(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Sunday Morning, Nov. 2.)
1 JOHN iii. 2.
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.
IT is a common, misgiving, thought, when men would turn to God, or even when they are in some way religious, "how can I be happy in heaven? what will be its happiness?" And according to men's tempers, they will further say, "Here I am ever doing; the duties of life give me what to do; I study, it may be, or labour or do the works of my calling, and I can picture to myself being happy, if I have something wherein to do God's will; but I am soon weary when I would think of God; if I use prayers given me by holy men, or the Divine Psalms, I cannot fix my thoughts long upon God; even, when He gives me most grace, and I feel borne out of myself, in love, or praise, or thankfulness, and for the time could forget myself and all created things, in the sweetness of the love of God, I soon fall back in weariness; it is good to cleave fast to God, but I am weak and cannot hold on; I could think that Eternity could be happy, were it all like such moments as these, but how can I love and praise for all Eternity, and be unwearied still? Change is my very refreshment here, can I then find joy in the one single love of God?"
Such thoughts imply a state more or less imperfect. They are doubtless sometimes sent by God, to make us feel how imperfect our state is; that we are too much taken up with the things of this life; that Heaven, being little in our thoughts, and so a strange place to us, we cannot understand the joys of those who dwell there; that our hearts are too much scattered among outward things, and so cannot think what it could be to be wholly knit and gathered up in God; that we, dwelling little on the thought of God and His Goodness, seldom conversing with Him, have but a faint love, and so cannot understand what it would be to love on for ever. In part, they are true, that, we cannot in this life imagine what the bliss of Heaven will be. For, "now we see through a glass darkly;" how can we think what it will be, "face to Face to see God?" Now "we know in part;" what a mystery then to us, that we "shall know God, even as we are known," enter into the very secrets of His love, share in His Knowledge, His Wisdom, His Power, His Will, His Glory, His Beauty, His Bliss, His Love which is His Bliss, know God with the same knowledge wherewith He knows us, save that we are bounded, He unbounded, or Infinite! Still, after our measure, we shall have entrance to all the thoughts of God, see things without Him as He sees them; see within Himself, in a manner, as He sees Himself; we shall be ourselves within Him, enfolded by His Essence and Essential Glory and Love; and as He knows us, by His Presence in our souls, so we shall know Him by being taken up within Him, there to contemplate Him, to read His Excellence and His Goodness eye to Eye, more than, in the face we here best love, we can read the deepest love, with which any in God here loves us. Truly, "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." For the "good things which God hath prepared" are God Himself; and, "no man, while in the flesh, can see God and live." Sooner could the worm, which, encased in a hard crust of wood or pebbles, lies lifeless, imagine what it would be, when it rises, as it were, from its grave and flies free and aloft to the day; sooner could the child in its mother's womb, imagine the power and strength and understanding of the full-grown- man; sooner one born in a dungeon imagine, out of its darkness, the glories of the richest gladliest day; than we, out of this our prison-house could, even from those rays of light wherewith God at times bedews the faithful soul, tell what it will be to be within the full Light of His Countenance. St. Paul, when rapt up into Paradise, "heard unspeakable words, which it was not lawful for a man to utter;" St. John saw the Vision of our Lord in glory, and heard the heavenly harps, and the new song of the redeemed, and saw the glory of the Heavenly City, and Him that sat upon the Throne, and the blessed company round about the Throne, as "they worshipped Him That liveth for ever and ever;" yet neither St. Paul nor the beloved disciple knew what the full bliss of heaven would be; for St. Paul still says, "it hath not entered the heart of man," and St. John, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be."
