Christians, and Their Communion with God
“Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O LORD, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul in to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early.” — Isaiah xxvi. 8, 9.
IT is something when a man truly knows that there is a God. Behind the doubt of the existence of God, many men shield themselves, and permit themselves to indulge in iniquities of which they might be ashamed if they did not make a cloak of their atheism. I would have no man live doubting the existence of God; such a doubt cannot help him to live better, it may cause him to live much worse.
It is a great deal more, however, when men so think of God as to fear him. We say concerning criminals, — it is customary to say in legal terms, — “not having the fear of God before their eyes.” There is a fear of God which, though it be a spirit of bondage, is, nevertheless, salutary, and works well for the common weal. There are men, doubtless, who are restrained from excess of iniquity by the belief that God has judgments by which he can overthrow them, and that at the end they will have to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. It will be a sad day for this world when that fear ceases to operate upon men.
But, beloved, it is something infinitely higher, and pertaining to quite a different sphere, when we come truly to know God, when we have not merely a belief in his existence, but a distinct consciousness and realization of it, when we can speak of God, not as of some personage far away, but as of one with whom we are intimately acquainted, one who has been a friend to us, one who has even communed with us as a man talks with his friend. Some of you cannot possibly reach to that point as you are, for God is a Spirit, and only spiritual men can discern him; and as yet you are not partakers of the Spirit of God. Some of you here present are still carnally minded, and the carnal mind cannot perceive spiritual things; least of all can it perceive that highest spiritual object, the ever-blessed God. “Ye must be born again,” for “except a man be born again (from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We may set it out before your eyes in glorious light; but it is not light that the blind man needs, it is eyes; and eyes must be given to you who are spiritually blind if you are ever to see God. There is One who has come on purpose to open the eyes of the blind; and if your eyes are opened by him, then shall you see God, and begin truly to know him. This spiritual vision makes a grave distinction between those who know God and those who do not know him; and it is produced by a wondrous change called regeneration, in which darkness passes away, and the true light dawns upon the spirit.
I. Now, coming to our text, I shall have to say, first, that THERE IS, IN THE PEOPLE OF GOD, A PRINCIPLE OF COMMUNION WITH GOD.
For, first, this is where their spiritual life begins. “I will arise and go to my father,” was the token that the prodigal was really restored in heart. When he cleansed himself, and touched himself up, and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and began to work instead of wasting his substance in riotous living, it was a considerable improvement. It is always a good thing for a man to work rather than to waste his time in the indulgence of his vices; but he had not then begun to live spiritually. It was when he remembered his father, and the cry of his spirit was, “I will arise and go to my father,” that the gracious work was begun in his soul. Beloved, if any of you are seeking after righteousness by your own works, or by your prayers, I do not know that this is a token of a new life. It may be that you are even in the dark seeking after God if haply you may find him there; but when there rises in your spirit this thought, “I must find God, I must come to God, I must confess my sin unto the Lord, I must lay myself at the Lord’s feet, I must meet with him,” then we hope the best things of you. So long as you are content with ministers, and priests, and sacraments, and books, and prayers, and all that you can do, you are satisfied with the mere shell; but when there wakens in your spirit this desire, “It is God whom I have offended; unto God will I make my confession: it is from God that I need pardon; oh, that I knew where I might find him; I would come even to his seat;” when there is formed within your spirit this resolve, “I will seek the Lord’s face until he turns to me in love, and accepts me as his child,” — then it is that spiritual life begins. Your first true dealings with God, after a spiritual fashion, are infinitely more important than all the outward forms of religion, whatever they may be. I am not judging one form more than another; but, if you are content with the externals, and do not come to the internals, if you do not come to close grips with God, and humble yourself before him, you know not as yet what spiritual life really means. This, then, is where spiritual life begins, with coming into communion with God.
