By Rev. Asa Mahan
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SPIRIT
The Apostle John is the only Scripture writer whose writings have an avowed reference to his own personal observation and experience. Of Christ he speaks so far only as he hath himself "seen, and heard, and handled, of the Word of life." Of no forms of truth does he speak but of those only which he has personally "known and believed." He speaks of no degree or form of spiritual attainment or experience but such as have been fully realized in the interior of his own mind: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you."
The range over which the experience of the apostle conducts us is a very wide one. It commences with that simple form of faith which results from "seeing, hearing, and handling" Christ, as "God manifest in the flesh," and terminating in that anointing of the Spirit in which "love is made perfect," "fear is cast out," "joy is full," and "the soul's fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
In laying before us his own experience as a believer in Christ, the apostle had in view a fourfold end(1) that we may have, and "know that we have, eternal life;" (2) that our love, with his, "may be made perfect;" (3) that with him we may "walk in the light, as God is in the light;" and (4) that, as a final consequence, "our joy may be full." This fullness of joy all flows out of the state towards which real Christian experience, in all its forms, is tending, and in which it finds its ultimate consummation, viz., "friendship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." By sin man has lost this infinite good, and the object of the whole plan of redemption is to recover fallen humanity to this one relation to the infinite and eternal mind; and this plan is fully consummated only when God thus becomes the everlasting light of the soul. This brings us to the special object of the present chapter, which is to elucidate the great truth represented by the words, "Fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ," together with the kindred topics which circle round it.
We inquire, in the first place, what is the idea represented by the term "Fellowship?" Evidently, a far higher meaning is intended than mere companionship, the existence of two or more minds in the same locality, or the interchange of thought between such minds; or partnership, that is, co-operation for the promotion of common ends, and the participation of common interests, or, indeed, any form of mere external connection. All this, and far more, is signified by this term. Two minds may be connected in the most endearing external relations, as husband and wife, for example; they may often interchange thoughts with each other; they may even co-operate together for common ends, and mutually partake of common interests. Yet they may never, in the true and proper sense of the term, have fellowship one with the other. While thus related, there may be principles of opposition between them which may render each to the other the object of inward aversion.
Two minds, we will suppose, are brought together in the same locality, are associated in the pursuit of common ends, and become mutual partakers of common interests. As they interchange thoughts, each finds in the other a character, spirit, and sentiment, fully agreeable to his own. In their inter-communication there is a consequent sympathetic blending of thought with thought, feeling with feeling, and purpose with purpose; an intercommunion in which each becomes to the other, as it were, another self, making the other the beloved depository of his own mental treasures, and becoming a full participant of the other's joys and sorrows. This deep and sympathetic intercommunion of mind with mind is represented by the term "fellowship." In this relation, minds are said to "make their abode" one with the other, each finding its happy dwellingplace in the heart of the other.
Notice the conditions in which two minds can enter into fellowship. There must be, in the first place, as a medium of fellowship, a unity of knowledge, feelings, and sentiments, in respect to some common objects of mutual interest and regard. We meet, for instance, with an individual, and find that no such medium exists between us. However genial to each other our characters and mental states may be, while this medium is wanting there can be no fellowship, no blending of mind with mind between us. Suppose this medium to be established, and that, as we come to know each other, it is found that we have no objects of common interest and regard, and no common sympathies on any subject. Real fellowship in such a case is absolutely impossible. If, on the other hand, the objects which one regards with supreme interest, the other regards with aversion, such minds will naturally repel each other, and no blending of heart with heart can occur. But if, on a mutual acquaintanceship, it is found that there is a union of views and sympathies in regard to leading objects of thought, and each approves of the other's relations and character, their minds naturally blend in the most loving intercommunion and fellowship; and this is the idea represented by the term under consideration.
We may now state the extent and limits within which such fellowship is possible. So far as minds have common thoughts, sympathies, and experiences, so far they can have fellowship one with another. If the knowledge and experience of one extend into a sphere which the other has not entered or traversed, so far all fellowship is barred, however mutually genial their characters and experiences in other respects may be. In such cases, the fellowship of the latter may be constantly taking on new and more endearing forms, as the wider visions and experiences of the former open and expand upon his mind. In "fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ," the soul will be eternally advancing, deeper and deeper, into "the fulness of God," as His thoughts, His emotions, His plans, and His purposes of love shall expand upon its beatific vision.
