"Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11)
PAUL was giving this church a farewell salutation. He had had a great deal of trouble with them. He tells them in the 10th verse, "Therefore I write these things, being absent, lest, being present, I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction."
"Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you." We cannot say that Paul never saw them after this; but he closes his epistle very nicely indeed, and gives them this instruction: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"
God's dear people were from the beginning ever spoken against; because they are such a peculiar people, not only in their persons, but in their lives and deeds. And in their life and conversation they differ from other people. They have something to tell of what God hath done for them, which no other people know.
Paul had a very warm feeling towards his own countrymen; and he said his desire was that Israel might be saved; and "I could," not I would, "wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh." But this was a natural feeling, and was spoken in an affectionate way.
Then we must look at this family. Paul calls them "brethren." We are sure there are some little children, some babes, some youths, some young men, some fathers, and some mothers in Israel. Thus, as we desire not to leave a little one out, we must see what the apostle says in another place. "I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." (Eph. 3:14,15) Peter addresses them as "new-born babes," that desire something for their souls. Infants thrive and grow, being fed with milk; and it is evident that there never was one born of the Spirit who did not crave for the breast of Zion's consolation. And the prophet Isaiah says that God's people are "weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts;" (Isa. 28:9) and then they begin to learn doctrine aright. They learn the life and power of the doctrine, and the Lord leads the soul into the doctrine; and the Lord the Spirit shows them the beauty and strength there are in the doctrines. Milk belongs to babes; "but strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Heb. 5:14) It does not say how old in years these of full age are. Some of God's people are brought, when little children, to know more of the life and power of the truth than others that have been in the way for twenty, thirty, or forty years.
God's people are obliged to trust their bodies, as well as their souls and circumstances, in the hands of the Lord.
We find little children are among this family. And the Lord Jesus Christ calls his disciples "little children;" and his people a "little flock." And the longer they are under divine tuition, the less they are in their own eyes. They are glad to be little babes again,--to be dandled upon the knee. The prophet sets forth these babes to know more than great orators, because the blessed Spirit feeds them with living bread and sincere milk.
But there must be a family likeness in these "brethren;" though they are not of one stature, as we know. What does James say, when his hearers made a distinction for the rich? "Hearken,"--listen to what I have to say; and he calls them "beloved brethren;"--"Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (James 2:5) Ah! That is a blessed mark, my dear friends. You that have children, when they manifest their affection to you, it seems to increase your affection to them; and how pleased you are to see them hover round you!
But, while these babes are indulged to have a little of the milk and wine from the truth of God, after which their hearts are drawn, they want to grasp Christ, and for him to tell them he has loved them.
But we must get on a little, and find out the little children. They are made little children by the teaching of the blessed Spirit. I can remember when my heart swelled out with pride, before the greatness of God's righteous law was put into my conscience; but, when this fire was applied, all went to ashes at once. And there is no water, nothing but the atoning blood, that will quench this fire. "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench." (Isa. 42:3) And, you know, there must be a little heat and fire if there is confusion in the mind. And, as it is so, these little children are not concerned so much about doctrines in the head. Growing children are always hungry, because nothing will satisfy them but the Bread of life. And I wish I could feel in this respect as I did many years ago.
You say, They cannot be children of God who have not received the spirit of adoption. They have not the saving knowledge they are children; 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" (by grace ye are saved). And then it is said, "And hath raised us up together" (but he brought us down first), "and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:4-6) And that is the best living I know; because when the poor children of God are set down in these heavenly places in experience, and feel Christ Jesus the Lord is with them, they have a kernel to their religion; it is not all shell. But, you know, we cannot set you down, and say you are not to be led on further. No, no; you must be led on to receive the spirit of adoption. We read that this family is predestinated "unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself." (Eph. 1:5) We shall find a few of these brethren brought into this blessed experience, I hope, in this congregation. They have authority to call God "Father." They know sensibly what it is to be in his affection, because they feel the Father's love. What a favor it is when we are brought here!
"Be perfect." We used to eat and drink the Word of God; we did not know how to close the Bible; and, the blessed Spirit applying the contents of it, we have something to suck at and draw. On says, "I will fetch my knowledge from afar." The soul is led to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as his God and Saviour. It is this that makes a poor child of God perfect. "Be ye holy; for I am holy." I don't know of any other perfection. I once strove as much as any man living for perfection in the flesh; but the more I strove, the farther off I got. We know it is perfect love that casts out fear; and "he that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18) So it is only in love that a poor vile rebel is perfect in the eyes of God his Father. And then God, his Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ are perfect in his eyes, and in his heart too.
"Be of good comfort." There is no false comfort in this, to lift the poor soul up. The prophet says, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." (Isa. 40:1,2) O what an exchange! Well might it be said respecting his church that he will "Comfort all that mourn," and will give to poor Zion "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." (Isa. 61:3) Now, my dear friends, what an exchange! God says, "I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow." (Jer. 31:13) Then, well might Jesus say to his disciples, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you." (John 16:7) God's people have a vast many comforters;--the Father comforts them, the Son comforts them, the Holy Ghost comforts them, the Scriptures comfort them. Well may Peter say, "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." (John 6:68) We have tried every other source; but we find after all this "good comfort" means supernatural, spiritual comfort, put into the heart by the blessed Spirit of God. How sweet it is to feel a little of it!