And, beloved, this is where the life of the real Christian grows and makes advances. We behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and that gives us hope, that gives us peace, that gives us rest, and in proportion as we know more of God, as he reveals himself in the person of his dear Son, our graces grow. Faith has for its meat and its drink the knowledge of God. Knowing him, and his exceeding great and precious promises, we come to rest in him more fully. Ignorance is the enemy of faith; but a knowledge of God greatly strengthens and increases our confidence in him. You do not grow in grace, my brethren, by listening to fine oratory, even though it he of a sacred kind. The real growth comes to you when God the Holy Ghost himself dwells with you. It is not when you have been so many minutes on your knees, or have read so many chapters in the Bible, that you necessarily grow; but it is when you have spoken with God, and God has spoken with you, when he who is the Alpha of your spiritual life is all the letters of it right up to the Omega. He hath wrought all our works in us, and without him we can do nothing. He is the truly strong man who lives near to God. That man can do anything who throws himself back on the all-sufficiency of the Most High. Best upon yourself, or trust in anything below the stars, and you will dwindle and decay; but rest in God, and come into close contact with the Divine Invisible, let your rock and refuge be his throne, and you will go from strength to strength by the power of God the Holy Ghost that shall dwell in you.
Next, beloved friends, it becomes to the believer the tenor of his life to please God. That is a beautiful testimony that is borne concerning Enoch: “Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” There are many who have not yet even thought of doing such a thing as this, and there are some who may have thought of it who perhaps have not yet attained to it; but what a blessed thing it is for a man to be brought so to trust in the Lord Jesus, and so to seek the glory of the Saviour, and so to yield his will to God’s will, and so to feel that God is his all and in all, that he comes to please God! You know what it is to be pleased with your child, and pleased with what he has done. It is not perfect; from your standpoint you can see many imperfections, but still it is most acceptable as coming from your child. He has done it with all his heart, and you are well pleased with him. Well now, that should be the tenor, and it is the tenor of the life of every man who has really been renewed in the spirit of his mind by the work of the Spirit of God. Jesus could truly say of his Lather, “I do always those things that please him;” and in proportion as we grow like to Jesus, this becomes a true description of our lives, they are well pleasing unto God. What a contrast there is between the man who pleases God and the ungodly man! The ungodly man does what pleases himself, or what pleases his wife, or what will please his neighbours; but the Christian man, although he is willing to please his neighbour for his good to edification, yet aims first at this mark, not to please men, but to please God. This makes his life altogether different from the life of the man who has not God in all his thoughts.
Again, beloved, this principle of communion with God becomes the very flower of our lives. When are we happiest? There is no room for question here; every believer knows that he is happiest when nearest to his God. I hope that, for the most part, we enjoy such full communion with God that our peace is like a river; but there are times of great tidal waves of fellowship when we get nearer to God than at other seasons. We have our Tabors and our transfiguration glories; we can sometimes say, “Whether in the body, or out of the body, we cannot tell: God knoweth;” and we ourselves then know nothing else but God, we seem wrapped up in him. I am not speaking of any mysticism, although it does happen that among the mystical writers this experience is most often spoken of; but this is a joy which belongs to all believers when they enter into the secret place of the Most High, and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The Christian man is not at his best when he is healthiest, or when he is wealthiest, or when he has been most successful, or when he has had the praise of men; but this is the day in which the flower of his life has come to the climax of its beauty, and pours out its sweetest perfumes, now is his life, life indeed, now that he is drinking in that lovingkindness of God which is better even than life itself. See, then, as the worldling finds his highest enjoyment here or there, the Christian finds the summit of his joy in fellowship with his God.
I must not leave this point till I have said one other thing about this principle of communion with God, this is the hunger and this is the thirst of the Christian. “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” To get near to God is the great passion of our spirit. To accomplish this to the full, we would beard grim death in his den. Ay, sometimes, we could almost use the extravagant language of Rutherford, when he declared that, if God were on the other side, to get at him he would swim through seven hells, for nothing can keep back the impetuosity of a heart that is all aflame with love to God, and feels that all its heaven lies in communion with him.
Well now, dear friends, if you and I are conscious that this is true, that there is in us a principle of fellowship with God, thou notice that this proves that there has been a divine renewal wrought in tis. It was not so once; alas, it was very much otherwise! If news could have been truly proclaimed that God was dead, some of you would have been very happy to hear it, for you would have been no more worried with thoughts of eternity and of the day of judgment. But now, what an awful thing it would be for you if, even for a moment, you indulged the thought that there was no God! Why, you would have lost everything! All joy would have vanished from you in an instant if God were not real to you. Then what a change is this, a radical change, one which could only have been wrought by supernatural power, as great a change as when the dead rise from their corruption, and come forth into newness of life!
