obedience to his call. When Christ called his disciples, he said, "Follow me." That was all he said; and they left all and followed him. As soon as they hear, they obey. It was seeking him earnestly with all the heart. When Christ speaks, it is as one having authority. "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God." This is the new man of grace that responds to God's call. Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom, "and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him." Thomas was so shut up in unbelief that he said he would not believe unless he put his finger into the print of the nails. But Jesus spoke to him, and faith came by hearing, and he said, "My Lord and my God." "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (John 6:29) To follow God is not yielding an unwilling obedience, but faith works by love. Peter said to the Lord, What shall this man do? Jesus answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me." Here is a cleaving to Christ with all the heart and soul. I have had some foretastes of his precious love. David says, "I will run the way of thy commandments when thou shalt enlarge my heart." (Ps. 119:32) Be ye followers of Christ; he is very good. Sometimes the following means to copy after. "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps." (1 Pet. 2:21) If you love a person, there will be a copying more or less his ways and manners. Christ loved us: that went first. It was from everlasting. Therefore as the fruits and effects of this love, "with lovingkindness have I drawn thee," (Jer. 31:3) which brings us to say,
"I love the Lord with mind and heart,
His people and his ways;
Envy, and pride, and lust depart,
And all his works I praise."
This is a little of the breathing of the soul after Christ. See the further effects of his love, "Hath given himself for us." "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) This was from his pure love. "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." (Heb. 9:22) Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless 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." (Gal. 2:20) He had a personal knowledge of this love. There is such a reality in true godliness: it brings its own evidence. If you can show that you have the fear of God and his love, you need not fear presumption in coming to his table. "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." "If you love me keep my commandments." This is one of the last commandments that he gave, to observe this ordinance. Christ laid down his life. He said, "I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself." (John 10:18) "The soul that doeth aught presumptuously, that soul shall be cut off." "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." (1 Cor. 11:29) These words have often been a terror to the little trembling ones, who can discover but little of the Lord's body, but their trembling approach is not presumption, but real faith. "And walk in love," in faith that works by love. "There is but one precious atonement." This I know by heartfelt experience. "God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8)