by John Owen
Having discovered the nature of the distinct communion we have with the Father, what remains is to give some exhortations, directions, and observations:
1. First is a duty seldom exercised by Christians, which is to hold immediate communion with the Father in love. Our problem and our sin is that we are unacquainted with our mercies and privileges. We do not respond to the voice of the Spirit that is given to us, “that we may know the things that are freely bestowed on us of God” (1Cor. 2:12). This burdens us when we might have rejoiced, and weakens us when we might have been strong in the Lord. How few of the saints experience this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love! Many look upon him with anxious, doubtful thoughts! They fear and question his good will and kindness! At best, they think he has no sweetness towards us, except what was purchased at the high price of Jesus’ blood. It is true that Christ’s blood alone is the means of communication; but the free fountain and spring of every good thing comes from the heart of the Father. “Eternal life was with the Father, and is manifested to us” (1Jn. 1:2).
(1.) Let us see the Father as love. Do look not at him as a father who is always critical, but as one who is most kind and tender. By faith let us look at him as someone who has had thoughts of kindness towards us from everlasting. Only a misapprehension of God would make someone run from the one who knows him in the least. “Those who know you will put their trust in you” (Ps. 9:10). Men cannot abide with God in spiritual meditations. They lose his company by lacking this insight into his love. They fix their thoughts only on his terrible majesty, severity, and greatness, and so their spirits are not endeared to him. If they would focus on his everlasting tenderness and compassion, his thoughts of kindness towards them from eternity, and his present gracious acceptance of them, then they could not bear an hour’s absence from him. Now, perhaps, they cannot watch with him for even one hour (Mt. 16:40). Let this be the saints’ first notion of the Father. He is one who is full of eternal, free love towards them. Let their hearts and thoughts break through any discouragement that lies in the way of this idea. To raise us to that level, let us consider,
[1.] Whose love it is. It is the love of God. He is self-sufficient, infinitely satiated with himself and with his own glorious excellence and perfection. He has no need to pursue others with his love, nor to seek an object for his love outside himself. He could rest there with delight and contentment for all eternity. He is sufficient in his own love. He also has his Son, his eternal Wisdom, in whom he can rejoice and delight from all eternity, Prov. 8:30. This might consume and satiate the whole delight of the Father; but he loves his saints also. It is such a love, that he does not seek just his own satisfaction in it, but our good as well. It is the love of a God, and the love of a Father. Its proper effects are kindness and bounty.
[2.] Let us also consider what kind of love it is –
1. Eternal. It was fixed on us before the foundation of the world. Before we had done the least good, his thoughts were upon us, his delight was in us, and the Son rejoiced in the thoughts of fulfilling his Father’s delight in him, Prov. 8:30. The delight of the Father in the Son is not so much his absolute delight in him as the express image of himself and the brightness of his glory. In the Son he might behold all his own excellence and perfection. But it is with regard to the Son’s love and his delight in the sons of men. So the order of the words requires us to understand it: “I was his delight daily,” and, “My delights were with the sons of men” (Prov. 8:30-31). That is, his delight was in thoughts of kindness and redemption for them, and in that he was his Father’s delight. From eternity he laid in his own heart a design for our happiness. The very thought of this is enough to make all that is within us leap for joy, like the babe in the womb of Elizabeth. A sense of it will prostrate our soul in humble, holy reverence, and make us rejoice before him with trembling.
2. Free He loves us because he wants to. It is his will. There was and is nothing in us for which we should be loved. If we did deserve his love, it would lower its valuation. Things of debt are seldom a matter for thankfulness. But what exists eternally, prior to our being, is necessarily free as they relate to our well-being. This gives his love life and being. It is the reason for it, and it sets a price on it, Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:3, 4; Titus 3:5; James 1:18.
3. Unchangeable Though we change every day, his love does not change. If any kind of provocation could turn it away, it has long since ceased to do so. Its unchangeableness is what prompts the Father to that infinite patience and forbearance without which we would die or perish, 2Pet. 3:9, and which he exercises towards us.