This proves your sonship, too, for no man cries after God, and longs for fellowship with him, except it be upon the principle of “Abba, Father.” Slaves do not crave the presence of their masters; it is sons who long to be with their father. You are a true son of the Highest if you hunger and thirst after God.
This proves your holiness, too, in a measure, for like will to like; and if your heart pants after God, you have been made a partaker of the divine nature so far at least that you are now striving after holiness, or else I am sure you would not be seeking after God. Unholy hearts feel a repulsion to the holy God, and seek to fly from him; but the holy soul longs for communion with the holy God. That is a clear proof that you have had implanted within you a spiritual nature. There is within you now a new heart and a right spirit. You have passed into the higher life, you have become a spiritual else you would not long for this spiritual God.
This prates your heavenliness, too, for that same desire which draws What is heaven but to be man; you to God is drawing you to heaven, with God? And he who now is drawing you with cords of a man, and with bands of love, to his own glorious self, is by that very process drawing you towards the place where he reveals his face; and he is also making you fit for that beatific vision which shall be your everlasting felicity.
II. Now, secondly, — and I must be brief on many points here, — THIS PRINCIPLE DISPLAYS ITSELF AND WORKS IN VARIOUS WAYS.
Begin the text: “Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee.” We are longing for God, and it is dark and Instead of cloudy; what shall we do then? Why, wait for him. impatiently complaining of his providential dispensations, which would be flying off at a tangent from him, we stand still that we may see the salvation of God. We have come to our Red Sea, and we can go no farther, and now our love to God, our fellowship with him, makes us just abide where we are until he says, “Go forward,” and then we march through the sea dry-shod. Waiting is often a very heavenly experience. You will find it a difficult thing to do if you doubt. He that doubts, hurries and worries; but he that believeth does not make haste through cowardly fear, lie waits, and sings to himself, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” This waiting is expectation; it means, “I cannot see the way out of this difficulty; but I shall see it. I do not yet perceive God’s plan for my deliverance; but I shall be delivered. I do not know how broad shall be given me; but I shall have it even if God has to send ravens with it, or to rend heaven itself in twain. I shall have his promises fulfilled, and I will wait his time.” This patient waiting upon God is one of the blessed displays of a spirit that is at perfect peace with God, and longs to keep in fellowship with him.
“Yea,” says the text, “in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee.” Sometimes, the way of God’s judgments may mean the appointed way, the regular way. I believe that God’s people love prayer because it is one of the ways in which God meets with them. You love the house of prayer, and the hearing of the gospel, because it is in the sanctuary and in the preaching of the gospel that God has often met with you. We have had many happy Sabbath days here; and on these little Sabbaths in the middle of the week, as I often call our Thursday night services, the Lord has manifested himself to us as he does not unto the world, and we have waited for him expecting to meet him in his house. These believers waited upon God until the ordained time for deliverance from his judgments. Perhaps the husband or the child was dead; or, possibly, the judgments were of another kind. Famine desolated the land; the water in the brooks was dried up; enemies were all over the country ravaging with their sword and their bow; blood flowed freely, and then God’s servants waited for God. They expected that he would come at such a time of need, and display himself in some unusual manner. My brother, my sister, whenever thou hast a great trouble, expect a great mercy. You will find it the path of wisdom when you have a great joy to be afraid; but when you have a great sorrow, then have a high anticipation of blessing. That big wave is washing up some jewel that lay deep down at the bottom of the sea; it would never have come to thy feet if it had not been for the storm that washed it where thou canst now find it.