It may then be some contentment to us, yea surely it is an earnest of the greatness of our bliss, that no one in the flesh can understand it. Picture we all the joy of the whole world, not those fleeting miserable joys which the poor "world which lieth in wickedness" seeks after, but all the purest, brightest, most transporting joys, which ever filled the soul of any saint of God; think we of the calm bliss of St. John, when he knew in himself that "he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him," or of St. Paul, when he said, "to me to live is Christ;" and "not I, but Christ liveth in me;" or of martyrs, when for the abundance of joy, they joyed in spirit, while their flesh was consumed; or of St. Stephen, when he saw heaven opened, and his Redeemer standing to defend him, and ready to receive him, and place him by His Side, on His Throne; or any who have so loved that they could say with the spouse in the Canticles, "I am faint with love;" "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine," and could hardly support the fulness of the consolations of God; these had some foretaste, but they could not, as yet, even conceive the bliss of Heaven; for it "hath not entered into the heart of man." Oh deep Ocean of joy and bliss and love, wherein we shall ever freely range, ever longing yet ever satisfied; ever filled yet never sated; ever loving yet never weary; ever receiving fresh streams of love and glory and bliss from the exhaustless Fountain of all Good, which is God.
It were then the part of faith to believe, that, if we love God, we must be happy, because we have His word for it. If He willeth to make us happy, how should we not be so? If He says, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," into His own very joy, must we not joy, when He has thus enfolded us with joy? Shall His Almightiness fail, that He cannot make us happy? or His love Who became Man to die for us, that He will not? or His own Fulness of Bliss, wherein He hath been Himself "Blessed for ever," that It should not suffice us, when He filleth us with all the love which we can contain?
There are, indeed, those in whom this fear whether they could be happy, comes from their own present real unfitness to be so, and whom some ensnaring sin keeps back from the grace of God; or in many of us, it may be that we have been too much taken up with outward and earthly things, earthly business or pleasure, or even lawful delights, to taste of His inward sweetness, or hear His secret voice of love. And, in most cases, it may be, that some real hindrance may be to be removed, some secret subtle sin, some undue love of self or of His creatures, that they may know the surpassing love of the Creator. But, besides all this, it may be that our mistake is, a secret over-trust in self, as if our bliss in heaven were to come from our own powers of loving, dwelling on, embracing, God, instead of being filled with Himself, when He "shall be All things in all," and we shall love Him with His own love, wherewith He shall first have filled us, in an endless flow and reflow of love, ever poured out anew on us, ever from us returning back to Him from Whom it comes.
Yet, further, to help us to think of this bliss, that so, through the sweetness of eternal bliss, we may despise and trample on the tempting, debasing, sweetnesses of things of sense, God tells us how, without this our earthly pleasure, we may hope there to have unwearied bliss.
"When He shall appear, we shall be like Him." Then shall every hindrance to spiritual bliss cease. "We shall be like Him." Then shall all which is unlike Him drop off from us. And this it is which hinders our bliss. What is it, but "the corruptible body, which presseth down the soul," "the body of death" in which we are imprisoned, "the law of sin in our members which warreth against the law of our mind," the temptations of the flesh, the world, and satan; the memory of past sin, and present infirmities, the distraction of inward and outward cares? These give no rest to the soul; they fight against it from without, if no longer admitted within; weary it by their ceaseless strife; cast it down, when it would rise up towards God; bring a cloud before it, when it would gaze unto Him; drown by their din the sweet whisper of His secret Voice. How can we then now paint to ourselves that everlasting rest, when He shall for ever "have healed the stroke of our wounds," have blotted out our sins, bruised Satan under our feet, rescued us from the lion ready to devour? How can we imagine now what it will be, when corruption shall have put on incorruption, what is sown in corruption, in weakness, in dishonour, shall be raised in incorruption, in power, and in glory; when the world and the lusts thereof shall have passed away; and we, if we have loved God, remain alone with Him in the company of the blessed; the very body which clogs us now, made like unto the glorious Body of our Redeemer, itself spiritual, capable of spiritual joys, a partner in our bliss and adding to its fulness? What should there then be to abate or hinder the fulness of our joy, when "death shall be swallowed up in victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ," and nothing around, above, below, within, shall withdraw us from the love of God? For all around shall reflect His love; all we see, shall, with ourselves, be full of His glory; in all, and in ourselves, we shall behold God; yea in Himself, in Whom we shall live, we shall behold, know, love, Himself. "Blessed," says a father "are 'they who dwell in Thy House; they shall evermore praise Thee.' This shall be our whole employ, a never-failing Halleluiah. Think not, brethren, that ye will be weary then, inasmuch as ye here last not out, if ye would long say, Halleluiah: some need recalleth you from that joy. And whereas what is unseen hath not the same delight, if, amid the very oppression and frailty of the flesh, we, with such alacrity, praise What we believe, how shall we praise What we see! When death shall have been swallowed up m victory, when this mortal shall have put on immortality, and this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, no one will say, 'I have stood long,' none 'I have been long fasting, watching long.' For greatly will they be then up-stayed, and the very immortality of our body shall hang upon the contemplation of God. And if this His word which we give forth to you, can keep the weakness of our flesh so long standing, what shall that joy do for us there! how shall it change us! For we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.' Being then 'like Him,' how shall we fail? Whither turn aside? Fear we not, brethren. The praise of God, the love of God, will not cloy us. If thou canst fail to love, thou canst fail to praise. But if love shall be everlasting, because that Beauty can never cloy, fear not lest thou be unable to praise for ever, Whom thou shalt be able to love for ever. So then, 'Blessed are they who dwell in Thine House; they shall evermore praise Thee.' Sigh we for this life." "When I shall with my whole self cleave to Thee, I shall no where have sorrow or trial; and my life shall wholly live, being wholly full of Thee. But now since whom Thou fillest, Thou upliftest, since I am not full of Thee, I am a burden to myself."
Much, too much, were this for us, to be freed from infirmity and sin; but too little for the love of God. Much were it, and perhaps all of which many think, that we shall, if we attain thither, be freed from this life's ills, "shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more;" that God "shall wipe off all tears from our eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." Yea, much is this too, because God has promised it; it is His Gift, the token of the full doing away of sin, when its wages too shall cease. Sweet is it to think of an everlasting rest, in which there shall be no strife with sin, no rebellion within us, no temptation without, no fear of falling, no enemy to watch against, but all shall be one blessed, everlasting peace, in God and with God. Yet too little is this for the boundless love of God, too slight reward for the Sufferings which our Lord endured upon the Gross for us! this we could imagine in some holier seasons, when our whole souls are hushed in the Presence of God, and our whole will is absorbed in His, and the soul is all knit up in one to love, and is dead to all without and to itself, or in some thrill of joy which He bestows on penitence, or some ray of light which He sheds on the soul, bathing it with His sweetness or melting it with His love, or drawing it up unto Himself. But this is not our bliss; since this "the heart of man can conceive;" all this is but the means whereby we may receive His Bliss; it is not our Bliss itself; for that is, GOD.
Elsewhere it is said, we shall "be equal unto the Angels." And what were not this? for us, who lay on our "dunghill," sunk in the mire and foulness of our sins, to be "set with the Princes of His people," the ministers of His Presence, who have ever done His will! for us, who had made ourselves "like the beasts which perish," to be like the most perfect of His creation, the highest created wisdom and beauty, who ever kept their high estate and their nearness to God, and did His Will and never defiled His Image, perfect in their degree, free from all passion, partakers of the immortality of God, ever beholding the Face of the Father. But now the greatness of our bliss and theirs is told us in more solemn overwhelming words, "We shall be like Him." Like Whom? like God. The very gift, which Satan taught Adam by disobedience to seek to gain for himself, not to receive of God, that same surpassing Gift, through the Obedience and Death of Him, Who is God and Man, will God bestow on man, to be like Himself. "Ye shall be as God," said the tempter, and man through lust fell. "I have said ye are gods, saith God, and ye shall all be children of the Most High;" "that we having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust, might be partakers of the Divine Nature;" not by Essence, since that belongs only to the Holy Trinity in Itself; not personally, since that belongs only to the Incarnate Word; but still by grace, although not by nature; by His indwelling in us, now in each according to his measure, more perfectly in glory. "The Word was made flesh," says a father, "in order to offer up this body for all, and that we, partaking of His Spirit, might be made gods, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained, than by His clothing Himself with our created body. For hence we derive our name of 'men of God,' and 'men in Christ.'" "For therefore did He assume a human body, that having renewed it, as its Framer, He might make it god in Himself, and thus might introduce all us into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness.--For therefore the union was of this kind that He might unite what is man by nature to Him Who is in the Nature of the Godhead, and man's salvation and deifying might be sure."
