"Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and 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." (1 John 3:2)
MOST of you are strangers to me, and I suppose I am as great a stranger to you, in the flesh; but, if we can meet in our text, and set to our seal that God is true, we are blessed with the greatest blessings that God can possibly bestow. And can we wonder at meeting so few friends here? While we are in an enemy's country, can we wonder that we are hated! Depend upon it, God has made up his mind, and you may as well make up yours, that "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom." Besides, as Paul says, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:17) Now, seeing that this is the case, how highly ought we to esteem afflictions! If we had servants who wrought for us exceedingly well, we should esteem them, and take from them many pert replies which we would not take from those who worked with "eye service" only; and so ought we to do with afflictions, which are God's servants, and are made to work for our good; but how often do we think they are hard taskmasters rather than servants!
I shall, as the Spirit of God shall enable me,
1. Speak of the Persons by whom the sons of God are loved.
2. The objects of that love.
3. Refer to some states in which it may be said, "Now" are we the sons of God.
4. Mention some things in which it may be said, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be;" and speak of the knowledge we have of it.
1. By whom are these sons of God loved? First, They are beloved of God. Secondly, They are beloved of one another.
First. They are beloved of God,--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I know this is not a very fashionable way of preaching in the present day; but I am one of the old-fashionable sort. People do not like to speak of distinct Personalities in the Godhead; but I must have Father, Son, and Holy Ghost brought home to my heart, or I shall be damned. God the Father's love is seen in his eternal election of us in Christ before time began, and blessing us with all spiritual blessings in him. He "spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all;" and heaven is a spiritual blessing given us in Christ. God the Son's love is seen in his laying down his life for us: "Herein is love, that, when we were yet enemies, Christ died for us." God the Holy Ghost's love is seen in his quickening us when dead in sin: "God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ;" (Eph. 2:4,5) and also in his "convincing of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment," (John 16:8) and "taking of the things of Christ and showing them unto us." (John 16:14,15) He watches over the dust of the saints, and will raise them again at the last day. But neither prophet nor apostle ever spake of God's love to the full. John says, "God so loved us;" "Behold what manner of love," etc; and, "Jesus, having loved his own which were in the world, loved them to the end." (John 13:1) Not, as Arminians tell us, that we may be God's children today, and yet be lost for ever, and that Christ died for the damned in hell. I hate Arminianism as I hate Satan himself. The great apostle Paul says, "His love passeth knowledge;" yet he knew it was higher than all his rebellion, deeper than all his filth, wider than all his wanderings, and as long as from eternity to eternity. It is a vast ocean, without bank, brim, bottom, or shore.
Sons of God! The nearest relations God has. Angels are not so near. Yea, this love has puzzled angels and confounded devils. He chose elect angels, but he never died for them. It is said, "Which things the angels desire to look into!"
God loves his people, his sons, not their sins, like a parent. The heart of Christ bled for their crimes; yet he prays to God for them; they are yet his loved ones.
Secondly. They are loved by one another. John says, "If any man say that he loveth God and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for if he loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" That text, "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren," is, I think, much abused by some. They suppose it to consist of a universal love to all mankind; whereas, that has nothing to do with it. It is a child of God loving God's image in his children that is intended. You may love your wife, husband, children, or parents, and it is your duty to do so; but, if you do not see the image of God in them, you cannot love them with the same love as you do the greatest stranger, whom you believe to be a child of God. You love your relations with a natural love, and it is your duty to provide for them before others; but the love of the brethren is very different. Don't you sometimes feel taken up in love to David, or Job, or some other saint who is gone to glory, as though you were with them? And sometimes, when strife is stirred up among brethren, and especially when Satan can persuade you that such a one is not a child of God who you thought was, then you think you may lay on pretty savagely; but what cuts of conscience you begin to feel when you begin to think again that he is a child of God, and how harshly you have spoken of him.
2. The objects of this love. It is said, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;" and "whom he will he hardeneth." He loves his people, as Moses says, not because they were the greatest of all people, or most in number, but because he would, for his own glory; and I believe there never would have been a being or creature created but for the glory of Christ; for "by him and for him" they were created; and he will have his own, let the devil, hell, and sin drive them where they may. He loved thee, poor child of God, when thou wast as vile as Satan and as hell itself. Thou canst not say, "I was better than those who are left." If thou dost, I will know there is a fall at thy heels; but thou well knowest thou art the chief of sinners.
I suppose I may venture to suppose there are some here like a poor man I as with the other day. I was going to preach, and I said, "I am very dark and confused, and have no text; what text shall I speak from, John?" He replied, "I don't care what text you speak from, if you can but scripturally prove me to be a child of God."
Sometimes a child of God is tempted to think he is deceived; and others, if he does not walk exactly in their shoes, tell him he is quite out of the secret; but I wish always to condescend to men of low estate. None but a child of God can point out the various holes we get into.