EFFECTS OF FELLOWSHIP
There is no form of blessedness so full and complete as that which results from the fellowship of pure and kindred minds, in respect to objects of spiritual and happifying mutual interest. Such a state is a primary demand of our social nature. Such is the strength of this principle within us that we can scarcely enjoy any form of good when separated from other minds. Happiness departs, and leaves us desolate and sad, when we have no kindred minds with which to sympathize. Such fellowship not only intensifies our joys, but has sovereign power to turn our deepest sorrows into the most perfect and abiding forms of gladness. Minds in fellowship become possessed to the full extent of their capacities, each of the blessedness that dwells in the heart of the other. "In fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ," the human spirit will, to the fullest extent of its ever-growing capacities, he filled with the blessedness that dwells in the divine mind.
The most marked peculiarity, perhaps, of such fellowship is the perpetual assimilation of character which thereby arises between kindred souls. When two minds are in such endearing intercommunion, the virtues and excellences of each are perpetually taking form and embodiment in the character of the other. A mind of lower, in fellowship with one of a higher order, is being perpetually raised to the conscious possession of the superior excellences of the latter. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise." God, by bringing sanctified spirits into fellowship with Himself, will be eternally elevating them to higher and higher resemblances to His own infinite excellences, and to higher and higher fruitions of His own infinite blessedness. If we would be God-like in our character, we must seek and attain to that state in which "our fellowship shall be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
Here the question might arise, Is such fellowship possible? Can the finite enter the fellowship with the infinite? "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are not God's ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts?" How then can we enter into communion with God's ways and God's thoughts? "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." In the text at the head of this chapter this very fellowship stands revealed as an accomplished fact: "And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." With Moses God "spake face to face, as a man speaketh with his friend." For "three hundred years Enoch walked with God." In Christ "God was manifest in the flesh," and "dwelt amongst us." God, who knows perfectly the relations between the finite and the infinite, affirms that He does thus dwell with "the humble and contrite in spirit," and that He "will dwell and walk" in such. "If a man love Me," says Christ, "he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."
To consummate this fellowship, the Spirit is in the world, and is promised to all believers. That we may possess and enjoy this fellowship, He can and will "strengthen us with might in the inner man," and so reveal and manifest Christ and the Father unto us, that we shall enter into real and ecstatic communion with God's thoughts, purposes, and love. In elevating the creature into this Divine fellowship, God does not oppress him with the full weight of His own infinity. "No man can see the face of God and live." The Spirit knows how to bring, and He does bring, the soul into fellowship with those forms of Divine manifestation which it can comprehend and commune witha fellowship which may become real in the experience of every believer, the child as well as the man.
Let us now turn our attention to the wonderful form of speech before us: "And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." We read of a strange form of love conferred upon believers, by which "we are called the sons of God." We read, also, of a brotherhood with Christ, of a co-heirship with Him, and of our being "heirs of God." Such forms of speech, however, represent merely the common privileges of all the saints in all stages of their experience. The passage before us refers to a still higher and nearer relation to God, which the believer attains when, and only when, he has "received the Holy Ghost after he has believed;" when, by means of that Divine baptism, he has been "cleansed from all unrighteousness," has "been made perfect in love," and "walks in the light as God is in the light." Then he comes into that relation with God properly represented by the term "fellowship."
You will observe that it is not said that "our fellowship is with the Father, with the Son, and with the Holy Ghost," but "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." It is not with the Spirit that the soul has direct intercommunion; but, through the Spirit, with the Father and with Christ. The Spirit, when received, does not "speak of Himself," but "takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us," and "shows us plainly of the Father." "Where the Spirit of the Lord is," "we behold with open face," not the Spirit, but "the glory of the Lord," "the love of Christ," and "the fulness of God." When we have received the Holy Ghost after we have believed," we comprehend what the Saviour meant when He said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent;" what God means when He says, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them;" and what the apostle means when He says, "And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." You have read, reader, of "the communion of the Holy Ghost." Here it is: "Christ in you, the hope of glory;" "We will come to him, and make our abode with him;" "walking with God;" "God dwelling in us, and we in Him;" and "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
Let us see if we cannot form some apprehension, more or less distinct, of this peculiar state of Christian privilege. It will be our aim to tell all we know about it; all, we mean, that can be told in a few sentences. The work of the Spirit, as we have said, is to bring the soul into direct and immediate fellowship with God. To believe that God exists, to apprehend His attributes, and to be assured that we are the objects of His love and favor, and at the same time to contemplate Him as a Being afar off, dwelling alone in His infinity, is a state of experience beyond which thousands of Christians have not gone. To be directly conscious of Him as an immediate personal presence, encircling us with His love, "showing us His glory," and opening upon our vision an immediate apprehension of His thoughts, emotions, and purposes of grace in respect to us, and of His deep sympathy with all our joys and sorrows, cares and interests; to be conscious when we pray that we are "speaking to God face to face, as a man speaketh with his friend," and that His ear is bent tenderly towards us in all our confessions, giving of thanks, and petitions; and that all things within and around us are full of God, and that we have our dwelling-place in the very center of the Divine fullnessthis, certainly, is a very different relation between us and God from that above described; and all this is real in our experience when "our fellowship is with the Father." So, also, to know that Christ died for us, and that "we have redemption in His blood, even the forgiveness of our sins;" but to apprehend Him as far off, "at the right hand of God" in Heaven, and never very nigh to us, and "formed within us, the hope of glory," is the only relation to Christ in which most believers find themselves for the greater part of their lives. How much more blessed is that in which we sensibly and consciously realize a present Christ meeting and satisfying directly every susceptibility and want of our immortal natures; in which we "behold with open face His glory, and are changed into the same image from glory to glory;" in which "we comprehend the breadth, and depth, and length, and height, and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge;" in which Christ "comes to us, and manifests Himself unto us," reigns in us the Sovereign of all our affections and activities, and communes with us as an elder brother, strengthens us in our weaknesses, succors us in our temptations, confirms our faith, perfects our love, and teaches us the Divine lesson of deep content in every allotment of Providence. This is fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ. Oh, how very different is this from that realized in the first, and also in the too common developments of the Christian life!
