THAT THE SAINTS HAVE COMMUNION WITH GOD
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In the First Epistle of John, chap. 1, verse 3, the apostle assures them to whom he wrote that the fellowship of believers “is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ:” and this he does with such an unusual kind of expression as bears the force of an asseveration; whence we have rendered it, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
The outward appearance and condition of the saints in those days being very mean and contemptible, — their leaders being accounted as the filth of this world, and as the offscouring of all things, — the inviting others unto fellowship with them, and a participation of the precious things which they did enjoy, seems to be exposed to many contrary seasonings and objections: “What benefit is there in communion with them? Is it any thing else but to be sharers in troubles, reproaches, scorns, and all manner of evils?” To prevent or remove these and the like exceptions, the apostle gives them to whom he wrote to know (and that with some earnestness of expression), that notwithstanding all the disadvantages their fellowship lay under, unto a carnal view, yet in truth it was, and would be found to be (in reference to some with whom they held it), very honorable, glorious, and desirable. For “truly,” saith he, “our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
This being so earnestly and directly asserted by the apostle, we may boldly follow him with our affirmation, — namely, “That the saints of God have communion with him.” And a holy and spiritual communion it is, as shall be declared. How this is spoken distinctly in reference to the Father and the Son, must afterward be fully opened and carried on.
By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man has any communion with God. He is light, we darkness; and what communion has light with darkness? He is life, we are dead, — he is love, and we are enmity; and what agreement can there be between us? Men in such a condition have neither Christ, nor hope, nor God in the world, Ephesians 2:12; “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,” chap. 4:18. Now, two cannot walk together, unless they be agreed, Amos 3:3.
Whilst there is this distance between God and man, there is no walking together for them in any fellowship or communion. Our first interest in God was so lost by sin, as that there was left unto us (in ourselves) no possibility of a recovery. As we had deprived ourselves of all power for a return, so God had not revealed any way of access unto himself; or that he could, under any consideration, be approached unto by sinners in peace.
The manifestation of grace and pardoning mercy, which is the only door of entrance into any such communion, is not committed unto any but unto him atoned in whom it is, by whom that grace and mercy was purchased, through whom it is dispensed, who reveals it from the bosom of the Father. Hence this communion and fellowship with God is not in express terms mentioned in the Old Testament. The thing itself is found there; but the clear light of it, and the boldness of faith in it, is discovered in the gospel, and by the Spirit administered therein. By that Spirit we have this liberty, 2 Corinthians 3:17,18. Abraham was the friend, of God, Isaiah 41:8; David, a man after his own heart; Enoch walked with him, Genesis 5:22; — all enjoying this communion and fellowship for the substance of it. But the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest whilst the first tabernacle was standing, Hebrews 9:8. Though they had communion with God, yet they had not “parresian”, — a boldness and confidence in that communion. This follows the entrance of our High Priest into the most holy place, Hebrews 4:16, 10:19. The vail also was upon them, that they had not “eleuterian”, freedom and liberty in their access to God, Corinthians 3:15, 16, etc. But now in Christ we have boldness and access with confidence to God, Ephesians 3:12. This boldness and access with confidence the saints of old were not acquainted with. By Jesus Christ alone, then, on all considerations as to being and full manifestation, is this distance taken away. He has consecrated for us a new and living way (the old being quite shut up), “through the vail, that is to say, his flesh,” Hebrews 10:20; and “through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father,” Ephesians 2:18. “Ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace,” etc., verses 13, 14. Of this foundation of all our communion with God, more afterward, and at large.
Upon this new bottom and foundation, by this new and living way, are sinners admitted into communion with God, and have fellowship with him. And truly, for sinners to have fellowship with God, the infinitely holy God, is an astonishing dispensation. To speak a little of it in general: — Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in any thing whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions, gives this denomination to them so partaking of it. A common interest in the same nature gives all men a fellowship or communion therein. Of the elect it is said, “Ta paidia kekoinoneke sarkos kai haimatos”, Hebrews 2:14, “Those children partook of” (or had fellowship in, with the rest of the world) “flesh and blood,” — the same common nature with the rest of mankind; and, therefore, Christ also came into the same fellowship: “Kai autos paraplesios metesche ton auton”. There is also a communion as to state and condition, whether it be good or evil; and this, either in things internal and spiritual, — such as is the communion of saints among themselves; or in respect of outward things. So was it with Christ and the two thieves, as to one condition, and to one of them in respect of another.
They were “en toi autoi krimati”, — under the same sentence to the cross, Luke 23:40, “ejusdem dolores socii.” They had communion as to that evil condition whereunto they were adjudged; and one of them requested (which he also obtained) a participation in that blessed condition whereupon our Savior was immediately to enter. There is also a communion or fellowship in actions, whether good or evil. In good, is that communion and fellowship in the gospel, or in the performance and celebration of that worship of God which in the gospel is instituted; which the saints do enjoy, Philippians 1:5; which, as to the general kind of it, David so rejoices in, Psalm 42:4. In evil, was that wherein Simon and Levi were brethren, Genesis 49:5. They had communion in that cruel act of revenge and murder. Our communion with God is not comprised in any one of these kinds; of some of them it is exclusive. It cannot be natural; it must be voluntary and by consent. It cannot be of state and conditions; but in actions. It cannot be in the same actions upon a third party; but in a return from one to another. The infinite disparity that is between God and man, made the great philosopher conclude that there could be no friendship between them. Some distance in the persons holding friendship he could allow, nor could exactly determine the bounds and extent thereof; but that between God and man, in his apprehension, left no place for it.
Another says, indeed, that there is “communitas homini cum Deo,” — a certain fellowship between God and man; but the general intercourse of providence is all he apprehended. Some arose to higher expressions; but they understood nothing whereof they spake. This knowledge is hid in Christ; as will afterward be made to appear. It is too wonderful for nature, as sinful and corrupted. Terror and apprehensions of death at the presence of God is all that it guides unto. But we have, as was said, a new foundation, and a new discovery of this privilege.
Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. So it was with Jonathan and David; their souls clave to one another (1 Samuel 20:17) in love. There was the union of love between them; and then they really communicated all issues of love mutually. In spiritual things this is more eminent: those who enjoy this communion have the most excellent union for the foundation of it; and the issues of that union, which they mutually communicate, are the most precious and eminent.
Of the union which is the foundation of all that communion we have with God I have spoken largely elsewhere, and have nothing farther to add thereunto.
Our communion, then, with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that unions which in Jesus Christ we have with him. And it is twofold: —
Initial and incomplete, in the first fruits and dawnings of that perfection which we have here in grace; which only I shall handle.
It is, then, I say, of that mutual communication in giving and receiving, after a most holy and spiritual manner, which is between God and the saints while they walk together in a covenant of peace, ratified in the blood of Jesus, whereof we are to treat. And this we shall do, if God permit; in the meantime praying the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has, of the riches of his grace, recovered us from a state of enmity into a condition of communion and fellowship with himself, that both he that writes, and they that read the words of his mercy, may have such a taste of his sweetness and excellencies therein, as to be stirred up to a farther longing after the fullness of his salvation, and the eternal fruition of him in glory.