Sometimes, the Lord comes with spiritual judgments to his people; he blights and blasts and withers all their hopes, and they are ready to despair. Yet they must not despair; but each one must say, “Lord, show me wherefore thou contendest with me. Now come in and deal with me in mercy. When thou hast stripped me, when thou hast scourged me, ay, when thou hast slain me, then come and fulfil thy word, ‘Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.’” Beloved, see what it is to wait upon God in his judgments. You know how hypocrites do; they wait upon God, cap in hand, while his service pays them; but as soon as ever the Lord begins to try them, or somebody laughs at them, or their religion seems to injure their business, then good-bye to religion. But they are the true men who can truthfully say, “In the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee.” You can tell a good dog when you see him follow his master. Though somebody who wants to steal him offers him a dainty bit, he will have nothing to do with him, but he will keep close to his master’s heel; and the true believer follows God when he seems to get nothing by it, and when he appears to be a loser by it. He loves not God with a cupboard love, for what he gets from him in this world; but with a child’s love, which says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” So, you see, this communion with God leads to waiting for him.
Sometimes, we do not seem as if we could get quite so far as that, and then this communion leads to desiring: “The desire of our soul is to thy name.” We want to know the character of God which is set forth in his name; we love that character; we desire to have it, and to reflect it in our own lives. Our desire is to God’s name, which signifies not only his character, but his honour and his glory. We desire to see him glorified. Our heart is glad when Christ is glorified, and our spirit is sad when his name is dishonoured.
Surely, this name means the Word of God, for the Word of God is God’s name written large, and we have a desire towards God’s Word. O beloved, the longer one lives upon God’s Word, the more he feels that he cannot endure anything which is other than God’s Word! There is a great difference between the largest words of men and the very smallest words of God, if such there be. I have heard of a certain divine, who preached a sermon, and afterwards asked an aged man what he thought of it; this was a very foolish thing for him to do. The old man answered, “Well, I have not much to say.” “But,” enquired the minister, “did you not think that there were capital divisions and wonderful distinctions in the sermon?” He said, “Yes; but there was one distinction you seemed to me to forget in your sermon.” “What was that?” “The distinction between meat and bone; you gave us a large quantity of bone, but I did not perceive that I had any meat, and there is a wonderful distinction there.” When a man once gets to feed upon the Word of God, all the rest is bones, and he lets the dogs have them; but as for himself, he wants spiritual meat, and he must have that. Cannot many of you say that you desire to know the character of God, and to reflect it; that you desire to spread the glory of God; and that you desire to feed upon the Word of God? Your desire is to his name.
And, once more, your desire is to remember the Lord: “and to the remembrance of thee.” I wish that I had a memory that was so narrow that it could only hold the things of God. Do you not sometimes find that, if you hear a bad thing, it sticks in your memory? Oh, what an abominable memory that is, which lays hold of all the draff of Sodom, and cannot get rid of it, while the timbers that come floating down from Lebanon are often allowed to go by! But our desire is to the remembrance of God; I am sure that it is. Oh, that I did always remember him, when I wake and until I sleep, and in my dreams still remember him, and if I wake in the night be still with him! This is what we want. Our fellowship with God is such that, if we do not always remember him, yet still our desire is towards the remembrance of him, and we desire to see repeated what we remember of him. If he has drawn us a thousand times, we desire that he would draw us yet again; and for the great world and the one Church of Christ in it, our cry is, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?” Our desire is that we might see him again as we have seen him in the sanctuary, and see him as his goings were of old when he showed himself mighty in the deliverance of his people. I, for one, can say that my soul desireth this beyond everything. Oh, that he would do again what he did in our fathers’ days! He can do it, and he will. This is the desire of his people. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, we beseech thee.
Then, again, observe that this principle of communion shows itself in a personal yearning. Did you notice, as we read the chapter, that the eighth verse is in the plural, and the ninth verse is in the singular? “You, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night.” O brethren, this lonely, personal desire of the believer after God, is another form of fellowship with him. Sometimes, we feel as if we were in the darkness of night, all alone; there is nobody to speak with us, or to speak for us. Then what a blessing it is if we can say, “With my soul have I desired thee in the night”! Then have I wanted no other candle for my darkened chamber, no other sun to make my day, but my Lord and his sweet presence. I will not dwell on this experience, because I think that many of you can say that it is so with you also. It has been very dark with you; you have had a world of inward trouble, but still, above it all, there has been this desire after God, for you could not do without him. You have said concerning your choicest earthly comforts, —
“If thou shouldst take them all away,
Yet would I not repine.”