4. Distinguishing He has not loved the whole world: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13). Why should he fix his love on us, and pass by millions whose nature is the same as ours? Why should he let us share in that love, and all its fruits, which most of the great and wise men of the world are excluded from?
Let the soul frequently focus on the love of the Father and these considerations. All of them are soul-conquering and endearing.
(2.) Eye his love with the intent to receive it. Unless this is added, everything else will fail to gain us communion with God. We do not hold communion with him in anything, until his love is received by faith. This is what I would provoke the saints of God to. They need to believe this love of God for themselves. They must believe that such is the heart of the Father towards them, and accept his witness to that fact. The sweetness of his love is not ours until we receive it this way. Continually and actively think of God with faith as loving you, as embracing you with the eternal free love described before. When the Lord is presented as such to you by his word, let your mind know it, and assent to it. Let your will embrace it as being true, and let all your emotions be filled with it. Set your whole heart to it. Bind it with the cords of this love. If the King is bound in the galleries with your love, will you not be bound in heaven with his?
(3.) Let the Father’s love have its proper fruit and effect on your heart by returning that love to him. That is how we will walk in the light of God’s countenance, and hold holy communion with him all day long. Let us not deal unkindly with him, and return disrespect for his good will. Let no heart deal so thanklessly with our God.
2. Now, to help us in the daily practice of this duty, I will add one or two considerations that may be of importance.
(1.) It is very acceptable to God our Father to hold communion with him in his love. Through this communion we receive him as one who is full of love, tenderness, and kindness towards us. In our flesh, we are apt to think that he is always angry, even implacable. We may feel that poor creatures like us are not to draw close to him. We may even think that it is more desirable to never come into his presence. “Who among us will dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us will dwell with everlasting burnings?” ask the sinners in Zion (Isa. 33:14). “I knew you were a harsh man,” says the evil servant in the gospels (Mt. 25:24). There is nothing more grievous to the Lord, nor more helpful to Satan’s design, than thoughts like these. Satan applauds when he is able to fill our soul with such thoughts of God. It satisfies all his desires. This has been his design and his way from the beginning. The first blood that murderer shed was by this means. He led our first parents into these severe thoughts of God: “Has God said so? Has he threatened you with death? He knows well enough it will be better with you;” (Gen. 3:1). With this war engine he battered and overthrew all mankind in one step. Remembering his ancient conquest, he readily uses the same weapons today that he so successfully used then.
It grieves the Spirit of God to be slandered this way in the hearts of those whom he dearly loves. How he remonstrates Zion! “What iniquity have you seen in me?” he demands. “Have I been a wilderness to you, or a land of darkness?” “Zion said, The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman...” The Lord takes nothing worse at the hands of his own people than such hard thoughts of him. He knows full well what it is like to bear the fruit of this bitter root. He knows the alienation of the heart that it produces, the drawing back, and the unbelief and apostasy in our walk with him. A child is so unwilling to come into the presence of an angry father! Consider receiving the Father as he holds out his love, giving him the honor he aims for, which is exceedingly acceptable to him. He often sets out his love in an eminent manner, that it may be received in an eminent way: “He commends his love toward us,” Rom. 5:8. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us!” 1John 3:1. Where, then, does this folly of ours come from? Why are men afraid to have good thoughts of God? They think it is audacity to see God as good, gracious, tender, kind, and loving. I am speaking of the saints. For the other side, they too can judge God as hard, austere, severe, almost implacable, and fierce. But these are the very worst emotions of the very worst men, who most hate God, Rom. 1:31; 2Tim. 3:3. They think they do well. Does this soul-deceit not come from Satan? Was it not his design from the beginning to inject such thoughts of God into men? Assure yourself, then, that there is nothing more acceptable to the Father, than to lift our hearts to him as the eternal fountain of all that rich grace which flows out to sinners in the blood of Jesus.
