By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
Great and glorious is our theme when we speak of Christ.
He will occupy our thoughts forever! The preceding chapters have discussed
several weighty points. The pious reader will allow some brief remarks on
kindred topics in conclusion.
I. UNION with Christ.
The New Testament abounds with teachings respecting the union between Christ and believers. Our Lord himself dwelt much on it, especially near the close of his life. In his intercession he prays, "May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me." John 17:21-23. The union between Christ and believers is variously set forth in holy Scripture.
1. Inspired writers compare it to the union between the stones in an edifice and the foundation. By one of the prophets Jehovah says: "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief Corner-stone, elect, precious; and he who believes on him shall not be confounded." The apostle of the circumcision takes up the figure, and refers it to Christ: "As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone." 1 Peter 2:4-7. The apostle of the Gentiles employs like language: "You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone, in whom all the building, fitly framed together, grows unto a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Believers rest their whole weight on Christ. This foundation can never fail. The conflagration of the last day shall not disturb the Rock on which they rest. It shall stand forever. They are not dead, but living stones, and are a habitation of God through the Spirit.
2. Union with Christ is compared to the union of the members in the human body. "You are the body of Christ, and members in particular. . . . For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." Let not the hand say to the foot, "I have no need of you;" nor the eye to the hand, "I have no need of you." Christ is the head of the body, the church. So she is sure of his sympathy. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; neither did Christ ever hate one of his own members. He regarded the cruelties of Saul of Tarsus as directed against himself. He loved his church of old; he loved her unto death; he loves her still; he shall love her forever!
3. Christ is the Husband of his church, and she is his spouse, his love, his dove, his undefiled one. "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. . . . Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." No husband ever loved his wife as Christ loved the church. His love is infinite, eternal, unchangeable. Feeble as she may be, she comes up safely "from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved."
4. Union with Christ is sometimes compared to theunion of the branches with the stock. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:1-5. Thus believers get sap and nourishment and fruitfulness from Christ, and from Christ alone. In the same connection, the Savior says: "apart from me you can do nothing." No wonder that the branch severed from the trunk withers and dies.
By this union with Christ his people enjoy all spiritual blessings. In particular, they have pardon by his blood, acceptance by his righteousness, renewal by his Spirit, increase of grace, divine sympathy in their sorrows, victory in temptation, support in death, a glorious resurrection, a public acquittal in the day of judgment, and everlasting life. Severed from Christ, no man is strong, or wise, or righteous, or holy, or safe. United to Christ, all that is included in a great salvation belongs to the believer.
So that the real child of God ought not to faint, nor be discouraged. He may have the same temptations and afflictions as his Lord; but "if we suffer, we shall also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us." Therefore, "if any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf."
Thus also the feeblest child of God shall be tenderly beloved and cared for. The weak in faith shall be held up, for God is able to make him stand.
If these things are so, it is not amazing that God's
people have so fervent love one to another. Their union among themselves
arises from their union with Christ. The closer they are drawn to him, the
nearer they are to one another.
II. ADMIRATION of Christ.
The people of God do greatly admire and wonder at the excellence and glory of Christ. In proportion to their faith, they delight in thinking of his all-sufficiency, and are carried away with their pious thoughts, their souls being made like the chariots of Amminadib. This shall be a part of their employment in the last day—and forever.
When Christ shall come to be glorified in his saints, he shall also come to be admired all those who believe. Even in this world, the people of God often forget their trials along the way, and are lost in admiration of Christ. When a young man, for seventeen days I watched by the dying-bed of a dear Christian friend. Shortly before his death, thinking of the Redeemer, he wrote: "What Christian has not sometimes given expression to the feelings of his heart in some such language as this: 'WHAT A SAVIOR!' That there should be to us, lost and ruined sinners, any Savior, is marvelous mercy, is worthy of our highest admiration; but that there should be to us such a Savior, is still more astonishing. I have thought that we might have had a Savior, who would have been able to save us, and would have actually saved many, and yet not have been such a Savior. Less tender, less condescending, less forbearing, I have thought, he might have been, and yet have been a Savior. It seems as if Jesus had said more kind things and done more kind acts than were absolutely necessary to have been said and done by him. Need he have made that apology for his disciples, who could sleep when he was in his agony—'the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak?' I wonder how they could have slept in such an hour; but I wonder more at the apology their Master made for them. Need he have uttered that prayer on the cross, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do?' We do not expect such things from the innocent one, when dying by the hand of violence. If he had maintained silence during these hours of inconceivable anguish, we would have been satisfied. But Oh, think of his forgetting himself, and when they were deriding, and in every way insulting him, hear him meekly addressing his Father on their behalf, asking him to forgive them, and pleading for them, that they knew not what they did. It was not necessary that he should have paid any visible attention to the supplication of the thief. It would not have been expected of him. But that he would have turned his head, and looked such forgiveness and love while he said, 'Today shall you be with me in paradise,' is a strange mystery of love. O what a Savior! Why, he knows from experience what pain is; he has had the trials I have; he has been through the valley of tears; he knows how I am tried; he remembers how he was tried. He wept—even over the very city and people whose soil and hands were about to be stained with his blood. I wonder I love him so little; I wonder he is not more precious to me; I wonder any should be offended at him. How can he appear a root out of a dry ground? Why don't all see his form and loveliness?"