“If thou, my God, wilt but come to me, let them all go, for I have all I want when I have thee.”
This principle of communion takes one other form, that of personal seeking: “Yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early; — seek thee with my spirit, not with lip-service or head-service, but with heart-service, with my spirit within me.” There is a great deal to be done indoors, brethren, and there are some who are so busy outside that they do not attend to anything inside; but it is a blessed thing when the soul in its inward parts is all alive in seeking after God: “With my spirit within me will I seek thee.” And notice that it is, “I will seek thee early. I will be out betimes, I will waste not a moment, I will not delay; I will seek thee, and I will seek thee now.”
I have a wish springing up in my heart that some here present would begin to seek the Lord now; but if any of you have sought him, and have known him, and you have lost communion with him, seek the renewal of that communion at once. Do not think that it will take weeks for you to get back where you once were. Conversion may take place in a second of time, and so may restoration. It is not always so; it may be a long process, but it is sometimes very speedy: “Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib.” I think that some of us have known what it is to feel as dull and stupid as a silly sheep; but while we have been in the house of God, or while we have been alone, suddenly the Spirit of the Lord has visited us, and we have taken the wings of eagles, and have been up and away, and wondered what had happened to us, for we had been turned from a deadly state into one of life and vigour. Listen to this text, and see how short a business this heart-reviving is. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” What is wanted? “If any man hear my voice, and open the door.” It does not take long to open a door, does it? Yet that is all Christ asks of us. He does not say, “If anybody sweeps the house, and gets the supper ready, I will come and partake of it.” No; but, “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Dear heart, thou knowest thy Lord, thou knowest his voice, and the very sound of his fingers on the door. Open to him; say, “Come in, my Lord. If I have kept thee out, my Dearly-beloved, if I have kept thee out till thy head is wet with dew, and thy locks with the drops of the night, I beg ten thousand pardons of thee. Come in, I beseech thee, and sup with me, that I also may sup with thee.” It can soon be done, and I pray that it may be. At any rate, this is how God’s child often has to cry: “Come to me, Lord. With my spirit within me will I seek thee early.”
Perhaps, somebody says, “Well, I have been praying the Lord to come to me, but I have not at once had his company.” How did you expect him to come? “I thought I should be made glad,” you say. Yes, but the Lord sometimes comes to his people, and humbles them; and when your soul is humbled in the dust, it may be certain that the Lord is with you, quite as certain as if you were full of joy. Sometimes, he comes to us with the spirit of chastisement and rebuke. Well, do not pick and choose, so long as he comes. Seek him early, for he comes for your good, and he will come and bless you.
III. I was to have said, thirdly, that THE LORD TAKES PLEASURE IN THIS COMMUNION WITH HIS PEOPLE; but I must not detain you.
I will just point out that the last verse but one in this chapter shows how the Lord loves the fellowship of his people. He invites them to commune with him: “Come, my people.” He points out the way to fellowship: “Enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors abort thee.” That is, get alone with thy God. Then he provides for this communion; Christ is our hiding-place, and he himself comes to meet us: “Come my people.” I invite you, beloved, tonight if you can, or as soon as ever you can, to have a special season given up to nothing else but fellowship with God, that you may now begin again a fellowship which afterwards shall not easily be broken. Pray. If you feel that you cannot pray, road. Let God speak to you. Get into conversation with him, somehow; a conversation, you know, needs two to engage in it. Hear what God says to you, read a passage from His Word; and then pray. If you find you cannot pray, praise; say something to him, and then read again, and let him speak to you; but come not away until he has spoken to you, and you have very distinctly spoken with him. Let this be the burden of your prayer, “Lord, I want to come to thee; I want, through Jesus Christ, my Mediator, to have fellowship with thee, and to abide in him in nearness to thee.” May the Lord help you in this matter, for truly there is no life like it!
I wish that I could invite all here present to such a life as that, but there is, as I have told you before, the previous step. There must be the now birth; there must be faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the gospel which we have continually to preach to you, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;” and then thou shalt know that there is a God, then thou shalt have fellowship with God, and then thy life shall be, in its measure, like the life of those in heaven who behold the Lord’s face, and serve him day and night in his temple.
May the Lord bless these words to all of us, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.