And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
~ John 17:11
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
~ John 17:21
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
~ 1 Thessalonians 1:10
Inferences on the Former Doctrine Concerning Communion With the Father in Love, by John Owen. The following contains Part One, Chapter Four of his work, “Of Communion with God”.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
— 1 John 1:3
Inferences on the former doctrine concerning communion with the Father in love.
Having thus discovered the nature of that distinct communion which we have with the Father, it remaineth that we give some exhortations unto it, directions in it, and take some observations from it: —
1. First, then, this is a duty wherein it is most evident that Christians are but little exercised, — namely, in holding immediate communion with the Father in love. Unacquaintedness with our mercies, our privileges, is our sin as well as our trouble. We hearken not to the voice of the Spirit which is given unto us, “that we may know the things that are freely bestowed on us of God.” This makes us go heavily, when we might rejoice; and to be weak, where we might be strong in the Lord. How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love! With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do they look upon him! What fears, what questioning are there, of his goodwill and kindness! At the best, many think there is no sweetness at all in him towards us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus. It is true, that alone is the way of communication; but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the Father. “Eternal life was with the Father, and is manifested unto us.” Let us, then, —
(1.) Eye the Father as love; look not on him as an always lowering father, but as one most kind and tender. Let us look on him by faith, as one that has had thoughts of kindness towards us from everlasting. It is misapprehension of God that makes any run from him, who have the least breathing wrought in them after him. “They that know thee will put their trust in thee.” Men cannot abide with God in spiritual meditations. He loseth soul’s company by their want of this insight into his love. They fix their thoughts only on his terrible majesty, severity, and greatness; and so their spirits are not endeared. Would a soul continually eye his everlasting tenderness and compassion, his thoughts of kindness that have been from of old, his present gracious acceptance, it could not bear an hour’s absence from him; whereas now, perhaps, it cannot watch with him one hour. Let, then, this be the saints’ first notion of the Father, — as one full of eternal, free love towards them: let their hearts and thoughts be filled with breaking through all discouragements that lie in the way. To raise them hereunto, let them consider, —
(1.) Whose love it is. It is the love of him who is in himself all sufficient, infinitely satiated with himself and his own glorious excellencies and perfections; who has no need to go forth with his love unto others, nor to seek an object of it without himself. There might he rest with delight and complacency to eternity. He is sufficient unto his own love. He had his Son, also, his eternal Wisdom, to rejoice and delight himself in from all eternity, Proverbs 8:30. This might take up and satiate the whole delight of the Father; but he will love his saints also. And it is such a love, as wherein he seeks not his own satisfaction only, but our good therein also; — the love of a God, the love of a Father, whose proper outgoings are kindness and bounty.
(2.) What kind of love it is. And it is, —
1st. Eternal. It was fixed on us before the foundation of the world. Before we were, or had done the least good, then were his thoughts upon us, — then was his delight in us; — then did the Son rejoice in the thoughts of fulfilling his Father’s delight in him, Proverbs 8:30. Yea, the delight of the Father in the Son, there mentioned, is not so much his absolute delight in him as the express image of his person and the brightness of his glory, wherein he might behold all his own excellencies and perfections; as with respect unto his love and his delight in the sons of men. So the order of the words require us to understand it: “I was daily his delight,” and, “My delights were with the sons of men;” that is, in the thoughts of kindness and redemption for them: and in that respect, also, was he his Father’s delight. It was from eternity that he laid in his own bosom a design for our happiness. The very thought of this is enough to make all that is within us, like the babe in the womb of Elizabeth, to leap for joy. A sense of it cannot but prostrate our souls to the lowest abasement of a humble, holy reverence, and make us rejoice before him with trembling.
2ndly. Free. He loves us because he will; there was, there is, nothing in us for which we should be beloved. Did we deserve his love, it must go less in its valuation. Things of due debt are seldom the matter of thankfulness; but that which is eternally antecedent to our being, must needs be absolutely free in its respects to our well-being. This gives it life and being, is the reason of it, and sets a price upon it, Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:3, 4; Titus 3:5; James 1:18.