Such admiration of the Savior naturally leads to—
III. The IMITATION of Christ.
It is with great authority over the conscience that the Scripture says: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus;" and "Consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds." Christ's example shows us what the Christian graces are, and how far they are to be carried. It is sometimes said that there is a point beyond which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. If there be such a point, surely it would have been reached in the life of Christ. But where is it? He has left us an example that we should follow his steps. True Christians love to sing:
"Such was your truth, and such your zeal,
"O be my pattern; make me bear
That this is not overstraining the matter is evident from Scripture. John says that every one who hopes to see Jesus as he is, purifies himself even as He is pure. 1 John 3:3. Paul says: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." Gal. 2:20. It is therefore a great fault in professors of religion that they do not more earnestly strive to imitate Christ in love, and gentleness, in tenderness of heart, in submission to the will of God, in zeal for the divine glory, in self-abnegation, in silence under unjust reproaches, and in all his imitable virtues. The highest honor we can render to the Lord Jesus is honestly and earnestly to pray and labor to be like him.
Of course nothing distresses the people of God so much as to find themselves full of imperfection, even after they have long been followers of the Lamb. They still daily cry: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
Philip Henry says: "If my prayers were written down, and my vain thoughts interlined, what incoherent nonsense would there be! I am ashamed, Lord, I am ashamed! Oh pity and pardon! These following sins were sent home with power upon my conscience:
1. Omissions innumerable. I fall short of duty in every relation.
2. Much selfishness upon every occasion, which fills my way with thorns and snares.
3. Pride; a vein of it runs through all my conversation.
4. Self-seeking; corrupt ends in all I do. Applause of men often regarded more than the glory of God.
5. My own iniquity. Many bubblings up of heart-corruption, and breakings forth too. O Lord, shame has covered my face."
Indeed, the most godly men weep day and night over their unbelief, hardness of heart, pride, vanity, ingratitude, discontent, self-will, self-righteousness, irritability, envy, censoriousness, carnal security, spiritual deadness, lack of fervor, and other sins and short-comings.
This has been the case with men of every age. Job says, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." David cries, "My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me." Isaiah said, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." Peter "fell down at Jesus' knees, saying—Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
The bitterest cry ever heard on earth was that of the Savior on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Next to this in bitterness was the cry of Paul: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The body of this death is a Hebrew form of expression, signifying this dead body. The language is supposed by some to have been derived from the mode of punishing murderers adopted by certain ancient tribes, who fastened the several parts of the body of the murdered to the corresponding parts of the murderer, then confining his hands so that he could not effect his own release. In his distress, the poor criminal would cry, "Who shall deliver me from this dead body? Oh that I had some relief. Will no one help me?"
So Paul cried for deliverance. He loathed sin. He hated nothing so much. Whenever he contemplated it, it filled him with terror and detestation. He consented to the law that it was good: yes, he delighted in the law of God after the inward man. With his mind he served the law of God. He loved holiness, yet so annoyed was he by indwelling sin, and so violent were its assaults upon him, that he pronounces himself carnal, sold under sin. The contest was dreadful, the war fearful. Nothing was to him so offensive as his own corruptions. In the jail at Philippi, his flesh torn with the scourges, his feet fast in the stocks, surrounded by the gloom of midnight, he prayed, and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard him. "I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm." 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.
Yet of all these he said, "None of these things move me."
But when sin pierces him he cries, "O wretched man that I am!" O, it is a
good sign to mourn for sin, and to long for holiness. How sweet heaven will
be to all weary pilgrims. There we shall be forever done with temptation.
There we shall never, never sin. There we shall be like Jesus, for we shall
see him as he is. Even now a view of him by faith has a transforming power,
as Paul teaches: "We with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of
the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by
the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Cor. 3:18. And Paul himself follows his cry with
the triumphant shout: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
IV. GLORIFYING Christ.
If the views previously presented are correct, then it is true that all the saints do greatly desire to put the highest honor upon Christ—they glorify him. In receiving honor from his people, Christ and the Father are not separated. When we in heart honor one person of the Godhead, we virtually honor all. And it is the will of God that "all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father." John 5:23. How full the Scriptures are of this matter, the pious reader will easily remember.
