WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM BY REV. . P.
" ow are we the sons of God, and it dotli not yet appear what we shall be : but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him." — 1st Ep. of John, iii. 2. How much cheering tiiith is contained in these words ! Enough, it might be supposed, to satisfy those who could appropriate to themselves the privileges implied by the relation here set forth. Sons of Grod ! His own children by adoption ! a relation full of present privileges and high hopes of endless happiness in a future world ! St. John contemplates it with rapturous admiration of the love of God. "Behold," says he in the verse which precedes our text, "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" How indeed can it be described or estimated! Whether we consider the majesty and justice of the Almighty, or the guilt and unworthiness of his rebellious creatures; whether we view the blessings conferred, or the method of conferring them, the love manifested in their redemption and adoption truly passeth knowledge. The eternal Word was made flesh for man's salvation. And He who for the sake of his adopted children has given his only begotten Son, "will also freely give them all things." The world may hate and despise the faithful folloAvers of the Lord, as they hated and despised him. But they can comfort themselves with the assurance, that they are "the sons of God," and heirs, according to the promise of eternal life. V/hat will be the specific nature of that life — what, or how glorious, will be the state of the redeemed in heaven, it is not given them to know. The apostle himself could not form an adequate conception of the joys of eternity; and confessed that " it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him;" like him in our
60 SERMO VI.
bodies, glorified and incorruptible, and in our souls pure and bolj, as he is holy. We shall behold the glory of God in the person of Christ, the eternal Son of the Father. There is a natural solicitude in the mind of man to know the condition — the particular circumstances of this future state of existence. And there is just enough revealed in the Scriptures to keep it constantly excited, in those who are ever more anxious to increase their knowledge, than careful to make good use of what they know. [But we all seek this knowledge of the future, with more or less eagerness, believers and unbelievers. They who reject Christianity, and are unenlightened by divine revelation, when they contemplate the dissolution of the body, say, in the language of Job, "Man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? " with little or no expectation of his future existence. But they who profess to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, make the same inquiry, with reference to the scene of his future life, and add the curious question, "In what body does he appear?" and what is the exact constitution of his renewed being?] It might be a sufScicLt answer to such an inquiry, that we could not understand in our present imperfect state, any communications of the knowledge which is reserved for the state of full fruition in the world to come. "We now see through a glass darkly." Our capacities are adapted to our condition of being. And the limited range of our minds while connected with our corruptible bodies, is a good reason why so little is revealed to us of that which is not essential to salvation, and which would, perhaps, if revealed, unfit us for the duties of the present life. Enough has been revealed, if we will rightly improve it. St. John says, "We know that when he," that is Christ, "shall appear, we shall be like him." And St. Paul gives a more particular information, assuring us that "we shall be made like unto his glorious body." Our souls will again inhabit a body; such is our assurance, and such is our profession of faith. "We believe in the resurrection of the body." "There is a spiritual body," so say the Scriptures — like unto Christ's, — incorruptible and full of glory. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God."
Therefore we must be greatly changed : and we shall be. Christ shall change our vile body, and make it like unto his own glorious body.
