The Believers Dignity
James Smith, 1865
"Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! Therefore the world knows us not, because it knew Him not." 1 John 3:1
The apostle, being about to exhort the Lord's people to love one another, lays the foundation of his exhortation on the great and glorious privileges which they enjoyed. He had spoken of their Advocate with the Father, of the unction they had received from the Holy One, of their union to Jesus — and now he refers to their high and holy relationship to God. He speaks in the language of holy wonder and admiring gratitude. He would have them fix their eye upon it, and fill their minds with the fact, that they were the children of God. Mark,
First, the DIGNITY conferred upon them.They were called the sons of God; and called sons, because they were so. This dignity was conferred on them as sinners, worthless sinners, who had no excellence in them, no good flowing from them; as despised sinners, generally treated with contempt and disdain. It was wholly of grace — of free grace. Not caused by anything in them, or occasioned by anything expected from them — but of grace, and grace alone. It was for the Lord's glory, the glory of his great name, the glory of his infinite grace. It was that they might have a Father — a Father in whom they could confide, whom they could love, whom to obey would be a pleasure.
Adam by sin forfeited his life, and his whole family became orphans. God, of his free love, adopts us into his family, reveals Himself as our Father, and constitutes us his sons. As God is their Father, Jesus becomes their Brother, their elder Brother. The Brother born for their adversity. The Brother with whom they can hold fellowship, and who will raise the whole family from death, degradation, and misery.
Heaven becomes then home. That heaven where God resides in glory, unveils his face, and pours floods of happiness upon all the blessed inhabitants. O what dignity, to be the sons — not the slaves, not the servants, not merely the subjects — but the sons of God.
Secondly, the SOURCE from whence this dignity flows.His love. The Father's love. This love is FREE, not caused or called forth by anything in the creature — but flowing freely, spontaneously, out of the heart of God. He loves sinners, the vilest sinners — and loves them just because He pleases to love them.
This love is FRUITFUL. Like the river Ezekiel saw flowing from under the threshold of the sanctuary, wherever it comes, it gives life, beauty, and glory. All our present comforts, spiritual blessings, and eternal prospects — flow from this free and sovereign love of God. When it is shed abroad in the heart, it is fruitful there, and all the graces of the Holy Spirit appear. Like the tree of life in the New Jerusalem, it stands on both sides of the river, yields a variety of fruits, producing new fruits continually, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
This love is ETERNAL. In looking back, we can find no beginning; in looking forward, we can find no end. It is like the Divine Nature, "from everlasting to everlasting." It is the eternal God manifesting himself as a loving God; and of mere love conferring the greatest, and best blessings upon poor sinners in time and eternity. He began to bless — because He would; he continues to bless — because he delights in doing so; and so he will go on blessing, forever and ever. Blessed be God, that he ever loved sinners, that he now loves sinners, that whom he once loves, he loves forever! Blessed be God, that he has constituted the sinners he has loved — his own sons; and that he will treat them as his beloved children forever!
Thirdly, the CONDITION of God's favored ones.The world knows us not. The world may know their persons, residences, and some of their peculiarities; but they do not know them as so privileged, dignified, and distinguished. Worldly people have no idea that they are God's chosen sons, His beloved children, the bride of His only-begotten Son. They do not know them, because they do not know God. They know not His nature, which is love; nor his method of acting, which is just contrary to what the flesh and carnal reason would suppose. If He chooses, he does not choose the rich, the noble, the learned, the prudent, or the great — but He chooses the foolish things of the world, the weak things, the base things, the despised things, things that are considered as not worth a thought, by the wise and prudent of the earth. Having therefore called such His sons, the world cannot know them, for if they were to look for God's children, they would look for a different class of people, in altogether different circumstances.
They do not know them, for they did not know Jesus, whom they resemble. He was poor — so are the most of them. He was despised — so are they. He was rejected by men — and so are they. They could not believe, that a lad living in a carpenter's cottage at Nazareth, working at the carpenter's trade, and calling the carpenter's wife mother, was the Son of God. Nor can they believe that these poor, illiterate, despised, praying people, are the sons of God. "The world knows us not."
Fourthly, the apostle calls us to BEHOLD.To behold the stupendous fact — that such sinners as we are, should be called the sons of God. To fix the eye on it, to fill the thoughts with it — until we wonder, admire, and praise God for his mercy. To behold also the manner in which God loves. His love is so great — as great as infinity, as vast as eternity. His love is so peculiar — loving the unlovely; loving them when He knew the worst of them; loving thorn when his foes, and adopting them to be His sons. His love is unparalleled — no love like God's love. No love so pure, so perfect, so productive. O to be led into his heights, depths, lengths, and breadths! O to know this love which passes knowledge more fully!
First, every believer, be his age, station, or circumstances whatever they may — is constituted, called, and treated as a son of God. However tried, troubled, or tempted; still, God dwells with him as a son.
Second, the privileges of the sons of God are wholly unmerited. They are not conferred on them for good done by them, or excellencies found in them, or works expected from them; but are the free gifts of the purest grace.
Third, their dignity is unknown at present, even as Christ's was. But though now unknown, they will be manifested by-and-bye; for when Jesus comes, He says, "Then shall the righteous shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father!" Now like the sun — they may be obscured by the clouds of poverty, persecution, or distress; but then they will burst forth, and shine in all the beauties of holiness, in the splendor and glory of the sons of God. Now they are the Lord's hidden ones — but then they will be brought forth to the light, to behold His righteousness; and to shine to the praise of the glory of His grace forever and ever.
Let us then ascertain that we are numbered with them, that we are part of them, and then, however tried or troubled we may be, let us attend to the apostolic admonition for our comfort and God's honor, and with grateful hearts and admiring souls, "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."
But, if we are not sons of God! What a solemn supposition. If we are not sons of God — we are strangers to God; worse, we are enemies to God by wicked works. We are under His law. We are exposed to His wrath. But we are not entitled to the promises of His grace, nor may we hope to share in his glory. Our present condition is dangerous, for we are under condemnation; our future prospects are dreadful, for the sentence of condemnation must be executed — except we repent. Let us therefore examine into our state, and if there is a doubt about it, fly at once to Jesus, cast ourselves at His feet, appeal to His mercy, and persevere until He sends the Spirit of adoption into our hearts.