"We shall be like Him." A likeness we had by nature and by grace, ere it was lost by Adam's fall. About us God vouchsafed to consult, and in our creation was the sacred mystery of the Trinity in Unity first revealed, as in our Baptism it is renewed. "And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." Like God we were by nature, in our royal birth, the lords of all the animal world, the end for whom it was made, as God Himself is The End of all things; ourselves to obey God Alone, and then all beside to obey us. Of Him we were a shadowy likeness, as the created and finite can be of the Uncreated Infinite God, in that we, by His gift, had a soul one and incorporeal as He is; immortal, by grace, as He by nature; possessed of understanding, will, and memory, and these free, as made free and upheld by Him; uniting in a manner, heaven and earth in ourselves, in that we had in part the nature of angels, in part that of the things below us; yea, for us, heaven and earth and time itself are, since when the number of the elect is finished, heaven and earth shall be changed, and time itself shall be no more, and "God shall be All in all." And this image of God flowed over upon the body too. In that it was formed upright, to gaze upwards to heaven and towards God, its very form shewed that, although of earth, it was not made for this earth, not, like the beasts that perish, to seek the things of earth, but for its home in heaven and in God. Our very look bears witness for Whom we were made. Why look to heaven, if thou grovellest on earth? Yea, if any of us dare scarce look up to heaven, it is because like the publican, we feel that, but for God's mercy, we have lost it.
We were then an image of God by nature, and this image, in part, we never lost, can never lose. "The image," says a holy man, "can be burnt in hell, not burnt away; it can be all on fire, but not destroyed. Whithersoever the soul shall go, there will it also be. Not so the likeness. It either abideth in good, or if the soul sinneth it is miserably changed, being likened to the beasts that perish." Our truest, fullest, likeness, was in that gift above nature, the soul of the soul, Divine grace. By this was man, ere he fell, clad and gifted with original righteousness, from which by nature we are now far gone; by this, was he capable of receiving, not all knowledge only, so as to grasp in himself, and order, and mould, all thoughts of all created things, but he could receive all wisdom, virtue, blessedness, the sight of God, the Spirit of God within him; by this was he a likeness of God in His everlasting rest; for no passions were at war within him; his appetite was subdued to his reason, his reason to God; and so his will was one with the Will of God, and his soul, holding converse with God, as He walked in the blissful .Garden, reflected his Maker's Will, as clear water gives back the face of Heaven, or a mirror flashes back the brightness of the earthly sun which shines upon it.