SERMO VI. 61 What that glory i?, we cannot now rightly understand. However we may be changed, we may be sure that we shall be the same; — w^e shall never lose our personal identity, or the consciousness of it. Hence it can only be a matter of mere curiosity what sort of bodies we shall inhabit. It should satisfy the Christian, that he will bear the image of his Lord, and have the full fruition of his presence and glory. And we may be sure that we shall awake, after death, to the knowledge of eternal things, with a perfect recollection of our condition of life here on earth. Memory will never lose its power over the soul ; but when it is freed from the many clogs with which it is now encumbered ; when it is delivered from the burden of the flesh, it will assert its power mightily, as a scourge and a curse ; or as a comfort and a blessing. And when we consider how active the faculties of the mind may become, when no longer limited by their connexion with the present body, we can hardly estimate the suffering or the delight which this faculty may cause in another life. The remembrance of abused privileges, and despised offers of grace, will come, with scorpion sting, to goad the wretched victims of sin in their place of darkness. And, on the other hand, busy memory will summon up the precious fruits of faith, the spiritual joys of the believer on earth, to be compared by him with the higher and enduring bliss, (already partially experienced,) "of the sons of God," in the presence of their approving Saviour. If, therefore, my hearers, you are not yet entitled to the appellation which St. John claims for himself and his brethren, "strive diligently to lay hold on that hope which is an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast;" — the hope of eternal blessedness
in the mansions which Christ has promised to his faithful followers. And if, by faith, you have become the sons of God, then, while your hearts have been filled with gratitude for the inestimable love which your heavenly Father hath bestowed upon you, be careful to show yourselves "followers of God as dear children," having a submissive as well as a trusting spirit. Cling to the title which you have acquired through divine grace, under all temptations. Though you may be called to bear much affliction, yea, even persecution in this life, hold fast your faith in the one, only
62 SERMO YL Saviour, being assured tliat, as he who was the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person, ''received the inheritance of the first-born," so shall ye who are heirs through him, receive your portion among the saints in light. But how shall we know when we are the adopted sons of God ? What is the evidence of true hope in Christ? Is it altogether a matter of feeling — a mere frame of mind? o. The Christian must be able to give some outward manifestation of the reality of that hopeful faith to which he lays claim. We will not dwell upon the evidence afforded by a sacramental union with Christ, in the church which he has established, although it must not be entirely passed over. To be true sons of God by adoption, we must be members of Christ; of his body the church, which is his spiritual household. The church catechism, which is a simple explanation of the doctrines received and set forth by her, teaches us that by baptism we are made " children of God, and heirs of everlasting life." If this teaching were laid to heart by all who hear it, there would be more fixedness of church principle, more soberness of Christian feeling, and more sound practical religion in our midst, than we now find. Dreams of present spiritual relations and affections, are as unprofitable as those speculations about the future
condition of our bodily constitution that have just been noticed. The demands of the Gospel are not satisfied by the cherishing of faith in the doctrines revealed by Christ ; or the nursing of a sort of sentimental affection for the person of Christ, whom we are not to "know after the flesh." They require also submission to the outward ordinances, which are given as tests of love on our part, and proofs of grace and love on Christ's. You cannot be his disciples, unless you wear the badge, as well as exhibit the spirit of his adopted. If you are sons of God, through him, you will bear his name, and keep the discipline of his household. His name is bestowed in the rite of baptism. one are truly Christians who have not received it. While, then, you are required to be joined to Christ outwardly, in the ordinances of the church, you are not to neglect that inward cleansing which the cherished influences of the Spirit can alone effect. The Apostle urges this by way of inference from the declared
SERMO VI. 63 relation "wliich we sustain to Christ our Redeemer, when he says, "Every man that hath this hope in Christ, purifieth himself even as he is pure." And this is in good keeping with the whole tenor of Holy Scripture, which, in setting forth the new covenant of grace, declares that if we would be partakers of Christ's glory, we must also partake of his Spirit, which is a Spirit of holiness. "Without holiness no man can see God." And our likeness to Christ must consist in purity of heart ; for " out of the heart proceeds that which defileth a man." Thence are the issues of life. Let the fountain be impure, and the whole stream in all its wide flowings will be polluted. It is so in religion as in nature ; and we cannot overlook this analogy without peril to our souls. Christ's religion enjoins something more than the control of our outward actions by the precepts of the moral law, within the bounds of pure morality ; it requires also the purification of our
thoughts and affections, the subjection of the inner man to the will of our divine Saviour. And this it does, not only as a duty which we owe to him who hath redeemed us, but likewise as an essential of true happiness, t)ne of the conditions of our being, as the children of a reconciled God. The happiness of a future life can be enjoyed only by the pure and holy. It can only be conceived of by these. Fallen man has lost the image, as well as the favour of God ; and he cannot be restored through Chri&t, to his original condition, unless he be restored to that image. The sinless perfection of the Godhead cannot indeed be fully copied, till this mortal shall have put on immortality. But should we wait till we can possess all, before we enjoy any portion of the bliss which is promised to the believer? It is our interest, as well as our duty to strive after holiness continually. The scriptures represent the Christian life as a race that is to be run — as a road in which we must go forward. "Growth in grace," "increase of stature," and progress to perfection, are expressions which point out the duty of the believer in Christ. As soon as the favour of God is manifested to him by the gift of the Holy Spirit, through a sincere faith, it becomes the Christian's business for life, to seek, by the help of that Spirit, to retrace the image of God. And every mark of success in this endeavour, is at once a solid proof of the genuineness of his faith, and a continual source of satisfaction and delight.
