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exulting gratitude. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”! Under the very trial of being thus lightly esteemed the apostle would flee for consolation to the cheering thought of his own present adoption and the glory growing out of it. As if he had said, Though we are obscure and unknown, though the world values not our religion, and the principles we profess expose us to disrepute, contumely or death ; yet how great is our honor, how exalted our hopes ! “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.”—The passage leads us to consider
I. The relation which the Christian sustains to God in this world. Now are we the sons of God.” So are all men by creation and providence.
1. But Christians are the sons of God by a new, a spiritual birth, being born again from above. The Holy Spirit implants in them the principle of life; a principle powerful in its influence, universal in its control, and abiding—the germ of life eternal. Its operation commences with the first exercise of saving faith, by which the soul becomes united to an ever-living Redeemer : “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name ; which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
They are made partakers of the Divine nature, not in its essence but in its gracious qualities. The disposition and excellencies of the blessed God are produced in his believing people by the Holy Ghost, who creates them after God in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. The clear discernment of spiritual things which belongs to God; his spotless purity, and perfect rectitude; and his truth, benevolence, and love, are, in a degree, the distinguishing characteristics of Christians, who thus like children bear the likeness of the Father. All the lovely features of the moral image of God are impressed on the newborn soul, and furnish the evidence of its adoption. But where these are wanting, it is in vain to claim the relationship of sons; “for,” saith the apostle, “whosoever is born of God sinneth not.' “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the Devil : whosoever doeth not righteousness, is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
2. Christians are also the sons of God by a special act of adoption. He has taken them from the family of strangers, yea of enemies, who had no claim upon his favor, and having brought them nigh by the blood of Christ, he has transferred them into the household of faith; and condescends to own them as his children, the sons and the daughters of the Lord Almighty. To secure this privilege, he gave his only begotten Son to die for us. " When the fullness of time. was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, inade under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. By his sufferings and death the gracious Redeemer satisfied the demands of Infinite Justice, so that God could receive all who believe into his embrace, and thus enable thern from being children of wrath, to become the children of God by faith in his Son. Though before they were aliens and enemies, by reason of wicked works, the slaves of Satan and condemned to eternal death, yet now are they the “sons of God.” What an honorable distinction! The sons of God! Men are ambitious to trace their genealogy to some illustrious parentage; and the descendants of the great pride themselves in being of royal blood. Is it a light thing, asked David, that I should be son-in-law to the King? But earthly nobility usually derives its lustre from achievements whose glory is as transient as it is brilliant, and if traced back to its origin must terminate in Adam, the common parent of the noble and the ignoble.
But our relation to God confers real and durable honor, compared with which the magnificent titles of the world are perishable shadows. He who can trace upon the exercises of his heart and the practice of his life the credentials of his heavenly birth, and can claim a lineage with the Eternal God, bears a nobler record than ever stamped the escutcheon of the mightiest monarch of the world. The humble believer is a child of the King of kings. He may reflect with amazement upon the majesty and dominion of God. He may survey the face of nature, teeming with the productions of his wisdom, and gaze with adoring admiration on unnumbered worlds, moving through the immensity of space, and think of myriads of beings over whom the omnipotent Sovereign extends his government, and then say, This is my Father, He made them all.
What happiness is secured by this exalted connection. It implies the most devoted affection and forgiving grace. "I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” It furnishes the sweetest consolation in affliction. What son is there whom the Father chasteneth not ?" It is the strongest encouragement to confidential intercourse with God; for it is the privilege of his children to come into the secret place of the Most High, to enter into his chamber and see the King in his beauty. Encouraged by his promise, the Christian may approach with boldness to the mercy seat, unfold the secret burdens of his heart, and with the spirit of adoption cry, “Abba Father.”-Consider in the
II. The honor and happiness which the Christian has in prospect. Eternal glory in heaven is the legacy to which the Christian is entitled by virtue of his sonship.
« And if children,” says Paul, “then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." And that believers may be assured of their ultimately taking possession of the celestial estate, he adds, “reserved by God for you who are kept by Almighty power through faith unto salvation.”
But who can describe the joys of heaven? What tongue can tell the blissful sights and rapturous sounds which there break upon the ravished eye and ear of God's redeemed ones? What pencil can delineate the lofty hills and extended plains of that land of pure delight? Who can paint the groves and bowers of Paradise? or the crystal waters of that river of life, which issues from the throne of God? What tongue can tell the splendors of that city whose pavement is of pure gold ? or what mind can conceive the melody of those songs which shall echo harmoniously through the temple of God?" It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” We know not the precise nature of those glorified bodies with which we shall be adorned. We know not to what extent the faculties and powers of our being will be enlarged ; what influence the attachments of this world will have upon the intercourse of heaven; nor what will constitute the employment of eternity; nor a thousand other things pertaining to the spiritual world. Neither is it desirable that we should. We have enough to encourage hope, and incite to diligent effort, in what is revealed; enough to sustain in sorrow, and awaken in the lively Christian a desire to depart and be with Christ. It is enough to know that we shall be like Christ: that in his presence there is fullness of joy and at his right hand pleasures forevermore.