This truth is often and delightfully illustrated in the Life of David Brainerd. Under date of November 22, 1744, he writes: "Came on my way from Rockciticus to the Delaware. Was very much disordered with a cold and pain in my head. About six at night I lost my way in the wilderness, and wandered over rocks and mountains, down hideous steeps, through swamps, and most dreadful and dangerous places; and the night being dark, so that few stars could be seen, I was greatly exposed. I was much pinched with cold, and distressed with an extreme pain in my head, attended with sickness at my stomach, so that every step I took was distressing to me. I had little hope for several hours together, but that I must lie out in the woods all night in this distressed case. But about nine o'clock I found a house through the abundant goodness of God, and was kindly received. Thus I have frequently been exposed, and sometimes lain out the whole night; but God has hitherto preserved me, and blessed be his name. Such fatigues and hardships as these serve to wean me from the earth; and, I trust, will make heaven the sweeter. Formerly when I was thus exposed to cold, rain, etc., I was ready to please myself with the thoughts of enjoying a comfortable house, warm fire, and other outward comforts; but now these have less place in my heart, through the grace of God, and my eye is more to God for comfort. In this world I expect tribulation; and it does not now, as formerly, appear strange to me. I do not in such seasons of difficulty flatter myself that it will be better hereafter; but rather think how much worse it might be, how much greater trials other of God's children have endured, and how much greater are yet perhaps reserved for me. Blessed be God, that he makes the thought of my journey's end and of my dissolution a great comfort to me under my sharpest trials, and scarcely ever lets these thoughts be attended with terror or melancholy; but they are attended frequently with great joy."
The secret of this remarkable calmness and heroism is elsewhere clearly expressed by the pious sufferer. Under date of July 26, 1747, he says: "This day I saw clearly that I would never be happy—yes, that God himself could not make me happy—unless I could be in a capacity to please and glorify him forever." Again, September 19th, of the same year: "Oh how I longed that God should be glorified on earth! . . . Bodily pains I cared not for; though I was then in extremity, I never felt easier. I felt willing to glorify God in that state of bodily distress, as long as he pleased I should continue in it." Again, September 27th, of the same year, he says: "I am almost in eternity. I long to be there. My work is done; I am done with all my friends; all the world is nothing to me. I long to be in heaven, praising and glorifying God with the holy angels. All my desire is to glorify God." The last recorded words taken from his lips are, "I shall soon glorify God with the angels."
Thus felt also inspired men of old: "I will glorify your
name for evermore." Psalm 86:12. Thus the prophet enjoined: "Glorify the
Lord in the fires." Isaiah 24:15. Thus the Savior taught: "Let your light so
shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father
who is in heaven." Matt. 5:16. The sickness of Lazarus was "not unto death,
but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby."
John 11:4. Christ and the Father are one. Whoever glorifies the Father,
glorifies the Son; and whoever glorifies the Son, glorifies the Father.
V. REIGNING with Christ.
Many saints have left the world crying, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly." The Master had come, and was calling for them. The last words of Robert Bruce were: "Now God be with you, my children; I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night!" Grimshaw said: "I shall have my greatest grief and my greatest joy when I die. My greatest grief, that l have done so little for Christ; my greatest joy, that Christ has done so much for me!" Felix Neff's last words were: "Victory! victory! victory! by Jesus Christ!" Dr. Marshman's were: "Can you think of anything I am yet to do for the kingdom of Christ?" Dr. W. J. Hoge: "I could tell of Jonathan Edwards, and of many wonderful authors and poets, but they are all comparatively low down. Christ! Christ! O the glory of Christ!"
Though Christ's people know their Lord—the best is that they are known of him.
It was probably a part of a hymn in use in the primitive church, and is certainly a part of Scripture: "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him." 2 Tim. 2:12. More than half a century after our Lord's ascension to glory, he sends to the angel of the church at Laodicea this message: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." Rev. 3:21. Doddridge's paraphrase of this promise is: "For your further encouragement, hear the last promise which I make to all who exert themselves in that holy warfare to which I am calling you, with becoming vigor and resolution. As for the valiant conqueror, I will give him to sit down with me upon my glorious and exalted throne in the heavenly world; as I also myself have conquered the enemies which violently assaulted me in the days of my flesh, and am set down with my Father upon his throne; my faithful servants shall partake with me of this honor in the great day of my appearing, and shall live and reign with me forever."
Poole explains the promise thus: "I will give him great honor, dignity, and power; he shall judge the world in the day of judgment, 1 Cor. 6:3; he shall be made partaker of my glory, John 17:22, 24. But such must come to my throne as I came to it. I overcame the world, sin, death, the devil—and then ascended, and sat down with my Father in his throne: so those who will sit down with me in my throne of glory must fight the same fight, and overcome, and then be crowned."
What is meant by this glorious promise is, and must
remain, very much a secret, until we go and see for ourselves, and by a
blessed experience find out what it is to enter into the joy of the Lord.
Even Paul, who had often been enrapt in visions of the third heavens, could
tell us no more than this: "I heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful
for a man to utter." The ancient artist drew Helen with a veil over her
face, thus confessing that to paint her was impossible. It is far more
impossible for us to picture the glories of the celestial state. We must
wait until we behold it with our eyes. Then we shall say, "The half was not
"On wings of faith mount up, my soul, and rise;