I remember the time when I was afraid to open my mouth to any child of God; for thought if I did, he would see in a moment what a vile creature I was, and tell everybody of it, and that nobody would have anything to do with me. I had about three miles to walk on a Lord's day, where part of the truth was preached; I say part of the truth, for the feelings of God's children were not mentioned; and I was so afraid of falling into talk with any of the people that, if I saw one on the road before me, I durst not overtake him. There was one man on crutches; but I would walk slower than even he, rather than he should speak to me; but if one was coming behind me, I would run fast enough. Then you will say, "How did you act when you were between two, coming and going? I used to make a gap, and get over the hedge till they were past. Thus was I scared about for many months; till once, as I was going to Coventry, passing a house where a good man dwelt, the woman called after me, and asked me to stay; for her husband was going there. At this I trembled, and said, "I cannot stay; I am in a hurry." "He is ready," said she; so I could not get away; but I determined to say nothing about religion; so I began to speak of the war, and trade; but he dropped that, and said, "Come, let us talk of soul feelings." At this I thought I should have fainted; but at length I began telling him some of my feelings. He smiled. "Now," thought I, "it is as I thought; he sees through me." But, to my surprise, he began to bring forward text after text, and showed me their meaning so sweetly that, by the Spirit of God, I was delivered from the temptation I had labored under so long.
And now I will tell you a story, by way of introducing what I intend to bring forward. I was traveling in a stage-coach soon after I became a preacher, and there was an Arminian parson also in the coach, and he spoke a great deal of holiness and piety. As I was in clothes of various colors, I knew he could not know I was a parson; so I thought I would ask him a question or two. I said, "You are a minister, I suppose?" "O yes;" he replied. "Now," said I, "suppose I were a professor of religion, I should like to ask some of you preachers what is the lowest evidence of a person being a child of God?" "O!" he said, "I should say, 'Go on.'" "But," I said, "would you not tell them first they were in the right road, before you told them to go on?" "O no," said he; "I should tell them to go on." "Well," I said, "this looks very strange, to tell people to go on without telling them anything whether they are in the way or not." But this, my hearers, is the general way of the professors of the present day.
Now, I shall mention two evidences of a person being one of the objects of this love, which are, I think, as low as the Scriptures will warrant. One is: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," and "hungering and thirsting after righteousness" is joined with it. Now, had the Redeemer said, "Blessed are the rich in spirit," you could not have come in; but, poor dear soul, he says the poor in spirit; and here you can come in; for sometimes you are so broken down under a sense of your own vileness that you know, if ever you find mercy, it must be a free gift. You are too poor to pay for it. If your salvation depended upon a single good thought of your own, you could not produce it; you must be lost. The other is: "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another." "Ah," say you, "I am quite shut out now, for I cannot speak!" Stop; you should have let me go on with my text: "And the Lord hearkened, and heard." Their voice was so low that, speaking after the manner of men, the Almighty had to lean his ear down to hear what they said. They were afraid to speak at all, except in a whisper, and hardly that. "And a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name." Poor child of God, if thou canst not speak, canst thou think? All God's family are not talkers; there are thinkers amongst them; and a book of remembrance is written for them. These poor trembling thinkers are amongst the objects of this love. Yes; those solemn thoughts they have and those hungerings and thirstings after him are of his own doing, and never arose from sin, Satan, nor thine own heart. "And they shall be mine in that day when I make up my jewels." Mind that; "shall be mine." There is nothing doubtful about it.
3. When may it be said, "Now are we the sons of God?" At all times and under all circumstances; in trials, in difficulties, in disappointments, in losses, in crosses, in adversities, in temptations, in persecutions, "now are we the sons of God." Yes, and in prosperity too; though sometimes it is not so manifest then as it is in adversity; for there is often a deal of dust about prosperity, which obscures everything but pride. But nothing can alter this love. "Though we believe not, he abideth faithful." (2 Tim. 2:13) "He cannot deny himself." But were he to deny the objects of his love, he would deny himself; for they are one with him, "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh." "Now are we the sons of God." It was now when the apostle wrote his epistle, it was now in eternity past, and it will be now in eternity to come. "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38,39)
4. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Now even in our greatest manifestations; they are far short of what we shall be. Even the three on the Mount of Transfiguration must have owned that it did not then appear what they shall be. Nor Paul, when caught up to the third heavens, though he heard things he could not utter, and he knew not whether in the body or not; it did not then appear what he shall be. But we shall know, for body and soul will be filled with immortal glory. "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is;" and not one more happy than another, not one near and another a thousand miles off, as some would suppose. When Christ shall appear, the whole church will be like him; and how can they all be like him if they differ in glory? All shall come to the full stature of a man in Christ; one Bridegroom and one bride; one Lamb and one Lamb's wife. And not only shall all who are there be like their Head, but all the members shall be there; for, as the poet says,
"Because I live, says he, "ye shall live also." O what a blessed shall! "Father, I will that they also whom thou gavest me be with me where I am." (John 17:24) And will the Father frustrate his Son's will? O no!
"Whom once he loves he never leaves,
But loves them to the end."
Now, these are great truths; but what good can they do us if we have them only in our heads? We must have the Spirit to bear witness to our spirits that we are interested in them before they can bring any consolation to us; and when this is the case, Satan himself cannot argue us out of them.
May God command his blessing.