3rdly. Unchangeable. Though we change every day, yet his love changeth not. Could any kind of provocation turn it away, it had long since ceased. Its unchangeableness is that which carrieth out the Father unto that infiniteness of patience and forbearance (without which we die, we perish), 2 Peter 3:9, which he exerciseth towards us. And it is, —
4thly. Distinguishing. He has not thus loved all the world: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Why should he fix his love on us, and pass by millions from whom we differ not bye nature, — that he should make us sharers in that, and all the fruits of it, which most of the great and wise men of the world are excluded from? I name but the heads of things. Let them enlarge whose hearts are touched.
Let, I say, the soul frequently eye the love of the Father, and that under these considerations, — they are all soul-conquering and endearing.
(2.) So eye it as to receive it. Unless this be added, all is in vain as to any communion with God. We do not hold communion with him in any thing, until it be received by faith. This, then, is that which I would provoke the saints of God unto, even to believe this love of God for themselves and their own part, — believe that such is the heart of the Father towards them, — accept of his witness herein. His love is not ours in the sweetness of it until it be so received. Continually, then, act thoughts of faith on God, as love to thee, — as embracing thee with the eternal free love before described. When the Lord is, by his word, presented as such unto thee, let thy mind know it, and assent that it is so; and thy will embrace it, in its being so; and all thy affections be filled with it. Set thy whole heart to it; let it be bound with the cords of this love. If the King be bound in the galleries with thy love, shouldst thou not be bound in heaven with his?
(3.) Let it have its proper fruit and efficacy upon thy heart, in return of love to him again. So shall we walk in the light of God’s countenance, and hold holy communion with our Father all the day long. Let us not deal unkindly with him, and return him slighting for his goodwill. Let there not be such a heart in us as to deal so unthankfully with our God.
2. Now, to further us in this duty, and the daily constant practice of it, I shall add one or two considerations that may be of importance whereunto; as, —
(1.) It is exceeding acceptable unto God, even our Father, that we should thus hold communion with him in his love, — that he may be received into our souls as one full of love, tenderness, and kindness, towards us. Flesh and blood is apt to have very hard thoughts of him, — to think he is always angry, yea, implacable; that it is not for poor creatures to draw nigh to him; that nothing in the world is more desirable than never to come into his presence, or, as they say where he has any thing to do. “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” say the sinners in Zion. And, “I knew thou wast an austere man,” saith the evil servant in the gospels. Now, there is not any thing more grievous to the Lord, nor more subservient to the design of Satan upon the soul, than such thoughts as these. Satan claps his hands (if I may so say) when he can take up the soul with such thoughts of God: he has enough, — all that he does desire. This has been his design and way from the beginning. The first blood that murderer shed was by this means. He leads our first parents into hard thoughts of God: “Has God said so? has he threatened you with death? He knows well enough it will be better with you;” — with this engine did he batter and overthrow all mankind in one; and being mindful of his ancient conquest, he readily useth the same weapons wherewith then he so successfully contended. Now, it is exceeding grievous to the Spirit of God to be so slandered in the hearts of those whom he dearly loves. How does he expostulate this with Zion! “What iniquity have ye seen in me?” saith he; “have I been a wilderness unto you, or a land of darkness?” “Zion said, The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman,” etc. The Lord takes nothing worse at the hands of his, than such hard thoughts of him, knowing full well what fruit this bitter root is like to bear, — what alienations of heart, — what drawings back, — what unbelief and tergiversations in our walking with him. How unwilling is a child to come into the presence of an angry father! Consider, then, this in the first place, — receiving of the Father as he holds out love to the soul, gives him the honor he aims at, and is exceeding acceptable unto him. He often sets it out in an eminent manner, that it may be so received: — “He commendeth his love toward us,” Romans 5:8. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us!”