"Be of one mind." Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. When the Lord's dear people that are brought near for themselves begin to talk to babes and little children, they are obliged to go back to the time when they were little children. If we had not had little children's experience, we could not enter into it. We might pick up the words, but not pick up the poor children; and it is they that need to be picked up. Paul knew this one thing well; he told this church to be children, but exhorted them to be men in understanding. Little children will fall out and be better friends in a few minutes.
When the multitude were assembled together after the ascension, they were all of one heart. Of course the Spirit is of one mind; and of course there will be a vast many quarrels among the people of God; but what does Paul say? "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." (Rom. 8:9)
I feel my time is short in this world. I have enjoyed a good deal among you within this last six years. And if we do not meet again in this world, many of us have a good hope that we shall meet before the throne of God. And there will be no good-bye there; no good-night; but morning continually, when the glory of God breaks in on body and soul after the resurrection; and every vessel will be full. What a shout of "Victory!" And all through the blood of the Lamb.
John says, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4) We have gained a great many victories when we thought our enemies would have a complete victory; but the Lord Jesus Christ has gained the victory for us.
"Live in peace." We need a deal of grace to have patience with ourselves and each other. We may not, mark, be of one mind in our judgment. Some of the Lord's people are favored with a better judgment than others, and are more led into the gospel of Christ. But what does Paul say? "Live in peace." When the Lord appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, his salutation was: "Peace be unto you." And you don't read that any of the world ever saw him after his resurrection. After he rose, he appeared to his disciples; and they knew him by his still small voice. That hushes the poor confused mind into peace in a moment. And this is peace that passes all human understanding. The length, and breadth, and height of it we cannot fathom. But, when this peace lives in my heart, I love all the Lord's people everywhere,--young and old, babes and little children, strong men and fathers. God's people love all that God loves when his love is shed abroad. There is then but one person I hate, and that is myself. I can say, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." And I am continually asking for that repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; though some may say they don't want repentance now. Godly sorrow for sin is wrought in by the blessed Spirit; and we cannot sorrow in ourselves, nor sorrow after Jesus, without him. "And ye now therefore, have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." (John 16:22)
I can assure you, when I feel this peace, I am a happy man, and then I am thankful for the scourge God sometimes bestows on his child.
"And the God of love and peace shall be with you." May God the blessed Spirit work this in every living member of the mystical body of Christ that is in this chapel. There may be some not yet joined in church fellowship, but they belong to the church of the firstborn, written in heaven. God has but one church. "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18) And the Lord Jesus Christ is a match for all that may come against it. It is only for him to rebuke, and all must go on the back ground. "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." (Job 38:11)
"And the God of love and peace shall be with you." What an unspeakable mercy!
And then Paul comes to the benediction, after telling them to greet one another with a holy kiss. "All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen." What a favor to know something of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ! My soul has leaped for joy when I have felt it operating and flowing in my heart like a flowing brook. But now I am like a dried-up old man,--like a dry ditch in summer. I often feel all the water is gone, and all the filth is left. Job speaks of being plunged in this ditch.
God is a jealous God. And a Christian must be made by the Three Persons in the Trinity. And each shall have his share of the honor and glory of my salvation. Because, when we consider what the Father does: "As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will," (John 5:21) then we look and see the Father's work defined, the Son's work defined, and the Holy Ghost's work defined; and the line drawn between each. And then there is the work of faith, and the patience of hope.
"Be of good comfort." David soul refused everything but this good comfort; and so must every poor child of God. When this good comfort breaks in upon the soul, there is nothing to resist. And why? The sinner lies down as a lost sinner; and when this good comfort comes into the heart, he has something to receive it. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God," (John 1:11,12) manifestively. We were sons before we were called. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Gal. 4:4,5) "No more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God, through Christ." (Gal. 4:7) What a blessing! And "behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" (1 John 3:1) And "now are we the sons of God;" (1 John 3:2) and not only so; "it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself;" (1 John 3:3)--sees himself purified. God says, "Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;" (Isa. 43:6) so they are as far off as the ends of the earth. O how sweetly God knows how to manage his children! The Lord says by Paul, "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord." (Heb. 12:5) And the same language is used in the Proverbs: "Despise not the chastening of the Lord." (Prov. 3:11) "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Thus, if we endure chastening, God dealeth with us as with sons. We don't always receive the chastening. We have a spirit that opposes it; notwithstanding, when the love of God is shed abroad, we receive it. Paul goes on to say, "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb. 12:9) God is the Father of spirits, because every spirit is born of God.
May the Lord bring each of you that are in bondage to know the Lord for yourselves; for he has said, "They shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 8:11,12) Amen.