(2.) This will very effectively endear your soul to God, causing you to delight in him and to make your abode with him. Many saints have no greater burden in their lives than recognizing that their hearts do not constantly delight and rejoice in God. Their spirit is still indisposed to walking closely with him. What is at the bottom of this? Is it not their lack of skill, or neglect of duty, in holding communion with the Father in love? We will delight in him only to the extent that we see God’s love. Without this, every other revelation of God will only make us fly from Him. But once the heart realizes the eminence of the Father’s love, it cannot help being overpowered, conquered, and endeared to him. If nothing else, this will work on us to make our abode with him. If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Put this to the test. Ponder the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your heart isn’t stimulated to delight in him. I dare say believers will find it as thriving a course as they ever pitched on in their lives. Sit down for a little while at the fountain, and you will quickly discover the sweetness of the streams. If you have run from him in the past, you will not be able to keep your distance for a moment.
Objection 1. Some may ask, “How will I hold communion with the Father in love? I do not know whether he loves me or not. Should I risk casting myself upon his love? What if I am not accepted? Would I not perish for my presumption, rather than find sweetness in his heart? I see God only as a consuming fire with everlasting burning. I dread to look up to him.”
Answer 1. I do not know what others understand by “knowing the love of God.” It is exercised by spiritual sense and experience, and received purely by believing. Knowing it means believing it, as it is revealed. “We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love,” 1John 4:16. This is the assurance you may have of this love at the very start of your walk with God. The one who is truth itself has said it. Ignore what your heart says, or Satan says. Unless you accept this as God’s promise, you are calling God a liar, 1John 5:10.
Objection 2. “I can believe that God is love to others, because he has said he is love. But I see no reason for him to love me. There is no cause, and no reason in the world, why he should turn one thought of love or kindness towards me. Therefore, I dare not depend on that to hold communion with him in his special love.”
Answer 2. He has spoken of his love as particularly to you as he has to anyone else in the world. As for the cause of his love, he has as much reason to fix it on you as he does on any of the other children of men. I will make speedy work with this objection. No one from the foundation of the world, who believed such love existed in the Father, and returned that love to him, was ever deceived. Nor will anyone be deceived to the world’s end. In this, you are on a most secure foundation. If you believe and receive the Father’s love, he will infallibly love you, though others may fall under his severity.
Objection 3. “I cannot find my heart returning God’s love to him. If I were fixed upon him, then I could believe that he delights in me.”
Answer 3. This is the most preposterous course that your thoughts can take. It is a good way to rob God of his glory. “This is love,” says the Holy Spirit, “not that we loved God, but that he first loved us,” 1John 4:10, 11. You would invert this order, and say, “This is love, not that God loved me, but that I loved him first.” This takes God’s glory from him. He loves us without a cause in ourselves, and we have all the cause in the world to love him. Yet, you would have the contrary be true. Something needs to be in you for God to love you, even if it is your love for him. You think that you should love God before you know whether he loves you or not. This is the flesh speaking. It will never bring glory to God, or peace to your soul. Lay down your reasoning. Take up the love of the Father as a pure act of believing. That will release your soul to the Lord in the communion of love.
To further reveal this truth, let us discover the eminence and privilege of the saints of God. Whatever low opinion the sons of men may have of them, it appears that the saints have meat to eat that the world does not know of (Jn. 4:32). They have close communion and fellowship with the Father, interchanging their love with him. Men are generally respected according to the company they keep. It is an honor to stand in the presence of princes, even as servants. What an honor it is, then, for all the saints to boldly stand in the presence of the Father, and there enjoy his heart’s love! What a blessing the queen of Sheba pronounced on the servants of Solomon who stood before him and heard his wisdom! How much more blessed, then, are those who stand continually before the God of Solomon, hearing his wisdom and enjoying his love! Others have fellowship with Satan and their own lusts, making provision for them and receiving perishing refreshments from them. They are the ones “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” But the saints have this sweet communion with the Father.