1 John 3:1. Whence, then, is this folly? Men are afraid to have good thoughts of God. They think it a boldness to eye God as good, gracious, tender, kind, loving: I speak of saints; but for the other side, they can judge him hard, austere, severe, almost implacable, and fierce (the very worst affections of the very worst of men, and most hated of him, Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3), and think herein they do well. Is not this soul-deceit from Satan? Was it not his design from the beginning to inject such thoughts of God? Assure thyself, then, there is nothing more acceptable unto the Father, than for us to keep up our hearts unto him as the eternal fountain of all that rich grace which flows out to sinners in the blood of Jesus. And, —
(2.) This will be exceeding effectual to endear thy soul unto God, to cause thee to delight in him, and to make thy abode with him. Many saints have no greater burden in their lives, than that their hearts do not come clearly and fully up, constantly to delight and rejoice in God, — that there is still an indisposedness of spirit unto close walking with him. What is at the bottom of this distemper? Is it not their unskilfulness in or neglect of this duty, even of holding communion with the Father in love? So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from Him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto him. This, if any thing, will work upon us to make our abode with him. If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Put, then, this to the venture: exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in him. I dare boldly say, believers will find it as thriving a course as ever they pitched on in their lives. Sit down a little at the fountain, and you will quickly have a farther discovery of the sweetness of the streams. You who have run from him, will not be able, after a while, to keep at a distance for a moment.
Objection 1. But some may say, “Alas! how shall I hold communion with the Father in love? I know not at all whether he loves me or no; and shall I venture to cast myself upon it? How if I should not be accepted? should I not rather perish for my presumption, than find sweetness in his bosom? God seems to me only as a consuming fire and everlasting burnings; so that I dread to look up unto him.”
Answer. I know not what may be understood by knowing of the love of God; though it be carried on by spiritual sense and experience, yet it is received purely by believing. Our knowing of it, is our believing of it as revealed. “We have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love,” 1 John 4:16. This is the assurance which, at the very entrance of walking with God, thou mayest have of this love. He who is truth has said it; and whatever thy heart says, or Satan says, unless thou wilt take it up on this account, thou does thy endeavor to make him a liar who has spoken it, 1 John 5:10.
Obj. 2. “I can believe that God is love to others, for he has said he is love; but that he will be so to me, I see no ground of persuasion; there is no cause, no reason in the world, why he should turn one thought of love or kindness towards me: and therefore I dare not cast myself upon it, to hold communion with him in his special love.”
Ans. He has spoken it as particularly to thee as to any one in the world. And for cause of love, he has as much to fix it on thee as on any of the children of men; that is, none at all without himself. So that I shall make speedy work with this objection. Never any one from the foundation of the world, who believed such love in the Father, and made returns of love to him again, was deceived; neither shall ever any to the world’s end be so, in so doing. Thou art, then, in this, upon a most sure bottom. If thou believest and receives the Father as love, he will infallibly be so to thee, though others may fall under his severity. But, —
Obj. 3. “I cannot find my heart making returns of love unto God. Could I find my soul set upon him, I could then believe his soul delighted in me.”
Ans. This is the most preposterous course that possibly thy thoughts can pitch upon, a most ready way to rob God of his glory. “Herein is love,” saith the Holy Ghost, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first, 1 John 4:10, 11. Now, thou wouldst invert this order, and say, “Herein is love, not that God loved me, but that I love him first.” This is to take the glory of God from him: that, whereas he loves us without a cause that is in ourselves, and we have all cause in the world to love him, thou wouldst have the contrary, namely, that something should be in thee for which God should love thee, even thy love to him; and that thou shouldst love God, before thou knowest any thing lovely in him, — namely, whether he love thee or no. This is a course of flesh’s finding out, that will never bring glory to God, nor peace to thy own soul. Lay down, then, thy seasonings; take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love.
To make yet some farther improvement of this truth so opened and exhorted unto as before; — it will discover unto us the eminency and privilege of the saints of God. What low thoughts soever the sons of men may have of them, it will appear that they have meat to eat that the world knows not of. They have close communion and fellowship with the Father. They deal with him in the interchange of love. Men are generally esteemed according to the company they keep. It is an honor to stand in the presence of princes, though but as servants. What honor, then, have all the saints, to stand with boldness in the presence of the Father, and there to enjoy his bosom love! What a blessing did the queen of Sheba pronounce on the servants of Solomon, who stood before him, and heard his wisdom! How much more blessed, then, are they who stand continually before the God of Solomon, hearing his wisdom, enjoying his love! Whilst others have their fellowship with Satan and their own lusts, making provision for them, and receiving perishing refreshments from them, (“whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things,”) they have this sweet communion with the Father.