Herein, dear reader, is "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." This is "walking with God," and "dwelling in God," and having God "walking in us, and dwelling in us." Here we blessedly know what our Saviour meant when He said, "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one;" and "I will come in unto him, and sup with him, and he with Me."
In this Divine fellowship the mind is not free from temptation. In Christ, however, it realizes "the victory which overcometh the world." Nor is the believer free from external affliction. But in the fire and in the flood "patience has her perfect work." This end being consummated, there comes to the mind at one time a revelation of Christ in the exercise of this one virtue, patient endurance and meek submission to the will of the Father. One desire now possesses the whole beingto endure as Christ endured, and with Him, if need he, to be "made perfect through suffering." Again there opens upon the mind a vision of the eternal future: "These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Now the mind "glories in tribulation," while "the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, who is given unto us."
Nor, we add again, is the mind in this state wholly, and at all periods, free from real heart sorrow. At times, if need he, it may be in heaviness through manifold temptations," or "fiery trials." God, for wise reasons, may now and then sound the depths of the soul with some great sorrow. In such a state the mind, first of all, adjusts itself fully and perfectly to the Divine will, losing self in the heart of God, and in sweet and unreserved acquiescence consenting to do, and to endure, and to suffer all that God wills. "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt." "The cup which My Father giveth Me, shall I not drink it?" When "patience here has had her perfect work," the Spirit at one time pens upon the mental and spiritual vision distinct and melting apprehensions of Christ as a sufferer in Gethsemane, when climbing Calvary's mournful mountain, and upon the cross "bearing the sins of many, and making intercession for the transgressors." Here the mind forgets and loses its own sorrow in its sympathy and love for Christ in His atoning sufferings and death. To sorrow now, to "fill out the measure of Christ's sufferings," seems a privilege. At another time, in the depth of some great distress, there comes to the mind a deep assurance and sense of God's presence and love, and of the absolute security of all its interests under the divine protection; and all this with a distinct and soul-melting consciousness of the deep and present sympathy of every Person of the Godhead with every form and degree of grief with which the heart is burdened. "Everlasting consolations, and good hope through grace," now fill and occupy the entire capacities of the soul, and "sorrow and sighing flee away." At times, the way in which the mind is being led seems dark and gloomy. Here, the Spirit brings blessedly home to the heart such a thought as this
"Christ leads me through no darker rooms Than He went through before."
This thought dawns in with such sweet and mellow light upon the soul, that earth's most shady places appear now as peaceful and hallowed precincts of Heaven itself. How often have you dwelt in thought upon such words as these
"Jesus can make a dying bed Feel soft as downy pillows are, While on His breast I lean my head, And breathe my life out sweetly there."