The wisdom and kindness of God are manifest in withholding from us now the full knowledge of what is comprised in the blessedness of the heavenly world. Such knowledge could only be acquired by actual inspection. And were the realities of heaven open to our view, there would be no demand for the exercise of faith in the representations of the Scriptures. God would have us live by faith, looking not at the things that are seen but at the things that are unseen. Faith in His Word is the basis of piety, being the acknowledgment of God's veracity: while unbelief charges him with falsehood. Instead of calling forth our efforts in the pursuit of heaven by unvailing to our eyes its marvelous scenes, or delighting our ears with its melodious songs, he simply tells us something of its hidden glories; and proffers them to our acceptance; that thus believing his word we may seek the better country and press forward to obtain the crown. The ancient saints lived and died in faith, not having received the promises (the things promised) but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Christians now are required to live by faith in the promises of God, and to rest by faith upon him who is invisible. And great glory will redound to God when the trial of their faith shall be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, when it shall be manifest that they who had not seen him, yet loved him, and though they beheld not the inheritance promised, yet believing they rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
There is kindness, too, in confining us to a feeble and imperfect conception of our future exaltation. For how could we have borne up under all the trials of life? how have performed the selfdenying duties of life? or waited with patience our appointed time until our change come, if the glory of the heavenly state had been fully revealed to us? Did it fully appear what we shall be ; did we perfectly comprehend the ineffable glory and bliss of heaven ; did we truly know what it is to gaze upon the effulgent face of the Redeemer; to see the throng of happy saints and be ourselves among the holy and rejoicing brotherhood above,-we should be disqualified for the duties belonging to our present condition, discontented and fretful under the adversities of life,-impatient to retire from the field of battle before the victory be won, and to receive the reward before the period of service be expired. While we admire then the wisdom, let us also praise the goodness of the Lord who, while he permits us to say, “ Now are we the sons of God,” obliges us also to add, “and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.'
Although it doth not yet appear what we shall be, we know this much, that “when he shall appear we shall be like him." The full discovery and enjoyment of the promised glory is reserved unto the second coming of our Elder Brother. He has gone to heaven as our Forerunner, to prepare mansions for his people, and will come again to receive them to himself. Hence the revelation of Jesus Christ is exhibited in the Scriptures as the consummation of all our hopes, and the completion of his great salvation. Hence, too, we are encouraged to look for, to wait for, and to love his appearing. Paul, on the eve of martyrdom, triumphantly exclaims, “ Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing.'
When the Saviour shall thus appear we shall be like him. Transporting thought! for in him all excellence and glory meet, rendering him the joy of heaven, and the object of love and praise to all holy beings.
But wherein shall this likeness consist? The apostle refers no doubt to an assimilation of the moral character. The point of resemblance most desirable to a truly pious mind, will be the perfect freedom from sin which will distinguish all the redeemed in common with their spotless Saviour. Sin has been the burden of the Christian through the whole of his earthly pilgrimage ; but resting on the promise of his faithful Saviour, he knows he will be ultimately rescued from its power. Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify, and cleanse it, and present it to himself
, a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Now the object of his death will be accomplished in the perfect holiness of his people. No sinful act will ever mar their lovely characters,-no impure thought or affection disturb the serenity of their breasts. As Jesus is holy, so will they reflect the bright lustre of his face.
Christians will also resemble Christ in the fervent and unceasing affection of their hearts. The inhabitants of that blessed world will vie with each other in love toward the great Supreme, and one unbroken cord of attachment will bind together the vast fraternity of the redeemed, who will know no other feeling than that of pure and ardent affection.
They will also resemble their Divine Lord in happiness, glory, and immortality. No disappointment, sorrow or pain will cast a moment's shade upon the mind. With capacities enlarged for their exalted state, they will drink in satisfying streams from the exhaustless fountain of life and joy. Honor will be put upon them as the sons of God. With crowns of glory on their heads, palms of victory in their hands, and hallelujahs upon their lips, they will follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. His glory they will behold,-his praises celebrate day and night forever.
Í'he ground of this assimilation. We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Our likeness to Christ will result from our sight of him. Intercourse produces resemblance. We often see this illustrated in the intercourse of friends. Persons enjoying frequent intercourse and mutually attached will gradually acquire a conformity in sentiments, feelings, and habits. Their souls will come to possess oneness of feeling and character. Thus, too, the communion of Christians with their blessed Redeemer produces a correspondence in the principles, feelings, and thoughts of the soul. Even in this world this effect is partially apparent. The believer, by living near to Christ, beholding by faith his adorable charms, praying to him in secret, reading his word, and meditating upon his endearing worth,-rises by degrees towards the same excellence. “Beholding as in a glass the glory of God, they are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” But when the saints shall be exalted to the immediate presence of God; when at the revelation of Jesus Christ, they shall see him, not through a glass darkly but face to face, and maintain intimate and uninterrupted communion