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SERMON I X.
FUTURE STATE OF CHRISTIANŞ.
FUNERAL OF MRS. ESTHER WILDER, WIFE OF REV. JOHN WILDER, OF ATTLE
BOROUGH, WHO DIED JANUARY 19, 1811, IN HER 42ND YEAR.
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.- 1 Joan, iii. 2.
As the men of the world were ignorant of the true character of Christ, and treated him with disdain and contempt, so they have viewed and treated his faithful followers in the same manner ever since. But the Lord knoweth them that are his, and the time is coming when he will cause them to appear in all the beauties of holiness, and in the full enjoyment of an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The apostle, therefore, in this epistle, which he wrote for the consolation of christians in the present life, assures them that they are the objects of God's peculiar favor, and that he intends to distinguish them with he highest marks of his paternal affections. But he directs them to draw their present comfort from the hopes of a future and better state beyond the grave. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 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.” These words equally apply to the children of God in every age, and afford them the same ground of consolation under all the trials and afflictions which they are called to experience, while passing through this present evil world.
Agreeably to the letter and spirit of the text, I shall consider,
I. The character of the children of God.
II. What they do not know concerning themselves in a future state.
III. What they do know concerning themselves in that state.
I. We are to consider the character of the children of God. All the children of men are, in one sense, the children of God, and are called his offspring; but the apostle, in the text and preceding verse, is speaking of real christians, whom he means to distinguish from the rest of the world, by the endearing appellation of the sons of God. “ Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God," that is, in distinction from the world, who know us not. The primary ground upon which real christians are denominated the children of God, is the renovation of their hearts, by which they partake of the divine nature, and become transformed into the divine image. The apostle says in the last verse of the preceding chapter, “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” And in his gospel he says, “ Christ came to his own, but his own received him not. But 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." All men are naturally enemies to God, and will never feel and act like dutiful children towards him, until he renews their hearts, and gives them the spirit of adoption. And it is this filial spirit, which forms all the beautiful and amiable traits in the christian character.
1. It disposes the children of God to love him with an ardent and supreme affection. While they feel the spirit of adoption, they are ready to. cry, “Abba, Father,” and to say from the heart, “ Whom have we in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that we desire besides thee.'' As dutiful children love their parents more than any other of their earthly relatives or friends, so the children of God give him the supreme place in their affections. They love him more than father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter, or any other earthly or heavenly object. Being born of God, they experimentally know the supreme glory and moral excellence of their heavenly Father. “For love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. God is love: and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” In the exercise of a filial spirit, the children of God feel as he feels, and love him supremely for that pure, perfect, disinterested
love, which renders him infinitely worthy of the supreme affection of all his intelligent creatures.
2. This same filial spirit disposes them to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and to believe in him alone for salvation. Their love to the Father is inseparably connected with love to the Son. So our Saviour repeatedly said to the Jews: “ If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me." Again he said, " It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto me.” None will come to the Son for life, until they are taught of the Father that they deserve to die; but when they have learned of him that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, and that there is no other name than that of Christ under heaven given among men whereby they can be saved, they are prepared to feel their perishing need of his atonement for sin. And as soon as the love of the Father is shed abroad in their hearts, they will love his Son, and believe in him alone for pardon and salvation. All the children of God, therefore, are believers in Christ. They love and honor the Son as they love and honor the Father. They are united to the Son, as the branches are united to the vine, and as the members are united to the body. In a word, they are one with the Son, as he is one with the Father.
3. A filial spirit unites all the children of God to one another. The spirit of adoption is a spirit of union among all the household of faith. Those who love their heavenly Father love all his children, who bear his image and possess his spirit. Our Saviour makes mutual love among his followers the infallible mark of their sincerity. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” And he says again, “ This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” His beloved apostle John well remembered this precept, and would have his christian brethren remember it. “ This," says he," is the message that ye heard from the beginning, That we should love one another.” And again he says, “ This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." In the lively exercise of this truly christian spirit, he goes on to say, “ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. — Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. — If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? - Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God: And every one that
loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” " By this we know that we love the children of God.” Where can you find a family of children, who are cordially attached to their parents, that are not sincerely attached to each other, in mutual affection ? A filial spirit towards God is always a fraternal spirit towards the sons of God, and causes them to feel like David and Jonathan, who loved one another as their own souls.
4. A filial spirit is a spirit of grace and of supplication. It disposes the children of God to pray as Christ teaches them to pray, saying, “ Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” It sweetly constrains them to cry, Abba, Father: and, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to make known their requests unto him, who is able and ready to do more abundantly than they are able to ask or think. They feel a holy freedom and humble boldness in addressing the throne of grace, and in pleading, with fervency and importunity, for every temporal and spiritual blessing, which they need from day to day and from time to time. As dutiful children repair to their kind and tender parents to gratify their reasonable desires, so the children of God continually call upon him to give them every good and perfect gift, which he may see fit to bestow. I must add farthermore,
5. That a filial spirit towards God disposes his children to obey all his commands. Children, who love their parents, always take pleasure in obeying their will. Just so the children of God esteem his precepts concerning all things to be right, and find a pleasure in performing the duties which he has enjoined upon them. They delight to do his will, and his law is in their hearts. They mean to express their love to him in all the various ways which he has pointed out in his word, and to discharge every duty which they owe to him, to their fellow creatures, and to themselves. They mean to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. They live in the habitual practice of reading his word, keeping his Sabbath, attending public worship, and doing to all as they would that all should do them. Whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, they mean to do all to his glory. It is their sincere desire to be followers of God, as dear children; to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called; and to let their light so shine before men, that they may see their good works, and glorify their Father who is in heaven. Such are the genuine effects of a filial spirit, which forms the excellent character of the children of God. Let us next consider,
II. What they do not know concerning themselves in a future state. The apostle freely allows, that so long as they live in this world, they do not know what they shall be in another. « Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be." Though the chịldren of God know themselves to be such, yet they find something dark and inconceivable, in respect to their existence in the world of spirits. It doth not appear to them at present, what they shall be hereafter. God has been pleased to hide eternity from the view of all the living, by a thick and impenetrable covering. He challenged Job to discover what he had himself concealed upon this awful subject." Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?" The children of God are profoundly ignorant of some things respecting their future state. I will mention two or three particulars.
1. They are wholly unacquainted with the means by which they shall perceive either material or spiritual objects, after they have lost their bodily senses. Heaven is full of great and glorious objects. Christ is there, Enoch is there, and Elijah is there, clothed in material bodies. There is also an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect there. These holy and happy beings are undoubtedly visible to each other. But how they become visible to one another, it is utterly beyond our present power to conceive. They cannot discover each other intuitively, as God sees all his creatures in all parts of his vast dominions, at one clear, comprehensive view. There must be some medium of perception to all created spirits; but we can form no idea, in the present state, what that medium is, by which the unbodied spirits of the children of God discover the beings and objects of the invisible world.
2. It is no less dark and mysterious how they will converse with one another, and with the heavenly hosts, after they leave these mortal bodies. We may presume that all the inhabitants of heaven are able to communicate their thoughts, their views and feelings, to each other, in the most easy, clear and perfect manner. They have no occasion for the least reserve in laying open their minds, and expressing every affection of their perfectly holy and friendly hearts. And though there may be seasons of profound silence in heaven, yet we have good reason to believe that most of their time is delightfully employed in conversing upon the most glorious and important subjects. But it is altogether beyond our present power to conceive by what medium or language they hold a free and mutual intercourse. The difficulty increases, when we reflect upon the great diversity of languages in this world, and the various means