Yes, reader, and Jesus can make a living bed, although a bed of thorns, feel equally soft and downy. Have you never, when weary with labor and care, when weighed down with the crushing burdens of vast duties, responsibilities, and perplexities, or when overshadowed with some great sorrow, had such a form of experience as this?Jesus seemed to approach you, and to drop such words as these down into your heart, "Child, you are weary, very weary, and sorrowful. Lean your head upon My bosom, and rest there." And as you lean your head upon the bosom of His love, His rest enters into your heart. This, you say, is the beginning of that "rest that remains for the people of God." If the earnest is so peaceful, what must Heaven be?in which "the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto fountains of living waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
With a mind in fellowship with God, there are periods of triumph when the fountains of the great deep of the soul are broken up, and when it "rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory." At other times, the whole spiritual being rests in perfect quietude and assurance, "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keeping the heart and mind through Christ Jesus." Then, in a state of "heaviness through manifold temptations," the soul appears "like patience on a monument smiling at grief." Again, under the baptism of "power from on high," it goes forth "strong in God, and in the power of His might," strong to do and to endure; or upon its knees in prayer, and under the outpouring of "the Spirit of grace and of supplication," "as a prince it has power with God and with men." In every state alike God is its fixed and changeless center, God its dwelling-place, and God its everlasting light, while "the days of its mourning are ended." We do not think that we have overdrawn the experience of any soul whose "fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
In making a due improvement of this subject, we would direct attention, in the first place, to an important declaration found in 1 John. i. 7,viz., "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." Among worldly minds there is very little real fellowship. Selfishness is incompatible with such relations, especially in their higher and more sympathetic forms. A selfish mind sees very little in its own image, when reflected from the heart of another, to approve or delight in, or in its own mental states with which to have fellowship, such as pride, ambition, envy, covetousness, devotion to vanity, and the lusts of the flesh. Hence among such minds there is very little that can properly be called friendship.
Also among Christians who have not "received the Holy Ghost since they believed," "fellowship one with another" can obtain but in a very limited degree. In all such minds there is so much intermingling of the had with the good, and of darkness with the light; such obscure reflections of the Divine image and glory, together with the beauties of holiness; and such meager manifestations of the Divine love; and at the same time thoughts of God and of things unseen and eternal have so seldom and unillumined a dwelling-place in the heart and the mind, that it is only occasionally, and that within a very limited sphere, that there can be such sympathetic blending of thought with thought, emotion with emotion, and heart with heart, as can properly be called "fellowship." This is the exclusive reason why Christian fellowship has such a limited and feeble existence in our churches. There is among them "envying, strife, and divisions," because, for the most part, they "are carnal, and walk as men," in other words, are "mere babes in Christ." There is very little fellowship, because the basis for such experience is wanting.
When a company of believers, however, "have received the Holy Ghost since they believed," and each, under this all-renovating and all-purifying baptism, "walks in the light, as God is in the light," then, verily, they "have fellowship one with another." The reason is obvious. While perfect love banishes discord, each manifests a character that all approve and delight in, each reflects upon the others "the image and glory of Christ." Each, also has a rich inward experience, into which the hearts of the others naturally blend in sympathizing and ecstatic intercommunion. Brotherly character manifested is the exclusive object of brotherly love. Where the former is wanting, the latter, but in forms of general goodwill, cannot exist.
What should we think of ourselves, reader, if "our fellowship is not with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ?" This we reply: Such must be the state of our hearts, that moral purity cannot approach them. "The pure in heart see God," and "with the pure in heart God dwells." If God does not dwell with you, there can he but one reason for this melancholy fact. Internal impurity shuts Him out. "God never draws nigh to me when I pray to Him," said a professing Christian to us years ago. "As soon as I kneel in prayer, He seems to remove Himself to an unapproachable distance from me." "Friend," we replied, "there must be reasons of infinite weight for such relations between you and your 'Father in Heaven.' We exhort you, as you value your soul's eternity, to find out those reasons, and to put them away." A similar admonition would we present to you, reader, if God is not consciously very nigh to you when you call upon Him, if your fellowship is not "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
To understand fully the First Epistle of John, we must recognize the two classes of believers to whom the apostle in fact, though not in form, refers, viz., those who had, and those who had not, received "the unction of the Spirit;" those who had, and those who had not, been "made perfect in love;" and, consequently, those who did, and those who did not, have "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." Of the one class he speaks as having a full knowledge, by means of their anointing, of the fullness of joy to which he refers, and as having "no need" that "anyone should teach them" upon the subject. His object in respect to the other class was to draw them into the light of God in which he was walking: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us." "These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." This last is our exclusive object relative to you, reader, if you have not yet received "the anointing."
We may now understand the limits of practicable Christian attainment in this life. They extend from the beginning to a full fellowship with the apostle, in perfect love, freedom from fear and heart condemnation, and in that fullness of joy which he possessed when "walking in the light as God is in the light," and when his "fellowship was with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." Nothing but unbelief in us can prevent our advancing onward and upward into the cloudless sunlight before us. The apostle has not only revealed to us the goal to which we may attain, but has made us know the way: "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us"the love of God in giving His Son to die for us," and also in giving "the anointing" by which we know, too, "the things that are freely given us of God." "Herein is our love made perfect." To receive, with simple trust and assurance, God's testimony to His own love to us, and to seek, "with all the heart, and with all the soul," "the unction of the Spirit," through whose illuminations and sanctifying power we may walk in the light, as God is in the light"this is the way to that Beulah of perfect love and fullness of joy, where "God is our everlasting light, and the days of our mourning are ended." Reader, the way is before us. Let us walk in it.