64 SERMO VI. If, then, you have this hope in Christ, which is grounded on faith, strive continually after holiness ; for every step you take towards it brings you nearer to the enjoyment of heaven. God manifested himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ, and said, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." As you resemble this pattern, you will be holy, and as you are holy in the sight of God, you will be happy. Let your thoughts be intently fixed on this subject of imitation, that you may grow in resemblance to the image which you behold. If you are the sons of God indeed, you will do so. It would be preposterous to suppose that
you would pursue such a course in this life, as would unfit you for that state of b 'ng into which you hoped to enter after death. Who does not prepare himself for the station that he expects to occupy in society? And how should we judge that a person expected to move in a higher sphere of life, than that in which he had been wont to move, if he made no efforts to qualify himself for it? So it is in the Christian life. It is directly inferred, that a true Christian will strive to attain, in this world, that character which he believes that he must attain, in order to enjoy the bliss which he expects in a world to come. And you need not flatter yourselves that you have a well grounded hope of future glory, through the Lord Jesus Christ, unless you strive to purify yourselves even as he is pure. Let this practical inference from the text receive your particular attention. And instead of seeking to be "wise above what is written," rejoice in the assurance that the true followers of Christ shall be fully satisfied when they awake after his likeness. Be sure that you are heirs through him of the eternal inheritance, and it will be sufficient information, that if you persevere unto the end in the pursuit of holiness, you will receive all that your glorified Saviour has promised to bestow, and all that you may be able to enjoy. This inheritance cannot fail — It is "incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away." We are indeed only heirs, as long as we live. But so long as we are really such, — have a good title to life eternal, — we are safe under the protecting power and sustaining grace of our divine Saviour. We may be unfaithful, and forfeit that which has been pledged to us conditionally. But
SERMO VI. 65 the promises of God fail not. They abide forever. Though our outward circumstances may be distressing, and may seem to betoken God's displeasure, (in the eyes of the world at least,) yet
the hope of future bliss, which is fully justified by the word of God, will give us inward peace and joy. Worldly prosperity is no part of the Christian's heritage. If he has it, and can bear it well — without damage to his spiritual state, it is so much gained. And if he has it not, he has good reason to believe that, if he is content with his lot, there is so much the more in store for him, of that spiritual treasure that will be his sure inheritance. Make good your claim to the promises of Cod, my hearers, and then, whatever may be your worldly condition, you may rejoice in the hope of endless bliss in the kingdom of heaven. If you are, in this life, like Him who was a man of sorrows, despised and persecuted by those to whom he was sent, it will be great consolation to know that you will also be "like him" in that state of glory, which will be revealed in the life to come. " The servant is not above his master. But he that is perfect, shall be as his master." Let the toils of the race be endured for the sake of the crown. And be comforted and sustained by the divine assurance, that if you are Christ's, Christ is yours, with all the glory in which he shall be revealed on the right hand of God the Father. That you may be partakers of his great glory, may God grant for his mercies' sake, tlirouo-h his beloved Son. To whom, &c.
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