Moreover, what a safe and sweet retreat the saints have from all the scorns, reproaches, scandals, and misrepresentations that they undergo in the world. When strangers abuse a child in the streets, he runs with speed to the heart of his father. There he makes his complaint and is comforted. In all the hardy censures and tongue-persecutions which the saints meet with in the streets of the world, they may run to their Father, and be comforted. “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you,” says the Lord, Isa. 66:13. The soul may say, “If I have hatred in the world, I will go where I am sure of love. Though all others are harsh to me, my Father is tender and full of compassion. I will go to him and satisfy myself in him. Here in the world I am considered vile, frowned on, and rejected. But I have honor and love with the Father, whose kindness is better than life itself. There with him I have all the things in the fountain that others have only in the drops. In my Father’s love there is everything desirable, the sweetness of all mercies, and I have them fully and durably.”
Evidently, then, the saints are the most misunderstood men in the world. If they say, “Come and have fellowship with us” men are ready to say, “Why? What are you but a sorry company of seditious, factious people. We despise your fellowship. When we leave our fellowship with all honest men, and men of worth, then will we come to you.” But, how mistaken these men are! Truly, the fellowship of the saints is with the Father. Let men think what they please; the saints have close, spiritual, heavenly refreshing in their mutual communication of love with the Father himself. The apostle declares how the saints are generally misperceived “as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things,” 2Cor. 6:8-10. The saints are looked on as poor, low, despicable persons, when indeed they are the only great and noble people in the world. Consider the company they keep: it is with the Father; who else is so glorious? The merchandise they trade in is love; what is more precious? Doubtless “they are the excellent on the earth,” Ps. 16:3.
To further illustrate a major difference between the saints and empty professors of the faith, consider this: In performing their duties, and enjoying outward privileges, fruitless professors often walk hand in hand with the saints. But when we look at what they do in private, what a difference there is! The saints hold communion with God, while hypocrites hold communion with the world and their own lusts, conversing and communicating with them. They listen attentively to what they hear and accommodate it. Meanwhile, the saints are sweetly wrapped in the heart of their Father’s love. It is almost impossible for believers, in outward appearance, to go beyond those who have very rotten hearts. But they have this meat that those others do not know of. They have this refreshment in the banquet house that others have no share in. The comfort they receive from God their Father refreshes their souls and fills their minds.
Now, if these things are true, “what manner of men ought we to be, in all manner of holy living?” 2Pet. 3:11. Especially when “our God is a consuming fire.” What communion is there between light and darkness? Will sin and lust dwell in those thoughts that receive love from the Father and return it to him? Holiness is forever appropriate in his presence. An unclean spirit cannot draw close to him; an unholy heart cannot make an abode with him. A wicked person will not desire to hold fellowship with a self-controlled man. Will a man with a proud and foolish mind dwell with the most holy God and hold communion with him? Any consideration of this love will be a powerful incentive to holiness; it will lead us there. When he finds salvation in God, Ephraim says, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Communion with the Father is completely inconsistent with an immoral walk. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not exercise the truth,” 1John 1:6. “He that says, I know him” (i.e. I have communion with him), “and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” chap. 2:4. Pretending to be acquainted with the Father, without holiness and obedience to his commandments, only proves that pretenders are liars. The love of the world, and the love of the Father, do not dwell together.
If this is so, so many who call themselves Christians come short of the truth of it! Most professors of Christ are unacquainted with the mystery of this communion and its fruits! Many obviously hold communion with their lusts and with the world instead of God; and yet they want to be thought of as having a portion and inheritance among those who are sanctified! They have neither a new name nor a white stone (Rev. 2:17), and yet they want to be called the people of the Most High. It would more correct to say that God is not in their thoughts at all, than to say that they have communion with him. May the Lord open the eyes of men so they may see that walking with God is a matter of power, not form!
This concludes this part of unique communion with the Father in love. “He is also faithful who has called us to the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” which is the next topic.
Excerpt from Communion with God, available as a free eBook at Monergism.com