This likeness through Adam we lost, through Christ more blessedly regained. For now are we holy, not only by the gift of God, but by Him Who vouchsafes to be called His Gift, because He is given to us, His "Holy Spirit Which dwelleth in us." Now have we a likeness of God, not because we were so made only, but because we were more blessedly "re-made, being renewed after the Image of Him Who created us." And this Divine Image is engraven upon our souls, not in any outward way, nor even by the grace of God alone, but also by the Spirit of God within us, "else," as saith a father, "we had been called the image of the grace, rather than the image of God Himself." And our Lord said to the Apostles, Receive the Holy Ghost, whereby, through the inbreathing of the Saviour, they became partakers not of grace alone, but of the One Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit, Scripture saith, we have been sealed; but, says a father again, "The seal hath the Form of Christ Who sealeth; and of this Form do the sealed partake, being formed after It; as the Apostle saith, 'My little children, of whom I travail again until Christ be formed in you.' But they who are so sealed, well are they said to be 'partakers of the Divine Nature,' as Peter said. And through the Spirit are we all said to be partakers of God. ' Know ye not, he saith, that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?'" Not through any creature could we be made partakers of God; not Angel or Archangel could dwell in the soul, but God Who made it for Himself. "So," says a father', "have we the rich gift, that He Who is by Nature and truly God, is our Indweller and Inhabitant, in that from Him we receive the Spirit Which is both from Him and in Him, and His Own, being, by Name and in Truth, equally Lord with Himself, and to us replacing the Son, as being by Nature One with Him." "He sent to us the Comforter from Heaven, through Whom and with Whom He is with us and dwelleth in us, pouring into us no foreign but His own Spirit, of His own Substance, and of That of the Father." And so our Blessed Lord says again, "If any man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love Him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." And lest any one think that the Father and the Son only, without the Holy Spirit, make Their abode with those who love Him, let him consider what was said just before of the Holy Spirit; "Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." "So," adds a father'," cometh the Spirit, as cometh the Father; for where the Father is, there also is the Son, and where the Son is, there is the Holy Spirit. But He cometh not by motion from place to place, but from the grace which quickeneth to the grace which sanctifieth, to transfer us from earth to heaven, from decay to glory, from slavery to the Kingdom. The Spirit so cometh, as cometh the Father,--in Whom, when He cometh, is the full Presence of the Father and the Son." O the depth of the riches of the condescension and love of God, Who hath not only pardoned us and delivered from death, but given us righteousness and sanctification; not given them us only, but as Scripture says, Himself made His Son such to us, by taking our nature into God, and in our nature dying for us; and not only so, but imparting His grace; and not grace only, but making us sons; and not sons only, but members of His Only-begotten Son; not heirs only, but co-heirs with Christ; to have in our measure what He has, the everlasting Love of the Everlasting Father; and of this He hath given us the earnest, His Holy Spirit, Who with Him is One God, to dwell in us, in His Own Holy Person, and unite us with Him.
My brethren, if such be the first-fruits, what shall the harvest be? if such the earnest, what shall the full gift be whereof it is the earnest? if such our clay, when gilded1 over by the glory of Sonship, what when it shall be wholly conformed to His glorious Body? if such through the veil, when we feel only after Him, what when, face to Face, His glory shall shine upon us? if such in "the region of the shadow of death," what shall it be "in the land of the living," whereof God Himself shall be the Light and Glory and Beauty, and "in His Light we shall see Light?"
"We shall be like Him." I have said hitherto, brethren, rather that we shall be really like Him, not how that likeness to Him shall come to us, nor what it is to be like Him. How we shall become like Him, the Apostle goes on to say, "for we shall see Him as He is," (and on this I hope to speak this afternoon,) "What it is to be like Him," Who but Himself can tell?
Yet, to gain some thought of our future bliss, think we, for a little moment, of some of the Perfections of our God. In some way, indeed, they cannot be, except in God Himself; for God Alone can be Infinite and Incomprehensible; and the Creator; and as far as His Wisdom and Power and Goodness are Infinite, they cannot belong to the creature. What received these, would be God Himself. Scripture says not, "we shall be He," but "we shall be like Him."
But we should not be like Him, if we had not, after our measure, and as far as creatures can contain them, the qualities (so to speak) of Almighty God. Such is the love of God, so does His Goodness love to bestow Itself, that He would withhold nothing of Himself, which His creatures can receive k. God is All-Holy, Himself the Source of all Holiness. We then, if we be brought thither, shall be, in every part of us, holy. Nothing unclean entereth there. Within and without we shall be filled and clothed with the Holiness of God. It were not heaven, if, in its whole compass there were one speck not changed into the Holiness of God. In Presence of His Holiness, it were more unbearable than the pains of Hell. God is All-Wise. We then, seeing Him, shall read in Him the Treasures of His Wisdom, the mystery of our being and of His love. God is All-Powerful. Our Blessed Lord hath said, "To him that overcometh will I give to sit upon My Throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father on His Throne;" and to all the Elect, "Thou hast been faithful in few things, I will make Thee ruler over many things." God is all-glorious; and glory "is the very name of our future being." To "bring many sons to glory" was the very end of the Sufferings of our Lord. "When He shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." Glory shall fill the Elect above the brightness of the sun, shall make them transparent with light, all-bright, all-pure; and that, with the imparted light of God. And what should I more say? God is Love. And when faith is turned into sight, and hope into its substance, then shall "charity abide" and be perfected; then shall we love with the love of God, shall love God as God loveth Himself, ever through His love cleaving unto His love, ever borne to God, uplifted, filled, overflowing, receiving, giving back so as again to receive, the unutterable love of God, and by His love changed into His own unchangeableness.