Moreover, what a safe and sweet retreat is here for the saints, in all the scorns, reproaches, scandals, misrepresentations, which they undergo in the world. When a child is abused abroad in the streets by strangers, he runs with speed to the bosom of his father; there he makes his complaint, and is comforted. In all the hardy censures and tongue-persecutions which the saints meet withal in the streets of the world, they may run with their meanings unto their Father, and be comforted. “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you,” saith the Lord, Isaiah 66:13. So that the soul may say, “If I have hatred in the world, I will go where I am sure of love. Though all others are hard to me, yet my Father is tender and full of compassion: I will go to him, and satisfy myself in him. Here I am accounted vile, frowned on, and rejected; but I have honor and love with him, whose kindness is better than life itself. There I shall have all things in the fountain, which others have but in the drops. There is in my Father’s love every thing desirable: there is the sweetness of all mercies in the abstract itself, and that fully and durably.”
Evidently, then, the saints are the most mistaken men in the world. If they say, “Come and have fellowship with us;” are not men ready to say, “Why, what are you? a sorry company of seditious, factious persons. Be it known unto you, that we despise your fellowship. When we intend to leave fellowship with all honest men, and men of worth, then will we come to you.” But, alas! how are men mistaken! Truly their fellowship is with the Father: let men think of it as they please, they have close, spiritual, heavenly refreshing, in the mutual communication of love with the Father himself. How they are generally misconceived, the apostle declares, 2 Corinthians 6:8-10, “As deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” And as it is thus in general, so in no one thing more than this, that they are looked on as poor, low, despicable persons, when indeed they are the only great and noble personages in the world. Consider the company they keep: it is with the Father; — who so glorious? The merchandise they trade in, it is love; — what so precious? Doubtless they are the excellent on the earth, Psalm 16:3.
Farther; this will discover a main difference between the saints and empty professors: — As to the performance of duties, and so the enjoyment of outward privileges, fruitless professors often walk hand in hand with them; but now come to their secret retirements, and what a difference is there! There the saints hold communion with God: hypocrites, for the most part, with the world and their own lusts; — with them they converse and communicate; they hearken what they will say to them, and make provision for them, when the saints are sweetly wrapt up in the bosom of their Father’s love. It is oftentimes even almost impossible that believers should, in outward appearance, go beyond them who have very rotten hearts: but this meat they have, which others know not of; this refreshment in the banqueting house, wherein others have no share; — in the multitude of their thoughts, the comforts of God their Father refresh their souls.
Now, then (to draw towards a close of this discourse), if these things be so, “what manner of men ought we to be, in all manner of holy conversation?” Even “our God is a consuming fire.” What communion is there between light and darkness? Shall sin and lust dwell in those thoughts which receive in and carry out love from and unto the Father? Holiness becometh his presence for ever. An unclean spirit cannot draw nigh unto him; — an unholy heart can make no abode with him. A lewd person will not desire to hold fellowship with a sober man; and will a man of vain and foolish imaginations hold communion and dwell with the most holy God? There is not any consideration of this love but is a powerful motive unto holiness, and leads thereunto. Ephraim says, “What have I to do any more with idols?” when in God he finds salvation. Communion with the Father is wholly inconsistent with loose walking. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth,” 1 John 1:6. “He that saith, I know him” (I have communion with him), “and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” chap. 2:4. The most specious and glorious pretense made to an acquaintance with the Father, without holiness and obedience to his commandments, serves only to prove the pretenders to be liars. The love of the world and of the Father dwell not together.
And if this be so (to shut up all), how many that go under the name of Christians, come short of the truth of it! How unacquainted are the generality of professors with the mystery of this communion, and the fruits of it! Do not many very evidently hold communion with their lusts and with the world, and yet would be thought to have a portion and inheritance among them that are sanctified? They have neither new name nor white stone, and yet would be called the people of the Most High. May it not be said of many of them, rather, that God is not in all their thoughts, than that they have communion with him? The Lord open the eyes of men, that they may see and know that walking with God is a matter not of form, but power! And so far of peculiar communion with the Father, in the instance of love which we have insisted on. “He is also faithful who has called us to the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;” of which in the next place.