My brethren, who might not dwell for ever on these words? and yet I have told you, as yet, nothing of their reality; nor can I tell you; for what have I been speaking of? the Wisdom, Holiness, Power, Glory, Beauty, Love of God. And to know these, we must see Himself. The ear cannot catch them; the tongue cannot speak of them; to the inmost heart which loveth, God revealeth but some faint gleam of them. They are laid up in store for them who love Him.
And shall we, then, my brethren, for whom these things are in store, to whom, if we be saved, there is reserved, according to our measure, such fulness of the love of God and likeness to Him,--shall we any longer be wasting that likeness, wasting bliss everlasting, amid the fleeting, fading, sickening, vanities of this world? "So much the more unlike," says S. Augustine1," is the soul of man to Him, the Incorporeal, the Eternal, the Unchangeable, the more he loveth the things of time and change." If we would be
"like Him" in glory, we must in our degree be "like Him" here by grace. If we would have His Image for ever, we must bear even now the Image of the Heavenly, after which by His mercy we have been renewed; if we would behold Him in bliss, our heart must be made pure here, that by faith it may here see, Whom by the eye of the body it sees not.
That likeness here is renewed, in proportion as is our love; since God is love. It is begun, when we are wearied and sickened at ourselves that we are so unlike Him, so far removed from Him. It is enlarged, when with penitent love we return from the far country whither we had strayed, to confess our unworthiness in our Father's Presence. It is carried on by His Grace, through every act of self-denial, or virtue, or love, or penitent suffering, for love of Him; every groan that we are unlike Him; every longing to be like Him; every fervent momentary prayer we breathe for His love; for fervent prayer is not our own, but the unutterable groanings of His Spirit Which dwelleth in us. It is renewed by that Heavenly Feast, the Food of Angels, wherein (in the words of our Church) "our sinful bodies are made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most Precious Blood," yea "we dwell in Christ and Christ in us, are made one with Christ and Christ with us." It shall be perfected, in those who by His grace, persevere to the end, in that blessed everlasting Sight, when our vile body shall be made like unto the glorious Body of our Redeemer, our soul shall see the Ever-Blessed Trinity, and in that sight receive of the ineffable Beauty and Glory and Majesty and Love which it sees.
Oh defile we then no more that Royal image, in which He formed us; which, when sunk in the mire of sin, He came to cleanse anew by His own Precious Blood; which He sought out so diligently, by toil and suffering; which He longs to shew on high rejoicing, to His friends and neighbours in the Heavenly courts. Come we to Him, "not with the feet but with the heart," and "be enlightened, that our faces be not ashamed," looking, in trust and penitence and hope and love, to His Divine Countenance, desiring that His Divine Features be, one by one, retraced on our souls. Long we to be cleansed, and He will cleanse us; long we for His Indwelling, and He will come to us; treasure we His Sacred Presence, when we have received It, and He will cleanse us more and more; hide we no part of our sinful heart from Him, and He will by His light brighten the dark corners over which we grieve, and all, sorrow or joy, dryness or refreshment, the light of His Presence or His seeming absence, shall but the more kindle our longing and cleanse our souls for that unvarying, unceasing, unspeakable Presence in bliss. "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Now unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own Blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him &c.
O God, Who hast prepared for them that love Thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love towards Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.